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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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Do you speak emoji?

Teach english with emojiLove them or hate them, emojis are now a part of everyday life, in 2017 there was even a movie about them. Unlike that movie, which failed to wow the critics 😴, I think embracing emojis in the classroom could get you a 👍 from students.

Only two years ago Oxford Dictionaries (1) chose 😂 as its word of the year. Since then the number of emojis has grown to over two and half thousand (once you factor in skin tones and gender). There is everything from passport control 🛂 through to a pretzel emoji 🥨, which was one of the 60 or so added in the last update (2).

The popularity of emojis has naturally led to headlines from the media such as ‘emoji will cause the death of English’, ‘Are emojis killing language?’ and the rather wonderful ‘emojis are ruining civilisation’. Such headlines by the way are a journalist’s version of a substitution table; a quick
search will reveal that they said the same about text messages, and social media.

As one journalist put it: “A picture speaks a thousand words, yes. But an emoji cannot express the myriad of meanings that language allows for” (3).   As a teacher then, we can choose to go one of two ways; for or against the headlines. I suggest we can take a more positive approach, similar to the one taken recently by this professor of communication: ‘’Emojis enhance human interactions. It’s trying to put emotional, non-verbal information back in” (4). In other words, emojis are now an important part of communication. As a language teacher, it is this aspect that first got me hooked on emojis and how they can be used as part of our language lessons.  I use them now for everything from vocabulary practice to judging how well a student has understood key parts of my lesson.

What’s your favourite emoji? Do you have one? Why that one? At the moment I quite like 🤯. It’s one of the new ones used to mean anything from shock to awe.

This simple question is a speaking activity in itself. ‘OK class take out your phones, tell your partner what your favourite emoji is and why.’

At the very least, emojis provide us with thousands of symbols that we can use in teaching.  Think how often we use flashcards or pictures, emojis at a very basic level can act in the same way. See the funny thing about emoji is that they have a universal meaning.  They cross linguistic borders like no other form of communication. That is not to say that some don’t alter meaning in different cultural and group contexts, but on one level the meaning of many is the same. Show a picture of an emoji to your students and there is a good chance that they will know what it is, a very useful scaffold on which we can exercise vocabulary. And when they don’t know what it is, we immediately enter a speaking and thinking exercise as students try to work it out.

Now some of you might be thinking ‘yeah but I don’t know what half of them mean myself’ 😤. Keep calm! There are many tools at our disposal – from an emoji dictionary, through to an emoji encyclopedia.  You can even get real time usage stats of the world wide use of emoji (NB: I might have become a bit emoji obsessed).

Join me for my webinar in January, and I’ll show you how you can make use of emoji as a teaching resource to enhance all aspects of language teaching.  Hopefully by the end of yet when I ask ‘Do you speak emoji?’ you’ll be able to respond with a 👍! Click here to register.


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


References:

  1. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2015
  2. https://blog.emojipedia.org/final-2017-emoji-list/
  3. https://theboar.org/2017/02/emojis-killing-language/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/25/emojis-enhance-human-interactions-royal-institution-christmas-lecturer-sophie-scott


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Teaching Grammar: Classroom Choices Q&A with Charlotte Rance

It was such a pleasure to meet so many teachers from all over the world in my recent webinar ‘Teaching Grammar: Classroom choices’. If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here in our webinar library.  

The webinar gave us the opportunity to look at some of the choices we make as teachers when planning and delivering our grammar lessons, and it was very interesting to hear your experiences and ideas.

Of course, along with sharing your experiences and ideas, there were also plenty of interesting questions, many of which
we didn’t have the time to answer. This blog post is here to try and answer some of those.

Is it OK to use L1 to teach grammar?

Firstly, I think it is important to remember that for many teachers this is not an option. Perhaps you don’t speak your students’ first language, or you teach in a multilingual classroom where there isn’t a common first language. Maybe you work in a school where there is an ‘English only’ policy, and you are not allowed to use L1. In these situations, the teacher has no choice but to use English to give instructions, explain language and check new concepts, and this is done successfully, even if it sometimes might take longer than expected.

But for those of you that do have the option to use L1, is it OK to do so? In my opinion, even if you are teaching in a monolingual classroom where you do share a common language with your students, it is best to use English as much as possible. You are the students model for English, and exposing them to as much English as you can will only benefit them. However, this does not mean that using L1 can’t be beneficial for the students.

If I am teaching in a monolingual classroom I do not ban my students from using L1. In fact, it can be a useful teaching tool for checking meaning and understanding, and quickly overcoming confusion. For example, in a monolingual classroom I often encourage my students to discuss pair work activities in their L1. This allows me to monitor and check their understanding of the language point easily. Another way in which L1 can be useful for grammar teaching is through quick translations. Let’s say that we have been teaching ‘used to’. Asking students to quickly translate a sentence can be a very efficient way to check that they have understood my explanations.

When is the best moment to correct new grammar and how can we help students to correct their own grammar mistakes?

When deciding when and how to correct your students’ mistakes it is important to think about the purpose of the activity that the students are completing: are you expecting accuracy or fluency? If the focus is on accuracy, then it is important to address any mistakes at the time, while mistakes that are made during fluency-based activities can be noted down and corrected later, perhaps in the last five minutes of the lesson, or the next time you see the students.

When it comes to self-correction, remember that in order to correct themselves students need to know the correct answer. Self-correction requires a deep awareness of the language point, so before you try to encourage it you need to be sure that they will be able to do so. The best way to encourage self-correction is to highlight that an error has been made, and give your students time to think about it.

Firstly, we need the student to notice the mistake. This can be done in a number of ways, for example gestures, facial expression, or a question such as “I’m sorry?” or “What was that?” If the student is confident with the grammar point, then they may well be able to self-correct immediately. However, most students will need a little more support to self-correct. This can be done by reminding them of the rules, by saying something like: “remember, regular verbs need an ‘–ed’ ending in the past tense”, or “which tense do we use when we are talking about something that happened yesterday?” By prompting our students in this way, we are helping them to remember what they have learned, and giving them the time to think about the answer.

What can we do if our students don’t see a point in learning grammar?

While there are many students who are motivated and interested by learning grammar rules, there are just as many who find spending time on language structures boring and would rather ‘just talk’. Whichever side of this your students fall on, I find that it is better to put the focus on the function of the language that you are teaching.

Thinking about the function of a language structure gives the students a valid reason to learn it. For example, if we tell our students that we are going to learn how to talk about our life experiences, they are likely to be more interested than if we say: “Today we are going to learn the present perfect”. Using too much technical language in the classroom can be scary and boring for our students, but the idea of getting a new ability in English, especially if it is relevant to their needs, should help them to understand the point of learning grammar.

Could you recommend any books for teaching grammar?

If you are looking for a great teacher reference book, then you can’t go wrong with Michael Swan’s ‘Practical English Usage’ (OUP). This was on my CELTA recommended reading list, and since then it has saved me on many occasions! The latest edition is also available online, which I am sure will help with any sticky situation in the classroom.

When it comes to teaching materials, for school-aged learners I really like Grammar for Schools (OUP) because it provides lots of communicative grammar practice. For older students I like ‘Language Practice’ by Michael Vince because I find it works well in the classroom and as a self-study guide.


Author

Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and educational consultant based in Brighton, UK. She has been working in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and her key areas of interest are young learners and the use of stories and reading as a tool for language learning. Her main goal as a trainer is to provide practical advice and strategies that teachers can implement in their lessons.


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Teaching Grammar: Classroom choices

A while ago I came across an infographic which claimed that teachers make, on average, 1500 educational decisions a day. Over a six-hour teaching day, that’s around four decisions per minute. My question is: Is that number high enough?

Ahead of my upcoming webinar ‘Teaching Grammar: Classroom Choices’, I have been thinking about the decisions we make when we are teaching grammar. As teachers, we are constantly making decisions, both consciously and subconsciously, about our teaching. But our decision making isn’t just limited to the time we spend in the classroom, what about all the choices we make when we are planning, or reflecting on our lessons over a cup of tea?

Planning Choices

If you are anything like me, there are plenty of decisions to make when planning a grammar lesson. Depending on the grammar point we are teaching, we might ask ourselves:

  • What might my students find difficult about this structure?
  • What examples can I give them?
  • What can I do to make this lesson engaging?
  • How will I present this language point?
  • How will I check they’ve understood?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and I am sure that you could add plenty more questions of your own. One of the questions I always begin with is “How relevant is this language for my students?” because the answer always impacts on my other planning choices.

busyteacher.org

How relevant we decide a grammar point is depends on a variety of factors. Let’s take articles as an example. Articles in English are very important, but also quite complex, so how deeply we explore them in class will depend on our students, their needs, and the objectives of the lesson. With a beginner’s class looking at articles for the first time, it is unlikely that we would go beyond the very basics:

  • When should we use ‘A’ or ‘An’?
  • What’s the difference between ‘A/An’ or ‘The’?

However, if we change our context to that of an FCE prep class, articles take on greater relevance. What our students need to know about the language point becomes more complex, and we would have to go into the language further.

The answers to the question “How relevant is this language for my students?” will have an impact on the rest of our lesson planning. If the language point is particularly complex, we might build in extra practice. If the language is high frequency, we might choose an inductive or guided approach to teaching, allowing student’s time to discover the grammar rules for themselves.

Teaching Choices

So, by the time we’ve entered the classroom we’ve already made a number of choices, but the decision making doesn’t stop there. How many times have you walked in with a well-planned activity that just doesn’t work in practice? Or made an assumption about your students that turned out to be wrong? One of the hardest choices a teacher makes is to change the plan halfway through the lesson, but sometimes the language is more complicated, or less engaging than you expected.

When it comes to grammar lessons, I always like to have a back-up plan. Having a few easy-to-implement changes in your back pocket ensures that you and your students can meet the objectives of the lesson. Let’s say that your students are struggling with using ‘will’ to talk about the future.

Taken from English Plus 2, Oxford University Press

Taken from English Plus 2, Oxford University Press

The practice activity above accustoms your student’s to the target language, but what if that’s not enough? What if they aren’t engaged? One of the choices we make is how to change or extend activities from the course book. A favourite activity of mine involves using playing cards to change the activity… You’ll find out how that works in the webinar.

Teaching Grammar: Classroom Choices

Teaching grammar is not a ‘one size fits all’ experience. As teachers, we have the freedom to choose how we present and teach new language, we can change our minds if we find that the approach we originally chose isn’t working. Join me for my upcoming webinar where we will be looking more closely at the choices teachers make, and exploring some ideas and activities that we can use to make grammar lessons interesting and beneficial for our students. I hope to see you all online.

Click here to register for the webinar. 


Author

Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and educational consultant based in Brighton, UK. She has been working in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and her key areas of interest are young learners and the use of stories and reading as a tool for language learning. Her main goal as a trainer is to provide practical advice and strategies that teachers can implement in their lessons.


References:

http://busyteacher.org/16670-teachers-masters-of-multitasking-infographic.html

 


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Let’s make our thinking visible!

A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.

While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.

Thinking dispositions

Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:

  1. Observing closely and describing;
  2. Building explanations and interpretations;
  3. Reasoning with evidence;
  4. Making connections;
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
  7. Wondering and asking questions;
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?

These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.


“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”

Visible Thinking <http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org>


But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?

Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.

We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.

Thinking Dispositions Visible Thinking Routines
Capturing the heart Headlines
Making connections Connect-Extend-Challenge
Wondering and asking questions See-Think-Wonder

Headlines

A routine for capturing essence.Headlines routine

Materials:

An article about fundraising and charity concerts.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
  • They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
  • They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.

Reflections:

The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.

See-Think-WonderSee-Think-Wonder (STW)

A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.

Materials:

A photograph of a polluted river.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
  • First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
  • The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.

Reflections:

This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.

Connect-Extend-ChallengeConnect-Extend-Challenge (CEC)

A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.

Materials:

A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.

Process:

  • Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
  • The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
  • Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
    and their “challenges”.

Reflections:

The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.

Classroom activity 1

Thoughts…

A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.

Classroom activity 2

Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.

 

 

How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?

 


Authors:

Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.


References (recommended reading list!)

Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>

Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>

Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>

Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>

Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>

Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>

“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <http://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>