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Developing Reading and Writing Skills | Q&A

Thinking back on the Developing Reading and Writing Skills webinars, it was wonderful to see so many teachers participating from all around the world. Thank you all for your participation, sharing your own ideas, and all your wonderful questions. While we managed to discuss a number of your questions during the sessions, this blog post is here to answer some of those that we did not manage to get through.

Webinar Activities

Could the activities we looked at be used with other age groups?

The content of the webinar was focused on young learners, however all the activities we looked at work just as well with teens and even adults. The ‘Who? What? Why?’ activity where students analyse the writer’s purpose, for example, can be used in exactly the same way with all age groups, the only thing that would change is the text you use in class.

Similarly, the activity below, designed to encourage students to respond to the text by sharing facts, ideas and questions that have occurred to them, can be used with very little variation. If you are working with older students you may wish to take out the visual prompts of the book, light bulb and question mark and replace them with question prompts, such as ‘What have you learned?’, ‘What ideas does the text give you?’, ‘What questions do you have?’ However, this is in no way necessary, and many adult learners will find the images just as useful for prompting their ideas as the young learners do.

reading and writing activities

How frequently we should use these activities in class?

My answer to that is as often as you can! Getting into the habit of looking at reading texts as pieces of writing is important, and these activities are designed to help your students to do just that. I recommend repeating these tasks at least once every couple of weeks. By doing this, the students will quickly learn what is expected of them, and because the texts we are using in class are different every time, the students don’t get bored. If you are worried about repeating the same activities with your class you can always vary the way the students are working (pairs, groups, individual, or whole class discussion), or the way they present their answers: Oral presentations, mind maps, graphic organisers, or written paragraphs would all be good alternatives.

Error Correction

There were quite a few questions regarding correcting mistakes in our students’ writing, so I shall attempt to answer them all together. When and how we correct our students’ writing will depend on the objective of the writing task that you set. A free writing task, for example, would typically not be corrected at all, as these tasks are usually a tool for thinking. However, if we are practicing specific skills or writing task types then we will need to factor in some level of error correction.

One of the biggest benefits of written English is that students can go back over their work, and think about and correct what they have written. Like many teachers, in my classroom I use error correction codes to enable students to self-correct their writing. Allowing students to correct themselves gives them the opportunity to think about their writing, and put all that they have learned in class into practice. Of course, before you start using a correction code you need to let your students know that this is what you will be doing. Make sure that the correction code you use is on the wall of the classroom and that your students have their own copies for working at home, that way they will become familiar with it.

Of course, what we correct is a more complicated question. Younger learners, and those who are just starting to learn English are likely to make many mistakes in their writing, and when our students get their work back from the teacher it can seem very disheartening to find that there are many errors to correct. One way to avoid this is limit the type of errors you are correcting. If you are using a course book, or a writing skills book with your students then it can also work as a guide for your error correction.

Let’s say you are working through Oxford Skills World with your students, unit by unit they will be learning new writing skills, and these are the areas that we should focus on in our marking. So, if they are learning how to use full stops and capital letters in unit one, then when we take their writing homework in we would correct only the mistakes connected to this skill. When the student has corrected these errors, you can choose to move onto another type of mistake for the second draft, or save other error types for a later piece of writing. You can change the number of error types you look at per draft depending on the needs of your students and the class objectives.

Recommended Reading

Finally, several of you asked for some recommended reading and books for further information. If you are looking for guidance for teachers, then the OUP ELT blog is a great place to start! You will find plenty of interesting and useful articles right here, like Gareth Davies article Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing  or Philip Haines’ 25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class.

There are also plenty of great professional development books available with ideas for improving your students reading and writing. I really like the Into the Classroom series from OUP, as it has plenty of practical activities which are easy to use in class.

Thank you again to those of you who attended the webinars, and good luck with your reading and writing!


Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and consultant based in Brighton. She has worked in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and has worked in China and Turkey, as well as her native UK, where she completed her Diploma in TESOL at the University of Brighton. Charlotte’s key areas of interest are young learners and the use of reading as a tool for language learning.


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Creating Extension Activities

Extension activities
This year’s Headway Scholarship task is to create an extension activity for your class. To get you started, here are some ideas for creating some good quality extension activities.

From a quick activity to fill in the last 5-10 minutes of class, to a review game, or even a full-blown project; extension activities are a way to further the learning aims for a lesson. For this reason, extension activities should always have a clear link to the activities which have come before.

Before starting, decide on the aim of your extension activity. An aim could be:

  • To give students more practice with a grammar structure or vocabulary because they haven’t quite ‘got it’ yet
  • To explore a particular topic further
  • To review material from the lesson or unit
  • To assess where students are in their learning

Whatever the aim, be sure to link the activity to the language, skills or topic that you want to extend, assess or review.

  1. Personalise it – An extension activity is a good way for students to relate the topic to themselves. In this way, the topic becomes more relevant and can make communication about the topic more meaningful. Students also tend to remember more when the language or topic is personalised. A simple extension activity would be to ask students their opinion about a topic: What do you think about…? Do you agree with…? Which do/would you prefer…? What would you do about…? More extensive activities might include students creating a set of questions and interviewing their partner, writing a personal response to a topic, or taking their own photos and creating an oral narrative using an app such as ‘fotobabble’.
  2. Integrate higher order thinking skills – Thinking skills can be categorised into lower-order (remembering, understanding, applying) and higher-order (analysing, evaluating and creating). If students have been learning vocabulary, they have most likely been learning the definition (remembering), seeing the new words in context (understanding), and completing gapped sentences with the words (applying). An analysing extension activity might ask students to categorise the new words (you can provide the categories, or students could create their own categories), or you might ask students to compare the words to other words – for example, finding synonyms and deciding what the difference in nuance is between the words. If the words are used in a reading or listening text, you could ask students why certain words or phrases were used (evaluating). Students might also use the words creatively – in writing their own sentences (creating).
  3. Review regularly. Hermann Ebbinghaus famously showed how much we forget over time, and how memory can improve with regular revision. Have a set of extension activities for the purpose of review in your teacher’s toolkit. Flashcards, revision games, spelling games, and pronunciation activities are all examples of extensions for quick revision. An extension activity can also serve to review what has come before in previous units.
  4. Give some choice – All classes have a mix of students with different abilities and strengths, so it’s a good idea to give students options to choose from according to what they feel they can do. For example, you might want students to show their understanding of a text. One option could be to write a summary (more language needed), another might be to create an infographic or timeline (less language needed). Another way to increase choice and provide differentiated instruction is to vary how much students have to produce. For example, you could ask students to write 1-3 true sentences about themselves and 1 false one. They then read their sentences to each other and guess which one is false.
  5. Have some time extenders up your sleeve – for when you finish your lesson plan and still have 5-10 minutes left, or when you have fast finishers. Some standard activities include: (1) Students write 1-3 questions or sentences using the grammar structure they’ve been studying; (2) Pairs write 3-5 gapped sentences with the vocabulary from the section. They swap with another pair and complete each other’s sentences; (3) Students work in pairs – each student changes 5 words in a reading text. Student A begins reading the text. When student B hears a word that is different from what is in the text, s/he says, ‘stop’, quotes the word from the text, and then takes over reading where student A left off.
  6. Integrate an informal assessment – An extension activity might simply be a way to informally assess whether students have grasped the language or skill aim of the lesson. One way to do this is with ‘can do’… statements. Write a list of ‘can dos’ based on your lesson aim on the board for students to copy. For example, if the aim of the lesson is “Students will be able to order a meal from a menu.”, then the ‘can do’ statement might be: “I can order a meal from a menu”. Students tick ü the things they feel they can do. You can then discuss these or collect them up. No ticks = need revision. Another simple assessment is a “ticket out the door”. If, for example, you have been working on a certain language point, you could ask students to write 3 sentences using that language. These are collected up and used to assess whether or not you need to spend more time on the language point in subsequent lessons.
  7. Make it different, interactive or just plain fun. Extension activities that focus on interaction or competition can be very engaging, and can make a change from the norm. Try some team competitions that focus on language, skills or topics. One time-honoured example is a grammar auction, in which teams ‘buy’ sentences they think are correct. Teachers can also create board games based on language in the units, or play an on-line quiz using an app such as Quizlet.
  8. Turn it into a project – Projects are a great way to integrate a number of skills, including the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. They also cater for mixed abilities because students can do them at their own language level. Projects should start with a question that gets students interested in finding out more. At this point, they may ask more questions or make hypotheses. Students should then do some research to find out the answers to their questions. Research can include surveys, interviews or internet searches. You could even invite a knowledgeable speaker into the classroom. Once they have done their research, students then decide how they will show it. What is important here is that they present their finished product to an audience – another class, the whole school, the headmaster, or parents, for example. When planning a project, think of the aims and work backwards.

If you would like to try some of the ideas above with your students, download my try this in class document for even more activity ideas and tips.

If you are interested in creating your own Headway extension activity to enter the Headway Scholarship 2018, and win an all-expenses paid place on the two-week English Language Teachers’ Summer Seminar at Oxford University next summer, click here take a look at my Headway sample entry form, and check out my video explanation below.


Find out more about the Headway Scholarship 2018 here. The competition closes on February 12th 2018, so do get your entries in as soon as you can. Good luck!


Stacey Hughes works as a teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts, and currently volunteers as a teacher for FELLOW in Oxford. She has recently run an introduction to teacher training course for the Oxford Department of Education Summer School. Stacey has written a number of blogs, online student exercises and teacher support materials.


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Everyday development activities for busy teachers | Learning in the rush

Development activities

Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP! In this article, he examines the everyday development opportunities that teachers could be missing out on. 

When I work with groups of teachers, we often build a concept map of what has influenced us in our development as teachers. What do you think are the most influential factors? Our pre-service courses? INSET? Methodology books? OUP webinars?

 

Well, it’s none of those. Whether in Djibouti, the Ukraine, Vietnam, or anywhere in between, the two most influential factors are consistently:

  1. Our own experience of teaching;
  2. Our colleagues.

Surprised? Probably not. In fact, given the amount of time we spend in the classroom and with our colleagues in comparison to how much time we spend on training courses and reading methodology books, it’s quite obvious that this should be the case.

If this is true, we should be learning all the time. We teach all day. We talk to colleagues in-between lessons. We have all we need to develop just by doing the job, don’t we?

I’m not sure we do. You see, experience just isn’t enough.

This is because we only tend to notice certain experiences. Simply, we don’t see things as ‘they are’; we see things as ‘we are’ (Anais Nin). We have a tendency to interpret information so that it fits into our existing frameworks of understanding. So, if I think my students are generally unmotivated, I will tend to notice behaviour which I believe proves this. I might miss things that show otherwise.

I see what I expect to see. I experience what I expect to experience. And then I get tremendous satisfaction when I can say ‘I told you so’ or ‘I knew’ that would happen’.

It’s a little like living in a box. Clearly you can’t go far if you stay in a box! But to be successful, I’m in no way suggesting that you must leave the box.

Boxes are comfortable places to be. They’re safe. You can focus on what you’re happy with; you can enjoy yourself and increase your confidence. It’s great to be able to do what you do, do it well, and then celebrate that certainty. I know I’ve had many happy ‘box periods’ in my career where I focused on the enjoyment of honing my existing skills. And when our professional lives are busy, and we teach and work in a constant rush, it’s sometimes good to have that security.

Yet we can’t escape the fact that we’re teachers. We believe in learning. And if we believe in learning, we believe in change. So, there are times when we should use development activities to open the box and look at the world around us with different eyes. Even in the rush.

I’ll be showing you how to do this in my upcoming webinar on the 15th-16th November. Some of the practical learning activities for teachers can done alone, some can be done with colleagues. And none take more than 30 minutes.

Here’s one development activity you can do on your own:


Why it Worked

Reflection often starts with problems or areas of difficulty, but this activity focuses on the learning’s we can gain from our successes, and possible applications to other areas of our practice.

Suggested Activity Procedure

  1. Set aside 30 minutes.
  2. Use the Recalling Prompts to guide your exploration.
  3. Use the Reflective Questions to guide your analysis of the data and record your conclusions and future actions.

Recalling Prompts

Identify something you are involved in that was successful this week.

  • Where did this happen and who was involved?
  • How do you know you were successful?
  • Have you tried the activity before with different results?
  • What effect did the success have on the people involved?

Reflection Questions

  • How do you measure the success?
  • Does everybody involved share your evaluation? If not, why?
  • How replicable is this success – can you repeat the activity with the same results?
  • If you’ve tried this before with different results, how do you account for the change?
  • What aspects of the activity (in planning or in delivery) could you use with other activities?

Action

  • Write down one action you will take as a result of this reflection.

Here’s one development activity you can do with colleagues:


Me time

Find two other colleagues.

One of you has ‘Me Time’ on a specific afternoon for 30 minutes after school each week.

What this means is that the other two colleagues focus completely on you. You may have a problem with a student, or with a language point, or with a task you have to do, or with how you are feeling, or with ANYTHING you want to talk about – as long as it’s something to do with your job.

Because you are the focus, they have to spend at least 15 minutes just listening to you and can only ask questions.

After the first 15 minutes, they can describe possible alternative actions that you could take, but they can’t say what they think is right or wrong.

You control the conversation completely, and if you want to talk you just raise your hand and the other speaker stops.

Then – wherever you are in the conversation you ALWAYS stop at 30 minutes – and the next week it’s someone else’s turn for Me Time.


The ideas are simple, but good ideas often are! In the webinar, we’ll be exploring 12 more teacher-focused learning activities that you can use for your own professional development.  

Click here to register your place on the webinar.

Hope to see you there!

 


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How 100 teachers helped to build the Common European Framework

Glyn Jones is a freelance consultant in language learning and assessment and a PhD student at Lancaster University in the UK. In the past he has worked as an EFL teacher, a developer of CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) methods and materials, and – most recently – as a test developer and researcher for two international assessment organisations.

One day in 1994 a hundred English teachers attended a one-day workshop in Zurich, where they watched some video recordings of Swiss language learners performing communicative tasks. Apart from the size of the group, of course, there was nothing unusual about this activity. Teachers often review recordings of learners’ performances, and for a variety of reasons. But what made this particular workshop special was that it was a stage in the development of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The teachers had already been asked to assess some of their own students. They had done this by completing questionnaires made up of CAN DO statements. Each teacher had chosen ten students and, for each of these, checked them against a list of statements such as “Can describe dreams, hopes and ambitions” or “Can understand in detail what is said to him/her in the standard spoken language”. At the workshop the teachers repeated this process, but this time they were all assessing the same small group of learners (the ones performing in the video recordings).

These two procedures provided many hundreds of teacher judgments. By analysing these, the researchers who conducted the study, Brian North and Günther Schneider, were able to discover how the CAN DO statements work in practice, and so to place them relative to each other on a numerical scale. This scale was to become the basis of the now familiar six levels, A1 to C2, of the CEFR.

This is one of the strengths of the CEFR. Previous scales had been constructed by asking experts to allocate descriptors to levels on the basis of intuition. The CEFR scale was the first to be based on an analysis of the way the descriptors work when they are actually used, with real learners.

For my PhD study I am replicating part of this ground-breaking research.

Why replicate, you might ask?

Firstly, thanks to the Internet I can reach teachers all over the world, whereas North and Schneider were restricted to one country (for good reasons).

Secondly, my study focusses on Writing. This is the skill for which there were the fewest descriptors in the original research (which focussed on Speaking) and which is least well described in the CEFR as a result.

Thirdly, I am including in my study some of the new descriptors which have been drafted recently in order to fill gaps in the CEFR in order to scale these along with the original descriptors. In short, as well as contributing to the validation of the CEFR, I will be helping to extend it.

If you teach English to adult or secondary-age learners, you could help with this important work. As with the original research, I’m asking teachers to use CAN DO statements to assess some of their learners, and to assess some samples of other learners’ performance (of Writing, this time, not Speaking).

If you might like to participate, please visit my website https://cefrreplication.jimdo.com/ where you can register for the project. From then on everything is done online and at times that suit you. You can also drop me a line there if you would like to find out more.


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The essentials of lesson planning: a Q&A session with Philip Haines

shutterstock_323995139Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP. Earlier this month, he delivered a webinar on ‘The essentials of lesson planning’, and today we bring you the question and answer section of the session.

Sharing aims with students

Is it a good idea to communicate the lesson aims to the students?

This is generally considered good practice and has the following benefits:

1. When used well it can involve students more in the learning process.

2. It forces us as teachers to be clear about what we want to achieve, how we hope to achieve it, and to state this as clearly as possible.

Writing detailed lesson plans

I find that writing in detail makes me distracted reading the plan in class. And I found that with detailed plans I would still forget a step.
But, doesn’t over-detailing procedure lessen the scope of emergent language?

There are two reasons for writing a very detailed lesson plan:

1. To help you be aware of all the features of as lesson that you need to take into consideration. This is a good exercise to help you develop the skill of lesson planning.

2. To enable you to prove your lesson planning abilities to another person.

In our everyday practice going into a lot of detail is often not very practical. The best plans I find are the ones that I can access quickly at a glance to get the main points. The main things I want to know are: What am I doing next?’, ‘How much time do I have for this?’ and ‘How should I do it?’

The process of writing the lesson plan forces me to do the thinking process before the class, but then when teaching, the lesson plan acts as a guide from which I can move away and return, as needed. Once I have a solid plan I can move away from it, but know it is still there acting as a safety net.

Avoiding lesson planning mistakes

What mistakes in lesson planning should I avoid as a beginner at teaching?

I hope that the suggestions above can help you with your lesson planning process. However, I would give two other pieces of advice for new teachers.

1. Go back to your lesson plan after each lesson and make a few simple notes about things that worked and things that didn’t work. Also note down the reasons why in each case. If you can, make suggestions of what you would change.

2. Try to identify any possible thing that might go wrong and think of a practical solution for each of these. This will help you remain calm when things don’t go as you expected, and there is always something that doesn’t go as planned, even for the most experienced of teachers.

Checking instructions

Even when I have checked and it seems everyone understands, if a student doesn’t perform according to what I’ve check then there’s an issue with language ability.

Instruction giving and checking is somethings that particularly interests me at the moment. I believe that if my students have misunderstood my instruction, than it is probably my fault, not theirs. I can think of four reasons why students don’t understand instructions:

1. The task might be badly constructed. No matter how good the instructions are, it will never make sense to some students because of some inherent flaw at the level of the task.

2. Your instructions might be incoherent. I have observed classed where there inconsistencies in the instructions. This is why the practice of occasionally taking an activity and writing out in full yours instructions and instruction checking questions (or ICQs) is such a powerful exercise.

3. The level of the language in the instructions or task might be too high for students. We need to make sure the language is carefully graded.

4. Students might not be paying attention because they were distracted or not interested.

If we have addressed these four points than we can assume that most students will know what to do, but we should then immediately monitor to make sure everyone is on task.

Lesson plans for dyslexic students

Can you give an example of a lesson plan/type of activity for students with dyslexia? Any sources we can use?

This question asks about lesson plans for dyslexic students. Being dyslexic myself, I feel I can give some advice about this. It is important not to expose a dyslexic student’s weaknesses but to provide them with a range of ways to process information. In two previous blog posts I gave suggestions for using audio scripts and for doing while-reading activities. The suggestions in these posts go some way to address the two points mentioned above.

• 25 alternatives to reading aloud around the class: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2017/01/17/25-alternatives-to-reading-aloud-around-the-class/
• 25 ideas for using audio scripts in the ELT classroom: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2016/09/20/25-ideas-for-using-audio-scripts-in-the-elt-classroom/

If you missed the webinar and want to catch up, feel free to visit our Webinar Library, for this session and previous recordings.