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The potential of smart devices in the EFL classroom

DeathtoStock_Medium5Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. A full time instructor, he presents regularly on how to adapt traditional classroom materials to meet the needs of the Selfie Generation, and how to use widely available and easy-to-use digital tools in language learning.

Are smartphones a classroom management problem or a useful tool for language teaching and learning? Discover how smart devices can become a key part of the learning experience for your students with Thomas Healy.

In a series of video tutorials and three live webinars, Thomas will be presenting strategies for how teachers can use smart devices to enhance what students are learning in class, to provide meaningful opportunities for independent learning and to connect the English they are learning with the world around them.

Thomas’ first webinar – the potential of smart devices – will run twice and take place on September 7th (1pm BST) and September 8th (12am BST).

In this free-to-attend webinar you can expect to:

  • Explore smart device based activities that you can use to reinforce students learning
  • Look at ways in which students own smart devices can make every classroom a technology enhanced classroom
  • Bring along your own questions to ask Thomas

Thomas’ webinar will draw on content Smart Choice ‘On The Move’ activities, brand new smart phone optimized content available with Smart Choice Third Edition.

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Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom

shutterstock_287594936James Styring taught English and Spanish to students of all ages and levels. He also ran teacher-training sessions and was an oral examiner for the Cambridge PET, FCE and CAE exams. James worked for ten years in editorial roles at OUP before becoming a freelance author. He has written more than 50 ELT titles. He joins us today to preview his upcoming webinar, ‘Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom’, taking place on August 24th and 25th.

How do ‘screenagers’ learn?

Everyone born in the last 15–20 years (AKA Generation Z) has grown up in the digital age. Tablets and smartphones are not an add-on but an essential part of daily life, something Generation Z has never lived without. Generation Z expects wifi and 4G as a basic need, the same as an expectation of running water and electricity for older generations. Trying to engage a classroom of Generation Z students doesn’t always hit the mark if a vital component of their life is missing: their digital side. ‘Screenagers’ and young adults miss the devices through which their life is mediated. Success with this generation depends on appropriating the students’ digital world and deploying it in valid ways in the classroom.

As teachers, what’s of interest to us are the character traits of Generation Z. What do we know about Generation Z and their learning style? They may have less-developed social skills than older generations, as they stumble along the pavement catching Pokémon. They like communicating in bite-sized messages and they’re masters of multi-tasking. This means they respond well to classes which involve a variety of inputs and a varied pace.

How can teachers help screenagers?

The webinar looks at how teachers can vary interaction patterns and pairings, mimicking students’ everyday communicative experience of flitting between Instagram and Twitter and WhatsApp within seconds and without missing a beat. Mimicking these patterns in class can stop itchy feet and dispel boredom. One way of achieving this is bringing classes to life digitally. Most teachers know this but many feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of ‘digital’ in TEFL. The blogosphere is alive with talk of LMSs and MOOCs and big data. ‘Digital’ can quite quickly start to feel alienating and off-putting, not to mention time-consuming and expensive to implement, as you imagine your school spending thousands on tablets or on access to a digital platform.

Well, the good news is that you don’t need any of that. There are lots of classroom activities that you can do for free and often with zero preparation utilising the phones or tablets that most students already have in their schoolbags. You can achieve meaningful outcomes from students taking out their tablets or smartphones (or even older ‘feature’ phones) and using them as a natural part of the lesson. All you need is an open mind and a little imagination. The reason for doing this is not some sort of gimmick. It’s a reaction to who we’re teaching. On average, Generation Z-ers reach for their device every seven minutes during the day to check status updates, to read messages, to post comments, and so on. There are pedagogically worthwhile reasons for having students get their phones out during class for a range of activities. So rather than battling through lessons with students feeling twitchy because they’re desperate to look at their phones, free the phone instead.

To hear more, join my webinar on 24th and 25th August. I hope you’ll also feel comfortable in sharing your own experiences of digital and contributing ideas for making it work.

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IELTS Speaking Practice: Part 3 – What’s the word?

shutterstock_323995139Louis Rogers is a freelance author and senior academic tutor at the University of Reading. He has worked in a number of countries and taught in various contexts ranging from young learners to Academic English. Louis is co-author of Oxford EAP B1+, Foundation IELTS Masterclass, Proficiency Masterclass and Intermediate and Upper Intermediate Skills for Business Studies. In the third and final installment of his IELTS series, he explores range of vocabulary and lexical resource in the IELTS speaking test. 

What’s the word?

This lesson helps students in any section of the speaking test by focusing on one element of the marking criteria in particular – lexical resource. Some of the key indicators used by markers in this category are the variety of words used, the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used and the ability to circumlocute (get round a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hesitation. Obviously, the first ones are long term goals. For example, it takes students a long time to build up a wide range of lexis and to understand the subtleties of the appropriacy of word choice. However, the last one is something that can be frequently practiced even with a limited range of lexis.

Forgetting a word or not knowing a word is something learners come across from day one, however how they deal with this varies greatly. Under test conditions it can lead, in the worst cases, to students completely freezing and forgetting everything else they wanted to say. Even when it is not so obviously noticeable it can mean that students start to pause and hesitate excessively. Frequently practising how to deal with this situation can build students’ confidence and mean that they do not panic as much in the exam.

The activity here practices this skill and at the same time recycles some of the target lexis of the course. In this case the target lexis comes from the first three units of Foundation IELTS Masterclass. However, simple cards and the same staging can easily be created using any course.

Activity cards

IELTSvocabone

Copy and cut up the cards so that you have one set for every four students in the class. Put students into groups of 4 and divide each group into A and B pairs. Pair A will need to time one minute. In pair B, one of the students takes a card and tries to describe the words on the cards to their partner. They cannot say the words on the cards. The B pair can monitor to check the other pair is not cheating. Their partner must try to guess the words their partner is describing. At the end of one minute they get one point for each word correctly described. The pairs then swap roles so that Pair B is timing and Pair A is describing. You can continue this activity until all the cards have been used or after a fixed time of ten minutes. The fixed time would give each student two turns at describing the words without saying them.

 


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Conveying Passion: Bringing Literature Into the Classroom

book literature blurred

Public domain via Pixabay

Amos Paran & Pauline Robinson look at some key principles to help you bring literature into the classroom ahead of their webinar on the subject on 13th and 14th July.

I have always found literature to be an extremely powerful tool in the classroom. Maybe it’s because of my own love of literature – maybe I managed to convey some of my passion. Maybe the fact that I love literature made me try out more interesting lesson plans – for example, I think that the lessons in which I taught or used literature were much more learner centred than other lessons.  I always felt that my learners enjoyed their literature lessons and we always had great discussions about important issues.

One important point to make about literature is the distinction between ‘teaching’ literature and ‘using’ literature. I always feel uneasy about these distinctions, but one thing that is always important is not to teach about the literature. The learners must be involved with it directly.

When I think back to my own lessons, or when I have observed other teachers use literature in their classroom, it seems to me that there are a number of principles that can make such lessons a success.

Principle 1: Teacher Engagement

The first principle is probably that teachers need to be engaged in the work that they are teaching – so the choice of the literature they are using or teaching is important. In some cases teachers have little choice about the piece that they are teaching – but some teachers then can use their negative reaction as a discussion point in class.

Principle 2: Appropriate Tasks

With some literary texts you can just plunge in; others will require more preparation. But the tasks that we construct are crucial in helping the learners make meaning with the literary texts and enjoying them. And by ‘tasks’ I don’t mean any activity or any discussion – I mean a focused activity for which there is a clear tangible outcome.

Principle 3: Relevance

Relevance refers to the connection between the learners’ lives and what is happening in the society around them and the literature that we use.  Many of the works I have used in secondary classrooms concerned the construction of identity and finding one’s way in the world – a theme of huge importance to my learners.  When I taught James Joyce’s Eveline in a secondary school, I had a young woman in my class who was going through the inner turmoil that Eveline goes through and ended up marrying in the last year of secondary school only to escape her home.  Obviously, the themes which the story was bringing up were relevant not just to her but to the other learners in the class.

We can also connect literature to history and to our society’s view of historical events. For example, on July 1st 2016 we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history. Learners can be made aware of this through literary works from World War 1 by poets such as Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, both of whom were killed in the war.

Supports going up after battle to relieve the soldiers in the front trenches.

Supports going up after battle to relieve the soldiers in the front trenches. Photo: National Museum via Flickr

 

Principle 4:  Student Choice

Outside the classroom we normally choose what we want to read; if we don’t enjoy what we read, we stop. In class this doesn’t happen often, although we know that ‘As students perceive that teachers respect them enough to provide genuine choices, students increase their effort and commitment to learning’ (Guthrie & Wigfield 2000: 412). If we provide a choice for our students – for example, by offering them a choice of three or four books from which they have to choose one that the class will study – we increase their investment in the class and create a space where the learners have a voice too. This choice can be extended to other areas too.

Principle 5: Continuous Support and Engagement

Learner engagement with literary texts is not something that is achieved miraculously on day 1 of class: like other areas in teaching, this is something that we need to work on continuously. For example, bringing in a short poem once a week and devoting five or ten minutes to reading or discussing it in class can sometimes be more effective than spending a long time on one piece and analyzing it in great depth. We need to move away from what I like to call ‘the tyranny of totality’, the idea that our learners have to know everything about the piece we are learning (or indeed, that we need to be absolute experts about it!) Literature is there to be enjoyed and experienced, and it can be experienced at many levels.

We will be discussing these principles in-depth, with examples from poetry and short stories, during our webinar on July 13 and 14.

 

Bibliography

Guthrie, J. T. and Wigfield, A. (2000) Engagement and motivation in reading. In P.B. Mosenthal, M.L. Kamil, P.D. Pearson and R. Barr (eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Vol. III. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. pp. 403-422.

Amos Paran started his professional career in Israel, where he taught EFL in secondary schools and trained teachers. His main areas of interest are literature in language teaching and the teaching of reading and he has published widely in this area.

Based for many years at the University of Reading, Pauline directed language courses and taught on the MA TEFL programme. She has taught on short courses for students and teachers in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and Asia.

 

 


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A Framework for Communicative Speaking

shutterstock_297003296Tony Prince is a NILE trainer and has been Programme Manager for Presessional and Insessional courses at the University of East Anglia. Today he joins us to preview his upcoming webinar, A Framework for Communicative Speaking, and discuss clear communicative speaking for ELLs. 

Opening digression – Problems and solutions

Often what we see as a problem in the environment, actually has its roots in ourselves.

‘I keep getting interrupted when I’m trying to work.’

Well maybe that’s because you’re afraid to say no when someone asks you for help, or to challenge an ‘urgent’ email that threatens to take hours out of your planned schedule.

Before you protest – explaining how ‘I really don’t understand your context’ – recognise that the beauty of you being the problem (and by you I mean we, including me), is that you are the solution as well.

You may not have control of your options, but you do have the power to choose. There is always a choice, no matter how limited.

To the point – Taking control

What does this have to do with Speaking?

Frequently when students express frustration with their speaking, they frame it as a problem with the environment.

‘People don’t give me time to think.’

‘My classmates don’t let me speak, they just talk.’

Some re-frame this as a problem with themselves:

‘I can’t think quickly enough.’

‘I don’t feel good interrupting other people.’

But few have the insight to see themselves as the cause and the solution:

‘I need to find ways to give myself extra time to think. I wonder what phrases I could use? Should I use gesture more? Maybe it’s my expression. Perhaps I need to make it more clear that I’m thinking.’

‘What is it about me that finds it so uncomfortable to interrupt others. Are there any methods that I could use which would feel easier for me?’

Most frequently, in conversations with students about issues they’re having with their studies, I have to try and get them to understand themselves better: to take more control over what they do and how they do it.

Me: ‘It seems to me, watching the conversations, that you’re happier listening. You don’t show any signs of frustration. You sit back from what’s being said.’

Student: ‘Really?’

Me: ‘That’s how it seems.’

Student: ‘Oh. So what should I do?’

Me: ‘Well why do you think you do that?’

Student: ‘I don’t know.’

Me: ‘Well I’d say that’s what you need to find out.’

Or with a lower level student

Me: ‘You watch people speak.’

Student: ‘Yes?’

Me: ‘Why?’

Student: ‘I think slow.’

Me: ‘Why no sound?’

Student: ‘Sound?’

Me: ‘Next time, watch other people. Listen! Tell me what sound. Also think. Why no sound you?’

This is a difficult approach – for both teachers and students to take. But one of the ‘Elephants in the room’ when it comes to communicative teaching, is that what we are encouraging is intensely personal. The issues that students have with communication are often rooted in their own character. Yet much though we may know our students as individuals few teachers are willing to ask students to reflect more about what it is about themselves that is preventing them from communicating, and to suggest that such reflection is at the heart of improvement.

The webinar

You may be wondering – finally – what this has to do with the webinar that I’m going to be conducting – ‘A Framework for Communicative Speaking’.

During this webinar I’m not going to be suggesting that teachers become psychologists, or even coaches – that’s for another blog post, and webinar.

The objective here is to set out a framework that can provide students with more choice in how carry out the speaking tasks in class. The framework organizes functional language around Bloom’s taxonomy, allowing students (and teachers) to vary the cognitive demands of the speaking they do.

The intention is to provide a resource that encourages student reflection on their speaking problems by providing them with more choice as to how they (and the teacher) structure a speaking task.

Reflection + choice (on how to respond to reflection) = improvement.

If you’d like to attend this free webinar with Tony, please click on the register button below.

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