Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


4 Comments

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachers

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachers Texts have always played an integral part in classroom learning, for skills development and as contexts for language study. It has long been acknowledged that choosing texts that are interesting and motivating is key, but we also need to ensure rich and meaningful content. Katie Wood, teacher trainer and materials writer, suggests using four key questions to assess whether a text meets these criteria and discusses why it should.

Question 1: Does the text contain information that can be of use in the real world outside the classroom?

In today’s fast-moving and increasingly digital world students are less likely than ever before to read or listen to something solely because it’s good for them, or because it contains examples of a particular structure. They are likely to want to know which specific skills they’re working on, but also what information they can take from the text and make use of in their life outside the classroom. A good text needs to be engaging, but it also needs to contain information that remains relevant and useful to the student once the lesson is over. Texts need to provide take-away value both in terms of linguistic development and real-world knowledge.

Question 2: Does the content help students relate their experiences, situation and country to the world as a whole?

More than ever before, both students and teachers have access to information from a variety of truly international sources on a grand scale. Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general mean that students are communicating internationally both in terms of their career and social life. As a result the communications themselves have become more related to matters which cross boundaries and borders.

Question 3: Is the text generative and can productive tasks be tailored to students’ needs?

The challenge is to provide both students and teachers with texts that have universal appeal, that are relevant, yet are in some way not already worn out by digital media. Choosing texts which are content rich increases the likelihood that they will generate different responses and points of interests from different individuals, and this includes the teachers. Maintaining the enthusiasm of a teacher dealing with the material for perhaps the fifth or sixth time should not be underestimated. In addition, a large number of students learn English in a General English class, but increasingly they have a more defined purpose in learning than they did in the past. In one group for example, a teacher might find students who want to pass an exam, want to improve their English in a business environment, or want to focus more on social English. A genuinely generative text provides the opportunity to lead into productive work in more than just one of these areas.

Question 4: Is the content of the text authentic and does it lend itself to further research and exploration?

As previously mentioned, students want to feel that what they spend their time reading and listening to in the classroom, has real world application. A text that satisfies this criteria should ideally create a desire in readers or listeners to discover more. Consequently, texts need to be authentic and googleable, and this should be true for all levels. So, while a text chosen for elementary learners will need to be adapted in terms of language, we need the content to be real. A student can then go away and find out more for themselves.


6 Comments

How to write your own EFL materials: Part Two – Thinking about context and flow

EFL coursebook writingJohn Hughes has co-authored a number of titles for OUP including three levels in the Business Result series, Successful Meetings, and Successful Presentations. He will be giving a practical workshop on how to write materials at the upcoming BESIG conference in Bonn on 15th November. This is the second of two blog posts in which John explores three key areas which he believes underpin effective materials writing.

In part one of my blog on this subject, I wrote about the importance of writing materials at the correct language level and cognitive level, as well as writing exercises and tasks at an achievable level. In this next post I want to consider the importance of context and flow in the writing process.

Creating context

Context is the second area of EFL materials writing that affects how and what you write. By ‘context’ I’m referring to a number of different elements: First of all, the writer needs to understand the classroom context in which the material will be used. In other words, if you are writing material for General English adult student’s books that could be used anywhere in the world, then your material must appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Similarly, you have to remember that an exercise must be able to work with a class of fifty as well as with a class of five.

Something else to consider is the cultural context; a choice of photograph or text that will appeal to students in South American countries may not work for students in Middle East countries. And culture doesn’t just refer to national cultures; the culture and interests of younger students will be different to those for older students. Gender is also an issue; male writers have to consider whether their choice of contexts and materials will also appeal to female students and vice versa (which is possibly why so many successful course books are co-authored by a man and a woman.)

One more context which affects published materials in particular is time. If you are using a course book which is over five years old, for example, you may notice that photographs of technology look old-fashioned, reading texts are out-of-date, or perhaps some so-called famous people are no longer famous. So if you want your materials to have longevity, then topics such as technology and popular culture are often worth avoiding or treating in a way that will mean they don’t date too quickly.

Make your material flow

Having selected appropriate images, texts and exercises that are at the correct level and are appropriate for the various contexts in which the material will be used, you need to make sure they fit together in a logical order. In practical terms, this means that if you have six exercises or stages on a worksheet, then any teacher should be able to pick up that worksheet, take it into class, start at exercise 1 and finish at exercise 6. Yes it’s important that the material is also flexible enough for those types of teachers who like to miss some parts out, change the order or even add their own supplementary materials, but its primary function is to offer a complete lesson.

You have to write the material so that one activity flows into the next and that it follows basic principles of good lesson planning. In other words, there is probably some kind of lead-in task that engages the students, perhaps some comprehension work with a text followed by language analysis and finally a free practice stage of some kind in which students use the language presented in the lesson.

Part of writing materials with flow is also to provide clear ‘navigational tools’ that help the teacher to orientate the students through the lesson. These tools include use of headings, numbering, referencing and the rubrics or instructions which accompany an exercise or explain a procedure. You know when these features are badly written because you can’t find your way around the material or you are unsure what the aim of the exercise is. On the other hand, when they are well-written, you barely notice they exist alongside the rest of the material and everything flows logically.

Finally, once you’ve written your materials, you may find it useful to check them against these nine key questions.  Better still, hand your materials to another teacher and, without any explanation from you, see if they can walk into class and use them successfully with their students!

Check you’ve got the level right:

  • Can I easily identify which level this was written for?
  • Will it interest, motivate and challenge the students at a cognitive level?
  • Are the exercises and tasks too easy or too difficult? (Can you do them yourself?!)

Think about context:

  • Will the material work in classes of two or two hundred?
  • Will the material work in another classroom, region or country?
  • Will the material work next week or next year, or in three years’ time?

Finally, check, for flow:

  • Is there a logical flow from the beginning to the end?
  • Do I understand where to go next in the materials?
  • Do I understand what to do next in each exercise?

 

© John Hughes ELT Ltd 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


6 Comments

A positive learning environment: establishing expectations (Part 4)

Eager children in classThis is the last of a four-part series of articles from Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, about establishing a positive learning environment in the classroom. Here he shares some practical ways to minimise disruptions during classes. 

What do you expect from your students? Sit down for a few moments and think about your classes. Think about where you are as the class begins. What are you doing? Where are the students? What are they doing? As you think about the class, note down anything you would like to improve. Don’t worry if it’s easy or difficult. Just note it down. Then, look back at your notes and decide on 3 to 5 points you want to work on immediately.

After reflecting on my classes of about 25 teenagers, these were the four aims I came up with:

- The classroom is in order.

- Students are ready for class.

- Classes begin more efficiently.

- Students participate actively during the lesson.

Remember, these are aims. I took them to my classes and wrote them on the board. I told my students this is what I expected from them. I got a lot of blank looks. They had heard this before. There was nothing they could really disagree with. But what do they mean? What does “the classroom is in order” mean? Can you picture it?

It is important to be able to visualise the difference between how things are now and how you expect them to be. Why is the classroom not in order? Define each aim so that students can see when it is not being met. For my classes, “the classroom is in order” meant that:

- The chairs are in their places.

- The desks are clean and in their place.

- The board is clean.

Anyone looking at the classroom can see if these 3 aims are being met.

Having the classroom in order based on these 3 aims may seem very simple and obvious. Let me explain why it was important. My students came into my class with the results of the previous class still evident. Having left in a hurry, there were fallen chairs, desks at different angles, books and other materials from previous lessons on their desks, notes still written on the board. This was affecting the beginning of my lessons, so it became important to begin the class with the classroom in order.

With the idea of making each aim visually clear, discuss each one with your students. These are the results of the discussion with my students:

Students are ready for class  

- There are no materials on the desk, except those needed for the English lesson.

- The student has his class book, workbook, and notebook.

- The student has pen, pencil, and rubber.

The reason for these aims was the number of disruptions in class based on not having the materials they needed. Equally important, materials from other lessons meant that many students’ desks were disorganised. This was affecting their focus on the material in my lessons. My students already had a problem focussing on the lesson with these distractions.

Classes begin more efficiently

- The student is on time.

- The student enters in an orderly way.

- The student leaves in an orderly way.

What does “on time” mean? This greatly depends on the situation in your school. Some schools use a two-bell system and, in this case, being on time is being in class before the second bell rings. Many schools use the bell to call students (and the teacher) into class. Some schools do not use a bell system, at all. What is important is that you and your students agree and that it is obvious to all when a student is late. Based on the one bell system, my students arrived in the classroom at about the same time I did, walked in as I did, and went to their desks, as I did.

What does “in an orderly way” mean? Again, discuss this with your students. It could mean no running. It could mean going straight to their desks. It could even mean, not using their own language when they enter the English classroom.

Students participate actively during the lesson

- The student listens actively.

- The student works when necessary.

Initially, listening “actively” was difficult for my students to visualise. “How do you know we are listening actively?” they asked me. But based on the routine I wrote about here in a previous blog post, “A positive learning environment: the first 10 minutes (part 2)”, they quickly understood that they would need to listen to each other in order to participate in the class.

“when necessary” also became a point of discussion. Originally the aim was for students to be engaged in the lesson. This proved very difficult for larger classes with a greater degree of mixed abilities and learning preferences. My students felt they should not be punished if they had finished an exercise and were waiting for others. I accepted this, and so I took on the responsibility of keeping them all engaged. It was a challenge.

Responsibility Skills

Rather than calling them classroom rules, I labelled them “responsibility skills”. I made a poster with the aims and put it up in my classrooms. By having the poster with the aims in the classroom, I did not need to repeat or remind. I could simply look at the poster, and then look at the student. They understood what was wrong, because they could see it as easily as I could.

Then, it was a matter of being patient as students adjusted to the new expectations. Over time, about 3 months for me, these became part of the class routine, for which I congratulated them.


7 Comments

How to write your own EFL materials: Part One – Writing for different levels

EFL coursebook writingJohn Hughes has co-authored a number of titles for OUP including three levels in the Business Result series, Successful Meetings, and Successful Presentations. He will be giving a practical workshop on how to write materials at the upcoming BESIG conference in Bonn on 15th November. This is the first of two blog posts in which John explores three key areas which he believes underpin effective materials writing.

If you want to write your own EFL materials, where do you begin?  Let’s start with a question: What do most established EFL materials writers have in common? First of all, they’ve all taught for a number of years and they are fairly confident about what will and won’t work in the classroom. Secondly, throughout their teaching career, they have always loved creating their own materials. Thirdly, most materials writers that I know have also spent time working as teacher trainers. In fact, I personally believe some kind of teacher training experience should be a requirement for all materials writers; it’s only by working with and observing other teachers that you can really understand how to write materials for use by other teachers.

Finally, I think that all effective materials writers understand – either knowingly or unknowingly – how to write materials that are at the correct level, aimed at the appropriate context, and organised into a series of stages which flow to form a cohesive and complete lesson. In this first of two blog posts, I’ll look at level in more detail.

How to write your own EFL materials

When we talk about the level of the material, we are usually referring to whether you can use it with an elementary, intermediate or advanced student. So knowing how to write for different levels requires that you have experience of teaching at lots of different levels. In addition to that, there are some tools that can help you. For example, if you are writing or adapting a text for reading materials then you can assess the level of the text with a tool like the Oxford Text Checker. By putting the text into the text checker it will show you which words are not within the top 2000 or 3000 keywords of English. As a result, you can decide how to adapt the level of the text and which vocabulary could be taught as new.

As well as considering the language level, materials writers also need to think about the cognitive level of the students; for example, writing materials for young learners is quite different to writing for adults. Also, there’s the danger that when we write materials for students with a low language level, we write materials which treat the students as if they have low intelligence. Even materials for elementary levels must still be intrinsically interesting, and motivating; in other words, if you are writing for grown-up adults, then the material should feel ‘grown-up’.

Level in materials writing also refers to the level of an exercise or task. In other words, the exercise or task itself must be achievable. So if you ask students to fill the gaps in a conversation while listening but there are too many gaps, it becomes impossible – regardless of their language level. Similarly, if you write a speaking practice task which requires more than three sentences of instructions, then the task is probably overly complex for use by the teacher and students.

So level is a key part of writing EFL materials, and in my next post we’ll look at how it links in with the skills of writing materials with context and flow.

 

© John Hughes ELT Ltd 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


1 Comment

Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf (Part 2)

Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s BookshelfShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in teaching with tablets, shares his advice for teachers on making the most of the interactivity of digital coursebooks from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf

Part 2 – How interactivity in e-books supports independent learning, pair work and whole class learning

Welcome back. How did your first lesson go?  Did the students get to grips with their new digital coursebooks?  Are you finding the right balance of use and non-use? I trust that by now the routine of using a different form of book is kicking in and it’s beginning to feel a little bit more normal. You’ve also realised that the digital aspects of your book can augment your usual teaching practice.

With that in mind let’s look at a lesson. We’ll use the e-book version of Headway Beginner, but you can apply the ideas to any coursebook you are using. If you’re not using e-books at the moment, and you’d like to try out the ideas in this post, just download the app for iPad or Android tablets, or go to www.oxfordlearnersbookshelf.com and try the free samples.

Let’s jump into the book and look at page 36, which is a vocabulary and pronunciation lesson based on the topic of languages and nationalities. In doing this lesson you are focusing the students on developing their knowledge of how to refer to different nationalities and language in English. By the end of the lesson, the students will have been introduced to a lexical set of nationalities and languages and had the opportunity to practice the pronunciation of each.  The lesson also revises question forms which appeared earlier in the unit.

Here’s a quick question for you, how many ways are there of getting to page 36? One would be to swipe through the pages (albeit that would take some time). Before you read on, stop and as I said in part one, have a play.

Answer alert! You can use the tool bar on the left of the page, and the page thumbnails and numbers at the bottom. Add swipe, bookmarks, and search and there is a navigation method to suit pretty much everyone.

Oxford Learners' Bookshelf navigation

Getting started with my lesson, I project my iPad onto a bigger screen and pinch zoom the photos so that they fill the screen and remove the text.  I don’t want them distracted by the text at the moment.  Getting the students to look at the picture, I elicit which country they think it is (they did countries in a previous lesson so this is revision). Using the pen tool, I can write some of their answers on the page as in the picture below.

OLB_write_page

Once the students have the idea, I ask them to work in pairs and with one of their tablets look at the photos and write which country they think it is.  We then get answers by again looking at my projected tablet.  As the students are looking up I use the first picture to move from country to nationality leading into exercise 1, in which students have to match the countries and nationality.  To complete this exercise students can use the pen tool.

Whether the course book is paper or digital it is important for the teacher to mix up how the students are working.  This helps meet the differing learning needs of the students.  Since we began with the students working as a class, heads-up with me, I ask them to do exercise 1 working on their own tablet. However since I don’t want it be a test-like atmosphere I encourage the students to support each other. I think this is important, as I want the students to learn to be independent and not always rely on their teacher for answers.  If you remember from the first post I like my students working in islands. I think this helps them work with each other. In this lesson, since the answers are in an audio script, the students don’t need me to formally check the answers.  I can promote learner independence while at the same time having the space to help those students who need it, by getting them to play the audio on their tablet.

However, there is a danger when encouraging them to work like this that students might take a long time to complete the exercise. As I don’t want them to take forever I change the projection on my tablet from the coursebook to a traffic light timer (for example Stop go or Traffic Light). The students then know that while the light is green they can work on the task, as the time expires the light will change to red signaling the end of the task. Being freed up like this I find I can give students more individual attention.

stop_go

Since one of my favourite classroom techniques is drilling, once we’re all ready students put their tablets aside and we do some choral drilling.  To add a fun element to this, I open the ‘too noisy’ app (iOS and Android).  This is an app often used to show a class that it’s making too much noise. However since I want the students to be confident when they drill I turn this on the head and get them to make as much noise as possible so that the app goes off the scale.

too_noisy

Digital coursebooks have the ability for students to record themselves so rather than having to put individual students on the spot, once I am satisfied with the group drilling, it’s back to the ‘listen and repeat’ part of exercise 1 on page 36.

Here’s another quick question for you. There are two ways the students can record themselves in the digital coursebook. Do you know both? Answer alert! Student can record themselves using the audio note or by using the recorder that comes up when a student listens to audio.

OLB_record

More confident students, who do not need to refer back to a model, can practise the pronunciation into the audio note. Alternatively students can listen to the audio, tap record and say the word after each one is said by the coursebook.  They can then play it back along side the audio to check their pronunciation.

One additional feature of digital coursebook audio is that the pace can be changed. If you look at the image above, you can see the plus and minus button on the audio toolbar.  Students who have difficulty in listening can slow the listening down and those who want a bit of extra challenge can speed it up.  If you were running a listening lesson from the front of the class you wouldn’t be able to allow so much flexibility to the students. Additionally this slow and fast can help a student with pronunciation.  Slowing down highlights how the word is said, speeding up helps students reach a natural rhythm.

A similar approach can be taken with exercise 3, which this time asks the students to match country and language in order to make true sentences. However given the students have been working in their books for a while now if you are looking for a bit of variety, it could be done in a more traditional way such as using cut up paper prepared in advance. Either way after doing exercise 3 as preparation, it’s time for my students to ‘test’ themselves. Books off, they make sentences (orally) for their group as per the model. However rather than always making true sentences, students can make them true or false for their classmates to decide.

Finally we finish the page by doing the pairwork in exercise 4. Rather than asking them to reopen their tablets, you can use your projected coursebook to orientate and instruct the students.  Students then do the task to get the idea and practice. However this first run through is also a rehearsal for recording.

OLB_record_pair

Once the students are ready, going back to the audio note they record themselves doing exercise 4. They can then listen back and assess their own performance. You can help, guide and point them in the right direction before asking them to do the task for a third time (again recording) to note improvements.

There you go, a lesson using a digital coursebook.  Not too dissimilar to what you’ve done before the digitalization is it? But before the naysayers pipe up, look at what the digital coursebook added. First of all the material was in one place so no need for extra audio equipment or finding a way to project large images to work in plenary. We added the ability for the students to record themselves, we didn’t have to control audio so they could work at their own pace. As a teacher I could work specifically with those that needed extra help while others could get on with a task. We still did group and pair work and we still got to do some good old-fashioned drilling.

Hopefully by now you’re getting into the swing of using the tablet. There are some obvious digital follow ups. By that I mean activities we can give the students as extension activities, just as you would do when using a paper-based coursebook. Obviously you can choose the ones that best suit your class but here are a couple of things to get you started.

As a class follow up for vocabulary I use the Socrative app to create a nationality or language quiz.  The students can then play the team game. (When you download the app look through what it can do). You will see a game called space race. This makes for a fun way to end the lesson and review the lexis of the lesson. By connecting to Socrative through their tablets they are automatically playing in teams which provides a different interaction to those already used in the lesson. If you are new to Socrative, note that there are two apps: one for the teacher and one for students. After creating an account, you log in to the teacher version to create and run the game. The students join in on the student version of the app.

Homework will be getting the students to use an app such as fotobabble to create their own photo as per the examples on page thirty-six.  They take a selfie and then use the language of the lesson to talk about themselves.  Here that task not only uses the coursebook as the impetus but also because students have to record their audio (for other students) it gives a communicative focus to the language revision. If students cannot take their tablet home, they can do this on their mobile phones or computer. Alternatively, another task is to get the students to take photos of things of different origins e.g. An English dictionary, Italian food. If you set this for homework, students come to the next lesson with photos that not only revise the language of the lesson but sets up the next lesson perfectly!

Right, there’s a lot for you to get trying out.  Feel free to leave me a comment saying what worked or didn’t.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,463 other followers