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Getting English language students to practice outside of class

College student using computerFor many teachers the extension of language learning outside the classroom can really benefit their students, but how can you be sure they’re using the right materials to further their practice? Freelance teacher trainer, Zarina Subhan-Brewer, looks at how Oxford Online Practice can complement their classroom activities.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”   

        – Aristotle

How do we get students to continue practicing the things we want them to learn outside of the classroom? Normally, we give them homework and hope they do it. We no longer only have workbooks to depend upon for further practice, we have online material nowadays too. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to learn a language online, but there’s a lot out there.

Parents, understandably, will assume that if their child is on an educational website that they don’t need to be monitoring their child and will feel happy that their child is learning. However, much of what is out there seems very ad hoc, with materials jumping about from grammar point to grammar point and sometimes with a very strange focus on some obscure vocabulary. The quality and suitability of some visual imagery out there being used for educational purposes, may not be ideal. So why and how can students use online learning safely and effectively?

Firstly, Oxford Online Practice is not random – it is designed to complement, but not duplicate, what is being studied in the book. It looks like the book, with similar or identical images, but the activities are additional to those in the textbook and workbook. The units cover the same topics and language content, with an opportunity to extend language and interact with it on the screen, for example clicking for further information, or dragging to match a response to a question / vocabulary / grammar item.

Grammar

Grammar practice in the Engage edition of Oxford Online practice.

 

When it comes to differentiated learning, online textbooks are very powerful tools. I’ve always found that it requires a lot of preparation and organisation to constantly have something up my sleeve for the students who are picking up language quicker. While helping those requiring more time to grasp things, you have to keep the others occupied, right? All this with the dilemma that you don’t want the quicker ones getting too ahead in the book/workbook, while at the same time you don’t want your slower students to feel they’re having less fun and are ‘behind’. The beauty of online textbook material is that not only is it relevant and related to the topic of the book, your students can also do additional activities without the knowledge of whether their peers are ‘better’ than them or not. Because of the nature of the technology, a simple click of the mouse in a computer lab, or a tap on the tablet in the classroom gives them access to further practice of any sort.

Previously, reading and writing were the only skills that could be practically improved outside class, which meant students rarely heard any English outside the four walls of the classroom. Nowadays it is possible to assign an additional listening activity, without controlling a CD player or standing at the computer at the front of the class. So if you feel some students could do with going over a listening activity again in more detail, you can assign it to them.

Did you know students can even record themselves if they’re working on a computer / tablet? This means that students get the chance to really listen to their own pronunciation and compare it to the native speaker recordings on the Online Practice platform, so they learn much more in terms of both listening and speaking.

Online Practice takes homework to a whole new level, with students assuming more responsibility for their learning – autonomous learning at its best. But this isn’t to say that the students are simply left to their own devices – teachers can allocate particular activities, tailoring each class or student’s progress to suit their needs.

You can also organize your students into particular online groups. You can then monitor which exercises have been completed by which students and also what scores they achieved on each activity they try. Without collecting in physical work and marking it (because it is marked as soon as the student clicks on the ‘Submit’ button), you have a record of names, activities completed and grades for each student. This will save you from hours of administrative tasks, leaving you more energy for the actual teaching.

So your students will find varied and engaging activities that allow them to practice exactly the same language areas that you have been working on in class, with the added bonus of it being visually familiar. By allocating activities to students, they feel their individual needs are being met. Parents can breathe easy knowing that their children are on carefully designed websites that are entirely appropriate learning tools. And you as a teacher have more time to assess, monitor and actually teach. I’d say that was a win-win-win situation, wouldn’t you?!

These features are all available on the Online Practice components for the courses pictured below. Features and/or capabilities may differ for other Oxford courses.

engage-teen2teen-covers

 


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Using a social media project as a tool for motivating young adults learning English

Close up of smartphone with social media icons

Image courtesy of pixabay.

Stacey Hughes, former EFL teacher, is a teacher trainer in our Professional Development team. Here she uses course material from Network to explore how social media can be used in the classroom to motivate young adults learning English.

Want to get young adult learners really motivated? Then make the language they are learning meaningful by linking it to authentic English practice opportunities. One way to do this is to set up a social networking project in which students can apply the vocabulary, grammar and communication skills they have built up in class. In this blog I will first list some of the pedagogical benefits of using a social media project. I’ll then suggest a few ideas for projects before outlining how a social media project can be set up in class.

Why use a social media project?

A social media project provides English practice opportunities in an environment that is familiar. Many of our students frequently use social media already when they tweet, post questions or comments online, blog, share videos or links, and chat online. By linking this social media use to English learning, students feel that what they are learning is meaningful for authentic communication and they can personalise learning as they build a network of classmates and peers to communicate with. Social media also provides plenty of models for how language is actually used and endless opportunities to use critical thinking skills to evaluate sources of information. Finally, social media projects can show young adults how to apply social media skills to further their professional growth.

Examples of social media projects

Social media projects aim to get students to use social networks to perform authentic tasks or solve authentic problems. Smaller projects include creating a profile or uploading and sharing a photo with a comment. An example of a larger project might be researching to find a place to live or places to stay on holiday. The projects can be chosen to suit the language level of the student.

Below is a list of social media projects you can do with your students.

  1. Build a personal or professional profile
    Students decide how much information to share and the best image of themselves to project, where to post the profile and how to share it so others can see it.
  2. Post a blog or comment
    Students respond to another blog or set up their own personal or professional blog. They comment on and rate an article, product or event.
  3. Connect online
    Students find an old school friend or a new friend in another country, join a group online that shares their interests, or collaborate on a project.
  4. Investigate something local
    Students learn about a local problem, find out about local events, or contact an organisation in their community.
  5. Find out
    Students find places to stay when travelling, find a job or a place to live, find a suitable restaurant – the possibilities are endless.
  6. Evaluate a website
    Students decide whether the information on a website is credible or not, or if a site or posting adheres to accepted ‘netiquette’.
  7. Game
    This may seem an odd choice, but there is a lot of language involved in learning the rules of the game and playing it well. Many games also have online forums and opportunities to link up online with other gamers.

Lesson plan for setting up a social media project

The following example of a social media project could be done over several weeks.

Use social networking to find a job

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: Students will research job finding resources and present their findings to the rest of the class.

  1. Lead-in: use an image or anecdote to begin a discussion about finding a job. Ask students if they have experience looking for a job and what resources they used to find one. Find out if they use any social networks (friends, family connections or social networks online) to look for jobs. This discussion could bring up some interesting cultural differences.
  2. Put students into pairs or small groups to brainstorm resources they could use to find a job. They should list a variety of resources, not just online ones. Ask each group to share their list with the class. Example resources include a career centre at school, newspapers, websites, professional networks, company web pages, jobs fairs, and personal networks (friends and families).
  3. Write the following questions on the board:
    1. Where is it?
    2. Who can use it? How?
    3. What kind of information is available?
    4. Do you get personal attention?
    5. Can you set up interviews?
    6. What employers use this resource?
  4. Ask each group to research the job-finding resources they have brainstormed and answer the questions. You may ask each member of the group to research a different type of resource, or each student could research them all. The research can be assigned for homework.
  5. If you are doing the project over the course of several weeks, ask students to bring in examples of new vocabulary they have found. Use these new terms to create vocabulary walls or a class wiki.
  6. Bring the groups back together to share the information they found. Ask them to create a group presentation. The presentation could be on a poster or could use presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi. Encourage them to use tables, charts or bullet-points for a good visual effect.
  7. Each group can practice their presentation in front of another group. Ask the groups to give each other feedback by posing questions: Was there anything you didn’t understand? Do you have any questions about the information that the group didn’t answer?
  8. Ask each group to give their presentation. Encourage groups to listen to each other, take notes and ask questions.
  9. As a follow-up, ask the class to write a short blog listing ways to use social networking to find a job. Ask each group to list 1-2 ideas, then collate these into one document. Share the document online and invite other classes in the school to read it.

(This project plan was adapted from Network 1 Teacher’s book, page vii)

In conclusion

The plan above demonstrates how a social media project can bring the real world into the classroom and make language learning meaningful for authentic tasks. It brings in a range of related vocabulary and grammar, and practices all four skills, but keeps the focus on the task. This focus is motivating and completing the task can give students a sense of achievement, especially if they then have a live audience to share with.


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Enhancing learning – Using an app in class

Girl using mobile phoneVerissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how technology can enhance a student’s ability to learn a language. 

I’m interested in how technology enhances a student’s ability to learn a language. Resources are plentiful, but incorporating them into the classroom is not always easy. So when I saw the “Headway Phrase-a-day” app by Oxford University Press, I became curious as to how it would help students enhance their learning.

Students get a phrase a day, such as “You’re pulling my leg”. To help them understand the phrase there is a picture, a sample sentence, and a similar expression that is easier, in this case, “You’re teasing me”. Students can search for a phrase, add certain phrases to their list of favourites, and play some games based on the phrases they have already learned.

All very well so far, but, how could a teacher use this to help their students learn more effectively? Here are a few ideas:

phrase a day

1. Sharing

Students come to each lesson with a new phrase. They must be able to use the phrase to communicate something about themselves. This should lead them to personalise their learning rather than simply memorising the phrases. The teacher can quickly go around the room with each student saying their sentence. Alternatively, students can write their sentence on a piece of paper and display it in class for everyone to see. By sharing their sentences with their classmates, students further strengthen their ability to use them meaningfully.

2. Favourites

Of course, some phrases will be easier than others. In order to focus on the phrases they find more difficult, students can move these into their “Favourites” folder. This will give them a list of those phrases they need to focus on.

To provide more work on these phrases, the teacher can provide some class time in which students discuss the phrases they have found difficult. The discussion alone may help many students overcome their difficulties. The discussion will also give students a chance to share their successful learning strategies with each other, giving students having difficulties alternative ways to improve.

As a phrase becomes easier, they can remove it from their favourites. In this way they can assess how well they are progressing. Their “Favourites” folder should never have more than 10 words.

headway phrase a day

3. Games

Every 15 phrases, a student will be able to open up one of the games. These games will help the student assess more closely how well they have learned the phrases.

Ask students to bring their digital devices to class. Tell them they are going to play the game at the “easy” level. This level gives them 3 minutes to match all the answers. Before they begin, ask them to establish a time they would consider successful. This gives them a personal goal to strive for.

Once they have played a game, ask them to register their times in a notebook. Get these times from them, and display the average in class. In this way, each student will then be able to compare their time with the class, increasing their confidence as they do well, or motivating them to do better.

The games can also be played at “medium” level, with 2 minutes to match all the answers, and at “hard” level, with 6 seconds for each phrase. Tell your students that their goal should be to do the “hard” level and match all the phrases. Any phrases they don’t match they should put into “Favourites” folder.

Summary

Using the phrase app as part of lessons gives students a structure to use it more effectively. It provides them with a space in which they can help each other. It provides the teacher with the opportunity to help them use it better.

The app enhances students’ ability to learn by giving them more contact with English outside the classroom. It allows each student to tailor their learning to their individual needs, taking a phrase and using it to communicate their own experiences and opinions.

The app also provides students with immediate feedback. They can quickly use this feedback to adjust their learning in order to make it more effective. Equally important, the app allows students to see their progress as they work through the different phrases, giving them a sense of achievement as they reach their goals.