ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

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Stress in the Classroom


For all teachers, stress can play an important role in the classroom.  It can raises students’ awareness, improves confidence for learners as well as develops appropriate receptive skills.  By now, you probably have assumed that I am not really suggesting about the stress levels of a particular teacher or student but I am focusing on the stress, intonation and rhythm of language.  I was lucky enough to lead a seminar discussion on this particular topic and have uploaded my presentation to scribd.  The aim of my particular seminar discussion was; How important is it to teach intonation, rhythm and stress? (What problems do learners typically encounter?)  The presentation is available to view below:

Language Description & Analysis – Week 3 Seminar Discussion

Initially, I focused on intonation in the classroom and during my reading and research I found that intonation ‘is about how we say things, rather than what we say’ (TeachingEnglish).  Thornbury suggested that intonation is ‘the music of speech’ (2006) and, with a teaching perspective, an ‘attempt to explain intonation is likely to fall on deaf ears’ (Thornbury, 2006).  Perhaps a ‘rule of thumb’ approach is more appropriate for raising awareness with intonation in the classroom.  Nonetheless, a thought a about a fun and awareness-raising intonation activity could include the following:

Say it with Feeling

  1. Write up the following sentences on the board;
    • It’s raining!
    • I can’t believe it!
    • What are you doing?
  2. Then on the other side, write some adjectives related to feelings (happy, angry, bored, shocked, etc).
  3. Call a student to the front of the class and ask them to secretly choose one sentence and one feeling, the other students have to guess which feeling the student chose.
  4. Repeat this process once students have understood the process of intonation to express happiness, anger, shock, etc.

 We are all aware that as educators, we could highlight the intonation in sentences/questions but my only objection to this could be that is students’ could acquire intonation through exposure rather than being too prescriptive in teaching and aiming to conform students to more acceptable communication.  This would encourage students to become more autonomous learners and aware of not only what is mentioned, but how it is also mentioned.

The next part of my seminar discussion led on to rhythm and the suitability within the classroom to teach it.  There was not much reading material related to rhythm and so I had to resort to Twitter and TeachingEnglish.  I found it correlated with sentence stress, connective speech and intonation.  So much so I tried to relate the rhythmic language of Tongue Twisters to this part of the discussion.  I introduced the class to a famous tongue twister with the use of wordle:

The tongue twister is; “If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?”  Quite a mouthful really.  Anyhow, my belief is that the natural rhythm of tongue twisters could be implemented to assist with rhythm-based language awareness.  Furthermore, students would become more confident speakers if they are able to sound quite fluent when communicating and maintaining their communicative rhythm.  Other activities that could facilitate the use of rhythm could be the use of getting students to sing in sentences, but having not had much experience of teaching stress I would be appreciated of further comment from other educators on how to teach rhythm.

Finally, we looked at the element of stress in the classroom.  There was some debate about Scrivener’s comment that ‘vowel sounds are typically weak and unstressed’ (Learning Teaching, 2005) as all students had arrived from a lecture where we were introduced to allophones.  For those of you that are interested, allophones is a particular phoneme pronounced in a different way; a Scottish may say the word “bath” differently to someone from London.  It is these different ways of saying the same phoneme when they are referred to allophones.  Nonetheless, it is widely recognised that incorrect usage of word stress is a common cause of misunderstanding in English (please refer to page 7 in my presentation for an example).  We also looked at some popular methods of raising awareness of stress; these included marking and highlighting stress (page 7), showing the differences in meaining for particular words that are stressed (page 8) as well as arranging stress patterns (page 9).  Now if you can spot the error on page 8, well done; I created the presentation over the course of the weekend and my only excuse is that my eyes were tired and I didn’t pick up the error until it was displayed from the OHP for all fellow students to see.  Anyhow, the main emphasis was there to generate discussion among fellow students.

I ended the discussion on further ideas; such as including the paralinguistic nature of language during an task-based activity (such as booking an appointment on the phone), so students could be introduced to word and sentence stress when looking at new vocabulary, reviewing the intonation and rhythm which could be prompted by student generated sentences.  The first presentation was useful on a personal level as I had to research a topic often overlooked by many EFL Teachers.  I hoped that the class led the presentation (rather than the other way round) and most fellow students participated in the discussions.  Some of the debatable statements that were included did help get students involved.  I am really keen to develop my own teaching including the topic that I presented.  I am quick to mention that I have often had a relaxed opinion of fluency and pronunciation, hoping that students would be able to acquire receptively.  However, the debate for next time is whether we should focus on Received Pronunciation or World English.

FCE Examination – Writing Tips (Part 2)

After writing the initial blog post on Part 1 of the FCE Exam, I was requested to write another blog post offering advice for students and offer some insight for teachers to answer Part 2 of the FCE Examination.  As detailed in my previous blog post, the written element of the FCE Examination is split into two parts.  Part 1 is aimed at getting students to write a letter or email using a variety of prompts, whilst the second part is aimed for more individual and autonomous written work in the exam.  There are normally four questions in the examination, with the final question split between two sub-questions (only one sub-question need answering).  Nevertheless, students are expected to write between 120-180 words for this part.  Below, there is sample of the questions expected in the FCE Examination.

FCE June 2010 – Part 2

When looking at the questions from the sample examination questions above, it requires the student to write on particular topics (either with the style of an essay or report).  Question 2 & 3 are recommended for students to answer as, although no prompts are necessarily provided, it provides the student some foundation of topic to follow.  For example, when students answer Question 2, they could brainstorm areas of importance and prepare their written answers.  Areas that could be included in the essay could be:

  • Languages that the student speaks
  • Why people learn languages
  • Reason/motivation for learning languages
  • Importance with languages

Students could think about areas that they might talk about if they were discussing this topic in class.  However, the student should organise their ideas effectively.  When writing an essay, effective organisation should include a beginning, middle and an end (or in more English friendly terms; an introduction, a conclusion and some important points to add in the middle of the essay).  For example, a good essay could start with the following:

  • Introduction – I have been studying languages since I was young, and started learning French when I was at school at the age of 12.
  • Middle – Nonetheless, many people learn languages for many different reasons; to get a new job, to communicate with friends, to get a promotion.  However, if people are not that motivated in learning a language, they will not succeed in that chosen new language that they are going to study.  I was not that keen on learning French at secondary school and consequently did not become very good at French.  These days I am still not keen on learning French.  Yet when I moved to South Korea, I had a very good reason to learn Korean and mastered this new language to some proficient degree.  It is important for learners of languages to see some reason to learn a language, otherwise the learning of the language will become stale and boring.
  • Conclusion – These days, learning languages could be considered important if it is related to your job and has some reason to a student on a personal level.  I guess people should try to learn any number of languages, as this will open up new ideas, ways of thinking, improve understanding of cultures, etc.  Nevertheless, it is up to personal preference whether a student decides on learning one foriegn language or several.  What is important is that the learner enjoys their experience and journey along the way.

As noted above, the essay is split up into several parts and the ideas suggested above are included.  Within the conclusion of the essay, the question is then answered but is linked to the other sections of the essay.  With this type of question, it is important for the student to plan their answer and use the following to improve the readability of the answer:

  • Linking one sentence to another – Unmotivation of language learning related to a real life experience (French language learning).
  • Usage of discourse markers – It is important for students to learn how to use discourse markers (however, nevertheless, nonetheless, also, in addition, etc) effectively in written English.  Discourse markers are important as they are to illustrate logical relationships and sequence within writing.
  • Number of words – Don’t write too much.  It is simple and expected, but students do make this mistake by writing too much.  Remember, the KISS statement from my previous blog post – Keep It Simple Silly.

The third question offers students to write about their home country.  It is simple enough and most students (given the chance), would be more than happy to talk/write about their own country – I know I would.  Students should follow a similar style to Question 2 when writing this question and they should also try to keep the report on topic.  What topics would you write about if you were given the opportunity to write about your country?  The topics that you may have thought up of could have included places to visit as well as where to eat.  For students, it makes sense for them to make a quick note of famous places to visit as well as places to eat.  Once there are some ideas noted down, students should try to put things into order (as illustrated with the above example), and then write in a suitable and effective manner.

The fourth question is based upon a story for students to write.  The only prompt in the example examination, only provides students with a sentence to continue.  This sentence provides students the opportunity to write creatively.  Students should only attempt to answer this question, should they feel confident about answering it.  Normally, from a marking perspective, most students attempt question two and three.  Question four is only attempted in rare occassions.  When attempted, it is either very good or the candidate has made a pig’s ear of it.  As with Question 4, Question 5 should only be attempted if the student is feeling confident about answering it.  This question is aimed at the book and movie of two popular titles, in this case Jurassic Park and The Woman in White.  Students should feel comfortable when answering these questions and confident when using comparitive/superlative language.  Again, as a marker, not many students attempt this question.

I hope the advice offered in this post is useful to some and that some teachers are able to learn more about Part 2 of the written element of the FCE Examination.

FCE Examination – Writing Tips (Part 1)

I have been an examiner for Cambridge ESOL for around four years.  Initially, I started examining the BULATS in South Korea as an oral examiner.  This opened up the world of examining for me and I have enjoyed every bit of examining each time.  The busiest period for examining, particularly the FCE, is during the summer and winter months.

The First Certificate Examination Writing component is split into two parts.  The first part of the writing test is based around an email or letter that you receive.  Please see the below example of the type of writing set:

FCE Writing – Part 1
As you can see, the first question provides areas for the student to write about.  On the question paper, there are four points; “Thank Mrs Smith”, “Tell her”, “Say which and why”, and “Ask Mrs Smith about”.  The student must cover each point that is suggested and write in an appropriate and accurate format.  For example, the following answer could be used as a template to assist students:

FCE Writing – Part 1 Answer

As you can see with this sample answer, all points are covered.  The examiner will be checking that all the points are answered in a logical and accurate manner.  Marks are awarded between 0-5.  Zero being the lowest mark and five being the highest mark in the FCE.  Examiners will be checking for the range of vocabulary used, accuracy of grammar/lexis, as well as the suitability of language used.  Students should be aware how to write in a semi-formal way for the first part of the FCE Examination.  For example, lexical and grammatical areas that should be understood by the student could include the following:

  1. Writing a letter or email: provide students with sample letters or emails (with mistakes) and have a grammar auction or self-correction lesson.  It is important for students to learn how to start a letter/email as well as how to finish it.  I came across many scripts from students who were unable to correctly start and finish the email.
  2. Topical areas: students should be aware of the lexical connections for explaining their hobbies, interests and leisure activities at a confident level.  Teachers should try to provide lessons based around these areas.  Further topics are suggested below.
  3. Usage of polite questions: students should be able to transpose direct questions to polite indirect questions when writing for the first part of the test.  For example; “How long is the factory visit” to “I would like to know how long the factory visit will take?” and “Is parking available for the school coach?” to “Could you (also) please let me know if there is parking available for our school coach?”
  4. Typical errors: the most typical error (particularly from one geographical area) was the use of idiomatic language, such as; “One the one hand ….”/”On the other hand ….”, “It’s high time that ….” (one unsuitable method of starting a sentence in an email/letter).  I would urge students to start sentences in a simple and natural manner.  If students try too hard to use language/sentence forms that have been memorised, it looks out of place and completely unnatural.

Areas of topics that teachers could cover, for both Part 1 and Part 2 of the FCE Examination, could include the following:

  • Personal information
  • The family
  • Daily activities
  • Home
  • Town and country
  • Travel and tourism
  • Food and drink
  • Describing people
  • Describing things
  • Friends and relationships
  • Health and fitness
  • Leisure time
  • Education
  • The world of work
  • Money
  • Past experience and stories
  • Science and technology
  • Social and environmental issues

I hope the above helps teachers advising students, as well as those studying for the FCE.  Remember the acronym; KISS (Keep It Simple Silly).  If students keep their answers simple, they should find the test easier.  Finally, best of luck for the examination.  I shall be blogging on Part 2 of the FCE Writing element soon so please keep an eye out.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment or contact me.

“An A-Z of ELT”: Book Review

This book was first published in 2006 by Macmillan, yet four years later I have only managed to purchase this book in preparation for my MA ELT course at the University of Sussex.  The blurb on the back describes the book as a “cross-referenced, alphabetical guide to ELT”.  In essence it is a dictionary of English Language Teaching terms and concepts.

Initially the premise of the book looks slightly overwhelming yet it really is slimmer than Practical English Usage (written by Swan) with all ELT related terms and concepts included.  It does appear that the book is invaluable for those that are required to learn terminology needed inside and outside of the classroom.  It also builds confidence for teachers that have limited teaching experience and ELT knowledge.  It is written in an ‘easy to understand’ style with additional references at the end of the book.

Nonetheless, Thornbury’s guide for ELT professionals has limited references under each alphabetical heading and the reader is required to look at the end of the book for guidance on further references (such as teaching methodologies and theories which are not written in depth).  This may not be particularly helpful for particular teachers but I can say with confidence that other areas written are invaluable.

When combining the A-Z of ELT with Thornbury’s personal blog (which is updated on a periodic basis) with web-based updates, it appears highly supportive reference material for ELT students and professionals.  On Thornbury’s blog, he does reference further reading for academics like myself.

With fear of shamelessly promoting the book, I would encourage fellow ELT professionals to get their hands on this particular book.  It really is a fantastic resource and invaluable for newly certified teachers seeking to learn more with regards to ELT terminology.  I should mention that the book is currently unavailable to purchase and Macmillan mention that it is ‘out of stock’.  I do hope that the book is available in the near future for fellow ELT professionals and academics.  It appears that I was incredibly lucky to get the book from Amazon as I only got on 6 August 2010.

“Teaching English Grammar”: Book Review

If you are like me and you feel apprehensive about introducing or presenting grammar for fear of a teacher centred lesson, I would recommend that you consider buying “Teaching English Grammar” by Jim Scrivener.  It is a great book, published by Macmillan Books for Teachers, which breaks down the differing elements grammar in a ‘communicative’ methodology.

The grammar contained in the book breaks down grammar into sizeable chunks, what I like to refer to as ‘McGrammar Nuggets’.  It starts with the basic such as “singular and plural”, then moves on to more complicated grammar later in the book; “causatives”.  Once looking at a particular grammar point, it focuses on two important areas; presentation and practice.  The presentation of the grammar will make use of a context whilst the practice could include roleplay, pair work, mingling, etc to make use of a particular grammar point.  For example, section 43 looks at the present perfect progressive/continuous.  However, Thornbury, as mentioned in his “An A-Z of ELT“, suggests that the “present perfect is baffling for many learners”.  The book suggests presenting this grammar point by:

  1. Draw a picture of a cinema exterior.  A woman is waiting, looking unhappy.  Draw a clock showing 2.00.  Ask students why they think the woman is unhappy.  You could mime ‘waiting’ by tapping your foot and looking at your watch to help students if they are struggling.  Establish that she is waiting for her boyfriend.
  2. Change the clock to show 2.15.  Establish that she is still waiting.  Add in some rain starting to fall.  Mime the girl looking at her watch.  Ask students if they can guess what she is thinking (Where is he? Oh no! A trumpet!).  Elicit or model ‘I’ve been waiting since two o’clock.  I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes!  It’s been raining for 15 minutes!’

 The practice for students is interesting.  Scrivener suggests a number of different short role plays, prepare interviews, a desert island (Robinson Crusoe-esque role play between an islander and a visitor), etc.  Finally Scrivener highlights some particular problems that students could find themselves using as well as advising teachers to teach the present perfect progressive as a lexical item (i.e. – I’ve been; working, living, doing, looking, thinking, etc).  Furthermore, Thornbury also suggests uncovering the present perfect with typical contexts such as “talking about work and travel experiences, talking about things that have changed, and announcing news”.

One important point that is covered is the use of concept questions.  Within each grammar focus, there is suggested concept questions that can be used to ‘check understanding’.  For example;

Tony Blair is more interesting than Gordon Brown.
Can you make a sentence about Tony and Gordon using the word boring?
Who would have more friends?

I find this book more useful than the all too common and over-reliance of “English Grammar in Use” which is used by many EFL Teachers these days.  I find a few teachers, myself included during the first few years of my EFL career, opening up “English Grammar in Use” and photocopying exercises to fill time at the end of class.  It kills motivation immediately.  If you are a motivated teacher wishing to re-discover methods for uncovering grammar in lessons, using suitable contexts for classes, knowing what activities will provide a good ground for covering grammar and lexical areas, then “Teaching English Grammar” by Scrivener is for you.  It provides enough inspiration to enable confidence for EFL teachers and when combined with other grammar based books, you will provide a lesson that is grammar rich and more student centred.

Games in the Classroom: Workshop

I went to a workshop at LTC Eastbourne on Monday 19 July 2010 and it was about “Games in the Classroom”.  The idea behind this workshop was to introduce common games to assist with teaching and learning in the classroom.

The principal idea about games, particulary circle games, is that they “encourage the whole class to work together” as well as facilitate the learning experience and offer an opportunity for learners to practice using English in a friendly and informal setting.  When I teach children and teenagers, I find it particulary important to include a form of competitive game (or informal language practice) each day which is linked with the theme, topic or grammar point.

Anyhow, during the workshop teachers were encouraged to think about their favourite EFL games that they include in lesson.  Among teachers there were a list such as; Chinese Whispers, Stop the Bus, Hotseat, Circle Games as well as many others.

I decided to extend this list, as well as further ideas, for EFL Games:

Stop the Bus
Divide the class into groups of three or four people each. On the board, write five or more categories (foods, nouns with more than five letters, jobs, adjectives to describe people, animals, capitol cities). Give the students a letter (H); their task is to come up with one example of each category that begins with that letter (hot dog, hamburger, hotel receptionist, helpful, hyena, Havana). I usually do an example with the whole class before we start the real competition. When a group has one example for each category written down, they say “Stop the bus!” and you check. If their answers are good you can continue with the same categories but a different letter. Another version is giving them a time limit and seeing how many unique examples of each category they can come up with in that time (“unique” meaning no other group writes it).

Hot Seat
Divide the class into two teams, and have each team send one representative to the front of the class. Each representative sits on a chair with his/her back to the board.  You write a word behind each representative, and the team has to explain or define that word so that the representative can guess it. The first representative to correctly guess the word written behind him/her gets a point for the team and the round is over. Two new representatives come to the front. You may have to explicitly forbid pantomime or using any form of the word on the board (“Teacher”…a person who teaches) and of course any translation.

Chinese Whispers
A common and traditional game whereby two rows (or could be more) sit on chairs or perhaps stand.  You show a word to each person at the end of the row and they have to whisper to the person in front.  This game can be amended to include grammar points, questions, collocations, synonyms, etc.  It is a reliable and relaxing way to introduce new vocabulary.

False Information
This is a personal favourite GTKY (get to know you) game/activity.  You demonstrate this initially on the whiteboard by writing three personal sentences, for example:

1. I have been teaching since 2005.
2. I am 35 years old.
3. I can speak some Korean.

Students have to guess the sentence that is false.  By the way, it is number 2.  Once you get some feedback, get students to write three sentences about themselves.  Make sure you explain it can be about anything (family, friends, hobbies, etc) but it must include a sentence that is false.  Get students to mingle and they have to guess their partner’s true and false sentences.  This activity alone can last about 20 minutes.

Just a Minute
This activity is developed from the famous and long-running BBC Radio show.  Demonstrate the game by playing a recording or YouTube video from the Radio Show (such as below), and elicit from students the rules of the game.  Once rules are understood, you give students a topic to talk about for a minute.  If students make a grammar mistake, repeat themselves or think too much.  The teacher has to act as a mediator/chairperson.  This activity will allow students to practice speaking in an informal and competitive setting.

There were plenty other games included in the workshop but I have selected some that were discussed during the workshop.

Past Simple Reading Relay: Lesson Plan

I created a lesson plan yesterday for students so that they could practice the Past Simple form.  I found a bit more about Heath Ledger and then created a reading relay.  There are two parts to this lesson; first students have to re-create the past simple question forms and, secondly, students then have to look for the correct information.

You would be able to link this lesson to Superheroes.  Personally, I got students to create their own superheroes and then they look at popular superheroes and we brainstormed vocabulary (alias, superpowers, costume, arch enemy) which we linked to Batman and then finally to Heath Ledger.  It was a long context builder but the students enjoyed it.

Anyhow, please find below the lesson plan and please feel to share and provide feedback.  I hope your students enjoy this.

Question Formation
Heath Ledger Question Formation

Reading Relay
Heath Ledger Reading Relay  

Brighton IATEFL 45th Annual Conference

I have just received the information about the 2011 IATEFL Conference in Brighton in a form of a nice booklet.  I am planning to go to this conference next year and it will be my nice conference.  I have viewed the conference online but there is nothing like being there in person.  I am curious what to expect but I hope to meet likeminded teachers at this event.  It will be the year of my graduation from the MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Sussex.

Video listening quiz: Waka Waka This Time For Africa

Video listening quiz: Waka Waka This Time For Africa

A great listening exercise for the World Cup by Arjana.

World Cup 2010: Lesson Ideas

The World Cup is a great opportunity for many teachers to introduce songs, facts and information for the classroom but another possibility for teachers is to use pictures. However, why would a teacher wish to use pictures in the classroom?

Pictures can support creative thinking, encourage free-thought and allow students the opportunity to discuss ideas amongst themselves. For example, how could teachers use the picture below in the classroom?

Ideas for the picture above could include:
  • Make a headline
  • What is the player in the background thinking?
  • Do you know player number 10?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What is number 13/15 thinking?
  • Describe the picture to a partner and get them to draw it without them seeing the original.

I hope this sparks some ideas and if you have more, please feel free to comment.

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