ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

Halloween is Coming: Arts and Craft

My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton
My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton

It was wonderful reading Sean and Sarah’s blog post on “Halloween is Coming“.  They posted some wonderful pictures of their young learners getting into the spirit of Halloween – definitely worth visiting their blog to see how they are settling into Korea and their regular posts of their classroom activities.  The activities that I really enjoyed seeing is getting the learners to create their own Halloween Pumpkins as well as their own personalised scary masks.

I believe arts and craft is a very under-respected activity in the classroom, possibly because the students are not necessarily taught any language points.  This in itself is a very prescriptive view of language teaching, whereby teachers are expected to deliver language points.  However, it is a nice refreshing change to focus on the soft skills in the classroom – getting learners to improve their cutting, sticking or colouring skills.  Whenever I have incorporated any form of arts, craft or project work in the classroom, learners revert to their L1.  This is another contention among language teachers, as students should be speaking English at least 100% of the time.  However, when you listen to what the learners are saying, they are negotiating the task set, exploring ideas or developing opinion.  It is not necessarily off-task and they are coordinating the activity to work better as a team.  However, there are better ways to develop project work in the classroom to ensure some vocabulary or language is acquired during the lesson.

One activity that I enjoy including during the task is to play background music related to the theme.  For example, the theme of Halloween is quite prominent at the moment so I like to include a Halloween song which I will be drilling or have drilled with students during the day.  The LearnEnglish for Kids website has some wonderful songs such as the Scary Skeleton Song (refer to the link).  When I was teaching a group of Colombian young learners last week, we drilled the song altogether and taught them vocabulary of the body.  I drew a skeleton on the whiteboard and got learners to name parts of the body.  The next lesson, I played the Skeleton Song as background music and put it on repeat.  The students were quietly singing to the song – they looked very relaxed – as they focused on writing a Halloween Party Invitation.

Another activity which could be developed after the arts and craft is a presentation.  For example, Sean and Sarah got their learners to create their own pumpkins.  You could extend the activity by getting learners to write a diary entry of their pumpkin, name their pumpkin, present their pumpkin person to class or create an acrostic poem.  An acrostic poem is where you get the letters of a word and then write extra words so “Pumpkin” could turn into:

  • P: piles of candy
  • U: under the bed
  • M: make for a delicious snack
  • P: people
  • K: know
  • I:   it’s been Halloween because
  • N: no one is without candy

Further information about acrostic poems are available from readwritethink.org.  Nevertheless, for any success with arts and craft, it is very important to prepare for the activities.  Get stocked up on glue, make sure you have enough scissors, get the coloured card or paper and get the coloured pencils or crayons ready.  As with anything, preparation is key and it is important that the young learners feel that they have the resources available to successfully complete their project.  It will motivate them and ensure that they are enthusiastic.

So, how do you supplement arts, craft and project work with a language focus?  How often do you do any form of art, craft or project work with young learners?  Does your school keep a stock of handy pencils, scissors, etc in the young learner classroom or do you have to buy this?  What are you doing for Halloween?

By - Martin Sketchley

Student Feedback: A Trivial or Important Issue?

Michael Griffin recently wrote a wonderful post on the usefulness of anonymous feedback (Why I (often) prefer non-anonymous feedback) and it got me thinking about whether feedback can be useful for teachers or is it that sort of data that senior management/teachers decide to look at.

In my opinion, I think it would be nice to give students the choice whether they put their name down or not on a feedback form rather than being too prescriptive. It is accepted in our profession that students are from various backgrounds and it would be considered unacceptable to be too prescriptive as there are various cultures which don’t mind being transparent while other cultures prefer to be more anonymous.  In our school, where we have continuous rolling courses during the year, we decide to undertake first week feedback forms, which I believe is crucial to see what is working and what isn’t, as well as end of course feedback.

Obviously, it is nice to keep the feedback – I prefer the term ‘feedback’ to the term ‘evaluation’ as it seems if you are ‘evaluating’ you are testing to see if something is done correctly – as transparent and suitable as possible. The most useful questions to ask for the first week are:

  • Are you learning?
  • Do you enjoy your classes? If not, why?
  • What would you prefer to focus on? (speaking, listening, etc)

The feedback from this would indicate how to deliver future classes, so don’t leave it too late. It is nice to act on feedback and with a principled approach. This leads me on to my final point. It is good that teachers are receiving feedback but if you are just doing feedback for the sake of it, it will be worthless. It is important for teachers to react to feedback rather than confirming what they already know, such as “I am a good teacher” or “That was a good course/lesson and students agree with me!“.

  • Are there any patterns to the feedback? (particular students preferring a different learning style)
  • Why do learners like or dislike particular tasks?
  • Can you be open with the learners so that you are able to deliver a bespoke course?
  • What would I do differently with the information that I have now?

So again, feedback is useful if teachers or management are able to see the woods from the trees and are able to familiarise themselves with what is important.  Nevertheless, feedback can be a useful tool but there are advantages to other schemes of feedback in the form of buzz or pop-in observations.  This could complement feedback forms and also give teachers an opportunity to seek advice or support from more experienced teachers or senior management.

How do you receive feedback about your lessons?  What do you students think about feedback?  What sort of student expectations are there with feedback or teaching?  Do students expect teachers to deliver a course as the teacher is the teacher and the student is the student?

By - Martin Sketchley

Using Video in the Classroom

An assortment of technology: Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @grahamstanley, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Video in the ELT Classroom

The use of video in the classroom has seemed to evolve since Cooper, Lavery and Rinvolucri’s publication on the subject in 1991 by Oxford University Press.  Around that time, the internet was still underdeveloped, YouTube didn’t exist and the best one could use in the classroom was a VHS.  DVDs were not commercially available until around 1994, with the consumer market starting to use DVDs nearer the later 1990s.  It seems such a long time ago.  These days, there are more and more digital videos being recorded using various equipment including digital video recorders, smartphones and even tablets.  These videos can be accessed using the IWB, student or teacher smartphones or tablets.  Furthermore, teachers, as well as students, are now able to record or take pictures and develop a video to document a particular subject – be it their learning, their experiences of living abroad or their holiday snaps.  Therefore, teachers now have more creative opportunities to incorporate videos inside the language classroom and have therefore compiled my list of top ten classroom activities revolving around the use of videos.  One important point to consider is for teachers to receive consent from learners as well as more senior members of staff.

10. My Music Video Jukebox

If you are teaching a group of adolescent learners, they are probably called ‘digital natives‘ (people who were born during or after the general introduction of technology and the internet), while more … umm, how shall I put it?  Those teachers who have more life experience are possibly considered ‘digital immigrants‘ (people who were born before the introduction of technology and the internet).  Digital immigrants are considered to have a greater knowledge and understanding of technology, while their opposite numbers are considered to have a lesser knowledge and understanding of technology.  Of course this very crude and rudimentary stereotyping is probably nothing more than this – there are digital immigrants who have a greater understanding of technology than digital natives.  Nevertheless, if you are teaching adolescent learners, it is possible that they watch music videos on YouTube.  An activity that I like to get my adolescent learners to undertake is to choose between three to five music videos that are important to them.  Both students have to agree and it doesn’t have to be English music videos.

  • Tell students that they are going to work with another student(s) or the whole class and they have to choose between three to five music videos which are important for them.
  • If you have access to school tablets such as iPads or equivalents, tell students to head over to YouTube and search for music videos which are important in their life.  Provide a demonstration which is personal to your life.  For example, I always grew up with Tina Turner being played when I was young and if our family were driving to somewhere, it was always “The Best”.
  • Give students a time limit of between ten to fifteen minutes to collate three to five music videos and search for them on YouTube.  They need to give a reason why that song is important for them and let the other students have a watch of the music video.
  • By the end of the activity, students then have to put music videos in order of preference.  Students then have to share their preferences together and explain why they like or dislike particular music videos.
  • Obviously monitor learners and provide the necessary language for describing preferences.

9. Clipped Students

Your typical adolescent, young adult or adult will more likely have a smartphone or tablet which they enjoy using, particularly during the lesson to refer to a dictionary or get a more immediate translation on a particular word or phrase.  However, one activity you could do would allow learners a chance to use their smartphones or tablets.

  • Ask learners to record 2 second clips with their phones or tablets related to their day – it could be a recording of the street, a weekend trip or an object.
  • During the academic term or few weeks you may have them, they will start to collate a lot of 2 second clips.  Make sure you have access to a laptop or computer so that you can start to save their video files for editing later.
  • Hopefully with all the submission of video files during the day, you will be able to create a video composition.  Use basic video editing software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker and add some generic background music.
  • You could use the video as a presentation for the school with new students or show it as part of an end of year/term party.  The students will find this incredibly motivating and fascinating to watch.
  • You could always share this video via YouTube.

8. Movie Advertisements

I love watching movie advertisements!  It really does get me motivated for the cinema and it is likely to enthuse your learners into watching a particular movie.  We all know the “play the several movie advertisements and get learners to decide which movie to watch or discuss” activity, but I always enjoy getting learners to be a bit more creative than this.

  • Tell learners that they are going to watch a movie trailer.  Choose a well-known movie trailer that they all will know, such as “The Hobbit” or “Man of Steel“.
  • Tell learners that they will be watching the movie trailer twice with the audio on and that they must listen to or watch the movie trailer and write down some important information (plot, characters, actors, etc).  They should make a note of this information as quickly as possible, due to having only two opportunities to do this.
  • Play the movie trailers and give the learners space to compare information with each other.  Group learners up in pairs or small groups and tell them that they will be giving a voice-over for the movie trailer.  They need to do this after preparing a script.
  • Monitor learners and provide help if required.  The learners will be collaborating and this will help learners notice and correct errors than writing alone.
  • When learners are ready, get learners to give their voice-over live in the form of a presentation to the rest of the class and hopefully this activity will give learners the opportunity to practice speaking spontaneously over a short period of time.
  • Get learners to mark each other and provide feedback and a chance for correction at the end of the lesson.

7. The Special Student Interview

The sharing of experiences is the epitome of learning about each other and what better way to experience this in the form of a TV interview.  For this activity, you need a device suitable for recording such as a smartphone, tablet or handheld video recorder and then you need to get learners to prepare the classroom suitable for a classroom interview.

  • Tell learners that they are going to meet a special somebody – it could be a fellow teacher, a guest or a family member – and that they are going to interview this person.  In order to do this, they need to prepare questions for this person.
  • Give them a bit of time to prepare the questions using the “Wh-“/”H-” question forms (What, When, Where, Who, Why and How) on a piece of paper or create a template form using Word or Pages.
  • Monitor the learners to ensure that they are developing questions well and assist if requested.  If required, offer students the chance to correct their own questions from various error correction techniques.
  • When students have created their questions, nominate learners ask the questions.  You could always get nominated learners to record the interview and control the camera, etc.
  • Once the interview is complete, you then can share the interview on YouTube for additional activities – sharing with other classes or as a review.

6. What’s That Sound?

One popular activity, probably done in countless English classrooms, is to play a video without the visual element and the only input is the sound.  It is a wonderful activity to incorporate during a context creating activity, particularly with young learners and are likely to engage and motivate learners with the topic.

  • Try to pick a video which contains a lot of sound effects.  However, the use of voice could encourage learners to think about location, characters or situation.
  • Ask learners to try and listen to video and write up or handout some questions for them to answer (How many people? Is it indoors or outdoors?  What sounds do you hear?).
  • Play the video a couple of times and then get learners share their answers in small groups or pairs.
  • After a short period, elicit some possible answers from nominated learners and board up some vocabulary or scaffold and correct learner input.
  • Finally, play the video to the class so that they can see what they have heard and monitor response.

This activity is really useful as a lead-in to a topic and can result in some really useful conversation in the classroom.  I have included some videos below which I enjoy incorporating as a context builder.

5. What Are They Saying?

Choose a short scene with two people speaking.  A video with a little emotion is preferable.  This activity can really get learners to try to read other aspects of communication, such as body language, pronunciation or other non-verbal cues.

  • Tell learners that they are going to watch a short video clip and that they will receive a script from that scene. Handout the script to each pair or small group of learners.
  • Play the short video to the class a number of times.  Once learners have worked on this activity and the video clip has been repeated various times, get pairs to group up with other pair of students like a pyramid activity.
  • Get small groups of learners to collaborate and help each other complete the script.
  • Finally, play the video with the sound on and get learners to compare their version of the script to the original video.  It will encourage learners to listen for particular detail.
  • An extension to this activity could include learners acting out the scene with another partner whilst another member of the class films the scene, which could then be shared via YouTube or with another class as a demonstration tool for a similar activity.

I have included a video clip below which I have used with this activity in the past.  It was a highly motivating activity for learners and does develop listening and speaking skills for learners.

4. Translating Subtitles

When I was in Korea and headed to the cinema to watch a Hollywood blockbuster, there was inevitably subtitles.  If the audience was lucky enough, there was a voiceover – this being more expected with animation movies.  Nevertheless, one activity that I enjoy doing is getting learners to translate subtitles into English with an English movie.

  • Choose an English movie and a short scene to play for students.  Select the same language subtitles as your learners’ L1.  For example, if your learners’ L1 is Spanish, choose the Spanish subtitles.
  • Play the short scene once without the audio and just the subtitles and image for learners.
  • Next tell learners that they are going to be translating the subtitles into English and you could either handout the subtitles on a worksheet (pre-made) or get learners to watch the movie clip and try to translate in small groups or pairs.
  • Once learners have translated the subtitles to the best of their ability, offer students the chance to compare their translations.
  • As a class, the learners have to create a final translation – so build it up like a pyramid writing activity.  Check their writing and offer self-correction if necessary.
  • The final part of this activity is to get learners to compare their translated English subtitles to the original English subtitles for the movie clip and notice the differences in language.  You could compare language or lexical phrases and it will engage the learners.

Please note that this activity is best for a monolingual group of language learners and it introduces students to the act of translating literally or by meaning.

3. Adding Subtitles

Another spin-off with the previous lesson idea is to get learners to add subtitles to various film clips.  There is a really useful and interesting web-based activity for learners to undertake with the various websites below:

  • Bombay TV – a subtitling activity for students to complete and create their own interaction.
  • Bombay TV2 – an additional subtitling website for students to visit.

The websites above can really get learners to create some imaginative subtitles and then share via a student blog or on Facebook. It is quite easy and the young learners will pick it up very quickly.  However, if you would like to look at a topic – giving advice or directions – you could make this activity more focused.

2. Roving Reporters

Do you teach adolescent learners?  Are you finding it quite difficult to get them talking in English?  One way around this is to get learners to either tell a story or the news for the day at your school.  It will engage, motivate and relax learners into speaking English with their peers.

  • Tell students that they will be reporting the school news for the day and show some news report clips from YouTube to get them interested.
  • Put learners into small groups and get them to think of school reports which they could include for the news recording.  Write up some examples: “Tony got married last weekend”, “It is Phillip’s birthday tomorrow!”, etc.  It could also be about the learner’s lives.
  • Make sure that the learners write up a script for the news report and then when they are ready, they have to choose a reporter, director and cameraman/woman.  Get them to do the news report until they are happy and then return back to class.
  • Once all groups of learners have completed their news report, you could get them hand you the recording for you to edit on a computer.  Make sure it is ready to upload and share via YouTube or with a special viewing one day.  You could always create a listening exercise from the students’ report.

Another variation of this is to interview famous people and the students could wear masks or just pretend to be famous people.  Students write up their own questions and then the interviewee has to answer the questions on an ad hoc or improvisational basis.

1. Filming Your Lessons

You are teaching full-time and you have very little time for peer observation or reflecting on your own lessons.  Do you want to become more aware of how and what you are teaching in the classroom?  You could always setup a camera at the corner of the room and then film your lesson for reviewing at a later date.

  • Check that the students and senior staff are happy for them to be filmed prior to recording – official consent is recommended.
  • Charge up the video camera before walking in and make sure that everything is connected.  You maybe able to connect the camera up to a power socket during the day.
  • Prepare your lessons, film the class and then watch.
  • You could always edit the recording and then upload to YouTube.  I have included an example below for a lesson that I recorded a number of years ago.

By - Martin Sketchley

October Teacher Interview: Kieran Baker

Enjoying a well-deserved beer.
Enjoying a well-deserved beer.

Kieran Baker has a BA Hons in Primary Teaching from the University of the West England, Bristol, and an A in his CELTA. He spends much of his time wandering around Cantabria looking lost and dreaming about vintage motorcycles. His mother would say he has far too many tattoos. He is currently starting his second year of teaching (both adults and children) at Hello Cantabria in Solares, Spain.

1.    Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?

Jings! I became interested in teaching after considering careers as a florist, a fireman, an actor, a video editor – all sorts of ideas came out of the brainstorm. I’d worked with young people before – mainly in drama activities – and enrolled at UWE Bristol to study a BA Honours in Primary Teaching. Before heading off to University, I went to a children’s summer camp in Perm, Russia (being slightly fascinated by Russian culture, at the time) and enjoyed a truly life changing experience.

Towards the end of my 3-year degree I was truly spent –with the changing face of primary education, forefronted by Mr Michael Gove in all his infinite wisdom, and having had a miserable final placement, I decided not to head into my NQT year and take a different route.

Having worked as an activity leader at LTC Eastbourne during my summers home from Bristol, I enrolled in a CELTA course. A hell of a month, and due to hard work, buckets of coffee and deciding that sleep isn’t REALLY necessary, I ended up with an A, and the next thing I knew, I was walking off the ferry in Santander, ready for my first year of teaching.

2.    What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in Spain?

Firstly, learn Spanish – at least the basics. I very quickly realised that whilst the language business is booming in Spain, your day-to-day life will be far easier if you have a working knowledge of Castilian. Expanding your vocabulary is easy enough out here, but knowing how to ask, request, enquire, respond and comment will make you a far more popular man than I – who moved out here naively with only a few words.

Secondly, get a job in a good school or academy. You hear terrible stories about companies here mistreating their employees. Apply to multiple places, make sure you really like them, and speak to your future employers. If you’re after job security and it’s your first teaching job, go with a big company, IH or similar. My personality doesn’t necessarily suit that so much (at the moment) so I went small and am still happy to be here.

3.    What ELT-related opportunities are available in Spain?

Oh, there are loads. Apart from the private academies (of which there must be thousands), there are multiple other needs – translation, examiners. I ended up teaching a course on CVs in English in Castro-Urdiales last year. Poke your head around and you can find different opportunities. Last year, I ended up getting some concert tickets in exchange for a telephone class – all sorts of surprises can turn up.

4.    Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?

I’ve had many memorable experiences in my brief time teaching. I’ve taught in a gym, using a sports massage table as a desk. I’ve helped Turkish students learn how to play pool, indulged many a class in an idiom or two, eaten raw potato during a taste testing competition in a student pub night, had a one-to-one lesson where we spoke for an hour and a half about motorbikes, and I’ve experienced countless moments where I smile to myself as a three year old repeats a piece of vocabulary correctly or an adult student uses a tense correctly. Things get lost in the hustle and bustle of the weeks and months but I have to say that two of the perks of the job are the good times and the bugger ups.

5.    I can’t believe it is almost the end of another year.  Looking back over the year, what ELT-related things have stood out and why?

I’m afraid I’m not the most up to date on the goings on in education, or in ELT. One of the things that is perhaps becoming more and more important is the need for teachers to be aware of the uses technology in the classroom. The days of textbooks and blackboards are quite possibly numbered and tech will slowly but surely begin to become incorporated into lessons by teachers.

6.    How would you describe your ideal teacher?

Interested and interesting. A listener and a speaker. Understanding of mistakes and understanding of student’s lives and what’s going on with them. Willing to change things if they aren’t going well – staying flexible and realising when a lesson isn’t going to plan, and then swapping things round to see what will work. A results maker and an inspiration instigator.

7.    What do you believe is important when learning a foreign language?

Real life situations. Using texts that are realistic, audio recordings that contain a range of accents and speakers. Not teaching unnecessary topics or ideas. Relating classes to the learner and responding to what they want. And time. Take your time – both as a teacher and a learner. Learning a language cannot happen overnight.

8.    What is your opinion of the use of technology in the classroom?

Haha, I should have read all the questions first! Let me expand upon my earlier points. I like technology – I believe it has a really important place in the classroom. IWBs, projectors, tablets, online courses, interactive software – I think these can all be great tools for a teacher, and that is how they should be seen: as tools, not as essentials. If a lesson benefits from the use of technology, great. If not, don’t use it! It’s far simpler to write on a normal whiteboard than have to configure your IWB every time you wish to add a new piece of vocabulary. And that is where I believe the flaws lie – technology makes simple things complex, and when things go wrong, you always have to have a backup. With technology you need a Plan A and B every time – in a non-tech lesson, you need an idea of the second one but it’s not necessary.

9.    What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed an undergraduate degree and want to get into English Language Teaching?

Work out what you want from it – are you using TEFL to travel for a few years, or is it something you possibly want as a career? I know I go back and forth all the time – teaching is damn hard work, if you want things to go well. But let’s say this question is for someone in the same position as me just over a year ago: Learn your grammar beforehand. Remember that planning is for your own benefit, as well as for those who wish to observe or assess you. Get to know your students. Use common sense. If something isn’t going well, stop, and take a step back. Modify your practice to suit your learners. Say yes to opportunities – you might enjoy teaching young learners. Don’t expect to ever make a fortune. Go abroad. Live a little. Mess up, and make up for it.

10.  Finally, 2014 is approaching fast – what sort of plans do you have for next year?

I wrote 2014 instead of 2013 on the board whilst writing the date during one of my first lessons back in Spain – it does seem to be on my mind. First, I want to get my Spanish up to a level I’m happy with. Next, I want to consider doing some extra training in TEFL – I don’t know what yet but I’d quite like to go somewhere different and complete a course.  I want to travel next summer, and steward some festivals – I think if I do a summer school, I’ll get too burnt out – I’m feeling the results of non-stop work for 12 months. That may change – I did enjoy my summer experiences. Generally speaking, I want some travel, some learning, some professional development and lots of fun (which mainly involves saving up for a motorbike and racing around the Picos on it!)

By - Martin Sketchley

Aims and Objectives on the Whiteboard

Thank you to Mike about his post on stories about aims on the board.  I suppose writing up aims and objectives in the lesson is fast becoming the norm.  It is becoming more and more established, particularly in the UK, for teachers to be able to show students the aims and objectives of the lesson.  This is, in relation to how private language schools in the UK operate, are required to show clear and transparent progress for students and within the lesson, as expected by British Council and the Independent School Inspectorate.  However, why do teachers consider writing the aims or objectives of lessons on the whiteboard as a waste of time or too bureaucratic?  Lesson aims have always been conveyed, usually orally, and if aims and objectives are shown on the whiteboard, they can then be crossed out or the lesson could demonstrate progress during the day.  What is the difficulty?

When I reflect back on my CELTA course, I was expected to write clear aims and objectives for the lesson.  This was more relevant  when I undertook the DELTA equivalent.  I consider this more professional and explicit.  If I were to question teachers: “What are your aims for today’s lesson?”, there are likely to a range of answers from “speaking” to “grammar”.  Are these really aims?  The next question I am likely to ask is “Why?”.  Teachers are usually quite defensive and, as was suggested in one of Mike’s replies, from Josh Round, teachers feel like they are going to be revealing something that I don’t necessarily want to.  However, you could always build up the context and then once interest is generated, teachers could then stipulate what is going to be covered or demonstrated during the day.  Another way around this is to write up the aims and objectives once they have been achieved as a post-reflection with teachers showing learners that they have achieved particular areas within their day of study.

I suppose the key point to writing up lesson aims is that teachers are planning their courses to suit their students’ weaknesses.  It is a good diagnostic tool as the teacher could reflect on what areas of language could be developed or what does not require greater support.  Unfortunately, due to the ever-increasing emphasis on continuous assessment (which in itself is not a bad thing and does professionalize the industry), it requires teachers to another thing to do during the initial part of the lesson.  However, I do believe that it does get teachers to pre-reflect and post-reflect on their lessons and offer an opportunity for teachers to better plan their daily and weekly lessons as well as the curriculum as a whole.

What do you think about writing up lesson aims on the whiteboard?  Do you believe that it would devalue the lesson itself?  Would it give the ‘game away’ for the building of context?  Are you involved with schemes of work, aims and objectives of lessons and the (perceived) increasing paperwork involved with EFL or ESOL in the UK or abroad?  Does the writing of aims and objectives demonstrate greater professionalism in the industry?  Is there a better way than writing up aims and objectives on the whiteboard?

By - Martin Sketchley

Scaffolding Emergent Language

Scaffolding at my language school

More explorative and experimental teaching methods, such as Dogme ELT, with a focus on authentic interaction with students and teachers, in my limited experience, tends to be geared towards developing and scaffolding emergent language when is appropriate. However, what should teachers and students do with emergent language which has been scaffolded?

Hopefully the immediacy and relevance with emergent language will assist in the remembering with learners but occasionally there maybe a small number of students who need reminding. As a side note, a few days ago, I scaffolded ‘bad memory’ to ‘a memory of a goldfish’ and a few days later the student in question who helped raise this language mis-remembered the idiomatic expression and said “Sorry, I have a fish memory”. We made a small joke about the expression and kept the class involved as I poked fun at the forgotten expression and the students memory but made sure the student wouldn’t forget the expression. It was jovial and lighthearted with the class being involved and laughs exchanged. Nevertheless, we do need activities to help students memorise and remember expressions and grammar points which have emerged in the exploratory and humanistic classroom.

The first idea is to get learners to purchase a notebook so that they can write down and record language as it emerges. If your students are anything like mine, they are probably already doing this. But to help this, you could create a Wordle of vocabulary from the previous lesson and handout or upload to the class blog. This Wordle could be used for the teacher to keep a record of language emerged during the week and then be used alongside a last lesson activity (like ’20 questions’ or ‘back-to-the-board’) to recycle or review vocabulary from the week.

Another activity is to ensure emergent language, which has already been noted, is actively being used during natural interaction to ensure it sticks. This could be done by the teacher or students. For example, the other day I scaffolded my examination class the term “chop chop” to mean “hurry up”. I made an effort for the remaining part of the lesson to keep repeating for all learners. I then noticed that learners were starting to reuse this phrase during the lesson. Mission success! Thus, repetition and recycling (whether orally or in writing) is key for getting learners to remember language.

A third activity is getting learners to write a learning diary or a blog post on the terms or phrases learnt during the day in class and then getting learners to review the post or adding vocabulary that they had learnt. This will naturally get learners to reflect on lessons and language which had emerged. To assist this process, it’s good practice to get learners to take a photo of the whiteboard. They can keep a digital copy of the whiteboard and then upload for blog posts. Furthermore, I always find a good sense of achievement when learners decide to take a photo voluntarily.

Finally, it’s a good idea to create wordsearches or crosswords to be used as a follow up class activity. So, what are you waiting for?  Why don’t you keep a notebook yourself or take a photo of your whiteboard and start creating your own puzzles for emergent language?

So how do you deal with emergent language? What do you do to recycle emergent language? How do your learners react to language that you scaffold?