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Old techniques, new results

Cooking class at schoolAnna Silva has been a language teacher for over 20 years in Brazil, teaching in state and language schools. In this article, she looks at ways of reinforcing vocabulary and grammar through practical application for young learners.

It seems that children can learn another language fast; however, they forget as quickly as they learn. So teachers try to find ways to keep young children interested and at the same time help them learn and use the knowledge acquired.

Is there a magic formula to help us?

Over the years, I have developed several projects and I repeat some of them year after year because I do see good results. One of these projects is our cookery classes. I have noticed that cooking really holds the students` attention and helps them memorize vocabulary related to food and verbs related to instructions. Parents have also expressed how surprised they are when they are abroad and see their children mastering the use of simple structures and daily expressions or words. One of these parents was especially amazed because he saw his son asking a waiter for a straw as naturally as if he was using his first language.

In our cookery classes, we follow some steps which I think are crucial to enrich the learning process: introduce the ingredients/ vocabulary, explain the steps, ask students to repeat and explain by themselves what was taught, make the recipe, taste, take a sample home along with the recipe and do a follow-up activity.

As scientists have emphasized the importance of using as many senses as possible to help our brain retain the information taught, the classes are completely practical and the hands-on technique is of crucial importance. Besides this, the very act of cooking brings joy and a lot of laughter to our classes.

The follow-up activity can be a simple and entertaining exercise like a crossword puzzle or  ‘match the columns’, ‘circle the ingredients used’ and ‘put the instructions in the correct order’; but it´s another important step to help them look over what was taught. Howard Gardner proposed that teachers shouldn’t give priority to any one type of intelligence, but that, on the contrary, all types should be catered for in every single class. We can easily follow this advice in any cooking class because students are asked to listen, read, see, make things, walk, taste, and speak.

Another project which complements the cooking class is the gardening project. Every semester, we teach the vocabulary related to gardening: soil, flowerpot, seeds, etc. After this traditional teaching, students not only plant the seeds but often follow their growth. Sometimes we even use them in our cookery classes or just make a flower pot.

Two of our gardening experiences were remarkable: planting tomatoes and strawberries. The tomatoes were used to make a pizza and a smoothie was made with the strawberries. Flowers were also a good idea, since the violets grown were given to their mothers as gifts for Mothers’ Day in May.

The cookery classes help me teach all the vocabulary related to food, which is absolutely fundamental to everyday conversation. The gardening classes are also helpful, not only in what refers to food vocabulary, but also in developing environmental awareness. On Water Day, for instance, we discussed the importance of water for our existence and elicited ways to save water, as well.

Although I love using technology in my classes, I do think that nowadays these activities outside the classroom are a way to surprise students, break the routine and teach new vocabulary effectively! Why don´t you give it a try?

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CLIL: just a fad, or still rad? (Part 2)

Students in biology classIn the second of two posts to celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Tim Herdon writes about some of the practical implications of CLIL programmes and considers where we are going with CLIL (or where CLIL is taking us). Tim is a Senior Teacher Trainer at OUP, and has been involved in CLIL for six years. Read the first post here.

When I worked as a freelance CLIL trainer in Spain for five years, I noticed that the type of question teachers asked me about CLIL gradually changed during that period. In the first couple of years it was all about what, and why. What is CLIL exactly?  And why is it good for schools and for students’ education? Towards the end of that period, the answers to those questions seemed to be more or less givens, and the focus shifted to how: How do we go about implementing a CLIL programme?  How do we deal with the practical issues?

The second part of this article takes some of the more frequent ‘how’ questions and has a brief stab at answering them. On the assumption that one day in the not too distant future a much larger number of teachers will be directly or indirectly involved in CLIL in some way (see part 1 of this article), I hope that this shines a little light on some of the darker CLIL implementation challenges.

1) Are CLIL programmes common in other countries, and do all countries adopt a similar approach to implementation?  

Until recently CLIL has been a European initiative. Now however it is becoming increasingly common in other parts of the globe. Each country has adapted CLIL to meet its own specific needs. For this reason it is felt that there is not a single ‘correct’ way of implementing CLIL.

2) Does the CLIL subject teacher have to ‘teach’ language? What happens when this teacher encounters a language problem that s/he can’t explain?

CLIL teachers generally do not teach language in the way that language teachers do, although parts of their lessons will involve teaching or recycling key vocabulary. One of the aims of coordination between language and subject teachers is to identify language problems in the topic in advance so that they can be dealt with effectively.

3) What is the balance of the teaching focus between content and language?

A thorny issue, on which much has been written. But common sense dictates that content is the main focus. The L2 supplies the medium of delivery and communication. The CLIL teacher focuses on language only in the sense of enhancing the effectiveness of this role; he or she doesn’t venture into delights such as the difference between the past simple and present perfect.

4) What kind of support does a CLIL teacher need if his or her background is not language teaching?

For a CLIL programme to be successful it is very important for the CLIL teacher(s) to coordinate regularly with the L2 teacher(s) in order to plan strategies and activities for coming lessons, and to clarify any questions about language that the teacher him/herself might have.

5) What strategies can the CLIL teacher use to help students understand the subject in L2?

Using more visual materials, speaking in shorter sentences, checking comprehension frequently and using an interactive methodological approach are some of the ways in which teachers can tackle this challenge. This is of course a very short answer to an issue that is often dealt with in training courses ranging from several hours to several months.

6) Is a successful CLIL programme mainly a question of the teacher having a good level of English?

More important than the teacher’s command of English, is his/her ability to communicate in L2, and to find ways of getting students to do the same. CLIL tends to emphasise the importance of effective communication rather than correct language usage.

7) Is it right or wrong to occasionally explain things in L1?

Finding other ways to explain ideas and concepts using all linguistic and non-linguistic resources available is one of the most interesting challenges of CLIL. However in the interests of economy, it may occasionally be desirable to clarify a point in L1 – this is acceptable as long as students do not gradually come to rely on L1 as a crutch for solving language comprehension difficulties.

8) What about the English language teacher? Will his/her role change in the English language lessons?

A CLIL programme does not change the necessity for language lessons given by a specialized language teacher. In fact it can create opportunities for cooperation between subject and language teachers that are highly beneficial for students.

What’s your opinion?  Let me know what you think of these questions and answers – CLIL is many different things to many different people, so it’s always interesting to hear a range of viewpoints.

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CLIL: just a fad, or still rad?

To celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Tim Herdon writes about some of the practical implications of CLIL programmes and considers where we are going with CLIL (or where CLIL is taking us).  Tim Herdon is a Senior Teacher Trainer at OUP, and has been involved in CLIL for six years. 

For a number of years we’ve been hearing and reading about CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning).  CLIL programmes, in which a subject from the mainstream school curriculum is taught in a second language, have become increasingly common in both primary and secondary, especially in the last decade.  In the mid-90s, when CLIL was a new initiative, there was a certain amount of scepticism about this approach, which was natural and probably quite healthy – it would be chaotic if we jumped on every new bandwagon that came along.  However CLIL now looks set to stay and in many countries it has strong government support with funds allocated towards teacher training and syllabus and materials development.

In fact the impact of CLIL is such that it is even having a backwash effect on the way ELT coursebooks are published.  More and more courses now contain short cross-curricular sections in some or all of the units.  This has come to be called ‘soft CLIL’ – a short excursion into the world of CLIL rather than a full journey.  Predictably, ‘hard CLIL’ is the term used to describe the full journey:  the teaching of a complete subject, or a specific area of a subject, in L2, over a longer period of time.

This raises an interesting question for English teachers:  in the future will we see a gradual shift from soft CLIL to hard CLIL?  I would say that yes, I think we will:  CLIL continues to gain in popularity, and I think its impact on General English course materials will continue to increase.  And the way CLIL is implemented is partly responsible for changing perceptions: in schools the English teacher is often central to the implementation of CLIL programmes, both in terms of teaching and coordination.  In fact the increased contact between English teachers and teachers of other subjects through involvement in CLIL programmes has been one of the biggest benefits, and this has contributed to CLIL’s increasing popularity.

The Lexical Approach has come and gone, Audiolingualism has been dragged screaming from the room and the Silent Way has now fallen, well, silent…  what about CLIL?  Is it just a passing fad, or is it here to stay?  What do you think?

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A Storyline Approach to Language Teaching and Learning

Story on typewriterTom Hutchinson, co-author of Network, talks about the benefits of using storylines in English language teaching.

A prominent feature of the new Oxford American English course, Network, is the use of a storyline. Just as with a TV drama, we see episodes in the lives of a group of characters who frequent Cindy and Ryan’s cafe, Cozy Cup. What’s the idea behind this approach?

A storyline has many advantages in the language classroom:

1. Stories have a natural attraction for us, because they help to make events meaningful. This is such a strong instinct in us, that we even create stories out of otherwise unconnected events. Take these four sentences, for example:

  • The ball sailed through the air.
  • There was a loud crash.
  • Glass flew everywhere.
  • Bob and Marcie looked at each other.

There is, in fact, no link between these sentences – no reference, no connecting words, no repetition of words. And yet, nobody reads them as four separate sentences. You naturally create a story out of them in your own mind. Continue reading


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Brain-based learning: teaching that reflects how the brain likes to learn

Sarah Phillips, co-author of Incredible English second edition, talks about teaching students how the brain likes to learn.

What do we know about the brain and how it learns? Well, what is clear is that we’re still only scratching the surface but we know some basics. We know that brains are designed to learn! In the past 20 years we’ve found out a lot about this and there is still a lot more to learn. The more we know about how the brain learns, the better we will be able to match how we teach (input) with how children learn (intake).

We know that experiences shape the brain and those that involve strong feelings are more likely to be remembered. This can be both an aid and a barrier to learning, depending on whether the experiences were positive or negative. To state the obvious: as teachers we need to create positive learning experiences for children. If children enjoy the tasks we give them, it is more likely that they will learn and more than this – remember the learning.

We also know that learning and remembering happens through different channels; it is multisensory. Our brains are literally shaped by our experiences. In addition, children are designed to make sense of the world around them and making sense is fundamental for learning and remembering. So, if children use their different senses when they are learning something, they are more likely to remember it later. It gives them different channels for recalling.

All this should influence what goes on in the classroom. We can use it to guide us when we develop materials and lessons that are brain friendly for the children.

We learn more efficiently if we know what we are meant to be learning. We learn less effectively if we are kept in the dark. So, it seems like a sensible idea to tell children what they are meant to be learning at the start of each lesson. Make a list and point it out to the children.

We process information through three different channels, the visual, the auditory, and the kinesthetic. (We also process information through our sense of taste and smell but we will leave that to one side). There is some evidence to suggest that everyone has one channel that is stronger than the others. If we plan classes that deliver the content in a variety of ways we will engage all the learners in the class. We can also take into account the theory of multiple intelligences in our efforts to reach as many of the children as possible.

Music has a profound effect on many of us. It can influence our moods and evoke memories. We can use this ancient response when we are teaching. If we can link language (words and structures) to rhythm and music we help children remember it. Using songs can have a beneficial effect on learning and in our case, language learning.

Learning is more difficult when it is in isolation. We learn and remember far more efficiently when new information is linked to already learned information. The more links there are from the new to the old, the better our remembering will be. We need to ensure that our lessons are linked together. Reminding children of what we did before and where we are going next will help them make links. This is called ‘linked learning’.

Many children enjoy a challenge. The brain thrives on being challenged. Material that makes children think, develops the capacity of the brain. We can help children by showing different ways, different strategies, for solving problems.

Finally, children need time for feedback and an opportunity to reflect on what they have been doing. This will help the learning process to flourish. They need to be able to evaluate themselves, to think about what they have done effectively and less effectively. They need to think about what they can change. And finally they need to think about what they are going to do next and to set themselves future goals.

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