There’s been a change in how teachers’ professional development is covered at our school. In previous years, everyone got together every couple of weeks and we had a session on a particular topic – which mean that you could sometimes feel that content wasn’t immediately relevant to your teaching environment or, in some cases, that familiar content was being revisited again.
I’m really excited about the change for this year – today we had the first meeting and could choose one of three threads that we wanted to look at this term, These fell into the categories of The Language (specifically phonology), The Classroom (with the funky term “tissues and issues”) and The Bigger Picture…which this term also had a funky title “RetroTEFL”. (Aside: Aaaah, yet again phonology is the Cinderella of ELT. However, despite lacking a funky title, it was the most subscribed to thread for this term!).
A really engaging first session today – we identified why we had chosen that threads and set ourselves SMART goals to work on during the next few weeks. I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see from my handwritten notes, but I’m planning on turning the tasks I try into blogposts, as well as jotting down my thoughts in my journal.
Or actually not, in my case! It’s Saturday but I woke up at 6.30 so I figured I may as well get up and do something useful with my time and blog about yesterday’s lesson.
A bit of background to the lesson itself: we’re just starting TP2 with the part-time TESOL trainees and so yesterday the tutors were teaching. Although I always feel nervous when being observed on the course, I generally feel better at the start of TP2 as I’m more familiar with the learners. As such, I’d planned yesterday’s lesson with the original B1 group in mind and they were, generally speaking, a strong B1 group. Unfortunately, as I found out when I arrived at the school yesterday, only three of the previous group were continuing and I had five new learners that day. As soon as they walked in, I knew the material would be incredibly challenging for them, especially as a couple felt more like A2 learners. But, c’est la vie! We did the tasks a little more slowly and stronger learners were able to support their peers well and although the material was challenging, the tasks associated were simple, as you’ll see below.
We did some initial chat around the three questions below and a collocations task from the book which also provided space for learners to personalise the language and gave me further opportunity to gauge their level.
Do you find it easy to get to sleep?
Are you a heavy or a light sleeper?
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
We did this prediction task before watching the video – the first time they watched, I asked them to check their predictions, we did a quick pair-check, then I asked them to watch again and then tell a partner what they found interesting or surprising about the video. The text is fast, but the predictions task was simple and the answers for those statements were clearly given.
For the next stage, I’d done a little crowd-sourcing and asked my friends in the UK what time they go to bed and get up – I mapped their responses onto a chart and then got all the learners (and trainees) to add their times. I pointed out that the difference in the times that people in the UK and Spain get up was fairly minimal and asked them to discuss in pairs why they thought Spanish people go to bed so much later.
This then led on to reading a shortened, graded version of this text from The Guardian, which explains that Spain is in the wrong time zone. There was an activity to match some tricky lexis from the text to definitions and while I’d originally planned for learners to share their opinion on the text (similar to the video – what did you find interesting or surprising?), I felt that because of the shift in level, the group would benefit from a more structured comprehension/reaction-to-the-text task, so I wrote some statements from the text on the board and asked them to discuss whether they were true.
The reading text led on to the final task – a debate. I divided the group into two, mixing up learners a little so that a) the original three members were split up, b) there was an even number of stronger/weaker learners in each group and c) the stronger learners who had supported their weaker peers before were paired with someone different. Group A had to discuss reasons why they thought Spain should change its time zone; group B had to discuss why they felt Spain should stay in its current time zone – I had prepared some points for each group to think about such as how the change might affect businesses or Spanish traditions, amongst others. After a few minutes to get some ideas together, we did a quick task to look at language of agreeing/disagreeing and then mixed up the groups so learners could debate whether or not to change time zone. Although I was happy with this final stage, I feel that it would have been more successful if I had made everyone in groups A and B to make notes as then I could have paired people off to debate. As it was, in group B, only one person had made notes – as I felt that the weaker learners in that group would feel very uncomfortable doing the debate task with no support, I decided to have two people from each group against two from the other, which inevitably meant that some people spoke more than others.
So, what did I learn from this lesson?
I think the main tip I’ve taken away is to plan lower rather than higher for a first lesson with (what could be) an unfamiliar group as it’s much easier to extend simple tasks for stronger learners than it is to adapt materials on-the-spot for weaker learners.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the British educational press recently about the benefits of gamification – I particularly enjoyed this blogpost from The Behaviour Guru, Tom Bennett. That said, in my last fortnightly focus, I decided I wanted to create more interactive resources for my teen and adult learners.
My adolescent B1 group really enjoy both Kahoot and Quizlet – with Kahoot, they use their own devices, generally in pairs and like the competitive nature of the game. I’ve created a couple of Kahoots with them – one focussed on question formation, whilst the other mimicked a PET writing part 1 task in which candidates have to paraphrase a sentence. They were engaged, focussed and everyone participated – though in all fairness, they’re a wonderful group and a pleasure to teach and generally appear outwardly content whatever the task!
They also enjoy playing the Match game on Quizlet in teams – we divide the class into two teams and write up the score of the first team to see if the second group can beat it. This is an effective activity if you have sets with quite a lot of language in them – too few words/phrases and the same words crop up in both games, putting the second team at an advantage.
So far, with the teen groups, we’ve only used the sites during class time and one of the problems which I have with many edutainment/eduresource sites is that they require learners to create an account. Even if this is free, I dislike asking people to create accounts because I know that even if your information isn’t sold to a third party, you’re still likely to receive the odd annoying message from the site itself. So, for my adult B2 groups, I’ve created a dummy account for Quizlet, meaning that they can go in and use the sets I’ve prepared, without needing to worry about receiving spam messages or remembering yet another log-in/password combination. My adults seem quite taken with Quizlet – I explained that I felt it would be more engaging than me simply giving them a list of topic vocabulary and we looked in class together at how they can use the sets.
However, I’m as yet unconvinced of the educational value of Kahoot for my adults – though this could be because I’ve only used it once, it took a while for everyone to log in (which felt like wasted class time) and, again, with a very motivated and engaged group it felt a little unnecessary – yes, it was a fun activity, but it took as long (possibly even longer) than it would have done had it been done on paper and, at the end of the task, they didn’t immediately have any tangible result of it. Though we then went through the language which had been included (collocations relating to money), I noticed that they seemed less able to recall the correct answers – probably because they had played the game at speed and so hadn’t had the time to assimilate the collocations.
I’ll give it another shot though – I think the last time I was probably a little more focussed on the edutainment factor and had created the Kahoot without really thinking about how and when I would use it in class – staging is essential when we consider any material and I lost sight of that in my eagerness to use something shiny and new.
OK, my next fortnightly focus is on phonology – I need to be more proactive in my teaching of it as I’m very able to work reactively – correcting mispronunciations and writing up the correct transcription on the board, working on intonation with my VYLs – but I know I need to become more aware of it in the planning stage. Also, have you seen the recent lesson plan posts by Sandy Millin and Elly Setterfield? Sandy’s image of her plan for a single lesson has shamed me into rethinking my own planning style…there might be a blogpost in there somewhere in the future!
Wow, an incredibly uninspiring title for what is a fab little resource that I’ve just discovered to introduce and review the time. You can drag the minute and hour hands to the time you want – quick tip, if you’re adjusting both the hour and minutes, move the hour hand first. You can remove the digital clock by clicking off on the right-hand side or set the clock to show real time. If the second hand is getting in your way, you can remove it by clicking on the drop-down Mode menu, then Style, selecting the box second hand and then clicking on the cross at the bottom of the colour palette.Great as an introduction to telling the time or for a quick review activity at the start of the lesson.
I’m killing two birds with one stone with this post! Firstly as it allows me to throw out another piece of paper with thoughts from last year written on and also it’s good for one of my new year resolutions!
At some point last year, probably during my quest to make use of more routines, I started a list of some activities I could do in class to revise language. So here’s my list…