Word Formation

I did a fun activity with the B2 group today – a game taken from Straightforward Upper-Intermediate which practises word formation.

Each group of two or three students has a question board and there is a questionmaster who has the answer sheet.  The object of the game is to get for boxes in a row (horizontally, vertically or diagonally).  Learners choose a square and must produce the correct form of the word given; if they’re correct, they win the square and can colour it in.

Use of English activities can sometimes be a little dry and although this has the disadvantage of not showing the word in context (which goes a long way to helping identify the form of the word needed in the exam), it does make for an enjoyable, competitive way to practise this skill.

The Role of a Staffroom

We had a session on one-to-one teaching yesterday afternoon and during a chat about the advantages and disadvantages for the teacher, one of the trainees mentioned the lack of a staffroom.  I think it was interesting as obviously during the course the trainees spend a lot of time with each other, bouncing around ideas in preparation for teaching and providing constructive feedback on each others’ lessons.

A couple of years ago, we ‘lost’ our staffroom due to expansion, though I’m hoping we’ll get it back one day!  There are certainly a number of problems with a communal staffroom: it can easily become messy, with nobody willing to take responsibility for tidying away books which have been left out or half-drunk bottles of water which go unclaimed; what’s more, depending on the size it may cause frustration if there is too little space to work in…to be honest, I’m struggling to think of further problems.

So, let’s think about the many benefits of having a communal space:

  • the opportunity to bounce around ideas
  • a place to stick up important information for staff
  • a place to share useful worksheets or links
  • a physical space to put bags, so as not to clutter up your classroom
  • a space to relax in between classes (some teachers at our school work split shifts)
  • somewhere for the photocopier and other resources to be stored

A number of these could arguably be solved with an online staffroom (which gets us into a whole other debate), but I still think I’m all in favour of a physical staffroom.

Spending Time with Language

This post is related to a post from a while back on the urgency of some learners to gain an official qualification in English.  In the other post, I mentioned university students who are desperate to get their B1, but in this post I’m thinking more about mainstream teachers who are frantically scrabbling to get a B2.

Our school works in a number of state schools which have recently implemented bilingual projects, which require their teachers to have a B2 qualification in the second language being taught and as such over recent years we have had a number of courses working with those teachers.  In some cases, the teachers started the year with a B2 or even C1 level and were perfectly able to achieve their objective of passing B2 in June.

What has unfortunately happened though is that those teachers who started in lower-level courses are increasingly being pushed through the levels at an alarming rate, with the expectation being that they’ll be able to jump from A2 to B1 or B1 to B2 in a year.  Whilst some learners are able to make that leap, with a great deal of effort on their part, others are struggling – often taking an exam against our recommendation and ultimately feeling despondent about their English level.

One of the factors which I think affects a learner’s ability to jump through levels is the amount of time they spend with the language which I believe affects their confidence in both production and comprehension.  Some learners are so concerned with jumping through the examining body’s hoops that they spend little time looking outside the exam syllabus and hence lack the fluency and confidence of others.

How would you suggest learners spend more time with language?  Here are some of my ideas:

  • Watch your favourite TV series and films in original version
  • Find a conversation exchange
  • Read for pleasure in English and focus on understanding gist
  • Use lyricstraining.com to practise listening for detail
  • Try to use English in your everyday life: write your shopping list in English or write a quick diary entry of what you’ve done that day

Hooray! I know the grammar, now I must impart my wisdom…

Although we have just started a teacher training course here at Active, this is actually a post which I was thinking about a while ago following a conversation with a friend.

I’ve been working as a tutor at Active for a few years now and it’s interesting to see how trainees from different nationalities cope with the different aspects of the course.  Often (though certainly not always), non-native speakers feel much more confident with teaching grammatical aims than their native-speaker peers.  In the conversation with my friend, she mentioned how she felt that some native speaker teachers have a tendency to overwhelm learners during their explanations, perhaps by getting bogged down with metalanguage or feeling that as they now feel confident with the ins and outs of the structure, they must pass all that knowledge on to their learners.

Any thoughts?

“genuine and meaningful communication”

Genuine and meaningful communication between learners takes place

This is one of the criteria in the DipTESOL assessed teaching unit – what does this mean and how can we ensure it occurs in our lessons?

Perhaps we should first look at the two adjectives used in the criterion: genuine and meaningful.  By genuine, I understand natural, honest and authentic communication; by meaningful, I understand that there is a purpose for communication.

The question is whether the communication which takes place in our classes is genuine and meaningful.  It could be argued that communication which takes place in the EFL classroom is meaningful as we are practising TL, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the language being produced is genuine.

The key is to find ways of personalising the TL and context of our lessons.  Here are some ideas:

  • In grammar activities, such as Las Vegas Grammar, use the learners’ names in the sentences – this increases their engagement in the activity and you can extend the task by guessing whether the sentences are correct or not after correcting them.
  • Provide identifiable contexts for language – a group of Spanish teenagers may not be interested in what Japanese teenagers like listening to in their free time, so either change the context or allow the learners space and time to give their opinions or contrast the context to their own.
  • Make all TL personal – this is easier than you may think.  Whatever the TL, you can generally ask one of the following questions: “Do you have…?”, “Do you like…?” or “What do you think about…?”

A second aspect of the DipTESOL criterion worth mentioning is the word between – depending on the age of your learners, there may be more or less interaction between them and I do know people who have chosen YL groups for their DipTESOL assessed lessons.  It would be interesting to know whether classroom language qualifies as “genuine and meaningful communication between learners” as there may be more natural communication in this respect than in practising the TL of the lesson.  This also leads on from my previous post on making the class less teacher-centred as by encouraging communication between learners we can give them more of a voice and more responsibility for their learning.

Here are a couple of other blogposts worth reading on the topic of personalisation:

A Matter of Confidence – Personalising

P is for Personalization