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Webinar: Leading a horse to water and making it drink!

Olha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, introduces her upcoming webinar entitled ‘Leading a horse to water and making it drink‘ on 5th and 7th March, where she will explore ways to motivate students to read and enjoy doing so.

How do we motivate our students to read long texts in course books and how do we ensure that students understand and enjoy what they read?

To our students a long text in a course book can be very off-putting. Not only does the length put them off but it may contain a lot of vocabulary they are not acquainted with and the tasks they need to do, e.g. answer comprehension questions, may seem too difficult.

Using examples from the Insight series, my webinar on reading aims to address these issues by answering the following questions:

  1. What is reading?
  2. What makes a text difficult and off-putting for students?
  3. What can we do before looking at the text to increase motivation to read and to prepare students for potential difficulties like a lot of new vocabulary
  4. What strategies can students employ to get a ‘feel’ of the text when they first meet it, putting into to context, to make reading easier
  5. How can skimming a text effectively help students understand text organisation in order to better navigate it
  6. What do students need to know about syntax, discourse markers and cohesive devices that will make reading easier
  7. How can students deal with new vocabulary within a text?
  8. How can students be encouraged to ‘read between the lines’, identifying implications in order to make inferences
  9. How can we personalise response to texts, to ensure that students do really think about its meaning, rather than just try to get to the end of the activity.
  10.  How can reading be more rewarding and more fun?

So, if you teach reading skills and want some ideas on how to make your teaching more effective and reading lessons more motivating for students, do join me in this webinar.


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#EFLproblems – Teaching the over 50s

Older man with Help Me signWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week’s blog is in response to Simone’s blog comment requesting extra hints for teaching the over 50s. Stacey Hughes from the Professional Development Team responds.

Hi, My name is Simone and I run a prime school for seniors, they complain a lot about understanding and using the language abroad. Do you have any extra hints for teaching people over 50 years old?”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or so the saying goes, though perhaps the adage, “you’re never too old to learn” is more accurate. While older learners may face some hurdles younger learners don’t, the lifetime of learning through experience that they bring to the class makes them, in some ways, better learners. They have learning skills they may not recognise – the ability to solve problems and think critically, for example. They may have a clear perception of their own strengths and weaknesses or they may have strategies from learning another language in the past.

Perhaps the biggest advantage adults have is their positive motivation: they have chosen to learn or they have an expectation of what they want to do with the language they are learning. This means that they want learning to be applicable to their lives. If, as a teacher, you can show this link, you will have very enthusiastic students!

Here are some tips for teaching older learners:

Make sure learning meets needs

Find out about your learners’ goals and expectations. What do they want English for? How fluent do they hope to be? What problems do they have when reading/ writing/ listening to and speaking English? A simple checklist and follow-up discussion can go a long way in clarifying what your students want and will show them that you are interested in making the lessons applicable to their needs.

Make lessons immediately applicable

Adult learners are unlikely to be learning for learning’s sake. They want to be able to use what they have learned in real situations, so they are unlikely to want to learn language that they don’t perceive as useful for them or that seems a waste of time.

Use activities where learners can use their strengths

Some research suggests that older learners may not be as fast at rote learning as younger learners, and they may not learn as quickly. However, they will be very good at the types of problem solving and critical thinking activities they employ in everyday life and work. Use role play and simulations to practice language and provide lots of opportunities for discussion in small groups. Older learners are also good at reflection, so after a discussion activity, ask them to say what they did well and how they think they can improve on their weaknesses.

Create a comfortable atmosphere

Older learners have a certain status, so putting them into a classroom situation where they feel belittled or where their life experience is unappreciated will hinder learning. Create a classroom where learners feel comfortable about making mistakes. Build confidence through praise and encouragement. Set achievable goals and help learners see when they have reached them. One useful strategy is to tell learners about your own embarrassing experiences when using a language abroad (we all have them!). This can help them see that everyone makes mistakes and that it is OK. It may also help to point out that most people are forgiving of language mistakes and appreciate the effort learners make when speaking their language.

Not too fast, but not too slow either

How demotivating it is to feel confident when listening in class, but find that in the ‘real world’ of films and native speakers, people just speak too quickly! By all means, build listening skills with materials in class, but teach students to listen to authentic texts, too. Help them feel confident in knowing that, even if they can’t understand every word, they can get the main ideas. Point out websites where students can listen to newscasts and podcasts, especially when they are relevant and topical. So, for example, ask students to familiarize themselves with today’s news in their L1, then ask them to listen to an international newscast giving the same news, but in English. Or point them to a podcast that gives information related to an individual student’s line of work or expertise. Encourage film buffs to watch films in English with the English subtitles on for extra support.

Capitalize on learners’ experiences and interests

Learners naturally want to talk about what they are interested in, and adults have a wealth of experience to bring to the classroom. Extend course materials when necessary so that you can bring in more vocabulary and structures students need in order to be able to talk about things they want to talk about.

Make lessons practical and authentic

If your learners need to be able to use English abroad, then teach the language they will need to use abroad. This is applicable at any level. For example, at a lower level, you might help students understand train and airline announcements, language for commercial transactions and directions, etc. Higher level students may wish to understand and be able to discuss news and current events when abroad, so build in lesson time for this. Supplement and extend course materials with relevant materials from the web. For example, supplement a unit on sports with sports news, blogs or gossip about sports figures, podcasts or news about the impact of sporting events in the local area – whatever is current and relevant and of interest to the students.

Make use of 24/7

Adult learners are generally willing to learn anywhere at any time, so provide plenty of materials for them to continue learning outside of class. Many course materials have online components, but students can also listen to English on their smartphones on the bus or to a CD/ MP3 player while driving. Those who love fiction can be given graded readers to read at home, or they can listen to downloaded audiobooks. Those who like writing can communicate by posting comments on blogs or by writing emails to another student in class.

Revise, revise, revise

Older learners may need more revision than younger ones, so build in plenty of revision. This doesn’t mean repeating lessons. Find new contexts and situations for your students to use the language they have learned. Don’t be afraid to repeat listening texts again for revision in the next lesson, especially at the lower levels.

Have fun

Adult learners are likely to be learning in their own time and may be attending classes partly for social reasons. It is obviously important to set learning goals, but you can still have fun reaching them.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about teaching the over 50s, so please comment on this post and take part in our live Facebook chat on Friday 24 January at 12pm GMT.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.


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Getting the words off the page: an insight into vocabulary

Ahead of his webinar on 7th and 12th February on the same topic, Gareth Davies looks at how to make vocabulary learning inspring and motivating.

I was sitting on a train late last year and I watched a girl do her English homework. She got out a course book, turned to the back and started memorising a list of words for Unit 4. The word list had a date above it, as did previous word lists, suggesting to me that the girl was revising for a test that was coming on Monday morning. The girl read the words, occasionally writing in a translation or stopping to look one up on her phone. This made me a little sad. Obviously to her, (and her teacher?) vocabulary was just a list of words to be learnt for a test; but vocabulary is so much more than that. It’s a bundle of words to be used and consumed, a tool to help you express yourself and your imagination, the very key to successful communication in a language.

How can we change this perception of vocabulary? How can we make vocabulary learning more inspirational? What tools can we give our students to allow them to learn and grow their vocabulary autonomously and not just trudge through a list of words? How can we make vocabulary feel like a bundle of joy, each word like a Christmas present to be unwrapped and discovered?

We are lucky as English teachers that we have so much more than just a school subject on our hands; we have a tool for creativity. But if we are not careful we can turn English into another subject to be endured by the students. In my webinar ‘Getting the words off the page’ I will look at some answers to the questions posed above and think about some practical ways to teach and review vocabulary so the students actively enjoy learning words.

To find out more about teaching vocabulary, register for Gareth’s webinar on 30th January.


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Getting Young Learners to Write

Young boy smiling and writingCharles Vilina, co-author of the forthcoming Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, shares some tips on helping young learners to write well in English. Charles will discuss this topic in more depth in his upcoming webinar, taking place on 21st and 23rd January.

I teach writing to primary students almost every day. Fellow teachers often ask me, “Isn’t it difficult to teach students to write well? I couldn’t do it!”

I understand the sentiment. Of the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), writing is often the most challenging to teach… and to learn. Many people find writing to be difficult even in their native language, so the challenge is even greater for our EFL and ESL students.

Why isn’t writing an easy task?

  • Writing is a productive skill that requires concentration and effort, even for those who write professionally throughout their lives.
  • Writing, like playing a sport or a musical instrument, requires regular practice to do it well. The more often students write, the more likely they are to improve.
  • Writing is a process. Revision is always part of good writing (which is why pencils have erasers), and revision takes patience and effort.
  • Good writing has a very important companion: good reading. Without daily reading across many literary genres and text types, it is difficult for students to develop strong writing skills.

Now for the good news.

There are strategies teachers can apply to make the task of writing easier, clearer, and even enjoyable for our students! Here are three that work especially well in my classes, for both fiction and non-fiction writing tasks:

1. Introduce students to good writing

Fiction:

A good story has the ability to send us on amazing journeys, create strong emotions, and even change the way we look at life. Children need to read good works of fiction, and then always consider the question, “What makes this story so good?” In every class I teach, I try to introduce good fiction, and the love of reading, to my students.

Non-fiction:

In the world of non-fiction, clear and organized writing makes all the difference when learning something new. My students and I read examples of excellent explanatory writing about topics they find interesting. In this way, students learn the best ways to inform others through writing.

2. Motivate students to write about the world around them

Fiction:

“Write what you know about” is excellent advice for a fiction writer. I encourage students to choose a setting that they are familiar with. In this way, they can focus on creating strong characters and an interesting plot within that familiar setting. They are also more able to describe the scenes with greater detail. Later, they go on to create stories in other times and places of their choosing.

Non-fiction:

I first ask my students to write about what they have seen and experienced in their everyday lives, through a personal narrative written in the first person (I). This task teaches them to be observant and aware. They learn to consider all the information that might be useful to the reader (who, what, when, where, why). Students focus on presenting what they know in a clear and organized fashion. Later, they use these skills of clarity and organization to write about subjects outside of their personal experience.

Suggestion:
One simple activity is to think of a clear topic sentence on a theme students know well, such as “I really like English class.” Write this on the board. Then, invite students to give reasons why they like English class, such as, “My teacher is always helpful.” Write these reasons on the board as students say them. After many reasons are listed on the board, ask students to write a paragraph that begins with “I really like English class,” followed by three or four of their favorite reasons.

Mind maps can help students brainstorm what they know, while organizing the information at the same time. For example, students can write and circle the words my school in the center of a sheet of paper. From this circle, lines can be drawn out to subheadings such as my friends, my classes, and my activities. Examples can branch off from those subheadings. This activity can give students a physical profile of what they can write about.

3. Emphasize that good writing is a series of steps

As I mentioned before, writing is a process. We can teach our students to achieve their writing goals more efficiently by following a specific series of steps that will lead them to a stronger piece of writing.

Here are the steps I ask my students to follow in both fiction and non-fiction writing tasks:

  • Brainstorm your ideas first!
    This means to write freely, allowing your ideas to flow without judging or thinking too hard. Fill the page with anything that comes into your mind. This step should be fun and creative.
  • Organize your ideas into groups
    Each group of ideas should center around one main idea. This step also allows you to arrange your ideas in order of importance, and eliminate those ideas you don’t need.
  • Write a paragraph around each group of ideas
    A good paragraph will have one clear main idea, usually stated at the beginning. Continue the paragraph with three or four sentences that support the main idea.
  • Revise your work
    As you read through your paragraphs, ask yourself, “Can I make my topic sentences clearer? Can my supporting sentences be stronger? Are they listed in the best order? Can I find nouns and verbs that are more specific, and adjectives that are more descriptive? Is my grammar and spelling free of errors?”

A final step is often referred to as “publishing” the piece of writing. This step means that students have revised and edited their writing to the best of their abilities, and are now ready to share what they’ve written with the class.

Because each of the above steps is unique, and has specific outcomes, students do not become bored or frustrated with the process. It is best to do the steps over a number of days, so that students can begin each step refreshed and ready to continue.

Suggestion:
After “publishing,” one very effective activity is called peer review. Students read each other’s pieces of writing and then write comments about them. By giving students the responsibility of looking critically at another’s writing, they are able to look more objectively at their own writing.

In closing, I would like to add some final thoughts for teachers:

  • Don’t expect perfection at any level. Writing is a lifelong pursuit, and even the most gifted writers know that they can always do better.
  • Always emphasize the more important writing goals for your students: creativity, clarity, organization, and conciseness.
  • When giving feedback, focus on one area that needs improvement per writing task. For example, does each paragraph have one main idea? Circling every error with red ink will only frustrate students.
  • Whenever possible, for every weakness you point out in a student’s writing, also point out two strengths. Confidence is a prerequisite for all great writing, and we never want to dishearten our students. Stay patient and focused, and you will see real progress over time.

With my best wishes,

Charles Vilina

Would you like more practical tips on encouraging your students to write and developing 21st Century skills with your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for a free webinar with Charles Vilina and Natasha Buccianti on getting young learners to write in English on 21 & 23 January 2014.


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#EFLproblems – Motivating Young Learners

Japanese girlWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. In this week’s blog, Verissimo Toste responds to Sylwia’s blog comment about motivating young learners.

I’m interested in the idea of participation points for the class. How does it work? Is it a motivation for the whole class? Are there any awards? I’m asking because I mainly have a problem with involving students in the lesson, especially the weaker ones. They fell behind with grammar and vocabulary and they became discouraged. They are also very lazy.”

Sylwia brought up an interesting issue: involving young learners in the lesson, or more specifically “the weaker ones”. According to Sylwia, these weaker learners “fell behind with grammar and vocabulary and they became discouraged.”

The first point I would like to bring up here is that success motivates, and equally, failure demotivates. If a learners’s previous experience with English has been negative, it is natural that they will give up. So, an important objective for the teacher of young learners is to make everyone feel successful. This is not as difficult as it may seem. Here are some ideas:

1. Focus on what has been learned

Praise learners for their achievements. When teaching colours, for example, focus on the colours each child has learned, not on the ones they still don’t know. Don’t compare them to one another. Relate to each learner individually. Focus on what each learner has achieved and the improvements they have made.

2. Make your classroom safe and supportive

Strive to make your classroom a place your learners enjoy being in. Equally, make your lessons a time your learners look forward to. Encourage them to enjoy the songs they sing, the games they play, the projects they share with each other. Make your lessons fun and have fun with them. When an activity is on the verge of being too difficult or uninteresting, step back. Save it for another time. Children do not learn when they feel stressed or when they don’t like what they are meant to learn.

3.  Children like learning

This is an important point, so I will repeat it: children like learning. It is what they do all day, every day. Children learn what they need to learn. Your learners will enjoy learning a new song. If you ask them to teach that song to their parents, you create a need for them to learn the lyrics. You also create a situation in which they are motivated to learn the song in order to teach someone else. This may create a need for reading the lyrics, or to memorise the song well enough for when they arrive home. Notice how, in this situation, you have also created a need to play the song more than one time, as your learners will need to know it well in order to teach it.

4. Children are natural language learners

Everyone has learned a language. There is no language in the world that is too difficult for a child to learn as their mother tongue. So, children are natural language learners. They will make the effort to learn the new words you are teaching, or some new language structure. They simply need to feel safe, to enjoy it, and to believe they can do it.

Now, more specifically, what can a teacher do to involve all of their learners in the lesson?

5. Personalise the learning

Whatever language you are teaching, see how your learners can use it to talk about themselves and their world. When teaching words associated with the house, relate it to their houses. When teaching abilities with “can”, or possessions with “have got”, relate it to their abilities and their possessions. Young learners like to talk about themselves. When they see English as a way to talk about their interests, they will become more motivated and will make a greater effort.

6. Each according to their ability

As your learners are learning the language, relate to each according to their ability. Antonio may tell you a lot of things he has got and, in this way, use most of the language you have been teaching. Ana, however, may only tell you about a few things. In both cases, praise them for what they have done. This will encourage Ana to continue learning. She will notice how others communicate more and be encouraged to learn more. Remember, success leads to success. If Ana feels successful, she will continue to make an effort.

7. Praise them! Reward them!

Establish a system for rewarding your learners for their efforts. Rewards should be based on effort and not knowledge. Make sure that everyone is able to get the reward if they try. For example, in my classes I create an honour board called, “I Am Special”. Let’s imagine I am teaching likes and dislikes, with the vocabulary related to food. The first week anyone who can name 5 different food items without looking at the book gets their name on the board. Two weeks later it might be those who can tell me 3 food items they like and three they don’t like.

8. Give them the opportunity to succeed.

Give your learners a second and third opportunity to succeed. Maria may not be able to name 5 food items the first week, but during the second week she is able to. That’s when you put her name on the honour board. Eventually, you may see everyone’s name on the board. Great! Congratulate the class on how well they are doing – all of them!

9. Establish routines

Establish a routine in class. This will help communicate to your learners what is expected of them. How should they enter the classroom? What is the first thing they should do as they come in? What do you want to see on their desks? What do you not want to see? Do they put away their books? Establish some definitions for working together, raising hands, etc.

10. Use project work

Finally, since Sylwia mentioned weaker learners and the idea of mixed ability, I always recommend that teachers use project work for these situations. I mentioned that personalising learning helps motivate children to learn. Using project work can give learners a basis to use the English they are learning. For example, when learning “can” for abilities, learners can make a poster of what they can do. Using images will reinforce learning. The project gives everyone an opportunity to show what they have learned. Making it personal and sharing the information with others in the class will engage them in their learning and make the language real.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about getting young learners involved, so please comment on this post.

Please keep your challenges coming. You can let us know by commenting on this post, on Twitter using the hashtag #EFLproblems, or on our Facebook page. Each blog will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.

Here are the topics for the next two blogs:

04 December 2013: Learning English beyond the exams
18 December 2013: Written self-correction for younger learners

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