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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.


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Assessment for the Language Classroom – What’s on the menu?

shutterstock_271564088Professor Anthony Green is Director of the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment at the University of Bedfordshire. Today, he joins us to preview his upcoming webinar Assessment for the Language Classroom.

What’s on the menu?

If there’s one topic in language education that’s guaranteed to get people worked up, it’s assessment. But, in truth, assessments are just tools. Like tools we use for other purposes, problems crop up when we use them to do things they aren’t designed for, when we lack the skills to operate them properly, or when they are poorly made. Knives are great tools for cutting bread, but are not so useful for eating soup. Some people are more skilled than others at using chopsticks, but chopsticks made of tissue paper are of no use to anyone.

“… different kinds of language assessment are right for different uses.”

Just like tools made to help us eat and drink, different kinds of language assessment are right for different uses. All assessments help us to find out what people know or can do with language, but they are designed to tap into different aspects of knowledge at different levels of detail.

Assessment ‘bread and butter’

The best known English language tests are the national examinations taken in many countries at the end of high school and international certificates, like the TOEFL© test, or Cambridge English examinations. For many students, these tests can seem make or break: they may need to pass to get into their chosen university or to get a job offer. Because of their importance, the tests have to be seen to be fair to everyone. Typically, all students answer the same questions within the same time frame, under the same conditions. The material used on the best of these tests takes years to develop. It is edited, approved and tried out on large numbers of students before it makes it into a real test.

‘Make or break’ testing

The importance of these tests also puts pressure on teachers to help their students to succeed. To do well, students need enough ability in English, but they also need to be familiar with the types of question used on the test and other aspects of test taking (such as the time restrictions). Taking two or three well-made practice tests (real tests from previous years, or tests that accurately copy the format and content of the real tests) can help students to build up this familiarity. Practice tests can show how well the students are likely to do on the real test. They don’t generally give teachers much other useful information because they don’t specifically target aspects of the language that students are ready to learn and most need to take in. Overuse of practice tests not only makes for dull and repetitive study, but can also be demotivating and counterproductive.

Home-cooked, cooked to order, or ready-made?

“What’s good for one [exam] purpose is not general good for another.”

When teachers make tests for their classes, they sometimes copy the formats used in the ‘big’ tests, believing that because they are professionally made, they must be good. Sadly, what’s good for one purpose (for example, judging whether or not a student has the English language abilities needed for university study) is not generally good for another (for example, judging whether or not a student has learnt how to use there is and there are to talk about places around town, as taught in Unit 4).

Many EFL text books include end-of-unit revision activities, mid-course progress tests and end-of-course achievement tests. These can be valuable tools for teachers and students to use or adapt to help them to keep track of progress towards course goals. When used well, they provide opportunities to review what has been learnt, additional challenges to stretch successful learners and a means of highlighting areas that need further learning and practice. Research evidence shows that periodic revision and testing helps students to retain what they have learnt and boosts their motivation.

Getting the right skills

Like chefs in the kitchen or diners using chopsticks, teachers and students need to develop skills in using assessments in the classroom. The skills needed for giving big tests (like a sharp eye to spot students cheating) are not the same as those needed for classroom assessment (like uncovering why students gave incorrect answers to a question and deciding what to do about this). Unfortunately, most teacher training doesn’t prepare language teachers very well to make, or (even more importantly) use assessments in the classroom. Improving our understanding of this aspect of our professional practice can help to bring better results and make language learning a more positive experience.

In the webinar on 16 and 17 February, I’ll be talking about the different kinds of assessment that teachers and students can use, the purposes we use them for, the qualities we should look for in good assessments and the skills we need to use them more effectively. Please feel free to ask Anthony questions in the comments below.

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References:
Green, A.B. (2014) Exploring Language Assessment and Testing. Abingdon Oxon: Routledge: Introductory Textbooks for Applied Linguistics.


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Managing Classroom Dynamics

critical thinkingWhat are classroom dynamics?

I suspect that for the great majority of teachers around the world the most important characteristic of a ‘good’ class is not how hard the students work, but how well they work together.  If a teacher is handing over a class to another, in my experience one of the first things they say is something like “they are a really nice group”, or “there’s a really friendly atmosphere in there”. Of course, it’s not always good news, and comments such as “it’s like teaching a wall” or “they’re just really difficult” are also common. The truth is the atmosphere in each class is hugely important to our job satisfaction.

This is classroom dynamics. It’s about the ways the people within a class interact with each other. It’s how they talk and how they act; it’s how they show their feelings and opinions; it’s how they behave as a group.

Why are classroom dynamics important?

Managing classroom dynamics is also something that takes up significant lesson time. We all do things in class that are not directly related to learning English, but rather are focused on the social aspects of the group, such as managing behaviours, reacting to tensions, and generating interest, for example. But so much of what we do is instinctive and happens ‘in the moment’.  It might be useful however to take a moment and look at the issues in a more structured way.

In other words, in addition to our competencies of content knowledge (grammar, lexis, etc.), and teaching skills, what skills, attitudes and strategies exist that can help us to ‘generate a psychological climate conducive to high-quality learning’ (Underhill 1999: 130)?

There are good reasons for focusing on this:

  1. The cooperative skills and attitudes that we encourage in our students are among those most frequently demanded by today’s employers.
  2. A supportive, warm atmosphere helps people take the risks they need to in order to learn.
  3. Working with and in a more comfortable setting is simply more enjoyable for everyone. Life is a little better.

What can we do about classroom dynamics?

There is no one size that fits all. To a large extent, a classroom dynamic is a product of its own context as defined both internally with the uniqueness of its members, and externally in the cultural settings of the institution, and the society in which it is located.

Nevertheless, we can identify certain features and characterise useful classroom dynamics across most, if not all contexts – even if these are represented by different behaviours according to the setting. For example, the visible behaviours of cooperation in a Brazilian high-school classroom might be different to those in a Dutch university or private evening class in Thailand, but cooperation remains key. Here are some aspects of classroom dynamics that a teacher may work to influence the chemistry of the group, and make it more ‘bonded’ (Senior 1997).

  1. a) The cohesiveness of the class.

Groups of people are very much brought together when they are aware of what they have in common. Shared experiences, values, and objectives lie at the heart of successful communities.  As teachers, we can foster this awareness with activities that identify such commonalities, and then use them to enhance learning. In the webinar, we will look at practical language learning activities and teaching techniques that can develop a sense of community within a class.

  1. b) The variety of interaction within a class.

A class that has a flexible approach to how its members talk to each other is likely to have a more inclusive, and therefore participative climate. In the seminar, we will identify different modes of classroom talk, what each brings to learning, and how we can create variety.

  1. c) The amount of empathy class members have for each other.

Successful group activities involve members compromising in order to support each other. In the webinar we will look at activities and practices that encourage peer support and greater sharing of learning within the group.

How can I find out about the dynamics in my classroom?

As we have already said, classroom dynamics are local. What works in one class might not work in another. So we also need to know how to find out what is happening in our classes so we can take the most appropriate actions. In the webinar we also look at ways we can examine the realities of our classrooms by using:

  • Peer observations
  • Recordings
  • Student research activities

Finally…. when we teach, we should all spend time on the social aspects of our classes. This webinar provides a framework of analysis that can help us make more principled decisions when considering how we manage classroom dynamics.


Martyn Clarke has worked in ELT classrooms as a teacher and trainer for over twenty years and in more than fifteen countries. This blog accompanies his webinar on Managing Classroom Dynamics, where he talks in more detail about how to manage lessons to create the right dynamic for learning.


Useful reading

Gil, G. (2002) Two complementary modes of foreign language classroom interaction. ELT  Journal, 56/3

Hadfield, J (1992) Classroom Dynamics.. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Senior, R. (1997) Transforming language classes into bonded groups. ELT Journal, 51/1.

Senior, R.  (2002) A class-centered approach to language teaching. ELT Journal, 56/4 Underhill, A. (1999) Facilitation in Language Teaching. In J. Arnold (ed.) Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wright, T. (2005) Classroom Management in Language Education, Palgrave Macmillan


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Bringing Grammar to Life

Word grammar spelt in scrabble lettersBriony Beaven is an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher. She is a NILE Associate Teacher Trainer and teaches Classroom Language to trainee teachers at the Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. Today, she joins us to discuss bringing grammar to life in the EFL classroom ahead of her upcoming webinar, Bringing Grammar to Life.

The big problem with teaching grammar

The big problem with grammar, familiar to all English teachers, is that many ways of teaching grammar produce learners who KNOW ABOUT grammar; for example, they can tell you the rules for using the present perfect. But they often don’t KNOW HOW because when they speak or write these supposedly ‘known’ rules do not seem to be operating. In other words, the learners fail to make use of the rule they know so well in the language they actually produce. What can we do about this?

Approaches to grammar teaching

Three main ways of introducing new grammar are the deductive, the inductive and the guided discovery approaches. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and in the webinar we will consider how these might play out in your context.

In deductive grammar teaching the teacher explains or gives the rules for the target language items and then provides practice for the learners. In inductive grammar teaching the teacher provides some examples of the target language in a realistic context and lets the learners ‘notice’ the rules. The third approach, guided discovery, is a modified version of inductive teaching. In this approach the teacher provides some examples of the target language in context and supports the learners in ‘noticing’ the rules.

grammar1

Support, scaffolding, mediation

To say that you are going to ‘support’ the learners is easy. To provide genuinely useful support needs a bit more thought. In the webinar we will consider the relationship of ‘support’ to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and the related concepts of ‘scaffolding’ and ‘mediation’.

In guided discovery grammar teaching we can support, for example, by ensuring that learners meet the new grammar item in a lively, engaging and lifelike context. We can also support them by questioning and monitoring while learners try to ‘notice’ the target rules. What kinds of questions are helpful to ensure learners internalise and can use grammar rules? Good concept questions and focused questions about timelines can work a kind of magic. Finally, in our efforts to support our learners, we need to take care that the rules are summarised by the teacher so that learners know if their suppositions were right or not. That is, we offer feedback, another key component of ‘support’.

grammar2

Use of the learners’ first language

For a long time we neglected a wonderful resource in the teaching of grammar in a foreign language, namely the learners’ mother tongue.

grammar3

In their L1 learners have learnt to think, to communicate, to speak and use their voice. They have acquired an intuitive understanding of grammar, become aware of some finer points of language and have acquired the skills of reading and writing. These days a number of experts suggest that if a class is monolingual we can beneficially make use of their first language. What do you think about this?

Practice

Learners can produce new grammar items only after plenty of practice. This practice needs to be engaging and lively, but also challenging and likely to lead to long-term learning. ‘Three times practice’ (Scrivener 2014) is one way to do this.

Well, all in all it seems we need to do more than ‘cover material’ if most of our learners are to ‘know how’ to use the grammar we teach them, not just ‘know about’ it. No one approach will succeed with all of the learners all of the time because different learners understand in different ways. We will need to make use of different approaches and techniques both for introducing new grammar and for practising it effectively.

Join me for my webinar where I will suggest some engaging ways to help students learn ‘how’ to use grammar to communicate successfully.

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References:

Butzkamm, W. 2003. We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

Scrivener, J. 2014. Demand-high teaching. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 3(2), 47-58.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J. and Ross, G. 1976. The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving. Journal of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 17, 89–100.


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Reading Skills for the Selfie Generation

teenagers-tablets-learningThomas Healy is an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. A full time instructor, he presents regularly on how to adapt traditional classroom materials to meet the needs of the Selfie Generation, and how to use widely available and easy-to-use digital tools in language learning. 

Today, he previews his upcoming webinar ‘Reading Skills for the Selfie Generation’ with a short vlog outlining his approach.

The “Selfie Generation” interacts with reading materials in profoundly different ways compared to previous generations. Learners are now challenged by both print and interactive, digital text. How can we build their traditional reading skills while improving their digital literacy?

– Learn how to make your materials and classroom activities more interactive using easy-to-use an affordable computer applications

– Even non technologically minded instructors will come away with ideas that are easy to implement

In this free-to-attend webinar, you can expect to –

  • Learn how to harness technology in a productive way to support literacy and language learning for students with dyslexia at all levels
  • Gain ideas for formative assessment using appropriate apps to monitor progress
  • Embrace learning technology in simple, easy ways – no matter your budget

If you’d like to attend the webinar or receive a recording of one of the sessions, simply register at the link below.

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