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Find your learner’s reading level | Andrew Dilger

Find your reading level

I have a question for you. Do you know your learners’ reading level in English – I mean, really know it? If your learners are halfway through an A2 coursebook, does that mean their reading level is A2-and-a-half?! The cautious ones among us would say ‘Not necessarily’; the bold ones would say ‘No’. But in an age when efficacy and assessment is all the rage in ELT, plenty of pressure is put on the teaching community (by itself, parents, and other stakeholders) to measure learners’ language skills accurately – down to the nth degree, in fact.

 The dark art of testing

Measuring reading level has always been something of a dark art, or at least a shadowy discipline. Part of the problem is that, as a receptive skill, it seems to take place inside learners’ heads. We can test comprehension, of course. And how we love to test it – with questions, gapfills, clozes, and multiple-choices, all of which require learners to skim and scan until they go cross-eyed! We often enjoy testing comprehension so much that we squeeze the life out of a text. It’s a wonder we don’t put learners off reading in English altogether.

There are other factors at play, of course – short attention spans in a fast-paced, device-driven world compromising the appeal of ‘deep reading’ is one of them, but that’s an easy target. The main issue is that most learners aren’t reading the right texts for them, and not in the right way.

Reading improves all-round ability

If learners want to improve their reading level – and benefit their all-round ability in English – then it’s vital we help them discover how to do this. And don’t just take my word for it. Research by luminaries like Richard Day and Paul Nation has suggested this for years. There are massive gains to be made by learners reading a lot in English – reading extensively for interest and pleasure. For more on this, see this article from El País (use Google Translate if your Spanish is rusty or non-existent).

Reading fluency over reading comprehension

So let’s go back to the question: Do you know your learners’ reading level? The important thing to appreciate is that I’m talking about reading fluency here. Can they read a text connectedly and understand the majority of words?

Most publishers have an online test which claims to tell learners their reading level. Take the Macmillan Readers Level Test, for example. In actual fact, it’s a series of grammar and vocabulary sentences with multiple-choice options, i.e. it doesn’t test reading fluency at all. It features prompt pictures for all the items but most are decorative rather than functional. In addition, some of the sentences are unnatural or misleading, e.g. I’ve got an ache in my throat; Did you hear the thunder last night? with the prompt picture showing lightning. The maximum level the test can give is Upper Intermediate and, if you retake it, the questions and options are all in exactly the same order… so you can improve instantly by virtue of having done the test already.

A tool instead of a test

Here at OUP we’ve come up with something different and something new. And we’d like you and your learners to decide how useful it is. For a start, we’re not calling it a test – it’s a tool. A semantic difference perhaps, but an important one. This isn’t a grammar check based on a random text, but something which genuinely attempts to gauge how fluent learners are at reading a page of a published story.

How does it do this? With a disarmingly simple innovation. Learners themselves decide whether they know the meanings of the words or not. They also decide whether a page of a story at a certain level is ‘Too easy’, ‘Too difficult’, or ‘OK’. This is known as the Goldilocks Principle and is common in cognitive science and developmental psychology.

‘But students will cheat!’ I hear you cry. If they do, they’re only cheating themselves because they’ll be shown a range of stories at the wrong level. It’s like buying clothes – why would you choose trousers which are two sizes too big if they fall down round your ankles? Instead, what learners need is something that ‘fits’ – something that’s right for them at that stage in their development. This means being able to read confidently at a comfortable level.

What’s the point?

After all, the point of learners finding their reading level isn’t so they can brandish it on a certificate or boast about it on social media. The point is to open up a world of texts, stories, and information which they will find digestible and rewarding – even life-changing.

If YOUR learners want to find their reading level in English, they can try our new tool here. Why don’t YOU try it, too? It’s free and takes less than 10 minutes. Because it’s a beta version, we’re also interested in getting feedback about ways to improve it, so please ask your learners to complete the survey too. Happy reading!                      

Find your reading level button

 


Andrew Dilger is a Managing Editor at Oxford University Press. He has been involved in English language teaching as a teacher, trainer, and editor for over a quarter of a century. He is passionate about the power of reading and claims to have read something every day of his life since he first went to school.


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Well-being, Intercultural Competence and Citizenship in ELT | ELTOC 2020

We are living in exciting times! As language teachers, we are in a privileged position to open up our learners to new ideas and instil important human values while at the same time teaching them a new language that will provide access to a whole new global world! Many of you are probably already aware of the notion of integrating academic content and language learning; that is, integrating non-linguistic and linguistic aims in sustainable ways that do not compromise the development of either skillset or overburden us as educators. In this blog, and especially in my ELTOC presentation with Oxford University Press on February 28, I would like to introduce you to the idea of using the same interweaving of linguistic and nonlinguistic goals in your language teaching—but in this case, the nonlinguistic goals include emotional self-regulation, intercultural competence and citizenship.

Emotional Self-Regulation

According to the Position Paper, Global Skills: Creating Empowered Citizens for the 21st Century (2019), emotional self-regulation is the ability to recognize, identify, and understand one’s emotions and their functions. It includes an awareness of regulation strategies for managing emotions appropriately and it is a basis for wellbeing. Wellbeing involves being able to find supportive social connections and a sense of purpose. It also entails awareness of and engagement in positive physical and mental health practices

However, added benefits surface beyond mere human contentment when teachers focus on their learners’ emotions.  Recent research suggests that attending to the socio-emotional domains of the whole person enhances learning in traditional subjects and academic achievement and promotes positive capabilities in the future workplace (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Steca, & Malone, 2006; Sammons et al., 2007 Judge & Bono, 2001; Judge, Thoresen, Bono, & Patton, 2001). This means that when we interweave well-being goals in our language teaching, we actually improve learning as well!  How amazing is that!  If you would like to find out more information about this marriage of well-being with language learning, what we are calling ‘Positive Language Education’, click here.

For ELTOC 2020, I am going to provide hands-on teaching ideas for developing well-being and emotional self-regulation that include, among others:

*Working with learners’ signature strengths (for a preview: https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths)

*Gratitude and counting blessings

*Random acts of kindness

*Finding silver linings

Intercultural Competence

Intercultural competence, another element addressed in the Global Skills (2019) document mentioned above, addresses the abilities learners require to relate with diverse others. The ability to manoeuvre cultural differences peacefully and imaginatively is a survival issue to flourishing in a global world—and one that language learners in particular, must manage. Interestingly, being interculturally competent is intimately related to one’s emotional regulation. Although self-regulation includes one’s ability to look inward, recognize, and deal with one’s own emotions, intercultural competence is dependent upon being able to identify and work with the emotions of diverse others.  Because emotion is most accurately displayed through the nonverbal channel of communication, my ELTOC presentation will provide hands-on ideas about how teachers might raise their language learners’ awareness of the encoding and decoding of nonverbal behaviour, and thus becoming more interculturally competent.

The hands-on teaching ideas I will share include conveying and interpreting intercultural messages via the following codes:

  • Gesture
  • Facial expression
  • Vocal cues
  • Space and touch

Citizenship  

Social responsibility, both locally and globally, is at the heart of citizenship.  Inextricably intertwined with advocating for the elimination of discrimination and respect for diversity, it also encompasses sustainable living practices.  With that in mind, my ELTOC presentation in February will touch upon a variety of teaching ideas inspired by UNESCO’s 17 sustainability goals (https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html):

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13: Climate Action

GOAL 14: Life Below Water

GOAL 15: Life on Land

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal


Tammy spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Tammy Gregersen is currently teaching and researching at the American University of Sharjah where she also coordinates their Masters in TESOL program. She has co-authored/co-edited several books, with three more in press on topics such as individual differences, nonverbal communication, positive psychology in the language classroom and language teacher education.

Tammy has presented at conferences and taught in graduate programs across the globe which deems an incredible privilege because it taps into her passions for travelling and exploring new cultures.


References

  • Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Steca, P., & Malone, P. S. (2006). Teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs as determinants of job satisfaction and students’ academic achievement: A study at the school level  Journal of School Psychology, 44(6), 473–490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. jsp.2006.09.001
  • Claxton, G. (2008). What’s the point of school?: Rediscovering the heart of education. Oneworld Publications.
  • Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits—self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability—with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80–92. https:// doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.86.1.80
  • Judge, T. A., Thoresen, C. J., Bono, J. E., & Patton, G. K. (2001). The job satisfaction–job performance relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 127(3), 376–407. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.127.3.376
  • Mercer, S., MacIntyre, P.D., Gregersen, T., & Talbot, K. (2019). Positive Language Education: Combining Positive Education and Language Education. Theory and Practice of Second Language Acquisition, 4 (2), pp. 11–31.
  • Sammons, P., Day, C., Kington, A., Gu, Q., Stobart, G., & Smees, R. (2007). Exploring variations in teachers’ work, lives and their effects on pupils: Key findings and implications from a longitudinal mixed‐method study. British Educational Research Journal, 33(5), 681–701. https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920701582264
  • Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293–311. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054980902934563

 

 

 


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What’s new in the new Oxford 3000™️? | ELTOC 2020

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.

I’m sure you can think of more.

The items in blue are all now headwords in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online but were not included in the seventh edition of the dictionary, published in 2005. These words, things and concepts either did not exist or barely existed at that time.

The influence of smartphones and social media can also be clearly seen in the revised Oxford 3000.  Words new to the list in the area of media and technology include app, blog, download, edit, scan and update – which all existed in 2005 but have become much more central to our lives and communication since then.

The two criteria we used to determine which words should be included in the revised Oxford 3000 were frequency and relevance.  Frequency was measured in the 2-billion-word Oxford English Corpus. Relevance was determined by measuring frequency in a specially created corpus of ELT Secondary and Adult coursebooks. This enabled us to capture those words – such as cafe and T-shirt – that occur frequently in teaching texts and are familiar to learners from a low level, but are not among the most frequent words in a general corpus.

Focus on topics

One result of this increased focus on the texts that learners are actually using to study English is an increase in vocabulary connected with topics that are popular in ELT courses and exams, including sports (athlete, basketball, champion, skiing, stadium, tennis and more), culture (celebrity, classical, creative, gallery, historic, portrait, sculpture, venue), film and TV (cartoon, detective, episode, genre, script, setting) and travel and transport (airline, crew, destination, tourism).

Overall, about 200 words are new to the list. Typically, they are more concrete, lower-level words than the words they have displaced. All the texts in the coursebook corpus are from courses that have been carefully graded against the CEFR. This has made it possible for us to analyse the profile of different vocabulary items across the different CEFR levels and to assign a level to each word. The levels are for guidance only – it is impossible to be definitive about the level of any individual word. Different learners may well encounter the same word at different levels. But broadly speaking, the level assigned represents the level at which we would expect most learners to recognize and understand the word if they read it or hear it spoken – even if they do not yet use it in their own writing or speaking.

The most important words to learn in English

In the revised Oxford 3000, 900 words have been graded at A1 level, 800 at A2, 700 at B1 and 600 B2. This tapering profile is deliberate because this is intended as a core vocabulary, not a complete vocabulary. The more learners progress, the more they will want to supplement this core vocabulary with items that are off-list. It is impossible to prescribe what this additional vocabulary should be: it will vary according to the needs and interests of each individual learner. The core list, on the other hand, provides a firm foundation for all learners, whatever their learning context. To learn more about what is important in a core vocabulary, see Julie Moore’s blog here.

To see the full, revised Oxford 3000 visit www.oxford3000.com. Here you will also find the brand new Oxford 5000 – an extension of the list for advanced level learners, including 2,000 more words at B2-C1 level. Also available is the new Oxford Phrase List – 750 common phrases including idioms, phrasal verbs, collocations and prepositional phrases, graded from A1 to C1.


Diana spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Diana Lea taught English to learners and trainee teachers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and the UK before joining Oxford University Press in 1994, where she works in the English Language Teaching Division on dictionaries and other vocabulary resources for learners of English. She is the editor of the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus and the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English. Most recently she has been working on Oxford Learner’s Word Lists and preparing the tenth edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, to be published in January 2020.

 


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5 English Teaching apps for 21st Century ESL Teachers

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 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.

 

  1. Say It: English Pronunciation – 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.

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. LingoKids – 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!

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. Oxford Collocations Dictionary – 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.

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – a digitised edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary that has already helped 100 million English language learners worldwide. This app shows learners what words mean, learn how to say them with high quality audio, and know how to use them in example sentences.

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. Practical English Usage – 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!

Coming soon for Android and iOS devices.

 

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!


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10 Invaluable Back To School Ideas For ELT Teachers

Teacher holding Back To School sign

I have a theory: ‘A teacher’s stress level at the beginning of the year is inversely proportional to his/her years of experience’. It does ring true, doesn’t it? It’s also true that the more one prepares in advance the smoother the first days will be and the easier it is to cope with contingencies. The purpose of this blog post is to help reduce ‘back to school’ anxiety for novice teachers and experienced colleagues alike, with one or two new ideas to add to your ‘bag of tricks’ so as to give flagging enthusiasm a boost. I hope you find them useful!

1. Set Back To School objectives for your students

Ask yourself: what would you like your students to achieve by the end of the year? Setting back to school objectives is hugely important because it gives your students something to aim for. Here are some tips: 

  • Make sure your students can relate to your objectives (e.g. [for Business Students] ‘By the end of the course, you will be able to give presentations at least as well as your colleagues from the UK and the US’). 
  • Aim high. Expectations act like self-fulfilling prophecies (provided you believe in them).
  • Make sure your objectives are measurable. How will students know they have achieved a particular objective?
  • Ensure buy-in. As teachers, we often automatically assume that what we desire for our students is what they want too. Not so! We need to discuss these objectives and get our students on board.

2. Set objectives for yourself!

Don’t forget about your own development. It can be all too easy to pour all of your energy into the development of others, but self-care and personal growth are essential if you want to be the best you can be. Worried you won’t have time? Try these everyday development activities for busy teachers.

3. Prepare a stress-free Back To School environment

Prepare a learning environment that energises, rather than one that demotivates and increases anxiety. High levels of pressure are counter-productive to learning, and creating a safe space for students will give them the confidence to push themselves. Watch the webinar to find out how you can manage your own wellbeing and how this can be transferred to help students in the classroom.

4. Prepare your Back To School classroom

Perhaps you would like to encourage more open discussion among your students this year, or just fancy changing things up to help returning students (and yourself) begin anew. The correct back to school classroom layout can also help you manage your classroom more effectively, as you can design it to support the tone you want to set in lessons (see below).

5. Revisit your bag of tricks (what do you mean you don’t have one?)

OK – a ‘bag of tricks’ is a collection of games/activities/tasks that you have used in the past, your students enjoy and which you know and trust (see your free downloadable activities below). You might think that there is no reason to write down ideas you are so familiar with. Wrong! Time and again, when I get frustrated while planning a lesson, I go through my list only to marvel at how activity X – which was my favourite only a year ago – had completely slipped my mind. If something works, write it down. The faintest pencil beats even the best memory!

6. Revisit your list of sites

Looking for material or ready-made activities to use with your students? A site like Breaking News English for instance offers graded texts, based on topical issues, each accompanied by dozens of exercises for you to choose from. For Listening material, the British Council site has a huge range of excellent clips for all levels. If you or your students are movie fans then Film English might be just the thing for you, or if you believe, as many do, that students learn best through songs then a site like Lyrics Training is right up your street! As for comedy fans, there is always the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube…  😊

7. Prepare templates instead of lesson plans

Lesson plans are good, but Lesson Templates are far more versatile! A Lesson Template is a set of steps that you can use repeatedly with different materials each time. For example, a Reading Skills Template can be used with a new text each time (see this one for instance; you may even choose to use this particular set of activities for the first day of school!). Prepare a template for each of the four skills, and an extra one for a Vocabulary Lesson. Seeing is believing! Here are examples of a Writing Skills template, and a template combining texts and activities from Breaking News English with Quizlet.

8. Support yourself with apps

Learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom! Apps like Say It: English Pronunciation, LingoKids and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary can deliver time and time again whenever you want to give your students homework with a twist! You can find all of these on iOS and Android.

9. Set the tone in the classroom

Do it from day one. Make sure each lesson contains at least one fun activity (a song/game/funny video clip etc.). It is best if this is linked to your lesson plan, but it does not have to be; motivation trumps linguistic considerations (I hope OUP do not fire me for this… )! Don’t avoid using your best activities early on for fear of running out of interesting things to do later. If your students come to see you as a fun/creative teacher, this will colour their perception of whatever you do later. Plus, by doing exciting things in class you set a standard for yourself and this will do wonders for your professional development!

10. Have a great first lesson!

Below you can download some back to school activities for your first class (feel free to tweak the activities or play with the order as you see fit). Given the number of things a teacher has to do at the beginning of the academic year, it is comforting to know that at least the Lesson Plan for the first session is out of the way!

 

 


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.

This post is a collaboration between Nick Michelioudakis and Oxford University Press.