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The essentials of lesson planning

female teacher lesson planningPhilip 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.  In this post he introduces his upcoming webinar on 20th and 21st April entitled “The essentials of lesson planning”.

If you type ‘lesson plan’ into your favorite search engine, you will find literally hundreds of different lesson plan formats. Such a wide range of formats illustrates that there is no fixed or perfect way to plan a lesson.

In our day-to-day teaching, most of us will not produce an extensive and detailed lesson plan. We know that by writing out a full plan we can address problems and inconsistencies that we would not otherwise see. However, in most cases this simply is not practical. Having said this, the lack of a physical plan does not mean that we avoid the process of lesson planning.

Considering the importance of lesson planning and the frequent time constraints which compromise the process, the question is, how can we create effective lessons under these conditions?

Generic lesson templates

When I am under pressure to produce a lesson I have a number of generic lesson templates which enable me to create a functioning lesson very quickly. An example of a reading comprehension lesson template is:

  • pre-teach vocabulary
  • predicting answers to comprehension questions
  • read aloud in groups
  • students discuss and check answers – then as whole class
  • students write comprehension questions for others to answer
  • activity on grammar/lexis in text

Such a lesson might not be very original, but from this I can start to adapt and improve.

Regular beats

I have so often seen lesson from in-service teacher training course where there is a good rhythm at the beginning but the rest of the lesson becomes a long string of activities with nothing to hold the students’ attention. The trick is to make sure there are ‘beats’ spaced evenly throughout the lesson every 10 minutes or so where students have to change the mode of working. This could be through moving in some way, interacting differently or a friendly challenge.

Plan from the middle or the end

A common approach that teachers take is to plan the lesson in a linear manner starting at the beginning. A more effective way is to start maybe with a text or a speaking activity that might come in the middle or end of the lesson and then build backwards from that. This tends to create a more coherent lesson.

Build in flexibility at the end of the lesson

This is something I had to learn the hard way. The fear of running out of activities at the end of class meant that I would spend longer on the earlier activities and then rush through the later ones. One solution to this is to design the last two activities in such a way that they can be expanded out to 20 minutes or squashed down to three or four minutes without any sense of compromise. This means that you can spend the necessary time on the earlier activities without that nagging fear of being left with dead time at the end.

These are just some of the tips and strategies we will be exploring in this webinar. We’ll also be looking at anticipating problems, getting your procedures and instructions right, dealing with fast finishers, among other things.


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Motivational Teaching in the English language classroom

Nick Thorner, author of the professional development title ‘Motivational Teaching‘ in the Into The Classroom series, explores some of the issues that cause low motivation among students and methods to overcome them. You can join Nick for his upcoming webinar ‘Motivational Teaching: Engaging young people in learning behaviour’ on 26th May.

Few issues in education are as troubling as low student motivation. It leaves countless individuals unable to achieve their potential, and many teachers feeling demoralised. But perhaps more serious than low motivation is the lack of understanding we have of its causes, which can be complex and deep-seated. If we can’t understand our students’ lack of commitment, it’s difficult to identify strategies to deal with it and easy to blame individuals. And if students themselves feel puzzled by their apathy, they can become very frustrated. The effect can be a classroom atmosphere of resentment and mistrust.

That’s why I believe we cannot deal with the issue of low learner motivation unless we explore its causes. So we’ll begin our discussion by looking into some of the latest research on the psychology of motivation, and understand how our brains respond to the prospects of rewards, sanctions, and perceived threats. This will then lead us towards three clear approaches for raising motivation.

  1. Increasing task commitment

How often have you set students’ homework in the dying moments of lessons as they pack away their things? All too often, time pressure leaves us setting learning tasks quickly, without much thought to learner motivation. Yet there is so much we can do to help students increase their  commitment to tasks, for example:

  • Explain the reasons for the task to help students value it more.
  • Discuss stages of the task in the lesson so learners can visualise doing it.
  • Get students to decide when they’ll do the task to make procrastination less likely.

The image below shows what a task designed with motivation in mind might look like on paper. We’ll be explaining some of the other features shown below in the webinar. Presenting tasks in this way may seem a lot of work, but getting learners to engage fully with one task can help improve their self-image as learners more generally and build motivation.

  1. Breaking down barriers

No matter how attractive we try to make learning experiences, there is often deep resistance to learning on the part of our students. It’s important that we understand the psychological barriers that can stand in the way of engagement with learning behaviour. These can include:

  • low expectations of learning outcomes
  • negative associations connected with study
  • images of themselves that don’t sit comfortably with study

These psychological barriers are often firmly entrenched, but we can slowly wear them down in the way we speak with students and through exercises that help students connect learning with their own personal values and ambitions. An example might be producing a real vlog that they can post online, or doing visualisation exercises to help them imagine the life they might enjoy as proficient users of English.

  1. Creating reward-rich experiences

Finally, we all know that if we make lessons fun and interesting we can help motivate our learners. This is because memories of enjoyable learning experiences help students to predict rewarding outcomes. But labels like fun and interesting are a little too vague to be useful: in fact, there are lots of specific ways to make learning seem rewarding. So, we’ll finish our discussion by considering how we can fill learning experiences with psychological rewards, from novelty and sensory stimulation to play and revelation, and see why techniques like back-chaining can transform classroom experiences.

I hope you can join my webinar and leave it believing that motivational teaching is not about following general principles, but about practical day-to-day steps we can take as teachers. And by increasing our understanding of the factors that lie behind motivation, we can start discussing it honestly with students and create trusting classroom relationships.


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Teaching resources for English Language Day

shutterstock_574059034Martyn Clarke has worked in ELT classrooms as a teacher and trainer for over twenty years and in more than fifteen countries. He has taught English at all levels and in many contexts from one-to-one in financial institutions to rural schools with classes of eighty students.

April 23rd is an important day in the UK. First, it is St George’s Day. St George is the Patron Saint of England, most famous in this country for killing a dragon to protect a princess. Second, it is William Shakespeare’s birthday. He was too busy writing plays and poetry to bother with dragons.
Finally, it is also English Language Day when we celebrate this global language.

So here is a downloadable quiz you can use with your students to mark the day. It looks at a variety of different aspects of the language – favourite bits of English, hated bits of English, metaphors for English grammar, facts, tongue twisters, strange features of pronunciation, etc. It’s a cornucopia (one of our favourite words!) of fun… a smorgasbord (another favourite) of delight!

Many of the questions have no right or wrong answers, but rather they encourage the students to give their opinions, or use their imaginations. For this reason, it’s probably best to use this quiz as a group work activity, to allow students to discuss their ideas and share their opinions. You could also ask students to do it as homework, and then to discuss their answers when they return to class.

Some of the questions ask the students to give their opinions on the English language. This can give you very interesting information on what motivates your students, but it’s true that not all teachers – or indeed all students – will feel comfortable with these being shared in the classroom. So decide if you feel they are relevant first. It’s in word format so you can alter it so suit your class. You’ll also find a suggested answer sheet too.

Have fun, and Happy English Language Day!

English Language Day Quiz & Answer sheet


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Easter resources for your EFL classroom

shutterstock_377717329Spring has arrived here in Oxford, and Easter is on the horizon – it’s a perfect time of year to bring some seasonal activities and worksheets into your language learning classroom. Our former contributors Vanessa Esteves, Julietta Schoenmann, and Christopher Graham have come up with a range of Easter-themed lessons for young learners and secondary level learners through to adult learners that we hope you’ll enjoy.

Young Learner Resources:

Lesson plan

Easter Card Template

Secondary Resources:

Lesson plan

Handout

Adult Resources:

Lesson plan

Text

Handout


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Going Mobile: A Q&A with Nicky Hockly

Girl in park with tablet computerNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She has worked in ELT since 1987 with teachers all over the world. She has also written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologies in language teaching. Her latest book is Focus on Learning Technologies

During my recent webinar Going Mobile, I described activities that use mobile devices in the classroom, and that I have used with my own EFL students. This included two QR code activities, which generated quite a few questions from the audience! QR (Quick Response) codes can be read by mobile phones, and can deliver a text message to students’ mobile phone screens (among other things). If you are unfamiliar with QR codes, you could take a look at this post on my blog: A dummies guide to QR codes.

The two activities I described in my webinar are also described in detail on my blog. Both were carried out with a beginner (A1 level) class of EFL students in the UK. The first activity involved four QR codes, each of which (when ‘read’ by students with their mobile phones), gave them a question reviewing recent vocabulary and grammar. You can read about how the activity worked in practice here: Intro to QR codes.

The second activity was a treasure hunt, in which QR codes were placed in various locations around the school. The students went in pairs and threes to each location, read the code with their mobile phones, and carried out a task that was delivered in text message format via the QR code in each place. The tasks included looking for information and taking notes, taking photos, interviewing people in the school (two receptionists, the Director of Studies, and myself), and audio recording two of these interviews. You can read about how the activity worked in practice on my blog here: QR codes: A treasure hunt.

Based on these two activities, here are some of the questions that the audience asked:

What didn’t you give them these questions on a paper [instead of using QR codes]? Why all that time-consuming work? 

This is a great question, and probably the first one that needs to be asked! I could certainly have given students the questions on pieces of paper stuck on the wall. There are a number of reasons I decided to use QR codes instead. Firstly, although most of the students in the class had seen QR codes before, it turned out that not a single one had a QR code reader on their phones, or knew how to read QR codes. So by getting them to download a free QR code reader app (using the school Wi-Fi), and showing them how QR codes work, they gained an additional digital skill. But more importantly, using QR codes had a direct and visible impact on the students’ motivation and engagement in the lesson. It got them up and moving, it provided variety, it was something new, and there was the element of ‘cracking a code’ – you don’t know what a QR code says until you actually decipher it via a QR code reader app on your mobile device. But the important point to make here is that the two lessons were not about QR codes. The QR codes were simply a means through which to deliver the task instructions. The tasks were where the students really had to work, by answering questions, by the interviewing people, by finding information. Some of the tasks (like carrying out and recording two audio interviews with native speakers) were very demanding for A1 level students, and they worked hard at it. This is where real learning took place.

The second question is also an excellent one. Creating QR codes is not particularly time-consuming, but the great thing is that you can reuse these activities with different classes. Also, if various teachers in your school are creating different QR code activities, the codes can be put on cardboard or laminated, and then used by different teachers with a range of their classes. Creating any new materials for your class (handouts, slides, tests, etc.) will require you to invest a little bit of time, but if the materials are effective, they can be reused.

Did you design the QR codes yourself? Or did you use them from a coursebook? Which QR code generator do you use? 

I designed the QR codes myself, because I wanted the QR code messages to review recent vocabulary and grammar that my students had studied in class. I’m not aware of any adult EFL coursebooks that integrate QR codes as part of language review activities (which is what my two activities did). To create the QR codes before class, I used a QR code generator called Kaywa. But another very good one is QR code generator, which both reads and creates QR codes, and is easier to use than Kaywa. The students in my class were using their own mobile phones, so we had a range of mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry). For them to be able to read the QR codes, I asked them to download a cross-platform QR code reader called i-nigma, which I’ve found to be excellent. ‘Cross-platform’ means that the same app works on different mobile operating systems.

 I’ve got 40 students in my classes. Do you think I can still do the QR activities?

Good question! I was lucky to have very small classes, with around 12 students per class. So when my students were moving around the school in the treasure hunt activity (in separate pairs and threes), there was very little disruption for the school. With large classes (and assuming your school Director gave permission for students to be moving around the school!) you could include more QR codes with tasks (say 20 in total) and have them in lots of different areas of the school, with pairs of students working with different QR codes in different locations at the same time. Essentially this is a question of logistics, and it’s going to depend on the size of your school, the age (and noisiness!) of your students. You’d need to make sure that there is enough space in the school for this activity to take place without everyone crowding into the same place at same time!

Can I do this with elementary school students? What about primary students? Do you think these activities are more suitable for teenagers?

My students were a mixture of teenagers and adults (aged 16 – 45), and activities were definitely suitable for both age groups. Essentially, we’re talking about using QR codes as a prompt to a language activity, remember. I can see this working with younger students as well (primary and elementary school), assuming your students have access to mobile devices. In the case of younger learners, they are unlikely to have their own mobile phones. But if your school invests in a ‘class set’ of mobile devices (for example, low cost Android tablets) students could use one tablet per pair to read QR codes which give them tasks suitable to their age and language level. For example, for primary school students, imagine they’ve been learning vocabulary for colours, simple adjective or shapes in class. You could have QR codes asking them to use the mobile device to take photos of things of different colours, sizes or shapes. Each QR code task might say something like: ‘Take a photo of something red’, ‘Take a photo of something small’, ‘Take a photo of something square’, etc.

Thanks to everyone who came to the webinar! And good luck if you decide to try out any of the webinar mobile activities with your own students!

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