ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

"When Vowels Get Together": Book Review

41EWbDRPBRL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When I first started teaching all those years ago, I was not so keen on the teaching of pronunciation or phonics. It was after I returned to the UK, that I decided to learn more about the teaching of pronunciation. I also attended a training session by Adrian Underhill on the use of the Phonemic Chart and discovered that the area of phonics and pronunciation is not so difficult after all. Fast forward a few years later, having read up on many pronunciation books, I found the use of vowel sounds and their spelling still quite unpredictable. It was quite a relief to receive a book, written by Bob Knowles, dedicated to the sounds of vowels.

This book is called, as one would expect, “When Vowels Get Together” and focuses on “the different ways that vowels pairs can be pronounced” (Knowles, p.1). I was unaware how unpredictable and ambiguous the English language can be, especially when it comes down to vowel pairs. In fact, the other day I came across a video on YouTube which demonstrated this perfectly.

For the First Chapter, Bob Knowles introduces the paperback version of “When Vowels Get Together” very well and introduces the reader to the considerations included within this publication. These include why the book was written, why readers should use the book, how readers could use the book as well as the differences between a paperback and electronic version – it is invaluable that this book is available in different formats.

 

Throughout the book, the author introduces the vowel sounds in a logical fashion, with readers being guided through vowel sounds beginning from ‘A’ all the way to ‘U’. With each vowel sound, there is an associated vowel pair in alphabetical order. For example, with the vowel sounds beginning with ‘A’, Knowles has incorporated spelling with all different variations of vowel pairs such as ‘aa’, ‘ae’, ‘ai’, ‘ao’ and ‘au’. With each dedicated chapter or sub-chapter, Knowles has created a wonderful table for the pronunciation variables with each vowel pair and their corresponding percentile for the respective pronunciation variables. Therefore, you may refer to page 20 and note that the vowel sound represented by the spelling of ‘ai’ will have a 68% chance of being pronounced with the sound of /eɪ/. There is a table also included with a variety of different spellings.

Each chapter focuses on the sounds from various different vowel pairs and Bob Knowles provides the information in an easy and logical format. You soon realise that almost all words are underlined in the tables throughout the chapters. Initially, I was unsure why these words were underlined but then you discover that in the eBook versions, there are links to the Macmillan Dictionary Online where a reader could tap on a word, they are then transported to the definition to the word as well as the pronunciation of the word. You also notice that this book has real potential as an eBook but unfortunately that is lost with the paperback version.

“When Vowels Get Together” is a fantastic book which helps the reader learn more about the relationship between varying vowel sounds and their respective vowel pairs. It can be usefully exploited by teachers for classroom use, and if teachers are keen to develop learner awareness of vowel sounds and spelling then this book is absolutely brilliant. I would recommend any teacher to have the chance to refer to this publication so that they learn more about the reason how particular words could be pronounced and for learners to make an educated choice when faced with a new word.

 

By - Martin Sketchley

"Penny Ur's 100 Teaching Tips": EFL Magazine

Source: Originally published in EFL Magazine (Book Review: Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips)

I received a small package from Cambridge University Press last week and was eager to open it up and see what I had received. Sure enough, as I was expecting, my new copy of “Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips” had swiftly been delivered. My first reaction was, “wow such a small book” and then I started to look at it in more detail. I instantly realised that this book is not meant to focus extensively on English language teaching, but is solely a practical source of information for teachers in various areas of teaching. We already, for example, have books which focus on Classroom Management Techniques or lesson planning, and it is refreshing to read a book which cuts down on the waffle and offers readers practical and clear ideas to incorporate in class. Penny Ur has authored or co-authored many practical books before such as “Vocabulary Activities”, “Five Minute Activities”, “Teaching Listening Comprehension” as well as “Discussions that Work”. Incidentally, my favourite book in my early years of teaching was “Five Minute Activities” and there were so many practical ideas which I incorporated into my teaching. Nonetheless, let’s have a look at her latest publication.

The book is split between 21 chapters – these including the Introduction and Index – and cover a range of areas of teaching. Penny Ur’s introduction explains why she wrote the book, covers a little of her teaching career and inspires the reader to continue on. There are a lot of sub-chapters from the remaining 19 chapters and the Index allows the reader to easily find an area of teaching, such as error correction, picture dictation or speaking, easily accessible. These chapters are organised into the following:

Beginning and ending the lessonThe Coursebook

Discipline

Error correction

Games

Grammar

Group work

Heterogeneous classes

Homework

Interest

Listening

Pronunciation

Reading comprehension

Speaking activities

Teacher talk

Testing and assessment

Vocabulary teaching

Writing

P.S.

Each of the chapters, which offers the reader the opportunity to make an educated guess on the topic to read, has between four to seven teaching tips apart from the final chapter, ‘P.S.’. The author has written the book in such a way that teachers do not have to read it from cover-to-cover. Readers can decide on a topic and then get some inspiration from a particular area of teaching. For example, if you are interested in the area of teacher talking time, you could look at the contents list and refer to the 6 sub-chapters related to the chapter on ‘Teacher Talk’. These topics sub-chapters include:

  • Talk a lot
  • Keep eye contact
  • Tell stories
  • Teach common classroom language
  • Use mother tongue occasionally
  • Invite short responses

Should you decide to read more about telling stories, you can go to the relevant page. Each sub-chapter has a page worth of teaching tips, therefore there are 100 pages of teaching tips within this book. Each teaching tip is easy to digest as there is not too much information on the page with a suitable sub-heading which encapsulates the topic effectively. For example on the subchapter on ‘Tell stories’, there is inspiring piece of sub-heading:

“One excellent way of exposing students to spoken English through teacher talk is storytelling – not only for young learners.” (p.94)

Further down the page there is additional teaching tips and techniques which the reader could easily incorporate into their own classes, such as using a picture-book with young learners to tell a story, using online video versions to support your story, as well as using jokes or other strange events to support the telling of stories and also keep students’ attention. This is one example from the many practical ideas within “Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips”. All tips are broken down into an easy-to-read format and inspires the reader an opportunity to incorporate these invaluable ideas.

The major advantage to this book is that it is also downloadable as well as being available in paperback. The digital formats available include Apple iBook, Google ebook, Kindle ebook and an eBooks.com ebook. So if you wish to purchase this but are unable to purchase a paperback copy, you can purchase it in a digital format. It is not going to be a thorough book on all aspects of English language teaching as this is not what it is focused on. It is a book on the areas of teaching which are more pertinent to teachers and offers a number of ideas which readers could use or tweak if they should wish. As Penny Ur mentioned in her introduction, readers should not “regard [the teaching tips] as directives from an authority, but as suggestions from a colleague” (p.viii). The reader is encouraged to use the tips and techniques selectively.

Actually, this book reminds me of the teaching tips nearer the back of Jim Scrivener’s “Learning Teaching” where there were a number of recommendations for teachers to consider on all aspects of language teaching. I was so inspired by some of these statements by Scrivener that I typed them up on a computer, printed them out, cut these up and laminated them. These self-made flashcards are with me to remind about teaching which can so easily be forgotten. But I am also pleased to say that the book will also be with me so that I am able to get ideas for teaching.

I recommend “Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips” for any English teacher as this book is a wonderful reference book for those seeking a quick technique with regards to an area of teaching. I can see teachers referring to this book if there class observation highlights a few areas to focus on for next time.

There are more resources available for those wishing to learn more about Penny Ur’s latest publication here:

By - Martin Sketchley

"The Ultimate Guide to CELTA": Book Review

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Last week, I was contacted by Amanda Momeni about receiving a book about the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course. For those that are unaware, the CELTA is a recognisable four week full-time (as well as nine week part-time) course for those that wish to pursue a career in English language teaching, either in their home country or abroad. It is recognised as an intensive course and puts all trainees through their paces. When I took the CELTA course nearly ten years ago, the Director of the British Council in Seoul mentioned it was the equivalent of a boot camp for English language teachers and I agree to a point. It is incredibly tough.

Anyhow, I received “The Ultimate Guide to CELTA”, written by Amanda Momeni and Emma Jones, and I was naturally curious about how someone would attempt to encapsulate the course within 113 pages. It was first published in 2013,  is available in paperback as well as in Kindle format and is a wonderful example of two English language teaching professionals, Amanda Momeni and Emma Jones, authoring and publishing their own work. The fantastic drawings are by Kate Hoffmann and are plentiful throughout the book. I was immediately curious about the Glossary (p.107-112) as there is an alphabetical list of acronyms written down which trainees are introduced to during the CELTA course. For example, if you wish to know what TTT means, flick through to page 112. Want to know what ICQ means, go to page 110 to find out. It is a useful index of acronyms for trainees undertaking the CELTA. Looking at the Contents, there are 19 chapters throughout the book – including Glossary. Each chapter follows a methodical and logical pattern with readers being guided through each area of the CELTA course. The chapters are as follows:

  • Meet the Trainees
  • Course Content
  • Getting Accepted
  • Preparing for the Course
  • Trainee Diary Entries Day 1
  • Organising Your Time
  • Input Sessions
  • Lesson Planning
  • Teaching Practice
  • Feedback
  • Self Evaluation
  • Tutorials
  • Peer Observation
  • Written Assignments
  • Observations of Experienced Teachers
  • The Final Day
  • Trainee Diary Entries Day 21
  • Five Years Later
  • Glossary

In the first chapter, ‘Meet the Trainees’, the reader is introduced to four fictitious characters named Harassed Henry (a gentleman who has been made redundant and has decided to undertake the course), Fastidious Felicity (a lady who has followed her husband on his career and is now deciding to do the CELTA), Chilled-out Charlie (a chap who happened by chance to do the CELTA course after a gap year before university) and Anxious Annie (a lady who has just graduated from university and is seeking employment yet appears worried about the exposure that she will face during the CELTA). All names include an imaginative adjective preceding their name and you can start to imagine the different type of people that CELTA trainers may encounter during the course.

Chapters two, ‘Course Content’, is quite short having a fictitious conversation between Harassed Henry and his wife, Pleasant Pat about the content of the CELTA, the criteria for passing as well as what the course includes. The fourth chapter, ‘Getting Accepted’, guides the reader through basic questions for potential CELTA candidates to consider, such as “Am I fully committed, and able to dedicate 100% of my time to a full-time course?” or “Have I got the PC skills to manage basic programmes, such as Word?”. It offers possible trainees the chance to reflect on whether the CELTA is suitable for them. Other parts of this chapter include the application procedure, the language awareness test and the interview. It offers invaluable advice for those that are considering the CELTA and areas to consider during the application process.

The fourth chapter, named ‘Preparing for the Course’, suggests ideas for  the possible trainee to consider prior to commencing the CELTA course. There is a recommendation by the authors about what they suggest as a ‘sleep bank’ and filling up on your rest prior to the course. There is also a helpful checklist at the end of this short chapter for readers to consider. The following chapter focuses on Day 1 of the CELTA course and I can relate much of my own experience to this. All fictitious characters include a diary insert about  their first day of the course and their own opinions. It is an interesting idea and allows readers to reflect on their own first day – had they also graduated from the CELTA. The following chapter, ‘Organising Your Time’, provides readers with some highlights of those well-known characters from the book – if you have completed the CELTA course, you will start to recognise particular traits with other trainees who were present during your course – as well as invaluable tips to consider when organising your personal time, such as ensuring that one is aware of deadlines for written assignments, not leaving anything to the last minute or keeping your CELTA portfolio up-to-date. It is a useful chapter and one that readers of the CELTA course will quickly start to realise when managing their own time.

Unfortunately, for me when I undertook the CELTA course in Seoul, I had an hour and a half commute to the Training Centre. This meant that I had to wake up at 5am, catch the first bus to the train station, catch a train to Seoul and then get a tube to the Centre. Then I had another commute back home where I prepared my lessons till the late hours of the evening. It was one thing that I would not recommend anyone to consider and if I were in a different position, I would recommend anyone to be closer to the Training Centre. I had very little time to waste and much of it was dedicated to the course, so much of what is mentioned in the book is very different to my own personal experiences but I can relate them to those that were on the course with me. There were individuals who were working incredibly hard during the course, and were juggling their own time throughout their four weeks. The weekend is also a time to unwind and relax, as well as catch up on that much needed ‘sleep bank’.

The additional chapters throughout the book are wonderfully written, guiding the reader every step of the way with advice on the actual teaching practice, the input sessions, writing the lesson plans or the written assignments of the CELTA course with delightful illustrations supplementing each chapter. The chapter before last, ‘Trainee Diary Entries Day 21’, is a well written conclusion for those that have completed the CELTA. I can relate well to this chapter as I remember finishing the course with all my other trainees and being invited out for something to eat and drink with them. It was a wonderful chance to relax after such an intense and tough course. The final chapter, named ‘Five Years Later’, looks at predictably at all CELTA trainee characters from the book and where they are now. Each character has moved on from the initial course, each carving out fictitious careers paths in the whole world of English language teaching. I recommend readers to leave the final chapter until they have read the entire book as it would spoil the benefits that this chapter has to offer. In fact, I would recommend those that are doing a CELTA course to leave this chapter until they have written their five year plan. Ideally, readers should leave this chapter all together after five years and reflect back at their five year plan from the CELTA course. I remember from my course that I wrote that I wanted to focus on teaching Military English, become more involved in Examining and teach more adult language learners having taught primarily to young learners. How things have turned out.

The book is aimed at potential trainees for the CELTA and offers some incredibly valuable tips to consider while undertaking the course. One aspect would make the chapters more accessible were if they had been numbered. Each chapter, although not a problem, seems to seemingly cross to the next chapter but perhaps it would make sense for readers to have some signposting when introduced to a new chapter. If you have completed the CELTA and would like to reminisce about it, I would recommend this book as it would offer the reader a chance to think back about what they had undertook and what was included. It was a very memorable event and reading back on  all stages of the course, leaves me with fond memories. This book helped reflect on these. Finally, it is by no means a single book which helps the trainees throughout the course, they still need to do the hard work and there is  all the other recommended reading for CELTA trainees to consider purchasing as well. This is a supplementary book which is solely focused on the CELTA course and I wish it had been around when I took the CELTA all those years ago. I’d recommend the book for those that are considering doing the course and would like to discover what is involved in the CELTA. It is also a light-hearted look at the course and supports graduates from the CELTA to reminisce.

By - Martin Sketchley

Exam Rituals from Asia: Lesson Plan

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Prompted to write a lesson plan from a news article

Today, I read an a very interesting article on the BBC News website about rituals students and their parents undertake before a very important examination. Being inspired by such a reading, and something that would generate conversation in an English language classroom, I thought I would create a lesson about this news article.

  • Aims: By the end of the lesson, students will learn more about exam rituals from South East Asia and extend their cultural awareness.
  • Level: Intermediate or above
  • Timing: 60 minutes or more
  • Focus: Conversation and Scaffolding Emergent Language
  • Materials: Images, Headings and Text (sourced from BBC News)

Step 1: Warmer

At the beginning of the lesson, write up the following questions on the whiteboard for students to discuss in pairs or small groups:

  1. Have you taken an exam recently? What?
  2. What did you do to prepare before taking the exam?
  3. How did you do in your last test?
  4. What would you do differently for your next test?
  5. Would you take any lucky objects with you to the exam? If so, what and why?
  6. Would you eat a special meal the night before the exam? If so, what?

You could give a dice to the students and then get them to ask the question corresponding to the number on the dice that they roll. Monitor learners during the conversation and provide feedback or scaffold language where required.

Step 2: Introduce Images

Hand out the following pictures for learners and ask them to guess why they are lucky and which country these could be from and why there might be particular superstitions related to them.

If learners are having a bit of difficulty, you could get them to look at the images and ask them what they are or what they represent.

Step 3: Matching Exercise

Tell students that they will receive headings related to the images above and that they have to match the headings to the images. Demonstrate with one heading as an example and write it up on the whiteboard. For example, you could write up “Avoid washing your hair” and ask students which picture it is related to. Students should be able to match it up pretty quickly and then ask them why people would avoid washing their hair. Tell them that they need to match up the remaining headings to the pictures.

  1. How KitKat got lucky
  2. An apple a day
  3. Avoid washing your hair
  4. Going nuts over exams
  5. A slice of luck
  6. Praying for success
  7. Lucky watch versus slippery soup
  8. Chicken power
  9. Wear red underwear
  10. Pray for mercy from the “Bell Curve God”

Give students a bit of time to work together and allow them to discuss and link up the pictures. Then once students have finished, you could check as a whole class which images match the headings.

Step 4: Text Matching

The next part of the lesson is for students to match the remaining text to the headings and images. Give the students the text cut up in to ten corresponding parts. Read the first sentence and ask students what image/heading it corresponds to. All text is available on the website but is also available below.

How KitKat got lucky

Traditionally, Japanese students would eat Katsudon before or on the day of an exam, comprising a warm bowl of rice topped with egg and a deep-fried pork cutlet. The dish name’s likeness to the word “katsu”, meaning “winning” is thought to bring students luck. But KitKat in Japan has also been marketing itself as a bringer of good luck. Pronounced as “kitto katto”, the chocolate’s name is similar to the phrase “kitto katsu”, meaning “surely winning”, making it a good candidate for a good luck charm.

An apple a day

Canteens across Hong Kong University campuses serve apples, and a variety of apple dishes, in the run-up to the exam period. “The pronunciation of apple in Chinese is “ping guo”, which also means “safety”. So it’s considered that you will safely pass the exam,” says Chong Wang, from Nanjing in China.

Avoid washing your hair

In your vicious cycle of all-night revision, microwave food and highlighter pens, you may have forgotten to have a shower. But not to worry – in South Korea, it’s thought that washing your hair could wash all the knowledge out. “There was one boy in our class who didn’t wash hair before exams. The rest of the time he was very clean, but once you came to know his exam ritual, you didn’t want to go near him,” said one student about a classmate.

Going nuts over the exams

Around a month before exams start in Hong Kong, students in clubs, societies and residential halls, will gather for “superpass”, or going guo. “Superpass” is a series of activities aimed at helping you pass your exams with a top score. The first part is the superpass dinner, which is usually held at a Chinese restaurant. It’s important that students eat pork cubes with cashews, one of the signature superpass dishes. The Chinese word for “cashews” sounds like the word for “wish to pass”, and “pork cubes” sounds like “desire for a distinction”. Homophones, or homonyms, play a big part in ritual and superstition in many East Asian languages.

A slice of luck

Returning to the hall, it’s time for everyone to have a turn at slicing through a giant roast pig, considered to be an important sacred offering in China. Each participant is given one try at cutting the pig into two halves. Those who succeed are thought to go on to pass all their exams the first time round, and those who fail, will have to re-sit some. This is followed by eating kiwis, as the Chinese word for the fruit sounds like “easy to pass exams.”

Praying for success

Many students in East Asia have the attentive support of their parents, whether they want it or not. “Some parents wait for their children outside the exam hall praying for them to pass,” says South Korean teacher Ji-Youn Jung, “My mum did, but my test results turned out to be awful.” Ultra-keen parents will go as far as praying at Buddhist temples every day for the 100 days leading up to the exam.

Lucky watch versus a slippery soup

In South Korea, the slipperiness of the widely-eaten seaweed soup is thought to mean you will lose all the knowledge from the notes you’ve been revising like mad. “I try not to have seaweed soup before important plans like exams or interviews. But if I happen to eat it without consciousness, I don’t worry too much,” Ji-Youn says. But Chong Wang from China says: “My personal tradition is to have noodles for breakfast on exam day, as noodles mean “everything goes smooth” in Chinese. But I also take my lucky watch.”

Chicken power

A bit of sugar might give you an energy boost, but South Koreans also believe that this sugary snack could have exam-passing powers. Yeot, a traditional sticky food, is eaten before important exams, especially university entrance exams. Ji-Youn explains: “Yeot is a sticky sweet, and the Korean words for “sticky” and “pass entrance exam” sound the same.” Or else drink some chicken juice, which is thought to give your brain a boost. Students in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and China tend to drink this while revising for exams, and on the morning of the exam itself. “It’s nothing superstitious,” says Dylan Lee Soon Yoong, a Singaporean student at University College London. “I drink chicken essence on the morning of the exam… you down it like a shot after heating it up. It’s supposed to help your concentration and is marketed pretty heavily to students in Singapore.”

Wear red underwear

Red is widely believed to be a lucky colour in China. So many believe that it’s a good idea to wear some red clothing, or more specifically red underwear, during an exam. When a person is particularly successful, there is a Chinese saying, “Are you wearing red underwear?” But Chong Wang warns: “Some people may avoid wearing red during exams because in China, fail scores are written in red on score sheets.”

Pray for mercy from the “Bell Curve God”

The Bell Curve God is an embodiment of university students’ fears of the bell curve grading system used in Asia’s top universities, such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. Bell curve grading means not just measuring how well you did in an exam, but rather how you did in relation to everyone else in your class. In an already high-achieving country, that pushes competitiveness to the max. Shrines to the Bell Curve God have been set up at both universities, where food and candles are left as offerings to the “God”.The National University of Singapore has gone as far as setting up a website, Facebook and Twitter account for the Bell Curve God, so that students can pray electronically. “As students, we are subject to the omnipotent, inscrutable force that is the Bell Curve God. He is the arbitrary being that decides our grades,” Dylan Lee Soon Yoong explains.

Step 5: Text Analysis

As a final activity, you could get students to read the text in more detail and do various activities such as underlying or highlighting particular words or vocabulary which learners are unsure of, getting students to write up questions for the text or for you to scan the reading and then come up with your own questions.

Step 6: Describing Examination Preparation Habits

As a final activity, the students could then share their own personal examination preparation habits with their peers. It is a useful exercise and you could exploit it further by getting students to write about their preparation habits or experiences of examinations.


Let me know how this lesson goes and if you have any feedback and I hope your learners enjoy this lesson. It can really prompt learners to share their own experiences of exam preparation in relation to their own country or culture.