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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. Continue reading


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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. Continue reading


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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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How to get your students writing – your questions answered!

Teenagers writing in the classroomLast 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 asked you to send us all your burning questions for Garon teaching creative writing in the EFL classroom.

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 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.

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, this is the same as 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 and 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.

  1. Write a sentence on the board e.g. The boy walked up the stairs.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Watch Gareth’s webinar, ‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’!, free on the Oxford Teachers’ Club!

watch the recording

 


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’.


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

Teenagers writing in a classroomWriting – is it 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?

Students often associate writing with tests. In fact, schools and teachers often see writings as something to be done and assessed, so rather than being treated as an essential 21st-century communication device it is relegated to the role of the examiner.

Why is writing an essential 21st-century communication device?

Take a brief look around. In any town, in any country, you will see people hunched over their phones, 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 the 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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: 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

  1. Are the shops expensive?
  2. Are there any street markets?
  3. Is there a department store?

London

  1. Are the shops expensive?
  2. Is it crowded?
  3. What is the food like?

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

Prague

What do we know?

  • Traditional markets at certain times of the year.
  • The best time to come is spring.
  • Two castles.

What would we like to know?

  • How much do taxis cost?
  • How do you take a boat trip?
  • Where’s the best place for a view of Prague?
  • How much is it to stay in a hotel?

Task: Storytelling

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, I 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.

watch the recording

For more information on this topic, check out Gareth’s Q&A session, where he answers all of your questions on getting students writing!

 

References

  1. The tasks mentioned are taken from Solutions Pre-Intermediate 2nd Edition.
  2. 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.

 


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’.