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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Strategies for ‘swimming’ safely in a text

Boy swimming underwaterFollowing on from his previous post about not drowning in a text, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, now suggests strategies for moving learners from the shallow to the deep end of a reading text.

In my last blog post I used the image of a swimming pool to represent a reading text. A swimming pool is full of water and a text is full of language: it is possible to drown in both! In this post I’d like to stay with that image and think about how we can take the learners from the shallow end to the deep end of the text. I’d also like to ensure they are never in danger of drowning in the language.

My teaching aim is to develop different swimming strokes or reading strategies so that they learn to move comfortably through the water/text.

What are the reading strategies that competent readers bring to a text? They can:

  1. Predict content. We don’t usually read a text without some idea of its content.  A headline or a title or pictures usually gives us some idea about the content of the text.
  2. Skim a text for an overview of what it’s about.
  3. Scan it and pick out specific information or detail.
  4. Read from beginning to end of a selected passage, drawing out the author’s message and intention.
  5. Read carefully to understand how that message has been constructed and the language used.

In points 1, 2 and 3 my learners are in the shallower end of the swimming pool. In 4 and 5, they have moved into the deep end. (You may have noticed that I have dropped the terms extensive and intensive reading. Do you use these terms or something different? Leave a comment and let me know).

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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #2 Develop a good relationship with the learners

Teacher talking with her studentsContinuing the 10 Commandments for motivating language learners series, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at the second of the 10 Commandments: Develop a good relationship with the learners.

Let’s begin with a story about stubborn donkeys, carrots, and sticks. There are, the proverb says, two ways of encouraging donkeys to move. One is to dangle a carrot at the front end of the beast and the second to apply a stick at the other end. Which is more effective depends on the nature of the particular animal.

What’s this got to do with teaching English? Well, where I live there are still a lot of people who think about motivation in schools in much the same terms, as a concept that depends on external rewards and punishments. And in some ways that seems common sense – what else is going to work?

Luckily, this isn’t necessarily true. Look at this quote on Goal Contents Theory a quick Google search found:

Extrinsic goals such as financial success, appearance, and popularity/fame have been specifically contrasted with intrinsic goals such as community, close relationships, and personal growth, with the former more likely associated with lower wellness and greater ill-being. (http://www.psych.rochester.edu/SDT/theory.php)

Or, to put this another way, the soft skills involved in teaching can be much more powerful than the rewards students can see waiting at the end of their course. Relationships matter.

There are probably as many ways of having a good relationship with your students as there are good teachers in the world, but here are some things which you’d usually expect to see.

First up, listening.  The Scots have a saying:  Listen twice before you speak once. That seems to me pretty good advice for teachers, both in terms of dealing with any problems that crop up in class and when listening to students’ English – we should listen first for what our students are actually saying before listening for mistakes. And when we’re monitoring it’s a good way of entering into a dialogue (I’m looking at New English File Intermediate 4C, where students are talking in pairs about matters like ‘a teacher at school you used to hate, a singer you used to listen to a lot and who you still like, a friend you used to have but who you’ve lost touch with’ and so on). These are personal things and if we can listen and share them, that’s great. Showing an interest in learners as human beings is what it’s about here.

Of course there are many reasons to listen. Another is provided by one more great source of proverbs, anon: A good listener is a silent flatterer. Flattery makes us feel good, and properly listening (paying complete attention, maintaining eye contact, thinking about the message as well as the language) will foster self-respect and respect for the classroom.

Linked to this are a number of other features of good relationships. Showing sympathy for problems is important, of course, though how you go about showing that depends on who you are. And how far you might want to take relationships outside class is a personal matter, too. Some teachers I know will email their students (I’m old fashioned: they may even be befriending on Facebook, for all I know), while some wouldn’t dream of it. But even if the extra-classroom relationship is just a casual word in the corridor, then it’s a positive step.

And jokes, they’re apparently a good thing, too!

How do you develop relationships with your students?

Remind yourself of the 10 Commandments for motivating language learners and look out for future posts by Tim exploring the remaining Commandments.

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Translation in language teaching and learning

Guy Cook, author of the award-winning applied linguistics book Translation in Language Teaching, presents his arguments for re-establishing translation as an essential part of modern language teaching and learning. Guy will be hosting a Global Webinar on this topic on 26th and 31st October 2011. You can find out more information and register to attend here.

Using translation is surely a natural and obvious means of teaching someone a new language. It has lots of good effects. It can be used to aid learning, practise what has been learned, diagnose problems, and test proficiency.  In any case, teachers can’t stop students translating – it is such a fundamental basis for language learning.

Translation is also useful skill in itself. And not just for professional translators and interpreters. In multilingual societies and a globalised world, translation is all around us as an authentic act of communication: from families, schools, hospitals, courts, and clinics, to business meetings and the United Nations. We find it in notices, labels, menus, subtitles, news interviews and many other places.

In addition, it allows learners to relate new knowledge to existing knowledge (as recommended by many learning theories), promotes  noticing and language awareness, and highlights the differences and similarities between the new and existing language. Many people also find the tackling of translation problems intellectually stimulating and aesthetically satisfying. In addition, it helps create and maintain good relations between teacher and student, facilitates classroom management and control, and allows students to maintain their own sense of first language identity, while also building a new bilingual identity. It does not seem to impede efficient language use – many students who began their studies through translation go on to become fluent and accurate users of the new language.

So what is wrong with it? Given all these apparent advantages, it seems most peculiar that the mainstream literature on language pedagogy and second language acquisition, has routinely dismissed translation as a desirable component of language teaching and learning for over a hundred years – without research, reasoning or evidence. Is there perhaps some other reasons that translation has been villainised in this way?

In my webinar next week, I shall be asking what happened to translation, and why. I shall be making a case for reinstating translation as a major component of language teaching and learning. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you will join us, tell us of your own experiences, and put forward your own views.

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8 easy techniques to help learners practice clarifying their explanations

Mixed race businesswoman speaking at podiumFollowing on from her tips for teaching speaking for academic purposes at graduate level posts, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, now gives some practical suggestions and examples to apply those techniques outside of the EAP sphere.

You have probably heard your students say “I’m not sure how to explain it . . .” while speaking, as they search for ways to get their ideas across. Think of the last time your students (or maybe you) were searching for ways to clarify explanations so that the idea you were trying to convey would not only make sense to your listener, but would also stick!

In one of my previous articles, 7 Tips for Teaching Speaking for Academic Purposes at the Graduate Level: Part 2, I mentioned the importance of linking tasks that learners need to perform outside of class to in-class activities. In that post, I included an exercise that requires students to clarify a key concept using various communication strategies.

In this article, I’d like to follow that up with some brief explanations and simple examples, because the eight techniques presented here are not limited to the teaching of speaking for academic purposes. Being able to present explanations clearly, which is a key attribute of a speaker’s effectiveness in communication, is a skill that all speakers strive to develop, regardless of whether they are language learners or aspiring or practicing teaching professionals.

Researchers have established the effectiveness of various instructional strategies across disciplines, such as: using concrete examples to illustrate abstract concepts, using analogies from outside the classroom, and using personal examples (e.g., Civikly, 1992; Tobin & Fraser, 1990; van Rooyen, 1994). The following eight communication techniques are presented with the goal of helping your learners develop the ability to achieve their communication goals. Then some simple, fun application tasks that you can try are presented at the end of the article.

Warm-up questions:

Identifying Challenges and Brainstorming Techniques/Strategies

1. How do you feel about your ability to clarify your ideas or explanations when listeners have difficulty understanding you?

2. Share with your speaking partner(s) an instance in which you encountered difficulty in clarifying your meaning. What are some personal difficulties that you faced (or anticipate facing if you can’t think of an incident in the recent past) in clarifying explanations?

Eight suggested techniques:

1. Use a practical example: Provide a practical example that your listeners can relate to.

e.g. To understand what the phrase “leisure activities” means, think of activities that you enjoy during time free from school or work.

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Projects should be creative, collaborative, challenging and fun!

Teacher and students at computerOlha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, shares her thoughts on what makes a great class project.

I visit a lot of classrooms around the world and teachers proudly point out posters on the walls and say “look at my students’ projects.”

Although the work looks very nice, I would argue that it isn’t a project. This work is usually a piece of writing with a picture. What worries me is that the text often seems to be directly copied, or merely cut and pasted, from the internet.

Such work may have some merits (encouraging students to look things up on the internet and designing the final product) but I have two main worries about it. One is that students should be discouraged from what is, in fact, plagiarism and, for me most importantly, that students aren’t getting involved in the challenges and satisfaction of what a full-blown project consists of – it’s not very interesting for them!

The important characteristics of a project are:

They are collaborative – a group of students work together to produce a final product.

By working together students share ideas, divide up responsibilities (depending on what they like to do or are good at), and learn crucial lessons about respecting each others’ opinions and finding a good compromise. They also discover talents in themselves and in their friends.

The final product is important and can be extremely varied, ranging from interviews, to songs, to magazines, to drama.

Choosing how they will present their ideas in the final product is a major part of the project. If it is a PowerPoint presentation or a video drama, these need different types of organisation, materials, and perhaps help from their teacher.

Because the final product can be so varied, the language skills involved are not limited.

Ideally students will have lots of opportunities to use the English language in different ways that are meaningful to them. At lower levels they may not use English to discuss the projects, but they will still be discussing what English they need to get the job done.

Other skills like design, acting, directing, negotiation are involved

And this is where a lot of the challenge (and fun) lies – in putting it all together.

Take a look at this example of a project a class in Serbia created, with the help of their teacher. Notice, although the project is based on one piece of grammar – the conditional – how:

  • it obviously needed lots of planning and collaboration
  • all the students are involved
  • language is used to make meaning in a fun way
  • all the students are enjoying themselves
  • the final product – the video – can be shared and enjoyed by the class and others

Take part in our Engage 2nd edition Project Competition using these tips and you could win a video camera for your school. Competition closes 11th November 2011.

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