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5 Fun Ways To Increase Student Engagement Online

Engagement Online: student enjoying an online lessonOver the last year, as many teachers have moved either partly or fully to remote teaching, one question has arisen many times: How do I keep my students engaged online? Whilst many teachers have their go-to folder of ready-to-use adaptable activities, comprised of the likes of board races, role-plays, flashcard games, and many more steadfast materials, the idea of digitising these activities has seemed somewhat impossible. Teachers feel like they have lost their time-savers.  

Whilst I can’t offer a solution on how to do a board-race activity through a Zoom lesson (that is impossible), what I can suggest are some alternative tools and platforms that teachers can add to their pre-existing arsenal of hit-the-ground-running classroom activities and exercises. So, in no particular order, here are my top 5 platforms for improving student engagement online. Continue reading


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Digital Divide: What Is It And How Can You Bridge The Gap?

woman sitting on the ground and working on her laptopWe can safely say that, through the difficulties of 2020, English language teachers have grown accustomed to delivering online classes and learning to use new digital tools. Some teachers may face many weeks ahead of continuing such classes if high Covid-19 cases see a resurgence, their new academic year does not start until 2021, or they have become ‘online teachers’ on a semi-permanent basis.

As a result, some teachers have found themselves dependent on the help of parents to ensure their children are online at designated times and able to access class materials. Parent support is especially important for younger students who perhaps did not originally have the necessary computing skills to act independently.

But what about our students who cannot access the internet from home, or do not have reliable electricity supplies? Continue reading


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Top 10 Tips To Help Your Online Lessons Run Smoothly!

Teacher frustrated at online lessonsFor many of us, it’s been a while since our teaching world got turned upside down and we found ourselves moving from a physical classroom to online lessons in a matter of hours. It feels like a lifetime ago since we were left wondering what the best practice for online teaching was. In this initial online period, often referred to as the period of emergency remote teaching (ERT), the best advice for running a smooth lesson included such sage things as to ensure you have a good microphone and lighting. Continue reading


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Let’s make our thinking visible!

A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.

While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.

Thinking dispositions

Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:

  1. Observing closely and describing;
  2. Building explanations and interpretations;
  3. Reasoning with evidence;
  4. Making connections;
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
  7. Wondering and asking questions;
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?

These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.


“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”

Visible Thinking <http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org>


But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?

Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.

We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.

Thinking Dispositions Visible Thinking Routines
Capturing the heart Headlines
Making connections Connect-Extend-Challenge
Wondering and asking questions See-Think-Wonder

Headlines

A routine for capturing essence.Headlines routine

Materials:

An article about fundraising and charity concerts.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
  • They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
  • They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.

Reflections:

The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.

See-Think-WonderSee-Think-Wonder (STW)

A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.

Materials:

A photograph of a polluted river.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
  • First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
  • The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.

Reflections:

This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.

Connect-Extend-ChallengeConnect-Extend-Challenge (CEC)

A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.

Materials:

A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.

Process:

  • Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
  • The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
  • Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
    and their “challenges”.

Reflections:

The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.

Classroom activity 1

Thoughts…

A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.

Classroom activity 2

Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.

 

 

How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?

 


Authors:

Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.


References (recommended reading list!)

Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>

Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>

Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>

Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>

Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>

Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>

“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <http://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>

 


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Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 3) – Web Tools for Writing

tablet e-book english language classroomMagali Trapero Turrent is an ELT Editor at Oxford University Press, Mexico. She is the co-author of several books published by OUP as well as a teacher and former OUP Educational Services teacher trainer. In her posts, she shares her ideas for using Web 2.0 tools to develop learner’s language skills.

It never ceases to amaze me the eagerness with which young learners begin the writing process—from tracing letters to learning to write their own name or their pet’s name. At that stage, the writing world seems so exciting—and it continues like this when they start forming sentences and, later, a complete paragraph. However, maintaining that zest for writing as they grow older is a completely different dynamic. As complexity increases in their development and more demands are placed on their attention, the desire to communicate in writing begins to decrease. But it does not have to be that way. Young learners love to tell stories and their imagination seems boundless. Yet, what sometimes seems missing is that much desired audience—the very reason for writing—and the knowledge on how to transform thoughts into an engaging, coherent and cohesive text. While we cannot escape the necessity to scaffold the writing lessons (Kendall & Khuon, 2006), we can certainly make the reason to write a lot of fun for our learners through the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Scaffolding our writing lessons depends on the purpose for writing (e.g., inform, keep in touch, persuade, entertain, express emotions, remind, etc.) the text type and other elements we need to consider when planning lessons. It is also useful to provide our learners with a model of the intended final product.

Because it is difficult for young learners to create content, prompts such as pictures, music, maps, real objects, short videos, or story starters can give them support as they activate prior knowledge on the topic, in addition to vocabulary and other linguistic elements they will need to complete the task. In providing a model for the final product, it is advisable to do that with a reading activity that shows the target text type and ideas about shaping content.

Two of my learners’ favorite award-winning, free, creative writing tools are Storybird and Pixton. With Storybird you can create a class and add students to it. You can also create specific assignments with a large assortment of illustrations to choose from. You and your learners can create poems, short picture stories or books. The advantage that Storybird and Pixton provide is that the image prompt can be chosen by you or your learners to begin brainstorming right on the page since it can be edited as many times as necessary. This is truly a lot of fun. Storybird and Pixton can be used with computers, tablets and smart phones through the mobile apps. The final version of the short story, poem, book or comic strip can be placed in your social network site or blog, or it can even be emailed.

webtools3fig1

Figure 1: Sample Storybird picture story development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and FranBravo.

Prompts used for scaffolding, such as sentence starters or word banks, along with the large assortment of beautiful illustrations found in Storybird and Pixton can be highly motivating and engaging for your learners. And it is just as motivating for them to have a large audience, including family and friends—as opposed to only their teacher. As a matter of fact, the Storybird poem function provides a word bank along with punctuation marks for learners to drag and drop to create their poem. Of course, you have to make sure that the vocabulary is familiar to your learners and let them know that they can also use their own words.

webtools3fig2

Figure 2: Sample Storybird poem development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and novoseltsev.

In planning a creative writing lesson to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity, you can encourage your learners to write a picture story, a poem or a comic strip using Pixton— like the ones shown in the images. These activities can be collaborative. Pixton offers a user-friendly, fun way to develop comic strips. It contains a wide variety of characters to choose from and backgrounds.

webtools3fig3

Figure 3: Sample development page – Courtesy of Pixton.

I can attest from experience that when students know their work will have a large audience, they work very hard during the editing stage to develop a fine publication. I certainly hope that your learners feel as excited about these award-winning creative writing Web 2.0 tools. Remember, good writing skills are usually the outcome of diverse and constant exposure to good reading materials as well as systematic practice.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the use of Web 2.0 tools for reading activities.

 

Reference and Further Reading

Kendall, J. & Khuon, O. (2006). Best Practices. Writing Sense: Integrated Reading and Writing Lessons for English Language Learners (pp. 16–36). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.