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Task Based Learning: A Dynamo for 21st Century Learning

task based learningNowadays we live in an ever-changing global world in which global skills have become the essential skills of the workplace. Employers currently seek employees who have a positive attitude to life, who are adaptable, self-motivated and who are continuously motivated to grow and learn. In short, it seems that the global marketplace is looking for life-long learners who have a growth mindset. This being the case, it seems fitting to stop and ask ourselves whether our schools and educational systems are currently preparing our children for this complex and ever-changing reality, or if they are simply perpetuating a bygone 19th century educational model that is no longer capable of meeting our modern-day reality and needs. Sir Ken Robinson defends that:

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” (Robinson, 2010)

It seems that this message is being heard and taken on board, as many educational systems around the world have already begun taking the first steps towards bringing about this kind of radical long-lasting change into their schools and society by implementing UNESCO’s 4 pillars of education[1] or the OECD Pisa-Global Competence framework in their curricula. The OUP ELT expert panel recently defended in the Global skills: Creating Empowered 21st Century Citizens position paper: “Nowadays, teacher’s responsibilities typically cover not only the teaching of specific subjects but also the gradual inclusion of additional skills and competencies.”[2] (2019: p. 10). Thus, we teachers need to implement a 21st century learning framework in our classrooms which introduces a balanced learning approach. An approach that simultaneously promotes and develops the learning of subject specific content along with the 21st century global skills like Critical and Creative thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Intercultural, Citizenship and Digital skills, and finally, Emotional Regulation and Well-being.

Whilst all this makes perfect sense, teachers like you and me often find themselves a little lost when it comes to bridging the gap between theory and practice in our classrooms. Suzie Boss and John Larmer defend that Project Based Learning (PBL)is just the perfect tool to make this shift as:

Through academically rigorous projects, students acquire deep content knowledge while also mastering 21st century success skills: knowing how to think critically, analyse information for reliability, collaborate with diverse colleagues, and solve problems creatively. In the process of engaging with PBL, students learn to ask good questions, be resourceful, manage their time, meet authentic deadlines, and persist through challenges. When well done, PBL fosters self-management and self-directed learning.” (Larmer, 2018, p. 1)

Colleen MacDonell goes a step further and alerts us to the toll that a strictly academic programme can take on Young Learners by mainly focusing on their cognitive development in neglect of other essential components of how learning takes place with young learners, namely,  their innate positive dispositions like their constant curiosity and eagerness to learn. She supports the introduction of PBL in the YL classroom as:

…the project approach to teaching helps young children develop many positive habits of mind and behaviour: persistence in the face of a difficult problem, curiosity about new concepts, motivation to learn, cooperativeness, and even humour. … Early childhood education should include a conscious effort on the part of teachers to create learning environments and activities that allow children to practice and experience these desirable behaviours. (MacDonell, 2007, p. 4)

Want to try the PBL approach with your learners? Here are five absolutely essential characteristics that every good YL project should have.

Stem from a student-directed driving question.

 A meaningful project should always be born from a discussion between all the project stakeholders (the children, teacher, the school librarian etc.) that inevitably taps into the children’s natural curiosity. The teacher’s role is that of a guide or facilitator who helps the children discover what they are curious about and which overall driving question they want to find the answer to. This strong students’ voice is really what creates and drives a project!

 Be based on a meaningful topic that is connected to the real world

 One should never forget that children are not capable of abstract thinking skills. Thus, they will only be motivated to pursue a project that they can understand and immediately relate to in their everyday lives. Whilst this may appear to be obvious enough, it is a core principle which one may feel tempted to neglect in the face of rigorous programmes that supposedly prepare children for (state) exams.

 Be carefully scaffolded for various types of learners

 Carol Read (Read, 2007) reminds that a good YL lesson should be planned to “catch children at being good”. This is also true of an effective project. A good project should be designed so as to bring out and develop children’s natural talents and skills. This being said, it’s important to make sure that each child has been given a clear role within the actual project to guarantee that every child is innately motivated and deeply involved in the project’s execution.

 Be embedded with knowledge and skills

Although a good project is student-driven, it should also lead the children to develop the target knowledge and skills that they need to learn at a particular stage of their educational journey. Thus, a project’s driving should naturally be linked to the target content programme. One should also stress that a meaningful and effective project should be research-based and informed by multiple resources so that children are developing the global skills they will later need in the workplace from a young and tender age.

Conclude with a viable end project

 Bloom’s revised taxonomy alerts us to the importance of developing the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) in the classroom rather than stopping at the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). Thus, it is natural that a successful project should come together in an end product which reflects the final result of the students’ learning process. It is important to stress that this final product should be simple and doable as the objective is to motivate children to learn rather than to burden them with an unrealistic end project which is an unnecessary source of stress for all the stakeholders involved.

So, when all is said and done, what exactly is the secret of a good project? Well, like so many things in life, it should follow the KISS approach to learning:

Keep

It

Sweet and

Simple!


Join me in January 2020 for a webinar designed to help you make project-based learning a fun and engaging learning experience. See you then


Vanessa Reis Esteves has been teaching EFL in Portugal for the past 23 years and is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação where she teaches English for Academic purposes and English methodology. She has taught both in private and state schools. She holds a Master’s degree in Anglo American studies and is involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Portugal and Egypt. She presently writes course material for EFL students and has recently written ETpedia: Young Learners with practical ideas on teaching YLs for Pavilion Publishing in the UK. Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, (Pre)Teens as well as Critical Thinking and 21st Century skills.

 


Bibliography

Larmer, S. B. (2018). Project based Teaching, How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences. Novato: ASCD Learn.

MacDonell, C. (2007). Project-Based Inquiry Units for. YoungChildren, First Steps. to Research for Grades Pre-K-2. Worthington: Linworth Books.

Read, C. (2007). 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom, Immediate Ideas and Solutions. Thailand: Macmillan Books for Teachers.

Robinson, K. (2010). Bring on the Educational Revolution. https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_learning_revolution.

[1] For more information, consult: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000109590

[2] This report can be fully downloaded here: https://oxelt.gl/2nIJ32Y


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Eight Ways to Use Comic Strips in the Classroom

Comic strips provide a unique and exciting way to engage learners in the world of English. Check out these eight tips for making and using them in your classroom.

1) Making comic strips as a group activity

Creating a comic strip is a great group activity. Some learners can write the story, some can draw, and some can colour. Learners should speak in English and work together. Start by teaching them functional phrases like “Can I do the drawings?” and “I’d like to write the story”.

2) Using comic strips to teach vocabulary

If you’ve just given a lesson about shopping, learners can write a comic strip about ‘going to the shops’. If you’ve just taught them to use the future tense, they can write a comic strip about ‘making plans’. Encourage learners to describe what happens in each frame of their comic strip in English. They should make story notes before they start drawing.

3) Creating fun characters

Keep your students engaged by helping them to create interesting characters for their comic strips. Try asking questions about their characters like “Has he got a long or a short nose?”, “Is she wearing a shirt or a jumper?”, and “Is he happy or grumpy?”

Why not ask them to create a ‘character guide’ before drawing their comic strips? This could be a notebook where they design and describe every character using key vocabulary.

4) Drawing and colouring a comic strip

Your learners should begin by drawing the comic strip frames, speech balloons, and characters in pencil. They should then draw over these lines in ink. Afterwards, they should write words in pencil in the speech balloons. You can check these for spelling and grammar before they draw over them in ink. When the ink is dry, learners can erase the pencil lines and colour in the comic strip.

Are your students good with technology? They could also create a comic strip digitally by taking photos and adding speech bubbles with Photoshop!

5) Using comic strips to practice speaking skills

Once your learners have finished creating their comic strips, there are many follow-up activities you can use them for in the classroom. For example, you could ask each group of learners to act out their comic strips in front of the class. Each learner should choose a character and practice saying their lines before performing them with their group. This will help learners practice their speaking skills.

You could also get students to perform this activity with comic strips from a coursebook. If each group changes three words in the strip before they act it out, listening students can play ‘spot the difference’ between the text in the comic strip and the words they hear.

6) Using comic strips as reading tasks

You can use your learners’ comic strips to create a set of unique reading tasks. Ask each group to create a set of true or false questions and comprehension activities to go with their comic strips. Now you can share these out amongst the class, or save them to use later.

7) Creating more activities with comic strips

Your learners can prepare even more skills work and language tasks to go with their comic strips. For example, they can design tasks like ‘Match these six words with their synonyms in the comic strip’ or ‘Find the opposite of these seven words in the comic strip’ or ‘Look at these eight words and find places in the comic to add them’. Groups can then exchange their finished comic strips and tasks.

Why not try using coursebook comic strips to create even more fun activities. Try creating a comprehension task by photocopying a comic strip and cutting out the text from the speech balloons. Now you can give your learners the pictures from the comic strip in the correct order, and the text in a jumbled order. Ask them to match the correct text with the correct pictures and put the story together!

8) Entering the Project Explore Competition

If you like these ideas and want another way to enjoy comic strips in your classroom, try entering The Project Explore Competition!

Engage your learners and win great prizes by asking them to complete the story of The Ancient Statue with their very own comic strip!

Enter now!


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Using online posters to motivate teens

Glogster

Image credit: Glogster EDU

Usoa Sol, a materials writer, teacher trainer and the Head of the English Department at Sant Gregori School in Barcelona, offers some practical ideas for using online posters to motivate your Upper Primary students.

Would you like to see your students motivated to learn English and really looking forward to English class? Then Glogster is definitely the online poster tool you’re looking for! Let us take a look at the benefits of using Glogster in the classroom.

Why use online posters?

Nowadays, students take loads of pictures and make videos (of themselves, of their friends, of their everyday lives), so asking them to put them up on an online poster is a great way of using them to your advantage for learning purposes.

Glogster is visual, intuitive and very easy to use. What’s more, it caters for all students regardless of their level, it really appeals to them, and most importantly, it boosts their creativity and allows them to express their ideas in an artistic way.

Why is Glogster such a great educational tool? Because it gives students the chance to bring to the classroom what they do outside of it and to create something using the language they speak best: multimedia.

Also, most of our students are used to sharing things online with their friends, and Glogster is just perfect for that, because on a Glogster poster students can post images, video, music, hyperlinks, and add sound. Not only does this mean that their posters come to life, but also that they become really interactive; and what’s more, they can be seen by a lot more people.

Five simple activities to do with Glogster

Glogster can be used in many different ways, but here are a few ideas for you to try out in your classes:

1. For a quick collaborative activity that you could carry out in one single class, you could use Glogster to brainstorm vocabulary related to a topic, for example: food. Each student could contribute one word and its corresponding picture and paste it on the glog. Then, they could go in front of the class and tell their classmates why they have chosen that word and what it means to them or even give an example sentence with that word. For example: “This is a photo of fish and chips. It’s my favourite British dish. I first had it when I went to London three years ago”.

2. Another example of a brainstorming activity using Glogster that can be done at the beginning of the school year with low-level students is a poster where they can post words they already know in English. This is going to boost their confidence and make them feel good about what they know, so they are in the right mindset to learn new things!

3. A third version of this activity that could be done after Christmas is one where students could post a picture of what they’ve done over the holidays and write a sentence describing it. They could also put up a picture of a present they’ve received and write about what it’s for, who it’s from and why they like it.

4. Apart from being a great tool for brainstorming, Glogster can also be used for longer projects. One of the most successful projects I have carried out in an EFL class with my students is an activity where they had to design a Glogster poster to illustrate a text they’d written about themselves.

Students absolutely loved looking for the best pictures, videos and music to put up on their posters and they spent hours working on their “poster assignment” (which they didn’t really see as homework, but as a fun activity they actually enjoyed doing). What’s more, it was the students themselves who asked me if they could present their posters in front of the class, which was great oral practice in English, a highly enjoyable activity for my students and really useful for me to get to know them better.

After the students had presented their posters, we posted them onto our school wiki and it was amazing to see them giving each other feedback on their posters and asking each other questions that they had thought of in the days after the presentations.

5. Apart from asking your students to design a poster about themselves over a series of lessons, you could also adapt this idea to get them to illustrate what English means to them. For example, you could ask them to write their “English biography” (i.e., a short text about when they started learning English, what they like best and least about it, what they find the easiest and the hardest about English, why they think English is important, if they’ve ever been to an English-speaking country) and then get them to design a Glogster poster to capture the main ideas in their text.

Summary

Glogster holds great potential for EFL classes and will definitely motivate your students to learn English. So, what are you waiting for? Start using it and tell us about it! Which activities work well in your classroom with Glogster?

Project Competition logoWant to start creating online posters with your class? Why not enter the Project competition? Watch this short video from Project author Tom Hutchinson to find out more.


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It’s a Digital World

Mother and son using digital tabletTo celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, teacher trainer, Gareth Davies looks at three ways to make the digital world work for you in your upper primary classroom.

Over the past few years, technology has gradually become a valuable part of my teaching armoury. My essential teaching tool kit used to be a good course book, a ball, some pictures and coloured pens but now it includes a computer and a Wi-Fi connection as well. Using digital tools in the classroom was a logical progression for me. I had used cassette players and then CD players, video and then DVD so as soon as I got a laptop computer I started to think how it could work for me in the classroom.  Below I outline the three areas that technology has helped to enhance my teaching.

Digital Presentation Tools

The first area where I embraced digital in my teaching was using digital presentation tools. I started with a data projector and later started using an interactive whiteboard.

Using a data projector or an interactive whiteboard I can prepare some of my board work before the lesson, which is especially good for grammar or vocabulary presentations. My board work has became clearer and easier to follow, helping my students to make better notes. I can also save board work and revisit it later in the lesson or in a following lesson, this is really useful if the students haven’t understood a concept or need a reminder. On my computer I have all the listenings and videos I want to do in class as well as access to a range of pictures, this means I can appeal to a wide range of learning styles and bring variety to my lesson.

At first, I was worried that this pre-planning would make my lessons more structured, but I actually find having a computer and the internet in the classroom makes me more flexible. It means I can respond to students’ questions by looking things up on the internet or a dictionary CD-Rom as we go along. Also because part of my board work was ready prepared I find I have more time in my classes. This means I can be monitoring my students more and can help those in need. Also having the video on hand all the time means I can change the dynamic of the lesson quickly and easily if I feel the students need something different.

Getting students using technology

These presentation tools were really my toys but I soon found myself asking students to use technology for themselves in and out of the classroom.

I have found that my students are more than willing to look up definitions or translations using their smart phones. When doing pre-reading tasks they sometimes use their access to the Internet to find out information about the topic. This means students become more independent learners and realise that English is not just a school subject but it opens up the world of the web to them.

Computers also became tools for collaborative works such as projects. As well as doing paper projects, we use a range of web tools like blogs or fotobabble that students work on together. I think the fact that they can edit their work if they notice mistakes makes them more willing to take risks digitally and also more willing to comment on each other’s work.

Outside the class for homework or self-study I can use a range of digital tools.  For example I ask students to find music videos or clips from English language films that they like and that we discuss in class. Or ask them to record themselves speaking and email it to me. Students also seem to enjoy doing things on computers that they don’t like to do on paper. For example downloading and reading a graded reader on their phone seems more appealing than turning real pages. Similarly doing controlled practice activities digitally, on the OUP website or the course book CD Rom was more enjoyable for students because it allows them to have more immediacy, they get instant feedback which means they don’t have to wait for the teacher to check their answers. The ‘try again’ function also means they can do the activities again and again.

Professional Development

Finally the new digital world makes professional development so much easier. As you are reading this, I can assume that you have already discovered the power of blogs. Blogs are fantastic ways to learn about teaching methods and the ideas of people who we would never get a chance to meet.

As well as reading blogs I often attend webinars which gives me a chance to listen to teachers talk about what they are passionate about and discuss those ideas with other participants. I am also a member of a Facebook group that is like a virtual classroom, a place where I can share ideas with other teachers.

Finally, I can access the OUP website to access teaching ideas and resources that help me to change the dynamics in the classroom and supplement the course book I am teaching from.

I’ve come a long way since my early attempts at using PowerPoint to present grammar and I still wouldn’t say I have fully integrated technology into my teaching. But I have found that digital tools help to engage and motivate students and have helped me to make the time I spend with my students much more profitable. How is technology affecting your teaching? What benefits has it brought to your classrooms?

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Supporting students with specific learning needs

Student looking confusedTo celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Michele Daloiso, author of pedagogical OUP material for Italy and teacher at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, explores ways we can support learners with specific educational needs in our ELT classrooms.

Kevin is a preschool kid. He is very smart and creative. He likes playing with building blocks and playing with his classmates. He’s also very sociable, although when it comes to sing along or act a poem out sometimes he just cut himself off from the rest of the class, or he doesn’t seem to remember the right words. Maybe he’s just a little shy. Maybe it’s just his learning style.

Kevin is six years old now and he starts struggling with literacy. The mismatch between his classmates and him gets bigger and bigger and by the end of the second year Kevin doesn’t seem to have reached the basic learning goals for reading and writing. Some teachers say he’s slow, others say he’s just lazy and disorganized. His parents take him to a specialist and find out that Kevin is neither mentally retarded nor lazy. He has dyslexia, a learning difficulty which causes trouble in some specific tasks like spelling words, reading out loud, writing by dictation. However, the speech therapist made her point very clear: Kevin is really smart, he just needs to be supported with some specific teaching strategies.

So, what happens when kids like Kevin start learning a foreign language (FL)? Well, it can be a torture or a pleasure… it depends on the quality of the support they will receive. Accommodation is necessary because the traditional FL class can cause some learning barriers, some of which are due to a conflict between common teaching practice and these students’ preferred way of learning. So, let’s see how an FL teacher could help a kid like Kevin. Particularly, I would like to discuss the four most important strategies to remember (for more information see Schneider and Crombie, 2003; Kormos and Kontra, 2008; Nijakowska, 2008; Daloiso, 2012).

First, these students are likely to benefit from structured instruction (in fact, Kevin was said to be disorganized). This can be easily achieved by setting clear language goals for each class and make them explicit, providing lesson plan outlines, summaries and revision sheets, breaking down long activities into small steps etc. Structured instruction also implies that highly structured activities will be more effective. For instance, an oral interaction exercise which requires to promptly improvise a dialogue is very unlikely to work out for these students. The activity is just too loosely structured. On the contrary, these students would benefit from a more structured oral exercise providing not only the roles, but also an explicit interaction pattern to be followed (“first ask this”, “then say that” etc.), along with some useful key-words and phrases.

Second, we need to keep in mind that an FL teacher is not a speech therapist. Students like Kevin will keep on having trouble with some specific tasks, such as taking notes, copying from board, reading out loud, spelling words, writing by dictation. I don’t think we should insist on these tasks in the FL, especially if we cannot give them the opportunity of some individual classes to help them cope with these specific difficulties. For the same reason, teachers should not penalize them for slow and inaccurate reading or spelling mistakes. It would be like penalizing myopic students because they can’t see things well.

Here comes the third suggestion. Myopic students are allowed to wear glasses.  Similarly these students should get access to specific tools.  Technology could be of great help in many ways. For instance, using their laptops for writing compositions,  students can get access to digital dictionaries and spell checkers. If students have severe dyslexia they can use text-to-speech devices and the textbook recordings as a support for reading comprehension.

Kevin is a dyslexic student, he has a language disability. What about his abilities? What do we know about his learning style? Many dyslexic students are said to have developed a global style, so they tend to “get the whole picture” of a text rather than analyzing every single detail. Therefore, they benefit from contextualization activities preceding reading or listening (analyzing a picture, learning the key-words in advance). They are often visual learners, so they benefit from visual prompts based on pictures and videos. So, the fourth aspect to remember is: labelling students according to what they are not able to do may be a good choice for speech therapists, who need to work on language remediation, but it is unlikely to be the best choice for education.  Getting to know the student’s preferred way of learning is the best starting point.

Now let’s go back to little Kevin. Now we know that he learns best in a structured way, he is a global and visual learner, he benefits from technology to overcome some weaknesses. We probably need some more information about him, but I feel this is a good starting point to successfully include him in the FL classroom and grant him some opportunity for successful learning.

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