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Developing listening skills with storytelling | Gareth Davies

Storytelling in ELT is often seen as the preserve of the young learner teacher. Tell a story with lots of repetition, noises, and action is considered far too childish for teen and adult learners. But stories are in our soul, we grew up with them, remember them fondly and can learn a lot from them, so maybe stories can be part of language lessons for older students.


Why storytelling?

The benefits of grading reading are well documented. Students reading for pleasure at their own level not only improve their reading skill but also their grammar and vocabulary level. But why is so little said about Graded Listening. When we do a listening activity in an English lesson there is always a task to go with it. This listen and answer approach often stresses students, no wonder then that listening is often considered by students to be the ‘hardest’ skill to master. We rarely ask students to just listen for pleasure. We rarely say don’t worry about it; there won’t be a ‘test’ at the end. But could that be beneficial for students? Could it help them to improve their listening skills and their grammar and vocabulary like grading reading does?

Case Study

I’ve been telling stories with students for about three years but at the end of 2018, I spent three months teaching young adults in Japan and decided to do a little experiment.  At least once a week I told them a story. Sometimes I did nothing with it, just told it at the beginning or the end of the lesson and moved on. Sometimes we briefly discussed the story and then moved on. Sometimes I built a lesson around the story. I told the story using actions, pictures and sounds if needed to help with the meaning but still in an adult way. The students enjoyed the stories, and they produced some really excellent work based on them. When I asked them at the end of the course if they could remember the stories, they listed them and took pleasure in retelling them to each other.

Here is some of the feedback that I’ve been receiving from students:

  • ‘Thanks to the storytelling lessons, I got skills for listening, imagination and retelling.’
  • ‘This definitely helped our listening skills…. we could communicate with each other and try to express our thoughts, ideas, and so on.’
  • ‘Those stories let me imagine the view, place, person and a lot of other stuff.’
  • ‘I learnt many expressions, including what I’ve never used to express myself.’
  • ‘It’s motivating to listen eagerly.’
  • Some activities gave me a power of understanding.’

One student even asked me if I could help her to become a storyteller like me!

Activities

The first activity I did after each story was simply to ask students to retell the story to each other. This helped them fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge, developed their understanding of the story, and gave them a chance to ask me questions. Because I had a few artistic students in my class, I encouraged them to draw the story at this stage. Here are three other activities that I will look at in my Webinar.

Newspapers

Ask the students to make a newspaper article for their story. Show them a narrative newspaper story, ask about the features, how the story is told in the newspaper, who is being interviewed etc. Then ask the students to work in small groups to create a newspaper front page based on the story.

Newspaper storytelling activity.

Prequel or Sequel?

Ask them to write a prequel or sequel to the story. Talk about films like Star Wars or Harry Potter. How did the story move on? Then, ask the students to think about the story and how the characters would develop in 5, 10, or 15 years’ time. Put them in small groups and ask them to write their new versions of the story.  

Prequel or Sequel storytelling activity.

Twitter

Get them to write a twitter feed for each of the characters. This is a bit more complicated to set up, but it worked like a charm. First you need to break the story down into factual components. Then, ask them to think how each character would respond to the event and how they would update their twitter feed. Ask them to write the Tweets and then put them in order to create a Twitter version of the story.

Twitter storytelling activity.

The last lesson

In my last lesson with the students, I asked them to tell me a story from Japan. I put the students into groups and gave them time to plan and then asked them to tell me the story. Their renditions were fun, enthusiastic and brought a tear to my eye.

I genuinely believe that listening for pleasure has a place in language learning and storytelling can give students a chance to listen to something that is enjoyable and understandable, and this takes the pressure off listening.


Webinar

Gareth Davies is running a webinar on this topic with Oxford University Press in March 2019. Click the link below to register, it’s free!

See you there!


Gareth Davies is a writer, storyteller, teacher, and teacher trainer based in Cardiff. He has been in the ELT industry for 23 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Recently he has been teaching and storytelling in Japan. Since 2005, Gareth has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth is also an examiner for the new Oxford Test of English and Trinity College, London. Outside of teaching, Gareth is an author of fiction, a poet and a storyteller. His first novel “Humans, Being”, will be published by Cinnamon Press in April 2019. He is interested in developing creative writing and story-telling ideas for the classroom.

Visit Gareth’s website: www.gareththestoryteller.com


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What is a core vocabulary?

It’s very difficult to say exactly how many words there are in the English language because it depends how you count them and, of course, language is changing and growing all the time. But even at a conservative estimate, there are well over a quarter of a million distinct English words. That makes the task of teaching vocabulary to learners of English seem a rather daunting one.

Thankfully, Zipf’s Law comes to our rescue. This states that a handful of the most frequent words in the language account for a disproportionately large chunk of any text, either written or spoken. The top 2000 most frequent words, in particular, make up somewhere around 80% of most texts. That makes frequency a good rule-of-thumb indicator of the words we should probably focus on teaching first.

The Oxford 3000TM: then and now

With this aim in mind, the Oxford 3000 word list was first put together back in 2005. Since then, the list has been widely used by learners, teachers, syllabus designers and materials writers to help them choose which vocabulary is worth spending most time over. Fourteen years on, however, it was time for an update. The new Oxford 3000 has had a thorough revision including a new look at the criteria for inclusion and the use of new frequency data based on a much larger and more up-to-date corpus.

Frequency vs. relevance

Whilst frequency is the guiding principle behind choosing which words to include on the list, it doesn’t quite work as a basis for selection on its own. That’s in part because there are a surprising number of words that describe basic things in the world around us and that learners would expect to learn quite early on that actually wouldn’t qualify for a top 3000 on frequency alone. So, words like apple and passport, for example, probably wouldn’t make the cut.

Thus, the new Oxford 3000 balances frequency with relevance to the average learner. As well as how common they are, the list compilers took into account whether words are typically used to talk about the kinds of themes and functional areas common in an ELT syllabus, and the types of tasks and topics needed in English exams.

A core vocabulary as a starting point

It would be wrong, however, to assume that 3000 words will be enough on their own for a learner to read and communicate successfully in English. The Oxford 3000 aims to provide a core vocabulary, that is, a solid basis that students can build around.

At the lowest levels, words on the list are likely to make up the bulk of the learner’s repertoire. So, for an A1 learner, for example, 90% of their vocabulary might consist of basic core words. As learners progress and want to read about and express a wider range of ideas, though, while they will still rely heavily on that core, they will also need to supplement it with vocabulary from other sources. The Oxford 3000 aims to provide a core vocabulary for learners up to roughly B2 level. By this stage, more and more of the vocabulary they acquire will reflect the unique interests and needs of each individual learner.

More about the new Oxford 3000:

In my upcoming webinar, I’ll be talking more about the new Oxford 3000; how it was put together, what it aims to achieve and how it can be used in the classroom. I’ll also touch on the new CEFR level labels attached to each word on the list, the Oxford 5000™, which extends the list for higher-level learners and the Oxford Phrase List™, which takes the lists beyond single words.R


Julie Moore is a freelance ELT writer, lexicographer and corpus researcher. She’s written a wide range of ELT materials, but has a particular passion for words and always gets drawn back to vocabulary teaching. She’s worked on a range of learner’s dictionaries and other vocabulary resources, including the Oxford Academic Vocabulary Practice titles.

Click here to access the Oxford 3000, Oxford 5000 and Oxford Phrase List.



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Assessing in the primary classroom

We often talk about the teaching-learning process as if it was just one thing, but we know that even though they are closely related, they are two different processes. Assessment is a third process that is intimately related to these two, so I’d like to say just a bit about learning and teaching first, and then take a look at assessment.

Understanding learning

In recent years we have all been presented with workshops, ideas, and materials that are aimed at helping to bring about changes in the way we teach, leaving behind the very “teacher-centered” classrooms of the past and working towards increasing the “learner-centeredness” that educators (and most teachers) believe will lead to greater learning.  After all, education is about learning, not what the teacher already knows. 

This change reflects a better understanding of the learning process; learning, and especially language learning, does not come about as a result of a series of rewards and punishments for certain behavior. It involves a mental effort to comprehend new information – words and structures – and connect the new to what we already know. We learn by building on our previous knowledge and using that knowledge to make sense of the new knowledge.

Changes in teaching

This understanding of learning as a construction of knowledge on the part of the student, and not a simple transmission of the knowledge from the teacher to the learner, has changed the way we teach.  We don’t base the class on rote memorization, we try to scaffold our students’ learning through activating their prior knowledge of the topic, structuring the learning tasks so that they lead to improved development of understanding.

If there are changes in our teaching practice then necessarily the way we assess the learning that is going on needs to evolve and change, also.  Reliance on an end of unit written test is not going to be the best indicator of what has been learned.

The assessment process

Assessment is how a teacher gathers information about what the students know, what they can do, their attitudes and beliefs, and what they have learned.   Gathering this information is important for a variety of reasons.  First of all, we need to inform the parents, the administration, and society in general of how much learning is going on in our classrooms, we could call this an administrative reason. 

In addition, this information is of key importance for us as teachers – it can be reliable feedback on our teaching techniques and strategies.  Does our teaching match the way our students are learning? 

Finally, and probably most importantly, assessment is a way for students to receive feedback on how well they are learning.

Assessing learning

Teachers assess before even teaching anything to have an understanding of what the students already know, both what is correct and what misconceptions they might have.  This helps by allowing the teacher to better plan the lessons – finding a starting point for the new information.  It helps the students prepare to learn new information by getting them to think about what they already know.  Putting this information up on a K-W-L chart is a good way to let everyone show what they know and find out what others know.

As the class is progressing it is important to continue to assess, to ensure that students are understanding and making sense of what is going on in the class. Asking students to put into their own words what has been going on, or explain to a classmate, while the teacher is monitoring, are just two ways to check this.

After teaching takes place there are still many options for assessing besides giving your students a test. One way is the use of portfolios.  Portfolios are examples of use or production of language that are chosen by the student as representing their best effort.

Project work is another way to assess – not only does it integrate the language skills, but it also gives students an opportunity to use their XXI century skills too.  Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are all incorporated in project work.  Project work allows students to see more real-world applications of what they are learning.

Using a project or a portfolio for assessment means that we as teachers need to inform students very clearly of the criteria that will be used. Having a rubric that will allow the teacher to identify how well those criteria have been met gives the assessment process more reliability.

Conclusions

Assessment is sometimes the part of the teaching-learning process that is not discussed much. We teachers put a lot of time into planning our lessons, finding or preparing the materials to be used, making sure our instructions are clear, and in general working hard to create interesting and engaging classes. Using the appropriate assessment techniques to see if all this work has been worth the effort is just as important.

I encourage you venture beyond “tests” and try a variety of assessment techniques.

If you’re interested in learning more about assessing in the primary classroom, don’t forget to join Barbara in her webinar, ‘The whys and hows: assessing 21st Century Skills in the classroom’ later this month. Barbara will also be looking at Oxford Discover 2nd edition and how it provides detailed support for 21st Century Skills Assessments.


Barbara Bangle is originally from the United States but has lived and worked in Mexico for many years. She is the former director of the CELe language institute at the University of the State of Mexico (UAEMex), and has spent the past 35 years both teaching English and working in the field of Teacher Education.

In addition to currently being an academic consultant for Oxford University Press, she has been a Speaking Examiner for the Cambridge University exams, and is co-author of several English language teaching books. In addition to working free-lance for Oxford University Press, she currently holds a full-time teaching position at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Mexico.


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Language teachers need motivating too! | Tammy Gregersen

In this article, I am reaching out directly to my colleagues – language teachers from around the world – to have a conversation about what motivates us. As language educators, we have many unique collective features that bind us together and forge among us a distinct identity. To demonstrate my point, I invite you to take a moment to look inward, reflect, and think about your own personal and professional experience in five different scenarios:

First, have you ever noticed the positive ways your language learners respond during those classes when you are really “on your game” (and vice versa, their apathetic sluggishness when you are less than your enthusiastic self?)?

Second, think back to the early days of your career, and even before that, when you were making decisions about what you wanted to do with your life. I’ll bet that for most of us, we thought that teaching would provide at least a modicum of meaning and purpose.

Third, when was the last time you were so engaged in something that you were passionate about that you lost all sense of time and place? Interestingly, there are conditions that must be met for us to find that state of “flow”.

Fourth, look back over the past week. Can you see dips and surges in your motivation inside the classroom? Can you attribute them to specific sources? My guess is that many of us share similar triggers.

Lastly, when was the last time you savoured a professional achievement?—not just felt a sense of pride – but really truly savoured something?  Amazing feeling, right?

If you agree to join me during my ELTOC webinar, I’m going to address the five ideas I’ve just touched upon, and just to whet your appetite and convince you it won’t be a waste of time, in continuation is a bit of a summary.

Connecting teacher and learner motivation

I will begin my talk by suggesting that the motivation we feel as teachers is not only imperative for our own wellbeing but also for that of our learners.  This is because teachers play a vital role in their students’ engagement and motivation, and in particular, our enjoyment of positive emotions and our confidence in teaching positively influence these elements in our learners. That is to say, if we are motivated and passionate about our work, the chances are much higher that our learners will be too. Concentrating on our own wellbeing and motivation is not selfish – but rather it is pivotal to being an effective teacher because it fosters the best learning conditions for our learners.

Initial Motivations: The passions

After outlining how important teacher motivation is for teachers and learners, the second part of my talk will consider the initial motivations involved in why individuals might become language teachers. An appreciation of these motives is essential to gaining insight into teacher engagement and our long-term commitment to the profession. We can draw enormous strength from reminding ourselves of the purposefulness of our initial motivation and aligning our current practices to allow us to repeatedly re-live the values of what enticed us to the job in the first place (Toward, Henley & Cope, 2015). Whereas in certain educational contexts across the world, social status and other extrinsic reasons may figure into our choice to teach, for many others, intrinsic factors dominate (Richardson & Watt, 2014). The key is to find meaning and purpose in what we do. In positive psychology, contentment springs from using our strengths in meaningful ways that also contribute to something greater than ourselves (Seligman, 2011) and teaching is idyllically suited to engendering that brand of positivity when harnessed effectively. This is a fantastic website, use it to aid you in discovering your own personal strengths.

Finding day-to-day motivation and flow

The next consideration in my talk will be to contemplate ways that language teacher motivation fluctuates on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, it is perfectly normal for our motivation to go up and down across the course of a day, week, or academic year. It is important to recognise when we are experiencing a motivational dip so we can consider strategies that incite a re-discovery of enthusiasm. Can you distinguish between temporary drops in your motivation and those originating from issues that are more fundamental? In my talk, we will identify personal and institutional threats to our motivation and ways in which we might tackle them. That motivation is highly individual is a non-starter, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

A heightened form of motivation, “flow”, is “when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992, p. 3). Flow has two prerequisites: possessing the skills to do the task, and having a task that suitably challenges these skills. Flow boosts the spirit transitorily and builds psychological capital over time, which is a major component of human growth and motivation. I will focus on what flow means and how we might foster it in our professional and personal lives.

Tackling apathy and demotivation

Next, I will reflect on additional threats to motivation and specific causes of demotivation and apathy. Apathetic individuals feel they have nothing towards which to strive and, as a result, the mental, physical, or emotional energy for accomplishing what in the past they may have valued disappears (Selzer, 2016). To combat these feelings, we can engage in a variety of activities—some of which I will share in my talk. We can also look ahead and set goals for our own development and growth, including creating future visions for ourselves.

A Sense of Achievement

The final key source of motivation that I will address in my talk is a sense of achievement, which can come from successes in language teaching as well as a sense of improvement in our competences as and those of our learners. I’ll talk about different ways we can capture such feelings of accomplishment from both small day-to-day experiences as well as larger achievements. One key way of promoting this is to engage in appropriate and self-selected professional development activities. Boredom can be just as damaging to motivation and wellbeing as stress, so there is a fine balance to be struck between not taking on too much while still challenging ourselves. I will discuss individual needs for stimulation and the problems of overstretching ourselves while considering specific strategies and activities for teacher self-initiated and self-directed growth.

Concluding words….

The notion that we are all language teachers – no matter from which part of the planet – brings us together with common purposes and goals. No matter where I’ve travelled across the globe to meet up with language teachers, I have always felt the camaraderie of shared passion. Please join me during my ELTOC talk so that we might learn a bit more from each other! 


ELTOC

Tammy Gregersen
is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Register now to secure your place by clicking here.


Tammy Gregersen is currently teaching and researching at the American University of Sharjah where she also coordinates their Masters in TESOL program. She has co-authored/co-edited several books, with three more in press, on topics such as individual differences, nonverbal communication, positive psychology in the language classroom and language teacher education. 

Tammy has presented at conferences and taught in graduate programs across the globe which deems an incredible privilege because it taps into her passions for traveling and exploring new cultures.


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Use of L1 in EMI: Understanding why and moving to how

The publication of the paper The Role of the First Language in English Medium instruction (EMI) marks a benchmark moment in both local and international EMI contexts. Although educational organisations have been researching the issue of students schooled in a language other than their first/dominant language (L1) for many years, the results of that research have been more or less neglected in discussions about EMI. Why this is the case is unclear, but the results have been the same. Despite concerted efforts to bring about awareness of the myriad issues caused by learning in a second or additional language by organisations such as UNESCO¹, EMI schools have steadfastly continued to maintain the monolingual habitus² of ‘English only’.

In international schools, this is often caused by the real or perceived prestige of having the ‘opportunity’ to study in English. When we talk about something as being a privilege we tend not to see the possible negative aspects. Regardless of the prestige of an English-language education, and regardless of the educational situation, whether state or private, all children benefit from accessing education at least partly in their own language.

Understanding Why

So what do we know about the impact of using the L1 in EMI education? The answer is, quite a lot!

There are three areas which have consistent research support when discussing L1 in education:

  1. Having access to learning in the stronger language is better for academic outcomes. This point is the easiest to understand; it’s harder to learn something in a language you don’t master, as your attention is dividing between learning language and learning content.
  2. Use of L1 in EMI is associated with better outcomes in English proficiency. This seems counter-intuitive, as more English would seem to develop English better. But again, accessing learning through the stronger language ensures content mastery, which then leaves students time to attend to developing language. The L1 is also tied to cognitive development, and the better a student develops in terms of cognition, the better a learner they become, which enhances language acquisition as well³.
  3. Access to L1 in learning is associated with higher proficiency levels in the L1. Many schools don’t consider the development of students’ L1 as their job, but students should never lose a language in the quest for acquiring English; bilingualism should be the goal for all students who arrive in an EMI situation with another language. The school supporting their L1 is a powerful message about the value of their other language and bilingualism.

There are other areas of a student’s school experience that can be positively influenced by the presence of their L1 as well. Students who are able to use all of their linguistic resources for learning are more likely to be engaged in learning and motivated. Students who feel that their “whole self” is seen and valued at school will have a more positive attitude towards school and be more involved socially. This impacts on student well-being and agency, and can have positive consequences across all aspects of teaching and learning.

Moving from Why to How

How can schools make a difference for their students by supporting their learning in and through the L1? The easiest answer, which could also be considered the most difficult answer, is through bilingual education. Where the student body is homogenous enough to allow for a strong bilingual programme, this is the route that will be most successful. Bilingual programmes that support the continued growth of the L1 alongside the acquisition of English have the strongest results in terms of academic success, as well as success in learning English and in maintaining the L1⁴. Programmes that are “two-way” entail roughly equal numbers of speakers of the L1 and English, and these are particularly successful, in part due to the equal power relationships; both groups of students master one of the target languages and are learning the other, so they can develop strong collaborative relationships. In EMI situations where the students all, or mainly, speak the same L1, there is no reason to not develop a bilingual programme that will ensure L1 development, English development, and academic development.

Bilingual programmes are not always possible, for reasons ranging from the extent of language diversity to resourcing and staffing. In cases where the student body is too linguistically diverse to be served by a bilingual programme, there are still many ways to bring all students’ first languages into the classroom. An area that is currently the focus of much development in terms of research and practice is translanguaging. There are two types of translanguaging that we can develop in the classroom. The first, and simplest, is serendipitous translanguaging. This involves allowing and encouraging students to use their languages to help scaffold learning, to translate when they don’t understand, to share their languages with their friends, and to consider how their languages work as compared to English. All of these goals can be achieved through simple but meaningful teaching moments: asking a student to translate instructions for a new-to-English students, using Google translate to ask a student why they are upset, encouraging students to explain to each other how to say hello in their languages, or how verbs work! A language-inclusive environment will allow for the development of all of these classrooms moments that will support learning, support identity and support both L1 and English development.

The second type is planned translanguaging. This form of translanguaging is an extension of language into the curriculum, to support both learning and language development. Teachers who plan for language integration consider the context and content to find areas where learning would be enhanced through L1 access. This may mean having students do initial research on a topic in their own languages to build knowledge, or having students work in same-language groups to discuss and debate what they are learning. It can also mean integrating L1 into writing, by having students do initial planning in their L1 and then write in English. All of these examples provide support for content-learning, support for English learning, and support for the continued growth in L1.

Given what we now know conclusively about the importance for all students of having their first languages involved in their learning experiences, there is no longer any excuse for not making this happen. Serendipitous translanguaging is straightforward and simple to implement in any classroom, and provides ample opportunities for L1 use. Planned translanguaging is a longer-term endeavour but would seem to be a way forward for schools that are committed to the holistic development of their students. EMI schools should begin to investigate their student populations and determine the best way forward to support the language and learning development of all their students.

More information about all of the topics discussed in this blog post can be found in the original paper and will be discussed in more detail in the webinars on the 12th February.

Biography

Eowyn Crisfield is a Canadian-educated specialist in languages across the curriculum, including EAL/ELL, home languages, bilingual and immersion education, super-diverse schools and translanguaging. Her focus is on equal access to learning and language development for all students, and on appropriate and effective professional development for teachers working with language learners. She maintains a popular blog for parents and teachers (onraisingbilingualchildren.com) and writes regularly for other publications. She is co-author of the recent book “Linguistic and Cultural Innovation in Schools: The Languages Challenge” (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018, with Jane Spiro, co-author). She is also a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, in the Department of Education.

References

¹UNESCO. (2016). If you don’t understand, how can you learn? United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. New York: UNESCO. Retrieved December 12, 2016

²Gogolin, I. (1997). The “monolingual habitus” as the common feature in teaching in the language of the majority in different countries. Per Linguam, 13(2), 38-49. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5785/13-2-187

³Cummin, J. (1981). The Role of Primary Language Development in Promoting Educational Success for Language Minority Students. In C. s. Education (Ed.), Schooling and language minority students: A theoretical framework (pp. 3-49). Los Angeles: California state Department of Education.

⁴Collier, V., & Thomas, W. (2012). Dual Language Education For a Transformed World. Albuquerque: Fuente Press.