Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


1 Comment

Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom

shutterstock_287594936James Styring taught English and Spanish to students of all ages and levels. He also ran teacher-training sessions and was an oral examiner for the Cambridge PET, FCE and CAE exams. James worked for ten years in editorial roles at OUP before becoming a freelance author. He has written more than 50 ELT titles. He joins us today to preview his upcoming webinar, ‘Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom’, taking place on August 24th and 25th.

How do ‘screenagers’ learn?

Everyone born in the last 15–20 years (AKA Generation Z) has grown up in the digital age. Tablets and smartphones are not an add-on but an essential part of daily life, something Generation Z has never lived without. Generation Z expects wifi and 4G as a basic need, the same as an expectation of running water and electricity for older generations. Trying to engage a classroom of Generation Z students doesn’t always hit the mark if a vital component of their life is missing: their digital side. ‘Screenagers’ and young adults miss the devices through which their life is mediated. Success with this generation depends on appropriating the students’ digital world and deploying it in valid ways in the classroom.

As teachers, what’s of interest to us are the character traits of Generation Z. What do we know about Generation Z and their learning style? They may have less-developed social skills than older generations, as they stumble along the pavement catching Pokémon. They like communicating in bite-sized messages and they’re masters of multi-tasking. This means they respond well to classes which involve a variety of inputs and a varied pace.

How can teachers help screenagers?

The webinar looks at how teachers can vary interaction patterns and pairings, mimicking students’ everyday communicative experience of flitting between Instagram and Twitter and WhatsApp within seconds and without missing a beat. Mimicking these patterns in class can stop itchy feet and dispel boredom. One way of achieving this is bringing classes to life digitally. Most teachers know this but many feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of ‘digital’ in TEFL. The blogosphere is alive with talk of LMSs and MOOCs and big data. ‘Digital’ can quite quickly start to feel alienating and off-putting, not to mention time-consuming and expensive to implement, as you imagine your school spending thousands on tablets or on access to a digital platform.

Well, the good news is that you don’t need any of that. There are lots of classroom activities that you can do for free and often with zero preparation utilising the phones or tablets that most students already have in their schoolbags. You can achieve meaningful outcomes from students taking out their tablets or smartphones (or even older ‘feature’ phones) and using them as a natural part of the lesson. All you need is an open mind and a little imagination. The reason for doing this is not some sort of gimmick. It’s a reaction to who we’re teaching. On average, Generation Z-ers reach for their device every seven minutes during the day to check status updates, to read messages, to post comments, and so on. There are pedagogically worthwhile reasons for having students get their phones out during class for a range of activities. So rather than battling through lessons with students feeling twitchy because they’re desperate to look at their phones, free the phone instead.

To hear more, join my webinar on 24th and 25th August. I hope you’ll also feel comfortable in sharing your own experiences of digital and contributing ideas for making it work.

register-for-webinar

 


2 Comments

Writing – Solutions to Mistakes

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBFreelance teacher trainer, Olha Madylus, looks at some of the issues related to improving students writing skills ahead of her upcoming webinar on Solutions Writing Challenge #1: My students keep making the same mistakes.

Many teachers voice concerns about their students’ inability to improve their writing and learn from their mistakes. Why is it so difficult to improve? Is it the approach we take to writing? We don’t like to write in our own language so why would our students want to write in English?

There are a number of ways to help students overcome their difficulties. Students jump very quickly from producing short texts, which are often written in order to practise a particular grammar item, to writing compositions which require a lot more than simply getting the ‘grammar right’ to be successful. They need to consider how to address the composition title, come up with arguments and ideas, use rich vocabulary, structure the text appropriately and even be imaginative.

So, it’s a good idea for writing tasks to be ‘scaffolded’. This is a term we use a lot with early years’ language learning. ‘Scaffolding’ means that tasks include a lot of support so that learners aren’t overwhelmed and can be successful. Gradually the support is withdrawn as students’ ability and confidence increases. It’s like teaching a child to swim: once they are ready, you take away your hands from under their tummy and off they go alone. Within scaffolded tasks learners can still be allowed enough freedom for their imagination and creativity, which adds to motivating them to write.

Writing is a process and teachers can help their students by focussing on different parts of that process individually. Tasks can focus on various sub-skills, as teachers help their students improve the communication, the language, even the register of their writing.

Teachers can also drive their students toward success by taking a more positive approach to marking writing tasks. Getting back your homework covered in red ink and negative comments is very demoralising. Success is a key element in the classroom. If learners, particularly teens, whose egos are quick to bruise, feel they are failing at something, they tend to avoid it and rather than making more effort, make less or none at all.

We should also reflect on where students do their writing. Much is done at home, but teachers can also encourage their students to collaborate when they write. Working in pairs or small groups encourages learning writing skills to take place and not just testing these skills.

Register for Olha Madylus’s webinar ‘Solutions Writing Challenge #1: Solutions to mistakes’ on either Tuesday 24th or Thursday 26th February to explore this challenge further.

register-for-webinar


5 Comments

The joys of teaching teenagers in the EFL classroom

Group of teenage friendsJean Theuma, a freelance teacher trainer, shares her thoughts on the challenges of teaching teenagers in the EFL classroom.

“Why does Giovanni always ruin my lesson.”

“Sarah just doesn’t seem to care or even want to be here.”

“Pedro insists on disrupting the lesson.”

“How can they do this to me?”

If any of these sound familiar, then I’ll bet you’ve taught teens! If the thought of summer give you a sinking feeling knowing that most of your students will be between the ages of 14 and 17, then it’s time to stop and have a rethink before the season is truly upon us.

I think that teaching teens is frustrating, depressing and downright tiring but I also know that some of my favourite classes have been with teenagers. They can also be motivating, rewarding and masses of fun!

Motivating

Teaching teens stretches me to look into areas that I wouldn’t normally. Trying to keep my teen classes engaged and focussed, I have delved into project work and task-based learning. I have learned new approaches to teaching that I wouldn’t have tried without the fear instilled by the thought of going into a teen class with a boring course-book and a 3-hour-stretch ahead of you (let’s be honest now)!

In an effort to find common ground, I have explored material that I didn’t think I was interested in; sports, the latest singers and whatever the ‘next big thing’ is. And I’ve learned the hard way never to try to ‘get down with the kids’ and be their friend. They want a teacher, leader, manager, and inspiration – they will find their own friends amongst their peers.

Rewarding

Teens are teens. I think it’s important to remember that these are not fully formed adults and that they are coming to terms with so many changes in their lives, feelings, moods, and so on. In her book “Why are teenagers so weird?” B. S draws on studies which show that the teenage brain undergoes much greater changes than thought previously. What we interpret as laziness, pig-headedness or lack of concentration might all be linked to a process rewiring and remodelling in the very structure of the brain. MRI research in teenage brains have shown that behaviour thought to be controlled by hormone imbalances are actually related to the break-down and reconstruction of neurons. I think that puts classroom behaviour issues into some perspective. Some of our students are dealing with processes which result in mood swings, lack of self-control and general difficult behaviour – they don’t understand what’s going on in their brain, they don’t do it on purpose and here we are getting angry because they feel sleepy or uncooperative. With that said, it seems that any tiny amount of progress we make in class with our students is a great achievement and we should congratulate ourselves and our students for it.

Fun

Who better to have fun with in class than a group of teenagers? Most of them have had formal lessons all year and been drilled to know the grammar and vocabulary of English; however, very few of them actually get the chance to practice and produce the language in any free or spontaneous way. We are lucky that in EFL, activities which foster genuine communication and fluency are often also very good fun. Communicative tasks change the dynamic in the class and can lighten the mood considerably. Teenagers are old enough to see the purpose of these kinds of activities but young enough to also really appreciate the game-like structure of the task.

So yes, I know – teaching teens can be a challenge, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can also be fun!

 

References:

Strauch, B. Why are teenagers so weird? Bloomsbury 2003

 

 


2 Comments

Teaching teens in the EFL setting: Grammar

Group of teenage friendsJoan Saslow is the author of numerous widely used multi-level courses for teens, young adults, and adults. She has taught English and foreign languages at all levels of instruction in both South America and USA. Allen Ascher has been an English teacher, trainer, intensive English language program director, and consultant. He has also been a publisher, developing ELT materials for students of all ages. Ms. Saslow and Mr. Ascher have co-authored materials together since 2002. In this article, they share their tips for teaching grammar to teenage EFL learners.

This series of short articles will address the three-part reality we face: the social nature of the teenaged learner, the challenges of learning English outside of an English-speaking environment, and the limited number of class hours devoted to English study per week. Each article will focus on one aspect of language teaching and learning and examine pedagogical approaches to maximize learning and success.

See our previous article on teaching vocabulary to teenage EFL learners.

Grammar

There’s no escaping the importance of grammar. It has to be taught. It has to be learned. But, as with all language learning, motivation is key, and for the teenager grammar is not the most motivating part of English study. Let’s examine some ways to keep teen learners interested and focused long enough to master the essential grammar points.

A purposeful methodology

1. Show grammar in its social use

Since teens’ social life is paramount, connecting grammar to its social use makes grammar feel useful and valuable to them. The following natural interaction on social media foreshadows the use learners will make of the present continuous, by the end of this textbook unit.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

2. Clearly illustrate form, meaning, and use of grammar

If we illustrate grammar in actual use, students see its value, increasing their motivation to learn it. Explaining grammar rules simply and explicitly is helpful for teens too. Clear examples with color highlighting and boldface type ensure that learners focus their attention on the point of the presentation.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

3. Include pronunciation practice

Grammar charts in textbooks present grammar forms for students to read and study. Though such charts are necessary, students don’t have many opportunities to hear and practice grammar outside of class. Two important benefits of listening to and repeating grammar examples are:

  1. Repetition increases the memorability of the grammar because it involves two more skills: listening and speaking.
  2. Paying attention to the sound, rhythm, and stress of the grammar leads to clear, comprehensible pronunciation.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

4. Vary practice exercises

Increasing the variety of grammar exercises in a lesson boosts the speed and depth of learning. Adding listening comprehension to the mix of grammar exercises broadens the contexts in which the grammar is used, making it more memorable.

Exercises that provide learners with an opportunity to use the grammar to talk about themselves are particularly motivating to teens. Here are three varied grammar exercises for practicing the present continuous: a traditional completion exercise; a listening comprehension exercise; and a freer and more productive exercise.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

5.  Continually integrate and recycle the grammar

Integrating and recycling grammar into teen-relevant reading texts further extends exposure to and reinforces newly learned grammar. In the following example, the present continuous is richly integrated. It’s also contrasted with previously taught structures such as the verb be and can for ability.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

6. Provide social practice of the grammar

Natural, informal social language has compelling appeal to teenagers. Model conversations that integrate the grammar with this type of language motivate teens to practice. In the following conversation, students practice the social use of the present continuous in a conversation they might really have.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

7. Personalize the grammar

But it’s important not to stop with mere practice of model conversations from a book. Guided conversation practice offers learners an essential opportunity to use the new grammar in their own social conversations, bridging the gap between controlled practice and productive use. Notepads and visual cues increase each student’s involvement, motivation, and success.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

Summary

In the reality of the EFL setting, with very few class hours, teen learners need many opportunities to observe and practice new grammar. And because they are teens, integrating the grammar in relevant social conversations ensures motivation, memorability, and mastery of new grammar.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

For more expert advice on teaching teenagers from Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, don’t forget to visit the OUP ELT global blog regularly.

To communicate with the authors directly, you can also take part in their interactive webinars:

Teaching vocabulary to teens in the foreign language setting
Friday, October 11, 2013: 2pm-3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Teaching grammar to teens in the foreign language setting
Thursday, November 7, 2013: 2pm – 3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two, a Secondary course for teens, by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.


7 Comments

Teaching teens in the EFL setting: Vocabulary

Group of teenagers walking to schoolJoan Saslow is the author of numerous widely used multi-level courses for teens, young adults, and adults. She has taught English and foreign languages at all levels of instruction in both South America and USA. Allen Ascher has been an English teacher, trainer, intensive English language program director, and consultant. He has also been a publisher, developing ELT materials for students of all ages. Ms. Saslow and Mr. Ascher have co-authored materials together since 2002. In this article, they share their tips for teaching vocabulary to teenage EFL learners.

This series of short articles will address the three-part reality we face: the social nature of the teenaged learner, the challenges of learning English outside of an English-speaking environment, and the limited number of class hours devoted to English study per week. Each article will focus on one aspect of language teaching and learning and examine pedagogical approaches to maximize learning and success.

Vocabulary

In the EFL setting, the teenage learner, highly social yet easily distracted, must acquire a large volume of vocabulary in very little time and with little opportunity to practice. Lessons that provide enough exposure, practice, and recycling of vocabulary are hard to create, and time is never adequate. A middle school schedule of two class hours per week yields 72 class hours spread over a year. While a year of instruction may sound substantial, 72 hours only add up to 3 days! What methodology, then, can increase exposure, practice, and ‘stickiness’ (memorability) of vocabulary?

A purposeful methodology

1. Explicit presentation

The first step in learning a new word is understanding what it means. Though an occasional quick translation into students’ first language is convenient and harmless, using translation as the principal method of teaching vocabulary can lead to students’ paying more attention to the translation than to the actual English word being learned! A captioned picture-dictionary style illustration, on the other hand, can clearly show the meaning of a word. Captioned illustrations remain on the page of the student’s book for later study, reference, and review. When accompanied by audio, captioned vocabulary illustrations afford students a chance to read, listen to, and remember new words.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

2. Repetition

After students have seen each new word and heard it pronounced, an essential step is repeating the word to practice it. Imitating the speaker on the audio ensures that students focus on the English words, helps them remember them, and builds accurate pronunciation.

3. Immediate practice

We cannot expect students to master vocabulary without repeated intensive use and recycling. In the following exercises, vocabulary is practiced and used, first in a controlled contextualized exercise based on meaningful visual cues. Then a second exercise permits students to personalize the vocabulary, giving it additional memorability.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

4. Integration and recycling

New vocabulary should not just be limited to vocabulary exercises. Grammar exercises, listening activities, and reading texts can provide convenient opportunities to increase the exposure and practice of vocabulary.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

5. Social application

Because teens are very social, model conversations that show real social language in interactions teens might really have in their own lives ensure memorability of new vocabulary like nothing else.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

6. Personalization

It’s important not to stop with mere practice of model conversations from a book. Guided conversation practice offers learners an essential opportunity to use the new words in their own conversations, bridging the gap between controlled practice and productive use. Notepads and visual cues increase each student’s involvement, motivation, and success.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

Summary

In the reality of the EFL setting, with very few class hours, teen learners need many opportunities to observe and practice new vocabulary. And because they are teens, integrating vocabulary in relevant social conversations ensures the memorability and mastery of new words.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

For more expert advice on teaching teenagers from Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, don’t forget to visit the OUP ELT global blog regularly. Their next blog on how to keep teenage learners interested in grammar will be available here from September 27th .

To communicate with the authors directly, you can also take part in their interactive webinars:

Teaching vocabulary to teens in the foreign language setting
Friday, October 11, 2013: 2pm-3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Teaching grammar to teens in the foreign language setting
Thursday, November 7, 2013: 2pm – 3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two, a Secondary course for teens, by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

Related articles