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Learn English with Virtual Environments | Hidekazu Shoto

Students playing computer games to learn english

Communication with native English language speakers is one of the most effective ways to learn English, and using technology makes this possible. I teach English based on my “collaborative-communication model”, one that’s very effective for motivating my students. I use a wealth of technologies with my class such as Skype, Minecraft, and AI robots. I find them useful for not only teaching English, but for teaching 21st century skills as well!

Virtual environments

From my experience, virtual environments can be very effective language learning tools for students of English; they allow students young and old to experience new worlds, communicate, make friends, and build relationships. There are a wealth of tools out there that you can use, but I’m happy to say that I’ve had real success with my students using a combination of Skype and Minecraft (a game many students may already be familiar with). These digital environments offer students engaging opportunities to use English with native speakers and to use the language to achieve a common goal, such as constructing a digital building. Through these activities, students also develop their 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, imagination, and logical thinking. These four skills are necessary assets for learners that will help them to succeed in the modern world.

A typical lesson

Typically, students grouped together to make a team of four people, and they are given a task. I might ask the groups to construct a building, like the Kyoto World Heritage Site in Minecraft, before asking them to introduce it to students from overseas. To build something in Minecraft, students need to exercise their imagination, and think logically about the build and their resources. Each student is then given a role; Minecraft Leader, Programming Leader, English Leader, and Building Designer. Finally, they are given a deadline.

Most groups start off by discussing a plan, each student offering an opinion. These discussions continue throughout the duration of the build. Once completed, the group welcome overseas visitors to their digital environment, giving them a tour of their build and gathering their opinions on their work, all in English!

The simplicity and global appeal of Minecraft make it extraordinarily easy to introduce to the class. As a tool, it allowed me to break down subject barriers, combining English, 21st Century Skills, and programming. This is something I’m especially proud of achieving as from 2020 in Japan, the Ministry of Education plans to make ‘English’ and ‘Programming’ compulsory across all Primary schools. The techniques I’ve described combine these two educational programmes, which is great for teachers! And through the “collaborative-communication model”, students can improve their English proficiency in an engaging and motivating way. 


Hidekazu Shoto was born in Osaka, Japan, and is an English Teacher and Head of ICT at Ritsumeikan Primary School. After graduate school, he joined Ritsumeikan Academy as an English teacher, introducing ICT and technology into his English classes.

Hidekazu Shoto was a top 10 Finalist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019. Here’s why!


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Does technology work? | Nicky Hockly

Teaching with technology

In todays’ wired world, technology is an integral part of our work and personal lives. As teachers, we are often expected to use a range of digital technologies in our English language classes.

These expectations come from a range of quarters: from educational technology vendors, Ministries of Education, school directors, students, parents, and often from teachers themselves who feel they ‘should’ use technologies, especially with younger students/teenagers.

But in our rush to use technology in the English language classroom, the question of whether a chosen technology ‘works’ or not is frequently ignored.

What does research say?

Let’s start with a short quiz. Are the three following statements true or false?

  • Younger students (e.g. teenagers) are naturally better users of digital technologies than older students.
  • Contributing to blogs can help language learners improve their writing.
  • Digital technologies can help students with special educational needs.

Do you feel confident about your answers? Let’s see what the research says about each of these statements.

  1. Younger students are naturally better users of digital technologies than older students.
    Many people believe this to be true, but the myth of the ‘digital native’ (Prensky, 2001) has been thoroughly debunked by research. Young people are not automatically effective users of new technologies, although they may be confident with these technologies and use them for a range of (primarily friendship-driven) purposes. Young people may appear to live on Instagram, but they are often not good at evaluating the source and veracity of information they find online. They often don’t know how to write an email with the appropriate structure and tone. In short, younger students tend to be confident but uncritical users of technology. A large-scale research study (Fraillon et al.) carried out with 60,000 13 to 14 year olds across 3,300 schools in 21 educations systems/countries found that the ICT skills of young learners and adolescents were fairly low, and depended on a wide range of factors. These factors included: the impact of students’ home and school contexts, students’ individual characteristics, parents’ educational level and profession, the number of books and access to ICT resources in the home. Whether students received ICT instruction in school was another factor that affected their digital literacy. The bottom line is that younger people are automatically digital literate.
  • Contributing to blogs can help language learners improve their writing.
    Blogs have long been considered good for helping students develop their writing skills. When writing blog entries, students write for a real audience and with a communicative purpose; students can also interact with blog readers in a blog’s comment section. These are all good things for writing. Research shows that blogs can increase students’ motivation to write in English, although the research is less clear on whether the quality of their writing improves through writing blog entries. For example, it has been found that students with a lower level of language proficiency may benefit less from writing blogs than stronger students do (Secru, 2013). Nevertheless, the research into using blogs to develop EFL and ESL students’ writing is positive overall.
  • Digital technologies can help students with special educational needs.
    So-called ‘assistive technologies’ are used in inclusive learning in different disciplines, not only in English language learning, so much of the research has taken place in a range of subject areas. Overall, the research is promising. Tablets, for example, have been enthusiastically taken up by teachers working with special educational needs (SEN) learners because of their multimodal and tactile assistive qualities, as well as the ever-growing range of educational apps available for SEN students. In the field of English language teaching, research suggests that, depending on the learning materials or apps used and task design, learners’ engagement with language learning materials can increase (e.g. Cumming & Draper Rodriguez, 2013). The research also suggests that language teachers usually have a positive attitude to the use of assistive technologies with their SEN language learners.

Whatever the technology and whoever the learners, one thing is clear: it is important to review the available research in order to take an evidence-based approach to using technology with English language learners.

To what extent do technologies support language learning, and lead to improved outcomes for students? Join me in April for my webinar where we’ll take a critical look at digital technologies research and ask: Does technology actually help English language students learn better?


Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She has worked in the field of English Language Teaching since 1987, is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for teachers in ETP (English Teaching Professional) magazine, and in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal).


References

  • Cumming, T. M., & Draper Rodriguez, C. (2013). Integrating the iPad into language arts instruction for students with disabilities: Engagement and perspectives. Journal of Special Education Technology, 28, 4, 43-52.
  • Fraillon, J., Ainley, J., Schulz, W., Friedman, T., & Gebhardt, E. (2013). Preparing for life in a digital age. The IEA International Computer and Information Literacy Study International Report. Springer Open: Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland.
  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9, 5. MCB University Press.
  • Sercu, L. (2013). Weblogs in foreign language education: Real and promised benefits. Proceedings of INTED2013, 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Valencia, Spain, pp. 4355-66.


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10 ways home learning apps can boost children’s English learning

Home learning appsToday’s children are much more tech savvy than yesterday’s, and this has had a profound effect on the way that they learn languages! No wonder then that there has been an increasing interest in home learning technologies that support language learning at school and back at home.

Children are natural language learners. They love to seek out and soak up new experiences, and we can’t deny that they are much more stimulated and motivated when they interact with apps. Apps enhance their curiosity, spice up their learning, and keep them engaged as they make learning animated, fun and more appealing to children.

We want our children to learn on the go; learning apps engage them with opportunities to improve their listening, reading, writing, speaking and cognitive skills in an authentic way, wherever they may be. Apps can create an enjoyable learning atmosphere when they are used effectively.

Today, with little or no English at all, parents can be a part of their children’s language learning journey using home learning apps with them.

Home learning apps that are specifically designed for pre-primary children may include listening and pointing activities, games, singing songs, and listening to stories. Apps are designed to keep children on task, maintaining their interest and concentration by gradually increasing the level of difficulty and challenge. By using instructions and activities that reflect what children learn in the classroom, children can easily navigate apps by themselves. The educational value of home learning apps can be enhanced by simply watching, guiding, and sharing children’s enthusiasm as they navigate the app. Parental engagement transforms screen time into family time, and refocuses a child’s attention to the task at hand while simultaneously reinforcing their language learning.

There are thousands of language learning apps out there, and they all do things differently. So we’re basing our 10 tips on the Lingokids English language learning app.

Lingokids (available free via the Apple and Google Play stores) is an educational app that features materials from Oxford University Press ‘Jump In!’ and ‘Mouse and Me’ coursebooks. The curriculum has been designed by experts in early language learning development. The app targets pre-primary children who are studying ‘Jump In!’ and ‘Mouse and Me’ coursebooks at school, and aims to help parents reinforce their children’s English at home in a highly engaging and fun way. It immerses children with a wide range of vocabulary in meaningful contexts using cross-curricular topics. The app uses stories, songs, animations, games, letter tracing and interactive live-action videos of native English teachers introducing a variety of topics. The adaptive learning system also adjusts the level of difficulty according to the child’s performance, providing each child with a unique learning experience. There’s also a reward system in place to encourage and reinforce language!

The potential and success of Lingokids can be maximized with the support and the participation of parents at home. Here are ten activities for you to share with your parents using Lingokids to extend their children’s English learning outside the classroom.

Create a mini-story book: After watching the stories, parents and their children can work together to create mini-story books, encouraging children to retell the stories to other family members. If parents know how to write in English, they can write sentences or words that their children have said as they are retelling the stories. The mini-story books can be shared with teachers at school as well.

Dramatize the stories: Children love to watch videos over and over again. Parents can use their interest in the characters by making puppets that their children can use to dramatize the stories. Parents can also take part in this role-play.

Turn off the sound: After practicing with the app, parents can turn off the sound and view the topics that they have played again. They can ask their children to name the things that they see as they play the app.

What they remember: After using the app, parents can ask their children to recall what they remember from what they have just practiced. Children can describe and draw the things that they remember. The drawings can be displayed in the house to be referred to any time that parents would like to practice English with their children.

Create a picture dictionary: After practicing with the app, children and parents can draw and colour the words together in their picture dictionaries. If parents know how to write in English, they can even write the English words next to the pictures.

Picture cards: After practicing with the words in the app, parents can create picture cards of the target vocabulary. Children can help by drawing the pictures on the cards. Then, they can play flashcard games together. They can play a memory game, or they can put the picture cards in a bag before taking them out one by one and naming them. They can put the picture cards on the floor. As they play the app, children can point out the picture cards that they see and hear on the app.

Sing the songs: The app is full of songs that parents and children alike can sing along to. Singing along and performing the actions referred to in the song is a great way of embedding the language in a unique and engaging way.

Record: Parents can record their children as they are dramatizing the stories, playing with the flashcards, retelling the stories through their mini-story books, or singing along to the app. By listening to themselves speak, they can become more confident and more fluent in the new language.

Additional materials: Each topic has worksheets that parents can download, print out, and do with their children. The worksheets include song lyrics, more books and craft activities, and useful phrases that parents can integrate into their children’s daily lives.

Learn with them: Learning English with children helps to foster in them a positive attitude towards English. If parents use the app enthusiastically, children will imitate, encouraging and motivating them to learn English. Parents should practice with their children even if they’re proficient in English themselves, as it’ll help young learners to stay on task.

The activities above should not only help children to learn English, it’ll allow parents to spend quality time with their children, learning and having fun together. It’s a win-win situation!


Özge Karaoğlu Ergen is the foreign languages department K12 technology integration specialist, a teacher trainer and a course book writer.  She has been recognized by the ELTons Awards, ESU, MEDEA, Microsoft, and Telly Awards for her digital projects. She currently teaches young learners herself, and she has been developing digital games, animations and mobile applications with her learners for the last eight years.


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8 tips to help implement technology use in your classroom

shutterstock_198926996Oliver Bayley has taught a wide variety of students at the kindergarten, primary, secondary and adult level and is now one of OUP’s Educational Services Managers. In his more than 20 years spent living and working in Asia, he has created and delivered Professional Development workshops and seminars for thousands of teachers in countries across the region.

Educators are often asking themselves, ‘why should we engage with technology in the classroom?’ One of the key reasons is that technology provides valuable learning opportunities for educators which can then be applied to ensure technology is adopted in a cost effective, pedagogically sound way that is more likely to lead to learning.

To help illustrate this, let me tell you a story.

“…and this is our language lab!” the English teacher said, as she opened the door.

I was ushered into a large room with TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, a stage, a giant screen, and a console with lots of buttons and switches. As a brand new teacher at a secondary school in Japan, this was my first exposure to a well-equipped language lab in my workplace.

It was also almost my last.

Over the next three years we used those facilities for classes only two to three times annually. Each class would be led into the room and shown part of an English language film for 20-40 minutes. I will never forget the initial excitement among the majority of the students when they first started watching the film, or the boredom or disappointment among some students that set in during the course of the lesson by the time they left. To my knowledge, the language department never used that room for any other purpose during my time there.

So, on reflection, what were the lessons from this?

  • Valuable, limited class time for language learning can be wasted on technology and activities with little impact.
  • Student enthusiasm can be wasted by misuse of technology.
  • Valuable financial resources that could be used better for other purposes can be wasted on hardware and software.

Even though that was the mid-1990’s and technology in education in much of the world has marched on from the “language lab” (most of us carry powerful multimedia computers in our pockets!), I feel that these lessons still hold true. Yet, as more policy makers, schools and teachers look to implement technology there needs to be more focus before decisions are made on what technology should be used and how. Technology has great potential as a tool for language learning, but that without adequate pre-planning, teacher education and educator-led testing and research this potential can be wasted.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer some approaches that schools or even individual educators should consider taking before school-wide adoption of technology in classrooms.

Before using widely:

  1. Have a clearly defined plan for introducing technology at the school and class level, reviewing its effectiveness over time, and evaluating whether it has been successful (or not) against the original goals.
  2. Identify everyone who will be affected by the technology. Consult with them to get buy in about the potential benefits of the technology, and what it can and cannot do. (The latter is particularly important). This includes IT departments, parents, students and school leadership.
  3. Plan for sustained teacher education and training, both on general pedagogical principles around technology use in class AND the actual tools that teachers are expected to use. This should be regular and ideally involve sharing between teachers in your school so it is practical and relevant to your specific situation.
  4. Double check you have the right infrastructure in place to use the intended technology. If there are going to be tablets with wireless connections, is your network reliable?

When first using in class:

  1. Try the technology in a limited way. What works well? What doesn’t? Does it fulfil your goals?
  2. Take a long term view to using technology successfully. Just as you would when trying any new activity, be prepared for challenges and failure, but see these as learning opportunities.
  3. Don’t assume a technology is “easy to use” for students. This can vary depending on the age of the learner, their personal experience and their language level. (You will have heard a lot about younger students being digital natives, but contrary to popular opinion, that doesn’t mean young students are automatically interested in technology, or know how to use it effectively or responsibly).
  4. Take a critical approach to the use of technology. This should be on both a strategic and daily basis. Ensure that there are clear benefits to using the technology over more traditional forms of media.

There is no doubt that technology has an exciting and influential role to play in language education both in and outside of the classroom. Therefore teachers, publishers and policy makers have an essential role to play in working together. We should ensure we maximize the opportunities for students to learn effectively, however and whatever technology they use, with as little wasted time, effort and resources as is possible.

References:

Tablets and Apps in Your School, Best Practice for Implementation (Diana Bannister and Shaun Wilden)

Focus on Learning Technologies. Nicky Hockly, Oxford Key Concepts for The Language Learning Classroom (Oxford University Press)

Technology Enhanced Language Learning. Goodith White and Aisha Walker (Oxford University Press)


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Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction

TabletsWith over 30 years of experience as a teacher and teacher trainer, Veríssimo Toste looks at how the role of a teacher is changing, ahead of his webinar on using Messages, Discussions and Chats to increase student interaction.

Today’s students are not limited to learning English in the classroom only. Through the use of technology, learning English has become 24/7 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this environment, what is the teacher’s role in helping their students learn? More importantly, how can technology help teachers to help their students learn better? Using messages, discussions, and chats as an integral part of their classes, is one way. Through the use of these simple features, teachers can address questions of mixed ability, customised learning and teaching, personalisation, as well as simply being able to increase contact time with the language, beyond the classroom.

Using “Messages” provides teachers with a simple means to contact their students, as well as for students to be in contact with their teacher. In this way, teachers can follow up in individual needs, without taking up valuable class time. Students can ask questions or raise doubts without the pressure of time and classmates that can be a part of the lesson. In using “Messages” teachers and students can more easily focus on their communication, as these appear within the learning management system (LMS) and so are not confused with general, personal e-mails.

“Discussions” gives teachers and students a forum in which they can continue discussing a specific topic raised in class. Students can exchange their opinions with each other over a period of time. They can participate when it is more convenient to them. They have time to consider their responses. Discussions can range from topics raised in class, to language points based on specific grammar or vocabulary, or how to prepare for a test. The options are limitless. The key is that through the use of discussions online, students can increase their contact time with English.

Whereas discussions can take place over a specific period of time, with students participating at their convenience, chats are an opportunity for the teacher to get everyone together at the same time, although not necessarily in the same place. Seeing that the class had difficulty with a specific topic or language point, the teacher can set up a chat in which the students participate online. Students have an opportunity to follow up on the topic on their own, thus preparing before the actual chat takes place.

By basing the use of messages, discussions, and chats on work done in the classroom, the teacher can provide students with a platform to expand their learning. To find out more about practical classroom activities to achieve this, join me on the 6th or 8th of October 2015 for my webinar, “Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction”.

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