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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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Teaching large classes

teenagers outside schoolAlastair Grant, a Teacher Development Manager in Buenos Aires, looks at the challenges in managing large classes of teenagers, and suggests ways to ensure successful lessons.

I shut the door behind me and realised I had made a big mistake.

No, this isn’t the starting sentence from a creative writing class that I went to when I was 12, but the feeling I got when stepping into that secondary school classroom…

Me, a first year teacher, fresh off my teaching course, and full of ideas about communicative activities, interaction patterns, etc., suddenly faced with 32 teenagers all speaking in a language which I didn’t understand, and not paying me any attention! I needed to change things fast.

Back when I started teaching (time seems to move at twice the normal speed in this profession), I found this pretty intimidating. We know that large classes can have their fair share of challenges – I’ve picked out five to get you thinking:

  1. Monitoring
    Let’s see: you have 32 students doing an activity; that means you’ll have about 12 working quietly, 6 working together, 4 talking about their weekend, and 10 calling your name in unison, demanding help. And if you’re lucky, it’ll be in that order.
  2. Environment
    There are desks in the way, bags all over the place and it can seem impossible to be able to reach your students to help with them while they’re working.
  3. Discipline
    With even the best adolescents and adults, there’s a temptation for them to speak in their native tongue, or just not to work, which is even more common in a larger class, especially as there’s less chance of you spotting it!
  4. Interaction
    Trying out a “find someone who” activity with a class THIS size can turn you into a policeman, because you have to make sure students don’t use the activity as a reason to speak in their language. It’s also hard to make sure everyone can get to speak to each other without creating chaos!
  5. Testing
    Having 32 writing, reading, listening, speaking, and grammar tests to check for only ONE of your classes, is exhausting for any teacher.

Ok, so far so bad, but strangely, six months into the job, when asked by my director which class I was enjoying the most, I found myself answering “the one at the secondary school”.

So what had changed?

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How to make progress with Advanced students

Students shaking hands with their teacherIf advanced-level students think they’re not making much progress, or they’re struggling with motivation, it’s time to try some new ideas. Rachel Appleby, co-author of the Business one:one series, shares hers with us.

This article was originally published in Dialogue Magazine.

“Basically, they can operate quite well in English, perhaps with a few mistakes. And their vocabulary’s OK, though they sometimes avoid complex grammar.  They don’t seem very motivated, because they don’t easily see their progress, yet I’m sure their English could be much better.”

Sound familiar? It’s certainly pretty common at the start of any of my advanced courses. But a few simple tricks to determine what they need and what you want them to do, and you’ll be teaching advanced learners successfully before you can say ‘advanced Business English’.

My advanced students often simply state that they want more sophisticated English, but what do they mean by that? Well, I believe they want to communicate  in a more appropriate style, and sound  like a native speaker. They also want access to a wider range of expressions, and of course, they need to ‘lose’ some of their ingrained mistakes.

So how can we do this? Well, first and foremost, they need exposure to lots of listening and reading materials – texts which are carefully selected and exploited in advanced-level course books, as well as a wide range of authentic material. Encourage them to be active readers and listeners, by suggesting they highlight or note down phrases they’d like to add to their repertoire.

Set a challenge

With one of my current groups of advanced learners, we were practising phrases for meetings, but they weren’t really using them. So the next week, I produced a tick-box form of phrases (see below) and put students into groups of three – two students to have the meeting, one student to listen and tick boxes. The students swapped roles so there were three meetings altogether. I told them that at the end we’d be counting up the ticks. Well, now the challenge was on, the results vastly improved, and their satisfaction by the end was greatly enhanced – as was mine!

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Dream or reality? – reflections on the Oxford Teachers’ Academy course

Having attended the Oxford Teachers’ Academy summer course on Teaching English to Teenagers, Erika Osváth shares her reflections of the three day course, what she learned, and the people she connected with.

Oxford Teachers' Academy Summer 2011 Group

Oxford Teachers’ Academy Summer 2011 Group, courtesy of Alice Abrahamova

Have you ever experienced this?  Getting home from a teacher training course or a conference abroad, where you’d had the opportunity to meet colleagues from a lot of countries from around the world, you feel so inspired by the whole experience that you seem to be living in two worlds at the same time for several days after the event? I’m sure that a lot of you have and know exactly what such an experience is like.

A few days after participating in the Oxford Teachers’ Academy three-day-course on Teaching English to Teenagers I have this pleasantly odd feeling: half of me is still wandering the streets of Oxford, staring at the façades, quads, libraries and churches of the unbelievable number of colleges, some dating back to the mid-thirteenth century. All of them so gorgeous that I’m left speechless. Though, I must admit, I didn’t have any problems chatting in the evenings in the pubs, which were just as old as the colleges.

This same half of me is also taking part in vibrant discussions on what the teens we teach are like in the countries we come from, having lots of fun trying out some useful activities, discussing how they’d work within our own teaching contexts and getting interesting insights into the different cultures.

My physical self, meanwhile, is back in Hungary, surrounded by buildings and objects I can’t really focus on as I find myself constantly thinking about how to take ideas from the OTA sessions further in my own teaching, material development and training.

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5 tips for helping students to really learn vocabulary

Teacher pointing at the whiteboardLaura Austin, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press, presents some useful tips on how to teach vocabulary to your students so that they will really learn it.

Students need to be able to do so much more than reel off lists of vocabulary. They need to be able to manipulate the language so that it can support their communicative needs. Below are 5 ways to help students really learn vocabulary; to help them write, speak and communicate confidently and correctly.

1)    Repeat little and often

It’s alarming how quickly students can forget vocabulary. Encouraging students to focus on new vocabulary daily is the best way to make it stick. It doesn’t have to involve sitting down for hours; little and often will help get vocabulary into students long term memory. If you can get students to commit to just 15 minutes a day of focussed vocabulary practice, they’ll soon have a solid vocabulary base. Mobile apps and short online activities are great for this, as students can log on instantly and test themselves at any point of the day – it’s really not difficult to integrate learning into their daily routine this way. Encourage students to be systematic about studying and review new words at least once every couple of weeks.

Idea for your class: Ask students to create their own system for reviewing new vocabulary and trial it for a month. Students then give feedback to the class by preparing a presentation of how it worked.

2)      Learn vocabulary in chunks

We all know that learning vocabulary in chunks is useful and improves accuracy and fluency. If we can allow students to also see how much time can be saved by learning this way, they are more likely to pick this up as something they do automatically. Words used out of context can destroy the understanding of a sentence. The moment the sentence is pre-formed, a range of vocabulary can be inserted, giving students the added confidence that their structure is correct.

Idea for your class: At the end of the week, students write down three sentences (using new lexical chunks), two of which are true for themselves and one which is false. They practice using this language by reading the sentences to their classmates, who need to guess which is the false sentence.

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How to overcome cultural differences in ESL writing

Man struggling while writingSamantha Stroh, a published author with over 15 years of teaching experience, explores some of the difficulties second language learners face when writing in the language of another culture.

When my students know it’s time to write, the loud groans and yawns are audible from the next room. I also see many fearful faces. Very few of us enjoy the labour (yes, it is work!) of writing in our first language, but it can be terrifying in your second. An ESL writer must not only deal with grammar and mechanics (something most native English speakers also don’t understand) but also the real challenge of confusing cultural differences.

Writing expresses a person’s character and background by the tone and style that is used; trying to express that same voice while adhering to often strict style guidelines of another language can be daunting. It is possible, however, to be a great second language writer.

For ESL students, writing in English is challenging in a variety of ways, depending on where each student comes from. To understand how different cultures communicate, it’s helpful to think of the personality of that culture. Imagine being in a business meeting with native English speakers. Do they warmly greet each other with hugs and kisses? Shake hands? Bow?

In comparison with other cultures, English speakers are generally reserved. Sentences are often short and simple, and it’s the writer’s responsibility to be understood by the reader. No questions should be left unanswered and long, flowing paragraphs with never-ending adjectives and countless commas are frowned upon in most kinds of writing.

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