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#IATEFL – Research and Teaching: Bridging the gap

#IATEFL Research and Teaching: Bridging the gap

Photo courtesy of Mike DelGaudio

Patsy Lightbown, Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Applied Linguistics), and Nina Spada, Professor (Second Language Education), and co-authors of the prize-winning book How Languages are Learned, look at how increasing teachers’ awareness of second language teaching research can support them in the classroom. Patsy will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2015 on Saturday 11th April.

As teachers, we base our instructional activities on many kinds of knowledge, including our own experience—not only as teachers but also as learners. Whether intentionally or not, we often teach as we taught last year (or five years ago) or as we were taught when we were students. And when we do try to teach in a different way, it may be because we were dissatisfied with our experiences—on either side of the teacher’s desk.

Research on second language teaching and learning is another source of knowledge that can help teachers shape their pedagogical practices. However, we have heard time and time again that teachers have limited knowledge of research findings, even some quite robust findings that have been replicated over many years. Teachers, quite understandably, cite a lack of time for locating and reading research that might be of value to them. Further, they often express a belief that published research is not relevant to their particular teaching situation. Some teachers express frustration at what they perceive as the overly technical or esoteric language of research reports. For these reasons and others, teachers may miss out on information that would help them in their work.

We are convinced of the importance of making research findings accessible and engaging for teachers. Here are some examples of the kinds of research findings that can inform teaching.

  • In content-based language teaching students may not learn the vocabulary and grammar that are present in the language they hear and read—even when they appear to learn the subject matter itself.
  • In well-designed group work, oral interaction allows students to learn from each other as well as from the teacher.
  • First language development, especially literacy, is an important foundation for second language learning.
  • Tests can be used to enhance learning, not just to assign marks.
  • Students need direct instruction on academic language even if they can already engage in informal conversation on familiar topics.
  • Learning to read involves both top down (e.g., understanding the context) and bottom up (e.g., being able to sound out a new word) processes.

An awareness of these and other research findings can be useful as teachers plan lessons and set goals with their students. In collaboration with a group of exceptional researchers with close links to classroom practice, we have developed a new series of books for teachers: Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom, published by Oxford University Press. The series now has five completed volumes, with another in press and two more in development. Each book in the series reviews research on language learning and teaching in a particular domain, emphasizing studies with school-aged learners. Each volume includes Classroom Snapshots that illustrate real classroom events, Spotlight Studies that focus on research that has special importance for primary and secondary school teachers, and Activities that invite readers to extend their understanding by analysing examples of classroom interaction or samples of textbook language.


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insight Top 10 Tips: Using Literature

insight-top-10Students often find it difficult to engage with reading and writing instruction and practice, particularly when large, intimidating texts are involved. This is the second in our series of insight blog posts, aimed at helping teachers to overcome this problem. Here are the Top 10 Tips for Using Literature (Part 1), from teacher-trainer Edmund Dudley.

For many English teachers, love of the language and love of English literature go hand in hand. But is it the same for our students? Sadly, most teenage learners of English do not seem too excited about the topic of literature, associating it with dusty texts and tedious book reviews. In this article, we will look at some tips for using literature in simple and motivating ways in the EFL classroom.

  1. Do judge a book by its cover!

lostworldHaving a large collection of graded readers, short stories or novellas in your classroom is a great way to make literature available to your students, but in itself it does not guarantee that students will be fighting to get their hands on the titles. Many of them may not even take the trouble to look at the books. That is the first thing to tackle. Design simple quizzes that get students to make predictions about a book’s content based on the cover.

Example: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The book tells the story of a scientist who discovers that some dinosaurs are still alive and living in…

  • a) Africa
  • b) Asia
  • c) South America

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight, Insight Pre-Intermediate p.92)

In these activities, the students do not have to read anything – in fact they do not even have to open the book. You can, of course, get them to look through the book quickly to find the answer. In any case, by asking them to make a prediction we can focus their attention on the books available and, with luck, generate some interest in reading.

  1. Make the most of blurbs

The blurb is the text on the back cover of a book. It provides key background information and a summary of the plot. Activities that get students working with blurbs can be an effective way to continue the process of generating interest in titles and encouraging students to get the books in their hands – even if they do not actually open them up.

Again, remember that a successful classroom activity about literature does not have to involve forcing your students to read books in class. Activities such as reading blurbs and matching them to titles help the students to practise language while also tempting them to look closer at the titles available in your class library.

  1. Work with short extracts

Sometimes, less is more. Resist the temptation to give reluctant students long passages to read – there is actually a lot that you can do with a short extract. One simple activity is to show students a single line from a story they have not read and get them to use their imagination to make sense of the gaps in meaning. For example, you could take this line from The Railway Children:

“Tell him the things are for Peter, the boy who was sorry about the coal, then he will understand.”

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight, Insight Pre-Intermediate p.90)

Who is Peter? What things does he need? Why? What happened with the coal? And who ‘will understand’? Students have not read the book, so they have no way of knowing the answers to these questions. Instead, encourage them to think creatively. In class, get students working in small groups to come up with imaginative answers to the questions. Once you have listened to all the suggestions, the students are likely to be curious about the actual answers contained in the story.

  1. Reading for pleasure? Make sure it’s not too difficult

Be aware of the language level when selecting a text. It is important to make sure that the texts we use are at an appropriate level and that the activities connected to the text are as engaging as possible. When it comes to reading for pleasure – also known as ‘extensive reading’ – we should make sure that the language level of the texts we use is below the level the students are actually at. That way, they will be able to read faster and also focus on the story without having to stop at regular intervals in order to look up the meaning of new words in a dictionary. By contrast, if the texts we use contain too many new words or structures then the experience of reading them stops being pleasurable and begins to resemble hard work.

  1. Analysing language? Make the challenge enjoyable

The activity of analysing language can be made more engaging if we use extracts from literature to introduce the features of language we would like to focus on. For example, the following short extract from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains two examples of antimetabole (the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order). Ask students to read the text and identify the two examples:

‘Then you must say what you mean,’ the March Hare said.

‘I do,’ Alice said quickly. ‘Well, I mean what I say. And that’s the same thing, you know.’

‘No it isn’t!’ said the Hatter. ‘Listen to this. I see what I eat means one thing, but I eat what I see means something very different.’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight,  Insight Pre-Intermediate p.87)

Ask students to explain the difference in meaning between say what you mean and mean what you say, and between see what you eat and eat what you see. They can provide a spoken explanation, put something down in writing, or even demonstrate the difference by drawing pictures. As a follow-up, collect further examples of antimetabole on the board or on a specially made poster, complete with illustrations.

Note that although in this lesson we are focusing students’ attention on the language and how it works, by the end of the class you might find yourself with some students who are suddenly more interested in finding out more about Alice…


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Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 1)

Educational-Computer-Games-For-KidsMagali Trapero Turrent is an ELT Editor at Oxford University Press, Mexico. She is the author of several series published by OUP as well as a teacher and former OUP Educational Services teacher trainer. In her post, she shares her ideas for using Web 2.0 tools to develop learner’s language skills.

Having the opportunity to expand the horizon of my traditional EFL classroom has been just as exciting for me as for my students. However, I must admit that, as a digital immigrant, it was not simple at the beginning. It took many hours of focused as well as playful hours of dedicated inquiry to find the link between the learning goals of a CLIL lesson and the potentiality of different Web 2.0 tools to support them. I also had to determine how much scaffolding learners would need before engaging in web-based activities and how to integrate elements of the outside world that could enrich our lessons.

In preparing a science lesson, for example, the integration of international celebrations, such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Day or the United Nations Observances, can bring the real world into the classroom. This, along with Web 2.0 tools, becomes a way of integrating the world of our learners with the real world—right there in our classrooms or as a home-school link.

Using Voice Thread for speaking activities

tools1tools2The typical classroom has learners that gladly engage in communicative activities and those that, given the chance, will avoid the task altogether. Creating speaking activities in Voice Thread, besides adding novelty and variety to lessons, can provide a formative assessment record. Voice Thread is a user-friendly tool that can integrate audio, video, images, text, documents and presentations—providing a multisensory, non-threatening environment where collaborative learning can flourish, even for learners that would otherwise not take part in communicative activities. Voice thread can be accessed using tablets, computers and mobile devices.

Once you have made a decision about the speaking function to focus on (performance, transaction or interaction) and given the language support needed by your learners, you can upload models for the speaking activity directly into your Voice Thread page for your students to view prior to doing the task.

In setting up activities, give learners an opportunity to personalize their experience. After all, that is what students do in the real world through social media, such as Facebook.

The following example presents materials for a science lesson. In the exploration stage of the lesson, learners can talk about what they think a healthy meal is. In a Voice Thread activity, learners can do the following using computers, tablets or their smart phones:

  • Take pictures and create a healthy food poster to present in the recording.
  • Make a video of healthy foods found in vending machines while they narrate.
  • Take selfies next to healthy food street stands and describe why it is healthy.
  • Make a video of their favorite home-made healthy meal and talk about it.
  • Take a picture of their refrigerator and describe its contents.

Additionally, students can ask questions based on classmates presentations or add information to a previously posted presentation before they move into the next stage of the lesson.

As learners get more knowledge on the topic—healthy food, in this example—they can then work with information from international organizations, such as the World health Organization, to learn more about healthy or unhealthy food and its impact on other communities throughout the world.

Using again the science example, and to celebrate International Health Day 2015, a question is added to the activity to activate students’ previous knowledge on food safety—the focus of the celebration. Students proceed to record their current knowledge. Examples of activities that can be created in Voice Thread to activate previous knowledge are the following:

  • Create a cloud with the words you associate with food safety and explain to your classmates the ones you think are the most important.
  • Record an acrostic poem using food safety.
  • In pairs, create a video for a community announcement on what you think food safety is.

tools4tools3 These activities, of course, can be adapted for other core subjects. The advantage of creating speaking activities in Voice Thread is that you can choose the type of speaking function to focus on (performance, transaction or interaction) and monitor each learners’ skill development as well accuracy issues that may arise. It also provides you and your learners with a form of digital portfolio or formative assessment record. Furthermore, it gives learners a reason to communicate in English in a way that it is used in the real world—as much of today’s communication happens through the use of digital tools.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the use of Web 2.0 tools for listening activities.

Please note that not all titles are available in every market. Please check with your local office about local title availability.


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The Writing Paradox

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBGareth Davies, an experienced teacher and teacher trainer gives his thoughts on the second of our Solutions Speaking Challenges: ‘My students don’t want to write’.

I was sitting on the tram this morning watching at least three teenagers talking to each other. I didn’t know the exact number, why? Well there were two girls standing in front of me but the conversation was taking place in two ways – one was a face-to-face conversation and one was a text message conversation with person or persons unseen. The texter was revealing information that was making the girls giggle and laugh and then they were composing replies together, carefully choosing the right words. After pressing send they would chat to each other while impatiently waiting for the next text.

When I got home I started looking at the responses of the survey that OUP ran regarding writing in the classroom, the comments from around the world had a similar theme, ‘they don’t even write in their own language’, ‘pace of life is very fast and they don’t have time to write’, ‘writing is a bore’.  This created a curious paradox in my mind.

The written word is becoming more and more important in terms of communication – emails, texts, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube comments all require writing skills. Yet students don’t see a link between these and what they are doing in class.  So what are the differences?

Possibly in class or as homework writing is seen as a solitary task, a task to do alone, but as the girls showed on the tram writing became fun when they were working together, crafting the perfect line to send to their friend. So can we make class writing a collaborative task and would this increase motivation?

The girls were writing on a screen, maybe pen and paper seems old fashioned to teenage students, they probably never write a note or a letter. So can we save writing activities for our hour in the computer room or allow students to do their writing tasks on their mobile phones or tablets?

The girls on the tram were communicating but do classroom writing tasks feel like a communicative activity or just a chore, an exercise to be marked? For writing to have meaning it needs an audience. So can the students write to each and reply to each other in class? Or do we as teachers need to reply to the content of the piece of writing as well as assess it and correct it? I like to reply with a list of questions that the text left unanswered, this might encourage the student to write back or rewrite the text.

Are students too worried about the mistakes being there in black and white for the world to see? I think it is important for teachers to set criteria for the writing assessment and not focus on every little mistake. So for example, for this task I will be looking at your articles. Also calling the writing ‘a draft’ helps students to understand that they can make mistakes as long as they are willing to redraft and improve.

Even worse than mistakes for teenagers might be that they are writing their hopes and feelings down in black and white for the world to see. One of the benefits of asking students to work alone is that they might open up and share things, but they won’t do that if they fear the teacher will make their writing public. The girls on the tram knew exactly who their audience was, so let the students know who the audience will be – other students, the whole school or just the teacher. Maybe allow them to choose themselves whether the writing is public or private.

So we can see that a few changes to our classroom management techniques can help to make writing a more enjoyable activity but we still need to show students how important writing is. An easy way to do this is to do this quick 5 minute activity.

Write the following on the board –

Whatsapp message, Facebook comment, text message, phone call, tweet, email, face to face.

Call each one out and ask students to put their hand up if they’ve communicated with that tool in the last 24 hours. Then ask students to categorise if they are writing or speaking tools.

This shows them that writing is something they do all the time in their own language whether they realise it or not. So it might be a skill they want to practise in English too.

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Supporting Young English Language and Literacy Learners

pass the bombMany believe that the acquisition of oral language must precede learning to read and write in a second language. Yet, the integration of reading- writing- speaking-listening- thinking may not only enhance, but also, clarify L2 language learning in communicative settings.  In this post Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar on supporting young second language learners as they develop biliteracy.

In our volume, Focus on Literacy, my colleague, Danling Fu, and I discussed the idea that “languaging pushes thinking while thinking pushes and extends languaging.” We used the term “languaging-as-thinking” to describe the process of “doing language, literacy, and learning while being and becoming (Fu & Matoush, 2014, pp. 14-15).” Active languaging-as-thinking while learning to read-write-speak-listen leads to bilingual/biliterate communicative competence, particularly when it is done for purposes that students see as meaningful and authentic.

Active languaging-as-thinking takes place during discussions before, during, and after reading. Just as significantly, it also takes place during the drafting of pieces of written communication and during interactions about the revision of those pieces of writing.  And, when teachers view reading as an opportunity for students to see, hear, and respond to language and view writing as an opportunity for students to give voice to their own interests, inclinations, and ideas, they lead students on the journey to becoming thoughtful biliterates via:

  • Language acquisition that’s connected to home language and cultures
  • Voiced, personally meaningful language and literacy
  • Opportunities to develop cognitive flexibility as well as linguistic flexibility

Instructional emphasis on active languaging-as-thinking impacts student’s understandings of L2 language and literacy and their feelings of self-efficacy regarding L2 language and literacy learning. Further, such an emphasis impacts their identity development as empowered biliterate language users who can choose how, when, where, and with whom they are able to communicate because they learn to make social, cultural, and linguistic choices that can reflect those identities.

Bilingual/Biliterate Development

Second language learners construct “one language system” not “two separate language systems” (Genesee, 2002). This newly acquired system develops gradually as students develop linguistic, cultural, social, and personal understandings. The developmental process is unique to each and learners develop at their own rates and according to their own particular sequence. This requires new language and literacy acquisition to be understood in terms of each student’s home language, culture and social interactions, their experiences with L1 literacy learning, as well as the personal interests, abilities, and inclinations that determine each individual’s use of language and literacy.  Because these factors are unique to each student, supporting each student through the process of becoming biliterate is not a simple task.

Supporting Bilingual/Biliterate Growth

“Don’t expect perfection, expect growth.”

– Linda Hoyt

Many instructional approaches focus on correct, native-like language use for L2 learners.  Yet, primary school learners are grounded in home-based language practices that are “transformed” (Grosjean, 1989) as a new interlanguage system develops. The “multicompetence” (Cook, 1991) that results from this process of transformation suggests that learning should be viewed in terms of “interlanguage” growth rather than in terms of the “target language” (Firth and Wagner, 1997). There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that this applies to both oral and written language development among primary school learners as well as among older students. In fact, Fu (2009) observed adolescent L2 writers and noted that many students visibly progressed from home language writing, to mixed language writing, to the clear use of interlanguage and that this progression occurred prior to the use of conventional English.

Similarly, many instructional approaches focus on bilingual or oral language development prior to biliterate or written language development. Yet, reading-writing-listening-speaking-thinking develop into a single, integrated interlanguage system in which written language supports oral language acquisition, just as oral language supports written language acquisition. Also, both oral and written language lacquisition are supported by:

  • realia (physical objects)
  • gestures, movements, and other kinesthetic involvement
  • illustrations and other representations
  • personal experiences grounded in home language and culture
  • shared events and experiences
  • meaningful social uses of language

The forthcoming webinar will focus on how these and other active languaging supports that enhance L2 biliteracy learning among diverse primary school students. A few practical, low-cost ideas for generating text that can be used for instructional purposes will be included.

 

register-for-webinar

 

Cook, V. (1991). The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multicompetence.  Second Language Research 7, 103–17.

Firth, A. & Wagner, J. (1997) On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81. 285-300.

Fu, D. (2009). Writing between languages: How English language learners make the transition to fluency. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fu, D. & Matoush, M. M. (2014). Focus on literacy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Genesee, F. (2002). Portrait of a bilingual child. In Vivian Cook (Ed.), Portraits of the L2 User. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 167-196.

Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person.  Brain and Language 36, 3-15.

 

 

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