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Creating your own materials to use in class

Teacher handing paper to studentHow can you create your own material? What do you need? What would you include? How long would it take? Charl Norloff, co-author of Q: Skills for Success Reading/Writing 4, looks at how to supplement a textbook with your own materials.

Published materials are useful tools for busy teachers as they provide appropriately-leveled lessons and activities carefully crafted to provide optimum practice for students. However, most teachers feel the need to create their own materials for their classes at some time. This is something that you can do with time and some practice, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or require a lot of supplies. Whether you make copies of your teacher-made materials for students, use technology to project them, or even simply write them on the board, depends on your situation, but here are some tips to consider when creating your own materials:

Start by asking yourself what the purpose of the activity will be

What is the objective of the lesson and which skills are you teaching? Try to write a student learning outcome, i.e., what do you want your students to be able to do after using the materials? The clearer you are about what you want the outcome to be, the better your chances of creating effective materials for your students.

Keep it simple

Don’t make the exercise or activity too complicated and keep the directions brief and clear. Consider how much time you will spend on the activity for which you are developing the materials. If it takes too much time to set up or is too difficult, it may not be worth the time spent. Ask yourself how to get the maximum engagement from your students and the most practice in the simplest and most time-efficient way.

Personalize your content

The biggest advantage of, and a reason for, creating your own materials is that you can use the context of your students and their personal lives and stories to make the materials memorable and meaningful to your students, so make your materials about your students and your community as much as possible.

Invest more time and thought into content than appearance

Your materials don’t have to look professional. Strive for materials that help the students use the language to communicate with each other.

Try the materials out yourself

Once you’ve created your materials, try them yourself to make sure they are doing what you want them to. If students are reading something, can they answer the questions without reading? If students are supposed to write using a particular grammar structure, does the prompt require the use of the structure? If the materials don’t work for you, they won’t work for your students.

Try the materials with your students

Finally, use your materials with your students. They probably won’t be perfect, but that’s OK. Make notes on what worked and what didn’t so you can adapt them if necessary for the next time. The more you create materials to fit your class and your students, the better you will become at it.

Teacher-created materials can be a great way to supplement your textbooks. Have you created materials to use in class? How successful were they?


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What makes a good question?

Recently, our series of blog posts on teaching English for Academic Purposes has focused on the concept of a question-centered approach.

That is, an approach that uses thought-provoking questions as a framework for teaching critical thinking skills—as well as teaching language and skills strategies.

So far, Jennifer Bixby has deconstructed what a good thought-provoking question should do, and Joe McVeigh has offered some tips for integrating questions into classroom activities.

So, what kind of questions lead to critical thinking?

To demonstrate, we decided to test out 12 different questions by posing them to some of the world’s most esteemed scientists, anthropologists, geologists, mathematicians, psychologists, and philosophers.

We kick off by asking “Where do new ideas come from?”, a question that genius expert Andrew Robinson attempts to answer.

Then, every day for the next 10 days, we’ll ask a panel of academics a different question, each one taken from Q Skills for Success, the new course series from OUP.

Questions published so far are:

The aim of this exercise?

Well, it’s just a bit of fun, really. But we figured, the more interesting the question, the more interesting the dialog that is borne of it. And that’s true no matter whether you’re asking an Oxford professor or an English language learner at pre-intermediate level.

Remember, if any of these questions capture your imagination, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments. Or, why not assign it as a homework challenge for your students?

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#qskills – Why are questions a good way to stimulate language learners? (Part 2)

Clouds in the form of a question markIn the latest of our series of posts on English for Academic Purposes, Joe McVeigh, a teacher trainer and author from the U.S., continues to explore a question-based approach to teaching English and developing critical thinking skills.

As teachers, we use many different types of questions in the classroom. We ask students questions to see if they know the answer. A question like, “Can you answer number six, please?” is one example. “What does remote mean?” might be another. These are questions that we know the answer to already. They are used to quickly gauge comprehension and to make sure students are following along.

Compare this with another type of question, such as “What did you do this weekend?” In this case, the teacher, who is asking the question doesn’t know the answer. When the student answers, some real communication has taken place. Still, the question is not going to lead to a lot of conversation.

A third type of question is more likely to stimulate student learners. This is a question like, “Why does something become popular?”  This is a question without an easy answer—and chances are that the teacher doesn’t know the answer either. To answer this question will require not only good language skills, but the ability to think in English.

Helping students answer challenging questions

While some students might enjoy this type of question and dive right in, others may need some help from the teacher. Here are some tips on working with questions with your students.

Warm ups

Students will respond better when they have an opportunity to get warmed up. Rather than starting off with a challenging question, lead them up to it gently, by asking some easier questions. For instance, if the essential question you are looking at is Why does something become popular? you can start off with some easier questions such as: What are some popular trends today? or have students look around the room at the clothing they are wearing or think about the music they listen to and answer questions about how those things became popular.

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#qskills – Why are questions a good way to stimulate language learners?

Girl raising her hand to answer a questionAs part of our series of posts on English for Academic Purposes, Jennifer Bixby, a teacher and author in the U.S., examines a question-based approach to teaching English and developing critical thinking skills.

Let’s start by changing the topic to “why are thought-provoking questions a good way to stimulate language learners?”

English Language Learners are bombarded with questions in the classroom, but most of the questions are predictable. They are questions that either the teacher or the student already knows the answer to. “Where are you from? What’s happening in this photo? What’s the main idea of this paragraph?”

These types of questions are the building blocks for language learning, especially at the lower levels, but let’s admit it – they can be a bit tiresome for all involved. Why? Because they don’t push us to think very deeply.

Thought-provoking questions are an entirely different matter, and these are the questions that intrigue me. What can I ask that will make my students pause and think before answering? Is it a question that would also make me stop and think? Is it a question that doesn’t have an easy, yes or no answer?

Take, for example, the question “Is it ever OK to lie?” Now that is a question that we might initially answer with “No,” but think about it again. It’s not so simple, right? It begs for deeper thinking, and it can lead students to think more carefully. So this question passes my stop-and-think test.

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What are Student Learning Outcomes?

Confused man holding basketball and baseball batLawrence Lawson returns in the second of a series of posts on English for Academic Purposes to shed light on student learning outcomes and their importance for the classroom.

Imagine your favorite game. Imagine that you know all of the rules and understand its complex moves. Now imagine that you don’t understand why anyone plays the game. How does one win? Are there even winners? What’s the point of the game? Who cares?

But you care, right?

Whether it’s winning, exercise, or competition, games need a purpose. The concept is similar in the language classroom. Students want to know the point. They want to know the “why” even when they understand the “how.” In the classroom, the point is known as the learning outcome (LO), and to be successful, students need to know it.

“Why study the present continuous?” one student might ask.

“Because our learning outcome is to write a paragraph about what you are doing right now,” a teacher might reply. “To do that, you need to know what the present continuous is and how to use it.” Knowing the LO gives this student an understandable reason for his/her work in the classroom.

Research from the University of Miami finds that “students are more likely to master subject matter if clear expectations are communicated to them for how they will be asked to demonstrate… learning.” In other words, students need to know the “why” of what they’re learning. How will the teacher, and the students themselves, know when they’ve learned it?

LOs provide the clear target that everyone in the classroom recognizes as the learning goal from the beginning of the lesson.

Some teachers put their LOs on the board at the beginning of each lesson. Others tell their students the LOs or highlight them in the textbook – if the textbook has LOs. How do you communicate learning goals to your students? If you use LOs, how do your students respond to these “clear expectations”?

Can LOs help teachers manage time more efficiently in the classroom? Can LOs help students be successful? How can we make effective LOs for our classrooms? What are your thoughts?

Lawrence Lawson is a key contributor to the new course series from OUP called Q Skills for Success. See how Q Skills for Success incorporates student learning outcomes.

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