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Teaching CLIL: Classroom Benefits

Wall-mounted map with woman pointing to a townIn her first guest post for OUP, Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blogger, talks us through some classroom benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

Sometimes, just thinking about developing a CLIL program or even teaching one CLIL lesson can be intimidating, overwhelming, and confusing. But don’t let the tough appearance of CLIL fool you – it can be a very intuitive, natural way to teach and learn. Like any instructional method, though, it requires a certain amount of understanding and dedication from you. It also helps if you’re willing to learn through the process of teaching, as I’m sure you are – being teachable is one of the keys to successful pedagogy. CLIL can be successfully implemented by one teacher, but often, two teachers collaborate before developing lesson plans – and that means learning from each other. By expanding the knowledge available to your students, you’re also expanding your own understanding, learning new material so that you can teach it well. Although it can be a difficult process, it’s often rewarding to teach CLIL. But no matter what you have or haven’t heard about this method, the following description of CLIL and its benefits and challenges can help you decide whether or not it has a place in your classroom.

The pedagogical intentions behind CLIL

You’re probably well aware that Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a way of approaching foreign language instruction subtly through subject-oriented teaching. For example, you might focus on teaching the geography of Spain, but the secondary learning objective would be Spanish vocabulary associated with geography. It might not sound like the most logical approach, but why has it been growing in popularity? – And what’s the point of CLIL?

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Introduction to project work – what is a project?

As part of the celebrations for 25 years of Project, now in it’s third edition, and in preparation for the Project Competition to design the best class poster, Tom Hutchinson explains what a project is and shows us a few examples.

Project work is not a new methodology. Its benefits have been widely recognized for many years in the teaching of subjects like Science, Geography, and History. Some teachers have also been doing project work in their language lessons for a long time, but for others it is a new way of working.

In the first of a series of five blog posts, I aim to provide a simple introduction to project work. In the following posts, I shall then go on to explain what benefits project work brings in relation to motivation, relevance, and educational values. I shall also deal with the main worries that teachers have about using project work in their classrooms. So to get started:

What is a project?

The best way to answer this question is to show some examples of projects (click on the images to see full size versions).

Horse poster
Design by Katorina Pokorná and Klára Kucejová

Projects allow students to use their imagination and the information they contain does not always have to be factual. In the above example of a project which required students to introduce themselves and their favourite things, the students pretend they are a horse.

Dinosaur poster
Design by K Hajnovic

You can do projects on almost any topic. Factual or fantastic, they help to develop the full range of learners’ capabilities.

Lady fashion poster
Designer unknown

Projects are often done in poster format, but students can also experiment with the form, like in the project above. You will probably also note that project work can produce errors! Project work encourages a focus on fluency – some errors of accuracy are bound to occur.

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A cocktail of ideas: blended learning and student autonomy

Young man using computer at desk, wearing headphonesAhead of her talk at BESIG this month, Rachel Appleby, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in Business English, considers how to select appropriate technology when teaching a range of different learners.

When planning lessons these days, where do you start? With a piece of fantastic technology you’ve just heard about? A great YouTube clip, or podcast you’ve enjoyed? A new function or widget you want to share? I know I do this – often; it’s this which gets me using a wider variety of materials and, if I’m motivated, I know some of that will rub off on my students. I’m sure I’m not alone in doing this!

However, the more I try out new features, the more wary I have to be of what my students will want. What will make them ‘bite the bullet’ and join in or have a go? Increasingly, I’m finding I need to think of each individual – what they need, what they have time for, and what’s going to spark an interest to encourage them to experiment and ‘do something online in English’.

Getting students to be committed, engaged, and to ‘learn’ or use English, just doesn’t work if they’re not interested or they don’t see the point. We have to start with the learner and, with an ever-increasing range of materials to draw on, it isn’t getting any easier.

In my talk at BESIG on Saturday 20th November, I’d like to find out what others are experiencing. I’ll elaborate on some of the above issues, and describe what I’ve been doing over the past few months to work with a range of learners in different contexts – part-distance training, face-to-face classes, and of course trying to keep tabs on those learners who can’t make it regularly to class. Within all contexts, some are young adults with unreliable internet access, while others are more experienced in their learning and very computer savvy. There’s someone different on each point of the continuum.

My own experiments have included setting up collaborative group websites, exploiting a VLE (virtual learning environment – Moodle) with course planning, documentation and discussion forum options, and a range of other attempts to inspire my students to participate in a way which best suits them.

Ultimately our aim should be to help guide learners towards their own preferred resource types, and part of that process is showing them what is available, but also helping them manage their learning systematically. This may simply be highlighting the wealth of goodies contained within the course book package and thereby promoting traditional approaches through contemporary methods; for many, this is more than enough.

Blended learning may be all things to all people, but primarily we need to keep up-to-date in terms of resources and learning contexts, and ensure students are able to maximize their learning opportunities and achieve the required results within the framework within which they are operating.

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Teaching business writing in 2010 and beyond

Businessman using cell phoneJohn Hughes, co-author of Business Result and Business Focus Elementary, considers how Business English teachers must continually adapt to new forms and methods of business communication.

When I first started teaching Business English twenty years ago, the approach to writing was essentially genre-based. What I mean is that we – the teachers (and the course books) – generally started any lesson by presenting a model version of a text. So we’d show students a copy of, for example, a letter or a report. Then we’d analyse the features of the text type in terms of layout, conventions, fixed expressions etc. And finally we’d ask students to try and reproduce a similar text type. The approach, which has been referred to as a genre-based approach, has always served us well. It’s especially effective when teaching exam courses such as BEC because the written text-types are so clearly defined.

However, in recent years it feels like the world of business writing has been thrown into a state of flux. We rarely write into a neat A4 sized template in the real world. Instead we write shorter messages by email or even shorter sentences and utterances if we use Twitter and text messaging.

So how do we prepare students to cope with the current trends in writing? Given that we can’t even predict what kinds of texts we might be writing in the future as technology changes so quickly, perhaps the best we can do is to help students develop certain sub-skills. Here are the sub-skills I suggest we focus on.

Firstly, students need to express themselves in far fewer words. They need to be able to sum up a product in three or four words rather than in a longer paragraph.

Secondly, every word a student chooses needs to count because there is no space for excess in a world where you are fighting for your reader’s attention among the deluge of messages.

Thirdly, students also need to become even more flexible with regard to formality. In other words, after years of training students to use formal expressions in written texts, our emphasis should now be on knowing how to write less formally and more directly.

Such skills will require teachers to take an approach to writing that deals with language at word-level and sentence-level rather than taking the traditional approach of dealing with the whole text type – simply because we can no longer be certain that those texts will even exist next year!

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John Hughes will be running a workshop on this topic at the BESIG conference in Bielefeld this month. He will present some practical classroom activities that address the issues mentioned in this article.

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Preparing for those “Umm….” moments in a Speaking test

Woman looking confusedKathy Gude, author of New Fast Class, tackles the challenge of making Speaking exams that little bit easier for students.

For many students, the Speaking Paper can be a stressful ordeal. Our role as teachers is to prepare and encourage them as best we can. In my experience as an exams teacher and exams course book author, I’ve developed some strategies for making students more comfortable with the whole process. I’ve listed a few of them here. I hope you find them useful.

Practice

Because of their perceived unpredictability, tests of speaking and listening put tremendous pressure on the taker, so the more preparation students have, the more they will know what to expect and the more confident they will become. Giving students full-length practice tests under exam conditions before the exam is excellent preparation and will prevent them wasting time during the test checking what they have to do or asking the examiner for clarification. In addition, students will be more aware of how long they need to speak for in each part of the test and what types of tasks they will need to be able to cope with.

Teach them to listen

Students are often unaware that to be a good speaker, you need to be a good listener. Listening carefully to what they have to do, to questions they are required to answer, or to their partner in a paired test, will help students give a coherent and appropriate response to the task in question.

‘Umm…’ moments

Students often find speaking tests unnerving because they worry about not having anything to say. One useful way of dealing with this problem is to give students a range of fillers to use while they formulate their response. This enables them to begin speaking immediately while, at the same time, giving themselves an opportunity to come up with a suitable response. Depending on the students’ level of English, phrases like ‘Well, that’s a very interesting question…’, Let me see…’, ‘I’ve often wondered…’, ‘It’s difficult to say exactly but…’, etc. will prove extremely useful if they can’t immediately think of a reply.

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