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Teaching English to Preparatory Year Programme (PYP) students

PYP student

To be successful at university, students in Preparatory Year Programmes need to improve their language skills in a fairly short amount of time. At a minimum, PYP programmes will prepare students to be able to read the course books, listen to lectures, and take exams in English in their chosen field. They may also need to write essays, discuss issues in seminar discussions, or defend their thesis. However, teachers in these programmes often face challenges related less to language learning and more to motivation.

Goals and aspirations

Although it’s tempting to start with the coursebook on day one of a course – after all, there is so much to get through! – it might be a better strategy to spend some time getting to know students as individuals, and especially getting students to think about their own educational and personal goals for learning English. Once students have an idea of ‘where they are going’ or ‘what they want English for’, teachers can then help them to see how what they learn in class connects to their goals. They can explain the approach they will take and how it will help them on their journey. On another level, when a teacher spends time getting to know their students and sharing information about themselves, the students are more likely to like him/her which may lead them to work harder so that they can please the teacher. A good rapport is an important factor in motivation.

What’s in it for me?

The next step in motivating learners is to help them see how the lessons lead to those goals. Students want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and teachers can help by creating lesson aims with a clear context and purpose, and communicating those aims to the students. In this way, students will begin to see the benefit of planned activities and will be more cooperative and motivated. Instead of ploughing through pages, teachers can link activities back to the lesson aims. Of course, in an ideal classroom, students would have some say in what is taught, and would be able to choose topics of interest, but in the absence of that option, letting them know what’s in it for them at least involves them to some extent by explaining what they are going to gain.

Progression

Another piece of the motivation puzzle is related to progression: students are more motivated when they can see their progression as it relates to goals, and when they know what they need to do to improve. This highlights the need for a clear link between lesson aims and ongoing assessment, in-class revision, and quick checks to make sure students are still on target. It also means setting individual student targets whenever possible – once a student reaches a target, another is set. In that way, students have a clear sense of where they are going and what they have achieved.

If you’re interested in learning more, don’t forget to join me in my webinar.  During the webinar, we will first make a case for and suggest activities for helping students identify their own goals and aspirations and consider how English fits into their future version of themselves. We will then look at improving lesson aims to include a context and purpose and make them SMART. Finally, we will look at ideas for making progression and next steps more visible to students. By the end of the webinar, teachers will have a set of tools which will help them in their quest to increase student motivation which will, in turn, give them the incentive to tackle the daunting task of learning English in their PYP year.


Stacey’s webinar will feature content from Headway Plus Special Edition 2nd edition, developed by Oxford especially for PYP classes. The trusted Headway approach combines a perfectly balanced grammar and skills syllabus, supporting teachers in Saudi Arabia to deliver results driven preparatory English tuition.


Stacey Holliday Hughes is a part-time lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and also works freelance as a teacher developer, materials writer, learning resources editor and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts. Stacey’s main interest in ELT is in maximising student engagement through student-focused learning using traditional and digital tools.  As a teacher developer, she enjoys working with teachers seeking to explore alternative approaches and strategies often in response to emerging classroom issues. Stacey has written a number of blogs, online student exercises and teacher support materials.


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What is a core vocabulary?

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

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

The Oxford 3000TM: then and now

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

Frequency vs. relevance

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

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

A core vocabulary as a starting point

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

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

More about the new Oxford 3000:

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


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

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



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Using games for win-win learning

Like many people around the world, I recently took time off at the end of December and the New Year to relax at home. A common feature of any holiday season, alongside eating large meals and seeing family and old friends, is playing games. For example, my son was playing with a new video game console and within a short time I was addicted and striving to reach the ‘next level’. Then, after finishing off yet another large meal, someone suggested playing a board game that hadn’t been opened since last year. Initially, there was typical resistance to starting a game which had a long set of rules and which could take up the whole evening. And yet, 15 minutes later, everyone was thoroughly engrossed and participating fully.

This was a demonstration of just how engaging games can be! And it doesn’t stop at board games, there are action or guessing games, treasure hunts, trivia or memory games, games with props, online games, or even game shows on TV (which we invest our time in with no hope of winning an actual prize). Games incorporate fun, incite collaboration and competition, which in combination is incredibly motivating.

One theory for the motivational power of games (both physical and online) is that players reach a mental state where they are completely focused on the task. This is sometimes referred to as ‘flow’ (1); in other words, the difficulty of the game is not too hard or too easy, equally matched to the player’s skill level.

It is at this level that games have the most potential as valuable classroom tools. As teachers, we are always looking for classroom activities which take students to that place in their language learning when they feel fully engaged and motivated to continue to the end. Of course, we normally think of games as involving winning and losing, but when we use games in the classroom I prefer to think of them as achieving a win-win outcome.

Yes, you can try to win the game, but you also win by taking advantage of playing a well-designed language practice game. Because when games work well, students often forget that they are doing an exercise, as they start to use English in their state of flow.

As for the type of language that games can practise, I have yet to find a language point that a game isn’t good for! Take, for example, the board game format where everyone starts on one square, rolls a dice and moves round the board landing on different squares. For vocabulary, you can write different words on squares and students have to say a sentence with the word or ask another player a question using the word. For functional language, write speaking tasks on the squares such as ‘Ask the player on your right out for dinner this evening.’ Or even have students make their own board game and write the rules for other teams to play.

Finally, when choosing or creating a game to use in the classroom with your students, try to make sure that it contains these five components which all begin with the letter ‘C’:

  • Games benefit from having an element of chance which can be created by the throwing of a dice or picking up of a card at random. Chance adds tension to a game, and for language practice it encourages students to use language in response to changing situations.
  • Challenge. Players like to feel a sense of achievement in a game and this is only reached by including the right level of difficulty and including factors where students must succeed against adversity in some way.
  • Competition. Although you don’t want a classroom entirely based on winning and losing, a little bit of competition is often an effective way to change the pace of a lesson.
  • Collaboration. Games which involve students working together in teams or pairs are the perfect way to create a collaborative environment in which students support each other’s learning.
  • Communication. This is probably the most important C. Games for provide students with an authentic reason to communicate, allowing them to start using the targeted language.

To test these five C’s out, here is a game taken from my course book Business Result Second Edition. See if you can find the element of chance, challenge, competition, collaboration and communication within the game:

 


John Hughes is a trainer and course book author. In his webinars on the 13th and 15th February he’ll be showing your more ways you can incorporate simple games into your lessons, and demonstrate how you can use games to target the specific interests and needs of your students. He’ll also provide a board game template for you to download and use with your students.


(1) Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: the psychology of happiness. Rider: London.


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Rigor for beginning English language learners? Absolutely!

Rigor in the languages classroomCarolyn Nason, a recent guest on the Oxford Adult ESL Conversations podcast, discusses the role of rigor in the Adult ESL classroom. 

Recently I signed up for a professional development project focused on infusing rigor into ESL instruction. Knowing the 21st century challenges that my beginning adult English language learners (ELLs) face and their language proficiency level, I was quite skeptical about the idea. However, I was delighted to discover that adding rigor doesn’t have to be difficult for the student or for the teacher. It also doesn’t require a lot of extra work, and the payoffs are spectacular.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy as modeled by Jessica Loose

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy as modeled by Jessica Loose

What is rigor?

Rigor is all about ensuring that learners are prepared to succeed in academic and workplace settings. Said students are able to handle text complexity, academic language, and demonstrate critical thinking. Higher level thinking skills are essential to their success.  In our classrooms, we spend a lot of time at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Remember and Understand) asking students to recall information. But, for them to be prepared, we need to provide students with opportunities to participate at higher levels of cognitive complexity. That’s where rigor comes in.

How do I add rigor to my class?

Once I got used to the overall idea of rigor, I thought, “Okay, it’s certainly for higher levels, but not MY level. For my adult beginners, isn’t learning English challenging enough?” In the course of my training, however, I was given an assignment to incorporate rigor into my classroom. I chose one activity that I thought the learners and I could handle, and tried it with some trepidation. The results astonished me! I couldn’t believe the amount of energy that was generated. Everyone in that classroom felt excitement and a sense of accomplishment.

Categorisation – Carolyn Nason

The activity that I chose was Categorising, and it has since become my favorite way to add rigor to my low-level lessons. This activity had its roots in a lesson on daily routines and chores from the class textbook. Both the student book and the workbook pages provided learners with opportunities to acquire and recall the vocabulary of routines and chores.  By making a simple modification to this activity I was able to add rigor with little effort.

First, we began with brainstorming. In pairs, I asked my learners to write down as many chores as they could think of. Then, distributing a chart with three columns, I asked them to put the chores into three categories of their choice. It was challenging at first, but they caught on quickly.

Here are a few examples of what they came up with for categorising chores. They categorised:

By preference:                        Like       Okay       Hate

By timing:                               Daily      Weekly   Monthly

By who does them:                Me         Wife        Wife and Me

By where they’re done:         Inside    Outside   Inside and Outside

By types:                                 Fix         Clean      Wash

After discussing the various categories, I asked them to flip the paper over and do it again using three new categories. That’s when they got really creative.

Categorisation – Carolyn Nason

But can rigor work in a multilevel classroom?

A great thing about Categorising is you can easily differentiate for the learners in your classroom. If you’re like me, your learners probably have quite a mix of abilities. For higher level learners, you can give them the blank chart and ask them to determine the categories. For an intermediate group, you can provide the categories and have the learners decide where each item fits. For the lowest levels, you can provide the categories and chores, letting the learners fill in some of the letters or providing word or picture cards of the chores and letting them physically place the words in the categories.

 

How else can I use Categorising?

Categorising works well across all topics and concepts. Here are a few common topics and how rigor can be added simply by having learners categorise:

Topic Category Suggestions
Food ●     Healthy / good in moderation / junk food

●     Tastes good / so-so / tastes bad

Clothing ●     Used by men / used by women / used by both

●     Cold weather / Spring and Fall / Summer

Furniture ●     Items found in a Kitchen / Living Room / Bedroom

●     Items made of Wood / Plastic / Metal

Jobs ●     Jobs filled primarily by men / By women / By either

●     Inside jobs / Outside jobs / Either inside or outside

Weekend

activities

●     Want to do / need to do / don’t want to do

●     Like / no opinion / don’t like

As learners work to group the various items, this inspires them to collaborate and appreciate each other’s ideas, this spills over into their teamwork on other activities.

Categorising even helps you to teach language conventions. I’ve asked my learners to find nouns/verbs/adjectives/prefixes/roots/suffixes, and various verb endings from readings. The possibilities are endless. This type of activity is also great for learners that finish classwork early.

Incorporating rigor in low level language classrooms is essential for moving adult ELLs closer to their goals. This can be done with minimal effort when we incorporate activities like Categorising. I really do encourage you to give it a try in your classroom. Afterwards, please come back here and share how it worked for you.

To hear more about how Carolyn introduced rigor into her Adult ESL classroom, listen to her conversation with Jayme Adelson Goldstein on the Oxford Adult ESL Conversations podcast.

For further free teaching and professional development resources, click here to check out our Love Adult ESL website. In there, you’ll also find sample materials for the new Step Forward Second Edition.

This series has been developed specifically for Adult ESL teachers in the US and refers to course titles that may not be available in every country. Please check with your local Oxford University Press office about title availability.

 

References

Loose, Jessica (ND). Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel [Online image]. Retrieved January 6, 2017 from: http://morethanenglish.edublogs.org/for-teachers/blooms-revised-taxonomy/

Further Reading

LINCS ESL Pro Module 1: Meeting the Language Needs of Today’s Adult English Language Learner. Retrieved from: https://lincs.ed.gov/

Parrish, B. (2015). Meeting the Language Needs of Today’s Adult English Language Learner: Issue Brief. Retrieved from: https://lincs.ed.gov/


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Teaching: The good, the bad and the balance

Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria and co-author of ‘Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers’. In this post she reflects on the importance of teachers’ well-being and offers some practical suggestions to help them find their own work-life balance.

Let me get this straight from the start – I absolutely love teaching. I can’t think of any other job I would like to do more. When I read the post-its from IATEFL and Andrew Diliger’s recent blog post and saw all the positivity, I felt grateful to be part of this wonderful community. Many teachers are passionate about what they do and they also get a lot energy, motivation, and inspiration from their learners and day-to-day classroom encounters. But let’s not diminish just how demanding a profession it is. Teaching requires great skill in having competence in our subjects, interpersonal skills, pedagogical knowledge, intercultural sensitivity, creativity, technological skills, and organisational skills – to name but a few. It is a profession with a long history, which we should be proud to be part of and which necessitates specialist expertise for it to function well – That’s where we come in. In fact, we are probably the most valuable resource in educational institutions and yet very often the importance of what we do goes unappreciated and undervalued – sometimes by others but also occasionally by ourselves.

Teaching can be extremely rewarding but can also be emotionally and physically draining. Like seasonal workers, during term time, many of us work evenings and weekends. It is extremely stressful on a day-to-day basis and as administration and assessment procedures mushroom, it grows ever more exhausting having to work on tasks that are a lot less rewarding than the time spent in class. The to-do list is never-ending and there is always more we could be doing. Add to this that as teachers, we tend to be other-oriented and very often we have tendencies towards perfectionism. As a result, this can lead us to keep giving to others and doing ever more not knowing when to stop and recharge our own batteries. It is easy to see the risks and why many early career stage teachers end up leaving the profession and why teaching reports such high levels of burnout.

So, how do we reconcile these two sides of teaching? The side where we love and are energised by what we do, along with the incredibly demanding, exhausting and stressful reality of a busy teaching life. Well, part of the clue lies in the fact that so many positive comments were found at an event like IATEFL. Firstly, we know that we can benefit enormously from professional development that is meaningful, relevant and worthwhile. We can enjoy spending time focusing on things that are professionally, intellectually and personally engaging. We might do this by attending conferences, workshops, webinars or by reading blogs or books of interest. However, we must take care not to fall into the trap of believing everyone is doing more than us and start to feel guilty for all the other things we ‘could’ be doing. Instead, we should find professional development opportunities to energise us and inspire us, whilst remaining realistic about what we can manage without trying to do it all. It is important for us to celebrate who we are as individuals taking time to focus on our strengths and the things we are already doing really well. We also have to remember that we are more than just our teacher selves. Having other interests and hobbies outside of education is important to keep us balanced and strengthen our overall well-being. This means we need to plan in time in our busy schedules for the other dimensions of our lives to draw energy and inspiration from them too.

The second dimension from IATEFL that gives us another clue for our positive well-being is how important it is to connect with colleagues and share stories, experiences, and ideas from the classroom and life beyond. This kind of support network and the ability to talk with people who know and understand your situation is vital. Indeed, other teachers are often the best people to share your humour about teaching life with – Indeed, laughter is one of the best coping strategies for reducing stress. However, more important than our collegial relationships are our family ties and personal friendships. These deserve our full quality attention and time. They serve as a primary source of support, happiness, and well-being and are a vital buffer against stress. No matter how packed our schedule, we must set aside time to protect and nurture these relationships.

Being a teacher is a joy and privilege. But it is also hard work and stressful. To ensure that the positive aspects of our work predominate, we need to do things that are rewarding and give us energy as well as invest in our personal and professional relationships. Once we understand that our happiness and well-being are key determinants of how well we teach and how much our learners enjoy our classes, then it becomes a lot easier to feel less selfish and guilty about putting ourselves first for a change.

Featured image credit: ‘Finding Balance’. Public Domain via Flickr