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The Power Of Proficiency: How English Changed My Life

Valeria: "It has given me confidence."Valeria, a 22-year-old computer engineer and programmer, first started learning English from her father at home in Costa Rica.

“He spent time in Canada and the States. But I think I’m better at English than him now – don’t tell him, though!”

English proficiency for a brighter future

Her father saw the opportunities that can come from learning English during his travels overseas, and now Valeria has seen them firsthand too. “I have better job opportunities, and I get paid more because I can prove I have a great level of English.”

This became clearer when she landed her dream job — working for a company whose headquarters are based in Atlanta, making English language skills a must for any member of staff. “Most of our clients and vendors are in Atlanta, so we have to use English every day.” Luckily, she was able to get her B2 certificate while at university. Knowing she could prove that she had a good level of English gave Valeria the confidence to apply for the role in the first place.

It was all made possible when her professor arranged for her class to sit the Oxford Test of English at the end of their course. She found the experience of taking the online test quite relaxing and was able to complete all the modules in two hours. And, unlike other English proficiency tests, the students didn’t have to learn a particular way to answer the questions, which Valeria appreciated.

“I could focus on my English instead of learning how to take a test.”

It also didn’t hurt when she learnt that her Oxford Test of English certificate is valid for life.

“Whenever I need evidence of my English proficiency, I can show my Oxford Test of English certificate. You can use it for business or travelling – the possibilities are endless. It’s amazing for anyone who needs to prove they have a good level of English.”

Like Francisco, for example – a Mechanical Engineering Student & Basketball Coach from Spain.

Proving English proficiency to study abroad

Francisco: "It takes just two hours."Francisco needed to prove he had a B2 level of English when he was applying to spend a year studying abroad in Finland, as all his classes there were in English.

Once he arrived, he found his English also came in handy when he was socialising too, as not that many of the locals or other foreign students spoke Spanish.

“I realized that if you can speak English, you can communicate nearly everywhere you go.”

Just like Valeria, Francisco certified his English level with the Oxford Test of English, and also enjoyed the fact that it was online and adaptive.

“The structure of the test is great; it adapts to your ability, getting harder or easier depending on your answers. It’s nice because you’re being tested during the whole exam.”

So would he recommend it?

“Yes, absolutely! The test takes just two hours, and then the certificate endorsed by the University of Oxford stays with you and remains useful for your whole life. It’s ideal for people who need to prove to a company they can operate in English, and it looks great on a CV.”

Not to mention, it helped open the doors to a once in a lifetime experience of studying in Finland –

“I think it was probably the best period of my life. It was just four months, but they were so special. I travelled around the Nordic countries and Russia and met people I’d never meet in any other situation. I’m so glad I was there – and all because of the Oxford Test of English!”

 

You can read other students’ success stories and find out more about the Oxford Test of English on our website.

Find out more

Don’t forget to share this link to our Learning Resources Bank with your students – where they can find additional tips and support to guide them through their English learning journey.


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The Jungle Book becomes our 100th Domino! | Alex Raynham

Jungle Book graded reader among other copies of the Jungle BookTo mark the publication of the 100th Dominoes graded reader − The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling − the author Alex Raynham talks about the challenges of adapting such a classic title and gives some advice about classroom use.

When Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Books (originally plural) in the mid-1890s, he was the most popular author in the English-speaking world, and his stories became an instant classic. The Jungle Books have stood the test of time, appealing to successive generations of readers and appearing in many print, movie, and theatrical adaptations. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the snake and Shere Khan the villainous tiger have become part of popular culture. No wonder then that Oxford University Press has produced so many different versions over the years!

How do you adapt a classic story?

The biggest challenge was how to adapt and simplify a story that has become such a well-known classic, whilst keeping it fresh and entertaining. The original Jungle Books are a diverse collection of stories over 300 pages long. In contrast, a Level 1 Dominoes cartoon-style reader has only 27 pages of story text and is about 3,000 words − so careful text selection was required. We decided to focus on the stories in The Jungle Books, which concern the adventures of Mowgli and his friends and exclude any stories unrelated to them. We then tried to focus on key events that moved the stories forward and contributed to our understanding of the main characters.

After that we made a detailed plan of each page of the story, deciding what artwork and text to include in each ‘frame’ on those pages. Each piece of text needed to be short enough to leave plenty of space for artwork, so the wording needed to be precise. Every sentence had to contribute to the overall story. In addition, each chapter needed to end with some kind of cliffhanger, motivating learners to read on and find out what happens next.

Staying true to Kipling’s vision

The original Jungle Books are witty, captivating and descriptively rich. Kipling sets the scene and paints the characters beautifully. So one big issue with the adaptation was how to stay true to the spirit of the original story when a Level 1 Dominoes reader only has A1 grammatical structures and a wordlist of just 400 headwords. One way to do this was to preserve Kipling’s ‘voice’ as much as possible. Using plenty of direct speech helps with this, and we’ve also kept some of Kipling’s original phrases: for example, ‘man cub’ − the way that Mowgli’s wolf family describe him as a child.

Why a comic strip?

A comic strip is ideal for many readers at A1 level − particularly titles which contain rich settings and many different characters, such as The Jungle Book. It helps to introduce new vocabulary, and descriptions of the characters and settings can be supported by the pictures, making them easier to visualise at this level. A comic strip also helps the teacher to use each chapter in a variety of ways in class. For example:

  • Illustrations help the teacher to pre-teach vocabulary or reinforce it after reading.
  • All or part of some speech bubbles can be blanked out, and learners can be asked to reconstruct or predict the dialogue.
  • The teacher can photocopy a page of the story and cut up the pictures, then rearrange and scan them, asking learners to put them in order. This can be done on the IWB as a pre-reading prediction activity, or as a post-reading story review.

Supporting learners’ reading without breaking the flow

It’s probably true to say that the less we intervene, the more learners get out of extended reading. We need to motivate learners by giving them a sense of achievement through being able to read and understand an extended narrative pretty much on their own. But we also want to make sure that learners are actually understanding the story and getting the most out of it. So we’re playing the role of facilitator– encouraging students and giving them space, but also directing them to the resources contained in the books.

The meaning of above-level vocabulary is given on the page in Dominoes titles, allowing the learner to read on without getting stuck. For example, in The Jungle Book, we gloss the word ‘cub’ so that learners can understand ‘man cub’. It’s important to direct them to these Glossary words when needed without interrupting their reading by focussing too much on them.

Using activities to support learning

The Activities after every chapter can be used to facilitate class discussion about the story and recycle new vocabulary, but we should avoid the temptation to check that learners remember every detail. Using the ‘Guess What’ predictive activities in these sections is a good way to get learners thinking about the plot and what might happen next without the pressure to get any answers right.

End-of-book Grammar Check activities are designed to support learners when reading each particular title. For example, in The Jungle Book, one focus is irregular plurals nouns like ‘deer’, ‘buffalo’ and ‘teeth’! Using the Projects at the back will also help learners to relate what they’ve read to their experiences and the wider world. For example, in The Jungle Book, they’re asked to write a profile of one of four animals in the story, based on a model: Bengal tiger, wolf, black panther or brown bear.

It’s easy for students to get to the end of a graded reader, then forget about it. But in L1, we talk about good books that we’ve read with friends and think about them long after we’ve turned the last page. So it’s vital to try and reflect this both inside and outside the classroom.

 

Looking for something new to support your learners’ reading skills? Try these ready-to-use activities from our brand new graded reader!

Download your sample of The Jungle Book

Download the Activity Pack

 


Alex Raynham grew up in New Zealand and the UK before graduating from Oxford University. He was an ELT teacher in Italy and Turkey and later became an editor with Oxford University Press. Today he is a freelance author, editor and ELT teacher trainer based in Turkey. He has written over 20 ELT titles, including more than ten graded readers for Oxford University Press, and spoken at conferences throughout Turkey and abroad.


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Global Skills – Create Empowered 21st Century Learners

Global SkillsThe world is changing at a rapid pace and it is hard for educators to even imagine what kind of skills and competences their learners will need 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years from now. What is clear, however, is that traditional academic subjects alone will not be enough. Many curricula across the globe already include some form of life skills education. It has increasingly become the norm that many educators are expected to integrate the teaching of these skills into their subject teaching. Yet, the support and training educators receive varies widely. This is where we hope our Position Paper can help ELT teachers, in particular, to reflect on and find ways to teach global skills alongside their language aims in sustainable ways.

After having examined many diverse frameworks for global skills, we have distilled them into five clusters. These are:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Creativity and critical thinking
  • Intercultural competence and citizenship
  • Emotional self-regulation and wellbeing
  • Digital literacies

How an ELT teacher approaches the teaching of these skills will depend on their own interests, competences, resources, and local curricular constraints. There is no one single way to approach this. We have proposed a range of teaching approaches stretching from single activities to extended projects. Each teacher will select ideas as suits them and their learners. Here are a few ideas to consider and if you would like to know more, please download our free Global Skills Position Paper.

1. Compare different media sources:

In the era of ‘fake news’, critical thinking skills are more important than ever! You can help older learners develop these skills as part of a longer activity, by asking them to analyse different news articles.

Choose a current topic in the news to discuss with your learners. Give them a newspaper article or a news bulletin on the topic and ask them to share their response with a partner. Then, with the class, examine the same story in different media sources. Ask them to consider the author, the intended audience, the emotions involved, and the strategies that are used to engage the reader.

Do you want to develop your students’ digital literacies at the same time? Ask your students to fact check one of the articles online, using more than one source of information. They should think about which source is the most reliable and which to trust.

2. Create digital reports:

Try asking your learners to create a digital report on a global issue like endangered animals or inequality! They should work in pairs, and use their mobile devices to video or audio record a short news report about the issue, describing the problem and offering suggested solutions. Learners can share these reports with each other online, and give each other comments and feedback. The project could also be extended, and you could ask learners to create a detailed proposal for solving the issue. This will help them think critically and learn to solve problems.

3. Ask open-ended questions:

Simply changing the style of your questions can help your learners develop their creativity and critical thinking skills. Open-ended questions encourage students to interpret and analyse information, helping them to practice these essential skills. You can easily integrate these questions into your everyday teaching by asking questions about classroom topics – or you could ask questions about important issues to help your students develop their citizenship skills. For example, you could ask older learners questions like:

  • What is the most serious environmental issue in our town/region/country?
  • What causes this issue? Who is responsible for it?
  • What can we, as individuals, do about it?

You could ask younger learners questions like:

  • How can we help look after our pets?
  • How can we care for the animals around us?

This kind of activity provides a good foundation for deeper work on critical thinking in longer activities. It also helps students to practice their language skills by encouraging them to respond in detail.

4. Encourage project work:

Project work is one of the best ways for learners to develop their global skills. By working in groups, setting their own agenda, and personalising their approach, learners feel more engaged and develop multiple skills at once.

One example involves asking students to design their own project to address a problem in their local or global community. Secondary school learners could design projects around:

  • Working locally with people in an elderly care home who need to improve their technological skills to connect with others
  • Organising a fundraiser or protest march to help prevent climate change

These examples will encourage older students to develop skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Learners will also develop their citizenship and intercultural competence by investigating global issues and thinking about which groups of people need support. They will learn to think about their local and global communities, and learn how to address important issues.

Learners can also report on the project online to develop their digital literacies encourage others to engage in similar projects.

5. Start small:

Are you unsure how to begin teaching global skills like communication and collaboration? Try starting small! Every lesson, integrate a short language-learning activity that includes a focus on one of these global skills. Later, you can begin to integrate larger, more focused activities and sequences of tasks which allow for a more in-depth approach to developing the skills – including project work.

Do you want more great tips, including an exclusive Teachers’ Toolkit? Download our expert advice now!

Download the position paper

 


Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT Methodology. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, and she has written and edited prize-winning books in this area.

Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an online training and development consultancy. She is a teacher, trainer, and educational technology consultant who works with teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for EFL teachers in professional journals and has written several prizewinning methodology books.

Both Sarah and Nicky are lead authors of the position paper, Global Skills: Creating empowered 21st century learners.


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Learning to learn in the primary classroom

I have been teaching a group of young teenagers of very mixed levels and ages for six months now. Half of the group comes from the state-school system and the other half attend “an alternative school”. The latter group is one-three years younger and was the weakest one in terms of language knowledge at the beginning of the year. These children were weak elementary while the rest strong pre-intermediate/intermediate. I was even wondering whether they would be able to cope emotionally with the fact that the rest of the class coming from a state-school background is so much stronger.

As time went by, however, the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed. They were very good at using soft skills such as really listening to the teacher and to each other. They asked questions with confidence if they got stuck. They were able to work out answers for themselves by observing the clues carefully. I also watched them constantly use colors to highlight, to make mind-maps, and to make beautiful drawings in their notebooks to accompany their newly learnt language without having to draw their attention to these learning strategies. Their notebooks are not ordinary ones with the answers of exercises, lists of words and occasional grammar tables, but they look more like living books that you would want to open again and again to look at. And of course, I sometimes witnessed their frustration as well, but I saw their strategies of handling these emotions successfully too.

‘… the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed.’

These children have learnt something important that we all need in this rapidly changing world, and these are skills that allow them to adapt to new situations, new contexts, new people, and new tasks easily. Possessing vast knowledge – most of which computers provide us with in fractions of seconds anyway – does not give us enough support in being able to rise up to new challenges at this speed. Instead we need the soft skills and learning skills that equip us with the necessary flexibility.

What are these skills? How can they be developed? From the example above – just as, I am sure, we can all list such examples from our lives – these questions have obvious answers. But it feels harder to teach these skills instead of a set of new words or a new language point as they are less tangible.

Essential skills for primary children

So what is it that children need to learn in the primary school? According to Emőke Bagdy, a renowned Hungarian clinical psychologist, at this age children need to learn the following things: To read, to write, to count, and to be confident. They need to develop a sense of self-belief that they can do it. If this fails, according to E. Bagdy, children will struggle with their learning, in managing new situations at school, and in their life as adults.  This is also supported by the PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment) that has found that learners’ belief in their own efficacy is the strongest single predictor of whether they will adopt strategies that make learning effective or not (Artelt et al., 2003, pages 33–34).

One of the key things that influence children’s confidence is our own view of them as individuals and of their abilities. It is important to approach every single child believing that they can do it. A simple idea to do this is to catch them being good, something that can be easily done with the help of the Snakes poster – see below.

Snake Poster.

Draw one snake for every child in the class and label each one with a student’s name. Make sure the body of each snake is divided into lots of triangular sections. Each time a student does something praiseworthy (e.g. makes a helpful comment, shows determination, waiting patiently for their turn, etc.), tell them to come out and colour in one section of their snake with a pen of their choice.

Mixed-ability teaching, Edmund Dudley, Erika Osváth, OUP, 2016

Of course, we need to make sure that children progress with the colouring in their snakes approximately at similar speeds to avoid any feelings of shame, which would definitely be detrimental. Feeling good about oneself has an immense motivational power at any age, but it is imperative in the primary classroom.

Another important teaching moment that has a great impact on children’s self-confidence is our way of dealing with mistakes. In my view, there are no mistakes made in the primary classroom, but rather opportunities for children to notice something that is different or new in terms of use of words, language chunks, spelling, etc. For example, if children are copying words in their notebook from the board and there are some spelling errors, rather than overwriting these in red by the teacher, it’s a good idea to encourage children to look at the board again and discover the differences for themselves.

Naturally, there are many more soft-skills that need to be developed at this age so that children become efficient learners, such as resilience, curiosity and collaboration.

Have an idea of your own? We’d love to see it, so do share it below in the comments!


Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a YL co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. She regularly travels to teach demonstration lessons with local children, and do workshops for teachers. Erika is co–author with Edmund Dudley of Teaching Mixed Ability.


References:

Artelt, C., Baumert, J., Julius-McElvany, N. and Peschar, J. (2003). Learners for life: student approaches to learning. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33690476.pdf Accessed 15/2/18.

For Bagdy Emőke, see: http://bagdyemoke.hu/beszelgetesek-emokevel/

Dudley, E. and Osváth, E. (2016). Mixed-ability teaching. Oxford: OUP.


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#WorldBookDay – 5 steps to becoming an effective storyteller

shutterstock_357633884Gareth 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. Today, to celebrate World Book Day, he joins us to discuss why being an effective storyteller matters in the EFL classroom, and how you can employ tactics to become a better storyteller yourself.

Extensive reading, the idea of reading for pleasure and not just as a school subject is believed to have wide ranging benefits. Professor Richard Day claims that Extensive Reading not only improves students reading skills but it also improves their vocabulary skills, their grammar skills, their listening and speaking skills. But how do we get our students interested in reading for pleasure. It’s the teacher’s job to motivate and facilitate reading. What we do in class can influence the students. That’s where storytelling comes in. Storytelling can be students first exposure to literature, and effective storytelling can capture the students’ imagination and help them fall in love with stories.  This blog looks at how you can become an effective storyteller in the English language classroom.

  1. The better you know a story the more you can improvise and the more you can involve the students. Read it to yourself two or three times and then practise telling it in front of a mirror. It is much better if you can tell the story rather than reading it, but don’t feel you have to completely memorise it; I often have the book in my hand as a crutch and look at it when I need to.
  2. The work you do before you tell the story can be as important as the story itself. For example, I was telling Rumpelstiltskin from Classic Tales recently. In this story there is a spinning wheel. This might not be a concept your students have come across. So using the pictures from the book, actions, and explanations is crucial to your students understanding. You can also use the pictures in the book to elicit different emotions. In the same book the girl is worried, then upset, then happy. Ask the students why she feels that way.
  3. Your voice is your most valuable tool. Change the tone or pitch to reflect happy and sad moments, whisper and shout if you need to. Also, try to have different voices for different characters. If you can’t do this then, change your position when you change characters. For example, when the main hero is speaking, I will stand in the middle of the room but when it’s the villain’s turn, I will move to the left or right.
  4. If your students are involved in the story, they will feel like they own it. We can involve the students in many ways. For example;
    • ask students to do actions throughout the story. For example, if it is raining in the story, they can pat their legs to show the rain. If someone is crying in the story, the students can rub their eyes. If someone is brushing their hair, etc. This total physical response story telling will help students to understand and remember the words in the story.
    • are there lines in the story that are often repeated? If so, get your students to say the lines each time they come up.
    • are there animals in the story? If so, ask your students to do the animal noises.
    • ask questions. Ask how the students would feel in the character’s shoes, ask what the weather is like, ask them to describe the animals, ask them what happens next.
  5. Enjoy yourself! If you don’t look like you are having a good time, then your students won’t enjoy it. Put energy and wonder into your voice. Look surprised how the story progresses, look happy when the main character is happy and worried when the main character is in trouble. Remember it might be the twelfth time you’ve read the story, but it is the first time for your students.

The last piece of advice I’ll offer is to be patient with yourself. No one is a faultless storyteller the first time they try. Practise makes perfect, so don’t worry, have a go. Each time you do it you will see new ways to include the students or change your voice or bring humour to the story. And remember, you don’t have to tell the story exactly how it is in the book. In fact, this can be useful, the students can then read the text later and try to spot the differences. Happy storytelling.