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Technology Enhanced Language Learning 

DeathtoStock_Medium10Aisha Walker, Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at Leeds University, introduces her webinar, Technology Enhanced Language Learning, hosted by Oxford University Press on February 25th and 26th.

As I lead an MA programme in TESOL and ICT I frequently see draft student assignments that open with a sentence such as: “Technology is increasingly important in the world today.” The student may then go on to say that today’s learners are ‘digital natives’, that technology motivates and engages students and that all teachers should be using more of it.  Luckily, because we offer students the opportunity to get feedback on drafts before submission, I can catch these broad statements and ask students to be more measured and more critical in their approaches to concepts such as the ‘digital native’ or ‘technology for learner motivation’.

So why should language teachers make use of digital technologies?  I see two main reasons although there may be other pressures such as institutional policies (if a school has spent a lot of money on a new online learning environment, for example, they will want teachers to use it).  The first reason is that digital media are part of the way that we use language in the real world.  Much of our day-to-day communication is mediated by digital tools including email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’s App and much more.  These tools are normal sites of language use and it is as important to explore these with learners as it is to explore older media such as newspapers and radio (now often online, of course).

The second reason is that technology can provide solutions to some of the problems that we encounter as language teachers.  For example, in the context of a single-language classroom there is little reason for students to communicate in the target language except that the teacher tells them to.  Digital tools may enable them to communicate with an audience outside the classroom, for example by posting blogs or videos either to a general audience or in partnership with a class of learners elsewhere.  Whilst I do not believe that technology is intrinsically motivating, novelty and variety do engage and motivate students.  Technology offers plenty of novel possibilities from new ways of presenting material to new games for language practice.

In summary, digital tools and media are part of everyday language use and should, therefore, be part of language learning.  In addition, the range of possibilities offered by digital tools mean that there are many ways in which technology can enhance language learning. But… ‘learners are digital natives’? It’s more complicated than that!

To explore how using everyday digital tools and media can be part of language learning, join us for Aisha’s upcoming webinar Technology Enhanced Language Learning.


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Integrating video content in the EFL classroom with International Express – Part 1

Learning onlineEFL teacher, teacher trainer and Principal of St. Giles International, Keith Harding has authored and co-authored several courses published by Oxford University Press. To mark the release of stunning new video material for International Express, Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby have prepared a series of four articles to be used alongside units within the course. Today, Keith shares some ideas and video resources for Elementary Unit 6 – Santiago, Chile, focusing on comparative and superlative adjectives.

The introduction of video as a learning medium in the classroom needn’t mean passive learning, or a risk of students ‘switching off’ from being engaged. The key to maximising learning potential, as with any listening or reading text, is to prepare and predict.

Before watching:

Here are some ideas for preparatory work, before watching the video:

  1. Countries and cities
  • Show the picture of Santiago from the video as a still image.
  • Where is it? Which continent? Which country?
  • Ask students in pairs to write down as many South American countries and cities as possible. This can be done as a team race – for example, the first team to name five countries and five cities.
  • Show an outline map of South America (from the Internet, or an atlas or wall map of the world if you’ve got one). Locate the cities and countries.
  1. Comparatives and superlatives
    Use the list of cities/countries (and the map) to make comparative and superlative sentences.
  • Which is the largest/smallest country?
  • Which is the most beautiful/the highest city?

Examples could be: Brazil is larger than Chile; Argentina is further south than Chile. Use Chile as much as possible, as the video is about Santiago and Chile.

  1. Practise the language
    What do you know about or think you know about Santiago? Consider:
  • Location
  • Scenery
  • Buildings
  • Things to do
  • Tourist attractions

To prompt show four stills from the video, such as:

  • Map of South America (1:40)
  • City buildings (2:16)
  • Church (2:50)
  • Scenery and city (3:11)

While watching:

To maximise the learning opportunities, set tasks for students to focus on throughout watching. Remember: tasks can be graded to the level of the learners, even if the content is not. This will involve you having to press pause, rewind, and also the sound-off or mute button, in some cases.

  1. Silent play

Play the whole video (or just a section) with the sound down. Have your students write down what they see, particularly the objects and places, and then compare with a partner.

If you wanted to make this more interactive, get the students to stand back-to-back with a partner – one will look at the screen, whilst the other looks away. The student facing the screen describes to their partner what they can see, and the student facing away writes down the words. They swap roles halfway through. Then rewind the video or section and have them watch it back together, to see how much they identified or what they might have missed.

  1. Stand up!

Give each student a letter – A, B, C, and D. They must stand up every time they hear a word from one of the following categories:

A: a word for a building
B: a word for scenery
C: a comparative
D: a superlative

After watching the video:

Follow-up tasks and activities will help to reinforce the language and will also provide the opportunity for more communicative and interactive language practice.

  1. Vocabulary work on other world places:
  • Country (e.g. UK)
  • Capital (e.g. London)
  • Language (e.g. English)
  • People (e.g. British)
  1. Speaking activities

Why not try out these activities, taken from the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are also available for free here. You just need your Oxford Teacher’s Club log-in details to view them.

  1. Make a film

Ask students to make their own film about one of the cities they have researched on the Internet, or of their own city/country. It might not be possible to actually make the film (although this could always be filmed on a mobile phone, for ease), but the students can plan the film (frame by frame) and write the script (using the Santiago script as a model).

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these activities in class! In the next article in this series, Rachel Appleby will be exploring the Selexyz bookstore video from the Pre-Intermediate level. Look out for it next week.


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Why is writing so hard?

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBOlha Madylus, an experienced teacher and teacher trainer gives her thoughts on the first of our Solutions Speaking Challenges: ‘My students keep making the same mistakes’.

As teachers we may despair of marking our students’ written work and writing that ‘C+ must try harder’ at the bottom of their compositions, but let’s spare a thought for those poor students, who may after all be trying as hard as they can.

First let’s admit it – writing is hard!

They are on their own

Students face a number of challenges producing correct and appropriate texts. For a start it is usually a solitary task, often given as homework and therefore unsupported. In class students can find support from each other doing pair or group work and also from their teacher. Writing a composition for homework, they often don’t know how to help themselves.

*Consider allowing students to write compositions collaboratively in class, especially when writing long texts is new to them.

Topics can be uninspiring 

How easy would we find it to write something interesting (let alone grammatically correct) on the topics given. While practising other skills it is possible to be genuinely communicative and even have fun, but this is rare in writing practice.

*Consider allowing students to choose their own topics to write about; doing creative writing; tapping into the interests of the students.

Too much feedback is counter-productive

When it comes to motivation, students often feel a great sense of failure when they have writing returned to them covered in red ink, with each mistake highlighted. It is not easy to know how to pick yourself up and start again. If our students are teenagers this is particularly difficult. They may put on a show of not caring, but teens find criticism very painful and may feel great frustration in not understanding exactly how they can redress their weaknesses in writing.

*Consider being selective about what you mark; marking positively; reducing the word count of written tasks so that students can focus on quality rather than quantity.

Writing is a difficult skill even in our mother tongue – consider how often we have to write continuous impressive prose in our lives, especially when texting and emails encourage short abbreviated text.

There are many skills involved in producing good compositions. We should not expect students to be able to write well without breaking down the skills and practising them separately. Footballers practise shooting at the goal, dribbling, tactics etc. They are not simply asked to turn up at the match and play the game!

These are just some of the skills needed to produce good writing:

  • Correct grammar
  • Range of vocabulary
  • Accurate punctuation
  • Correct layout
  • Correct register
  • Accurate spelling
  • Good range of sentence structures
  • Linking
  • Imagination
  • Planning
  • Drafting
  • Proof reading
  • Communication

I am sure you can think of more!

Rather than expecting students to put all these skills together, we must consider how to break them up, practise them effectively and gradually combine them – on the journey of developing writing.

Students sometimes get register confused when writing. This activity helps them to recognise style/register.

Hand out this list to students, or pop in onto a PowerPoint slide and display each line one at a time:

Once upon a time…
I regret to inform you…
All my love, Boris xxx
She grabbed the gun and pointed it at Dillon.
 Add two tablespoons of sugar and stir…

Ask students to consider, discuss and then suggest where they think these are taken from and why. For example, the first one must be from a children’s story, because it’s formulaic.

To expand the activity, ask students to work in pairs and add one more line either before or after using the same register. Check together if they sound correct.

This type of task (which doesn’t have to take a lot of class time) helps focus students on the conventions of different styles of writing. It can be used if you notice that students are using incorrect register in their writing assignments to raise awareness.


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Flipping and Creating Video Presentations

flipped-classroom1What is lesson flipping? Is it an effective technique for language learning? Thomas Healy, co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition, explains how he has used the concept of ‘flipping’ in his classroom ahead of his webinar on 17th or 19th February on the topic. 

Since I started teaching over twenty years ago, there is one challenge that I continue to obsess about: I have many students, but there is only one of me. To address this reality, I’ve tried over the years to do a better job of making use of group work, collaborative learning opportunities, as well as trying to help my learners develop independent learning skills.

Dealing with the needs of individual learner’s needs, however, remains a major challenge. Recently, I’m trying to go beyond I’ll see you after class and Here’s an additional  worksheet.  I was intrigued when I stumbled on mathematics lectures on Youtube that were make by Sal Khan, and the concept of ‘flipping’.

SalKhanYouTube

Flipping is a very simple notion. Essentially, it means reversing how a teacher deals with presentation and practice in and outside of the class. In a flipped class, students experience (typically on video) the presentation of new material as homework. This, in theory, allows more time for students to practice and ask questions the next time in class. So, for example, in Sal Khan’s flipped classes, the learner would watch a presentation on how to multiply at home; they would do practice exercises in class, with the teacher present when they need help.

Fascinating, I thought, but would this work with language learners? How could I flip conversation practice, pronunciation exercises, and group work activities? Would students do the homework, or would I end up presenting the new material in class anyway?

Soon, it became apparent to me that I could not flip many elements of the class. But I could flip some. Or, at the very least, I could create a bank of resources that students could review again and again. For example, I could make videos explaining frequent errors what leaners make, which they could access independently.

When I went about this project, I was amazed at how simple the technology was.  I’ve struggled with technology all my life, and still have
problems connecting a DVD player to a television.  Of the many available, I’ve been using Camtasia.

Camtasia, which is available for Mac and PC, can be downloaded easily from the Internet. It is a ‘screen capture’ program that records what appears on your computer screen. In addition, you can add your voice, animated annotations, as well as subtitles.

Here is an example of how I’ve used Camtasia. Some of my students struggle with using ‘Make’ and prepositions. I made a video to review the grammar, provide examples and help students test themselves.

THscreenshot1Step 1. I made a presentation, using PowerPoint. Actually, you can use anything, including Word.

Step 2. Then I wrote out what I wanted to say- a script.

Step 3. I played the slides on my computer, using Camtasia to record what was on the screen.

Step 4. Then, while playing back the recorded presentation, I added my voice.

Step 5.  I added animated annotations and subtitles, and posted the video on Youtube.THscreenshot2

I included a simple quiz, which students could use to test themselves.

While I don’t ‘flip’ very often in the true sense, I do like to have bank of grammar, vocabulary and reading skills videos available that students can refer to independently. I’ve never had a student who, on first exposure to a new grammar point or language skill, said, “I understand. I’ve got it! I’ll always remember it!” THscreenshot3 Currently, I’m looking through examples of student writing samples and student videos to try to identify common accuracy issues so that, in the future, in addition to saying, ‘Here’s an additional worksheet, I’ll be able to say, “Watch the video and try the quiz.” And if they still don’t get it, I’ll see them after class.

Want to find out more about lesson flipping? Take part in Thomas Healy’s live webinar on 17th or 19th February. Thomas will discuss models of lesson flipping and provide a technical demonstration of how to implement this technique. Register today!


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Why enter the Headway Scholarship competition?

There’s only one month left to submit your Headway Scholarship entry and have the chance to win a 2-week all-inclusive teacher training course at Oxford University.

But why should you enter? We asked some of last year’s winners to share their top 7 reasons why you should apply for the Headway Scholarship.

The top 7 reasons why you should apply for the Headway Scholarship:

Gloria-NewGloria Rossa

  1. Professional development and personal growth
  2. Experiencing life in an English-speaking country
  3. Studying in a renowned Oxford University college, with top yet humble tutors
  4. Increasing self-esteem and feeling a sense of accomplishment
  5. Meeting teachers from different countries and sharing teaching experiences with them
  6. Meeting one of the inspiring Headway authors, Liz Soars, and sharing teaching anecdotes with her
  7. Practising English in an academic environment and getting used to a variety of accents

Gloria also writes her own blog, My English World, in which she discusses her Headway experience in more detail. A great resource for anyone considering applying for the Scholarship!

Marianne ChavarriaMarianne Chavarria

  1. First of all, Oxford is a magical place, full of ancient buildings and stunning colleges, with colorful gardens and parks that invite you to relax and enjoy nature.
  2. Second, having the opportunity to meet teachers from all over the world, developing friendship ties, partnership and creating a great chance for learning from everyone’s culture.
  3. Third, improving my professional development by learning new techniques and tools to apply in my teaching practice.
  4. Fourth, developing my language skills by practicing everyday with people with different accents and backgrounds.
  5. Fifth, having the reliability that all members from OUP, The Department for Continuing Education from Oxford University and IP Teachers’ Team will do a great job in organizing a pleasant journey, an optimal stay and a worthy experience for teachers.
  6. Sixth, the workshops are given by professional teacher trainers that are very well prepared, full of expertise and willing to share their knowledge and promote our professional growth.
  7. Last but not least; learning to trust a little bit more in myself, in the fact that I am capable to participate and win in this kind of competitions, and be a proud ambassador for two weeks for my country.

Magya DygalaMagya Dygala

Magda couldn’t pick just 7 reaons, so here are her 8 top reasons!
As it comes to these 7 reasons, I guess I could enumerate at least 20 of them but I will try to make it shorter… Oxford was, is and always will be a place where my heart belongs. I will quote here Aung San Suu Kyi who described Oxford in such a beautiful way:
‘The past is always there, it never goes away,
but you can select what is best from the past
to help you go forward to the future…’

  1. Having a chance to meet the incredible and warm person, the author of Headway – Liz Soars
  2. Getting professional experience and knowledge from amazing Oxford tutors.
  3. A chance of a lifetime – meeting new people from all over the world and sharing teaching experience with them.
  4. Making friends for life
  5. Having a chance to experience being ‘out of the box’ (out of your country) in an English speaking country.
  6. Having a pleasure to have classes and dine at 700 year old Exeter College.
  7. Experience living in a place where past meet present, and every building has its own history.
  8. Last but not least, make your DREAMS come true and believe in yourself more

IrinaIrina I. Krestianinova

Well, it’s been twice Headway was a turning point in my both professional and personal life.

The first time was when I started teaching with it twenty years ago. That is where the FIRST reason why I applied for the Headway scholarship 2014 comes from. My essay was meant to be a thank-you to Liz and John Soars and the Headway team. I mean people who do the extraordinary work should know there is at least one person who highly appreciates the significance of this work. I mean it!

The second turning point was a two-week course at Exeter College, Oxford in Aug 2014. And this is the SECOND, as well as the THIRD, the FOURTH, the … reason why I would strongly recommend taking part in the competition.

  1. Just at the moment you arrive in Oxford and open the heavy old oak door to Exeter College, you feel you are in the right place and at the right time;
  2. You become a part of the community, the fellowship of 60 people from 33 countries from all over the world. People who come from absolutely different social, political, religious, and cultural backgrounds, but who, in just two weeks, manage to create their own tiny world full of patience, tolerance, and love. People who you might not see ever again, but who have come into your life and will stay forever;
  3. Every day in the course, though thoroughly planned and scheduled, is absolutely unpredictable. Every day with a lecture, workshops, social activities, free time, and whatever, is an amazement, even for a person who is hardly prone to be amazed;
  4. Great, inspiring and motivating lecturers, course  tutors and students who shape you in some way. You try to pick up something from everybody. You then introduce it into your classroom back home and realize that both you and your students really love your new shape;
  5. taking part in the competition for the Headway scholarship, no matter if you win or not, is sure to give you the greatest sense of achievement: you’ve managed to come out of your comfort zone to find out the new surrounding is much more comfortable;
  6. and in the end you feel you’ve lived another life, no way better or worse than your usual one, but, anyway, different. You’ve been an Oxford student for at least two weeks and in that way you’ve become at least some tiny part of its tremendous history.

Do you still need convincing? Liz Soars, author of Headway, explains why she and John set up the Headway Scholarship 11 years ago:

Start your entry today by visiting our Headway Scholarship competition page! Deadline: 8th March 2015.

The Headway Scholarship is made possible through the generosity of John and Liz Soars.

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