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Reading aloud allowed?

2 teens reading
In this post, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, teacher trainer and ELT consultant, discusses practising and correcting pronunciation through activities that encourage students to read aloud in class.

Sometimes it is worth questioning our procedures and attitudes in the classroom: asking the question “why”? Why use this technique or procedure and what is its value? By doing so, we continually reassess our attitudes, principles and procedures as a teacher. We avoid becoming dinosaurs. 

Reading aloud was a regular activity in language lessons when I was a schoolboy. Some of us loved it; others hated it. The procedure went something like this: one of the kids in the class read from the textbook, but only the first sentence of the text. Then a different child would read the next sentence and so on, around the classroom. Some teachers worked methodically around the classroom; you knew when your turn would come

For some children (sadly, myself included), it was an opportunity to turn off and only turn on when the child seated alongside started to read aloud. Other teachers were more alert to the tricks of children like me. They chose the reader at random so you never knew when you might be exposed as a daydreamer.

As I struggled through my sentence the teacher corrected me–and believe me, in my case, there was a lot to correct!  At the end of the sentence I heaved a mental sigh of relief as the spotlight of the teacher’s attention moved onto the next pupil. By the end of the reading aloud activity a lot of correction had taken place. After that, we worked through a comprehension task (usually 10 comprehension questions!).

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Writing for language learners: Emphasizing the process

Boy writing on paper on the grassMotivating students to improve their writing skills can be a difficult task for teachers to master. In this post, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, gives some tips on making the process fun and engaging.

My students look forward to writing a text as enthusiastically as going to the dentist. But writing can be a great opportunity for students to share information and reflect on their learning. For me, the key has always been to emphasize that writing is a process, and then to break it down into manageable chunks. To do this, I ask them to write a story which they will “publish” as a book.

1. Ask students to write a story

This may not be as simple as it seems. Writing a story involves creativity and imagination, not only language skills. If your students find it difficult to create a story, discuss the latest movie they have seen; who was in it?, where did it take place?, what happened? This will help them focus on characters, plot and, setting.

Give them some time to write their story. I usually give them about 15 minutes. This may not be enough time for everyone, but they will have opportunities to continue writing in the next lessons. The key is for everyone to be writing. Encourage them to write in pencil as this is a first draft. At the end of the 15 minutes collect the texts and go on to the rest of your lesson.

2. Divide the story

concertina bookTell your students they are going to publish their story as a concertina book and show them an example. Emphasize that their book will have a cover and 7 pages. Now, return their stories to them and ask them to divide it into the 7 different pages.

Some of the stories may not be long enough to divide into 7 pages. This should encourage students to add to them. Give them some more time to write, again, about 15 minutes. At this point, encourage them to seek help from their friends, sharing the stories they have so far. Once they finish their stories, tell them to give you only the first page. This will probably lead students to re-write the first page to give you, keeping the rest of their story.

So far, you have given your students a few opportunities to improve their stories: adding content to fit into 7 pages, sharing with friends, and re-writing the first page for you. In this way, students have been able to reflect, seeing writing as a process.

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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #10 Present the tasks properly

Female teacher holding out her left armFollowing on from his first post, 10 Commandments for motivating language learners, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at the last of the 10 Commandments: Present the tasks properly.

Another of Dornyei’s and Czizer’s motivational Commandments is one I wouldn’t have come up with myself. It reads: Present the tasks properly.

Mmm. I absolutely know how not to present tasks properly – for a clear set of instructions of what not to do I need only think back to my younger days in the job (far enough away now in time and place for the thought not to be too embarrassing). This list includes being unfocused, unclear, repeating myself, not explaining everything the students need to do or know and generally waffling unforgivably (all sins I’m sure I still commit often but not on such a regular basis. I hope).

That’s a lot of negatives.

We can put things more positively: we should be clear, we should make sure the students know which language they will need to do the task, and the reason for doing it. So, I suppose, we can give answers to all the wh- questions. What are students doing and using, which language, how long will it go on for, why are they doing it, and who are they doing it with. That may be a beginning to explaining things better. But I wonder what it looks like on the ground…

Here’s an exercise taken at random from New English File Upper-Intermediate. It reads:

e  In pairs or small groups, discuss the questions:

1  What do you think are the strengths of your nationality?

2  What are the weaknesses?

In what way would you say you are typical?

(Aficionados won’t need telling that it’s part of a larger lesson on national stereotypes, p. 20.)

Looking at my own advice, I guess I would present the task something like this. ‘OK guys, it’s time to have a talk about these things. Take a look at the instructions. Any questions? … No, OK. I think this is a useful thing to do because it gives you a chance to use some of the new words and ideas we’ve been working with. I think about five minutes is enough in your buzz groups. At the end I want you to be able to report back on one of your colleagues.’

Would you do the same or different?

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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #1 Set a personal example with your own behaviour

Smartly dressed young woman smilingFollowing on from his first post, 10 Commandments for motivating language learners, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at the first of the 10 Commandments: Set a personal example with your own behaviour.

There were lots of responses to the last blog on motivating language learners. Thanks for all that – establishing a dialogue is such an important part of our professional lives.

It was really interesting to hear from learners like Bethanyx – more from the learners’ perspective is always welcome!  Many of the posts anticipate things I’ll come back to in later weeks (Paul Bishop saying that learners need to know the benefits of what they’re studying, Bindu writing about helping students think ‘out of the box’ and many more).

An interesting comment from Marluce in Rio to the effect that teacher efforts are all very well, ‘but (there is always a “but”) course books need to be used completely in my school, and we feel sometimes overloaded’. Agreed! Two thoughts.  One is that course books should always be the servant not the master; the other is that some course books are better than others, and it’s important to look for ones which are right for the students.

Generally the response goes some way to confirming what I’m thinking, that there’s a widespread perception – internationally, even intercontinentally – that our job is getting harder, or at least we have to find more ways of getting through to students. It’s a perception that may even be true…

Which leads me on to the theme of this post. I finished last time by outlining the 10 commandments of motivation as described by the Hungarian researchers Zoltan Dornyei and Kata Czizer. These were what they called ‘macrostrategies’, meaning I suppose that they are kind of general rules. The task I want to move on to now is to try to put some flesh on the bones, to see how we can actually put these macrostrategies into practice (which I suppose means coming up with some microstrategies, though a large part of me prefers the term ‘specific ideas’).

Take the first commandment of motivation which says ‘Set a personal example with your own behaviour’.

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Not Digital ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’

Laptop on legs on the grassMany of us have heard of the so-called Digital Natives / Immigrants divide (if not, read Digital Natives: Fact or Fiction?). In this post, David White, a researcher at Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL), an award-winning e-learning research and development group in the University of Oxford, introduces us to an alternative distinction: that of Digital Visitors and Residents.

At TALL, we have been taking a close look not at what technologies our students use but at how they use them. We found that our students could not be usefully categorised as Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants – i.e. this distinction does not help guide the implementation of technologies, it simply provides the excuse that “some people ‘just don’t get it’ which is why your new approach has failed so badly…”

Anyway, our students’ appropriation of online services did not seem to follow a simple pattern based on skill level. It seemed to depend on whether they saw the web as a ‘place to live’ or as a collection of useful tools. This underlying motivation led us to outline two main categories of distance learning student.

The ‘Resident’

The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have a persona online which they regularly maintain. This persona is normally primarily in a social networking sites but it is also likely to be in evidence in blogs or comments, via image sharing services etc. The Resident will, of course, interact with all the practical services such as banking, information retrieval and shopping etc but they will also use the web to socialise and to express themselves. They are likely to see the web as a worthwhile place to put forward an opinion. They often use the web in all aspects of the of their lives; professionally, for study, and for recreation. In fact, the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.

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