Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


2 Comments

Contributing to this blog!

guest blog
Our blogs help and support thousands of teachers and learners each year. It’s an important part of our mission to help the world to learn English. So far, we have featured ELT experts the world over across a huge range of topics, far too many to mention here!

Now we want to share this platform with you, giving you the chance to contribute your thoughts, perspectives, ideas, stories, and expertise.

Have something to share with this community? This is your opportunity. We’re open to all ELT related ideas that offer something unique and useful for our teaching community. Fill in the form below with as much detail as you can to register your interest.

 

Please do leave a comment below if you have any questions, we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.


Leave a comment

12 Student-Pleasing Activities Using Graded Readers

children reading graded readersReading can be a challenge for students learning English. Therefore, starting with graded readers for extensive reading lessons can be a very good option. This way, the student will learn new vocabulary in a meaningful context and improve their language skills. Having an extensive reading program can also help students become independent readers.

A reading program may consist of three stages: pre-reading, while reading and post-reading. Here are some activities that you may find helpful in implementing graded readers in your lesson plans.

Pre-reading

1. Word Detective

Before you begin reading any of the graded readers with your class, choose a sentence that can be a message for your students. This can be as simple as ‘Reading Is Fun.’ Find these words inside the books and note down the name of the book and the page that the word is on. Show students the sentence without the words, using only lines.

For example, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _.

Ask students to check their book(s), depending on how many graded readers you are going to read in class, and to try to find the words. You can help them by saying that ‘The second word is an auxiliary verb’, or ‘The first one starts with ‘R’.’ They can work in pairs, which will help them to work on their communication and collaboration skills. The students can also gain a general understanding of the book they are going to read. It will be even more fun when they come up with their own sentences.

2. Find the characters

Before you start reading your book, in order to generate curiosity, ask students to go through the pages of the book and search for proper names. How many can they find? Ask them to guess who these people might be. Ask them to take notes of the answers they give. When they finish reading the book, they can then see if they can guess who these characters are.

 3. Guess the title

Show the cover of the book to the students but hide the title. Ask them to guess the title of the book. Talk about the various answers they give and why they gave that answer.

 4. Match the title

Ask students how many types of book genres they know. If they are not ready to answer you can elicit. You can also ask them to search for different literary genres online before your lesson. You can say that Sherlock Holmes Short Stories belongs in the crime and mystery genre, Dracula is a horror story, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a classic fantasy story. They can add more to these examples. Talk about each genre to understand if each of them means the same to all. Write some examples of different genres on the board then write the titles of the graded readers that you are going to read and ask them to match with the genres. They need to try to guess the genre of the book just by looking at the title. After reading, you can discuss if they are right.

While reading

5. Take a selfie

When your students start reading their books, ask them to take a selfie while they are reading. They can get as creative as they want. Then, create a class, or even a school, exhibition and share the photos for everyone to see. Seeing other people’s photos in which they enjoy reading may be inspiring for those who do not find reading ‘cool enough’. You can also share these photos on a classroom blog or school website. If you are teaching online, every student can use the photo they take as their profile picture.

6. Word Clouds

Choose some words from the next chapter and add them to a word cloud tool online (there are many free online options, here is one example). Add some words that they will encounter in the next chapter and make a word cloud. Ask them to guess what might happen next. After they finish reading the chapter, they can see if they are right about the story that they come up with by only looking at the words in the word cloud.

 7. Horoscopes

Before moving on with the next chapter, students can write horoscopes for each character in the book and predict what will happen next. Since the students may not be familiar with horoscopes, you may need to clarify what a horoscope is first. You can share some examples of horoscopes that you can easily find online. They can think about what sign these characters are. You can divide the classroom into teams and give each team one character to write horoscopes for. They can then compare their tasks and, after reading the chapter, you can have a class discussion on which team is the closest to the correct answer.

 8. Tell me what you see

This activity is for the books that have illustrations in them. Ask students to work in pairs. One student will explain what they can see in the illustration for the chapter you are about to read, and the other will try to draw a picture while listening. They then try to guess what that chapter is about.

Post-reading

9. Write a play

After students finish reading the reader, in groups they can write a playscript of the book and act it for their classmates. They can revise the grammar structures you have been working on and add new characters if they want.

10. Act a scene

After you finish reading the book as a class, you can discuss what the best part was for the students and why. Ask the students to work in pairs or groups and choose a scene from the chapters and act that scene. You can differentiate this activity by asking the students to act the scene without speaking. They will only use gestures.

11. Pose the scene

For this activity, you need to describe some important scenes very briefly from the book on small pieces of paper. Divide the classroom into as many teams as the number of scenes you have written. Put the papers in a bag and ask each group to choose one. The students should decide quickly how to organize for the scene and pose like it as if somebody is taking a photo of it. The others will guess which scene it is and what happened. When everybody finishes posing, they can decide the order of the different scenes.

12. Roleplay

Ask students to write a brief description of one of the characters. You can also nominate a character to each student. The description may include age, occupation, Zodiac sign, hometown and anything that you think is relevant. Students then work in pairs and ask and answer questions according to the role-play cards. You can turn this into a kind of a gala event where all the characters meet each other and talk. There may be 2 or 3 of the same characters, which may add more fun!

Bonus! – Your students are more likely to develop a habit of reading when they see you reading. Read along with your students, carry the book that you are currently reading, talk about it with your students and you will see this will have a positive impact on them.

 


Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. After graduating from Istanbul University with joint honours in American Culture and Literature with Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy, she embarked on her own teaching career. She has a distinctive experience with young learners, and now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu meets and supports teachers from across Turkey and is an active member of a global community of dedicated educationalists. She has delivered training sessions for different types of ELT events, and co-written articles for Modern English Teacher magazine and TEA Online Magazine.


Leave a comment

Take Online Lessons To The Next Level With Authentic Material

A student in online lessons

If we’re looking for positives from this year’s enforced move to online lessons, then surely one is that authentic material is easier to incorporate!

Unlike coursebooks which, as good as they are, often employ language graded to the level of the students, authentic materials give students the chance to experience language through natural means and with a real-world purpose. Additionally, they can provide an insight into the target language culture and if introduced well, can be motivational.

Working online opens up a wealth of material that can easily be shared with our students. If we are teaching synchronously then it can be shown through screen sharing and posting the link in the chatbox. Asynchronously we can either share the link or embed the materials directly into our site. If you’re not sure of the difference, linking means when students click on the link they are taken away to a different website, while something that has been embedded can be viewed directly within your site. The advantage of embedding is that it keeps students on your site and stops them from getting distracted.

Considerations for choosing

When choosing authentic material, think about how accessible the material is in terms of language, relevance and overall content. With online materials you should also consider:

  • Distraction – When showing students something online, be wary of other factors such as the type of advertising and appropriateness of other links that might appear on a website.
  • Copyright – It is one thing to show the site, it is another to download or take things off websites without permission. This is a useful area to discuss with students to raise their digital literacy.
  • Be authentic – Try and use the material in a real-life way.

Using authentic texts

A simple way to share an online text is to copy the link and share it in the chatbox. However, bear in mind:

  • Online reading tends to make use of strategies such as skimming and scanning.
  • Reading in detail would be a waste of time if we find out the web page is not relevant.
  • Online texts are often nonlinear. Unlike a printed text, you don’t start at the top and read to the bottom. You’re often presented with additional video, audio, reader comments, along with texts full of hyperlinks that drag you off to other websites.
  • When using online texts get the students to read it authentically, to both practise these skills and build their confidence in independent learning. For example, one digital literacy task is to get the students to consider the impact of the hyperlinks in the text. Get them to click on each hyperlink and discuss where it takes them. This does not stop you exploiting the material later for focus on language work.

Using authentic video

An obvious goldmine of authentic material is online video. YouTube, for example, has everything from songs, stories, and videos to contextualise most coursebook situations.

One of my favourite activities is based on the Facebook idea of the watch party, where people watch and interact with video content at the same time. Incorporating this idea into your online lessons means you’re using the video in a more authentic way, as opposed to creating a worksheet to accompany the students’ viewing.

  1. Before the lesson, open a browser and find the video you want to use.
  2. In online lessons, ‘share your screen’ and show the browser so everyone can see the video.
  3. Before pressing play ask the students to type into the chat box ideas about what they’re going to watch based on the still image.
  4. As you play, encourage the students to react in the chatbox. The first time you do this you might need to prompt them with questions i.e. ‘What do you think of…?’
  5. After viewing use the chatbox entries to prompt post-watching discussion. Depending on video type, exploit further by putting students into breakout rooms and get them to work together to retell what they watched.

This concept can be used for most video types. For example, if you choose a video of someone being interviewed, then get the students to react to what is being said. If you’ve chosen a song, get the student to type lyrics they hear. After they’ve done this you can then go to a site like lyrics.com and show the lyrics on the screen.

Other types of authentic material

Not all the texts online are stories. There are restaurant menus, advice sites, and blogs! So, in a year when travel has become difficult, then we can bring the world into our online lessons.

  • Plan a group trip or holiday. Using break out rooms each group plans their trips and collects information. Students put it together to share with the class using collaborative tools such as Jamboard, Padlet, or Google Docs.
  • Encourage students to use free image and sound sites such as pixabay.com or freesfx.co.uk for enhancing storytelling activities.
  • Employ the same sites to create guessing games to practise language i.e. practising modals by showing an image or playing a sound and eliciting language such as “it might be a car engine, it could be a cat.”

Student engagement with authentic material

In the online classroom, everyone has the same access to materials. Don’t ignore the fact that students could choose the materials for online lessons! Instead of you choosing the YouTube video, why don’t they?

  • Build motivation and improve class dynamics by letting each student show the class one of their favourite websites/videos. Additionally, this provides a neat brain break between all the online learning the students have to do during your lesson.

Finally, remember that not all authentic material in our online classrooms needs to be online. At home, students have access to plenty of authentic materials that can be exploited. Over the course of lockdown, I’ve had students creating Lego models, showing their favourite possessions and even cooking and showing their favourite food.  So, to go back to where we started, while the online classroom is seen by many as a poor substitute for the bricks and mortar one, there is a certain irony in that it many ways it can lead us to more authentic language learning.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?

Get into your stride with digital teaching

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP. He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group. He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


Leave a comment

An English Test For Schools: Introducing Ana And Her Students

Ana and her studentsEarlier this year, Oxford University Press launched the Oxford Test of English for Schools – an online, English proficiency test recommended for 12-16-year-olds. It’s flexible, fast and available at Approved Test Centres worldwide. Plus, it’s the only proficiency test certified by the University of Oxford.

Teacher Ana Isabel Vázquez from Spain is excited for a version of the Oxford Test of English that has been designed especially for younger students – as she says, it’s “a test adapted to give them the best start on their English journey.”

“The younger we are able to test children’s English, the farther they will be able to take their language learning.”

She uses the Oxford Test of English for Schools to motivate her students, so they “find the confidence to keep learning and using English.” And it works!

An English test that motivates students!

Nerea, 16, one of Ana’s students, is proof: “English will help me get a job, go abroad, learn about other cultures, and be able to communicate with people around the globe. That’s fantastic.”

“It makes me so proud to see the students develop, learn, and feel more confident in how they use English to communicate.”

The Oxford Test of English for Schools assesses 12 to 16-year-olds’ abilities in Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. The Listening and Reading modules are adaptive, so the difficulty adjusts in response to students’ answers, while the Speaking and Writing modules use task randomization.

This personalized experience makes the test shorter, less stressful, and more precise than traditional proficiency tests.

“Because a 12-year-old doesn’t want to write about work or finance,” Ana explains: “The Oxford Test of English for Schools will have content adapted to suit children’s interests and life experience. It’ll cover topics like free time and what they did at the weekend.”

A change students welcome

Veronica, 16, says: “We like to answer questions about friendship, free time, cinema, culture – things that affect all of society.”

“I like that I can speak English everywhere and most young people are going to understand me, which gives me the freedom to travel and know I’ll be understood,” adds Fernando, 16.

Like many institutions worldwide, Ana’s school, Colegio Nuestra Señora del Pila, has become an Oxford Test of English Approved Test Centre, meaning they can offer the test securely within their computer room.

“It only takes two hours, and the results are ready in 14 days, which makes everyone feel really comfortable and confident,” says Ana.

“My biggest hope is that the children maintain their English and use it throughout their lives. Our objective is to give them the ability to have a conversation, to be able to communicate – we don’t drill grammar here, we just want them to love English as much as we do!”

And it seems they already do. Maria, 16, says, “Knowing English helps me when I travel to other countries; for now, I can understand other cultures and communicate with people, but maybe speaking English will also help me get a job when I leave school.”

Opening Doors

Ana believes the Oxford Test of English is “a great starting point for showing future generations that they are our hope and that they can conquer the world. Being able to speak English will open doors for them and set them on their journey to success.”

 

Fast-track your 12 to 16-year-olds’ English language certification with the Oxford Test of English for Schools.

Learn how the test could benefit you and your students on our website.

Oxford Test of English for Schools

 

Like this? Now read: Watching students find success with the Oxford Test of English

Don’t forget to share this link to our Learning Resources Bank with your students – where they can find additional tips and support to guide them through their English learning journey.


1 Comment

Top 10 Tips To Help Your Online Lessons Run Smoothly!

Teacher frustrated at online lessonsFor many of us, it’s been a while since our teaching world got turned upside down and we found ourselves moving from a physical classroom to online lessons in a matter of hours. It feels like a lifetime ago since we were left wondering what the best practice for online teaching was. In this initial online period, often referred to as the period of emergency remote teaching (ERT), the best advice for running a smooth lesson included such sage things as to ensure you have a good microphone and lighting.

Fast forward to the present day and we’re moving out of the ERT situation and gaining confidence in our online teaching. In this light, I asked a number of teachers around the world what advice they would now give for ensuring the smooth running of online lessons. From what they told me I have collated the top ten tips to help your online lessons run smoothly.

1. Manage the technical stuff

Just because we are now more settled into the online rhythm doesn’t mean we should get overconfident with how things work. As such the initial advice of check your sound and video, make sure your internet connection is stable, still hold true. As many of us have learned just because things worked in one lesson it doesn’t mean they will in the next, so always check. If you’re just beginning with online lessons then follow some basic rules:

  • If you can, make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space that you can run your lessons from. It should have good lightening so that when you are on webcam you can be seen clearly.
  • Be as close to your internet router as you can. If you have the possibility of using a cable for your internet then do as this can give you a more consistent connection.
  • Wear headphones when you’re teaching as this will cut down feedback caused by you and your students having their mics on. Encourage students to wear them as well.
  • Before your first lesson, familiarise yourself with the platform you are using. While platforms vary in their functionality, for your first lesson make sure you know how to switch on sound and vision, use the chatbox, and share your screen. This last one will mean you can show materials to the students.
  • Don’t worry about becoming a platform expert overnight, it is more important to make sure both you and your students feel comfortable with the key features. To that end, use your first lesson to teach students how the room is used, don’t assume they will simply work it out. If you’re looking for more support in this area there are a plethora of resources on the Internet though you could start with OUP’s digital teaching resources.

2. Assume the students are not tech-savvy

To quote a teacher in Portugal, “Just because you’ve spent the last 7 months in online lessons, becoming tech-savvy, don’t presume your learners have!” Always make sure in first classes that you give the students the language they need to operate i.e. “How do I turn on my camera?”. Make sure you’ve explained or introduced any new tools or features of the room before the students are set a language task.

3. Expect the unexpected

Rather like falsely assuming your mic and camera will always work, it would be wrong not to be ready for the unexpected. You never know what the online classroom might throw up. For example, what happens if the students’ connections are having a slow internet day? Is there a low-tech solution? You could send any lesson materials in advance so the students have the chance to get and access them before the lesson begins.

4. Adopt a positive mindset

Many teachers still yearn to be back in the same physical space as their students and continue to find the lack of proximity a major hurdle to their lessons. However, a positive mindset will rub off on everyone in a lesson and as a result should make the lesson smoother. To aid that make sure you aren’t trying too hard, teachers often seek lesson perfection and then dwell on any aspect in a lesson that didn’t quite get to that level, overlooking the many things that went well.

5. Write it down

This is a multi-layered tip. First, it refers to planning. While many of you are bound to make detailed plans already think in the planning stage about elements that encourage the students to talk. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that your online lessons have been quite teacher-led, so now is the time to think about creating opportunities for the students to speak and interact more.

Next, it refers to physically writing it down for students. Have you noticed in a lesson when you rely on oral instructions that you have to repeat it so many times and still not everyone gets it? So, have written instructions to put on-screen to aid your words. You can have these on a slide that you can display by screen share at the appropriate moment.

And last but not least, write it down refers to making use of written comments. Though you’re meeting in a virtual classroom there are still many ways writing is used in your lesson. For starters there is the chatbox, ensure you reply to comments and answer questions in the chatbox so the students feel acknowledged. If your room allows it, use private messaging to do things like praise a student or give them extra support. Furthermore, if you use an external collaboration tool like a Google Doc or a discussion board, leave comments there so the students know the teacher is ‘there’ if needed.

6. Use your classroom tools purposefully

In other words, don’t confuse technology with teaching. A lot was made at the beginning of ERT about what virtual rooms can do and what tools can be added to them. It perhaps led teachers to the expectation that lessons needed to be all bells and whistles. While you’re probably ready to do this now, do remember that your room tools should be used purposefully. For example, there is arguably no point in putting people in and out of breakout rooms for short tasks. While you might feel like this brings a more student-centred lesson, you’re in fact making for a very stop-start sort of lesson and inadvertently giving over a lot of time to managing the classroom. One longer meaningful task will ensure more time for the students to meaningfully work together.

Whatever external tools you choose, stick with them. There is nothing wrong with using the same tool, in fact, the more you use it the more the students get to know it and the smoother the lesson becomes. Chopping and changing to try and utilise the current tool of fashion just leads to confused students and dedicating lesson time to showing how the tool works rather than getting on with the teaching.

7. The whiteboard is your friend

A small confession here, I struggle with online whiteboards. They are difficult to write on, I forget to give students the permission to use it and it often means stopping the sharing of one screen to share another. All things which can affect the smoothness of my lessons. However, rather than simply avoid them I am trying to make them my friend.

Since I tend to use a slide deck I’ve learned to include white slides amongst my deck that I can use as aboard. This eliminates the need to switch back and forth. I can also prepare slides as boards making me feel more prepared. Other teachers have achieved the same by using external whiteboard sites (easy to find with a quick internet search) or using a shared document. Additionally, to quote a teacher in Ukraine “a virtual board makes lessons more visual”. What’s more, you can usually save your board for future reference and to be used as a revision tool in a future lesson.

8. Keep them focused

Let’s face it even in the physical classroom, keeping kids focused is often a challenge and online this is amplified. One technique for dealing with this is to use visual cues at different points of the lesson to check the kids are still following along and not doing something. The visual clue should be a signal or action that you do at various points in the lesson and everyone has to copy as quickly as possible.

9. Community

If ERT was about a quick transformation from face to face to online, now it is perhaps time to think about how we can effectively maximise educational opportunities. A way to do this is to go beyond the lesson and turn the class into a community. Some of the teachers who sent me tips talked about how they’ve used instant messengers to create groups to allow students to discuss things like language issues and homework problems outside of class. By doing so they feel the virtual classes have run a lot more effectively. This might not be suitable for every teacher so another option is to look into asynchronous areas that can have running discussion boards and be used to distribute work.

Not everything has to be done through the live online class, especially as there is so much to achieve within that time anyway.   This will help with the community aspect and it does make language learning fairer for your students. Not all are comfortable synchronously and not everyone has the same access abilities to be online at the same time. Planning lessons that utilise various online means should lead to an all-round better learning experience.

10. Find a teachers’ room

At first glance, you might wonder how this will make your lessons run smoothly, however despite being tenth on the list it was the most submitted piece of advice. Not only are teachers missing their classrooms but they’re missing their staffrooms as well. The place they go to find support and get stuff off their chest. It’s important for both well-being and to keep the positive mindset suggested in tip 4. Looking after oneself and having good support is a fundamental step in ensuring you’re an effective educator. Teaching from home can bring a sense of isolation so if you can, find a place to act as your teachers’ room, be it the various ELT groups on social media, joining one of the many online events that ELT organisations are running or making use of initiatives like the IATEFL BESIG online breakroom where teachers can drop by and chat.

My thanks to all the teachers that gave me their advice to use.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?

Get into your stride with digital teaching

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.