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Coming of Age as a Teacher

Teacher in classroomAnna Parisi is course tutor and materials designer for teacher development courses at ACCESS, in Greece. Anna has extensive experience in syllabus design and producing supplementary materials for private language institutions in Greece. Ahead of her webinars on 27th and 28th January, she gives us a preview of what she will be talking about…

I envy new teachers!

When you are a new teacher, everything you do is new. While ‘learning the ropes’, you constantly take risks and experiment, evaluate and take decisions. There are so many surprises: your students surprise you, you surprise yourself. It can be highly stressful but exciting because it’s an on-going process of observation and discovery.

We call this ‘enthusiasm’.

And then, routine starts settling in. We know we have to cover the curriculum no matter what, finish the book, and after so much trial and error we know what works best ( well, most of the time) so why take risks?  We change our routines when something goes seriously wrong or when we are bored out of our wits.

We call this ‘experience’.

Occasionally, both enthusiastic new teachers and experienced old-hands attend conferences, listen to experts and take notes. Later, we may use 1 or 2 ideas in class but generally we find ’there is no time’, ‘you can’t do this in the real world’ as real students often respond in a different way to what we want them to.

We also share fabulous ideas and photographs on the social media; we follow gurus and mentors online in search of general truths and successful practices. But still most of our issues in the classroom remain unresolved, and out of date or over-demanding curricula remain in place.

In the meantime, there is so much that goes unacknowledged, devalued or ignored: teachers’ tacit knowledge, the knowledge that teachers have acquired through the years but find it difficult to articulate or transmit.

While PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) have helped in this respect with sharing lots of ideas, thoughts and insights, teaching lives as depicted online have left a lot feeling they are missing out on developments or even with undeserved feelings of inadequacy. This wealth of ideas from teachers, trainers, authors is a host of wonderful recipes but not a better diet overall.

The gap between theory and practice remains as large as ever, published material sometimes seems to come from a parallel universe, and although everything takes place for the good of students, they are not part of the decision making and are not even asked what they think some or most of the time.

For teachers to take control and have greater professional responsibility over what we do, small scale teacher-led research is the next step in teacher development.

Why research?

Research is by definition questioning, challenging preconceptions, discovering, experimenting. Teacher-led research is action taking place where the action is: in the EFL classroom. If we, teachers, would like to see change and improvement then we are the best placed to initiate and undertake it. If we want greater autonomy, we will have to seek and welcome greater responsibility.

If we believe that we, teachers, should be involved in curricula change then we ‘need to take a critical and experimental approach to our classrooms’ (Nunan 1989). Solutions to practical problems in the classroom can rarely be imported from outside the classroom. It’s the teacher who is best placed to investigate and resolve issues by taking some course of action.  By researching our own classes we can better understand our own classroom procedures. We can become better able to assess what actually happens in the classroom as opposed to our own assumptions about what happens.  Teacher-led, classroom based research also means consulting our students, understanding and catering for their differences.

But what does teacher-led classroom based research involve?

Carrying out research should be a collective project, not a solitary task.  It’s really about discovering, sharing and transmitting knowledge, problem-solving. It’s an integral part of teacher development. Carrying out such a project can be a collective experience inclusive of all teachers in all stages of professional development. Teachers being part of this experience is the heart of a collective, teacher-led research project.

In the upcoming webinar, we’ll look at some of the basics of teacher-led classroom based research and how it can transform our teaching lives. You’ll be surprised! You can register for the webinar here.

References

Nunan, D.  and Bailey, K.M. 2008 . Exploring Second Language Classroom Research : A Comprehensive Guide. Boston: Heinle

Nunan, D. 1989. Understanding Language Classrooms . Cambridge : Prentice Hall International


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What are the building blocks of skills teaching?

What are the building blocks of skills teaching and how can these help your learners listen and read for tomorrow?

Take a look at this infographic to find out more.

Navigate Infographic

Navigate is a brand new General English course that takes an innovative approach to reading and listening based on this academic research as to how adults best learn languages. It teaches reading and listening from the bottom up, giving learners the skills they need to understand the next text they will read and hear, not just the one they are reading or hearing now. The course content also has been extensively piloted and reviewed in ELT classrooms across the world, giving teachers the confidence that it really works. Find out more at www.oup.com/elt/yourdirectroute


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The Many Challenges of Academic Writing for ESL

The challenges of academic writing in ESLDr. Ann Snow, writing consultant for Q: Skills for Success, Second Edition, discusses the particular challenges of writing in an academic context.

This month I will be teaching a new academic writing course for second language students at my university. I am thus thinking a lot about writing these days and looking forward to helping my students become better academic writers. I’ve promised a lot in my course proposal. I will:

  • Cover characteristics of expository writing and help students apply them to their own academic disciplines;
  • guide them through a cycle of awareness and analysis leading to self-assessment; expose them to different text types (e.g. problem-solutions, methods, discussion sections) and genres (e.g. critiques, case studies, literature reviews, research papers);
  • help them improve their sentence and discourse-level grammar and be better proofreaders of their own writing.

In addition, I am determined to go outside the traditional boundaries of a writing class because I think that writing cannot and should not be taught in isolation from the other skills that students need in order to be effective writers. Therefore, I have added academic vocabulary and strategic reading skill components. I also plan to integrate critical thinking skills so my students improve their abilities to make inferences, synthesize, develop arguments and counter-arguments, and evaluate sources in their writing. My task feels a little overwhelming right now, but also helps me as the instructor appreciate the complexities of academic writing and understand better the challenges our second language students face.

Finding the writer’s voice

Stepping back from the details of my new course, let’s consider the big picture of what writing entails. Writing is a complex language form practiced by users of all languages (both native and non-native) for everyday social and communicative purposes and, for many, for vocational, educational, and professional needs. It has been variously described as a product – a piece of writing with a particular form and the expectation of “correctness.” And as a process – a journey that takes writers through stages where they discover they have something to say and find their “voice.” From the cognitive perspective, it is seen as a set of skills and knowledge that resides within the individual writer and from the sociocultural perspective as a socially and culturally situated set of literacy practices shared by a particular community (Weigle, 2014). With these perspectives in mind, all teachers of writing must ask: How can I help my students improve their writing and what are best practices in the classroom? As I design my new course I am asking myself these same questions.

Needs assessment

An important first step is undertaking a needs assessment, whether informal or formal, to learn what kinds of writing students need. From this assessment, a syllabus or curriculum can be developed or a textbook series selected that is a good match with your students’ needs. Typically, the instructional sequence starts with personal/narrative writing in which students have to describe or reflect on an experience or event. This usually leads to expository writing in which students learn to develop a thesis statement and support this controlling idea in the body of their writing. Analytic or persuasive writing is the most challenging type of academic writing because students must learn to state and defend a position or opinion using appropriate evidence (Ferris, 2009).  These kinds of academic writing tasks require students to become familiar with a variety of text types and genres, one of my course goals.

Improving vocabulary and grammar

The academic writing class also provides the opportunity for students to fine-tune their grammar and expand their academic language vocabulary. Typically, by the time our second language students are engaged in academic writing, they have been exposed to the majority of grammatical structures in English (e.g. complete tense system; complex constructions such as relative clauses and conditionals), but they still may need to learn how to integrate these structures into their writing. They also need to match text types with the kinds of grammatical structures needed. For example, in order to write a cause/effect essay, students need to use subordinating clauses with because and since and they need to use the appropriate transitional expressions like therefore and as such. Student will most likely have learned these structures in isolation but now need extensive practice and feedback to use them accurately in their writing. In terms of academic vocabulary, students need to differentiate the types of vocabulary found in everyday usage (e.g. the verbs meet and get) with their more formal academic counter-parts encounter and obtain (see Zimmerman, 2009, for many other examples.)

In sum, the English for Academic Purposes curriculum must integrate reading and writing skills, and, as mentioned, grammar and vocabulary. Cumming (2006) points out that a focus on reading can lead to writing improvement and an opportunity to learn discipline-specific vocabulary. It also gives students something to write about. Combining reading and writing also provides needed practice in analyzing different text types so students see the features of these models. These kinds of activities create opportunities for more complex tasks such as summarizing and synthesizing multiple sources. A curriculum that integrates reading and writing also exposes students to graphic organizers for reading comprehension which student can recycle for pre-writing (Grabe, 2001). Finally, students need many exposures to similar tasks in order to master the complexities of academic writing and build confidence in their abilities.

I look forward to teaching my new academic writing course and I hope this brief glimpse inspires others to undertake this challenge as well.

References and Further Reading

Ferris, D. (2009). Teaching college writing to diverse student populations. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press

Grabe, W. (2001). Reading-writing relations: Theoretical perspectives and instructional practices. In D. Belcher & A. Hirvela, (Eds.), Linking literacies: Perspectives on L2 reading-writing connections.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Weigle, S. C. (2014). Considerations for teaching second language writing. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. M. Brinton, & M. A. Snow (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (4th ed., pp. 222-237). Boston, MA:  National Geographic Learning Heinle Cengage.

Zimmerman, C. (2009). Work knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part Three – Teaching successful networking

teaching successful networkingThis is the final article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at ideas and exercises for successful networking.

We often think of successful business networkers as people who enjoy being the centre of attention. However, effective networking is about using normal conversation to meet new people and build positive business relationships.

At its core, networking requires a business person to be interested in the other person, to be positive and to be interesting. Let’s look at these three aspects of networking in terms of the language your students will require. I’ll share ways to develop each part of the skill with three classroom activities.

Be interested

It’s important for the other person to know you are interested in what they are saying. That means using techniques to show you are listening and interested. Clearly, use of body language is crucial here such as regular eye contact with the other person and nodding your head in agreement. But the language you use will make a huge difference to how the other person feels. We can teach phrases to respond such as ‘Really?’, ‘I see’ and ‘That sounds interesting’. However, these phrases alone are not enough. Work on asking questions which follow on so, for example, you might build a dialogue like this:

Person A: I’m based in London but I’m working on a new project in California.

Person B: Really? How often do you go out there?

Note that the question following ‘Really?’ is an open question because this will always be more effective for networking than a closed question. Open questions beginning with what, why, who, where, when or how draw out a more interesting detailed response. A closed question such as ‘Do you work here?’ only demands a Yes or No response. One simple exercise to practise this is to give students a list of closed Yes/No questions that you might ask in a social situation. For example:

1 Do you work here?

2 Do you do any sport?

3 Can you speak any languages?

Tell students to work in pairs. Student A asks one closed question and Student B answers with a Yes/No answer. Then Student A has to transform the same question into an open question and Student B responds with an open answer. So they might produce a four line dialogue like this:

Student A: Do you work here?

Student B: No, I don’t.

Student A: Who do you work for?

Student B: I work for a large multinational company based in Bonn….

By working through the list of closed questions and creating dialogues with open questions, the exercise demonstrates how useful open questions are for networking and it provides good speaking practice with revision of question forms.

Be positive

In general, we prefer to do business with positive, friendly people. When we are positive, we tend to connect with the other person and making connections is what networking is all about. One activity you can use in class to practise making positive connections is the following. It’s also very good for practising the past simple and present perfect.

Write the following on the board:

– Companies you’ve worked for

– Subjects you’ve studied

– Places you’ve visited

– Jobs you’ve done

– Recent films/concerts you’ve seen

Students stand in groups of four or five as if they are talking at a conference. You set a time limit of three to five minutes and explain that the students can talk about any of the topics on the board.

During the conversation, they give themselves a point every time they find they have something in common with another person. So part of a conversation might go like this:

A I’ve worked for a few companies. My last employer was Microsoft.

B: Really? I’ve worked for Microsoft too. [Receive a point.] When did you work for them?

A: In 1999. I was based in New York.

C: Me too. I worked in New York. [Receive a point.]

The activity is great for fluency and a lot of fun. Students become very competitive to receive points so this encourages them to make conversation. It also highlights the benefits of being positive and finding things in common with the other person.

Be interesting

Of the three aspects of networking, the third and final is the one people find strange; after all, can you really train someone to ‘be interesting’?! In fact, what this means is that to be a successful networker, you need to give the other person plenty of information about you (i.e. be interesting) so that they can respond (i.e. be interested). In language terms, it means that introducing yourself like this isn’t enough: ‘My name’s John. I’m a sales manager.’ Instead, give more information about you such as: ‘My name’s John and I’m in charge of our sales teams across Central and Eastern European regions.’ You can give students further practice with ‘being interesting’ by putting them in pairs. Write a series of topics on the board such as: Job, Location, Company, Hobbies. Each student takes turns to talk non-stop for one minute about themselves on each topic. The other student listens and times the minute. Obviously a student wouldn’t normally talk non-stop for a minute without the other person responding but the aim is for students to practise saying much more about themselves.

For more ideas and exercises on successful networking, take a look at John’s video-based course, Successful Meetings, co-written with communications expert, Andrew Mallett. This contains eight units on different aspects of meetings skills including a unit on networking.

 

This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part Two – Making the most of video

Business English classroom Making the most of videoThis is the second article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at how the use of video can support business English teaching.

One survey into the use of video in education reports that teachers increasingly welcome this tool as a means to support learning. For example, 68% of teachers believe video stimulates discussion, 66% say video increases motivation and 62% think their teaching is more effective by using video. Please see the link provided at the end of the article for more details of this survey.

These figures are all based on responses to education in general, but I’d suggest that if you were to research similar figures for Business English teachers, you’d probably find the percentages were even higher. That’s simply because video lends itself in so many ways to Business English teaching.

Here are five examples of how to integrate video into your Business English lessons, with suggestions for classroom activities.

Presentation skills

The internet is full of videos showing different types of business presentations. They range from the highly professional presentations we associate with speakers on TED to much more basic material. With all of these we can assess the presenters’ performances with our students and decide what techniques and language will help improve their presentations. In addition, we can also video our own students giving presentations. By using the video recorder on a basic mobile device, you can record a student’s performance, use it to give them feedback, and let them self-assess their own presentation.

Watch this presentation taken from TED talks. It’s called ‘The magic washing machine’ and gives students a masterclass in how to use visual aids in a presentation.

Workplace and process videos

I once taught business and technical English in a factory instead of a language school. This was much easier than being in a normal classroom because I could take the students onto the factory floor and have them talk about their workplace. However, we don’t always teach students at their workplace, so video can help. For example, ask your students to make short videos of their workplace and film the key stages of a process. Then they can bring these into class and describe what is happening on screen. You’ll also find a range of videos online that showcase different companies and how they work. These are a great resource to teach the language for describing workplaces and their processes.

This process video shows how IKEA produces its furniture. Students can watch and note down the different stages or information about the company and its structure.

Infographic video

One modern genre of video is the ‘infographic video’ (also called ‘kinetic typography video’). It shows animated text on screen which merges with images and may have narration or simply some background music. You can write comprehension questions for students to answer whilst they watch. Many business infographic videos tend to include lots of numbers and figures, so I give students the numbers shown in the video and ask them to note down what these refer to.

This infographic video looks at the importance of using video in business.

Interviews

One of the simplest video formats is the interview or a business person talking directly to the camera. If you want to teach the language of specific business area, then find an interview with an expert in the field. Alternatively, make your own video by preparing a set of questions and interview a real business person to show in class. If you teach very experienced business people, then interview them and ask their permission to show their video to another class. In particular, if you teach different one-to-one classes, interview each of your students with the same set of questions. Then show the videos of the students to each other. It’s a nice way to bring other people into your one-to-one lessons and for students to share their knowledge.

Take a look at this interview with an expert talking about cultural differences in business. It’s taken from the videos in the Business Result series.

Short films

Using short films in a lesson can add some fun and variety. For example, one short video called ‘The Black Hole’ looks at what happens when an office worker photocopies a black hole which has magical properties. Play it to students and ask them to think what they would use a ‘black hole’ for at work. Another short film called ‘Signs’ lasting about twelve minutes offers all sorts of opportunities for use in the classroom. The first two minutes show a young man going through the same work routine every day – a perfect springboard into the use of the present simple, and for getting students to talk about their routines.

Here is the ‘The Black Hole’ video, and here is ‘Signs’.

And finally, here is the survey I mentioned at the beginning of the article about using video in education.

 

This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

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