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Teaching teens in the EFL setting: Grammar

Group of teenage friendsJoan Saslow is the author of numerous widely used multi-level courses for teens, young adults, and adults. She has taught English and foreign languages at all levels of instruction in both South America and USA. Allen Ascher has been an English teacher, trainer, intensive English language program director, and consultant. He has also been a publisher, developing ELT materials for students of all ages. Ms. Saslow and Mr. Ascher have co-authored materials together since 2002. In this article, they share their tips for teaching grammar to teenage EFL learners.

This series of short articles will address the three-part reality we face: the social nature of the teenaged learner, the challenges of learning English outside of an English-speaking environment, and the limited number of class hours devoted to English study per week. Each article will focus on one aspect of language teaching and learning and examine pedagogical approaches to maximize learning and success.

See our previous article on teaching vocabulary to teenage EFL learners.

Grammar

There’s no escaping the importance of grammar. It has to be taught. It has to be learned. But, as with all language learning, motivation is key, and for the teenager grammar is not the most motivating part of English study. Let’s examine some ways to keep teen learners interested and focused long enough to master the essential grammar points.

A purposeful methodology

1. Show grammar in its social use

Since teens’ social life is paramount, connecting grammar to its social use makes grammar feel useful and valuable to them. The following natural interaction on social media foreshadows the use learners will make of the present continuous, by the end of this textbook unit.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

2. Clearly illustrate form, meaning, and use of grammar

If we illustrate grammar in actual use, students see its value, increasing their motivation to learn it. Explaining grammar rules simply and explicitly is helpful for teens too. Clear examples with color highlighting and boldface type ensure that learners focus their attention on the point of the presentation.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

3. Include pronunciation practice

Grammar charts in textbooks present grammar forms for students to read and study. Though such charts are necessary, students don’t have many opportunities to hear and practice grammar outside of class. Two important benefits of listening to and repeating grammar examples are:

  1. Repetition increases the memorability of the grammar because it involves two more skills: listening and speaking.
  2. Paying attention to the sound, rhythm, and stress of the grammar leads to clear, comprehensible pronunciation.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

4. Vary practice exercises

Increasing the variety of grammar exercises in a lesson boosts the speed and depth of learning. Adding listening comprehension to the mix of grammar exercises broadens the contexts in which the grammar is used, making it more memorable.

Exercises that provide learners with an opportunity to use the grammar to talk about themselves are particularly motivating to teens. Here are three varied grammar exercises for practicing the present continuous: a traditional completion exercise; a listening comprehension exercise; and a freer and more productive exercise.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

5.  Continually integrate and recycle the grammar

Integrating and recycling grammar into teen-relevant reading texts further extends exposure to and reinforces newly learned grammar. In the following example, the present continuous is richly integrated. It’s also contrasted with previously taught structures such as the verb be and can for ability.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

6. Provide social practice of the grammar

Natural, informal social language has compelling appeal to teenagers. Model conversations that integrate the grammar with this type of language motivate teens to practice. In the following conversation, students practice the social use of the present continuous in a conversation they might really have.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

7. Personalize the grammar

But it’s important not to stop with mere practice of model conversations from a book. Guided conversation practice offers learners an essential opportunity to use the new grammar in their own social conversations, bridging the gap between controlled practice and productive use. Notepads and visual cues increase each student’s involvement, motivation, and success.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

Summary

In the reality of the EFL setting, with very few class hours, teen learners need many opportunities to observe and practice new grammar. And because they are teens, integrating the grammar in relevant social conversations ensures motivation, memorability, and mastery of new grammar.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

For more expert advice on teaching teenagers from Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, don’t forget to visit the OUP ELT global blog regularly.

To communicate with the authors directly, you can also take part in their interactive webinars:

Teaching vocabulary to teens in the foreign language setting
Friday, October 11, 2013: 2pm-3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Teaching grammar to teens in the foreign language setting
Thursday, November 7, 2013: 2pm – 3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two, a Secondary course for teens, by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.


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Who is the Oxford 3,000™ actually for?

Oxford 3000Bjorn Candel is an EFL teacher in the UAE. In this post, he looks at how the Oxford 3,000™ – a list of the 3,000 most important words in English – can be used with EFL students.

Frequency-based vocabulary lists like the Oxford 3,000 are powerful language learning tools. In fact, they are way too powerful to stay in the hands of teachers and EFL publishers. That’s why I give each of my students the Oxford 3,000 in an Excel or Numbers file, with empty columns for definitions, example sentences, word family information, collocations etc.

A blank copy of the Oxford 3,000 Excel file

A blank copy of the Oxford 3,000 Excel file

Focus tool

The Oxford 3,000 is a perfect tool for focusing students on studying vocabulary. A huge amount of research and work has gone into compiling this list of vital words for learners of English, and students can take advantage of this by checking if new words they come across in a text or a language activity are on the list. If a new word is in the list, I tell the students to learn it. If not, they have to decide if they feel that word is important enough to make the effort to learn it.

Ambitious and lazy students

Using the Oxford 3,000 is a great approach to vocabulary learning for ambitious students. The list becomes a guide where these students can focus on the words they really need to know to progress in English. And it is a focus tool that helps them become more independent as language learners.

Using the Oxford 3,000 is also a great tool for lazy students. They don’t have to make an effort to decide which words to focus on. If the word is in the list, they simply learn it.

Why an empty list?

I give my students an Oxford 3,000 list with no definitions or example sentences for the simple reason that finding the definition and typing it in the list helps the learner remember it. They are actively working with the new words, not simply looking up dictionary entries. And by actively adding and compiling the information, the Excel or Numbers file also becomes a personalised vocabulary record for the student.

Collocations and word-family data is entered in an Oxford 3,000 Numbers file

Collocations and word-family data is entered in an Oxford 3,000 Numbers file

How many words did you say?

A list of 3,000 words is incredibly long (my Excel file is 310 pages). It’s easy enough to find a new word in the list by using the Find function. However, to make the list easier to work with, I’ve also added a column labelled Date. Whenever a student has worked on a particular word, they simply add the day’s date at the end of the row.

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Teaching teens in the EFL setting: Vocabulary

Group of teenagers walking to schoolJoan Saslow is the author of numerous widely used multi-level courses for teens, young adults, and adults. She has taught English and foreign languages at all levels of instruction in both South America and USA. Allen Ascher has been an English teacher, trainer, intensive English language program director, and consultant. He has also been a publisher, developing ELT materials for students of all ages. Ms. Saslow and Mr. Ascher have co-authored materials together since 2002. In this article, they share their tips for teaching vocabulary to teenage EFL learners.

This series of short articles will address the three-part reality we face: the social nature of the teenaged learner, the challenges of learning English outside of an English-speaking environment, and the limited number of class hours devoted to English study per week. Each article will focus on one aspect of language teaching and learning and examine pedagogical approaches to maximize learning and success.

Vocabulary

In the EFL setting, the teenage learner, highly social yet easily distracted, must acquire a large volume of vocabulary in very little time and with little opportunity to practice. Lessons that provide enough exposure, practice, and recycling of vocabulary are hard to create, and time is never adequate. A middle school schedule of two class hours per week yields 72 class hours spread over a year. While a year of instruction may sound substantial, 72 hours only add up to 3 days! What methodology, then, can increase exposure, practice, and ‘stickiness’ (memorability) of vocabulary?

A purposeful methodology

1. Explicit presentation

The first step in learning a new word is understanding what it means. Though an occasional quick translation into students’ first language is convenient and harmless, using translation as the principal method of teaching vocabulary can lead to students’ paying more attention to the translation than to the actual English word being learned! A captioned picture-dictionary style illustration, on the other hand, can clearly show the meaning of a word. Captioned illustrations remain on the page of the student’s book for later study, reference, and review. When accompanied by audio, captioned vocabulary illustrations afford students a chance to read, listen to, and remember new words.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

2. Repetition

After students have seen each new word and heard it pronounced, an essential step is repeating the word to practice it. Imitating the speaker on the audio ensures that students focus on the English words, helps them remember them, and builds accurate pronunciation.

3. Immediate practice

We cannot expect students to master vocabulary without repeated intensive use and recycling. In the following exercises, vocabulary is practiced and used, first in a controlled contextualized exercise based on meaningful visual cues. Then a second exercise permits students to personalize the vocabulary, giving it additional memorability.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

4. Integration and recycling

New vocabulary should not just be limited to vocabulary exercises. Grammar exercises, listening activities, and reading texts can provide convenient opportunities to increase the exposure and practice of vocabulary.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

5. Social application

Because teens are very social, model conversations that show real social language in interactions teens might really have in their own lives ensure memorability of new vocabulary like nothing else.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

6. Personalization

It’s important not to stop with mere practice of model conversations from a book. Guided conversation practice offers learners an essential opportunity to use the new words in their own conversations, bridging the gap between controlled practice and productive use. Notepads and visual cues increase each student’s involvement, motivation, and success.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

Summary

In the reality of the EFL setting, with very few class hours, teen learners need many opportunities to observe and practice new vocabulary. And because they are teens, integrating vocabulary in relevant social conversations ensures the memorability and mastery of new words.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

For more expert advice on teaching teenagers from Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, don’t forget to visit the OUP ELT global blog regularly. Their next blog on how to keep teenage learners interested in grammar will be available here from September 27th .

To communicate with the authors directly, you can also take part in their interactive webinars:

Teaching vocabulary to teens in the foreign language setting
Friday, October 11, 2013: 2pm-3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Teaching grammar to teens in the foreign language setting
Thursday, November 7, 2013: 2pm – 3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two, a Secondary course for teens, by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

Related articles


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Warming Up the Gears: 7 Fun, Field-Tested Vocal Exercises

Woman massaging her facial musclesGetting students speaking is one of the toughest challenges a language teacher can face. In this article, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, introduces some vocal exercises you can use with your students to help get them speaking.

Does anxiety seem to prevent your students from participating in class, from enjoying practicing speaking with their peers, or from doing oral reports individually or as a group?

In one my previous posts on helping learners to minimize anxiety in speaking, I included a tip for “warming up the ‘gears’.” For any ELT practitioners who wish to experiment with ways to help students feel more at ease in speaking, this post shares a set of vocal exercises to warm up learners’ “gears” that I have learned through researching and voice training, used in my teaching of English-as-an-additional-language learners, and shared with practitioners through workshops.

These vocal exercises are enjoyable ways for learners to learn how to loosen their facial muscles before speaking, to develop a thick skin, and to enhance the vocal image that is critical to speaking.

1. Articulate Clearly

Minimize lazy tongue.

Step 1: Ask learners to work in pairs and take turns practicing saying the following common tongue twisters or any fun tongue twisters you use in your teaching.

  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  • She sells seashells by the seashore.
  • When you write copy you have the right to copyright the copy you write, if the copy is right.
  • You’ve no need to light a night light on a light night like tonight, For a night light’s a slight light, and tonight’s a night that’s light. When a night’s light, like tonight’s light, it is really not quite right to light night lights with their slight lights on a light night like tonight.

Step 2: Gradually increase the speed of delivery, but one must say each tongue twister accurately before increasing the speed.

Step 3: After the pair work, ask for individual volunteers to practice saying the tongue twisters to the class. Increase the speed of delivery with each turn. Each learner must attain accuracy and speed before moving on to the next volunteer. While each learner practices saying the tongue twister, the rest of the class could hit the table to create a rhythm that will help the learner deliver the tongue twister following the beats.

2. Control the Breath

Minimize breathlessness.

Breathing is fundamental to speaking. This exercise helps release tension and slows the heart rate during speaking.

Man with a party hat and whistleStep 1: Try to say the entire alphabet, using only one breath (A → B → C → … → Y → Z).

Step 2: Ask students to stand up and say the alphabet in a manner that conveys excitement about sharing each letter with their peers. Encourage learners to make proper eye contact with each person in the room while saying the alphabet. Beyond lengthening the breath, convey the message that, if learners are not enthusiastic about what they want to say, they cannot expect others to be enthusiastic.

Step 3: Reduce the rate of delivery or lengthen the duration of uttering each letter in the alphabet.

A great way to recycle the task is to give each learner a party noise maker or a blower that enables the instructor to see when each learner runs out of air. It is also a fun way to switch up the exercise.

3. Vary the Pitch

Eliminate a monotone or an overly high-pitched voice in order to engage listeners and convey authority. I usually begin by speaking like a robot or playing a clip of a monotonic speaker before introducing the exercise.

Step 1: Say the words by going down the musical scale: low-low-low-low-low-low

Step 2: Say the words by going up the musical scale: high-high-high-high-­high-high

Step 3: Switch up the exercise by mixing low and high as each student takes a turn to practice. You will surely encounter some students who cannot tell the difference between the pitch of each word with its accompanied note, and these students usually get big cheers when they are able to accomplish varying the pitch through this exercise.

4. Vary the Speed

Embrace variety in pace to convey the relative importance or urgency of one’s message. Refer to Dlugan’s Six Minutes blog for more information about the average speaking rate.

  • Try speaking at a slow pace and time yourself (e.g. 140 and fewer words/min.)
  • Try speaking at a medium pace and time yourself (e.g. 141-­‐180 words/min.)
  • Try speaking at a quick pace and time yourself (e.g. 181 and more words/min.)

5. Vary the Volume

Raise learners’ awareness of the need to adjust the volume to the situation and the setting. Learn to project the voice and be aware of how a speaker may be perceived as speaking too softly or too loudly.

Step 1: Say the following words with the intended volume as indicated.

soft → very soft → loud → medium → very loud → soft → extremely loud

Step 2: Ask each student to stand at the very far corner of the room where the lesson is taking place and to self-introduce in order to receive the group’s feedback on the volume. This works especially well if doing it in a lecture hall, as most learners will quickly realize that they need to speak up and project their voice.

6. Vary the Stress and Use Pauses

Use appropriate stresses and pauses to clarify meaning and create impact. Using pauses effectively can help one to gather thoughts; give the listener time to breath and to reflect on what was just heard; and signal transition, create impact, and draw in the listener.

Ask the students about where the stress and pause should be placed in the following examples:

  • Don’t exit Excel
  • Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country (JFK)
  • Action needs to take place now not later
    This is an appropriate time for action
    We need to act, period
  • Success is never final failure is never fatal it is courage that counts (Winston Churchill)

7. Vary the Tone

Change the emotional register of one’s voice. If one’s tone conveys interest and enthusiasm, the listener will pay more attention to the message. Use Shakespeare’s sonnets to practice infusing emotion in what one is saying.

Portrait of ShakespeareShall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
(Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18)

These vocal exercises are fun, enjoyable ways for learners to learn how to loosen their mouth muscles before speaking, to develop a thick skin, and to enhance the vocal image that is critical to speaking. Have your learners bring their funny bones and sense of adventure to your “warming up the ‘gears’” segment. Integrate the segment at the beginning of a speaking class at least a few times, switch up the exercises by incorporating some of the suggestions offered here, and be prepared for plenty of great fun and laughter!


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Five things I think I know about teaching reading

Woman teaching young girl to readBarbara Hoskins Sakamoto, co-author of Let’s Go, shares five principles for teaching reading effectively in the classroom.

I’ve tried quite a few different approaches to teaching literacy over the years, initially with students learning to read in their first language, and now with students learning to read English as a foreign language. Like most teachers, I’ve settled on a fairly eclectic approach that seems to work well for me, and my young learners. Here are five principles that work for me.

1. Build a strong oral foundation first

When students begin learning to read in their first language, they have a working vocabulary of between 2,500 and 5,000 words. They learn to connect printed text to words that they already know. We want to be sure that our young learners have a strong foundation of oral language before we begin asking them to attach symbols to sounds, particularly since they will be working with a much smaller vocabulary to begin with.

2. Introduce text from the beginning

I think it’s important to have students looking at printed text long before you begin working on reading skills. By the time my students begin having dedicated reading lessons, they’ve already figured out that English writing goes from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom, big letters are about twice as big as the little letters and appear at the beginning of a sentence, and that we can tell where words begin and end because of the spaces between words. They’ve become familiar with the graphic look of English before having to deal with it.

3. Teach phonics in context

Phonics can be a useful key for students learning how to make sense of English sound/spelling patterns. Teach the patterns in the context of words that students have already learned orally. Go through your students’ coursebook looking for words they’ve learned that illustrate the patterns you want to teach. That way they only have to focus on one new thing – linking sounds and letters – rather than learning a new word in order to practice the phonics skill. Practice reading the words in the context of sentences (and later, stories) that are also made up of words your students have learned orally.

4. Teach both accuracy and fluency in reading

Both skills are important in developing independent readers. As students become better at applying sound/spelling strategies, phonics shifts into spelling practice and word study, equally important in order to keep expanding your students’ reading vocabulary. To develop fluency, students need a lot of opportunities to read, and be read to. Include reading in every class. Let your students read the lyrics of their songs, or conversations, or grammar lessons – after they’ve learned the language orally, of course! Read to them, so they can enjoy understanding stories even if they don’t understand every word. Create a class library and let them take books home between classes (with audio CDs, if they aren’t yet fluent readers and don’t have anyone at home to read to them). Help them create their own stories to share and read.

5. Engage multiple senses in teaching reading

Have students trace letter and word shapes, sing or chant to help reinforce phonics, use letter cards to build words and word cards to build sentences. Ask them to act out or dramatize stories. Let them write sentences and stories and draw pictures to illustrate them. Record them reading their stories to create audio books. Encourage students to use multiple senses to help them become more effective readers.

How about you?

What have you learned about teaching reading? It would be great to hear in your comments to this blog. I’d also love to see you at my webinar on Saturday, 23 March. You can sign up here.

Visit Let’s Share for more videos, blogs and upcoming events by our Let’s Go authors.

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