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Getting more out of your classroom tests Q&A

English language testingThank you to everyone who attended the webinar ‘Get more out of classroom tests’! I talked about how teachers can make more effective use of tests in the classroom (as well as other forms of assessment) as ways of improving learning. I suggested that we need…

  1. to help learners to see the connections between testing and real language use inside and outside the classroom
  2. to explore why learners get some questions right and others wrong; how their current performance compares to successful performance; what they understand and what they need help with to improve
  3. to work with learners to improve their performance and make progress towards their goals

Some very interesting questions came up during the webinar and I’ll do my best to answer them here.

Caterina B asked about how we should pair or group students to work together to discuss questions: should they all be a similar level of ability?

This is a difficult question to answer without knowing the particular group of students. It can be good to group or pair students who are at a similar level. In this case, they may all tend to get the same number of questions right or wrong and it is unlikely that one student will know more answers than the others and do all the work for the group. If all the students feel they are at the same level, they may be more willing to discuss their answers. On the other hand, it can also be challenging for a more successful student to explain why a certain answer is correct – and motivating for the other students to learn from a friend. As with all the ideas I suggested, why not try different combinations and find the one that works best for you?

Maria A D O asked which age groups might be suitable for the teaching strategies I was presenting.

You may be surprised to know that many of these ideas come from primary school classrooms with children of five years old, or even younger. Of course, at that age, children may need more help with learning how to set goals and discuss answers. You might like to visit Shirley Clarke’s website to see some children from my part of the world getting involved in these kinds of activities. Of course, there is no upper limit. University students and other adult learners can also benefit greatly from setting goals, assessing themselves and each other, and monitoring their own progress.

Ruzanna V asked how we can teach classes where individual students all set different individual goals.

One possibility would be to ask the class to arrive at an agreed set of shared goals. This can be a good way of getting them to think about why they are learning a language and promoting discussion (especially if they can do this in the target language: maybe you could give them useful words and expressions to help). Another possibility, although more difficult for the teacher to manage, would be to allow different groups of students to work in class on different activities. One group chooses and reads one book; another group chooses a different book or does some writing instead; a third group practices giving presentations. It is a technique I’ve used often and it can work well with children of different ages, but the students usually need to be trained to do it in small steps.

I was also asked to recommend some further reading.

The British Council has a short article by Deborah Bullock on assessment for learning with links to more detailed resources: www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning


Professor Anthony Green is Director of the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment at the University of Bedfordshire. He has published widely on language assessment and is a former President of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA). His most recent book Exploring Language Assessment and Testing (Routledge, 2014) provides trainee teachers and others with an introduction to this field. Professor Green’s main research interests concern relationships between language assessment, teaching, and learning.


Further reading

Need further support, or just want to learn more about language assessment? We recommend that you take a look at these two titles: ‘Language Assessment for Classroom Teachers‘, and ‘Focus on Assessment‘.


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Enabling students to become autonomous learners of vocabulary

Teaching words

I taught English as a Foreign Language for many years in Japan and also for a short time in China. During my time as a teacher I always tried to focus on teaching words. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, in my experience as a foreign language learner, I saw the value in learning vocabulary. Learning words helped me to communicate a little bit more effectively, and allowed me to understand a little bit more. Moreover, I found vocabulary learning to be motivating. I might not see the gains that I made in speaking, listening, and grammar, but I could see that I knew more words each week, and this encouraged me to keep studying. Second, I could see that my students always made an effort to learn vocabulary; in every class as I walked around the classroom I could see that students had written new words in their books.

Despite my best efforts to teach vocabulary, I was always a little disappointed by the progress of my students. However, now that I have a better understanding of the research on vocabulary learning, I realise that I was part of the problem; I could have done a better job helping my students to learn vocabulary.

There are too many words to teach!

In my webinar, I will talk about several issues that I believe are really important to teaching and learning vocabulary. The first and basis for the talk is the fact that there are far too many words to teach. Native speakers of English know about 15,000 words, and to understand books and newspapers, students need to know around 8,000-9,000 words. Students may only learn a small proportion of these words in the classroom, which means that if they are to be successful in their lexical development, they need to learn the majority of words on their own outside of the classroom. This means that one of the most important jobs for teachers is to help their students to become effective and efficient autonomous learners of vocabulary.

Vocabulary learning strategies

There are several vocabulary learning strategies that instructors can teach to help their students to become more effective and efficient autonomous learners. All of these strategies are fairly simple, which is perhaps why typically little classroom time is spent on mastering vocabulary learning strategies. However, because of their great importance, it is worth spending a great deal of classroom time ensuring that students can effectively learn words on their own.

I will touch on a couple of vocabulary learning strategies in my webinar. The most important one involves working with different types of input that students might encounter outside of the classroom to show students that they can understand and enjoy English on their own. Input that students might be motivated to learn from such as English television programs, YouTube videos, shopping sites, and songs. Initially a great deal of these types of L2 input may be too difficult for students. However, with support from teachers over a sufficient period of time, students may find that not only can they have reasonable comprehension of the input, but they might also see that they can enjoy learning with it. Essential to this strategy is showing students that there are opportunities to enjoy learning English outside of the classroom, and how making the most of these opportunities is fundamental to L2 development. With teaching vocabulary learning strategies, it is not what is gained during the classroom that is of greatest value, but rather what is gained when students are encountering and using English outside of the classroom that is key.

In my upcoming webinar, I look forward to discussing with you how to help students become autonomous learners of L2 vocabulary. I believe there are some useful points in my webinar that would have helped me do a better job of helping my students to learn vocabulary when I was an EFL teacher. Hopefully there will be some value in the talk for each of you.

Register for the webinar


Stuart Webb is a Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Western Ontario. Before teaching applied linguistics, he taught English as a foreign language in Japan and China for many years. His research interests include vocabulary, second language acquisition, and extensive reading, listening, and viewing. His latest book (with Paul Nation), How Vocabulary is Learned was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

 


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Myths and Legends EFL teaching resources | OUP

Myths and Legend resources

Inspire your students with our free Myths and Legends lesson packs

Wherever you travel in the world, you will find people telling stories of their homelands, families, landscapes, histories, and much more besides. They are a part of every culture on the planet and many of these stories have been passed down through many generations.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to find characters from old tales in a hugely popular blockbuster movie, than being told about them around a fireside. Indeed, they were originally told to entertain, but that’s not all. Myths and legends were used to teach lessons; often about dangers, different cultures, and deciphering between right and wrong.

As educational tools, they’re great for language learning! Thankfully there are plenty of them, as learners really do find them captivating and worthy of classroom discussion. It’s a great way to get students talking!

Don’t worry, you don’t have to go hunting around for some old myths or legends yourself, we’ve partnered with teacher trainer Charlotte Rance to do all of that hard work for you. Download your free Myths and Legends lesson packs, available now from the Oxford Teacher’s Club!*

Inside your free lesson pack, you’ll find:

  • Myths and Legends to contextualise language
  • Vocabulary organisers
  • Diamante poem outline
  • Reading activities
  • Mythology worksheets

Choose your lesson pack below to get started.

Young learner button

 

 

Teenage learner button

 

 

Adult learner button

 

 


Had a legendary lesson with these resources? Share your experiences with the teaching community by leaving a comment below, or by Tweeting us using the handle @OUPELTGlobal.


*Not a member of the Oxford Teacher’s Club? It only take and moment to join, and it gives you access to a wide range of free-to-use online teaching resources!


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Discovering IATEFL | Brighton 2018

 

Panoramic view of Signature talk at IATEFL 2018

From the moment I heard the heavy guitar intro to ‘Whole Lotta Loveit was obvious I was listening to something markedly different, a formidable rock band. But it wasn’t until many years later that I truly got into Led Zeppelin.

I don’t know why it took so long after those first notes, but my ears, indeed my soul, thanks me today for it. I listen to LZ now as if they are a new band. Such as it was for me at IATEFL 2018, because even though the conference is legendary, and despite my twenty-plus years in ELT, this year’s event was my first. I’m appreciative now that I hadn’t attended before as it was a ‘shot in the arm’ that revitalised my passion for education, and at times it felt like I was attending a live music festival.

This year OUP Turkey sent a team (including myself) over to Brighton for IATEFL 2018. Collectively we attended hundreds of sessions. In the evenings at dinner, and the following mornings at breakfast, conversations flowed fast and free about what we’d seen, and what the day’s coming plans were. Some of us ‘jig-sawed’ our schedules to cram as many of the seemingly endless selection of enticing sessions in as we could.

The presenters at IATEFL were great, I always left the room with a meaningful takeaway. In some cases, my own pedagogical paradigm shifted – that’s saying something for an ‘old dog’ like me. The SIGs were of special interest to me, and Monday’s tech group alone was worth the trip from Istanbul, providing those of us with a bird’s eye view (through Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift for example) into the future of education (which made clearer more than ever that the future is fast upon us). But to me, even technology could not reach as deeply to my educator’s core than the human value of the SIG SEN (Special Education Needs).

If you are like me, I would bet that within a few seconds of meeting its president Varinder Unlu you’d realise just how important this special group is. For example, on Tuesday I attended Marie Delaney’s presentation on Teaching Students with Behavioural Difficulties, when it was finished all I could mutter to myself was, “Wow”. We most certainly need more voices like theirs in education, and I hope future conferences will reflect this. In my job I work with teachers extensively and can unequivocally say there is a strong need and demand from them for expert assistance in ELT from groups such as the SIG SEN.

Christopher Sheen at IATEFL 2018Other IATEFL sessions were also impactful. It’s doubtful anyone can dispute the plenaries generated meaningful discussions that lasted well beyond their presentation time. Also impressive was the Pecha Kucha performances, those too were a first for me. The presenters were fantastic but the show-stopper was Lexical Leo – he brought the house down!

From the welcoming receptions at the publishers’ booths to the freely provided glorious black fuel (coffee of course!), the support staff were A+. It was also my first time in Brighton and I hope it’s not my last. A big thank you goes out to the host city, the organisers of IATEFL, and to all of our new friends who made this feel, at least for me in some way, like I had been to a Led Zeppelin concert.

See you next year in Liverpool!

Christopher Sheen, Teacher Trainer and PD Coordinator, OUP Turkey


Christopher Sheen is a full-time Teacher Trainer and Coordinator with Oxford University Press, based in Istanbul. For more than 20 years he has engaged in all types of learner profiles in the ELT field, in North America, Asia, and since 2014 in Turkey. Before joining OUP Turkey he was the lead trainer in Japan’s largest language company in addition to being a full-time English instructor in the largest university in western Japan. He has a keen interest in class dynamics, student ownership and CPD programs.


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Getting more out of your classroom tests

Students taking testHooray! It’s time for a… [fill in the blank].

Whatever word your students come up with to fill this blank, I guess it’s not “test”. If you want to stir up some enthusiasm among your students, announcing a class test possibly isn’t best way to do it. After all, tests are much more likely to elicit groans and grumbles than a chorus of cheers.

Tests are familiar and dreary ceremonies that mark out the school year. Everyone knows the routine: Be silent. Keep your heads down. No copying! Read the instructions carefully and pay attention to the time limits. Yes, it’s boring. Yes, it’s sometimes rather unpleasant, but, like eating your spinach, it’s supposed to be good for you (although you may not remember why).

A familiar routine

At the end of the process there’s a grade or a score and it goes into the teacher’s book. It probably tells the teacher what he or she already knows. The good students, the ones who sit at the front and answer questions, get an ‘A’. Poor students, the ones who aren’t so good at languages and sit at the back and play with their phones, get an ‘F’. At the end of the year, or at the end of the course, the scores are added up and reports written, submitted to the system, filed, and forgotten.

Like their students, teachers generally find testing a necessary, but tedious chore. They may be creative in thinking of stimulating activities to spice up their classes, but when it comes to tests, they just dust off the one they used last year, photocopy the test from the teachers’ book, or cobble together a few questions from here and there. It may not be fun, but it has to be done.

Making them pay!

In some cases, the teacher uses tests as a kind of punishment. If the class doesn’t get motivated by the carrot of my thrilling classes, the teacher reasons, I’ll use the stick of giving them a thorny test to show them they need to study more seriously. In a way, it works. Sooner or later, students realise that the whole point of studying a language is not to communicate with people, but to pass tests.

On the other hand, we all recognise that tests do have their uses. Regular review of material studied in class has been shown to improve retention and promote learning. Tests help to communicate what is expected from both teachers and students: what the class ought to know and be able to do after a period of learning. They can point to what learners understood well and what they are struggling with, helping teachers to see where problems need to be tackled.

Where did it all go wrong?

So, here’s the problem. Classroom tests should benefit and enhance learning, but too often they do little to help and can have a demotivating effect. They should show us where progress is being made, but too often they only confirm what we already know about who is top of the class and who is lagging behind. Tests should be motivating, engaging, and one of the most useful things that learners do in the classroom. All too often they are none of these things.

Unfortunately, it’s not just students and teachers who find tests unpleasant. Teacher trainers also think of testing as something that (if it really has to be mentioned at all) is best left to the end of the course. The trainees are all busy looking forward to the end of the course and the upcoming holidays and so won’t resent such a distasteful topic. Testing is a big part of what teachers and students do, but it’s usually a very small part of teacher training. Perhaps it’s not surprising that it doesn’t always go well.

Ringing the changes

In the webinar, I’ll suggest that testing by teachers is something that can, with a little effort and imagination, be done so much better. Assessment and monitoring of student progress is one of the most powerful learning tools available, but it is too often left in a cupboard to rust. Let’s get it out, tune it up, and start putting it to work!

Register for webinar button


Professor Anthony Green is Director of the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment at the University of Bedfordshire. He has published widely on language assessment and is a former President of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA). His most recent book Exploring Language Assessment and Testing (Routledge, 2014) provides trainee teachers and others with an introduction to this field. Professor Green’s main research interests concern relationships between language assessment, teaching and learning.


Further reading

Need further support, or just want to learn more about language assessment? We recommend that you take a look at these two titles: ‘Language Assessment for Classroom Teachers‘, and ‘Focus on Assessment‘.