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A Complete Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning

teacher and students in discussionEvery teacher would love to see their students totally engrossed in the task at hand, asking meaningful and pertinent questions, and then looking for the answers themselves.  Sound like an impossible dream? Perhaps not!  Inquiry-based learning seeks to do just that – engaging students in their learning process by having them asking questions that are meaningful for them and then helping them to find the answers.

 

What is inquiry-based learning?

We all know that engaging students in their learning process improves their learning.  Having students listening quietly to our explanations and then asking questions usually produces complete silence, and maybe another long explanation on our part.  Inquiry-based learning turns this process around, presenting students with an interesting topic, helping them identify what they already know, and then having them ask the questions that are important to know more.

 

What is the teacher’s role?

This doesn’t mean that the teacher’s role ends with presenting a topic. On the contrary, there is an important and central role for the teacher to play.  It simply has been removed from center stage to the side or back of the room, a role more of monitor and facilitator than only that of a provider of information.  It is important to identify where the students’ questions are taking them and make sure that they aren’t coming up with misinformation or a wrong idea about how the world, and English, work!

 

Empowering students to shape their future

What will students need more in the future, the ability to take notes and repeat what the teacher tells them, or to be able to find answers to questions that are important for them? I think we can all agree on the second reason.

Part of this involves having students work together collaboratively, to develop the skills needed to work with others, with each person making key contributions to solving the task.

 

Getting started

Many teachers find it difficult to let go of control in the class, perhaps thinking that their students don’t have the necessary level of maturity or motivation to work in a more self-directed way.  This might come from our previous experience when we have tried to encourage greater student autonomy and not found a very positive response.

Large classes and strict supervision from authorities might strengthen this idea that a more student-centered class is not possible.

I would encourage you to try an inquiry-based approach in developing a learner-centered environment. It doesn’t have to be a choice of all or nothing at all but can be done in small steps.   Try starting by having your students be the ones to ask a question about the topic the lesson centers on.  If the topic is Wild animals, have them each write down something they know about wild animals and something they would like to find out about them.  Using K-W-L charts is an excellent way to help them visualize the information.

 

Seeing the benefits

Using inquiry-based learning in the classroom will help your students feel more engaged in the class, and more in charge of their own learning process.  They realize that they are learning things they want to know, rather than just mechanically repeating what someone else thinks they should know. This will encourage them to see learning as a life-long activity, rather than just some boring classroom requirement.

 

Inquiry-based learning in the Secondary classroom

Secondary age learners are more mature and aware of their learning than younger learners. This can help develop greater autonomy in these learners.  Providing opportunities to reflect on their learning is also important at this age.  This can be done through self-assessment activities, or specifically designed questions that allow students to see their progress, and how they made that progress. Fostering these aspects (autonomy and reflection) can increase their motivation for learning in general, and learning English in particular.  They can also see a closer link to what they are learning and what happens in their lives outside of school, opening their awareness of global skills that they need to acquire.  Providing our learners with more opportunities to experiment with the language, and make decisions themselves also shifts the responsibility of learning to the learners themselves.

 

Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses an inquiry-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:

 

Find out more

 

Barbara Bangle is originally from the United States but has lived and worked in Mexico for many years. She is the former director of the CELe language institute at the University of the State of Mexico (UAEMex) and has spent the past 35 years both teaching English and working in the field of Teacher Education.


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Mobile Learning for Language Development | Nik Peachey

As a novice teacher in North Africa in the early 90s, I remember clearly dissecting English language newspapers and magazines and scouring the local shops for bootlegged English language audio cassettes to find interesting content to base activities on for my students.

I also remember carrying around a bag of audio cassettes which my students would use to record their learning diary entries on and which I would take home to listen to before recording my reply and taking them back for them the next lesson. I guess this is why I find it baffling when I hear about schools or classrooms where students are being asked to turn off or not bring their mobile phones and devices.

I understand that competing with the screen can be a challenge. The apps that students use on these devices have been designed by people who have researched just how to distract and grab people’s attention, but I feel that the best way to grab their attention back is to start training students how to use the devices in a ways that will enhance their learning both in and out of class. One of the first things that we could do as teachers is help students take control of their devices, by turning off notifications for example (at least during lessons). Removing screen notifications as well as noises and vibrations will help prevent unwanted distractions.

Next, we need to help them put their mobile device to good use.

We can use a backchannel to connect our students and enable us to share and exchange digital materials with students during the class. A backchannel could be a simple chatroom that all students can enter. We can paste hyperlinks to articles, videos, audios, activities and worksheets into this room and then students can instantly access the content without having to type in long URLs or search Google. I use http://backchannelchat.com/ for all of my classes. They have a browser version as well as a mobile app that students can download for free. The app has been adapted for educational use, and as a teacher, I can easily control the chatroom by moderating messages and pinning tasks to the top of the room.

At the end of a lesson, students can download notes from the backchannel and save any useful links, comments, new vocabulary or documents.

We can use apps like Mentimeter to make our lessons more interactive. This is just one of many classroom response apps that enables teachers to deliver quizzes, polls Q&A sessions and even brainstorming tasks to students’ devices during the lesson. It also gives instant feedback that teachers can display on the whiteboard. I’ve used Mentimeter to get students brainstorming vocabulary into an interactive word cloud. This is great as they can see the word cloud changing as they add their words. We can also use it to do comprehension and concept checking and know exactly how many of our students are getting the answers right.

We can also start building multimedia lessons that are rich in graphics and images and which link directly to web-based resources. https://www.genial.ly is just one of many tools that we can use to create visually engaging materials that students can access on their digital devices. This is an example of a lesson I built for a group of students to get them to plan a fictional trip to Cambridge. They have a range of resources that they need to explore and which help them to find images, locations on a map, weather information, and interesting places and events. As they explore these resources, they can use the information they gather to plan a three-day trip together. Using the QR code at the beginning of the lesson, they can scan the materials directly onto their mobile device and access all of the links and instructions directly.

These are just a few of the many ways students can use their devices in the classroom to enhance their learning. In my upcoming webinar, we will be looking at many more and also investigating some of the apps they can use outside the classroom too. We’re running multiple sessions from the 22nd to the 23rd October 2019. I hope to see you there!

Register for the webinar


Nik Peachey has worked all over the world as a language teacher, teacher trainer, technology trainer, and educational technology consultant. He is an award-winning course designer, materials writer, and author


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Teaching Beyond the 4Cs in the Secondary Classroom | 21st Century Skills

The 4CsThe development of the 4Cs – the skills of Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration – has been around in education and English language teaching for some time now. This has influenced coursebook design, our everyday teaching, and our general attitude towards teaching and learning. As I was planning tasks for the development of these 4 key skills in my own teaching, I have always felt the need for (and I am sure many of you have had the same experience) a broader layer that encompasses these as well as a number of other skills that are just as important for our fast-paced world, where students need to be empowered to shape their own futures. The challenges I’ve faced recently with my teenage students such as lack of motivation, interest, poor attention span, higher emotional instability, being easily distracted, have led me to look for solutions.

I discovered that natural curiosity, love of learning, self-control, resilience, self-reflection, and humour to name a few are just as important in preparing our students for lifelong success. Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman in their article “The science of practice and self-control” discovered that self-control ‘outdoes’ talent in predicting academic success during adolescence. Since then, a surfeit of longitudinal evidence has affirmed the importance of self-control to achieving everyday goals that conflict with momentary temptations”. According to a number of researchers of positive education, all these skills together with the 4 Cs fall under the development of character strengths and virtues.

With this broader framework in mind, I found it a lot easier to design and select appropriate teaching materials and tasks for my teenage students.

One of my favourite ways of approaching a topic developing the 4Cs and beyond is through questioning.

  1. I give students the main words or ideas of the unit, for example, ‘remember’, “memory”, ‘remind’ and ‘forget’. I then ask them to brainstorm questions using these words and the question’s words ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ in pairs or small groups. They might come up with questions like ‘What do we remember?’, ‘How do we remember?’, ‘Why do we forget?’, and ‘What do we need to do to remember?’
  2. Then I ask them to choose two or three questions that they feel would be interesting to find the answer to.
  3. In the next stage, I re-group them to discuss the answers to the questions of their choice, giving them ideas of where to look for answers if they are stuck. This tends to be the longest most engaging stage of the exercise as it taps into their natural curiosity and their desire to find answers to the questions posed by their peers.
  4. Students then go back to their original groups to collect the answers together. These can be represented on posters that can evolve and expand while working around the specific topic, including all the experiments and discoveries they may personally make along this learning journey. They should make notes of the unanswered questions with an aim to seek answers to these as well.
  5. The posters are displayed and revisited from time to time as further questions or answers start to surface. It’s a good idea at this stage to ask students to read each other’s questions and answers, prompting them to look for interesting ideas or to simply express their opinions.
  6. Towards the end, I try to make students aware of what they’ve learnt, as well as get them to reflect on how they felt, the effort they have put into it, their level of engagement, etc.

If you look back at the tasks set above, students are given several opportunities to build not only their creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaborative skills, but they also develop a love of learning, perseverance, tolerating ambiguity, etc. in an engaging and meaningful way.


Erika Osváth is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed-Ability Teaching.


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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.