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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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Webinar: Which English?

Which Engliah word cloudStacey Hughes introduces her upcoming webinar on 25th and 27th February entitled ‘Which English?‘.

Why is English spelling so crazy? Why are there so many ways to say the same thing in English? Why is there not one ‘standard’ English? Which English should I teach?

Stacey Hughes from OUP’s Professional Development Services will try to respond to some of these questions in her upcoming webinar, Which English?

English history and the English language can hardly be separated. If we look to our past, we can see how English has been shaped by invaders, writers and even its own colonial surges. These influences have led to the way English looks and sounds today.

Many English words are notoriously difficult to spell. Irregularities in the spelling conventions for common words can flummox students trying to learn the basics. And then there’s the fact that words don’t sound like they look. What were they thinking when they came up with the spelling system?

English also has a lot of words – and a lot of words for the same thing. Yet, even if they are similar, they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. Context and collocation play their part in making vocabulary difficult to use.

English continues to evolve as new words are added and old grammar rules fall out of fashion. It is also a growing language with speakers using it as a common language even when it is a foreign language for both speakers. English also evolves as speakers adapt it to fit local language needs.

With so many ‘Englishes’ around, which English should we teach?  How can we best prepare our students for the English they will encounter outside of the classroom?

Join the webinar, Which English? on 25th and 27th February to find out more.


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5 ways to use a dictionary for academic writing

Oxford Learner's Dictionary of Academic English book coverJulie Moore, a lexicographer for the new Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English, shares her top 5 ways to use a dictionary to teach academic writing skills.

With my background in lexicography, I’m a big fan of encouraging dictionary skills in the classroom. And as a teacher of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), I’m really looking forward to using the new Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English with my students.

Rather than teach planned dictionary skills lessons, I tend to slip in dictionary usage at every possible opportunity. In particular, I’ll often send students to the dictionary in a writing skills lesson. Here are my top five areas of academic vocabulary to focus on:

Collocation

One thing that can make student writing sound awkward is an odd choice of collocation. Sometimes a choice that would be fine in everyday English or spoken academic contexts, such as do research stands out as too informal in academic writing, where conduct or undertake research might fit better. Checking a key word in the dictionary will provide students with a number of appropriate academic collocations, not just for the most common meanings of a word, but also sometimes more specialist uses too, e.g. a power = an influential country: a colonial/imperial/sovereign/global etc. power.

Dependent prepositions

A wrong choice of preposition may seem like a trivial error, and in speech it will usually be overlooked. But in academic discourse, where precision is highly valued, frequent minor errors can give the impression of intellectual sloppiness and inaccuracy. Next time your students are handing in a piece of writing, try this quick self-editing activity. Before they give you their texts, get them to go through and underline all the prepositions they’ve used, then identify those that depend on a content word (a noun, verb, or adjective) either just before (on impact, under the influence of) or just after (reliant on, consistent with). Next, they choose a handful (3 to 5) that they’re least confident about and look up the content words in the dictionary. Point out that typical prepositions are shown in bold before examples. They can then correct any errors they find before handing in their work.

Following constructions

You can do a similar thing with the constructions that typically follow particular words (focus on doing, demonstrate how/what …). I tend to highlight examples like this when they come up in class, just taking a couple of minutes to raise students’ awareness of how this type of information is shown in the dictionary, again in bold before examples. Students can then use it as a reference source themselves when they’re hesitating over a construction in their writing.

Parts of speech

EAP students need to develop a particular dexterity in swapping between parts of speech, whether they’re trying to find an appropriate paraphrase or construct a complex noun phrase. As different parts of speech typically start with the same combination of letters, they’re generally together in the dictionary, making for a quick and easy look-up. And to help further, the different parts of speech of many key words are even grouped together in word family boxes, allowing learners to see the options at a glance, including non-adjacent words such as antonyms too, e.g. conclude, conclusion, conclusive, conclusively, inconclusive.

Synonyms

For students writing longer academic texts, repetition of key words can become an issue. Finding a few appropriate synonyms can help to improve the flow and style of their writing enormously. With a class of students preparing for a writing task on a particular topic, you might pick out a few key topic words and get students to look them up in the dictionary to search for possible synonyms. These are shown after each definition, e.g. at practicable you’ll find SYN feasible, workable. Of course, synonyms rarely have identical meanings and usage, so get students to look up the synonyms too and decide which might be substitutable and what adjustments they might need to make grammatically (e.g. vary from x to y, but range between x and y).

By incorporating regular dictionary usage into classroom practice, you raise students’ awareness of the type of information they can find in the dictionary, how they can use it to improve their academic writing and become more autonomous learners. What’s more, by proactively doing something with a word (looking it up, thinking about it, then using it), they’ll also broaden and deepen their vocabulary knowledge.


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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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Learn One, Get One Free

BOGOF dictionary entryIan Brookes is a freelance writer and editor based in Scotland. He has edited a number of dictionaries and has written books about spelling, writing, and punctuation. In this post, he looks at how to learn two words for the price of one.

There is something very attractive about the idea of getting two things for the price of one. One of the more striking new words to enter the English language in recent times is BOGOF. This is an abbreviation based on the initial letters of the phrase ‘buy one, get one free’; as this suggests, it refers to a special offer in a shop that allows you to receive an extra item free of charge when you make a purchase. The fact that the word is pronounced the same as bog off, which is a mildly offensive way of telling somebody to go away, makes it sound slightly rude, and this has no doubt added to its popularity.

If the idea of getting something extra for their money is attractive to shoppers, then learners of English should be encouraged by the idea that learning one word will often bring another word – and often more than one word – into their vocabulary, virtually free of charge.

If you learn a noun, you can often form a related adjective by adding a short suffix. For example, adding the ending -y creates chilly from chill, cloudy from cloud, and dirty from dirt.

Similarly, many verbs give rise to a noun that ends in either -ment or -tion: entertain, govern, and measure lead to entertainment, government, and measurement, while collect, educate, and invent lead to collection, education, and invention.

If only you could apply these suffixes to every noun or every verb then you could increase your vocabulary enormously. Unfortunately, English is rarely as simple as that. You can’t just add the ending -y to any noun. For example, there are no words booky or cuppy. And even when you can add a -y to a noun, the meaning may not be what you expect: thus catty means ‘spiteful’ rather than ‘like a cat’ and not all bosses would like to be described as bossy.

However, there are some typical patterns of word generation that are worth knowing, and in this blog I want to look at how verbs with certain endings tend to generate a related abstract noun ending in -tion or -sion.

The most common pattern here is that verbs that end in -ate will usually form an abstract noun ending in -ation: calculate/calculation, celebrate/celebration. Other common patterns are that verbs ending in -ize (or -ise in British English) form nouns ending in -ization/-isation (organize/organization) and verbs ending in -act and -ect form nouns ending in -action and -ection (react/reaction, connect/connection).

I should stress that not every single verb with these endings will form an abstract noun that ends in -tion. But most of them will, and when they do, the noun is formed in a regular way, with no change to the stem of the word.

However, there are some interesting verb endings that form abstract nouns in less obvious ways:

  • Verbs ending in -duce form nouns ending in -duction: produce/production, reduce/reduction.
  • Verbs ending in -mit usually form nouns ending in -mission: permit/permission, admit/admission.
  • Verbs ending in -cede usually form nouns ending in -cession: recede/recession, concede/concession.
  • When other verbs ending in -de form abstract nouns, the nouns end in -sion: decide/decision, explode/explosion, intrude/intrusion.

Keeping these points in mind can help learners to increase their vocabulary two words at a time rather than word by word: learn one word, get one free!

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