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Developing listening skills with storytelling | Gareth Davies

Storytelling in ELT is often seen as the preserve of the young learner teacher. Telling a story with lots of repetition, noises, and action is considered far too childish for teen and adult learners. But stories are in our soul, we grew up with them, remember them fondly and can learn a lot from them, so maybe stories can be part of language lessons for older students.


Why storytelling?

The benefits of grading reading are well documented. Students reading for pleasure at their own level not only improve their reading skill but also their grammar and vocabulary level. But why is so little said about Graded Listening. When we do a listening activity in an English lesson there is always a task to go with it. This listen and answer approach often stresses students, no wonder then that listening is often considered by students to be the ‘hardest’ skill to master. We rarely ask students to just listen for pleasure. We rarely say don’t worry about it; there won’t be a ‘test’ at the end. But could that be beneficial for students? Could it help them to improve their listening skills and their grammar and vocabulary like grading reading does?

Case Study

I’ve been telling stories with students for about three years but at the end of 2018, I spent three months teaching young adults in Japan and decided to do a little experiment.  At least once a week I told them a story. Sometimes I did nothing with it, just told it at the beginning or the end of the lesson and moved on. Sometimes we briefly discussed the story and then moved on. Sometimes I built a lesson around the story. I told the story using actions, pictures and sounds if needed to help with the meaning but still in an adult way. The students enjoyed the stories, and they produced some really excellent work based on them. When I asked them at the end of the course if they could remember the stories, they listed them and took pleasure in retelling them to each other.

Here is some of the feedback that I’ve been receiving from students:

  • ‘Thanks to the storytelling lessons, I got skills for listening, imagination and retelling.’
  • ‘This definitely helped our listening skills…. we could communicate with each other and try to express our thoughts, ideas, and so on.’
  • ‘Those stories let me imagine the view, place, person and a lot of other stuff.’
  • ‘I learnt many expressions, including what I’ve never used to express myself.’
  • ‘It’s motivating to listen eagerly.’
  • Some activities gave me a power of understanding.’

One student even asked me if I could help her to become a storyteller like me!

Activities

The first activity I did after each story was simply to ask students to retell the story to each other. This helped them fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge, developed their understanding of the story, and gave them a chance to ask me questions. Because I had a few artistic students in my class, I encouraged them to draw the story at this stage. Here are three other activities that I will look at in my Webinar.

Newspapers

Ask the students to make a newspaper article for their story. Show them a narrative newspaper story, ask about the features, how the story is told in the newspaper, who is being interviewed etc. Then ask the students to work in small groups to create a newspaper front page based on the story.

Newspaper storytelling activity.

Prequel or Sequel?

Ask them to write a prequel or sequel to the story. Talk about films like Star Wars or Harry Potter. How did the story move on? Then, ask the students to think about the story and how the characters would develop in 5, 10, or 15 years’ time. Put them in small groups and ask them to write their new versions of the story.  

Prequel or Sequel storytelling activity.

Twitter

Get them to write a twitter feed for each of the characters. This is a bit more complicated to set up, but it worked like a charm. First you need to break the story down into factual components. Then, ask them to think how each character would respond to the event and how they would update their twitter feed. Ask them to write the Tweets and then put them in order to create a Twitter version of the story.

Twitter storytelling activity.

The last lesson

In my last lesson with the students, I asked them to tell me a story from Japan. I put the students into groups and gave them time to plan and then asked them to tell me the story. Their renditions were fun, enthusiastic and brought a tear to my eye.

I genuinely believe that listening for pleasure has a place in language learning and storytelling can give students a chance to listen to something that is enjoyable and understandable, and this takes the pressure off listening.


Webinar

Gareth Davies is running a webinar on this topic with Oxford University Press in March 2019. Click the link below to register, it’s free!

See you there!


Gareth Davies is a writer, storyteller, teacher, and teacher trainer based in Cardiff. He has been in the ELT industry for 23 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Recently he has been teaching and storytelling in Japan. Since 2005, Gareth has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth is also an examiner for the new Oxford Test of English and Trinity College, London. Outside of teaching, Gareth is an author of fiction, a poet and a storyteller. His first novel “Humans, Being”, will be published by Cinnamon Press in April 2019. He is interested in developing creative writing and story-telling ideas for the classroom.

Visit Gareth’s website: www.gareththestoryteller.com


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What is a core vocabulary?

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

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

The Oxford 3000TM: then and now

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

Frequency vs. relevance

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

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

A core vocabulary as a starting point

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

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


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

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




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Eight Ways to Use Comic Strips in the Classroom

Comic strips provide a unique and exciting way to engage learners in the world of English. Check out these eight tips for making and using them in your classroom.

1) Making comic strips as a group activity

Creating a comic strip is a great group activity. Some learners can write the story, some can draw, and some can colour. Learners should speak in English and work together. Start by teaching them functional phrases like “Can I do the drawings?” and “I’d like to write the story”.

2) Using comic strips to teach vocabulary

If you’ve just given a lesson about shopping, learners can write a comic strip about ‘going to the shops’. If you’ve just taught them to use the future tense, they can write a comic strip about ‘making plans’. Encourage learners to describe what happens in each frame of their comic strip in English. They should make story notes before they start drawing.

3) Creating fun characters

Keep your students engaged by helping them to create interesting characters for their comic strips. Try asking questions about their characters like “Has he got a long or a short nose?”, “Is she wearing a shirt or a jumper?”, and “Is he happy or grumpy?”

Why not ask them to create a ‘character guide’ before drawing their comic strips? This could be a notebook where they design and describe every character using key vocabulary.

4) Drawing and colouring a comic strip

Your learners should begin by drawing the comic strip frames, speech balloons, and characters in pencil. They should then draw over these lines in ink. Afterwards, they should write words in pencil in the speech balloons. You can check these for spelling and grammar before they draw over them in ink. When the ink is dry, learners can erase the pencil lines and colour in the comic strip.

Are your students good with technology? They could also create a comic strip digitally by taking photos and adding speech bubbles with Photoshop!

5) Using comic strips to practice speaking skills

Once your learners have finished creating their comic strips, there are many follow-up activities you can use them for in the classroom. For example, you could ask each group of learners to act out their comic strips in front of the class. Each learner should choose a character and practice saying their lines before performing them with their group. This will help learners practice their speaking skills.

You could also get students to perform this activity with comic strips from a coursebook. If each group changes three words in the strip before they act it out, listening students can play ‘spot the difference’ between the text in the comic strip and the words they hear.

6) Using comic strips as reading tasks

You can use your learners’ comic strips to create a set of unique reading tasks. Ask each group to create a set of true or false questions and comprehension activities to go with their comic strips. Now you can share these out amongst the class, or save them to use later.

7) Creating more activities with comic strips

Your learners can prepare even more skills work and language tasks to go with their comic strips. For example, they can design tasks like ‘Match these six words with their synonyms in the comic strip’ or ‘Find the opposite of these seven words in the comic strip’ or ‘Look at these eight words and find places in the comic to add them’. Groups can then exchange their finished comic strips and tasks.

Why not try using coursebook comic strips to create even more fun activities. Try creating a comprehension task by photocopying a comic strip and cutting out the text from the speech balloons. Now you can give your learners the pictures from the comic strip in the correct order, and the text in a jumbled order. Ask them to match the correct text with the correct pictures and put the story together!

8) Entering the Project Explore Competition

If you like these ideas and want another way to enjoy comic strips in your classroom, try entering The Project Explore Competition!

Engage your learners and win great prizes by asking them to complete the story of The Ancient Statue with their very own comic strip!

Enter now!


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Well-being – How teachers can support themselves with meditation

Relax!

Meditation is a strange spiritual practise, sitting in funny yoga postures and humming or chanting mantras, right? How on earth can that be of any help to teachers? This was not an uncommon response I used to get when teachers were first introduced to the idea of meditation.

Thankfully nowadays, perceptions of meditation have changed, schools and teachers are embracing it as a highly successful way for improving wellbeing. Meditation can help in relation to a word we sadly hear too often when talking about teaching; stress.

Demands, targets, new initiatives, and behaviour issues all generate stress for teachers. The Educational Support Partnership charity (UK) has recently claimed that over two-thirds of teachers say their job has adversely affected their mental health.

The effects of stress

While short periods of stress are inevitable for most of us, it is prolonged and constant stress that can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response. When our bodies are exposed to danger or a threat (physical or perceived) our bodies create an adrenaline rush to get us out of danger. The hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal glands resulting in increased blood pressure, faster pulse, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to the muscles. All of which are needed to help us escape from danger. However, our bodies aren’t very good at distinguishing between actual danger and the (mostly un-hazardous) challenges we face in our daily lives, so the same response is triggered.

If we experience this fight or flight response over a long period of time, it can take its toll on our physical and mental health. Long term stress can cause cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Counteracting the effects of stress

So, before we all get totally depressed thinking about stress, let’s look at how we can counteract these affects.

It is vital to remember the old adage “You can’t pour from an empty jug”.  Teachers can’t give what they haven’t got. They need to take care of themselves first. As teachers, we often can’t change the pressures or demands on us, but we can change how we deal with them. Unsurprisingly, one of the most effective ways to combat the stress response is to elicit the relaxation response.

Easier said than done you may be thinking. We don’t all have the time to relax, as relaxation activities are sometimes time-consuming and expensive. You’ll be pleased to learn then that the relaxation response can be elicited in a variety of ways, including through meditation techniques.

Adding meditation to your everyday activities can be a remarkably successful way of de-stressing, and through regular practice, can reduce the emotional and physical consequences of stress.

What is meditation?

Meditation comes in many forms and there are numerous techniques to choose from. To clarify, meditation is simply having a relaxed awareness of the present moment. Everyone has experienced this but maybe has not recognised it as meditation. It is those times when you are fully involved in an activity and yet relaxed and aware of what is happening around you. People experience it through sport, or movement sometimes called “being in the zone”, others experience it while painting or being creative, while cooking, singing, dancing, even cleaning. It can also happen when we are more passive, sitting by a river watching the water flow past, watching the moving clouds, or on the beach watching the sea coming in.

Like any good language learner knows, practice makes perfect. As teachers we explain to students that learning English does not happen overnight, they have to keep on using the new language and practising it. The same is true for meditation. It is like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. A single silent sitting mediation before a class isn’t going to be a cure all for all the demands placed on you. However regular meditation can act as a strong foundation on which teachers can build healthier social-emotion skills.

In this webinar we will look at simple, easy techniques that you can add into your everyday teaching activities. Simply by stopping and giving yourself a few minutes or changing how you perform activities can achieve a relaxed state. Meditation techniques can take just a few minutes and these small changes can have a big impact on your life. 

Join us to explore which techniques will work for you and start supporting yourself through meditation.


#MyEltoc19

ELTOC

Ushapa Fortescue
is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Be the first to know when registration for this fantastic professional development opportunity opens by clicking here.


Ushapa Fortescue Ushapa has worked as a teacher trainer around the world. Soon after becoming a teacher, Ushapa was introduced to meditation and for the last 14 years, alongside the teacher training Ushapa has spent time visiting, living and working in meditation centres around the world. Ushapa loves engaging and encouraging teachers so they can pass on a love of language learning to their students.


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There is no such thing as lazy! | Nick Thorner

It’s a word heard frequently in staff rooms whenever students are discussed. We don’t tend to use it when we’re writing their reports, but it’s often there on our lips as we compose them. The word in question is ‘lazy’, defined as being ‘unwilling to work or use energy’. It describes a feeling few of us are immune from. But perhaps it’s not a helpful way of understanding students, for three reasons.

Firstly, the word can weaken relationships between student and teacher. ‘Lazy’ is full of negative connotation and if we portray students in pejorative terms, we will resent having to teach them – no one likes helping the undeserving. Consequently, we ourselves begin to lose motivation. The problem doesn’t end there, of course. Even if we avoid calling our students ‘lazy’, they are very quick to pick on any negative attitudes we hold. There is nothing less likely to motivate a student than a demotivated teacher! So, thinking of our students as lazy creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Second, the idea of laziness is disempowering and erodes hope of achievement. It is often seen as a fixed character trait, a flaw some people are just born with. Alternatively, we may even consider it a choice: ‘Don’t be lazy!’ we’ll exhort our students. Therefore, a student deemed ‘lazy’ will be perceived (or perceive themselves) either as incapable or naughty. Is this fair? Undoubtedly, some of us are born with passive dispositions or may acquire cynical beliefs about the value of effort. But others who seem lazy in the classroom seem anything but on a sports field or in a shopping centre. ‘Laziness’ can certainly have environmental causes.

And that brings us to our final point: that the word ‘lazy’ may prevent us from doing our jobs to the best of our ability. If we suggest through our language that lack of effort has no external causes, won’t it stop us looking for solutions? Once again, the word ‘lazy’ may make us lazy. Or perhaps we may be guilty of labelling students ‘lazy’ to escape the feeling that we ourselves could do more to motivate them? It’s a word that can seem a little too convenient at times. We might say it’s a little lazy to call someone lazy.

I therefore believe we need new ways to discuss students who lack the motivation to engage in learning behaviour. It was partly this conviction that led me in December of last year to join a research project alongside Japanese academic Keita Kikuchi into amotivation and demotivation, concepts that seemed closely linked to laziness. Over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly convinced that ‘lazy’ learners are often students who are struggling to meet psychological needs through learning and I believe there are a range of ways we can help them do this.

I hope you’ll be able to join me in my forthcoming webinar as we explore them together.    

Nick Thorner

My early training experience included product training for primary and secondary courses in Italy. I have since given talks on extensive reading for OUP and on critical thinking and edtech for Oxdosa in recent years. For OUP, I’ve recently undertaken product training and motivation talks in Saudi and talked on motivation at IATEFL and Latvia in support of my most recent book Motivational Teaching. My experience as a writer and teacher continues to be in EAP (I teach humanities through ESL) and IELTS training. I have authored 2 IELTS course books and I have just decided to leave my IELTS examining post so can now participate in IELTS training. I am publishing an academic article in the new year on demotivation too.

Nick Thorner is also the author of ‘Motivational Teaching‘, a guide that explores how motivation works on an individual level and within a classroom environment.