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7 ways Creative Writing can help your EFL students

shutterstock_176605295Having graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Jonathan returned to his native Malta to get a TEFL Certificate before going to Korea for 4 years to travel and teach English. He has now returned to Toronto where he started CreatEng Cafe – a creative writing website for English learners. Each year they host a Creative Writing Competition where students from all over the world participate for a chance to win prizes and get published.

Learning phrases and studying grammar will help students understand the foundation of English, but they can only truly become fluent once they are able to construct their own sentences freely and independently, and what better way to do that then by telling a story?

Here are 7 ways creative writing can help your students learn English:

  1. Puts Your Grammar Lessons Into Practice

So they get pretty good marks on their grammar test, but what about their ability to communicate their thoughts? Sometimes students spend so much time with their heads in books they do not get the opportunity to share their own stories. This can help them practice all the grammar they learned and put it together into an entertaining story.

  1. Improve Confidence

Having someone else read a story you wrote is very empowering, but even if they don’t share it, students will build confidence having the freedom to create their own story and not having to worry about being perfect.

  1. Inspiring and Motivational

Grammar books can be a little rigid, and creative writing gives students a little more time in the playground. Having been able to write a full story, no matter how long or short, will give them a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to push themselves further.

  1. Exercise their Creativity

Some words or phrases can have several different meanings, and creative writing gives students the ability to think about the words they use differently. This new perspective on words will let them be adventurous and it will lead them to more discoveries.

  1. Accessible Anywhere and Anytime

Some students will not have anyone to practice their English with outside of the classroom, but creative writing can be a great outlet for students who want to continue practicing at home or at school.

  1. Think in English

When students learn how to communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings in English they will feel more in control. They will eliminate that step of translating or thinking in their head and it will become more natural for them.

  1. Become More Fluent

There is a sense of accomplishment having learned how to think in English and communicate a story confidently. Practice makes perfect and with each story they write they become more and more fluent.

Do your students have a story to tell?

They can enter the CreatEng Cafe writing competition for their chance to
win prizes and get published.


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Making books look like candy

shutterstock_280154789Patrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, Shine On! and Everybody Up!, explores the importance of design and ‘eye candy’ in materials for young learners.

In the natural world, colour and pattern are keys to reproduction and survival. The attention of bees is guided by precisely marked, competing flowers. Camouflaged moths hug tree trunks, invisible to their predators. Birds and animals show off their plumage and markings to attract a partner. Phosphorescent creatures in the warmer oceans mirror the night sky, filled with the stars that guide our journeys across its expanses.

The same is true with the learning journey we embark on with pre-elementary and elementary students. The learning materials we use must guide, motivate and excite, firstly and above all through the eyes of our young students. The characteristics and effectiveness of materials are largely determined by the visual impression they make and the deeper design decisions that undergird their development. As teachers and publishers we rightly should embrace the extent to which design decisions influence the whole learning process.

An Oxford University Press designer once said, “I like to make books look like candy.” Children, more than any other age group, are visual learners. The younger the learners, the more important the visuals are. That is not to say that they are not important with older age groups, but in the absence of a lot of printed text, children depend on what they can see on the pages (or increasingly, the screens) in front of them. The classroom can be very cut off from the outside world and exciting images from beyond the classroom bring the experience of learning a new language alive.

Young learners benefit deeply from interacting with different illustration styles and different media. These inspire creativity as well as maintain students’ attention. Good illustrations convey emotion and that in turn motivates young learners. The aesthetic experience should be pleasurable and the content memorable. No doubt we all remember our favourite illustrations from the books of our childhood. Furthermore, language itself is not linear and the visual presentation of language in context is a powerful tool that mimics the state of language in the real world. It has been proven that language is more memorable when presented with images, particularly images that children can identify emotionally with. Again, this replicates their experience of learning their first language.

The layout of activities on the page gives a book its feel and determines how we will respond. The lesson should flow smoothly from well signposted activity to the next. Icons and titles are part of this rhythm. The font and size of rubrics are also very important, as is the amount of blank space on the page. This informs how we perceive the level of difficulty of the material. The feel and finish of a course book are also vital to our experience of a book. Who hasn’t stroked the cover of a book or run their hands down its spine? Who hasn’t been frustrated as a child by trying to write or colour on the wrong quality of paper? All of these decisions, taken by the editorial and design teams, contribute to the soul of the materials and the ‘user experience’.

We call something superficially attractive but lacking deep meaning ‘eye candy’. They also say that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’. On the contrary, we can and do tell a great deal about course books by looking at their covers, and a bit of eye candy on their pages for young learners is just what they like and need. Their first impression of the path ahead is partly determined by the design of their very first English book.

So let’s not underestimate the work of the design department as we choose the materials we use. Let’s celebrate those beautiful illustrations and gorgeous double spreads. Let’s obsess about clear, well-set rubrics. Let’s appreciate delicious paper quality. Let’s delight at a bit of bling on a cover. As a great scholar may or may not have once said, “Per pulchra ad astra.” Through beauty to the stars!


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Conveying Passion: Bringing Literature Into the Classroom

book literature blurred

Public domain via Pixabay

Amos Paran & Pauline Robinson look at some key principles to help you bring literature into the classroom.

I have always found literature to be an extremely powerful tool in the classroom. Maybe it’s because of my own love of literature – maybe I managed to convey some of my passion. Maybe the fact that I love literature made me try out more interesting lesson plans – for example, I think that the lessons in which I taught or used literature were much more learner centred than other lessons.  I always felt that my learners enjoyed their literature lessons and we always had great discussions about important issues.

One important point to make about literature is the distinction between ‘teaching’ literature and ‘using’ literature. I always feel uneasy about these distinctions, but one thing that is always important is not to teach about the literature. The learners must be involved with it directly.

When I think back to my own lessons, or when I have observed other teachers use literature in their classroom, it seems to me that there are a number of principles that can make such lessons a success.

Principle 1: Teacher Engagement

The first principle is probably that teachers need to be engaged in the work that they are teaching – so the choice of the literature they are using or teaching is important. In some cases teachers have little choice about the piece that they are teaching – but some teachers then can use their negative reaction as a discussion point in class.

Principle 2: Appropriate Tasks

With some literary texts you can just plunge in; others will require more preparation. But the tasks that we construct are crucial in helping the learners make meaning with the literary texts and enjoying them. And by ‘tasks’ I don’t mean any activity or any discussion – I mean a focused activity for which there is a clear tangible outcome.

Principle 3: Relevance

Relevance refers to the connection between the learners’ lives and what is happening in the society around them and the literature that we use.  Many of the works I have used in secondary classrooms concerned the construction of identity and finding one’s way in the world – a theme of huge importance to my learners.  When I taught James Joyce’s Eveline in a secondary school, I had a young woman in my class who was going through the inner turmoil that Eveline goes through and ended up marrying in the last year of secondary school only to escape her home.  Obviously, the themes which the story was bringing up were relevant not just to her but to the other learners in the class.

We can also connect literature to history and to our society’s view of historical events. For example, on July 1st 2016 we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history. Learners can be made aware of this through literary works from World War 1 by poets such as Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, both of whom were killed in the war.

Supports going up after battle to relieve the soldiers in the front trenches.

Supports going up after battle to relieve the soldiers in the front trenches. Photo: National Museum via Flickr

 

Principle 4:  Student Choice

Outside the classroom we normally choose what we want to read; if we don’t enjoy what we read, we stop. In class this doesn’t happen often, although we know that ‘As students perceive that teachers respect them enough to provide genuine choices, students increase their effort and commitment to learning’ (Guthrie & Wigfield 2000: 412). If we provide a choice for our students – for example, by offering them a choice of three or four books from which they have to choose one that the class will study – we increase their investment in the class and create a space where the learners have a voice too. This choice can be extended to other areas too.

Principle 5: Continuous Support and Engagement

Learner engagement with literary texts is not something that is achieved miraculously on day 1 of class: like other areas in teaching, this is something that we need to work on continuously. For example, bringing in a short poem once a week and devoting five or ten minutes to reading or discussing it in class can sometimes be more effective than spending a long time on one piece and analyzing it in great depth. We need to move away from what I like to call ‘the tyranny of totality’, the idea that our learners have to know everything about the piece we are learning (or indeed, that we need to be absolute experts about it!) Literature is there to be enjoyed and experienced, and it can be experienced at many levels.

 

Bibliography

Guthrie, J. T. and Wigfield, A. (2000) Engagement and motivation in reading. In P.B. Mosenthal, M.L. Kamil, P.D. Pearson and R. Barr (eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Vol. III. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. pp. 403-422.

Amos Paran started his professional career in Israel, where he taught EFL in secondary schools and trained teachers. His main areas of interest are literature in language teaching and the teaching of reading and he has published widely in this area.

Based for many years at the University of Reading, Pauline directed language courses and taught on the MA TEFL programme. She has taught on short courses for students and teachers in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and Asia.

 

 


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A way to make demonstrative determiners teachable

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Ken Paterson is grateful for a piece of advice given to him soon after he started teaching English for Academic Purposes many years ago.

This, these, that and those

Over the years, I’ve had a complex relationship with the demonstrative determiners.

Before I started teaching English, I can’t remember giving them a moment’s thought.

Then, after a few years of saying to students (with appropriate hand gestures), ‘This is for things that are near to us, and that is for things that are far away’, I started to get interested in ‘text analysis’ and ‘cohesive devices’, and went a bit over-the-top, getting students to highlight determiners, and the words or phrases they referred to, in a complex code of colours and arrows that made their handouts look like early abstract art.

By the time I met my first English for Academic Purposes class, however, I’d calmed down a little.

‘The appropriate use of demonstrative determiners’ was helpfully listed as a ‘teaching outcome’ on our EAP course pro forma and, although I got into the habit of projecting short texts onto the OHP screen in order to discuss the function of a this or that, or reformulating sentences on the whiteboard to include an appropriate determiner, I never seemed to get that satisfying look in students’ eyes that here was something they could easily take away and use themselves.

And then a colleague introduced me to the concept of summary nouns.

This/these + a summary noun

‘Abstract nouns with demonstrative determiners’, she informed me, ‘improve the flow of the text by summarizing old information and introducing it to a new clause or sentence.’ And then she gave me an example or two, such as the following:

An alternative to the guided interview is the focus group, in which respondents are asked to discuss their views collectively. This method, where participants engage with each other, has the advantage of lowering the risk of interviewer bias.

I must have been aware at some level of this feature of academic English, but I hadn’t actually had it explained to me as an entity in itself that was potentially teachable.

‘Oh, there are lots of things you can do with it in the classroom’, she added, such as:

– asking students to identify some of the many typical summary nouns (area, conclusion, development, example, idea, phenomenon, situation, trend etc.) and organizing them into sub-groups (claim, comment, remark etc.);

– gapping texts after the demonstrative determiner and eliciting the most appropriate summary noun;

– applying the feature to disconnected or ‘untidy’ texts;

– inviting students to bring in for discussion their own examples;

– looking at the occasions where a writer has paired that or those, or such instead of this or these with a summary noun.

And what I found in class was not only the sense among students that this was a feature they could take away for immediate use, but also, it seemed to me, a greater awareness of the function of demonstrative determiners in other contexts (on their own or with non-summary nouns), almost as if the ‘graspable’ nature of ‘this/these + a summary noun’ had acted as a kind of bridging device.

So thank you, Sue, wherever you are!


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#IATEFL – English Medium Instruction as an unstoppable train: How do we keep it on the rails?

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Ernesto Macaro is Professor of Applied Linguistics (Second Language Acquisition) in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, as well as Director of EMI Oxford. He joins us on the blog today to preview his IATEFL talk ‘Can English teachers and English Medium Instruction (EMI) lecturers cooperate?’ 

English Medium Instruction (EMI) is a general term which refers to the teaching of academic subjects (e.g. science and engineering) through the medium of English in countries where the majority population is not Anglophone. In European Higher Education it is sometimes synonymous with the term ‘CLIL’.

EMI is increasing at an astonishing rate in universities around the non-Anglophone world, a phenomenon largely driven by the desire to ‘internationalise’ higher education institutions by attracting overseas students and staff. EMI is a deeply contentious phenomenon!

We will propose the following:

  • Academic subject teachers are often ill prepared linguistically to teach through English and the level of support from the institution is often lacking.
  • Students may come from a variety of backgrounds with varying degrees of English language competence and experience of EMI.
  • The role of the English tutor or EAP teacher in universities where EMI is being introduced may be changing and this brings with it a number of organisational challenges, and may even pose a threat to the employment of such tutors.
  • Subject Teachers may not be aware of the changes in their pedagogy necessitated by a transition to EMI.

We will provide some general background to this global expansion of EMI and then offer a possible way forward.  We will present the findings of a collaborative project, in Turkey, involving both the English tutor and the academic subject teacher. Our findings suggest they both have a lot to learn in this rapidly changing world!

Ernesto Macaro joins Julie Dearden at IATEFL Birmingham for their talk ‘Can English teachers and English Medium Instruction (EMI) lecturers cooperate?’ on Wednesday 13th April, from 2.30-3 pm in Hall 8B.