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IELTS Speaking Practice: Part 3 – What’s the word?

shutterstock_323995139Louis Rogers is a freelance author and senior academic tutor at the University of Reading. He has worked in a number of countries and taught in various contexts ranging from young learners to Academic English. Louis is co-author of Oxford EAP B1+, Foundation IELTS Masterclass, Proficiency Masterclass and Intermediate and Upper Intermediate Skills for Business Studies. In the third and final installment of his IELTS series, he explores range of vocabulary and lexical resource in the IELTS speaking test. 

What’s the word?

This lesson helps students in any section of the speaking test by focusing on one element of the marking criteria in particular – lexical resource. Some of the key indicators used by markers in this category are the variety of words used, the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used and the ability to circumlocute (get round a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hesitation. Obviously, the first ones are long term goals. For example, it takes students a long time to build up a wide range of lexis and to understand the subtleties of the appropriacy of word choice. However, the last one is something that can be frequently practiced even with a limited range of lexis.

Forgetting a word or not knowing a word is something learners come across from day one, however how they deal with this varies greatly. Under test conditions it can lead, in the worst cases, to students completely freezing and forgetting everything else they wanted to say. Even when it is not so obviously noticeable it can mean that students start to pause and hesitate excessively. Frequently practising how to deal with this situation can build students’ confidence and mean that they do not panic as much in the exam.

The activity here practices this skill and at the same time recycles some of the target lexis of the course. In this case the target lexis comes from the first three units of Foundation IELTS Masterclass. However, simple cards and the same staging can easily be created using any course.

Activity cards

IELTSvocabone

Copy and cut up the cards so that you have one set for every four students in the class. Put students into groups of 4 and divide each group into A and B pairs. Pair A will need to time one minute. In pair B, one of the students takes a card and tries to describe the words on the cards to their partner. They cannot say the words on the cards. The B pair can monitor to check the other pair is not cheating. Their partner must try to guess the words their partner is describing. At the end of one minute they get one point for each word correctly described. The pairs then swap roles so that Pair B is timing and Pair A is describing. You can continue this activity until all the cards have been used or after a fixed time of ten minutes. The fixed time would give each student two turns at describing the words without saying them.

 


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Blending learning effectively – a balancing act

College students taking notes in lecture hall. Image shot 2010. Exact date unknown.

Russell Stannard is the founder of www.teachertrainingvideos.com. He is also an associate trainer at NILE where he runs courses in the Flipped Classroom and tutors on the MA programme. Today, he joins us ahead of his webinar ‘How can we blend our learning effectively? Tools and Principles’ to preview the topic.

The reality is we all blend our learning these days. Nearly all learning is a  combination of  face to face delivery and the use of some technology, whether used in the class or outside.

Common problems in ELT blends

The tendency in ELT has been for these blended learning courses to develop out of traditional face to face courses. This can often lead to several problems.

  • There is a lack of planning between the F2F component and the digital content.
  • Courses often become very big with more content than most students will ever be able to work through.
  • The links, videos, audio and other digital content tends to be very disorganized.
  • A lot of the digital content tends to be very individually based.

These are perhaps the four biggest problems I have come across, though there are many more. I must admit that in the past, I have definitely made some of these mistakes myself!

Being organised

When you blend your courses, you have to be organised. One way to do this is by choosing a platform that allows you to save and organise your content in one place so that students can easily access it.  Moodle, Blackboard and Schoology are just some examples. I think Edmodo is  a very good tool and the Facebook layout makes it very easy to use. It is also free and really easy to set up.

Edmodo allows you to organise folders with all your links and files in one place. You can create discussions, set up quizzes, set assignments etc all from one site. What is more you can track all your students work and it even keeps a database of all their marks. The security features are also excellent. Each group you create has a passcode and so you can control access and even lock a class once all the students are logged in, so that now lurkers or outside students can join. It even allows you to moderate your student’s posts before they go live

The amount of content

It is a really good idea to distinguish between what is core learning content and what is extra. Blended courses tend to end up with long lists of ‘useful’ links and content but that can overwhelm the students. I suggest firstly being very selective with what content you share with your students and secondly link it to your lessons.  For example, if you come across a useful site for studying vocabulary, like Quizlet, then introduce it in the class and even link it into your lessons. This way students are more likely to make use of the technology.  Blended courses are meant to link together and the total impact should be bigger than the sum of the parts, so the key is how you combine and work the F2F and digital.

Group work

It is getting easier and easier to set up collaborative work outside the class. In fact Edmodo can really facilitate this and you can even put your students into groups.  As I have pointed out, a lot of the digital content that teachers share, tends to lead to students working on their own so look for opportunities to set up collaborative work.

Russell will be covering Edmodo and looking at the issues around blended learning in his up and coming webinar on April 26th and 27th. If you’re interested in joining this free session, click the link to register below.

register-for-webinar


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It’s different, spoken grammar

Word grammar spelt in scrabble lettersJon Hird teaches English at the University of Oxford, writes ELT materials and gives teacher-training talks and workshops both in the UK and overseas.  He has written and contributed to a number of ELT publications including Oxford Learner’s Pocket Verbs and Tenses. 

In terms of basic syntax, much of the grammar that we teach tends to be based on subject-verb-object word order. While more formal English tends to adhere to this conventional word order, the grammar of more informal and conversational spoken English can be in a number of ways quite different. For example, by putting the object, complement or adverbial at the beginning of the sentence or clause (fronting) or by putting the subject at the end (tailing), we can shift the focus and emphasis in an utterance. This also occurs in conversational written English in online social media. In this blog, we look at some common patterns of this spoken and ‘online’ grammar and, as much of it is relatively straightforward in terms of form and use, we will also consider simple awareness-raising and practice activities that can be incorporated into our teaching.

Fronting in its simplest form is when we put what conventionally comes at or towards the end of the clause (e.g. object, complement, adverbial, question-word clause) in front of it. We do this to put focus and emphasis on the object, complement etc. It can also enhance cohesion. This kind of fronting is relatively straightforward in that there are no other changes apart from the change in word order. For example, in the following extract, taken from a biography of the British band The Kinks, the song ‘See My Friends’ is fronted.

grammarday1

God Save the Kinks, Aurum Press, 2013

Here are some more examples of simple fronting, some of them from written online conversations.

Fifty pounds that cost me!         This one I’ve had for ages.         What it’s based on, I don’t know.             

grammarday2grammarday4

 

 

grammarday3

Another pattern of fronting (also sometimes known as using a head or header) is when we move the object to before the main clause and use a pronoun for the object as well, e.g. my keys and them in the first example below. We use fronting in this way as an orienting device to put the ‘topic’ at the beginning of the sentence.

My keys, I can’t find them anywhere.                     The tickets, how much were they?

That bag over there, is it yours?             That book I lent you, have you read it yet?          

Tailing (or using a tail) is when we put the subject after the main clause and use a pronoun for this subject at the beginning of it, e.g. He …this man in the example below. Restating the full subject after the clause puts extra focus on it and emphasizes, amplifies or clarifies it.

grammarday5

God Save the Kinks, Aurum Press, 2013

Here are some more examples.

It’s always pretty good, the food here.            He’s a great drummer, Brian Downey.

It’s a great place, Sheffield, don’t you think?                       She’s American, isn’t she, Suzy?

Another common pattern is It … that or this.

It’s a great film, that.         It was fun, that.          It’s a nice place, this.

The various patterns described above are often used in conjunction with ellipsis, where unstressed words such as the pronoun, the verb be and/or the article are omitted. The examples below are all from online conversations and some are quite typical of this genre in that there is possibly a higher degree of ellipsis than would occur in spoken conversation. For example, in speaking, we are perhaps more likely to hear the ‘near ellipsis’ s’great song, that and s’lovely little town, that.

grammarday6  grammarday8 grammarday11

grammarday7  grammarday9

 

In class, one way we can look at fronting and tailing is by presenting the students with examples such as those above and asking them to notice and identify the difference in syntax compared to the more conventional word order. Such activities can focus on just one of the grammar patterns described above or a combination. Once the patterns have been established, the learners can also do simple exercises in which they rephrase sentences with more conventional word order using fronting and tailing. This could include sentences in isolation or in more contextualized short exchanges or dialogues, which can then be practised in pairs. The slide below, from a recent presentation on spoken grammar, shows an example of a simple awareness-raising/practice exercise (answers at the end of the blog).

grammarday10

This syntactic aspect of spoken grammar is something that learners of English are very likely to come across outside the classroom. And it seems to be a feature that some tend to pick up on and use with relative ease. So, whether we actively teach this aspect of spoken grammar or maybe just deal with it if and when it crops up, it is useful to have some straightforward explanations at the ready and a few simple examples and activities that can help illustrate, explain and practise the language.

 

Answers:

(It was a) Really good lecture, that. / (It was) Really good, that lecture.

Four As! (It’s) Pretty good going, that.

(He) Always reminds me of Alex, that guy.

(It) Takes me right back, that album.

(It) Made my day, that.

That, I can do.

That laptop, is it yours?  / Is it yours, that laptop?


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Bottom-up decoding: reading

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachersMark Bartram has been a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer for more than 30 years.

In a previous post, we looked at some of the areas we might explore when training our learners in bottom-up strategies for listening. In this post, I’d like to do the same for reading.

(We take it as read that reading fluency depends on the learners’ general linguistic competence. So all of the following discussion assumes that any training programme will also include work on building up this, especially vocabulary.)

It was suggested previously that top-down approaches (where the learners use their knowledge of the world to help understand a text) can provide enjoyable ways “into” a text, especially for the reluctant or weaker reader. These might lead into useful work on sub-skills such as skimming and scanning.

Bottom-up approaches, on the other hand, encourage the learners to develop their ability to understand the text at a deeper or more intensive level. These are designed to help learners “decode” the text in front of them and, crucially, to give them transferable skills to allow them to comprehend the next text they read.

Certain types of activity will be appropriate for all levels, even if the actual language items will differ. These might include work on referencing within the text. For example we ask learners to underline a number of pronouns like it/they or demonstratives like this/these in the text and then work out what they refer to. Ideally, the referent will not always be the most recent noun in the text! Another area is conjunction: we might blank out a few conjunctions in a text and ask learners to suggest a suitable conjunction (or choose between options) for each space. The learners should also explain their choice, as this encourages them to explain the relationships between different parts of the text.

Other activities will depend on the reading level of the learners. Early readers will work more on building up fluency through work on word recognition, and recognising correspondences between spelling and sounds, eg that “ph” is pronounced /f/. Developing readers might focus on ellipsis (sentences with missing words) eg identifying the missing words in “They’re going to write a blog  and post it on their website”1 or paraphrasing/lexical variation, as in

Some education specialists recently put on a festival to encourage children to make mistakes! Yes, it’s true. The experts were worried that young people are not creative and innovative enough for the modern world.

The learners look for examples where the writer has used synonyms to describe the same thing (specialists/experts, children/young people).  The aim here is not primarily to extend the learners’ vocabulary (though this may happen incidentally) but to train them in looking for such variations in future texts.

Advanced readers, especially those in academic contexts, might concentrate on decoding complex sentences. For example, let us imagine that learners are working on a text which contains this sentence:

Developed countries, like those in Europe and North America, waste around 650 million tonnes of food each year and so do developing countries.

The activity might involve the learners answering these questions:

1. What is the verb? (answer: waste)

2. What or who is doing the wasting (or, with learners who have the necessary terminology, “what is the subject of the verb?”)? (answer: developed countries)

3. What do they waste? (answer: 650 million tonnes etc)

4. What does the word “so” refer back to? (answer: the verb “waste”)

5. How could you make this a sentence on its own? (answer: developing countries also waste food)

Learners should recognise that these questions form a process:  locating the verb is a good way to start decoding a sentence, followed by subject and then (if there is one) the object. As the sentences the learners encounter become progressively more complex, this skill becomes more automatic.

Another example might be summary words (very common in academic writing). In the following text, learners might be asked to say what “this process” refers to.

As early as the sixteenth century, English had already adopted words from around fifty other languages, and today the figure stands at over 120. But how did this process happen?

Finally, they may be asked to look for words and phrases that demonstrate the writer’s stance towards the information they are describing. Modal verbs, sentence adverbs like significantly, and “think and report” verbs like claim) can be noted and interpreted.

Even when a text (for example, in a coursebook) is being mainly used for other purposes such as grammar work or discussion, the teacher can always introduce the ideas above, just by asking learners “What does the word ‘they’ in line 22 refer to?” or “Why does the writer use the verb ‘confirm’ rather than ‘say’? How would the sense change if she used ‘claim’ instead?” and so on. These kinds of questions only take a minute or two, but focus the learners’ attention on important details in the text that top-down activities may skip over.

To see bottom-up decoding in practice in the classroom, watch Navigate author Rachael Roberts’ video demonstration here.

This article first appeared in the February edition of Teaching Adults newsletter. If you’d like to receive more articles like this and resources for teaching adult language learners, sign up here.


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Perspectives on Lesson Planning

lessonplanELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes, looks at different approaches to lesson planning and their effectiveness as teaching tools ahead of his webinar on the subject on the 19th and 22nd of January.

Here’s a photograph of a colleague’s lesson plan. It’s written on a piece of note paper taken from a hotel room and was used with a class of students at a business college. In many ways it breaks the rules of what we might call ‘lesson planning’. After all, where are the aims, the timings, the class profile, the anticipated problems and all those other things we expect of a formally written lesson plan? The only thing we can really tell from it is that the lesson had something to do with CV writing.

The lack of detail in this particular lesson is of course because the teacher in question didn’t write it for anyone else to read. As she explains, it was for her own personal use: “I treat lesson plans like shopping lists – I write them at home in preparation for the task ahead and then don’t look at them after that. The helpful part for me is writing it down, not sticking to it.”

I think her ‘shopping list’ approach to planning is probably true for most teachers at a day-to-day level. We don’t have time to write long detailed documents with every step described in detail and – especially if we’re experienced – we don’t need to. As she says above, the ‘writing it down’ is not an end in itself, it’s just part of a longer thought process.

Because most teachers tend to plan in this less formalised way, there is often debate about – and sometimes criticism of – the more formalised type of planning that is expected on teacher training courses or when teachers are formally observed and assessed. Teachers sometimes wonder if the long hours spent writing detailed documents which predict what they might (or might not) do at every stage is time well spent.

I’d argue that on training courses it can be time well spent – especially for new and inexperienced teachers – because it’s a way to develop your thought process. However, I’d question whether a formally prepared lesson plan always has to take the shape of a page with rows and columns that a teacher is expected to fill in and rigidly follow.

In my webinar on this topic, I’ll propose that we take some fresh perspectives on lesson planning by varying our approaches and thought processes at the planning stage. I’ll present some alternative ways to develop lesson planning skills and I’ll demonstrate how visual thinking can help to aid your planning. Participants will also be invited to give their own perspective(s) on lesson planning.

If you’d like to sign up to join John Hughes’ free webinar on the 19th or 22nd of January, please follow the link below. We hope to see you there!

register-for-webinar

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