These days, there might only be one topic of conversation in the news, on social media, and in our own chats to friends and family. Along with new ways of working, teaching and learning, we are even adopting a new lexicon to help us talk about it. My own personal “Health” topic vocabulary has grown to include such words and phrases as self-isolation, social distancing and herd immunity. Continue reading
A changing language
The Oxford ELT Dictionaries team has relaunched its core word list, the Oxford 3000, billed as ‘the most important words to learn in English’, 14 years on from its initial launch in 2005.
So let’s start with a brainstorm: what has changed in the last 14 years? Jot down any words or phrases that occur to you. Here are some images to get you started. Continue reading
The Curse: When Adam was expelled from Eden, it seems that God had an afterthought… ‘[Because of what thou hast done]… in sorrow shalt thou eat of [the ground], thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee …in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread… Oh – and thou shalt have to study phrasal verbs as well’ (Genesis 3:14 – 19). Yes, I do realise that the last bit is an addition to the original text, but I am sure that this is how many learners of English feel…
What is so special about phrasal verbs? Actually not much. Phrasal verbs are just like any other lexical items in English; that said, there are some good reasons why learners find them such a pain:
- They are verbs and as such they are less concrete and ‘free-standing’ than most nouns (a hammer is a hammer, but what is ‘look up’?);
- Many phrasal verbs tend to have more than one meaning (e.g. make up [an excuse] / make up [as in ‘kiss and make up’]);
- The verb often has no direct connection with the meaning (e.g. ‘What have you been getting up to?’);
- The fact that there are many, unrelated phrasal verbs with a similar form which mean totally different things (e.g. make up/make up for/make for etc.).
How to approach phrasal verbs: Here is the main idea: just because phrasal verbs can be difficult for our learners that does not mean that we have to come up with new ways of presenting or practising these lexical items. In fact, I would like to argue that in trying too hard to help our learners we often do more harm than good (yes, there is going to be a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in my upcoming webinar).
So – why should I attend this session? As it happens there are a number of new ways to help our learners. In my webinar, I am going to recommend three research-based strategies discovered by cognitive scientists which are certain to make your teaching far more effective. In fact, I would go so far as to say that by using these simple strategies, you are going to become at least 30% more efficient in teaching phrasal verbs. Here is an added bonus: these strategies also work for anything else you might want to teach your students – whether this is tenses, writing, functional language, history, biology, economics – anything! Here’s a taster of how it works.
Generation: This strategy involves asking the students to do something which they lack the knowledge to do. This could be asking them to solve a type of maths problem they have never encountered before or to list the reasons for the French Revolution which they have not been taught. In our field, this could involve asking students to describe the picture of a living room when they do not yet have the vocabulary to do so, or to write a formal email when they have not been shown how to do it. The idea is that the frustration students experience actually prepares their mind to receive the new knowledge and heightens their level of alertness so they experience an ‘A-ha!’ moment when they see the right answer or the right model. ‘Unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem encourage deep processing of the answer when it is later supplied, creating fertile ground for its encoding, in a way that simply reading the answer cannot. It is better to solve a problem than to memorise a solution. It is better to attempt a solution and supply the incorrect answer than not to make the attempt’ (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel 2014 – p. 88).
Retrieval: Retrieval is the single most effective strategy cognitive scientists have managed to discover. Here is the discovery in a nutshell: whereas most of us teachers focus on input, thinking that the best way to help our students is to structure the information in such a way that it ‘goes in’ more easily, it turns out that students learn best by trying to retrieve the information, that is when they try to get information out of their heads! ‘Retrieval practice occurs when learners recall and apply multiple examples of previously learned knowledge or skills after a period of forgetting’ (Agarwal & Bain 2019 – p. 37). Put another way, you just ask your students to remember things you have taught them. The simplest form of retrieval is when you just ask your class to write down everything they can remember at the end of the session. The more often we do this, the better. As cognitive scientists have shown, the problem with ‘forgetting’ is not so much that we forget – we just cannot access the information inside our head. ‘The more times we draw information from memory, the more deeply we carve out the pathway to it and the more we make that piece of information available for use in the future’ (Lang 2016 – p. 28).
Spacing: The last strategy is the simplest thing you have ever heard: researchers have discovered that while massed practice (cramming) helps students remember things better in the short term (which is why they invariably do this before exams), in the long term this leads to very little learning. Instead, if one were to study exactly the same material but spread the study over a number of shorter sessions, allowing some time to elapse between them, the difference in the resulting long-term retention can be truly impressive. In Carey’s words ‘nothing in learning science comes close in terms of immediate, significant, and reliable improvements to learning’ (Carey 2014 – p. 76). It seems that when we stop studying and we engage in something else, our brain keeps working in the background, organising things and making connections without us realising it. ‘When we let time pass and space things out, students’ knowledge has the time to solidify and ‘simmer’ ‘ (Agarwal & Bain 2019 – p. 100). So, instead of asking students to engage in retrieval at the end of the lesson, you might ask them to do so at the beginning of the next lesson. Here is another idea: instead of giving students homework on what you did during the lesson, why not give them homework on something you did the previous week?
What about those phrasal verbs? So how can we apply all these ideas? How can we use them to facilitate the learning of phrasal verbs? Well, if I were to tell you everything here, you would not need to attend ELTOC 2020, would you?
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Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been active in ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner, presenter and teacher trainer. He has travelled and given seminars and workshops in many countries all over the world.
He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology and which have appeared in numerous newsletters and magazines.
His areas of interest include Student Motivation, Learner Independence, Teaching one-to-one, and Humour.
Agarwal, P. & Bain, P. (2019) Powerful Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Brown, P., Roediger, H., McDaniel, M. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge Massachusetts. Belknap Harvard
Carey, B. (2014) How We Learn. London: Macmillan
Lang, J. (2016) Small Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Language learning no longer stops when students leave the classroom.
Smartphones allow language learners to carry the entire English language around with them in their pocket, soaking up new vocabulary through music, video, games, and social media.
A new wave of English Teaching apps have launched designed specifically for those teachers and students keen to harness their mobile devices to create more structured and comprehensive learning experiences outside of the classroom. Make sure you have the latest! Here are 5 essential apps from Oxford University Press that you and your students need to download.
Hear the Oxford English model, see the soundwave, then record and compare your pronunciation. Comes with 100 free British English words, 4 tests and 12 sounds, taken from the best-selling English File course and Oxford’s dictionaries. It’s quick, effective and fun to use.
A learning app for students from 2 to 8 years of age, for learning English in a fun, playful way. In Lingokids you’ll find the best English songs for children, the most fun videos with its characters, audiobooks, and printable worksheets for each topic, interactive exercises, and an endless supply of activities to learn over 3,000 words in English. Here are 10 ways you could use LingoKids with your students. If you’re using Mouse and Me, Jump in! or Show and Tell, you can access course content on the app using your coursebook!
Perfect for your learners that need to improve their accuracy and fluency, enabling them to express their ideas naturally and convincingly whether spoken or written. The Oxford Collocations Dictionary has over 250,000 word combinations, all based on analysis of the Oxford English Corpus.
The world’s bestselling advanced-level dictionary for learners of English, in an app! This app helps learners to expand their vocabulary and develop more natural sounding English, and practise their pronunciation by listening to real voice audio for words, recording and playing it back.
Practical English Usage is a world bestseller and a vital reference tool that helps teachers and higher-level learners with common language problems in English. Practical English Usage Fourth Edition is now available as an app, making it quicker and easier to look up the 600+ entries!
Extra apps that are worth exploring.
- YouTube Kids – YouTube Kids is a safer and simpler way for kids to explore the world through online video – from their favourite shows and music to learning how to build a model volcano, and everything in between. There’s also a whole suite of parental controls, so you can tailor the experience to your family’s needs.
- TinyTap – TinyTap offers the world’s largest collection of educational games, all handmade by teachers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for…create it yourself! On TinyTap, anyone can turn their ideas into educational games (without having to code) and share them with the world.
- Google Expeditions – This is a virtual reality teaching tool that lets you lead or join immersive virtual trips all over the world — get up close with historical landmarks, dive underwater with sharks, even visit outer space! Built for the classroom and small group use, Google Expeditions allows a teacher acting as a “guide” to lead classroom-sized groups of “explorers” through collections of 360° and 3D images while pointing out interesting sights along the way. Instant, personalised audio-visual feedback will help your students identify precisely what they need to improve. They can even share the recording and the soundwave image of their pronunciation with you via email, directly from the app.
- Flipgrid – Flipgrid helps learners of all ages find their voices, share their voices and respect the diverse voices of others. Educators spark discussions by posting Topics to a classroom, school, professional learning community, or public Grid. Students record, upload, view, react, and respond to each other through short videos. Flipgrid empowers student voice and builds global empathy through shared learning processes, stories and perspectives.
Interest in Mobile Apps for English Language Teaching?
Read Nik’s Focus Paper on Mobile Apps for English Language Teaching for more practical tips on mobile learning and useful apps for the ELT classroom!
First of all, 🙏 to those that attended my webinar. I hope as well as learning a few things about emoji, you had as much fun as I did! The webinar was heavily reliant on audience participation and you certainly all got stuck in with your sharing, answering and questioning. There were a few things that I didn’t quite have the time to go into more detail with, so I’ll try and address them now.
Are ambiguous emojis good to use in class?
The hands together emoji is a good example of one of the main talking points that came up in the chat box during the sessions – the ambiguity of meaning. Is it ‘thank you’, ‘thankfulness’, ‘praying’, or ‘two hands high fiving’?
A number of you felt this ambiguity might be a disadvantage in using them in class, but actually that is one of my drivers for using them. The fact that they can be used with both an ‘official’ meaning and one given by a peer group makes many of the activities workable. If you think about words, they have a dictionary meaning and often have a meaning given by use. Take the word ‘sick’ for example, which, as well as meaning ‘ill’, is used by teenagers to mean ‘cool’. Emojis are the same in this respect and this is why, in my opinion, they work well for the ‘agree a meaning’ type activities that we did in the session. The more ambiguous an emoji might be, the more the students have to discuss and agree.
Aren’t some emojis too hard to understand?
In answer to this question, just look at how much language generated during the webinar. Is it a name badge? A tulip? Or something on fire? The point is not what it means, but what it could mean, and how that encourages the students to put forward justification of use and negotiate with their classmates to reach consensus. Contrary to what a couple of you said there is every point in “using those which are hard for understanding”. Additionally, how do we decide what is hard for understanding? Like words, some students will know the meaning of some, and others won’t. While, roughly speaking, the 2600 Emoji are the same the world over, different nationalities and different cultures use them with different frequencies. Again, for me this is something to be embraced. Whether I am teaching a monolingual or multilingual group, there is a lot that can be gained from asking about what emoji they use. There is a personal engagement into wanting to tell the teacher something about themselves. This why activities like creating a ‘user guide’ can be successful, a chance for the students to show knowledge in areas they might be ‘wiser’ in than their teachers.
Can gifs or small videos be used for similar activities to those with emoji?
As we touched upon towards the end of the webinar, emojis are evolving thanks to new technology such as Apple’s Animoji. This led some of you to ask whether gifs or even small videos could be used for similar activities to those we did in the session. As I said then, the Emoji is the ‘hook’ on which to hang a number of activities. For example, we used pairs of them to create sentences as a way of practicing grammar. An activity like this is not dependent on the emoji themselves, but a stimulus for the sentence. As such it doesn’t really matter what the stimulus is as long as it can be used to produce language. Certainly, many gifs carry the ambiguity needed for negotiated meaning type activities and, as they are often devoid of language themselves, could be a catalyst for grammar production. I think though developments such as Animojis are in themselves more akin to using an avatar than an emoji. Since they are animated and can contain voice they are somewhat different to the two-dimensional static image of an emoji. Like emoji, there is a lot written about avatar use in language learning, not least in the psychological aspects of students being able to take on a new identity. At the end of the session we saw quick examples of how we can use Animojis – and even with augmented reality – for developing character description, clothes vocabulary, and to create ‘where am I type activities’. Hopefully in a future webinar we can address such avatar activities in more detail.
Don’t emoji erode the quality of language?
I’ll end by addressing those of you concerned about death of language. Whenever I do such a session there is always at least one person concerned that things such as emoji are eroding the quality of language. In my first blog post I mentioned the fact that it used to be text messages that got the blame. I think it is well documented that language is always changing, and language always finds way to shorten itself or adapt to be effective in the chosen form of communication. However, I wasn’t suggesting that we should use emojis as a replacement for language or even writing. At the end of the day we are language teachers, it is not teaching the meaning of emojis that is key but tapping into images that can help students generate and retain language. We use pictures in our coursebook to help us teach meaning, and we use things such flashcards to help reinforce and produce. For me, emoji are simply another image that we can use. If they help students remember a word, produce a sentence or get them engaged in a piece of writing then they have done their job.
Anyway, I set the challenge for the webinar of getting you to speak emoji. I hope now that the session is over, you can happily say that you do.
Until next ⏳, 👋.
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.