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Digital literacy: the missing piece for Adult ESL learners

shutterstock_373670722According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77% of jobs within the next decade will require some degree of technology skills. How can these skills be integrated in to English language programs? Kathy Harris explores the role of digital literacy with adult learners. Dr. Harris teaches in the MA TESOL program at Portland State University and also teaches literacy and low-level adult English Language Acquisition.

Think about the variety of your daily tasks that involve technology. Those tasks might include writing an email to a coworker, paying bills online, finding directions to a location, reading the academic calendar on your child’s school website, checking medical tests results in your eHealth portal, or reading an online manual for a new gadget you bought.  The list is long!

The adult learners in our English language programs need to do these things too. They need to be able to get accurate health information, communicate and collaborate using the Internet for school or work, communicate with their children’s schools, apply for jobs, among many other things. Traditionally, digital literacy has not been considered to be part of literacy in adult English language programs, but that is rapidly changing.

In the 21st century, learning English literacy includes literacy in digital contexts, or digital literacy.  Digital literacy includes the ability to use the Internet and other technologies to

  • Find, evaluate and organize information
  • Create and communicate information
  • Generate useful questions to solve problems
  • Share answers and solutions to problems

As we create classes and programs that meet our students’ needs, digital literacy needs to be included. One effective way to do that is to integrate digital literacy tasks right alongside literacy tasks in our classes, ideally doing the same type of task multiple times in different lessons or units.

For example, in a topic unit on health you might create a simple online form for learners to fill out for each lesson.  It is very easy to create online forms. Here is an example of a very simple online form that I made for a low-level ESL class in a unit on going to the doctor:

amir.png

The form was a follow up to reading the online book called Amir gets sick. Students are learning medical questions and medical vocabulary as well as having face-to-face roleplays with the questions and answers.  Creating the form took less than 5 minutes and was a great way for my students to practice the vocabulary and grammar that we had been learning, while also building digital literacy skills.

Google Forms is one free online survey tool that is easy to use. Here is a list of videos created for teachers to show them how to create and use Google Forms created by Richard Byrne in his blog FreeTech4Teachers.

There are many benefits to integrating digital tasks alongside related lessons.  It uses the same vocabulary and grammar as well as topic, so that only the digital format is new, making for a straight-forward learning situation.  The same type of activity is done multiple times it allows for the development of both task and technology expertise by the teacher and the students as well as the opportunity to work through and get past the inevitable glitches. Most of the activities described here can be done with computers, smartphones, or other digital devices.  If devices are limited, students can work in small groups sharing one device.

There are many digital literacy tasks that easily accompany English language lessons and units, including writing email messages or sending text messages, listening to related podcasts, reading the news online, creating short presentations, writing blog posts, creating digital stories, and many more.

searchFinding and evaluating information is a critical aspect of digital literacy. While many of us English language teachers use the Internet for searching, we don’t always consciously know the strategies that we are using. Henry (2006) provides a nice pneumonic for the strategies used in searching that is really helpful when integrating search activities into our English language instruction.  Like other types of digital literacy tasks, it is useful to have a search activity that is related to a lesson or unit that is alongside the other activities in the unit. That way the Internet search utilizes the same (or related) vocabulary, grammar structures, and topical information and only the actual Internet search task is new. Some examples include finding accurate local weather information, finding job information, locating a business, researching a health condition, comparing features and prices of an object or service, etc. Creating a search activity to accompany the units in a course can be an effective way to bring digital literacy skills into your classroom that creates opportunities to practice the digital skill of online searching while also providing practice using the language in the unit.

For more information on how to integrate digital literacy into English language instruction, there is a free online module for teachers on the topic here. You can equip students with the language they need for success with resources such as the Oxford Picture Dictionary. The brand new Third Edition has been updated with a section dedicated to Digital Literacy, and includes other relevant topics such as Cyber Safety, Information Technology and Internet Research. Find out more here.

 

References

Federal Communications Commission. (2010). Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan. Retrieved from http://www.broadband.gov/download-plan/

Henry, L. A. (2006). SEARCHing for an answer: The critical role of new literacies while reading on the Internet. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 614–627.

Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Henry, L. A. (2013). New literacies: A dual-level theory of the changing nature of literacy, instruction and assessment. In D. E. Alvermann, N. J. Unrau, & R. B. Ruddell (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (6th ed.; pp. 1150–1181). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015). Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Integrating technology. WIOA Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/integrating-technology.pdf


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Assessment for the Language Classroom – What’s on the menu?

shutterstock_271564088Professor Anthony Green is Director of the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment at the University of Bedfordshire. Today, he joins us to preview his upcoming webinar Assessment for the Language Classroom.

What’s on the menu?

If there’s one topic in language education that’s guaranteed to get people worked up, it’s assessment. But, in truth, assessments are just tools. Like tools we use for other purposes, problems crop up when we use them to do things they aren’t designed for, when we lack the skills to operate them properly, or when they are poorly made. Knives are great tools for cutting bread, but are not so useful for eating soup. Some people are more skilled than others at using chopsticks, but chopsticks made of tissue paper are of no use to anyone.

“… different kinds of language assessment are right for different uses.”

Just like tools made to help us eat and drink, different kinds of language assessment are right for different uses. All assessments help us to find out what people know or can do with language, but they are designed to tap into different aspects of knowledge at different levels of detail.

Assessment ‘bread and butter’

The best known English language tests are the national examinations taken in many countries at the end of high school and international certificates, like the TOEFL© test, or Cambridge English examinations. For many students, these tests can seem make or break: they may need to pass to get into their chosen university or to get a job offer. Because of their importance, the tests have to be seen to be fair to everyone. Typically, all students answer the same questions within the same time frame, under the same conditions. The material used on the best of these tests takes years to develop. It is edited, approved and tried out on large numbers of students before it makes it into a real test.

‘Make or break’ testing

The importance of these tests also puts pressure on teachers to help their students to succeed. To do well, students need enough ability in English, but they also need to be familiar with the types of question used on the test and other aspects of test taking (such as the time restrictions). Taking two or three well-made practice tests (real tests from previous years, or tests that accurately copy the format and content of the real tests) can help students to build up this familiarity. Practice tests can show how well the students are likely to do on the real test. They don’t generally give teachers much other useful information because they don’t specifically target aspects of the language that students are ready to learn and most need to take in. Overuse of practice tests not only makes for dull and repetitive study, but can also be demotivating and counterproductive.

Home-cooked, cooked to order, or ready-made?

“What’s good for one [exam] purpose is not general good for another.”

When teachers make tests for their classes, they sometimes copy the formats used in the ‘big’ tests, believing that because they are professionally made, they must be good. Sadly, what’s good for one purpose (for example, judging whether or not a student has the English language abilities needed for university study) is not generally good for another (for example, judging whether or not a student has learnt how to use there is and there are to talk about places around town, as taught in Unit 4).

Many EFL text books include end-of-unit revision activities, mid-course progress tests and end-of-course achievement tests. These can be valuable tools for teachers and students to use or adapt to help them to keep track of progress towards course goals. When used well, they provide opportunities to review what has been learnt, additional challenges to stretch successful learners and a means of highlighting areas that need further learning and practice. Research evidence shows that periodic revision and testing helps students to retain what they have learnt and boosts their motivation.

Getting the right skills

Like chefs in the kitchen or diners using chopsticks, teachers and students need to develop skills in using assessments in the classroom. The skills needed for giving big tests (like a sharp eye to spot students cheating) are not the same as those needed for classroom assessment (like uncovering why students gave incorrect answers to a question and deciding what to do about this). Unfortunately, most teacher training doesn’t prepare language teachers very well to make, or (even more importantly) use assessments in the classroom. Improving our understanding of this aspect of our professional practice can help to bring better results and make language learning a more positive experience.

In the webinar on 16 and 17 February, I’ll be talking about the different kinds of assessment that teachers and students can use, the purposes we use them for, the qualities we should look for in good assessments and the skills we need to use them more effectively. Please feel free to ask Anthony questions in the comments below.

webinar_register3

References:
Green, A.B. (2014) Exploring Language Assessment and Testing. Abingdon Oxon: Routledge: Introductory Textbooks for Applied Linguistics.


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25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class

shutterstock_116955382Philip Haines is originally from London, England but lives in Mexico City, where he has been working as a teacher and teacher trainer since moving there in 1995. He is an author/co-author on several ELT series published in Mexico, in the primary, secondary and adult segments. Philip works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico.

In most ELT classrooms there are at least a few students who do not particularly like reading. There are many possible reasons for this, but one factor is that students often do not find the act of reading in the classroom very engaging, despite potentially interesting content. Teachers often capture students’ interest with pre-reading and post-reading activities, but when it comes to the actual process of reading some students are simply not engaged.

A common while-reading activity is to have one student read aloud while the rest of the students follow along in silence. While this way of working has some merits, it also has its drawbacks. It can be both stressful and boring at the same time. It can be stressful for the individual student who is reading aloud and it can be boring for all the other students who are listening and following along in silence.

Below are 25 while-reading activities that reduce the potential stress and boredom described above. These activities are designed for classes where all the students are working with the same text. It must be pointed out that these activities do not always lead to maximum comprehension, but we sometimes need to sacrifice this for the benefits of more engaged, participative and motivated students.

The activities are based on four principles:

  1. The activities can be done with practically any text
  2. All the students have something to do while reading
  3. The activities should be low-stress
  4. They can be done with little preparation

The activities have been categorized by how the students are grouped:

capture

The activities have also been categorized by the kind of response students need to give.

  • Perform actions
  • Underline
  • Say part of words
  • Say words
  • Say phrases
  • Say sentences / lines of text

1

Whole class

Perform actions

Stand up / sit down –
The teacher chooses six words from a chosen section of the
text and writes these on the board. Each student chooses
three of these words and makes a note of these in their
notebook. The teacher read the chosen section of the text
aloud and students read along in silence, but stand up and
then quickly sit down again every time they hear/read their
chosen words.

1

Whole class

Perform actions

Stand up / sit down –
The teacher chooses six words from a chosen section of the
text and writes these on the board. Each student chooses
three of these words and makes a note of these in their
notebook. The teacher read the chosen section of the text
aloud and students read along in silence, but stand up and
then quickly sit down again every time they hear/read their
chosen words.

2

Whole class

Perform actions

Perform the action –
The teacher chooses some important/common words from the
chosen section of the text. Students and the teacher decide
on a specific action to perform for each of the chosen
words. The teacher read the chosen section of the text
aloud and the students listen and read in silence, but
perform the appropriate action whenever they read/hear the
corresponding word.

3

Whole class

Perform actions

Click / clap –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
students read along in silence. Every time they teacher
gets to a full stop/period the students clap their hands
once. Every time the teacher gets to a comma the students
click their fingers once.

4

Whole class

Perform actions

Follow with finger –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
students read along in silence and follow along with a
finger. The teacher can check that every student is
following the text by seeing where their finger is on the
page.

5

Whole class

Underline

Fill in the blank –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen
section of the text. The teacher read the chosen section of
the text aloud, but says ‘blank’ in place of those
chosen words. Students listen and follow the text at the
same time and underline the words that were substituted
with the word ‘blank’. Students then compare with
each other and check with the teacher.

6

Whole class

Underline

Spot the missing words –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen
section of the text that can be omitted without the text
sounding strange. The teacher reads the chosen section of
the text aloud but misses out the circled words. The text
needs to be read in a natural way so that it flows and
sounds normal. Students listen, follow the text and
underline the words that were omitted. Students then
compare with each other and check with the teacher.

7

Whole class

Underline

Spot the mistakes –
The teacher chooses and changes several words in the chosen
section of the text. The teacher read the chosen section of
the text aloud and the students read along in silence and
underline the words they think the teacher has changed.
Students then compare with each other and check with the
teacher.

8

Whole class

Underline

Secret message

The teacher selects some words from
the chosen section of the text so that the first letter of each of these words spells out a
secret word or short phrase. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud
and students listen and read along
in silence. However, every time the
teacher comes one of the previously selected words the
teacher substitutes the word with a funny noise. The
students need to underline each of these words. The
students then need work out the
secret message.

9

Whole class

Say parts of words

Finish off words –
The teacher reads a chosen section of the text aloud and
the students listen and read along in silence. However,
every now and then the teacher says only the first one or
two syllables of a word and then pauses. The students need
to say the missing parts of the word in chorus. The teacher
continues reading once the students have completed each
word.

10

Whole class

Underline and say parts of word

Say only that part of the word –
The teacher chooses a feature of word morphology that is
common in the chosen section of the text. This could be the
plural ‘s’, ing-endings, ed
-endings, –tion, etc. The students go through the
section of the text and underline all the examples of that
feature of language. The teacher then reads aloud and the
students need to call out in chorus only that part of the
word at the same time as the teacher reads it.

11

Whole class

Say words

Banana –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
the students listen and read along in silence. Every now
and then the teacher substitutes a word in the text with
the word ‘banana’. The students need to call out
the word from the text that was substituted . Special thanks to Quyen
Xuan Vuong for sharing this activity.

12

Whole class

Say words

Say only those words –
The teacher chooses and identifies about four or five words
that appear frequently in the chosen section of the text.
The teacher writes these words on the board. The teacher
reads the section of text aloud and students listen and
read in silence, but say only the chosen words in chorus as
the teacher reads them.

13

Whole class

Say words

Every third word
– The teacher starts to read the chosen section of the text
aloud and students listen and read along in silence.
However, the teacher reads only the first two words and the
student need to say the third word in chorus. The teacher
then reads the next two words and then the students say the
sixth word in chorus. This continues until the end of the
chosen section of the text.

14

Whole class

Say words

What’s the next word? –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
students listen and read along in silence. However, every
now and then the teacher stops reading aloud and the
students need to read the next word in the text in chorus.
Once the students have said the word, the teacher continues
reading but stops every now and then and the students need
to say the next word in chorus. This continues until the
end of the chosen section of the text.

15

Small groups

Say words

One word at a time –
Students take turns reading one word at a time around the
group until the end of the chosen section of the text.

16

Small groups

Underline and say words

Alphabet words –
The teacher assigns each member of the group different
letters of the alphabet; so that all the letters of the
alphabet are assigned and so that each student has several
letters. Each student needs to look through the chosen
section of the text and underline all the words that start
with their assigned letters. Then the group reads the
chosen section of the text aloud, but each student only
says his/her corresponding words.

17

Whole class

Say phrases

Listen, read and repeat –
The teacher selects a short section of the text. The
teacher read the section aloud one short phrase at a time.
After reading each phrase the whole class repeats in
chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.

18

Whole class

Say phrases

Finish off the sentences –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud to
the class. Before the end of some sentences the teacher
stops and the whole class has to read the rest of the
sentence aloud in chorus.

19

Pairs

Say phrases

Sentence tennis –
The teacher chooses a section of a text with two paragraphs
of similar length. One student is assigned the first
paragraph and the other student is assigned the second
paragraph. The first student reads part of the first
sentence aloud but stops part of the way through whenever
they want. The other student has to listen and read in
silence, but read the rest of the sentence aloud from where
the first student stopped. This is repeated for the rest of
the paragraph. For the second paragraph the students swap
so that the second student starts reading each sentence.

20

Whole class

Say sentences

Every third sentence

The teacher divides the whole class into three groups. The
groups are called 1, 2 and 3. Group 1 reads the first
sentence aloud in chorus, group 2 then does the same with
the second sentence, and group 3 does the same with the
third. Group 1 then reads the fourth sentence and this
continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.

21

Whole class

Say sentences

Dice sentences –
The teacher divides the whole class into six groups and
assigns the numbers 1-6 to the groups so that each group
has a different number. The teacher roles the dice and all
the students in the group with that number read out the
first sentence in chorus. The teacher roles the dice again
and the corresponding group reads the second sentence in
chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.

22

Whole class

Say lines of text

Secret lines –
The teacher chooses a section of the text with enough lines
of text for every student to have one or two lines each.
The teacher assigned one or two lines to each student in a
random order. The could be by handing out numbers at random
to each student or by cutting up a photocopy of the text
and giving out a line or two of text to each student. Each
student identifies their lines in the original text. The
whole text is read in the correct order by each student
reading their line(s) of the text aloud.

23

Small groups

Say sentences

Nominate next reader –
One student reads the first sentence aloud from the chosen
section of the text and the rest of the group listen and
read along in silence. When the student finishes the
sentence, he/she nominates the next student to read aloud
by saying the name of that student. That student then reads
the second sentences aloud and then nominates the next
reader. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.

24

Small groups

Say sentences

One sentence at a time
– Students take it in turns to read one sentence at a time
around the group until the end of the chosen section of the
text.

25

Pairs

Say sentences

Fizz / buzz / bang –
The teacher selects three words which appear frequently in
the chosen section of the text. The teacher writes these
three words on the board and next to the 1st
word write ‘fizz’, next to the 2nd
words writes ‘buzz’, and next to the 3 rd word writes ‘bang’. Students then
take it in turns to read one sentences at a time and
substitute the selected words with ‘fizz’, ‘ buzz’ or ‘bang’ as indicted on the board.


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Chinese New Year Activities for your EFL Classroom

shutterstock_222402865In recognition of the lunar new year on January 28th and to celebrate the Year of the Rooster, we’ve created some resources for your language learning classroom. Former contributors Vanessa Esteves, Julietta Schoenmann, and Christopher Graham have come up with a range of activities and tasks for young learners and secondary level learners through to adult learners that we hope you’ll enjoy. Happy New Year!

Young Learner Resources:

Lesson plan

Handout

Secondary Resources: 

Lesson plan

Handout

Adult Resources:

Lesson plan

Handout


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Extensive Reading and Language Learning

oup_54206Dr. Richard R. Day is a Professor at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii. He has authored numerous publications, particularly on second language reading, including Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (co-author).

Extensive reading is based on the well-established premise that we learn to read by reading. This is true for learning to read our first language as well as foreign languages. In teaching foreign language reading, an extensive reading approach allows students to read, read, and read some more.

When EFL students read extensively, they become fluent readers. But there is more. Studies have established that EFL students increase their vocabulary, and become better writers. We also know that reading extensively helps increase oral fluency—listening and speaking abilities. Finally, students who read a lot develop positive attitudes toward reading and increased motivation to study English. So there are some excellent reasons for having EFL students reading extensively.

Let’s now look at what extensive reading is by looking at four of its key principles*:

1. The reading material is easy.

For extensive reading to be possible and for it to have the desired results, students must read books and other materials that are well within their reading competence—their reading comfort zone. In helping beginning readers select texts, I believe that more than one or two unknown words per page might make the text too difficult for overall understanding. For intermediate learners, appropriate texts have no more than three or four unknown or difficult words per page.

I recognize that not everyone agrees with using easy materials. Many teachers believe that learners must read difficult texts; they also believe that students need to be challenged when learning to read. Perhaps they think that reading difficult texts somehow gets them used to reading materials written for first-language reading.

This is a mistake. Of course, our goal in teaching students to read is to have them read literature that is written for native readers. But we should not start with that goal! We need to start with books and material that have been especially written for beginning and intermediate levels of reading ability. They have to read texts they find easy and enjoyable as they learn to read.

2. A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be available.

For an extensive reading program to succeed, students have to read. So it is critical to have a large number of books on a wide variety of topics to appeal to all students. Such a library will include books (both fiction and non-fiction), magazines, and newspapers. There should be materials that are informative, and materials that are entertaining.

3. Learners choose what they want to read.

Allowing students to select what they want to read is key. Again, this is related to the basis of extensive reading: we learn to read by reading. Students are more likely to read material in which they are interested. So it makes sense for them to choose what (and where and when) to read.

In addition, students should also be free, indeed encouraged, to stop reading anything that isn’t interesting or which they find too difficult.

4. Learners read as much as possible.

The most crucial element in learning to read is the amount of time spent actually reading. We have to make sure that our students are given the opportunities to read, read, and read some more. This is the “extensive” of extensive reading, made possible by the first three principles.

How much should we ask our students to read?  The quick and short answer is, As much as possible! I usually set reading targets for my students. For example, for beginning EFL readers, the minimum is one book a week. This is realistic, as language learner literature for beginners (for example, graded readers) is short. Some teachers set their reading targets in terms of time. For example, students must read for 60 minutes each week.

To finish, let me repeat this important fact: we learn to read by reading. There is no other way. Extensive reading helps students become readers.

Richard will be presenting on extensive reading at Oxford ELTOC 2017 – our first ever online conference for teachers in Asia.

If you’re a teacher in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia you can find out more about the conference and register to attend here.

 

References:
Day, R. R. and J. Bamford. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading.  Reading in a Foreign Language 14/2.  http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2002/