October 12

Minimal Pairs Telephone

I tried at activity a couple of weeks ago which I’d often heard about, but never done before – a minimal pairs telephone.  The previous week, I’d set my groups a writing task and whilst I was marking them, I noticed recurring issues with this and these when used as demonstratives.  It’s a common problem for Spanish speakers because of the length of the two vowel phonemes – Spanish has a short /I/ sound, but not a longer /i:/.  This leads them to make mistakes when writing, especially if they don’t proofread their work before handing it in!

So, after looking at the written task and highlighting the errors with this/these, I projected the table below and told them I was going to tell them my telephone number.

I then quickly read my telephone number as words, then again more slowly in sets of three.  It was amusing, as they struggled to hear the difference as well.  After pair-checking and confirming the answer, I drilled the words and encouraged them to stretch their mouths for the longer /i:/ sound.  Then they read their telephone numbers to each other.

September 17

Views from the Smartboard

Quite a few years ago, I had a change of environment and started working in a state school which had blackboards – prompting me to suggest a new title for the blog.  Well, it’s happened again…but now I’m faced with a scarily expensive smartboard!  Annoyingly, there is also a whiteboard in the room…at the other end of it and whilst I love using the whiteboard, I feel it’s a little inconsistent to ask my class to turn their chairs/desks around every other day.

So, at the moment I’m going PowerPoint-crazy, prepping my lessons like the billy-o.  However, I will ask someone at the centre to help me out with using the smartboard as a board, rather than just projecting everything.

Another area of excitement with this new environment is that I have been given the highest level group…which means I have a range of levels from pre-B1 to post-B2, with some who have even prepared for a C1 exam.  I’m going to look into how I can effectively differentiate in the classroom, bearing in mind that the centre is materials-light (so no wonderful photocopying of various level reading texts) and also has a no-phones policy (so no wonderful differentiated listening tasks on BYOD).  It’s a new adventure!

September 10

Factors aiding good classroom management

In yet another change of direction, it looks as though I won’t be teaching any YLs this year.  However, these ideas, from a professional development session last year, are still valid when we think about our adult classes.  Although we often assume there will be less discipline and classroom management issues with adults, this may not always be true.  In fact, it can sometimes be more difficult to deal with such issues as you don’t want to patronise or embarrass your adult learners by responding to issues in the same way you would with younger learners.

So, in a bid to minimise classroom management problems, here are some factors to consider, in no particular order:

  • planning
  • consistency
  • clear boundaries
  • variety
  • realistic expectations
  • flexibility
  • seating arrangements and classroom layout
  • clear inx and targets for tasks
  • knowing how to motivate learners
  • roles or tasks for fast finishers
  • L1/L2 control
  • monitoring
  • routines
  • interaction patterns
  • teacher’s energy
  • giving responsibility to learners
  • positive approach to content and learners
  • resources
  • rapport and classroom relationships

 

June 17

Professional development – on your doorstep and at your fingertips

The options for personal growth in the information age are astounding – from MOOCs on astrophysics or social psychology to self-paced language learning apps or Skype lessons, there’s something for everyone on the worldwide web, whatever your interests.  There’s no shortage of development opportunities for ELT professionals either.  However, whilst it’s great to connect with educators from around the globe, peers closer to home may be more familiar with your teaching context or be experiencing similar problems. So, let’s take a look at some options to access professional development on a global scale and in the local area.

A global PLN

Connecting with other ELT professionals on Twitter or Facebook allows you to learn more about teaching in different contexts – teachers who commute across Tokyo to various business English classes, a CELTA trainer in Greece or a teacher of English to deaf and hard of hearing learning in Israel – these are just a few of the people I have encountered and their stories have opened my eyes to a much wider world of ELT than I had previously imagined.  Sharing experiences with teachers from around the globe, some of whom have taught in a wide range of environments, makes you more aware of some of the bigger issues in ELT such as the incredible native-speaker bias of many Asian teaching contexts or the perceived Euro-centeredness of preliminary training courses (not to mention the ongoing debate of just how valid such courses really are!).

If you’re not on Twitter, I really do recommend checking it out to see if it works for you.  It can be a little overwhelming at times but a great starting point would be #ELTchat held every Wednesday at 7pm UK time – there’s a weekly topic which educators from around the world “meet-and-tweet” to discuss and it’s the perfect opportunity to make new connections with like-minded people if you’re unsure of where to start.

If it doubt, Google it

I had a colleague who once said that the first place he would go in a zombie apocalypse would be the library to grab as many books as he could on basic survival skills.  His reasoning was that we live in an age where we Google every query and that in a zombie apocalypse, your internet connection would not be guaranteed – without Google, you’d be helpless and therefore more at risk of having your brain nibbled by a zombie.

There are abundant resources available online nowadays, from easy-to-use lesson plans on anything from the present simple to aviation; self-guided exam practice to bots which correct your writing or answers your queries about the language.  Each time you search for something on Google, you’re likely to end up with millions of options – grammar pages, lesson sharing sites and blogs.  And blogs are a great way to get new ideas and expand your repertoire – though similarly to Twitter, the amount of input available can be overwhelming and it’s not always easy to know where to start.  Ask colleagues if they can recommend any good bloggers and, if they can, check out the blogger’s favourite sites sometimes listed as a blogroll (she says with a shudder).  You may also find blog writers who work in the same context or country as you, which will probably make their articles more immediately relevant to your own situation.

Closer to home

Which brings me to my final point – how can you connect with local ELT professionals?  Strange as it might seem, the worldwide web may again be the best starting point – check Facebook to see if there are any teachers’ associations in your area or email the national TESOL association to see if there’s a representative in your area.  It may be that there are already events happening and if not, start your own!  TEFL del Sur was founded a few years ago in Cádiz as a local association for ELT professionals as we found that the annual conferences on offer didn’t provide us with enough development opportunities or were prohibitively expensive taking into account entrance fees and travel costs.  And you don’t need a big-budget event in a hotel with swanky name tags and a publishers’ exhibition – just get a few like-minded people together and hold a Swap Shop to share what’s been working for you recently or ask for advice on a tricky situation.

If you’re interested in setting up a local event, please feel free to get in touch to find out how we went about doing it.  It really is a wonderful opportunity to connect with people working in similar environments to your own and to make new friends in the process.  However, if you are teaching in the back of beyond and the local ELT vibe consists of me, myself and I, an online PLN offers a wealth of support in 140 characters at the click of a mouse.

May 10

Teacher Talk – a #CELTAchat summary

Teachers are at greater risk of experiencing vocal problems and are more likely to consult doctors on voice disorders than most other occupational groups¹ and so unless you’re teaching the Silent Way, it’s highly likely you spend a fair amount of time in the classroom talking.

On pre-service teacher training courses, TT (teacher talk) is often covered in a session on Classroom Management early on the course although some trainers are concerned that this may be too early on and comes at a point when trainees are being overwhelmed with information.  Should there be a separate input session on TT at another point in the course, or may it depend on trainees’ needs?

TT is frequently modelled during input sessions, though it’s important to reflect carefully on how it is used if you are providing a bad model – in case trainees get the wrong idea and end up copying you!  Good TT is modelled in the Unknown Language component, yet TT is often still a point which is raised in teaching practice feedback throughout the course.

How can we define good and bad TT?

Examples of good or essential TT include:

  • giving and checking instructions
  • concept checking
  • drilling
  • rapport-building through input +1
  • leading feedback
  • error correction
  • eliciting
  • modelling language
  • clarifying language

Some examples of poor TT include:

  • echoing
  • commentary
  • wittering
  • unnatural TT (e.g. not using contractions)
  • ineffectively grading language

How can we make TT more effective?

Clarify whether TT is good or bad: as tutors, we sometimes give inexplicit feedback on poor TT and fail to highlight positive TT.  We should be more concise when dealing with poor TT so that trainees have a clear focus for improvement, but also praise quality TT.

There was a suggestion to create an observation task which analyses the purpose and effectiveness of TT – this could perhaps involve transcription, especially if the class was recorded.

Train trainees to give effective instructions to avoid lengthy, repetitive or overly polite phrasing.

Another suggestion is for trainees to make TT more explicit in their lesson plans – wittering is an example of bad TT which can often occur during feedback stages when trainees haven’t clarified their role in the stage.  Also, by making feedback stages more learner-centred, we can limit TT – by encouraging learners to lead and extend feedback, repeat answers, clarify language, etc.

Further reading:

Jamie Keddie’s IATEFL talk on how to develop TT (and thanks to Fiona for summarising his suggestions on her blog)

Emma Meade Flynn also presented on the topic of teacher talk and interaction at IATEFL and her follow-up blogpost can be found at TD Lab

And a third IATEFL presentation from Monica Poulter on Teacher talk as a pedagogical tool

Barbara Skinner’s ELT Journal article, Effective teacher talk: a threshold concept in TESOL and another from Richard Cullen, Teacher talk and the classroom context

Sam Shepherd on why “reduce TTT” provides trainees with insufficient feedback

The unhealthy noise in our profession from David Pickup

ESL Teacher Talk for Effective Classroom Interactions – an independent study course

ResearchGate has a number of articles on teacher talk

Investigating Classroom Discourse, Walsh (Routledge, 2006) – the image below comes from this text

Plus, here’s a link to the #CELTAchat storify in case I missed anything!

Huge thanks to everyone who participated, especially Sarah and Matthew for sharing so many of the links above and Fiona for moderating 🙂