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5 reading activities for parents to do with kids at home

parent and child reading together at homeWith schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents (and close family members) need to keep their children learning and entertained at home. Reading stories helps children practise English in an entertaining way. To begin with, show your child several storybooks. Ask them to choose the one they want to read.

Note: allowing your child to choose the story helps spark their interest and make them curious. Put simply, ‘Choice’ makes your child feel motivated and empowered.

1) Talk about the front cover (with a new story)

Have your child look at the front cover. Say things like this:

Can you read the title?

What can you see in the picture?

What do you think this story will be about?

Let’s start reading and see if you’re right.

Note: the important thing is for your child to imagine what will happen in the story, not for them to give the ‘correct’ answer!

2) Take it in turns to read (with a new story)

Say, ‘Can you read the start of the story?’ Let your child read. Let them decode the pronunciation as they go. If they have problems, say ‘Use phonics to work it out.’ Point to the beginning sound, the middle sound, the end sound, and prompt if necessary. If a word is non-decodable, point this out, and model the correct pronunciation of the whole word.

Then say, ‘Shall I read now?’ (Read in a dramatic voice while your child follows the words with a finger.)

Note: with reluctant readers, start reading yourself and ask your child to read one line on the first page, two lines on the next page, and so on.  With a child is skilled at reading, this process will probably not be necessary.

3) What happens next? (with a new story)

While you are (or your child is) reading, stop at the end of a page and ask: ‘So what do you think happens next in the story?’ before you turn to the next page. Let your child give their ideas. Give positive feedback. ‘Really? That’s a good idea.’ Then say, ‘Shall we see what really happens next?’ and continue the story.

Note: revisit your child’s guesses later to see which ideas were close to the actual story. When your child guessed closely, point this out, and praise them.

4) Talking about the pictures in the book (with a new story)

Ask your child to look at a picture in the book. Ask, ‘What can you see in this picture?’ To encourage your child to speak at length, ask extra questions like: ‘What’s this on the left/right?’ ‘What can you see at the top/bottom of the picture?’ ‘What’s that in the background? / What’s this in the foreground?’ ‘What do you think happened just before this picture?/What’s going to happen just after it?’

Note: If you like, before you read a story, do a ‘picture walk’. This means asking your child to describe what they think is happening as you go through the book looking only at the pictures. Again, it’s not important for your child to get the ‘correct’ answer. Good readers naturally hypothesize well, poor readers need help (some prompt questions maybe?) and a lot of practice to get good at hypothesizing. While doing a picture walk, check/teach words which your child spots in the pictures that are important in the story.

5) Talking about the whole story (with a story your child has just read)

Once your child finishes reading a story, talk about it together. Ask these questions:

Who is your favourite character in the story? Why?

Which is your favourite part of the story? Why?

Would you like to be in the story? Why?/Why not?

If your child likes drawing, have them draw: their favourite character, their favourite part of the story, them in the story. Once they finish, stick the drawing on the wall with Blu-tack, on a bulletin board with drawing pins, or on the fridge with fridge magnets. Ask your child to point to things in their drawing and describe these to you.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page for more resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

Learn at Home

 


Bill Bowler is a founder series editor, with his wife, Sue Parminter, of Dominoes Graded Readers (OUP). He has authored many readers himself. He has also visited many countries as a teacher trainer, sharing ideas about Extensive Reading. Bill has contributed to the book Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (OUP). Two of his Dominoes adaptations (The Little Match Girl and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) were Language Learner Literature Award Finalists. Born in London, he now lives in Spain.


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How to take your students on a virtual field trip | Mireille Yanow

field tripMany of us recently have had to take our classrooms online. Learning the basics of virtual teaching is hard enough! Like me, you’ve probably had connection issues and are making do with limited equipment. These challenges are all part of your daily routine and you’re meeting them head-on. As teachers, we want to continue delivering the same quality education during lockdown as we were in the classroom, but are wondering how. You might have found that many of your tried-and-tested lesson plans no longer work in an online setting, and keeping primary students engaged can pose a particular problem! Thankfully, as the rest of the world adapts, some new, innovative, and engaging options are emerging. There are learning platforms with educational games (e.g. education.com) and interactive stories, however my favourite lessons right now are virtual museum tours.

Take your students on a virtual adventure

There are a plethora of museums around the world that you can virtually visit with your students. All of these ‘virtual excursions’ can be turned into fun lessons. You can take your students anywhere in the world and truly see the world’s best museums! Personally, I’ve been taking students on weekly ‘trips’ to some of my favourite museums (details below). Before any of my class visits, I put together a few easy pre-questions, level adjusted to ensure that my students are learning English while having fun. Here are some ideas to inspire you.

  • For younger or lower-level students, I want to make sure they understand the word ‘museum’, thus I start the lesson like this: We’re going to a museum today. What is a museum? If students know what a museum is, you can have a short conversation about museums they’ve been to, or their favourite kind of museum. After the visit ask students if they were correct about what a museum was or if they liked this museum as much as ones they’ve been to before.
  • Put together a list of vocabulary you want the students to find while we are at the museum. Then, during the visit ask the students to find the objects and describe them g. Find a mammoth. What colour is it?
  • Museum visits can be tied into any lessons, for example:
    • Numbers: Count how many animals we see at the museum [for natural history or science museums, or zoos!].
    • Colours: Find xxxxx – what colour is it?
    • Adjectives: Describe what a mammoth looks like.
  • Most of the virtual museums have online floor maps that can be used for teaching directions. I love this aspect of museum tours!

Now, on to my top 5 museum tours to visit virtually (I’ve also added some teaching ideas that you could try, but make it your own)!

  1. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

There really is so much to see here! Animals, gems (including the Hope Diamond), dinosaurs, plants, geological history, etc. Teachers can use it for directions (there are arrows that lead the way virtually), naming animals, colours, comparisons, Wh questions, past tense.

  1. The Vatican, Sistine Chapel

This museum is beautiful. There are 7 other Vatican museums that can be visited virtually, but the Sistine Chapel is one we all know. Teachers can use this tour for teaching colours, adjectives, special awareness (it is huge – even online you can sense it), body parts, and again, Wh- questions.

  1. Pretend City, Children’s Museum

This museum is awesome! It is what it says on the tin: a pretend city. Teachers can use it for teaching directions, signs (lots of stop signs), names of buildings in a town, colours, measurements (there is a neat feature where you can measure the size of the room), Wh-questions (see a pattern with all the museums?), imperative, comparisons, likes/dislikes.

  1. Balenciaga y la Pintura Española exhibition at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

This exhibit is where fashion and art meet! Great for teaching clothing vocabulary and comparisons, especially “same” and “different”.

  1. Lego House Tour (Youtube Video – more advance can be used for listening)

Although this isn’t an actual virtual visit to the museum, this video takes you on a tour of the Lego House museum. The tour guide speaks at a moderate level, so it can be used for more advanced students. Younger and less-advanced students will get a lot out of this tour also: colours, size, likes/dislikes (actually all of the museums are good for this!), vocabulary, numbers, etc.

We hope that these ideas are useful! If you know of any other virtual tools or places to visit, please do add them to the comments.


Mireille Yanow spent 6 years teaching English to primary and secondary students in Greece and Spain before embarking in her publishing career. Mireille spent 4 years as an editor leading the development of a primary English Language course before moving back to the United States. She is currently Senior Publisher at Oxford University Press and volunteers at the local library as an ELT teacher.

 

 

 


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3 Everyday Uses for the Oxford Text Checker

red pen lying on writing, which has been underlinedYou have found a thought-provoking authentic text that you think would engage your class in some lively debate, but you want to be sure the overall vocabulary level is right for the class, neither too easy nor too challenging. Are there words that may prove tricky for them and need to be glossed or paraphrased? And which are the most important vocabulary items for the class to focus on? Not the words they already securely know; nor the unusual items that are fairly specific to this text, and which they may not encounter again. You want to know which words your students need to be acquiring and consolidating right now, at this stage in their learning: words that are frequent and relevant to their needs and interests and which they are highly likely to meet again in other contexts.

As a teacher, you know your class pretty well and have your experience to guide you in working out the answers to these questions. But still, it can take time and thought – especially with more extensive texts. If only there were a simple, free-to-use, online tool that could help you make these judgements. Well, there is! It is called the Oxford Text Checker and you can find it at https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/text-checker/.

1) Checking your text with the Oxford Text Checker

Simply paste in your text and click ‘Check Text’. The Oxford Text Checker will colour-code all the vocabulary in the text that is included in the Oxford 5000 core word list, according to CEFR level. (Non-core items and proper nouns remain uncoloured.)

And if you click on the’ Results’ tab you can get a breakdown of the numbers and percentages at each level:

Research has shown that to read and understand a text comfortably, a reader needs to know 95-98% of the words in the text [1]. But a learner who is reading ‘comfortably’ is not learning. They may be consolidating their learning – which is also very important – for example through extensive reading using graded readers. But for intensive reading in class, a higher level of challenge is needed if progress is to be made. Learners will get the most value out of a class text if they already know around 85-90% of the words. Some of the unknown words will be less important – you can briefly explain them and then move on. But in each text you read in class, there should be some core words that your students should be aiming to study and acquire. The Oxford Text Checker can help you identify these words.

2) Create a word list

Select the Activities tab and click on ‘Filters’. Check the box against the level(s) you wish to focus on and then click ‘Done’:

 

You can also manually select extra words to highlight – or deselect any word – simply by clicking on the word. Then click on ‘Create a word list’:

The ‘Export’ button enables you to create a PDF of the word list which you can send to your students.

For ideas on how to use the word list with your class see below under ‘Top Tips for using word lists’.

3) Create a gap-fill exercise

Let’s work with a different text now. This one is from an Oxford 3000 lesson plan (which you can find here) for B1 learners on the topic of money and paying for things. Bella is talking about buying things using an app on her phone. I have highlighted all the B1 words and added in takeaway because it’s a topic word that the students may find useful.

Seven words may be too many to gap out in this short text, so I am going to remove stuff and directly, which are not linked to the topic, before clicking on ‘Create an exercise’. I have chosen to show the missing words in a box. (You also have the option of just showing the first letters of the missing words.)

Once you have created your exercise you can export it, save it as a PDF and either print it out or send it to your students.

Top Tips

You may be thinking, once you have created your word list or gap-fill based on your text, what can you do with them? Endless gap-fills or lists of words to learn may not be so motivating for all your students. Here are a few ideas on how to make working with word lists or gap-fills meaningful and productive:

Word lists

  1. Create a vocabulary notebook. Show your students how to record vocabulary in a vocabulary notebook – which could be either a physical notebook or a computer file. They should include not only the word and its translation, but a definition in English and an example sentence. They can add to each record as they learn more about the word – maybe a collocation, grammatical information, or another meaning. Generate a list of target words from each text that you study and ask students to add any new words to their notebooks.
  2. Create word cards. Assign each student/pair of students a word from the list. For homework, students choose an image or photo to illustrate the word on one side of the card and write the word and its definition on the other side. In class, students mingle and test each other by holding up the image side of the card for another student to guess the word. Collect up all the word cards for later quick-fire revision. This activity can be used to preview the key vocabulary in a text if these are words your students already know but need to revise. If it is new vocabulary they should read the text first and do the activity as a follow-up to consolidate the new words they have learned.
  3. Create word videos. A similar idea, adapted to the demands – and opportunities – of remote learning. If your students have access to smartphones, ask them to create a short video about their assigned word, which they can share online. Find a text about objects and actions that can be filmed around the home!

Gap-fills

I am indebted to Philip Kerr [2] for some of these ideas on using gap-fills. They all focus on revision and recycling of vocabulary which research has shown to be key to vocabulary acquisition.

  1. After completing a gap-fill exercise, students translate it into their own language. A week later they translate it back into English. Can they remember the target vocabulary?
  2. Use a gap-fill activity that the students have done before, but give it to them orally. This activity is well-suited to remote learning if you can speak to the whole class at once and they can all respond using the chatbox.
  3. Create a second gap-fill from a text they have studied before, gapping out different words. Only allow them half as long to complete the exercise this time. This is recommended for slightly longer texts, for consolidating vocabulary that is not entirely new but may not be securely known.

 

Please have a look around, starting at https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/text-checker/. And let us know what you think!

For more ideas on using word lists, download the Position Paper on the Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000 and receive the accompanying Toolkit of activities.

Oxford Text Checker

Download the position paper

 


References

  1. Milton, J. (2009). Measuring second language vocabulary acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters
  2. https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2016/03/10/vocabulary-gap-fills-from-testing-_____-teaching/

 

Diana Lea taught English to learners and trainee teachers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and the UK before joining Oxford University Press in 1994, where she works in the English Language Teaching Division on dictionaries and other vocabulary resources for learners of English. She is the editor of the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus and the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English. Most recently she has been working on Oxford Learner’s Word Lists and preparing the tenth edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, published in January 2020.


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Writing tests for teenagers – where to begin!

teen doing school work on a laptopCreating items (test questions) for English language assessments is a tricky business, particularly for teens. You need to ensure that the item produces an accurate and valid measurement of the skill you are trying to test while providing the best possible experience for a test taker. In this blog, we’ll look at two important considerations when writing items: context and content. If this whets your appetite, be sure to join me in my Oxford English Assessment Professional Development session where we’ll be exploring in more detail how to write good test items.

Context

Here’s an example of the kind of item you might get in an adult speaking test. But it’s not suitable for teens. Why not?

Some people say that the perks of a job, such as working from home, are more important than the salary. Do you agree or disagree?

As you might have guessed, a 13-year-old may well have some of the linguistic competences required to tackle this question (describing advantages and disadvantages, making comparisons between ideas, or offering their opinion on the topic), but how many teens will have enough experience of work to actually be able to demonstrate these competencies?

So, when it comes to writing items, context is key. Let’s take a look at an alternative question that takes the teen context into consideration.

What are the advantages of homeschooling?

Even for teens who don’t have direct experience of homeschooling, this context is still more accessible to them, meaning they are more able to demonstrate their linguistic competence.

Content

As well as getting the context correct, we also have to get the content correct. Consider this: in our lives, some of us have had landline phones, mobile phones, and smartphones. I bought a Nokia 3210 in 2001, and for the first time ever was able to make phone calls, send messages, and play Snake with one device, all while on the move. When telling my friends about it, I would refer to it as my mobile phone to distinguish it from my landline. And then, much later, I would reference my smartphone to distinguish it from my old phone.

However, for most teenagers, a phone is just a phone, and any talk about non-smart phones will probably just draw blank looks. It might not sound major, but imagine being a teenager in an exam suddenly faced with a phrase that might cause confusion.

In summary

As a test provider, our goal is to solve some of the challenges outlined above. Some of these same challenges exist for teachers who write assessments for their students, and we’ll be talking more about these in the Writing tests for teenagers webinar.

Get practical support and guidance for delivering effective English language assessment online!

Register for our series of webinars delivered by leading OUP ELT Assessment experts:

Register for the webinar

 


Robin Lee has been working for Oxford University Press for five years and is the product manager for the Oxford Test of English and the Oxford Test of English for Schools. Before joining OUP, he worked as a teacher, teacher trainer, and item writer, mostly in East Asia and Southeast Asia. His interests include data analysis and the use of technology in assessment.


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Assessment Literacy – the key concepts you need to know!

student filling out a test in the classroomResearch shows that the typical teacher can spend up to a third of their professional life involved in assessment-related activities (Stiggins and Conklin, 1992), yet a lack of focus on assessment literacy in initial teacher training has left many teachers feeling less than confident in this area. In this blog, we’ll be dipping our toes into some of the key concepts of language testing. If you find this interesting, be sure to sign up for my Oxford English Assessment Professional Development assessment literacy session.

What is assessment literacy?

As with many terms in ELT, there are competing definitions for the term ‘assessment literacy’, but for this blog, we’re adopting Malone’s (2011) definition:

Assessment literacy is an understanding of the measurement basics related directly to classroom learning; language assessment literacy extends this definition to issues specific to language classrooms.

As you can imagine, language assessment literacy (LAL) is a huge area. For now, though, we’re going to limit ourselves to the key concepts encapsulated in ‘VRAIP’.

What’s VRAIP?

VRAIP is an abbreviation for Validity, Reliability, Authenticity, Impact and Practicality. These are key concepts in LAL and can be used as a handy checklist for evaluating language tests. Let’s take each one briefly in turn.

Validity

Face, concurrent, construct, content, criterion, predictive… the list of types of validity goes on, but at its core, validity refers to how well a test measures what it is setting out to measure. The different types of validity can help highlight different strengths and weaknesses of language tests, inform us of what test results say about the test taker, and allow us to see if a test is being misused. Take construct validity. This refers to the appropriateness of any inferences made based upon the test scores; the test itself is neither valid nor invalid. With that in mind, would you say the test in Figure 1 is a valid classroom progress test of grammar? What about a valid proficiency speaking test?

Figure 1

Student A

Ask your partner the questions about the magazine.

 

1.       What / magazine called?

2.       What / read about?

3.       How much?

 

 

Student B

Answer your partner with this information.

Teen Now Magazine

Download the Teen Now! app on your phone or tablet for all the latest music and fashion news.

Only £30 per year!

http://www.teennow.oup

Reliability

‘Reliability’ refers to consistency in measurement, and however valid a test, without reliability its results cannot be trusted. Yet ironically, there is a general distrust of statistics itself, reflected in the joke that “a statistician’s role is to turn an unwarranted assumption into a foregone conclusion”. This distrust is often rooted in a lack of appreciation of how statistics work, but it’s well within the average teacher’s ability to understand the key statistical concepts. And once you have mastered this appreciation, you are in a much stronger position to critically evaluate language tests.

Authenticity

The advent of Communicative Language Teaching in the 1970s saw a greater desire for ‘realism’ in the context of the ELT classroom, and since then the place of ‘authenticity’ has continued to be debated. A useful distinction to make is between ‘text’ authenticity and ‘task’ authenticity, the former concerning the ‘realness’ of spoken or written texts, the latter concerning the type of activity used in the test. Intuitively, it feels right to design tests based on ‘real’ texts, using tasks which closely mirror real-world activities the test taker might do in real life. However, as we will see in the Practicality section below, the ideal is rarely realised.

Impact

An English language qualification can open doors and unlock otherwise unrealisable futures. But the flip side is that a lack of such a qualification can play a gatekeeping role, potentially limiting opportunities. As Pennycook (2001) argues, the English language

‘has become one of the most powerful means of inclusion or exclusion from further education, employment and social positions’.

As language tests are often arbiters of English language proficiency, we need to take the potential impact of language tests seriously.

Back in the ELT classroom, a more local instance of impact is ‘washback’, which can be defined as the positive and negative effects that tests have on teaching and learning. An example of negative washback that many exam preparation course teachers will recognise is the long hours spent teaching students how to answer weird, inauthentic exam questions, hours which could more profitably be spent on actually improving the students’ English.

Take the exam question in Figure 2, for instance, which a test taker has completed. To answer it, you need to make sentence B as close in meaning as possible to sentence A by using the upper-case word. But you mustn’t change the upper-case word. And you mustn’t use more than five words. And you must remember to count contracted words as their full forms. Phew! That’s a lot to teach your students. Is this really how we want to spend our precious time with our students?

By the way, the test taker’s answer in Figure 2 didn’t get full marks. Can you see why? The solution is at the end of this blog.

Figure 2

A    I haven’t received an invite from Anna yet.

STILL

B     Anna still hasn’t sent an invite.

The cause of this type of ‘negative washback’ is typically due to test design emphasising reliability at the expense of authenticity. But before we get too critical, we need to appreciate that balancing all these elements is always an exercise in compromise, which brings us nicely to the final concept in VRAIP…

Practicality

There is always a trade-off between validity, reliability, authenticity and impact. Want a really short placement test? Then you’re probably going to have to sacrifice some construct validity. Want a digitally-delivered proficiency test? Then you’re probably going to have to sacrifice some authenticity. Compromise in language testing is inevitable, so we need to be assessment literate enough to recognise when VRAIP is sufficiently balanced for a test’s purpose. If you’d like to boost your LAL, sign up for my assessment literacy session.

If you’re a little rusty, or new to key language assessment concepts such as validity, reliability, impact, and practicality, then my assessment literacy session is the session for you:

Register for the webinar

Solution: The test taker did not get full marks because their answer was not ‘as close as possible’ to sentence A. To get full marks, they needed to write “still hasn’t sent me”.

 


References

  • Malone, M. E. (2011). Assessment literacy for language educators. CAL Digest October 2011.
  • Pennycook, A. (2001). English in the World/The World in English. In A Burns and C. Coffin (Eds), Analysing English in a Global Context: A Reader. London, Routledge
  • Stiggins, R. J, & Conklin, N. F. (1992). In teachers’ hands: Investigating the practices of classroom assessment. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Colin Finnerty is Head of Assessment Production at Oxford University Press. He has worked in language assessment at OUP for eight years, heading a team which created the Oxford Young Learner’s Placement Test and the Oxford Test of English. His interests include learner corpora, learning analytics, and adaptive technology.