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The Solutions Writing Challenge: Using Time Effectively

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBIn this blog Elna Coetzer continues to talk about ways we can use our time more effectively (inside and outside the class) when doing writing tasks.

How does one become a successful cook? The answer really is very obvious – by cooking, of course. But does that mean just cooking dish after dish, over and over again?

No. Even if you are a successful cook, it is not about the number of dishes that you prepare, but more about the focussed attention you give to each aspect of a dish. In essence, you have to practise every step of the process over and over again. Only in this way can you know which choices are correct and what possible actions should be completed in order to create a masterpiece. And only in this way can the cook use their time effectively.

If we link this with writing, similarly our students need to make choices every step of the way. And if our students do not know what the possibilities are, they cannot make the correct or best choices at any given time in the writing process. So firstly, writing is about having knowledge available – knowledge of language and vocabulary, style, layout, genre etc. Secondly, writing is about making the best choices with what you have available in order to communicate successfully with your audience. Therefore, thirdly, writing is about making these choices (based on your available knowledge) in a timely manner. Returning to our cooking analogy: if I see that the sauce is getting too thick, I need to make a choice immediately and this choice I make on the basis of my prior knowledge and experience cooking exactly the same dish.

To summarize:

1) students need a lot of support in order to complete writing tasks (the prior knowledge),
2) students need to be aware of a variety of ways of expression etc. (choices), and
3) students need to be able to access the above-mentioned aspects easily and most importantly, quickly (retrieval time).

And all of this is accomplished by targeted practice activities.

What are targeted practice activities?

Targeted practice activities are tasks that focus on a very specific aspect of the writing process, which allows students to notice in an explicit manner how something works or how something is done. These activities can take the form of vocabulary exercises, for example brainstorming language for a suspense story (extreme weather words, adverbs, etc.). Looking at the writing sections in Solutions, you will immediately be able to notice these types of tasks. These tasks are about noticing specific aspects of writing and raising the students’ awareness of the requirements when writing a specific type of text.

Why are they so useful?

These types of tasks allow students to focus on specific aspects of writing which will help them in the overall writing process. This means that if my students have practised a specific aspect extensively, they will have the knowledge required, will be able to make the best choices in a specific writing task and retrieve the information fast. Of course this is not an immediate process, but over a period of time students will become more efficient in their writing which necessarily then means that writing lessons will not be so laborious.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Focus on only one aspect in each writing section. So instead of thinking about the layout, useful vocabulary and useful language chunks in the writing task, what about choosing one aspect to address? This would allow more time to focus explicitly on one aspect, more detailed attention given to the chosen aspect and more detailed practice for the students. This would also allow for more effective correction, because you would then focus only on the aspect discussed.
  2. Use jigsaw writing tasks. For some writing tasks it may be useful to show that the style and layout students are using can be used again for different purposes: for example notes written to say thank you, to congratulate or to take a message. In these cases one could get students in groups to only work with one type of task: group A only work on thank you notes, group B on congratulatory notes etc. When they have finished all the tasks related to their note writing task, regroup the students so that they can share what they have learnt with students from the other groups. You might want to give students some kind of grid or table in which they can take notes from the other students. (We learn better when we can teach somebody else!)
  3. Collaborative writing. If, for example, your students need to write a book review, it would be more time efficient to do all the tasks in groups. This means that the thinking and planning stages (brainstorming ideas, thinking of useful lexis and language, considering the layout, etc.), the writing stage (a draft, some editing and a rewrite) and also the feedback after the writing stage (peer correction), will be performed in groups or pairs. (Learning is a social activity!)
  4. Promote self-awareness, task-awareness and strategy awareness. This is useful because this actively encourages students to analyse, evaluate and create during writing tasks (Bloom’s revised taxonomy!). This can be done by getting students to think about the purposes of tasks (both before the writing and afterwards) and also by setting evaluative questions which prompt students to look more critically at the writing process. Questions like the following are useful:
    – who is the audience?
    – why would the audience be reading this text?
    – which register should be used?
    – what is the purpose of this text? (to advertise, to thank, to invite etc.)
    – which aspects of writing do I enjoy – which aspects am I good at or do I need to work on? etc. (Learning is a conscious process!)

In conclusion, we can offer our students more differentiated and effective writing support within our time constraints by making sure that we include more targeted practice tasks, by raising our students’ awareness of the specifics of the writing process and thinking more deeply about the planning stages of writing lessons.

Join Elna in her upcoming webinar to learn more about how we can use class time more effectively in improving students’ writing skills.

register-for-webinar


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The Solutions Writing Challenge #3: “It’s hard to find enough class time for writing”

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBElna is a CELTA tutor and teacher trainer based in Istanbul. She has a lot of experience working with teachers in a variety of contexts and countries. Ahead of Elna’s webinar on 22 and 24 April, she gives us a short preview of what she will be talking about…

I could have been rich, really rich by now…if I had only received 1USD for every single time I have heard the following: ‘’Oh that is such a good idea, but it will take too long…I have to finish the syllabus!’’ Now right from the start I have to say that this is the reality. However, from an educational point of view it is worrying that we feel rushed when it comes to teaching and learning.  A separate issue for another day, possibly with a double latte in hand!

The add-on:

Nevertheless, this is also what happens to writing lessons. They get treated like an extra add-on – only to be brought out when all other lessons have been completed. A shame though, don’t you think? We talk about preparing our students for the world of the 21st century in which digital literacy is key, but we find it challenging to allow time for doing those writing lessons. Those writing lessons  that could combine all the 21st century skills (communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking) and in addition, can prepare our students for a world in which we express ourselves more and more frequently in the written form. Think about it: are there some days when you actually write more than speak?

How to support the writing lesson?

We are treating the writing lesson badly because:
– writing lessons are time consuming;
– students do not enjoy writing, and
– giving feedback on students’ writing also takes time.
So we have to find ways in which we can do more writing, help our students develop their writing skills effectively and do all this without taking up too much of our precious class time. A challenge indeed! In the upcoming webinar we will look at ways that we can work with the writing lessons from Solutions and we will see if we can come up with ideas to be more effective with our time management.

I think we all agree that developing our students’ writing skills is important; we also agree that we need to include more writing in order to prepare our students for the 21st century and offering our students a variety of tasks is essential.

How to do this? Join me to explore some answers to these questions.

Register for the webinar


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Poetry and the ESL classroom: how rhyme can work for your students

Diverse Elementary ClassPrior to becoming an Editor for Oxford University Press, Mexico, Lysette Taplin worked as an English language teacher and author for a number of primary and secondary series. In this post she promotes World Poetry Day by sharing some practical tips to use in the ELT Classroom.

Poetry is an effective tool in English language teaching as it enlivens the class, giving the students a motivational buzz while stimulating their creative writing. The emphasis on the sounds and rhythm of language aids students’ phonological awareness, building a foundation for correct pronunciation and intonation, which in turn has a strong correlation to proficiency in reading and listening. In order to celebrate World Poetry Day, this blog aims to present a selected poem from the OUP series Step Inside and provide ideas for ways to exploit poetry in the English language-learning classroom.

As an ELT Editor for OUP, I had the opportunity to work on an inspiring series of reading anthologies for primary school students. The series Step Inside promotes extensive reading by using texts from a variety of genres, including poetry, fables, myths and legends, fairy tales, fiction, non-fiction, and comics.

The following excerpt has been selected from a poem included in Step Inside, level 4:

Wayne the Stegosaurus

Written by Kenn Nesbitt

Meet the Stegosaurus, Wayne.

He doesn’t have the biggest brain.

He’s long and heavy, wide and tall,

But has a brain that’s extra small.

He’s not the brightest dinosaur.

He thinks that one plus one is four.

He can’t remember up from down.

He thinks the sky is chocolate brown.

Using poetry to teach pronunciation

This humorous poem can be used to focus students on English pronunciation by working with rhyme.

In your class, put students into pairs and give each pair the lines of the poem cut up into strips. Have them work together to identify and group the lines that end in rhyming pairs. Tell students that rhyming pairs are two words that end in the same sound, for example Wayne and brain, tall and small. Highlight some of the difficult spelling patterns, for example Wayne, brain; tries, eyes; white, night, etc. while emphasizing the pronunciation of each of the sounds. Then, tell students that they are going to create a rhyming chain. Instruct students to choose four rhyming pairs from the poem and write down as many other words that rhyme as they can. Have some volunteers write their rhyming words on the board to check answers as a class. Next, read the poem aloud and have students order the lines from the poem. Ask volunteers to read the poem aloud to check answers as a class.

Rhyming Schemes

The pattern of rhymes in a poem is labelled with the letters A, B, C, D, etc. To identify the rhyming scheme, tell students to look at the last word in each line. Tell them to label the first set of lines that rhyme with A, then label the second set B, etc. In the case of the poem above, the rhyming scheme for each stanza is AABB because the first two lines in the stanza rhyme with each other as do the last two lines.

Below is an example of an ABCB rhyming scheme, excerpt taken from Step Inside, level 2:

Art Class

Written by Penelope McKimm

Art class can be lots of fun,

With so many things to do!

Cutting, coloring, painting, drawing,

Sticking things with glue!

Have students illustrate the poem

Have students work in groups of six. Encourage them to think about what happens in each of the stanzas and then, choose one of the stanzas to illustrate. When they have all finished illustrating their stanzas, have them put them in order and present their work to the rest of the class.

Writing

Give students a handout of a poem with some words missing. It could be the same poem students were working with before, or a different poem.

Wayne the Stegosaurus

Written by Kenn Nesbitt

Meet the Stegosaurus, __________.

He doesn’t have the biggest __________.

He’s __________ and __________, __________ and __________,

But has a __________ that’s extra __________.

Put students into pairs and have them brainstorm words to complete the gaps. Encourage them to include rhymes, but tell them that they can change the rhyming scheme if they wish.

Another activity which provides students with scaffolding for their poem is to tell them to write a five line poem with the following structure:

First line: a noun

Second line: four adjectives

Third line: an action

Fourth line: how you feel about the noun

Fifth line: the noun

This activity can be carried out individually or in pairs or small groups. Encourage students to use a thesaurus to think of exciting adjectives, for example superb instead of good. Below is an example of a five-line poem

T. Rex

Fierce, fast, green and scaly

Goes out hunting daily

Makes me shiver to the bone

T. Rex

Both students and teachers often tend to fear poetry, but by providing the proper scaffolding, we advocate creativity and give our students sense of accomplishment. As teachers, we need to make it clear to our students that it is okay to make mistakes. The most important thing is to let their imaginations run wild, and then have them go back and edit their work once they are finished.

Please note that not all titles are available in every market. Please check with your local office about local title availability.


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insight Top 10 Tips for Using Literature (Part 2)

insight-top-10Students often find it difficult to engage with reading and writing instruction and practice, particularly when large, intimidating texts are involved. This is the third in our series of insight blog posts, aimed at helping teachers to overcome this problem. Following on from last week’s post, here are the Top 10 Tips for Using Literature (Part 2), from teacher-trainer Edmund Dudley.

  1. Exploit audio and video

Using literature in class does not always have to involve reading. Exploiting adaptations of literary classics on DVD or listening to extracts from audio books can be more motivating than working with texts only, especially if your students have negative associations with reading as an activity.

Alternatively, consider combining text and video in the same activity. For example, choose a short extract (max 2 min) from the DVD version of a work of literature, making sure it contains no dialogue. Play it to the class and ask them to describe what is happening and what they think is going to happen next. Then provide a gapped text from the book which corresponds to the scene the students have just watched. See if they can fill the gaps with an appropriate word. In each case, there can be more than one acceptable answer for any one gap.

  1. Get in the act

Experiment with different ways of responding to an extract, text or clip. For example, why not encourage students to perform a mini-drama or re-enactment of the scene you have been studying? Drama activities can be extremely motivating for students, especially if a variety of roles are made available which exploit the strengths and skills of different students. For example, not everyone has to be an actor; some students might prefer to work on the script, to design scenery illustrations, or to be the director.

You could even make a movie. These days, we do not need expensive camera equipment and the help of technicians in order to shoot film – many students have smartphones, which they can be encouraged to use in order to film performances. Upload the results to YouTube or a private data sharing site, and enjoy.

  1. Encourage students to write creatively

Does this sound too ambitious an aim? Well, if we ask our students each to write an entire short story in English, then perhaps it might be. On the other hand, a simple activity like ‘Write the first line’ works extremely well in class as an initial creative-writing task. Here is how it works:

Show the students the cover of a book and elicit some information about its plot, perhaps by using quiz questions (see tip 1). Do not let students open the book. Ask everyone in the group to imagine how they think the story begins. Provide them each with a slip of paper and ask them to write ‘their’ opening sentence. Meanwhile, write the actual opening line on another slip of paper.

When the students are ready, collect all the slips of paper, mix them up and read them out one by one. Students vote for which opening sentence they think is the best. The most gratifying feature of this activity is that the ‘real’ first line is rarely the one that gets the most votes. In this way, students gain a lot of confidence, which can be further harnessed in subsequent creative-writing activities.

  1. Get them talking

When we work with texts there is always a temptation to focus too much on comprehension; in extension activities, however, we need to make sure that we fire up students’ imagination as well. Design follow-up activities based on open-ended prompts. Aim to get students working together and give them plenty of scope to express their thoughts and opinions.

Try simple speaking activities which explore the possible opinions and motives of characters in the story you are looking at. Interviews, fishbowl debates and ‘empty chair’ activities can all motivate students to get involved and express their ideas, while also activating the language explored in the text. In the case of The Railway Children, for example (tip 3), the question ‘Was Peter right to steal the coal?’ could be the starting point for a whole-group follow-up speaking activity using one of these techniques.

  1. Make the most of art, illustrations and drawings

The illustrations contained in graded readers can be shown to students before reading as a way of generating interest in what happens. Encourage students to make speculations based on the illustrations and, if several illustrations from the same book are being used, invite students to order them and explain the possible chain of events.

Alternatively, get the students to respond to a text by creating artwork and illustrations of their own. For example, ask students to listen to an extract from the audio version of a story and get them each to sketch what is being described.  Or you could ask students to design a poster for a film-version of the book, based on a striking incident in the text they have been working with.

In conclusion

As we have seen, bringing literature into the EFL classroom does not necessarily mean dull and difficult lessons. Nor does it guarantee that students will be motivated and engaged. We need to choose texts, topics and tasks carefully, bearing in mind our students’ language level, needs and interests. Most of all, we should be careful about overdoing it: often the best way of raising interest in literature is leaving students wanting a little bit more.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading our series of Top 10 Tips.

To access the rest of the series or to find out more about insight, click here: https://elt.oup.com/feature/global/insight/


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insight Top 10 Tips: Using Literature

insight-top-10Students often find it difficult to engage with reading and writing instruction and practice, particularly when large, intimidating texts are involved. This is the second in our series of insight blog posts, aimed at helping teachers to overcome this problem. Here are the Top 10 Tips for Using Literature (Part 1), from teacher-trainer Edmund Dudley.

For many English teachers, love of the language and love of English literature go hand in hand. But is it the same for our students? Sadly, most teenage learners of English do not seem too excited about the topic of literature, associating it with dusty texts and tedious book reviews. In this article, we will look at some tips for using literature in simple and motivating ways in the EFL classroom.

  1. Do judge a book by its cover!

lostworldHaving a large collection of graded readers, short stories or novellas in your classroom is a great way to make literature available to your students, but in itself it does not guarantee that students will be fighting to get their hands on the titles. Many of them may not even take the trouble to look at the books. That is the first thing to tackle. Design simple quizzes that get students to make predictions about a book’s content based on the cover.

Example: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The book tells the story of a scientist who discovers that some dinosaurs are still alive and living in…

  • a) Africa
  • b) Asia
  • c) South America

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight, Insight Pre-Intermediate p.92)

In these activities, the students do not have to read anything – in fact they do not even have to open the book. You can, of course, get them to look through the book quickly to find the answer. In any case, by asking them to make a prediction we can focus their attention on the books available and, with luck, generate some interest in reading.

  1. Make the most of blurbs

The blurb is the text on the back cover of a book. It provides key background information and a summary of the plot. Activities that get students working with blurbs can be an effective way to continue the process of generating interest in titles and encouraging students to get the books in their hands – even if they do not actually open them up.

Again, remember that a successful classroom activity about literature does not have to involve forcing your students to read books in class. Activities such as reading blurbs and matching them to titles help the students to practise language while also tempting them to look closer at the titles available in your class library.

  1. Work with short extracts

Sometimes, less is more. Resist the temptation to give reluctant students long passages to read – there is actually a lot that you can do with a short extract. One simple activity is to show students a single line from a story they have not read and get them to use their imagination to make sense of the gaps in meaning. For example, you could take this line from The Railway Children:

“Tell him the things are for Peter, the boy who was sorry about the coal, then he will understand.”

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight, Insight Pre-Intermediate p.90)

Who is Peter? What things does he need? Why? What happened with the coal? And who ‘will understand’? Students have not read the book, so they have no way of knowing the answers to these questions. Instead, encourage them to think creatively. In class, get students working in small groups to come up with imaginative answers to the questions. Once you have listened to all the suggestions, the students are likely to be curious about the actual answers contained in the story.

  1. Reading for pleasure? Make sure it’s not too difficult

Be aware of the language level when selecting a text. It is important to make sure that the texts we use are at an appropriate level and that the activities connected to the text are as engaging as possible. When it comes to reading for pleasure – also known as ‘extensive reading’ – we should make sure that the language level of the texts we use is below the level the students are actually at. That way, they will be able to read faster and also focus on the story without having to stop at regular intervals in order to look up the meaning of new words in a dictionary. By contrast, if the texts we use contain too many new words or structures then the experience of reading them stops being pleasurable and begins to resemble hard work.

  1. Analysing language? Make the challenge enjoyable

The activity of analysing language can be made more engaging if we use extracts from literature to introduce the features of language we would like to focus on. For example, the following short extract from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains two examples of antimetabole (the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order). Ask students to read the text and identify the two examples:

‘Then you must say what you mean,’ the March Hare said.

‘I do,’ Alice said quickly. ‘Well, I mean what I say. And that’s the same thing, you know.’

‘No it isn’t!’ said the Hatter. ‘Listen to this. I see what I eat means one thing, but I eat what I see means something very different.’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight,  Insight Pre-Intermediate p.87)

Ask students to explain the difference in meaning between say what you mean and mean what you say, and between see what you eat and eat what you see. They can provide a spoken explanation, put something down in writing, or even demonstrate the difference by drawing pictures. As a follow-up, collect further examples of antimetabole on the board or on a specially made poster, complete with illustrations.

Note that although in this lesson we are focusing students’ attention on the language and how it works, by the end of the class you might find yourself with some students who are suddenly more interested in finding out more about Alice…

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