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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/>

 


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EFL activities for Bonfire (Guy Fawkes) Night

Bonfire night

 


Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

 

 

 

Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) – November 5th is an interesting date in the British celebratory calendar, where sparklers, bonfires and fireworks are all lit in the name of Guy Fawkes. But what’s the real story behind this British cultural event?

Interestingly November 5th has always been a date for celebration, long before the events that unfolded in 1605. But since Guy Fawkes and his accomplices failed to blow-up the houses of parliament, the date is used to mark their failure. It might seem an odd occasion to celebrate, but for 250 years it was the law to remember the failed plot!

The politics of the time are somewhat forgotten in present day events; now Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night is really just a great excuse for a party! But still, the story behind it is well known in Britain, so it’s a great opportunity to get your students accustomed to some British culture as they learn English.

To help you, we have put together a variety of activities that can be used at various levels and with different age groups, including:

  • Warm-up rhymes
  • Secret mission cards
  • Role play activities
  • Reading and speaking activities
  • Certificates

It’s all available on the *Oxford Teacher’s Club! Click the button below to download your own Guy Fawkes teacher activity pack, and spark some fantastic English dialogue with your class.


*Not a member of the Oxford Teacher’s Club? It’s free, and it only takes minutes to register! Join now and enjoy access to thousands of teaching ideas and activities for all ages.


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Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Vocabulary learning strategies Q&A

Nick Michelioudakis has been a teacher, examiner and trainer for many years. His most recent webinar ‘Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Vocabulary Learning Strategies’ sparked an interesting dialogue on the ways students learn new words. Here are the answers to some of the questions from the webinar.

I would like to start by thanking everyone for attending the Webinars and for their positive comments at the end. If you would like to read an article based on these ideas that we discussed, here is the link: http://oxelt.gl/2zBMc58

OK, on to the other questions now, which I hope will help me raise one or two interesting points.

Where do students find these collocations in order to record them? Texts?

This is an important question and it is something I forgot to stress during the Webinar. It is useful if students first encounter the words in texts. In this way they can get all kinds of information, including (hopefully) a useful collocation.

If for whatever reason the text does not help much, students can use this amazing tool, SkELL, to look at examples from other authentic texts. As you can see from the screenshot, simply enter a word in a box and you get a number of sentences. This will help students immensely.

What are the rules for dividing sentences into chunks?

This is a hugely important question – and far too large an issue to cover here. As I see it, this is where the teacher’s knowledge of the language comes in. There are all kinds of ‘chunks’ out there and they differ in size, in how ‘fixed’ they are, and in their level of idiomaticity. The teacher must use their judgment to decide where to direct students’ attention, it could be a simple collocation (‘dress a wound’) or a whole phrase (‘let’s cut to the chase’), or something with a ‘movable’ part (‘reported a % increase’). The chunks you focus on will depend on frequency, coverage (whether they can be used in many contexts), students proficiency, and the needs of the syllabus.

What about using opposites to explain words?

There is nothing wrong with using opposites provided students really understand what the word used as an explanation means. For instance, if you want to explain the meaning of the word ‘cowardly’, there is nothing wrong with telling students that it means the opposite of ‘brave’. However, it is generally not a good idea to present two unknown words which happen to be antonyms in the same session (e.g. ‘generous’ – ‘stingy’) if students are unfamiliar with both, in case they mix them up.

What’s the difference between linking and anchoring? And which ones are just for revising?

The two techniques are very similar. However in ‘linking’, students start with a set of words, and then try to discover ways to connect two or more together. When students use ‘anchoring’, they start with a particular word, fix it in their mind, and then try to discover connections with other words themselves. If the starting word is ‘nostalgia’, they may come up with ‘memory’, ‘think back’, ‘miss someone’, ‘nostalgic song’, ‘pensive mood’, ‘sad’, ‘melancholy’ etc. They may even come up with personal associations which will only make sense to them.

How can we avoid the typical students’ question “how do I say …?”, starting from a word in their mother tongue?

Well, personally I am not sure we should be discouraging this. In fact, this is one of the strategies I mentioned in the Webinar (‘expanding’). As I see it, there is nothing wrong with allowing students to use their L1 as a springboard for discovery. It’s natural for students to reflect on their knowledge and say to themselves ‘OK – this is something I can say in the L1; how can I say it in English?’ What we do want to do though is encourage them to think in terms of sentences rather than single words. What I do if a student asks me ‘How do I say ‘άγκυρα’ (anchor) in English?’ is ask them to give me a sentence.


I really hope you found these techniques useful! If you get the chance to try them out, I would be interested to hear how the lesson went. Contact me via my email address: nickmi@ath.forthnet.gr.


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Q&A: Everything is better with music

Music in the ELT classroom

Children singing their favourite songs whilst learning English

Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. In this post, she answers some of the questions from her recent ‘Everything is better with music’ webinar.

As I promised in the webinar, although the session was for teaching pre-primary and primary children, I will address some of your questions about teaching teenagers and adults.

 

 

 

How can I use songs like ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ with adults?

If I were to teach beginner adult classes again, I would tap into all the things I know help children to learn, and TPR would be one of them.  I think I would be upfront with them and say, ‘this is a song I use with children which will help you to learn parts of the body with little or no effort on your part. I need you to count to ten and then do the song with me, but let’s pretend we are six-years-olds.  Let’s have some fun!’ Willingness to participate may depend on a whole range of factors, but I think my Spanish students would find it a fun and useful way to disconnect from their busy lives for a couple of minutes. You could even ask them to go home and teach it to their children or grandchildren.

How does TPR work in a large class of teenagers?

With any activity, it depends on the timing.  If a group of teenagers are lethargic and tired, a TPR activity is the perfect remedy to wake them up and get them moving.  I would be more inclined to give them the words and ask them to come up with the actions. You could tell them to prepare as if they are the teacher, teaching the song to younger siblings or cousins. That way they get the benefit of the language, without the activity seeming too babyish.

What about teens or adults? What music activities work for them?

As some of you commented, teens can often react badly to music a classmate has chosen or indeed, music you think is great!  With teens, I often like to go for music that has been made popular by a film or an advert, rather than jump straight to a pop song that you know some of the class won’t like.  Either that or I go for music that is so old, they cannot really object!

Older children, teenagers and young adults work well with music by the Beatles, ABBA and songs like ‘Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong.  The second webinar was on 21 September, World Peace Day; the song ‘Wonderful World’ was perfect for such a day, as was ‘With my own two hands’ by Jack Johnson.

Both these songs are proven big hits with my pre-teens and teens, and work just as well with young adults.  If used well, the lyrics should spark a discussion about how we can ‘change the world’.

I don’t make teens and young adults sing along to a song – this has to be something that they want to do.  Students will often sing along or hum to a well-chosen song, but it’s more important that they have the words in their head.

These three musical activities tend to work well with teenagers and young adults:

  1. Music critic – I choose snippets of songs based around the topic we are working on. The students look at the lyrics and listen to the music. They then discuss and write comments on each piece. Then we feedback to the class.
  2. There’s a letter for you – This is an activity I got many years ago from a CUP book called ‘The Standby Book – activities for the language classroom’, edited by Seth Lindstromberg.

I send the students the words of a song like ‘Wonderful World’ in a letter, starting with ‘Dear class…’ and end by signing off with the name of the artist; in this case, Louis Armstrong.  I handwrite the words and put the letter in an envelope addressed to the school. I photocopy or display a copy of the letter on the board. In class, we read the ‘letter’ and the students discuss what the sender means in the letter (lyrics). The students also talk about the sender of the letter, have they got a problem? What’s happened? Do they think the sender of the letter is a happy/positive person?

This activity works best with songs the students do not know, so they can form an opinion in the discussion. Once the students are finished with their interpretations, I would then play the song.  It is often a big surprise for the students to find out it isn’t really a letter.  Obviously, you can only do this once with a class, or they’ll already know your secret!  Here are some songs that work particularly well in a letter:

  • Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Letter: Dear Class… Love from Louis)
  • Love me do by the Beatles (Dear Linda… Love from Paul)
  • Perfect by Fairground Attraction (Dear + boy’s name…From + girl’s name) 
  1. Story songs for teens.

Did you know that some songs have been made into books? These are great tools to use in class. You can tell your students the story, and then play them the song as a surprise!

The three Bob Dylan songs ‘Blowing in the wind’, ‘Man gave names to all the animals’ and ‘Forever young’ have all been made into books.  I have used all three with students and they are very surprised to hear the song at the end. When doing this, you may find a more recent recording of the song will better appeal to your teenagers. I used the Jason Mraz version of ‘Man gave names to all the animals’.

How do you calm children after an energetic song?

The key is choosing when to play a song.  If the music stirs the group, use it when they need stirring. However, if the children are energetic when they get to class, I would use music to calm them down before doing anything more energetic.

Should we have background music while we’re teaching English in our classrooms?

I often use background music.  If the children are doing desk-based work, I will often play the song from the course book related to the language they are working with, it helps to reinforce the language.

Try playing music that is 432 Hz in the background. 432Hz music is used in places like spas to calm us down. Here’s some YouTube inspiration.

It is believed that music tuned to 432Hz will fill you with a sense of peace and well-being, regardless of the style of song you listen to. I know many teachers that use music tuned to 432Hz to calm down children and adults in their classes.  Mozart and Verdi composed music tuned to 432Hz, and so did artists like Bob Marley, The Police, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix.  Check out which style best suits your students.

Thank you to everyone for attending, and for your questions. I hope to see you all in another webinar soon!