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Remembering Ritsuko Nakata

Ritsuko NakataWe were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Ritsuko Nakata, co-author of the best-selling Let’s Go series and founder of the IIEEC Teacher Training Center. Ritsuko’s career was dedicated to the teaching of English to young learners.

Born and educated in the USA, Ritsuko moved to Japan early in her teaching career, where she began experimenting with more practical, effective ways to get children to learn English.  Her focus on getting students to ask questions as well as answer them and to thus be able to engage in more natural dialogue is a cornerstone of the Let’s Go approach.   The series was a pioneer when it was first published in 1992, setting the standard for many others that followed; now in its 5th edition, it remains a market leader. In fact, one of Ritsuko’s great pleasures was meeting English teachers who had studied with Let’s Go when they were children and who were now using the series in their own classrooms. She was a wonderful mentor and teacher trainer who could get roomfuls of teachers on their feet and practising her signature action-based routines. Always kind and always enthusiastic, she was especially skilled at inspiring new teachers, putting them at ease, and helping them to feel confident in their teaching.

 It’s no exaggeration to say that through her work, a lifetime of teaching, authoring, and training, Ritsuko has touched the lives of millions of primary teachers and students — in Japan where she lived, across Asia, and around the world. She leaves an amazing legacy and her loss will be keenly felt by the staff at OUP and all those who knew her.  Ritsuko touched so many lives here at OUP and in the world of ELT, and she will be missed by all who knew her. We send our deepest condolences to her husband and two daughters, as well as to her fellow Let’s Go authors.


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Remembering Kathy Gude, ELT Author

Kathy GudeWe were saddened to learn recently that Kathy Gude, one our most prolific authors of English language teaching materials and a great friend of OUP, passed away in early August, following a brave battle with a long illness.

Kathy made an enormous contribution to our English language publishing, working with us for more than 35 years as author/co-author of the Matrix series and other successful titles, including Success at First Certificate, Proficiency Masterclass, Fast Class, Kickstart, Countdown, Aspire, Advanced Masterclass CAE, Advanced Result, CAE Advanced Listening and Speaking, and Venture into First, which many thousands of teachers and students have enjoyed using over the years. Everyone at OUP who was fortunate enough to work with Kathy held her in the highest regard and loved working alongside her.

Across all her numerous projects with OUP, Kathy brought extensive teaching, teacher training, and assessment experience and expertise. She was a very creative author and a master at crafting engaging and valuable content which has stood the test of time in ELT classrooms all around the world. Her extensive assessment expertise, which she developed as an item writer and paper chair for UCLES/Cambridge ESOL exams (now Cambridge Assessment English), meant that students using her books could – and still can – be confident of being well prepared for their exams. Kathy loved new challenges too, and one of those was authoring OUP’s first online workbook in 2009 – a project she took on with great enthusiasm, and which paved the way for the ELT online learning products that followed.

Kathy always worked hard, including on the promotion of her OUP courses – travelling to give her popular author talks in towns and cities around Italy, Greece and Eastern Europe. She loved talking to teachers that she met at these and other ELT events, and it was clear that she was widely respected by many for her professionalism and wisdom, and loved for her warmth of character. Many teachers and colleagues will also fondly remember Kathy for her beautifully coordinated, colourful outfits.

Kathy was immensely caring, generous, supportive and thoughtful. She was also full of fun and found joy in life – even at times when life was not easy. Kathy was a great listener and took a keen interest in the lives of everyone she met, always making time for them however much else she had going on. She was devoted to her husband, Peter, their three sons, and their grandchildren – our thoughts are with them.

Kathy touched so many lives here at OUP and in the world of ELT, and she will be sorely missed by everyone that had the honour of knowing her. Her legacy will live on at OUP and in the ELT community for many years to come.


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Help! My students think their course book is too easy

ESL course book too easyWhat can you do if some of your students find the course book you are using too easy? Ken Wilson, the main author of Smart Choice Second Edition, shares his ideas.

I recently got this message from a teacher:

Hello Ken. I was wondering if you could answer a question. How can a teacher deal with using a course book that the students find too easy? My colleague is using Smart Choice Starter (an excellent series, by the way), but some of the students think it’s too easy. What advice do you have for her? Thanks in advance!

I imagine a lot of teachers find the book they are using too easy or too difficult for their class. Or for some of the class. So here are a couple of ideas to do something about it, assuming that changing the book or moving certain students to a different level are not options.

The book seems too easy for all/most of the class

Let’s imagine that you realise after a couple of weeks that the book you are using seems to be ‘too easy’, which basically means that the students already ‘know’ the new vocabulary and grammar content, or at least they think they do. A possible solution may be for pairs or groups of students to take responsibility for presenting some of the ‘new’ material to the rest of the class. Let’s say there are twelve units in the book and you’ve reached Unit 2, so there are ten to go. It’s clear by now that the book isn’t challenging them enough. Tell them – in their own language if necessary – that from now on, you would like them to be responsible for the presentation of some of the new material in the remaining units.

Put the students in pairs or groups of three, you decide which is best. Ask them to work together in their groups and look at all the remaining units in the book – give them 10-15 minutes to do this. Tell them to choose a unit that they would like to present. They should then tell the rest of the class what the new vocabulary is and POSSIBLY what the new grammar point is. It really doesn’t matter if there are too many or not enough students for each pair/group to have their own unit to present. The process is more important than the end product.

I have met teachers who express concern about their students looking at units later in the book. What if they’re too difficult? To these teachers I say – do you REALLY think you students haven’t already looked at every page in the book? They usually do it as soon as they get it, mainly to see if there are any interesting images. So stop worrying about that.

After they’ve had a chance to look at all the units, ask them which one they would like to present. Often more than one group will want to present the same unit, so they have to decide who does it. Let them decide by tossing a coin, arm-wrestling, whatever.  There will be some units that no one wants to present. Ask them why. If the answer is that the material looks boring, then you are well within your rights not to do those units. You should find alternative material to present the lexis, grammar and skills practice. And send a note to the publisher telling them what your students thought. Authors and publishers need lots of feedback, and teacher feedback is an essential part of the process of improving material for the next edition. It’s even better if the teachers are passing on the thoughts of their students. But let’s imagine at least some of the groups agree to present the material in different units. How should they do it? My suggestion is that they do it without the book.

In Smart Choice, the first page of each unit is devoted to presenting a new lexical set. Ask the students to find images of the key vocabulary from another source – Google images is a good place to start. Another excellent source of freely available photographic material is ELTpics (http://www.eltpics.com), a collection of thematically arranged photographs compiled and curated by ELT professionals. The point is, you should encourage your students to start the presentation with some graphics as back-up, preferably using PowerPoint, keynote or Prezi – whatever the students are familiar with. Some of the lexical sets may be more easily presented using mime or acting out techniques. Encourage the students to explore that possibility, too.

Let’s imagine a group of students have agreed to present the vocabulary from the next unit. Remind them at the end of the previous class and check that they have prepared the material for their presentation. The class begins. You ask the two or three students to take over. It’s an interesting moment – the presenters are a bit nervous and the rest of the class are a bit curious. The atmosphere is already much more interesting than it might be if you were doing all the teaching yourself! For guidance, tell the presenters to try to find out what the other students already know, showing them images or acting out/miming to illustrate the new words. Explain that ‘eliciting’ new words/phrases is a good way to start.

If the class is a monolingual class, there is every chance that the presenters will occasionally use L1 as part of their presentation. My feeling is that this is fine, particularly at lower levels. You may have a different opinion, but I feel that the occasional use of translation is very helpful, especially for beginners. If the presenters struggle at any point, step in and help them. But give them a chance to do it themselves. They will never forget the experience.

Objections

When I have presented these ideas in a talk or workshop, teachers have the following objections.

  1. You’re asking people to teach who have not been trained to teach.
  2. Some students might think – you’re the teacher, I’m the student, YOU should be teaching ME. There could be a rebellion.
  3. In a PLS or other institution where the students are paying, they may object and ask for their money back!

These are important issues to deal with. Regarding the first point, the fact is that your students may not do a very good job of presentation, in which case you have to step in and help. Don’t take over the class, just add some ideas and help to elicit information from the rest of the class. Regarding the second and third points, in the end it’s all about belief and trust. If you believe that what you’re doing is right and the students trust that you are doing things because they will benefit from them, they will accept any of the crazy methods you’re using. I tried this method of students teaching their peers many times when I was a teacher at a PLS, and I never had a single complaint from students about my methods. I hope it will work for you too!

The book is too easy or too difficult for a proportion of the class

This is a classic mixed-ability class scenario. In this case, I’m going to suggest that you get your best students to help you with the less able ones. Let’s imagine again there are fifteen people in the class. When you have a new class, how long does it take you to decide who are the ‘good’ students? Not long, right? So here’s an idea.

During the first two or three classes, make a mental note of who the top third of the students are. In a class of fifteen, this means five students. Ask them to see you at the end of the class. When the rest of the students have left the room, you tell the top third that they are really good – the best in the class. This is very nice for them to hear. But, you go on to explain, with this ability comes a responsibility. From now on, when you do group work, these ‘good’ students will make a group of three with two of the other students, ie not with another ‘good’ one.

So now, one ‘good’ student is helping two more challenged students. Three is much better than two, because the two can learn together from the better student. Meanwhile, you go from group to group, monitoring the work they are doing.

I hate to use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe students, because all students bring something positive to the classroom, but I think you will see the advantage of this idea. At no point have I indicated to the class why the five are taking over, it will just happen.

Final thought

If the book is too difficult for ALL the class, then you do have a problem. If your feedback suggests that this is something that happens, and there is nothing you can do to change the book, then I will come back with some ideas to help with that situation, too.


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Using Video in the Classroom

Christopher Graham, teacher and teacher trainer, looks at the benefits of using video in the classroom. Chris will be hosting a webinar entitled ‘It’s not just for comprehension! Using video in the classroom‘ on 22nd October.

In many ways I am not an ideal choice to do a webinar on video in the ELT classroom. It’s true I was born in Hastings on the south coast of England where, in 1924, John Logie Baird made the first demonstration of something called ‘television’. However, the funny thing is that I don’t and indeed never have owned a TV. The main benefit of this is that I have more time on my hands than most people I know; the only negative thing is that I often feel left out of social conversations.

“Did you see … last night?”

“No, I don’t have a TV.”

“Oh.”

End of conversation.

I mention this because I think many people use TV as just a time-filler, something to switch on simply because they have one or because they can’t think of anything else to do. I worry that this is also how video is sometimes used in the ELT classroom. I hope my webinar will nurture some creativity as to how we can use video with our students.

Let’s define what we mean by video. For me, it is either a short clip or a longer piece or storyline  divided into short clips to be used over a period of time. Remember that video is real time and to use it effectively takes a long time, so short is good. Do also bear in mind that video is not just from a DVD, think about YouTube, Vine and now Instagram as well. If your students are under 25 you can be sure that’s what they are thinking about!

So why use video in the ELT classroom? Here is a quick list:

  • It’s motivating – yes of course, but please do remember the platforms listed above as they are where your students will find their clips.
  • It can be made relevant – there is so much out there that it will be easy to find something that interests your students.
  • One clip can be used with different levels within your institution or within a class. Adjust the task, not the clip.
  • It’s low tech. Yes, video is educational technology (and students love technology) but, unless you get into editing clips, it is so easy to use.
  • A well-made clip covers a lot of ground in a short space of time. In other words, a short clip will give you a lot of material.
  • If your students have access to tablets or smartphones, you have huge flexibility to generate real inter-student communication. Different students can watch different parts of one clip, some with the sound on, some without, and so on.
  • It’s great for homework. Watching YouTube is what students do at home anyway.

So how can we use video in class? Well, that is the main theme of my webinar on 22nd October. I hope you can join us. If you have time, make a short list of how you have used video; shared ideas are always the best.

Anyway, I have to go now to watch the news on someone else’s TV!

To find out more about using video in the classroom, join Christopher for his webinar on 22nd October.


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Three Question Interview – Patrick Jackson (@patjack67)

We’ve asked top ELT authors the following 3 questions:

  1. What’s your favourite ELT book?
  2. What or who has had the biggest impact on ELT in the last 25 years?
  3. What do you wish you’d known when you started out in ELT?

Here, Patrick Jackson (and his dog Frosty), author of Potato Pals, Stars, and Everybody Up, answers these questions in a short interview.

Patrick Jackson is an ELT author interested in the use of songs, stories and real world connections to motivate learners. He believes that the classroom should be an enjoyable, happy and stimulating place for students as well as teachers. Passionate about Linked Language Learning, he is fascinated by the way technology, and especially social media, has the power to transform the teaching and learning experience. He is also interested in the ways in which we can help our students develop creativity and real confidence. Patrick spent 13 years in Japan teaching learners of all ages but is now based in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of Potato Pals, Stars and Everybody Up and blogs at patjack67.com.