Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


4 Comments

Collaborative Learning Online And In The Socially Distanced Classroom

Cut-out paper-chain of children holding handsWhat is collaborative language learning?

One of the most satisfying experiences that I have as an instructor is when I have my class make pairs or groups and then, after a few moments, I hear lively chatter. Moving around the classroom, I hear students using the vocabulary and structures that we studied in class. Yet they are doing more than just reciting what they learned in this lesson; they are combining the learning goals of the lesson with the language that they already know in a personalized and creative manner. A casual observer might think that this was break-time or an opportunity for the class to relax. But while I hope they are having fun, I know that they are actually hard at work. This is the culminating activity that we have worked towards together as a class. It is collaborative learning in action.

The key principles of collaborative learning

Having students work in pairs and groups of three or four are key strategies in the collaborative learning approach. Together, they practice the target language and to establish meaning, in a carefully sequenced set of achievable, unintimidating, activities. From our own experience, we know the value of learning by doing. This is even more critical in language learning, where the production of new sounds, new words and new structures is so vital. To be a successful language user, it is not enough to know; students have to adapt their knowledge to create meaning and communicate with someone else. Increasing our students’ opportunities to do something meaningful in class is one of the main aims of collaborative learning.

So, what is the role of the teacher in all of this?

At the start of a sequence of activities, for example, when presenting the target language of the lesson, the method of instruction can look quite traditional; often the teacher speaks and the students listen. After the presentation phase, however, the class transitions in a way that makes the learners, and not the teacher, the focus of the class. The first step often focuses on accuracy. In pairs or groups, the students manipulate the language mechanically. They learn from each other. Crucially, the teacher moves from group to group, evaluating the progress, and correcting the learners as necessary. The subsequent activities in the sequence encourage the learners step-by-step to use the target language in more creative and open-ended ways, with activities that encourage students to combine what they have just learned with the language that they already know.

The collaborative approach is highly motivating because it allows students to communicate about things that matter to them, to be more active, and indeed, more successful learners.

Collaborative learning in the COVID-19 era

Only a few short months ago, the notion that teleconferencing technology would become an essential tool in our professional lives would have been unimaginable. Along with my colleagues, I have struggled to adjust to this new reality. What, now, are the most effective classroom management techniques? Does the collaborative language learning approach even make any sense?

When we went into lockdown in New York City, where I teach, my classroom practice probably resembled a traditional, lecture approach. Eventually, however, I was able to adapt what I typically did in a physical classroom to the virtual classroom.

4 key ways to conduct collaborative language learning in cyberspace:

  1. At the start of the lesson, I present the goals of the class and the target language. I could share my screen, where I could have a PowerPoint presentation, but instead I send my presentation materials to the students earlier. Since unconscious lip reading is such an important part of listening comprehension, I want my students to be able to see my face full size. Instead of sending a file of slides, I use the screen capture feature of QuickTime to record my computer screen and voice at the same time. (I am a low-tech person, but I have found it easy to use). Students, therefore, get a video of my presentation, which they can watch before or after class, multiple times.
  2. Most teleconferencing tools allow the host to make breakout groups. I set these up before class. It is a simple thing to conduct pair work and group work using this feature, and as in a physical classroom, I can monitor them as they work. One added advantage is that my students can video their work, (using any screen capture tool) which we can use later for student self-analysis or peer-reviewing.
  3. Many of the activities that my students do in the physical classroom involve completing charts, matching, and checking items, together. Now, I have students take a photo of their work using their smartphone, and then share it with me and their classmates using email, social media, or our school Learning Management System (LMS). We do collaborative writing activities in a similar way.
  4. In a physical classroom, I can’t imagine teaching in a room without a whiteboard. Almost all teleconferencing tools have a whiteboard feature. I find this feature cumbersome. It takes me a lot of time to write and then erase the digital whiteboard. When teaching online, I find it much more effective to use the chat function when I want my students to see something in writing. For more extended notes or hand-drawn charts, I much prefer to use a small, handheld physical whiteboard, which I hold up to my laptop screen. Some students take photos of this with their smartphone, just like they do in my regular classroom, while others take screenshots.

The Hybrid Classroom

What will happen when we move to a hybrid classroom model, where we combine socially distanced in-class learning and distance learning? Can we have collaborative learning when students must be apart from each other?

Before the pandemic, I frequently had students take photos of their work with their phones, which they posted on a social media platform, and I then projected to the class. Now, I will have them share with each other, in socially distanced pairs and groups.

What activities to do online or in the socially distanced classroom will be an important decision. Right now, I am planning to present new language (vocabulary and grammar) online, in the manner that I described earlier. Writing activities, including collaborative ones, can be successfully conducted online, as can listening activities – my students can access the content on their mobile devices. But since speaking is by its very nature performative, I will prioritize the physical class time for open-ended pair work, group discussions, and role-playing. But at a distance.

 

For more practical tips, and two free activities for running pair work and group work with adult learners, visit our collaborative learning page!

Get Expert Advice On Collaborative Learning


Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. He has given several webinars for Oxford University Press on how to use smart devices and social media to encourage collaborative learning including The potential of smart devices, How to use mobile technology in class and How learners can use mobile technology outside of classFind these recordings in our webinar library.


Collaborative learning banner


4 Comments

5 ways to Engage with Students Online (and Face-to-Face, too!)

young girl on laptopRemote teaching is new to many of us, teachers, as well as being new to many students. Even when we are teaching in class sometimes it gets difficult to keep the students on task for various reasons. With schools closing down in many countries, it can be very challenging to engage students for entire online lessons.

Embracing new digital tools to deliver lessons, shortening the hours of teaching and blending lessons with EdTech can be very beneficial for both teachers and students. There are also a few more tricks we can use to keep students focused.  Here are some ideas to spice up your online lessons with primary students. Many of these can also can be implemented in your face-to-face lessons.

1) Find Something Blue in Your House in 45 Seconds

Since all your students are at home, you can begin your lesson with a warm-up which takes advantage of the fact that your students are at home.  Ask your students to find something blue in the house and share it with the rest of the class via their camera. Set a time limit for this activity, or some students will wander around in the house for hours. You can begin with 45 seconds, and reduce the time span each lesson. Try changing the colour, or you can ask the students to come to the lesson with their favourite toy, book, or anything related to the topic of your lesson. You can also revise some grammar by asking your students to go to the kitchen and find 3 countable and three uncountable items. Ask the students to share why they have chosen those particular items. In class, you can apply this activity with the items in the classroom.

2) Today’s Word

Choose a word either related to the topic or not. Tell students that today’s word is ‘butterfly’, for instance. Tell your students to act like a butterfly as soon as they hear the word. If, during the lesson,  you feel that the students are starting to lose attention, out of the blue say the word out loud. You will see some students paying attention and being a butterfly, while some others trying to catch up with them. This activity may help students with lower attention spans to be more focused.

3) Add Movement

During online lessons, students sit in front of the screen and generally they do not move until the lesson is over. It is a good idea to add some movement in your virtual lessons. If you are doing an activity with multiple choice answers, for example, ask you, students, to stand up and give the answer with their body. Ask the students to raise their arms, and if they think the answer is A, they should lean to their right. If the answer is B for them, they should lean to their left. And if they think the answer is C, they can shake their shoulders. With every type of close-ended questions, for every right answer they give, they can stand up and turn around once. Adding movement in your lessons will help your students to focus more easily. You can try this in your face to face classrooms, as well. All learners benefit from being allowed to move around at regular intervals’

4) Mind Map of The Week

Before starting your lesson, especially a new unit or topic, ask your students to think of, or write, what comes to their mind when they think about the previous lesson This may be a word, a game you have played, or even a joke somebody made. Even giving the name of a character from a story you have read is a good answer. This way, with the help of each student you can create a mind map in which everybody has added something. While teaching online, you can either use a web tool like Padlet, or a big piece of paper on which you write using coloured pencils. In a classroom, you can use the board, or again a big piece of paper or cardboard.

5) Choose the Song

In both real and virtual classrooms, it is always a good idea to start or end the lesson with a song, especially with primary students. You can ask a student to choose the song they like, you can play it either at the beginning, or the end, or both. To make sure that every student takes part in this, you can nominate each student to choose the next song in alphabetical order or use a web tool like Wheel of names. Deciding the class song will give the student a sense of being part of the class. There should be a rule, and that is that the song should be in English!

Bonus

You can use an activity like attention grabbers to give the message that the task is over and you need their focus on you and the lesson. With an attention grabber, you give a cue, and the whole class respond chorally. For example, once a task is over, simply call out ‘Hocus Pocus’, and have your students respond with ‘Everybody Focus’.  Attention grabbers are always helpful in class and help you improve your classroom management. If you have not tried them for your virtual lessons, I highly recommend you add some. To add even more fun, you can whisper it, say it in an angry manner, change your voice in any way you would like. Here are some examples, and you can find more online.

Teacher

1-2-3

Holy Moly

All set

Ready to listen?

Student

Eyes on you

Guacamole

You bet!

Ready to learn

Joining a lesson and trying to focus can be very challenging for both teachers and students in this virtual learning period. Adding some activities that do not need preparation will help your students engage more in your lessons. Once you go back to the classroom, you can still try these activities to have your students engage face-to-face, too.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page for more resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

Learn at Home

 


Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. After graduating from Istanbul University with joint honours in American Culture and Literature with Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy, she embarked on her own teaching career. As a teacher, Aysu had the fortune to work in supportive teaching teams and personally benefited from the valuable guidance of mentors. Now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu meets and supports teachers from across Turkey and is proud to be an active member of a global community of dedicated educationalists. She is a holder of a CELTA qualification, has co-written articles for Modern English Teacher magazine and TEA Online Magazine.


1 Comment

Step by Step: Using your Dictionary to Expand Topic Vocabulary

Topic vocabulary view on Oxford Learner's DictionariesThese days, there might only be one topic of conversation in the news, on social media, and in our own chats to friends and family. Along with new ways of working, teaching and learning, we are even adopting a new lexicon to help us talk about it. My own personal “Health” topic vocabulary has grown to include such words and phrases as self-isolation, social distancing and herd immunity.

Using topic vocabulary to enhance learning

Collecting words together in topics has long been seen as a good way to help students learn vocabulary. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to access word lists where vocabulary is collected together in this way, with words levelled according to CEFR levels, and linked up to dictionary entries showing pronunciation, meanings and examples all at the click of a mouse or a single tap?
Well, on the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website we have done just that, and we hope that you and your students will find our new Topics pages useful. They are all completely free to access at oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com!

Using Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries Topics pages

Large topic areas are subdivided into smaller ones, and once you open a word list you can filter on CEFR level. For example, here are the words in our Health > Health and Fitness > Good health topic at B1 and B2 level:Topic vocabulary: Health and fitness topics

Here are a few activities that you might like to try:

1) A topic a week

Choose your topic vocabulary and allocate words to learn each day by using the click-through feature to check meaning, pronunciation and usage in the dictionary. At the end of the week, review and quiz!
Here is an example topic, with three words to learn per day, and a few activities for reviewing:

Topic vocabulary: Cooking and eatingFood and drink > Cooking and eating > Taste and texture of food
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/topic/category/food-and-drink

 

Example Words to learn

Monday: bitter, bland, chewy
Tuesday: creamy, crusty, delicious
Wednesday: greasy, juicy, mild
Thursday: moreish, salty, sour
Friday: spicy, stale, tender

 

Review/Quiz:

Divide the words into “positive”, “negative”, and “neutral” columns. Complete the sentences with a suitable adjective, using a different one each time:

  • Oranges are… (e.g. juicy)
  • Lemons are… (e.g. bitter)
  • Chili sauce is… (e.g. spicy)
  • Chocolate is… (e.g. moreish)
  • Fresh bread can be… (e.g. crusty)
  • Old bread is… (e.g. stale)
  • Food that is cooked in too much oil is… (e.g. greasy)
  • Meat that is overcooked can be… (e.g. chewy)

2) DIY quiz

Allocate a topic, and get students to create quiz questions for each other using the dictionary definitions and example sentences.
Definitions: one student gives the dictionary definition and their partner guesses the word.
Example sentences: one student picks an example sentence from the dictionary entry, and replaces the topic vocabulary with a gap.
Topic vocabulary: Appearance

Appearance > Appearance > Facial expressions

  • (Definition) Which word means to become red in the face because you are embarrassed or ashamed?
    (= blush)
  • (Example sentence) They ________ with delight when they heard our news.
    (= grinned)

 

 

Topic vocabulary: Sports

Sports > Sports: other sports > Cycling

  • (Definition) What do you call a bicycle for two riders, one behind the other?
    (= tandem)
  • (Example sentence) You’ll have to ________ hard up this hill.
    (= pedal)

 

 

 

 

Please have a look around, starting at https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/topic/. And let us know what you think!

Can you use these resources with your students?

 

 


 

Jennifer Bradbery is Digital Product Development Manager in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press. Before joining OUP as an editor, she spent many years either teaching English, teacher training, or both in the UK, Taiwan, and Canada.


2 Comments

10 Invaluable Back To School Ideas For ELT Teachers

Teacher holding Back To School sign

I have a theory: ‘A teacher’s stress level at the beginning of the year is inversely proportional to his/her years of experience’. It does ring true, doesn’t it? It’s also true that the more one prepares in advance the smoother the first days will be and the easier it is to cope with contingencies. The purpose of this blog post is to help reduce ‘back to school’ anxiety for novice teachers and experienced colleagues alike, with one or two new ideas to add to your ‘bag of tricks’ so as to give flagging enthusiasm a boost. I hope you find them useful!

1. Set Back To School objectives for your students

Ask yourself: what would you like your students to achieve by the end of the year? Setting back to school objectives is hugely important because it gives your students something to aim for. Here are some tips: 

  • Make sure your students can relate to your objectives (e.g. [for Business Students] ‘By the end of the course, you will be able to give presentations at least as well as your colleagues from the UK and the US’). 
  • Aim high. Expectations act like self-fulfilling prophecies (provided you believe in them).
  • Make sure your objectives are measurable. How will students know they have achieved a particular objective?
  • Ensure buy-in. As teachers, we often automatically assume that what we desire for our students is what they want too. Not so! We need to discuss these objectives and get our students on board.

2. Set objectives for yourself!

Don’t forget about your own development. It can be all too easy to pour all of your energy into the development of others, but self-care and personal growth are essential if you want to be the best you can be. Worried you won’t have time? Try these everyday development activities for busy teachers.

3. Prepare a stress-free Back To School environment

Prepare a learning environment that energises, rather than one that demotivates and increases anxiety. High levels of pressure are counter-productive to learning, and creating a safe space for students will give them the confidence to push themselves. Watch the webinar to find out how you can manage your own wellbeing and how this can be transferred to help students in the classroom.

4. Prepare your Back To School classroom

Perhaps you would like to encourage more open discussion among your students this year, or just fancy changing things up to help returning students (and yourself) begin anew. The correct back to school classroom layout can also help you manage your classroom more effectively, as you can design it to support the tone you want to set in lessons (see below).

5. Revisit your bag of tricks (what do you mean you don’t have one?)

OK – a ‘bag of tricks’ is a collection of games/activities/tasks that you have used in the past, your students enjoy and which you know and trust (see your free downloadable activities below). You might think that there is no reason to write down ideas you are so familiar with. Wrong! Time and again, when I get frustrated while planning a lesson, I go through my list only to marvel at how activity X – which was my favourite only a year ago – had completely slipped my mind. If something works, write it down. The faintest pencil beats even the best memory!

6. Revisit your list of sites

Looking for material or ready-made activities to use with your students? A site like Breaking News English for instance offers graded texts, based on topical issues, each accompanied by dozens of exercises for you to choose from. For Listening material, the British Council site has a huge range of excellent clips for all levels. If you or your students are movie fans then Film English might be just the thing for you, or if you believe, as many do, that students learn best through songs then a site like Lyrics Training is right up your street! As for comedy fans, there is always the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube…  😊

7. Prepare templates instead of lesson plans

Lesson plans are good, but Lesson Templates are far more versatile! A Lesson Template is a set of steps that you can use repeatedly with different materials each time. For example, a Reading Skills Template can be used with a new text each time (see this one for instance; you may even choose to use this particular set of activities for the first day of school!). Prepare a template for each of the four skills, and an extra one for a Vocabulary Lesson. Seeing is believing! Here are examples of a Writing Skills template, and a template combining texts and activities from Breaking News English with Quizlet.

8. Support yourself with apps

Learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom! Apps like Say It: English Pronunciation, LingoKids and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary can deliver time and time again whenever you want to give your students homework with a twist! You can find all of these on iOS and Android.

9. Set the tone in the classroom

Do it from day one. Make sure each lesson contains at least one fun activity (a song/game/funny video clip etc.). It is best if this is linked to your lesson plan, but it does not have to be; motivation trumps linguistic considerations (I hope OUP do not fire me for this… )! Don’t avoid using your best activities early on for fear of running out of interesting things to do later. If your students come to see you as a fun/creative teacher, this will colour their perception of whatever you do later. Plus, by doing exciting things in class you set a standard for yourself and this will do wonders for your professional development!

10. Have a great first lesson!

Below you can download some back to school activities for your first class (feel free to tweak the activities or play with the order as you see fit). Given the number of things a teacher has to do at the beginning of the academic year, it is comforting to know that at least the Lesson Plan for the first session is out of the way!

 

 


Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been active in ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner, presenter and teacher trainer. He has travelled and given seminars and workshops in many countries all over the world. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology and which have appeared in numerous newsletters and magazines. His areas of interest include Student Motivation, Learner Independence, Teaching one-to-one, and Humour.

This post is a collaboration between Nick Michelioudakis and Oxford University Press.


11 Comments

25 ideas for using unit word lists in the classroom

Teacher and young adult students developing their skills with classroom activities

Many ELT series have unit word lists, either in the student book, or available in the teacher resources. However, few teachers make active use of these unit word lists on a regular basis. In an attempt to address this situation I have produced a set of 25 activities which teachers can easily incorporate into their regular teaching practice.

All of the activities have the following three principles:

  1. they can work with almost any ELT unit word list;
  2. apart from the students having access to unit word list itself, they require only basic classroom resources i.e., pencil, paper, board and marker;
  3. they require no previous preparation from the teacher.
Example from: Smart Choice 2nd edition, OUP

Note: Unless otherwise stated, students need to be looking at the word list to do the activity.

  1. Which words do you know (before starting the unit)? – Individually, before starting the unit, students put a tick (✔) on the right next to all the words they know.
  2. What is your favorite word? – Individually, each student identifies their favorite word from the list. Students explain their choice in groups and/or to the whole class.
  3. Which ones are similar to words in your own language? – In small groups, students look through the unit word list and identify all the words that appear to be similar to words in their own language. These could be cognates or false cognates. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  4. I don’t like this word because… – Individually, each student identifies a word from the list that they don’t like. Students explain their choice in groups and/or to the whole class.
  5. Rapid underlining – The teacher chooses between 5 and 10 words from the unit word list and calls these out quite quickly. Individually, students listen, find and underline these words in the list. Students then compare and check that they have found the correct words.
  6. Find the word in the unit – The teacher chooses a word from the word list and calls this out and the students need to find the word in the unit of the course book. This can be done as a race.
  7. Which is the most useful word? – Individually, each student identifies from the unit word list the word they think is the most useful. Students explain their choice in groups and/or to the whole class.
  8. How many of the words are things you can touch? – In small groups, students identify how many of the words in the unit word list are things that can be touched. The teacher elicits and discusses. There might be many different ways to interpret this and can lead to interesting discussion.
  9. ‘Killing’ vocab items – In small groups, students decide on 3 words they want to eliminate from the unit word list and which will not appear in the next test. The teacher then elicits from each group the 3 words they chose. The teacher writes these words on the board and identifies which 3 words are the most frequently chosen from all the groups. The teacher promised not to include these in the next test. (Dudley, E. & E. Osváth. 2016. Mixed-Ability Teaching. OUP)
  10. Rapid translation – In pairs, students take it in turns to choose a word from the unit word list. The other student has to try to give the translation in their own language.
  11. How many have you seen today? – In small groups, students identify how many of the words in the unit word list are things / concepts / actions they have seen today. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  12. Identify the words from a definition – The teacher chooses about 5 words from the unit word list and then one word at a time tells the students a definition of each word. Individually, students look at the list and underline the words they think the teacher is describing. The teacher elicits, checks and discusses.
  13. How many have 3 syllables? – In small groups, students identify how many words have 3 syllables. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  14. Which word is the most difficult to pronounce? – Individually, each student looks at the unit word list and identifies the word they think is the most difficult to pronounce. The teacher elicits and helps students pronounce the words they chose.
  15. Bingo – Individually, students choose any 5 words from the unit word list and write these on a piece of paper. The teacher reads and crosses off words at random from the list until a student has crossed off all of their 5 words and calls out ‘bingo’.
  16. How many words have the stress on the second syllable? – In small groups, students look through the unit word list and identify how many words are stressed on the second syllable. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  17. Which is the most difficult word to spell? – Individually, each student looks at the unit word list and identifies the word they think is the most difficult to spell. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  18. Test your partner’s spelling – In pairs, one student looks at the unit word list and chooses 5 words and dictates these to the other student (who is not looking at the list). After the dictation of the 5 words the students both look at the list and check the spelling.
  19. The teacher can’t spell – The teacher choices 5 words and spells these aloud to the student but makes a deliberate spelling mistake in 2 or 3 of the words. Students listen while looking at the word list and try to identify which words were misspelled.
  20. Quick spelling – In pairs, students take it in turns for one student to choose a word and spell it aloud quickly to other student. The second student tries to say the word before the first student has finished spelling it aloud.
  21. Which word has the craziest spelling? – Individually, each student decides which word, in their opinion, has the craziest spelling. The teacher elicits the words from the students and the class identifies which word was the most frequently chosen.
  22. Which are the 3 longest words? – In small groups, students look through the unit word list and identify the 3 words with the most of letters. The teacher elicits and discusses.
  23. Guess my word – In pairs, students take it in turns to choose a word from the unit word list. The other student needs to ask yes/no questions to work out the word.
  24. Can you make a sentence using 4 of the words? – Individually, each student makes a sentence using any 4 of the words from the unit word list (combined with other words to create coherent sentences). Students then compare and decide which sentence they like best.
  25. Which words do you know (after finishing the unit)? – Individually, after finishing the unit, students put a tick (✔) on the left next to all the words they now know. They can compare this with the number of words they knew before starting the unit and see their progress.

For regular tips, tricks, and resources to help your students improve, subscribe to our monthly Teaching Adults e-newsletter!


Philip Haines moved to Mexico from England in 1995, and currently works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico. He has spoken internationally in three continents and nationally in every state in Mexico. Philip is the author/co-author of several ELT series published in Mexico.