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‘Value for money': Helping your students get more from words and phrases they learn


Young woman wearing headphones and writingJenny Dance, who runs a language school in Bristol, UK, tells us why pronunciation training is so important for her students and what led her to find a system that would allow them to practice more effectively.

Helping learners improve their English pronunciation is a challenge for all EFL teachers – native and non-native speakers alike. English has so many unusual spellings, borrowed words and unpredictable pronunciations that even the most dedicated learners and patient teachers can find it tough to make good progress in this area.

And yet in my experience, improving a learner’s pronunciation is one of the most effective ways of raising their overall level of English. In his ‘Pronunciation Matters’ blog (5-Jan-12), Robin Walker, pronunciation expert, comments that pronunciation training helps with fluency, confidence and listening skills – all of which are at the forefront of effective communications. He goes on to quote studies showing the impact poor pronunciation has on writing, reading, vocabulary acquisition and grammar.

I wanted my students to be able to make the most of the English they had already worked hard to acquire. They may have been able to understand the word ‘comprehensibility’, and even write it with confidence – but I wanted to hear them using it fluently in their speaking, too. Improving pronunciation is, in a way, getting more ‘value for money’ from the words and phrases already learned.

It was also important to develop a more robust and objective system for helping learners assess, practice and improve their pronunciation. I felt students would benefit from seeing and having controlled access to the sounds they were producing. And with the rise of the touch screen and hand-held personal computers, I could see there was a big opportunity to enhance the way teachers and students approached pronunciation training.

Misplaced stress in a word can render it far less intelligible than an incorrect vowel sound. We aim to remedy the high frequency, high impact errors to help learners improve quickly. So with the help and feedback of a number of my students, we worked with Oxford University Press to develop Say It: Pronunciation from Oxford. The concept is simple: listen to the model sound (30,000 words, taken from the Oxford Dictionaries), record yourself, compare yourself and re-record until you’re happy you have made a good match to the model.

Using Say It in the classroom, either one-to-one or with a small group of students is a highly effective way to work on pronunciation skills. The teacher doesn’t need to listen and correct in real time – instead, you can review and discuss the sounds together, creating a real sense of partnership in the learning process. Because the assessment is clear and objective (for example, you can compare the stress placement at a glance), both teachers and students can understand the changes required to improve. Often, students are able to correct themselves to a large degree, which is a much more powerful learning experience.

sayitprintscreen

Recent research shows that pronunciation is learned at a cognitive level (Gilakjani et al, 2011), in much the same way as a tennis player will visualise hitting the baseline rather than think about all the physical, mechanical elements required to execute the perfect tennis stroke. Say It seems to produce a cognitive response, with users responding quickly to the visual signposting of key features: stress placement and syllable structure. The soundwave and visual indicators give the student the ‘access points’ to the sound they need to produce.

Using Say It, learners can visualise, touch, listen to, dissect and perfect their pronunciation. It’s a quick, fun and effective way to practise and learn. For my students, pronunciation training is not about sounding like a native speaker, but rather being confident that you’ll be understood. As Camille, an FCE student told me about her experience using Say It: ‘Now, when I get on the bus and ask for a ‘single’ ticket, the driver will understand me!’

You can find out more about the Say It app for iOS here.

Reference

‘Why is pronunciation so difficult to learn?’ A. Gilakjani, S. Ahmadi and M. Ahmadi,

English Language Teaching 4 (3), 74.


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How do you use OUP digital resources in your EFL or ESL classes?

Hands holding an iPadProfessional Development Services teacher trainer, Stacey Hughes, invites you to share your ideas.

In our recent travels, we’ve seen some amazing and creative uses of digital technologies in the classroom.  As e-course books and educational apps become more common and as teachers begin to see the potential of online practice, they are finding innovative ways to use these tools to help motivate students and help them learn.  We have started asking teachers, “How do you improve language skills with e-books, apps, iTools, iTutor and online practice?” Here are some of the responses we’ve had so far.

iTools:

I love working with iTools because it allows me to make new practice activities that used to take me ages to make before the digital age. One of my favourite features is the thick white pen I can use to erase the words of a text.  For example, I erase the words of a picture story, children look at the pictures only and in pairs/small groups they have to come up with a dialogue that matches the messages of the images. This can entirely the same as the original or they could add to it depending on their language level. Once they have their dialogues, they practise them in pairs and finally act it out in front of the class. As children are the ones who choose the language to be used, it motivates them immensely and it helps develop their speaking skills.

– Erika Osváth, Hungary

iTutor:

I like to get my students to prepare tasks for each other when they watch the video clips on their Headway iTutor. I ask students to choose one clip from the unit, watch the clip at home and prepare some simple questions/true or false statements/etc. about it. They then find a partner who has prepared a different clip to them and exchange tasks. They watch the clip at home and do the tasks. Some students like to give their partner feedback on the tasks e.g. language accuracy. This activity not only helps students to develop their listening skills but also allows them to create tasks that are the right level for their peers.

– Jules Schoenmann, UK.

A phrase a day app:

At the end of the lesson, we (teacher and students) decide on the words/phrases to learn, aka ‘words of the lesson’.  For homework, students have to find a phrase based on one of the words of the lesson in their ‘phrase a day‘ app .  We don’t know which phrase each student has chosen. The only thing students have to do is write it down in their notebook. Their task in the next lesson is to use the phrase naturally in the course of the lesson at any time.  So, you need to make sure you offer some opportunities for speaking.

You can do it the ‘competitive way’: the student who uses their phrase first wins. You may do it the ‘responsible way’: Each student is responsible for making sure they use it during the lesson. You nod approvingly when they do so – don’t worry, students will look at you the moment they’ve used it or even let you know loudly!

You can do it the ‘hilarious way’ as an activity in itself: pick students in pairs across the table/room, or students next to each other. The situation is this for each pair: They are travelling on a train to a distant destination (tell them where). They are complete strangers and bored to tears. There is nobody else in the compartment.   So they decide to start chatting. The thing is that they have to use their phrase naturally in the course of the chat. So they have to steer the conversation.   Students are given no time to prepare and each pair improvises their chat in front of the class in turns.  It can be slow, fast, awkward at times but always surreal and hilarious, but never embarrassing for students. Just let them improvise and allow ‘silences’.  You’ll all have a jolly good laugh!

– Anna Parisi, Greece.

Let’s create a teacher’s resource!

How do you use OUP digital resources? We are interested in your ideas! Please comment below how you use OUP ebooks, apps, iTools, iTutor, iWriter, and Online Practice. Let’s use each other as a resource and see how many new ideas we can share on this blog.


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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.

 


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Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf (Part 1)

teaching English language with e-books and tabletsShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares his advice for teachers new to using digital coursebooks in the classroom and offers practical guidance for getting the most from the Oxford Learners’ Bookshelf.

Part 1 – Preparing for your first lesson

If you’re starting to teach with digital, tablet based coursebooks for the first time, you may be wondering how best to get your students off to a good start. With this is mind here is the first in a series of blog posts to help you get started. Following the few key steps outlined below before you start, will have you facing your first digital coursebook lesson with confidence and a clear sense of what you are going to do and achieve.

Preparing the tablets

If your school is providing the tablets, make sure that the IT person who looks after the tablets has downloaded the free Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf app (OLB). If students are bringing their own, they’ll need to download the app themselves. For iPad go to the App Store, for Android tablets go to Google Play.

iPad_add_book (2)

 

 

Students need to register with Oxford, or log in with an existing account. Having an account means that your students’ e-books are safely saved in the cloud, and students can access them via the newly launched web player at www.oxfordlearnersbookshelf.com, as well as on their tablet. This video will show you what’s changed and how to register and access your books.

If you haven’t worked with a digital book before, open the OLB app and log in and you’ll see the Bookshelf  with the books that have been added. If you don’t see your book it might not yet be downloaded from the cloud. Look at the bottom of the screen and you can alternate your view between device and cloud. If the book is in the cloud, you can tap Download to transfer it to the device.

Ideally, the e-books will have been downloaded onto the tablets before the first lesson. They are quite large files, particularly the ones with audio and video, and can take a while to download. Your students can start looking at the books as soon as they start downloading, but it may take a while before any audio or video is available.

If the tablets are ready before the class, do check your own and some of the students’ tablets are working well before your first class. This gives you a chance to go back to the IT person to sort out any hiccoughs.

Getting to know your new coursebook

Tap on the cover of the book you want and it will open. If you compare it to the paper-based version of the book then you’ll notice the content is the same. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief as you realise all those wonderful lesson plans and activities you used last year are still relevant.

I can hear you muttering, how are they still relevant, we’ve gone digital. Well, the second point to remember is that you are not going to use the tablet all the time. Most of use wouldn’t use a paper coursebook for the whole lesson so why would we change that? As I am sure you have heard before, the coursebook is one of the many tools at the disposal of the teacher, digital or not. To maximize language learning we want to encourage interaction as this leads to communication so sometimes, perhaps more often that you currently think, you’ll be asking the students to switch off the tablet. Therefore those lovely laminated cards you have to prompt discussions are still going to make an appearance at some point.

So what are the differences? Rather than turn the page, a swipe changes it. Pinching can enlarge a picture or a text, something you can’t do with paper. Remember that when you want the students to look in more detail at a photo or when the student who has visual impairments needs a bigger script.

As a I talked about in a previous blog post, for most books listening is inbuilt and some even have video. Play around, click on some of the icons on the page and see what happens. As I say to my students, you can’t break anything. By the end of your playing make sure you also know how to input text into exercises. Now think about how you are going to show your students how to do these things, will you simply let them click and discover? If you have a projector in your class, do you know how to connect your tablet so that students can see your screen? If you have Apple TV or Google Chromecast, do you know how to reflect your screen so all can see?

There is of course one other feature that you need to get to grips with, the interactive tool bar.

OLB interactive tool bar

You should see it on the screen a grey bar to the left of a page. To open it, tap the white arrow and it will appear. Personally I use this as part of the orientation process in the first lesson. So let’s move on and think of that.

Student orientation

Tablets ready, book downloaded, time for the first class. We’ll assume that the school’s administration has already gone over how they are to be used with the parents and students. So you’re entering the room tablets at the ready. I tend to prefer students sitting in groups when using tablets so I arrange desks into islands rather than in rows.

If you do this make sure everyone has sightline to the board. The first thing I would do is leave the tablets to one side. It is after all the first lesson of the year, time for students to tell you what they did in their holidays and get out their mobile phones to regal everyone with photos of whichever exotic location they spent their vacations in. Remember that students are used to doing things on their phone as most probably are you.   There is already a digital know-how to tap into. But bear in mind that it would be wrong to assume that students have touched a tablet before and therefore know how to use it. So before we get going on the digital books we need to discover what they know. In true traditional classroom style, what better way to do this than a ‘find someone who’ exercise. You know the one I mean, students have a set of statements that they walk around the class turning into questions and searching for someone who answers yes.

Here are some (for an iPad) that I show on a screen and get students to do:

Find someone who:

  1. Can switch the tablet on
  2. Take a screenshot
  3. Search the iPad
  4. Mirror the iPad through apple TV
  5. Turn up the volume
  6. Turn up or down the brightness
  7. Lock the screen’s orientation
  8. Take a photo
  9. Open an app
  10. Close an app

Give students time to circulate and try and find people. Do feedback with the class, now is a good time to hand out the tablets so students can teach each other. This is where sitting in islands aids peer teaching. You can ‘check’ students are getting comfortable with the tablet by walking round to each island, offering advice and helping as necessary.

After this task, I get the students to put the tablets down, give them some paper (yes paper!) and ask them to come up with a list of rules / limits for classroom use of tablets. These include factors such as staying on task, not downloading apps (though hopefully your IT person has locked down the wi-fi or added a content filter).   This is like making a class contract but not simply covering rules about punctuality and homework.

It is now time to launch the digital coursebook and start getting the students used to the tools. If you need the students to make their own accounts to download the books then walk them through it using your tablet on a projector. If the books are already there, then get them to log in and start getting them used to the tools. It’s perhaps best not to go over them all in one lesson so as not to overload. On my tablet I project a word cloud of some of the tools like this:

Word cloud

(made with the Word Art app)

Get the students to switch on their tablets and tell them how to find their coursebook in OLB. They then work together to identify the features named in the wordcloud. When you’re ready to check the answers, switch your tablet to display the book and ask students to name the tools. If you are projecting onto a whiteboard you can of course write the name of the feature next to the tool.

So that’s it, I hope that’s helped you overcome any first lesson dread. When you think it about it, starting with a digital coursebook is not that different from any lesson using a new coursebook.   At first preparation time might increase but it will improve as you get more familiar with your material, the same as it would with when using the new coursebook. Often in a first lesson, a teacher does an orientation quiz and here it’s not different though we’re orientating to tools not the book itself. What’s more as I mentioned earlier, a lesson using a digital coursebook doesn’t have to be dominated by the book. Here we spoke, collaborated, mind mapped and perhaps most importantly we got the students communicating in English.

Right, now that’s the first lesson under your belt, time to get ready for the next one, which we’ll look at in the second post.


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5 Apps Every Teacher Should Have in 2014

Mobile apps

Image courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr

Sarah Fudin, Community Outreach Coordinator for USC Rossier Online, shares 5 mobile apps that every teacher should be using in 2014.

2014 brings a new year and many changes in education nationwide. As innovative technology is developed, new and updated apps are making it easier for teachers and students to integrate technology in the classroom.

Here’s a list of the five apps every teacher should have in 2014:

1. Evernote

Evernote app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Evernote is a great platform for organizing notes, pictures, and voice memos. For teachers, it can be a great tool for collecting media. Evernote allows a person to take a photo and add a note. All information is stored in easy-to-organize tabs for simple retrieval. How can this app be used? A math teacher might catch sight of some great buildings downtown to use as examples in his geometry class, and he can quickly capture and remember it for use later in the classroom. Equally, students can use this app to collect and store data for projects or homework.

2. Socrative

Socrative app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Socrative brings a spark to class assessment. It takes three minutes for teachers to set up and 30 seconds for students to download on their phones. With this app, teachers have a variety of assessment tools they can use to gauge student process. Questions are shown on a screen, and students use their phones to answer the questions. Results are automatically tallied and stored for the teacher to review. One feature, Space Race, allows students to work in teams to answer questions. For each correct answer, their team’s rocket moves up on the screen; the first team to get their rocket to the top wins.

3. Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet

Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet app iconPlatform: iOS

Shakespeare in Bits is great for English teachers. With narration and animation that accompanies the text, this app allows students to read books with greater comprehension. The app also contains an analysis section complete with a summary, discussion of themes used and descriptions of various images.

4. School Fuel

School Fuel app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 3.0 and up.

School Fuel puts students, teachers and administrators within a school on the same page. This app serves as an interface that organizes all the apps that teachers are using while allowing students to access them at any time. Instead of teachers having students download apps from a variety of sources, students can simply use this app to view and access all the apps the school is using. Teachers can also look to see what other teachers are using and add apps to the database.

5. Springpad

Springpad app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 2.2 and up.

Springpad takes organization a step further; this app not only gives you access to everything you save on all your devices, but it also recommends different places and tasks to you based on what you already have. For example, if you have a list of school supplies you are working on, Springpad will give you local options of where you can buy those supplies. Every note, list or project can also be shared with other teachers and classmates to make collaboration easier.

For many teachers, downloading and learning how to use new apps can be a daunting task. This list can help you discover new tools to enhance your classroom in a more efficient way to jumpstart a productive new year!

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