March 15

Fortnightly Focus #13 – #ELTwhiteboard

Ooops, my Fortnightly Focus skipped a week there!   My plan had been to get involved in #ELTwhiteboard on twitter which is (more than) a hashtag originally started by Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew).  For more information on what it is, I really recommend checking out Matthew’s blogpost following on from a talk he presented on #ELTwhiteboard – he shares his slides from the session which are full of #ELTwhiteboard images to get you thinking about how you use and could use your board.

And that’s what I’ve done in the end.  I haven’t actually taken any photos of my whiteboard over the past three weeks as I had originally intended, but even just thinking about taking photos has made me reflect on my use of the whiteboard.

For example, I know I predominantly use the black pen in my teen and adult classes: green for me is always phonology and I find it weird to use it for anything else, blue is trickier to rub off for some reason and so I tend to use it sparingly to save my arm a workout and red is a bit fierce to over-use.  Incredibly though, there are other colours available!  I gave a session at a school a couple of weeks ago and there was a yellow pen and then last week on our part-time CertTESOL course, one of the trainees had a purple pen – and because I was so amazed by it (little things and all), he gave it to me!!!  Quick aside, does anyone else get so incredibly excited by board pens or should I get checked out?!

I’m generally happy with my board organisation – the left-hand side tends to be kept free for emergent language and the right-hand side for me to write up discussion questions…that’s purely because I think that the learners can more easily see things written on that side of the board and so can start chatting about the first question whilst I’m writing up the others.  And, going back to phonology, I’m quite happy writing up words phonetically, but I think maybe I need to change the way I mark stress – I’ve got into the habit of doing it as a dictionary does, but I think it might be more effective to use circles as I’ve seen others do as that not only shows more clearly which syllable is stressed, but also the number of syllables which will be useful for my Spanish learners who often add in extra syllables (for example in comfortable).  Also, I think I use the board more for emergent language with my adults than my teens as they are all so keen to write new language down.  However, I feel I should write up more emergent language with my teen group too as I know a couple of them would write it down and make an effort to use it.

Interestingly, the topic of how we use the whiteboard came up during the CertTESOL observations last week and we talked about when it’s necessary to write on the board as I noticed a couple of trainees were unnecessarily writing on the board – for example, writing up the answers to an exercise which they shouldn’t need to do if oral feedback was clear.  I rarely use the board to write up answers, unless I think that learners may have made mistakes – perhaps because they may mishear an answer due to features of connected speech or they may misspell a difficult word or a tricky cognate.  With my very younger learners, I tend to use it more to model the task rather than post-task but I think this can be due to the way which VYLs are used to being corrected as well.

One thing which I think could be useful is a laser pointer!  Do you ever have moments when you’re monitoring and a learner asks a query and you’re trying to point out where the answer is on the board without walking all the way to the board?  That makes me think that sometimes my boardwork needs to be a little clearer for my weaker YL group – although it doesn’t help that one of them seems to be as blind as a bat even with his glasses on and sitting directly in front of the board (audible sigh of exasperation).  But as well quite a few members of that group struggle to link the written and spoken word, so being able to point things out would save a lot of frustration…oooh, quick to trip to amazon!

 

We’ve got peer observations coming up this month and so I’d like to think again about routines for my Fortnightly Focus – it’s getting to that point in the year where the learners are bored of the same games, songs and activities so I’d like to mix up my repetoire a little.  Watching a colleague and being watched by another will give me some fresh ideas.

March 1

An alternative to a board rush

For a recent trainee’s lesson, the TP points originally said to do a board rush to activate schema around the topic of jobs.  Unfortunately, between writing the TP points and talking them through as a group, we decided to change rooms and the new room’s layout meant that a board rush would have been a little tricky.  So, when we talked through the lesson, we discussed alternatives and settled on the learners writing down jobs starting with each letter in pairs and then a bit of feedback on some interesting jobs which they came up with.

In the end, the teacher decided to do feedback on all the letters of the alphabet which in many ways was fabulous as it gave the learners a chance to share their previous knowledge and allowed them to introduce new lexis to classmates.  However, it did make for a slightly longer engage stage which meant the teacher was left with less time for later tasks – this wasn’t a problem in terms of aims achievement, but he had prepared a wonderful picture dictation which there unfortunately wasn’t time for.

In feedback on the lesson, which is done online as it’s a part-time CertTESOL course, I asked the trainees what they would have done differently in order to maximise time and materials.  They came up with some good ideas and one trainee mentioned an alternative way of doing a board rush which I’m going to steal for this blogpost (thanks, Val!).

She suggested having the alphabet stuck up around the room, either with alphabet flashcards or on pieces of paper.  Learners could then move around the room and add jobs to each letter, either by writing them directly on the paper or sticking post-its on.  I think this is a great way to do an alternative board rush as it means that everyone is involved, rather than the two or three people who can squeeze up at the board on a good day, and still involves the kinaesthetic element of getting up and about.  You could still have the competitive element too – either assign certain pen colours to individuals on a team as you probably would in a normal board rush, or use differnt coloured post-its (though be careful of cheats who may remove words!).  Another bonus is that the lexis can be kept much more easily – often board work is fleeting, rubbed off in preparation for the next task – unless of course you’re a die-hard #ELTwhiteboard fan and take a photo of it!

February 24

More questions

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about questions recently and in my adolescent B1 group yesterday the grammar point was indirect questions.  The book we’re using this year, Gold Experience, is strong on controlled practice activities (which unfortunately aren’t particularly challenging for my group) but I find that the language the book covers, both grammatical and lexical, needs much more dynamic and personalised activities to make it enjoyable and memorable.

After presenting the grammar and doing a quick controlled practice, I gave the learners small pieces of paper like this:

They had to draw themselves on the top left and a classmate on the bottom right (there was also a space to put names in case the drawings weren’t clear!).  They had to think of a question to ask each person in the class – nothing too personal or rude, but something interesting that they would like to know.  There’s a wonderful vibe in this group so I wasn’t worried about them asking anything impolite or distasteful – but it’s worth laying out the ground rules just in case.

We then put all the papers in a pile on the table and then did a mingle: each person took a card and had to approach the person drawn on the bottom right and ask the question indirectly, then write their answer in the speech bubble.

Jaime, Nacho would like to know why you only come to class once a year.

Belén, Inma wants to know what your boyfriend’s name is.

They were really enjoying the mingle and the end of the lesson crept up on us, but the next logical stage will be to do a quick review of reported speech and feedback.

 

February 22

Fortnightly Focus #12 – Questions

Robert Heinlein once said,

When one teaches, two learn.

I’ve learnt so much since becoming a teacher, not only through those sometimes peculiar texts which crop up in coursebooks – my recent favourite was about a man who travelled around Ireland with a fridge for a dare…there’s even a film about it – but also about the language I teach and speak everyday.

For example, recently I’ve learnt the term urban furniture, which is the collective term for benches, postboxes, fountains, etc.  Through other questions which my learners have asked me, I’ve learnt more about words which I had a general idea of, but didn’t use in that context so never fully grasped – one example is holding, as in a holding company.

Since becoming a teacher trainer, I’m a lot more aware of the questions I ask my learners – gone are the days of, “Do you understand?” and “What do you have to do?” (though admittedly that one sometimes creeps in when I think someone hasn’t been listening to me).  I know though that asking instruction-checking questions is not one of my strong points – partly because I sometimes feel they are a little superfluous and patronising (Which activity? Do you have to write or match?) though I can appreciate that the questions can be matched to the linguistic and cognitive level of the learners too.

I also feel I’m much better at asking concept-checking questions rather than, “What does…mean?” and I enjoy finding the balance between open and closed CCQs (Is a wardrobe for clothes or food? vs.  Which room is a wardrobe usually in?).  As a trainer as well, I’m becoming better at eliciting answers from trainees, as to start with I would tell them why things were or weren’t a good idea; now I ask them (then give my two penneth!).

I’m continuing to use questions as a routine at the start of my tricky class – we’ve done what, who and when so far and I’m going to put the questions on lollipop sticks so that we can use them as a review activity when they need a break.  A question that age group asks me a lot is, “When is it my turn to do Guess the Question?” and I’d like to get into the habit of using more questions with my VYLs to get them familiar with typical questions too.

Here are some questions you might like to think about in your own teaching – they are questions which originally came out in feedback on observations at our centre a couple of years ago.

For my next Fortnightly Focus, I’m going to be focussing on my boardwork.  If you haven’t yet checked it out, I strongly recommend #ELTwhiteboard on twitter – it gives you a fascinating glimpse into other teachers’ classrooms around the world and you can pick up some great tips on layout, use of colour, how to work with phonology and much, much more.

February 19

What’s up with WhatsApp? – an #ELTchat summary

Slightly belated #ELTchat summary here – it was a really interesting chat back at the end of January and I offered to write the summary in full knowledge that I wouldn’t get around to it for a couple of weeks.

cecilianobreelt is a huge fan of using WhatsApp with her learners and she kicked off the chat sharing this thought and an image which she had shared with her learners to spark discussion:

I find it crucial that students immerse in the language outside lesson’s times. Due to that, I have created ( with their authorization) a Whatsapp group to share tips, interact, ask questions and challenge them. I have chosen Whatsapp because all my students use it often and we usually communicate through it.

In order to build good rapport and encourage them to use English, I try to use humour to get them motivated and willing to participate in the group. In this activity, I sang a few seconds of a song I was listening to on the radio and challenged them to tell me the name of the song. It was fun and interactive, they took part and mocked me, which was my original idea.

There were mixed experiences among the chatters of using WhatsApp – some had no experience, others had used it to varying degrees, for example to send messages or share information.  I’ve found it to be a useful tool for practising Cambridge Main Suite picture descriptions – learners google images and then send you the one-minute recording.  You can then respond with audio feedback which gives them good listening practice too.   Another option for using images is “phrasal verb photos” – nominate a learner to send an image and sentence to the group showing a phrasal verb.  Marisa_C said she liked the idea of “selfie” tasks – something which a learner could do individually and send for feedback (taking a photo – either a selfie or of something else and commenting on it, reciting a poem, etc).  Sue_Annan added that they could take photos of logos to kick off a debate about  business design – great for a business English class; cecilianobreelt suggested a caption-writing competition for a crazy photo and naomishema said that she’s sending learners superlatives and they need to respond with a picture for each.

Also, it’s great for sharing audio files – learners can listen at their own pace either during the class or at home; or for sharing tasks and/or audio with those who were absent.  And, on the topic of audio, it’s great for learners to send you snippets so you can correct their pronunciation, which is one thing DavinnaArtibey does.  teachingright shared an idea for learners to construct sentences from emojis – one person send four emojis and the others try to write a sentence with them.  You can also read about eltjam‘s Amé app via which learners can ask questions about English.

We talked about the ease of BYOD – learners can easily use their own devices for webquests and you can easily share links on WhatsApp which means you cut out the awkward moment of trying to copy a URL from the board or other source.  jorgeguillen also said that it can be useful for promoting learner autonomy if we send them answer keys and encourage self- or peer-correction and error analysis.  Furthermore, any platform like WhatsApp has the benefit of encouraging learning outside the classroom and it can be used to send daily tips for further development.

There were questions raised as to whether WhatsApp was any better than alternatives such as email, edmodo, padlet, Google Hangouts, GoogleKeep or facebook and we discussed how in some countires WhatsApp may be used more frequently and so it’s seen as less of a bother for learners to use a platform they are already familiar with, rather than asking them to sign up to another learning platform.  There were also queries over privacy and boundaries, with some teachers sharing stories of the platform being abused or the dangers a teacher could face having 1:1 contact with a learner.  naomishema said that some learners may protest if they are already members of various other groups.  We also talked about how many schools have strict no-phone policies and EdLaur added that WhatsApp is officially only for over-16s.  An option to combat misuse would be to agree the terms of use as a class when setting up the group, as we might do with a classroom contract to encourage good behaviour.

Some great quotes to end on:

I often feel that 21st c teaching is 20th c teaching with bells & whistles.  Little added pedagogical value. – GlenysHanson

Tuition on any platform is only as good as the thought, prep, delivery & relevance to Ss’ needs – tom_flaherty

 

You can read the full transcript here.