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Take Online Lessons To The Next Level With Authentic Material

A student in online lessons

If we’re looking for positives from this year’s enforced move to online lessons, then surely one is that authentic material is easier to incorporate!

Unlike coursebooks which, as good as they are, often employ language graded to the level of the students, authentic materials give students the chance to experience language through natural means and with a real-world purpose. Additionally, they can provide an insight into the target language culture and if introduced well, can be motivational.

Working online opens up a wealth of material that can easily be shared with our students. If we are teaching synchronously then it can be shown through screen sharing and posting the link in the chatbox. Asynchronously we can either share the link or embed the materials directly into our site. If you’re not sure of the difference, linking means when students click on the link they are taken away to a different website, while something that has been embedded can be viewed directly within your site. The advantage of embedding is that it keeps students on your site and stops them from getting distracted.

Considerations for choosing

When choosing authentic material, think about how accessible the material is in terms of language, relevance and overall content. With online materials you should also consider:

  • Distraction – When showing students something online, be wary of other factors such as the type of advertising and appropriateness of other links that might appear on a website.
  • Copyright – It is one thing to show the site, it is another to download or take things off websites without permission. This is a useful area to discuss with students to raise their digital literacy.
  • Be authentic – Try and use the material in a real-life way.

Using authentic texts

A simple way to share an online text is to copy the link and share it in the chatbox. However, bear in mind:

  • Online reading tends to make use of strategies such as skimming and scanning.
  • Reading in detail would be a waste of time if we find out the web page is not relevant.
  • Online texts are often nonlinear. Unlike a printed text, you don’t start at the top and read to the bottom. You’re often presented with additional video, audio, reader comments, along with texts full of hyperlinks that drag you off to other websites.
  • When using online texts get the students to read it authentically, to both practise these skills and build their confidence in independent learning. For example, one digital literacy task is to get the students to consider the impact of the hyperlinks in the text. Get them to click on each hyperlink and discuss where it takes them. This does not stop you exploiting the material later for focus on language work.

Using authentic video

An obvious goldmine of authentic material is online video. YouTube, for example, has everything from songs, stories, and videos to contextualise most coursebook situations.

One of my favourite activities is based on the Facebook idea of the watch party, where people watch and interact with video content at the same time. Incorporating this idea into your online lessons means you’re using the video in a more authentic way, as opposed to creating a worksheet to accompany the students’ viewing.

  1. Before the lesson, open a browser and find the video you want to use.
  2. In online lessons, ‘share your screen’ and show the browser so everyone can see the video.
  3. Before pressing play ask the students to type into the chat box ideas about what they’re going to watch based on the still image.
  4. As you play, encourage the students to react in the chatbox. The first time you do this you might need to prompt them with questions i.e. ‘What do you think of…?’
  5. After viewing use the chatbox entries to prompt post-watching discussion. Depending on video type, exploit further by putting students into breakout rooms and get them to work together to retell what they watched.

This concept can be used for most video types. For example, if you choose a video of someone being interviewed, then get the students to react to what is being said. If you’ve chosen a song, get the student to type lyrics they hear. After they’ve done this you can then go to a site like lyrics.com and show the lyrics on the screen.

Other types of authentic material

Not all the texts online are stories. There are restaurant menus, advice sites, and blogs! So, in a year when travel has become difficult, then we can bring the world into our online lessons.

  • Plan a group trip or holiday. Using break out rooms each group plans their trips and collects information. Students put it together to share with the class using collaborative tools such as Jamboard, Padlet, or Google Docs.
  • Encourage students to use free image and sound sites such as pixabay.com or freesfx.co.uk for enhancing storytelling activities.
  • Employ the same sites to create guessing games to practise language i.e. practising modals by showing an image or playing a sound and eliciting language such as “it might be a car engine, it could be a cat.”

Student engagement with authentic material

In the online classroom, everyone has the same access to materials. Don’t ignore the fact that students could choose the materials for online lessons! Instead of you choosing the YouTube video, why don’t they?

  • Build motivation and improve class dynamics by letting each student show the class one of their favourite websites/videos. Additionally, this provides a neat brain break between all the online learning the students have to do during your lesson.

Finally, remember that not all authentic material in our online classrooms needs to be online. At home, students have access to plenty of authentic materials that can be exploited. Over the course of lockdown, I’ve had students creating Lego models, showing their favourite possessions and even cooking and showing their favourite food.  So, to go back to where we started, while the online classroom is seen by many as a poor substitute for the bricks and mortar one, there is a certain irony in that it many ways it can lead us to more authentic language learning.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?

Get into your stride with digital teaching

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP. He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group. He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


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Top 10 Tips To Help Your Online Lessons Run Smoothly!

Teacher frustrated at online lessonsFor many of us, it’s been a while since our teaching world got turned upside down and we found ourselves moving from a physical classroom to online lessons in a matter of hours. It feels like a lifetime ago since we were left wondering what the best practice for online teaching was. In this initial online period, often referred to as the period of emergency remote teaching (ERT), the best advice for running a smooth lesson included such sage things as to ensure you have a good microphone and lighting.

Fast forward to the present day and we’re moving out of the ERT situation and gaining confidence in our online teaching. In this light, I asked a number of teachers around the world what advice they would now give for ensuring the smooth running of online lessons. From what they told me I have collated the top ten tips to help your online lessons run smoothly.

1. Manage the technical stuff

Just because we are now more settled into the online rhythm doesn’t mean we should get overconfident with how things work. As such the initial advice of check your sound and video, make sure your internet connection is stable, still hold true. As many of us have learned just because things worked in one lesson it doesn’t mean they will in the next, so always check. If you’re just beginning with online lessons then follow some basic rules:

  • If you can, make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space that you can run your lessons from. It should have good lightening so that when you are on webcam you can be seen clearly.
  • Be as close to your internet router as you can. If you have the possibility of using a cable for your internet then do as this can give you a more consistent connection.
  • Wear headphones when you’re teaching as this will cut down feedback caused by you and your students having their mics on. Encourage students to wear them as well.
  • Before your first lesson, familiarise yourself with the platform you are using. While platforms vary in their functionality, for your first lesson make sure you know how to switch on sound and vision, use the chatbox, and share your screen. This last one will mean you can show materials to the students.
  • Don’t worry about becoming a platform expert overnight, it is more important to make sure both you and your students feel comfortable with the key features. To that end, use your first lesson to teach students how the room is used, don’t assume they will simply work it out. If you’re looking for more support in this area there are a plethora of resources on the Internet though you could start with OUP’s digital teaching resources.

2. Assume the students are not tech-savvy

To quote a teacher in Portugal, “Just because you’ve spent the last 7 months in online lessons, becoming tech-savvy, don’t presume your learners have!” Always make sure in first classes that you give the students the language they need to operate i.e. “How do I turn on my camera?”. Make sure you’ve explained or introduced any new tools or features of the room before the students are set a language task.

3. Expect the unexpected

Rather like falsely assuming your mic and camera will always work, it would be wrong not to be ready for the unexpected. You never know what the online classroom might throw up. For example, what happens if the students’ connections are having a slow internet day? Is there a low-tech solution? You could send any lesson materials in advance so the students have the chance to get and access them before the lesson begins.

4. Adopt a positive mindset

Many teachers still yearn to be back in the same physical space as their students and continue to find the lack of proximity a major hurdle to their lessons. However, a positive mindset will rub off on everyone in a lesson and as a result should make the lesson smoother. To aid that make sure you aren’t trying too hard, teachers often seek lesson perfection and then dwell on any aspect in a lesson that didn’t quite get to that level, overlooking the many things that went well.

5. Write it down

This is a multi-layered tip. First, it refers to planning. While many of you are bound to make detailed plans already think in the planning stage about elements that encourage the students to talk. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that your online lessons have been quite teacher-led, so now is the time to think about creating opportunities for the students to speak and interact more.

Next, it refers to physically writing it down for students. Have you noticed in a lesson when you rely on oral instructions that you have to repeat it so many times and still not everyone gets it? So, have written instructions to put on-screen to aid your words. You can have these on a slide that you can display by screen share at the appropriate moment.

And last but not least, write it down refers to making use of written comments. Though you’re meeting in a virtual classroom there are still many ways writing is used in your lesson. For starters there is the chatbox, ensure you reply to comments and answer questions in the chatbox so the students feel acknowledged. If your room allows it, use private messaging to do things like praise a student or give them extra support. Furthermore, if you use an external collaboration tool like a Google Doc or a discussion board, leave comments there so the students know the teacher is ‘there’ if needed.

6. Use your classroom tools purposefully

In other words, don’t confuse technology with teaching. A lot was made at the beginning of ERT about what virtual rooms can do and what tools can be added to them. It perhaps led teachers to the expectation that lessons needed to be all bells and whistles. While you’re probably ready to do this now, do remember that your room tools should be used purposefully. For example, there is arguably no point in putting people in and out of breakout rooms for short tasks. While you might feel like this brings a more student-centred lesson, you’re in fact making for a very stop-start sort of lesson and inadvertently giving over a lot of time to managing the classroom. One longer meaningful task will ensure more time for the students to meaningfully work together.

Whatever external tools you choose, stick with them. There is nothing wrong with using the same tool, in fact, the more you use it the more the students get to know it and the smoother the lesson becomes. Chopping and changing to try and utilise the current tool of fashion just leads to confused students and dedicating lesson time to showing how the tool works rather than getting on with the teaching.

7. The whiteboard is your friend

A small confession here, I struggle with online whiteboards. They are difficult to write on, I forget to give students the permission to use it and it often means stopping the sharing of one screen to share another. All things which can affect the smoothness of my lessons. However, rather than simply avoid them I am trying to make them my friend.

Since I tend to use a slide deck I’ve learned to include white slides amongst my deck that I can use as aboard. This eliminates the need to switch back and forth. I can also prepare slides as boards making me feel more prepared. Other teachers have achieved the same by using external whiteboard sites (easy to find with a quick internet search) or using a shared document. Additionally, to quote a teacher in Ukraine “a virtual board makes lessons more visual”. What’s more, you can usually save your board for future reference and to be used as a revision tool in a future lesson.

8. Keep them focused

Let’s face it even in the physical classroom, keeping kids focused is often a challenge and online this is amplified. One technique for dealing with this is to use visual cues at different points of the lesson to check the kids are still following along and not doing something. The visual clue should be a signal or action that you do at various points in the lesson and everyone has to copy as quickly as possible.

9. Community

If ERT was about a quick transformation from face to face to online, now it is perhaps time to think about how we can effectively maximise educational opportunities. A way to do this is to go beyond the lesson and turn the class into a community. Some of the teachers who sent me tips talked about how they’ve used instant messengers to create groups to allow students to discuss things like language issues and homework problems outside of class. By doing so they feel the virtual classes have run a lot more effectively. This might not be suitable for every teacher so another option is to look into asynchronous areas that can have running discussion boards and be used to distribute work.

Not everything has to be done through the live online class, especially as there is so much to achieve within that time anyway.   This will help with the community aspect and it does make language learning fairer for your students. Not all are comfortable synchronously and not everyone has the same access abilities to be online at the same time. Planning lessons that utilise various online means should lead to an all-round better learning experience.

10. Find a teachers’ room

At first glance, you might wonder how this will make your lessons run smoothly, however despite being tenth on the list it was the most submitted piece of advice. Not only are teachers missing their classrooms but they’re missing their staffrooms as well. The place they go to find support and get stuff off their chest. It’s important for both well-being and to keep the positive mindset suggested in tip 4. Looking after oneself and having good support is a fundamental step in ensuring you’re an effective educator. Teaching from home can bring a sense of isolation so if you can, find a place to act as your teachers’ room, be it the various ELT groups on social media, joining one of the many online events that ELT organisations are running or making use of initiatives like the IATEFL BESIG online breakroom where teachers can drop by and chat.

My thanks to all the teachers that gave me their advice to use.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?

Get into your stride with digital teaching

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


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Using Video and Story in the classroom | Jamie Keddie

Let’s start with a video – a short film that was commissioned by the Irish Film Board in 2009.

Its title is, quite simply, “Teeth”. Perhaps you’ve seen it before?

Teeth from Noreen Fitzgerald on Vimeo.“Teeth”: directed by Ruairi O’Brien and John Kennedy, and produced by Noreen Fitzgerald.

I wonder what you thought of that? I have used this short film in a number of teacher training contexts. Speaking from experience, I know that it has a particularly wide appeal. Regardless of people’s age or background, it seems to be universally enjoyed.

There are other reasons why, as a teacher, I am attracted to “Teeth.” I love its economical simplicity. This is a story reduced down it to the essential ingredients only. The lack of spoken dialogue forces us to work with the visual narrative – the story told in moving images. At under two minutes long, I have heard “Teeth” referred to as a “super short film”. This is important as it ensures that we don’t have to worry about turning the classroom into a cinema – another key consideration.

But most importantly, it’s the story that I love. The bite-sized narrative allows us to explore some fundamental issues of what it is to be human: friendship, schadenfreude (link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schadenfreude), and justice – all wrapped up in one delightful comedy.

So what would you do with it in the classroom?

It’s a question that I have asked many language teachers in many parts of the world. Perhaps the most common ideas are to introduce a topic (e.g. fishing, practical jokes, friendship, or teeth) or to practise a grammar point (e.g. the present continuous to talk about what the two characters are doing).

Either of these ideas might be quite successful, but I can’t help thinking that they underuse the video and neglect the story that it offers.

What do I mean by that? Well, it is important for teachers to be aware that there is never just one story. We might read the same book, watch the same film, or listen to the same podcast. However, we all experience it in a different way.

We make different connections and associations. We ask silent questions and make predictions. We look for meaning and interpret symbols. We judge protagonists and evaluate their decisions. We identify with characters and form bonds with them. We put ourselves into the story and adopt experiences as if they were our own. We find our own stories within the story. We make our own meaning.

In the language classroom, it is this divergence of interpretation that can make a short film like “Teeth” such a powerful piece of material.

But how do you harness that power? How do you turn a 2-minute narrative into a meaningful discussion of the story? Join me at ELTOC 2020 to find out.


ELTOC 2020ELTOC 2020

How do you use video in your classroom? This is a question that I have been asking teachers ever since YouTube was launched in 2005. Over that time, I have come to a conclusion: there is a tendency for us to focus on the video and neglect the story that it offers. In my ELTOC talk, I would like to share some activities in which technology takes a backseat and good old-fashioned storytelling comes to the front of the class.

Register now for the ELTOC 2020 waitlist! I look forward to seeing you for my talk.


Jamie Keddie started off with a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Realizing that he actually wanted to be a musician, he spent most of his twenties studying at Leeds College of Music in Yorkshire, England. After that, he worked as a singer-piano player on ships, but nothing too glamorous.

In 2001 Jamie moved to Barcelona and became an English teacher. Gradually, his passion moved from music to education, video and storytelling.

As a trainer, Jamie has shared his ideas and insights with teachers and educators in over 40 countries. He is the author of Images (Oxford University Press, 2008), Bringing online video into the classroom (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Videotelling: YouTube Stories for the Classroom (LessonStream Books, 2017).


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Making the Impossible Possible – Q&A session


shutterstock_299889014Last month, we hosted Gareth Davies’ webinar,
‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’. During the webinar and on his previous blog post, we called for questions for Gareth that we could ask him post-webinar, to delve deeper into creative writing in the EFL classroom. Here’s the full transcript of this interview:

What is your opinion on teachers writing a sample text for students to get used to writing?

This is a good question, reading and writing go hand in hand and there is evidence to suggest that the more reading a student does the better their writing will become, so in general having as much exposure to different texts can only help students.  Having or not having a model is often the cited as the major difference between process and product writing. In process writing the students study a sample text and use it as a model and is a good approach for students who are preparing for an exam or who need to write formulaic emails or reports. However, sometimes I think this can impose restrictions on students. So if I am doing a creative writing exercise I might avoid giving students a model at the start of the activity, to allow their creative juices to flow.

Have you ever tried to channel the positive energy of these creative writing tasks and turn them into positive academic writing performance?

How could we use these ideas to writing for exams? I mean, IELTS, Cambridge exams?

Thanks for this question, let me try to give you an analogy. When someone trains to run a marathon, they don’t only run long distances. They do some gym work, some short runs, and perhaps they change their diet. For me it is the same with preparing for an exam. You need to do some exam practice, but you also need to hone your skills and prepare in different ways. Creative writing tasks can allow students to practise their writing in an interesting way, but they are still using the skills they will need for academic purposes. When I was teaching an EAP course in the summer I did several storytelling and writing activities just to free the students up, and they found it very helpful.

How you would evaluate or share the poems?

This is a very interesting point. When I ask my students to do creative writing activities, I try to focus as much as possible on the content rather than the accuracy. I see it as a fluency activity. Therefore, on their first draft, I might comment on how the story or poem made me feel, how I enjoyed it, etc., and only point out errors where the meaning is confused. I might also ask the students to peer correct each other’s work and ask me if they are not sure about something. As for sharing their work I ask the students to decide if they are public or private, they mark the top of the paper. If they are public then I will ask them to read them out or put them on display. If the students have marked it as private then only I will look at it. With creative writing, it is often personal, I don’t think it is fair to share the students’ work if they are not ready.

What do you think of beginning with more concrete descriptive language?

In one of my previous webinars, I talked about the following activity, which looks at descriptive language.

Write a sentence on the board

e.g. The boy walked up the stairs.

Tell the student the boy was scared, ask them where they would put that word in that sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked up the stairs.

Now ask them how he walked up the stairs. Elicit an adverb and ask them where it goes in the sentence.

e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the stairs.

Next ask them to describe the stairs, (narrow? steep? dark?) and ask them where their adjective goes. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the dark stairs.

Finally, ask them to think of a different word for ‘walked’, (ran? climbed? tip-toed?)

e.g. The scared boy tip-toed quickly up the dark stairs.

Now it is time to edit. You’ve gone from a simple sentence to a much too complicated one. Which words leave the best impression on the reader, which are not needed?

 e.g. Perhaps you don’t need scared because ‘tip-toed’ and dark imply this.

Put the students into pairs and ask them to do the same for other adjectives, excited, happy, sad, angry etc.

You can help them with the words by translating or filling in gaps in their knowledge.

Which do you prefer? Poet or Teacher.

Actually, I love both and they are not that different. Both require you to plan and prepare carefully, both make you bring your personality to the work. Both encourage you to be creative. With both, you hope to leave a positive influence on your audience. And finally, with both sometimes things go wrong and you have to reassess and start again.


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Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing

shutterstock_176605295

Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.

Writing’s a Chore?

When I was on a recent short-term teaching assignment in Northern Spain, I decided to ask my students to do some creative writing. I gave them some prompts and asked them to write a story. Far from being a joyous activity, the students rolled their eyes. There was a lot of grumbling and sighing and the finished versions were no more than four or five lines long. They had written stories, but they had not written creatively. Why did my students have such a negative reaction to writing and how could I encourage them to enjoy it?

garethdavies1

Why is writing an essential 21st century communication device? Well, take a brief look around in any town in any country you will see people hunched over their phones or tablets or laptops sending texts, emails or WeChat messages. Writing is in vogue. But it is more than that. It is argued that encouraging students to create in a foreign language helps them to internalise it more effectively. This is because they need to think about how language works and what they know, in order to be able to use the language successfully.

Merril Swain argues that input, being taught the language and being asked to manipulate it in controlled exercises, is useful, but it doesn’t produce the cognitive processing required to internalise language. Whereas:

“output pushes learners to process language more deeply – with more mental effort… With output, the learner is in control. In speaking or writing, learners can ‘stretch’ their interlanguage[1] to meet communicative goals.”

  • Swain

[1]Interlanguage is the learner’s current, work in progress version of the language. 

Thus when producing language, whether it be writing or speaking, students are being cognitively challenged which is helping them to internalise the language, and get better at it. Therefore, the work we do on writing in the classroom can be seen as work done on language development, helping students to improve their linguistic ability.

So how do we get our students writing?

One complaint I often hear from students is that they don’t know what to write about. Here are a couple of solutions.

Sit the students in circles of six. Ask students to write the topic they want to write about on the top of an A4 sheet of paper and then pass the paper around in the circle. Each student writes a question on the sheet about the topic at the top. Now each student has the subject they are going to write about and five questions to answer in the text.

Task: You are on a shopping trip to a big city with friends. Write a blog entry about your experience.

Instruction to Students: Decide which city you are visiting write it on top of the piece of paper.

Examples

Paris

Are the shops expensive?

Are there any street markets?

Is there a department store?

London

Are the shops expensive?

Is it crowded?

What is the food like?

If you want the students to all write about the same topic, write the topic on the board and draw two columns. Elicit all the things the students know about the topic and write them in the first column. Then give them time to think of what they would like to know about the topic. Elicit the questions they have thought of and write them in the second column. Now ask the students to do the writing task. The weaker or more cautious ones can rely on the information in the first column the more adventurous ones can try to find answers to the questions in the second column.

Task: Prepare a small advert for tourists about your home town.

Prague

What do we know?

Traditional markets at certain times of the year.

Best time to come is spring

Two castles

What would we like to know?

How much is it to stay in a hotel?

How much to taxis cost?

How do you take a boat trip?

Where’s the best place for a view of Prague?

If you want your students to do some creative writing, you might want to start by asking them to adapt an existing story. For example, you could take the story of Aladdin and ask the students to write a fifty-word summary or to write a 21st Century version or a version that would be more specific to their own country. This allows the students to work within an existing structure, but create their own ideas. An alternative might be to take a song or poem with regular repetitions and ask students to write their own version. Ian Dury’s I Believe is a good song for this kind of activity and can be found in Headway Intermediate.

Call a draft a draft

It is a good idea to encourage students to call their work drafts, to give them a sense that they can, and should, make changes. Asking questions is a really good way of giving feedback. The questions can help create a richer piece.  Some example feedback questions for a piece of creative writing might be: what happened next? why did this happen? how did the people feel? What did the street look like? This shows that the teacher has read the piece with interest and is keen to know more about the story, and was not just looking for mistakes and errors to correct.

In my webinar on the 25th and 26th of January, I will discuss some of these ideas in greater detail and suggest other ways to make the impossible possible and to get your students to enjoy their writing tasks.

References

Tasks mentioned are taken from Solutions Pre-Intermediate 2nd Edition.

Swain, M., ‘The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue’ in Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition ed. James P. Lantolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 97- 114 p. 99.