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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.


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25 ideas for using audio scripts in the ELT classroom

shutterstock_381582928Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.  Today he joins us to provide 25 engaging and useful classroom activities for language learners using audio scripts.

Many ELT student books come with audio scripts at the back. However, these are sometimes not exploited to the full. Here are 25 ideas for how to make better use of this resource. There are suggestions for using the audio script before listening to the audio, while listening to the audio and after listening to the audio.

Before listening to the audio for the first time:

beforeaudio

While listening to audio for the first time:

whileaudio

After listening to the audio:

afteraudioafteraudio2after3

 


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IELTS Speaking Practice Part 2: Listening & Responding

shutterstock_298463378Louis Rogers is a freelance author and senior academic tutor at the University of Reading. Louis is co-author of Oxford EAP B1+, Foundation IELTS Masterclass, Proficiency Masterclass and Intermediate and Upper Intermediate Skills for Business Studies. Today, he joins us for the second article in his IELTS series, focusing on the Listening test.

These activities are useful to prepare for IELTS Part 1 and Part 2 listening, however, they are also useful for anyone who wants to give their students practice with spelling and confusing numbers.

In the IELTS listening test Parts 1 and 2 students often hear basic practical information such as addresses, dates, prices and arrangements. In Part 1 this is a dialogue, for example, between a customer and a receptionist in a hotel, someone inquiring about a course, or someone joining a club. Similar information can be given in Part 2 but in the form of a monologue.  For example, they might hear someone giving an induction talk at the start of a new course who is giving a description of events scheduled throughout the week. Whilst listening, students will then usually complete a form or table that contains this information.

While these may not sound the most challenging of tasks students can struggle to differentiate between certain letters, numbers and sounds. Accurately spelling names, streets, email addresses and post codes can be difficult while listening and completing the form or table. The two activities here can be good practice before students try one of these tasks, or the bingo game could be used as a follow up fun activity at the end of the lesson.

The first activity is a pair-work activity. You will need to copy enough of sheets so that half the class can have sheet A and half the class can have sheet B. Organise the class into pairs and give an A and B worksheet to each pair. The pairs then follow the instructions on their worksheet.

Once you have completed this you could then play an IELTS audio such as the one in unit 1 of Foundation IELTS Masterclass. Or you could simply move on to play the follow up bingo. Copy and cut up enough cards for one per student. Read from the list below in order. Give spellings if necessary. As you read the list out loud, students should cross off the items they hear. The first to cross off all nine on their card is the winner.

IELTSpart2image1

IELTSpart2image2

Bingo cards

IELTSbingocards

 


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Shadowing: a useful technique for autonomous practice of listening and speaking

Teen boy wearing headphonesIn this post, Arizio Sweeting, a Cambridge ESOL Oral Examiner, shares a simple learner training approach to listening and pronunciation development using a shadowing technique.

Start by selecting a short audio text for your learners to work with. You will find a wide range of Creative Commons audio materials which can be downloaded as an MP3 file for educational purposes at www.elllo.org. The following transcript accompanies an audio text about Australia and is a good example in terms of its delivery, content and length:

The Australian flag has the Union Jack in the top left-hand corner. The rest of the flag is dark blue and then it has six white stars on it. I think they represent six different states in Australia, but I’m not really sure. My favourite city in Australia is Sydney. I lived there for about 6 months and it’s a really lively city. There are lots of young people and lots of things to do. There are also lots of tourist sites to visit, for example, the Sydney Opera House. Most people when they think about Australia, they think about the Outback. Very few people in Australia live in the Outback really, which is why it is so empty. There are huge empty spaces, like deserts, sometimes, where you can go for hours without seeing even one other person. When I was in the Outback, the most amazing sight I saw was Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it’s called now, which is its Aboriginal name. So Uluru is the biggest rock in the world, and it really is amazing when you travel through the Outback and then suddenly, out of nowhere, you see a huge rock that looks like a mountain. It’s an amazing sight, one of the best I saw in Australia.

Downloaded from www.elllo.org on 14/01/13

Analyse the vocabulary in the transcript to identify which items you would need to clarify for your learners. For instance, the words in bold would be items I would clarify if I was using this audio material with a group of pre-intermediate learners, for example. I have chosen these words not for their linguistic complexity but for the fact that they may be too cultural for some learners. Prepare copies of the transcript for the class.

Get the learners to put the MP3 file onto a USB or iPod. Before the shadowing practice, encourage the learners to listen to the audio text as many times as possible to become familiar with the speaker’s pronunciation. Prompt the learners to listen to the audio text on the bus, train or when walking to school. Instruct them to also focus on particular nuances of the speaker’s speech, such as the way the person pronounces certain individual sounds, the rhythm and the pace of the person’s voice, and so on.

Allow the learners at least two days of listening practice before you take them to a computer lab for shadowing practice. If possible, conduct some whole-class discussion about the audio text and what the learners can or can’t hear.

In the computer lab, demonstrate to them how the technique works. To do this, play the audio text in segments and simultaneously repeat what the speaker says trying to copy the person’s pronunciation with as much precision as possible. It is important that the learners notice that the technique is not a listen-and-repeat exercise. Allow the learners time for individual practice, but make sure they have small breaks during the process so that learners don’t lose motivation or get too tired.

Finally, when the learners feel that their pronunciation matches the audio text naturally, get them to record themselves using an audio-recording editor, such as Audacity, which can be downloaded for free at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/.

During the practice, get the learners to focus on the segments of the audio text which they are having problems with until they have fixed these problems. To do this, learners should listen back to the MP3 file as many times as necessary until they are satisfied with their pronunciation. Tell learners that they should continue the practice outside class for several weeks until they feel they have incorporated this pronunciation into their speech.

What do you think of this technique? Do you have any tips and tricks for teaching listening and pronunciation that you’d like to share?

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Decoding skills: a neglected part of listening comprehension?

Rachael Roberts, a teacher, teacher trainer and author, discusses the often neglected use of decoding skills in listening comprehension.

When you sing along to a song, are you sure you’ve got the right words?

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody contains the line, ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?’, but it is often misheard as ‘will you do the banned tango?’

The Police, actually sang ‘When the world is running down, you make the best of what is still around’, not ‘you make the best home-made stew around.’

Amusing, but the point is a serious one. When we listen, there are two sets of processes taking place simultaneously:

1 Meaning building or top down processes

  • Drawing upon knowledge of the world, topic or culture.
  • Understanding literal meaning
  • Selecting relevant information
  • Recognising redundant information
  • Connecting ideas
  • Making inferences

2 Decoding or bottom up processes

  • Identifying sounds
  • Working out where words begin and end
  • Dealing with unknown words
  • Recognising where clauses and phrases end
  • Making use of sentence stress
  • Recognising chunks of language

Over the last few decades, there has been much more emphasis on the first set of processes. We are all familiar with activities where we activate students’ knowledge about a topic, encourage them to make predictions and select or reject the information they hear in order to answer comprehension questions.

And these activities are useful; they just aren’t the whole picture. A good listener is also carrying out the second set of processes, and these decoding processes can be very challenging for the English language learner.

Decoding is made particularly difficult by all the features of connected speech. For example:

‘Will you do the banned tango’ : the final /d/ in ‘banned’ elides into the ‘t’ of tango, making it sound very similar to ‘Fandango’. Especially if you don’t know what a Fandango is (it’s a kind of dance, not as well known as the Tango).

Good listeners are able to use world knowledge (such as what a fandango is), together with ability to decode. If they can’t decode, perhaps because the speaker is inaudible, they can predict from their knowledge of syntax. Given a sentence like ”When the world is running down, you make the best …… ‘, they think about what it is that the person might make the best one of (though stew is a slightly bizarre choice, even if it does begin with the same consonant cluster as ‘still’!)

Recent research, however, suggests that less efficient listeners have to put so much energy into decoding that they can’t use their meaning building skills effectively. They simply can’t hold onto enough of the meaning to make connections between different parts of the text.

So, as well as providing practice of the top down/meaning building skills, there is a clear argument for more listening activities which focus specifically on developing decoding skills, especially at lower levels, where students have more limited vocabulary.

So, after your usual comprehension work, why not try some of the following?

Sounds and weak forms

  • Minimal pair work (coming back into fashion). Learners listen to two words, e.g. ‘pat’ ‘bat’ or ‘pat’ ‘pat’ and say if they are the same or different.
  • Learners look at a transcript and mark the words carrying the main stresses (either as they listen, or they predict the stresses and then listen to check).
  • Play or dictate short chunks, especially formulaic chunks like ‘What do you mean?’ pronounced naturally, with reduced forms, and ask students to write the full forms.
  • Students transcribe a (short) section of a listening text and compare what they have written with the original transcript.

Syntax

  • Also using a transcript, students mark ‘chunks’ of meaning, either while or before they listen.
  • Play part of the listening text again, stopping halfway through each sentence and asking students to try and remember what comes next. This is nominally a memory exercise, but it will develop ability to predict based on understanding of English sentence structure.
  • Students look at the transcript and pull out groups of words that often go together (formulaic chunks). Then listen to how they sound when pronounced naturally, and even drill them.

Have you tried any of these activities? Have you successfully used any other decoding activities?

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