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Teaching Grammar: Classroom choices

A while ago I came across an infographic which claimed that teachers make, on average, 1500 educational decisions a day. Over a six-hour teaching day, that’s around four decisions per minute. My question is: Is that number high enough?

Ahead of my upcoming webinar ‘Teaching Grammar: Classroom Choices’, I have been thinking about the decisions we make when we are teaching grammar. As teachers, we are constantly making decisions, both consciously and subconsciously, about our teaching. But our decision making isn’t just limited to the time we spend in the classroom, what about all the choices we make when we are planning, or reflecting on our lessons over a cup of tea?

Planning Choices

If you are anything like me, there are plenty of decisions to make when planning a grammar lesson. Depending on the grammar point we are teaching, we might ask ourselves:

  • What might my students find difficult about this structure?
  • What examples can I give them?
  • What can I do to make this lesson engaging?
  • How will I present this language point?
  • How will I check they’ve understood?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and I am sure that you could add plenty more questions of your own. One of the questions I always begin with is “How relevant is this language for my students?” because the answer always impacts on my other planning choices.

busyteacher.org

How relevant we decide a grammar point is depends on a variety of factors. Let’s take articles as an example. Articles in English are very important, but also quite complex, so how deeply we explore them in class will depend on our students, their needs, and the objectives of the lesson. With a beginner’s class looking at articles for the first time, it is unlikely that we would go beyond the very basics:

  • When should we use ‘A’ or ‘An’?
  • What’s the difference between ‘A/An’ or ‘The’?

However, if we change our context to that of an FCE prep class, articles take on greater relevance. What our students need to know about the language point becomes more complex, and we would have to go into the language further.

The answers to the question “How relevant is this language for my students?” will have an impact on the rest of our lesson planning. If the language point is particularly complex, we might build in extra practice. If the language is high frequency, we might choose an inductive or guided approach to teaching, allowing student’s time to discover the grammar rules for themselves.

Teaching Choices

So, by the time we’ve entered the classroom we’ve already made a number of choices, but the decision making doesn’t stop there. How many times have you walked in with a well-planned activity that just doesn’t work in practice? Or made an assumption about your students that turned out to be wrong? One of the hardest choices a teacher makes is to change the plan halfway through the lesson, but sometimes the language is more complicated, or less engaging than you expected.

When it comes to grammar lessons, I always like to have a back-up plan. Having a few easy-to-implement changes in your back pocket ensures that you and your students can meet the objectives of the lesson. Let’s say that your students are struggling with using ‘will’ to talk about the future.

Taken from English Plus 2, Oxford University Press

Taken from English Plus 2, Oxford University Press

The practice activity above accustoms your student’s to the target language, but what if that’s not enough? What if they aren’t engaged? One of the choices we make is how to change or extend activities from the course book. A favourite activity of mine involves using playing cards to change the activity… You’ll find out how that works in the webinar.

Teaching Grammar: Classroom Choices

Teaching grammar is not a ‘one size fits all’ experience. As teachers, we have the freedom to choose how we present and teach new language, we can change our minds if we find that the approach we originally chose isn’t working. Join me for my upcoming webinar where we will be looking more closely at the choices teachers make, and exploring some ideas and activities that we can use to make grammar lessons interesting and beneficial for our students. I hope to see you all online.

Click here to register for the webinar. 


Author

Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and educational consultant based in Brighton, UK. She has been working in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and her key areas of interest are young learners and the use of stories and reading as a tool for language learning. Her main goal as a trainer is to provide practical advice and strategies that teachers can implement in their lessons.


References:

http://busyteacher.org/16670-teachers-masters-of-multitasking-infographic.html

 


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Everyday development activities for busy teachers | Learning in the rush | Q&A

Development meeting
It was great to see so many of you in the webinars. Once again, I think its evidence that so many teachers are incredibly committed to what they do, and want to learn more about themselves and how they can help their students learn.

The webinar was a whistle stop tour of short, simple and shareable development activities, from which rose some interesting questions. I hope I can answer them here in a helpful way.

 

A number of you wanted to know more about professional development in a context where you work alone – perhaps as an online teacher.

“It would be useful to have some hints and tips for individual teachers who perhaps work on freelance basis and don’t have interaction with colleagues.”

“Can you possibly share with us your view on individual teachers’ development, please? I’m mostly working from home, so I’m the only worker in my little, yet cosy company. I also learn best on my own, the same goes for my professional reflections. Is it always about interacting with colleagues?”

 Although it’s true that working alongside teaching colleagues offers a deep reservoir of easily accessible professional ideas and support, it’s perfectly possible to engage in developmental activities on our own. We looked at a number of activities which provide a framework of descriptive experiences, followed by exploratory questions designed to support reflection. These can all provide the basis for an individual to examine their own practice too. Whether in dialogue with another or on our own, a key step is the actual articulation of our thoughts. In a conversation, we do this through speaking. If we are on our own then writing down our recollections, questions and ideas become the most normal way of recording. This articulation stage is important as it forces us to codify, categorise, and order our sometimes muddled thoughts. It makes inconsistencies more visible. Patterns become more identifiable. This is especially the case if we write down our responses to the reflection questions on a regular basis over a set period. Then, by returning to them and reading them together, this can often reveal things about our understandings that we simply don’t see in the normal daily rush.

Writing in this way – to ourselves – can feel odd at first. I’ve found the best way to do this is to use a computer, just type without looking at the screen or bothering about syntax, punctuation or spelling. Just a stream of consciousness. Then I come back the next day and read it through. It’s often quite surprising what I discover. By the way, one possible side effect of this is stress relief. If I’m worried about a lesson I’ve done, or an issue at work, then writing about it in this way can sometimes clear it from my mind. I can ‘get it off my chest’.

A useful writer on this topic is Jenny Moon. Her book ‘A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning’ is straightforward, accessible, and packed full of ideas and activities to help.

As for the classroom-based activities, why not observe yourself? If you work online, simply record the lesson (with the permission of your student) using screen capture software and then watch again using the observation activities we explored in the webinar. This is powerful. I can personally testify to the usefulness of this, as I will be watching the recording of this webinar to identify all the times I go ‘off script’ in an attempt to get better control of my timings.

Finally, there is the point that it’s actually hard to be alone these days. There are many professional online communities – especially in education. I belong to the Oxford Teachers’ Club which is open to everyone who has attended an Oxford Teachers’ Academy course. There are over 250 members who chat away on the Facebook site. Other universal sites, such as LinkedIn have discussion groups with very active participants. IATEFL has a variety of special interest groups who tweet and chat online – perhaps the Teacher Development SIG might be of interest (https://tdsig.org).

What if you have colleagues who observe just to criticize?

This is unfortunately something I have encountered a great deal. Perhaps the first question is why does this happen? Perhaps they’re simply repeating their experiences of being observed. Perhaps they feel that they are being helpful, and helping us to learn from our mistakes. In my experience this is the most common approach that observers take. The ‘I will point out what you can do better’ method. It has its place, of course, but if this is the only use of an observation it can become very negative.

One way of engaging with this is to use focused observations, rather than a general one. Have specific questions, and therefore data that you ask your colleague to record, and then in the post-observation discussion have some questions ready to guide the conversation. This changes the role of the observer to recorder – and away from judge.

I know one teacher who asked if she could record the post-observation conversations, and then analysed the amount of critical comments and shared her findings with the colleagues. This was highly effective in showing them the impact of their approaches.

Observation and the subsequent discussion is a competence that needs to be learned. I can be a great classroom teacher, but not have very developed observation skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to criticise. It might be that that I don’t know any other way. This brings me on to the last question.

Are there any useful books that you would recommend for conducting observations?

Yes. ‘Classroom Observation Tasks’ by Ruth Wajnryb is an excellent resource. It looks at seven different aspects of the classroom experience and has five focused observation activities for each, along with exploratory frameworks for reflection afterwards. If you do a different one each week, you’ll have a full academic year of observation tasks without repeating yourself. Then do it again the following year and see what’s changed.

Why not buy a copy for your critical colleague as a birthday present?

Looking forward to seeing you all again on a webinar soon!


Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP.


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Transforming business research into classroom materials

In advance of his talk at the BESIG conference in Malta (November 10-12), John Hughes describes how he makes use of business research in his teaching and materials writing.

Business research can take many forms – from a customer survey run by a marketing consultancy to a university department setting up experiments to explore workplace behaviour. When this kind of research is reported in business publications or university journals, I often find it a useful resource to take into lessons.

 

You might be thinking that for many of your business English students, such research might be rather dry and distant from their everyday world of work. However, a great deal of research currently going on in business schools for example has huge implications on our lives. So, if you can select the right kind of research text and data, students can enjoy learning something new about business as well as learning English.

Here are four points to consider about using texts with research in your Business English classroom.

Useful sources reporting research and data

Results of research and surveys related to business and research often appear or are referred to in publications such as The Economist, The Harvard Business Review or Fast Company. In addition, you can also come across reports with data in your daily newspaper or online. In particular, infographics often include data shown in a visual format and you can find one that’s relevant to your students by googling the words ‘infographic + [your choice of topic]’.

Choosing relevant research

If all your students come from the same area of business, then you’ll want research that relates directly to their field. However, the reality is that many Business English classes or English for work classes contain a broad range of interests; for these types of students I tend to choose research which has broad appeal. For example, one piece of research which appeared in the Harvard Business Review reported on data based on 6.4 million flight bookings.

 


Taken from Business Result Upper Intermediate Second Edition, page 43. For the full reference please see the end of this blog post.

The data showed that women tend to book flights earlier than men and that older women book sooner than younger women. The data concluded that older women save more money and implied that companies should bear this in mind when appointing people to decision making posts. Such research works well in many classes because the implications of the data affect everyone and generate natural discussion about issues such as gender, age, and responsibility.

Thinking critically about the research data

Once you have chosen a text that reports research you need to design activities to go with it. An obvious starting point is to write some reading comprehension questions to check understanding. However, students also need to approach research critically and question its validity. You can also approach a text by asking students to think about questions such as:

– Is the source of the research or data reliable?

– How was the data gathered?

– Was the survey size large enough?

Students doing their own research

Texts with research results often offer a springboard into in-class surveys or questionnaires. For example, with the earlier example of decision-making in flight bookings, students could do a survey of the class’s own flight booking behaviour and see if the results reflect those in the text. Students can also design their own online surveys and questionnaires using tools such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey. The benefit of using online surveys is that students can get a much larger response from people outside of the class. These tools also create instant results in graphic forms which students can use in their own report writing or classroom presentations of their research.

By bringing in texts with research results, a teacher can develop students’ reading, writing and speaking skills. In the new second edition of Business Result we also included video interviews with researchers from SAID Business School (part of Oxford University) describing their research so students can also benefit from listening practice.

If you are attending the BESIG conference in Malta on November 11th, I’ll be exploring the further uses of business research and suggesting practical ways of exploiting it in the classroom.

The graph in this blog post is taken from page 43 of Business Result Upper Intermediate Second Edition: ‘Gender differences in booking business travel: Advance booking behavior and associated financial impact’ from http://www.carlsonwagonlit.com/content/cwt/ch/en/news/news-releases/20160412-women-book-flights-earlier-and-pay-less.html. Reproduced by permission of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.


John Hughes is a teacher, trainer and ELT author. His titles for Oxford University Press include Business Result, Business Focus, Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations. John has also run Business English Teacher training courses for schools and teachers all around the world. At last year’s BESIG conference, he received The David Riley Award for Innovation in Business English and ESP.


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Let’s make our thinking visible!

A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.

While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.

Thinking dispositions

Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:

  1. Observing closely and describing;
  2. Building explanations and interpretations;
  3. Reasoning with evidence;
  4. Making connections;
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
  7. Wondering and asking questions;
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?

These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.


“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”

Visible Thinking <http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org>


But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?

Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.

We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.

Thinking Dispositions Visible Thinking Routines
Capturing the heart Headlines
Making connections Connect-Extend-Challenge
Wondering and asking questions See-Think-Wonder

Headlines

A routine for capturing essence.Headlines routine

Materials:

An article about fundraising and charity concerts.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
  • They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
  • They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.

Reflections:

The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.

See-Think-WonderSee-Think-Wonder (STW)

A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.

Materials:

A photograph of a polluted river.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
  • First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
  • The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.

Reflections:

This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.

Connect-Extend-ChallengeConnect-Extend-Challenge (CEC)

A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.

Materials:

A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.

Process:

  • Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
  • The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
  • Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
    and their “challenges”.

Reflections:

The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.

Classroom activity 1

Thoughts…

A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.

Classroom activity 2

Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.

 

 

How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?

 


Authors:

Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.


References (recommended reading list!)

Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>

Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>

Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>

Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>

Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>

Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>

“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <http://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>

 


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EFL activities for Bonfire (Guy Fawkes) Night

Bonfire night

 


Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

 

 

 

Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) – November 5th is an interesting date in the British celebratory calendar, where sparklers, bonfires and fireworks are all lit in the name of Guy Fawkes. But what’s the real story behind this British cultural event?

Interestingly November 5th has always been a date for celebration, long before the events that unfolded in 1605. But since Guy Fawkes and his accomplices failed to blow-up the houses of parliament, the date is used to mark their failure. It might seem an odd occasion to celebrate, but for 250 years it was the law to remember the failed plot!

The politics of the time are somewhat forgotten in present day events; now Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night is really just a great excuse for a party! But still, the story behind it is well known in Britain, so it’s a great opportunity to get your students accustomed to some British culture as they learn English.

To help you, we have put together a variety of activities that can be used at various levels and with different age groups, including:

  • Warm-up rhymes
  • Secret mission cards
  • Role play activities
  • Reading and speaking activities
  • Certificates

It’s all available on the *Oxford Teacher’s Club! Click the button below to download your own Guy Fawkes teacher activity pack, and spark some fantastic English dialogue with your class.


*Not a member of the Oxford Teacher’s Club? It’s free, and it only takes minutes to register! Join now and enjoy access to thousands of teaching ideas and activities for all ages.