October 5

Fortnightly Focus #3 – Routines for older learners and higher levels

Before I get into the previous fortnight’s focus, here’s my focus for the next two weeks.  I’m struggling a little with a loud group of six-year-olds so I’m going to look into ways that I can control their energy levels a little better without simply resorting to more heads-down activities.

So, routines for higher levels and older learners.  Well, to be honest, I haven’t had many classes with my adult learners as yet as with one group we did start-of-the-year evaluations (this blogpost is partly a moment of procrastination as I don’t want to get back to marking their written tasks yet!) and another group only started on Tuesday so we’ve only had a couple of lessons.  However, I have put some routines in place with my PET group which I’ll adapt for the older learners too.

Weekly video – this is an activity which I successfuly used last year with my B2 adults and it’s working well so far with my B1 teens this year.  Each Thursday, one of the learners brings a YouTube video for the class to watch and prepares three comprehension questions about it.  The thing I like about this activity is that it allows the learners to share videos which interest them and can spark a lot of conversation as well

Quizlet – my colleague, Amy, introduced me to Quizlet last year and so this year I’ve started using it with the teens group.  I like the Scatter game, in which two teams compete to see who can match the vocab to the definitions more quickly

New vocab wall – I only introduced this to the B1 group yesterday, but with the promise of chocolate for participating, they seemed quite keen!  I stuck up a big piece of card to the board and made it look like a brickwall.  Learners can add new words or phrases to the wall (kind of graffiti-ing it)

Also, as I have two Cambridge preparation groups (B1 and B2), I want to work on the speaking exam more frequently, particularly the picture description and interactive tasks as I feel these are the two tasks which candidates struggle most with, but which they can easily do well in with a little training

And, speaking of exam preparation, I also have an ISE II group and with them I’d like to focus on using the different grammatical structures confidently when asking and answering questions, as one of the key points which has been raised in previous exam feedback is that candidates were often more than capable of showing understanding of different structures, but struggled more to produce them (either through a lack of accuracy or through offering more natural responses to the examiner’s questions)

September 24

A materials-free PET lesson

Eeeep, I’ll admit it – I’ve still not got my routine sorted in terms of when lessons get planned and so on Thursday, I had focussed far more on my YLs and twenty minutes before an afternoon of classes suddenly thought, “Aaah – what am I doing with my PET group?!” Unfortunately, teaching two groups of little people and another YLs class during the afternoon, I didn’t have much time to plan whilst lessons were going on and five minutes before the class was due to start, still didn’t have it quite clear in my head. So, here’s a materials-light (possibly even -free) lesson for learners preparing for the Cambridge PET exam.

Start with StarWord – an easy game which activates schemata.
Draw a star on the board. Explain that you’re thinking of a word related to the topic of (At the beach). Give them a minute to brainstorm in pairs.
Nominate a learner to say a word (then, as was the case on Thursday, have a moment of panic when they get your word – towel – in the first guess and you realise you can’t think of anything else at the beach. Congratulate them on being so clever, writing their word below the star to show they got it correct, then recover with ‘bikini’ in mind and start again!).
The star on the board represents where your word lies alphabetically, so as learners guess, add their words to the board in the correct position (before/after, closer/further away).

**If I was doing this class with a group of teenage learners I was more familiar with, I’d do this stage next. As it was only our second lesson, I decided to do this guided visualisation after the speaking exam practice stage.**

Tell the group to close their eyes and do a guided visualisation of being on the beach. Here are some questions to put to them…
Are you on a beach you’ve been to before, or are you imagining a new beach?
Are you alone? Are you with friends or family?
What can you see around you? Are there children playing? Is the beach busy or empty?
What can you hear? Think about the sound of the sea – are the waves crashing on the shore or is it calm?
Can you smell anything?
Think about where you are – are you standing on the beach with the sand between your toes? Are you in the sea – is the water warm or refreshing? What’s the weather like – can you feel the sun on your skin?

In pairs, learners tell their partner about their beach – remind them to think about what they could see, hear, smell and feel. Then, as whole group feedback, ask each learner to tell you three things about their beach. This is a good moment for error collection/correction – a typical issue here in Spain being, “I was in the beach.”

Next, elicit three or four beaches which your learners may go to and ask them to work in pairs to think of an advantage and disadvantage of each. It can help to say that they can’t repeat the same information more than once and, if you wanted to add an extra level of challenge, you could say that they can’t use opposites to talk about different beaches, e.g. “An advantage of beach A is that it’s clean. A disadvantage of beach B is that it’s really dirty.”

Nominate learners and board their ideas – don’t limit yourself in feedback to just one advantage/disadvantage for each as it’s likely that pairs will have come up with different points for different beaches.

Then, as a bit of an aside, check their knowledge of the PET speaking exam and elicit timing, interactions and the different phases of the exam.

For the next stage, it may help to have some typical language for part 2 (the interactive phase) prepared on cards – phrases for making suggestions and agreeing/disagreeing, such as, “Why don’t we…?” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea, because…” If you have them prepared, hand out a set to each pair and ask them to divide them out; if you don’t have the cards ready, you can elicit this language from the group and board it.

Set the scene for part 2 of the speaking exam:
“You’ve decided to go to the beach this weekend. Talk together about the different beaches you could visit and decide which would be best. I’ll say that again…”
In pairs, learners discuss the topic, using the cards in their hand. This is another good opportunity to monitor and collect/correct errors.

**I now did the guided visualisation.**

Finally, set up a homework task to write a letter to a friend who is coming to visit your city/region and has sent a letter to ask your advice on which beach to visit.  Elicit the layout for writing a letter and word count.

Here are some other topics which could work with this plan:

*Being in the countryside. They could think of activities to do such as horse-riding or rock-climbing for the interactive and letter tasks

city*Going shopping. They could think about different shopping areas in the town (for example locally for us there is a small shopping centre, an enormous shopping centre out of town, a department store or the high street).  For the letter task, they could respond to a friend about their shopping habits

*Learning languages.  For the interactive tasks they could think of advantages and disadvantages of the different ways people can learn languages (online, going to class, reading, audio classes, etc) and then for the letter task, give a friend advice on learning a new language

*The future. For the guided visualisation, you could talk them through their future job; then for the interactive task they could talk about possible summer jobs and in the letter task, either write a letter imagining a job they had in the previous summer or talk about their plans for their future career

January 24

PET – Listening Part 1

This is an activity which I’ve done with a couple of groups and they respond quite well to it – it gives the learners a space for a bit of creativity and provides an enjoyable lead-in to Listening Part 1 of the PET paper.

Give the learners a sample paper and divide them into pairs (you can also do individuals depending on the question type).  Assign each pair one of the questions and explain that they are going to write the dialogue. They must include all three of the options and shouldn’t necessarily introduce the correct answer last.

It works with a nuber of skills as the pairs must first write then perform their dialogue whilst others listen.  This is also an opportunity to brainstorm new vocabulary which they may be unfamiliar with – recently when I did the activity, one of the answers included a hot-air balloon ride.

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March 9

Desperate Conversations

This post has been brewing for a while now as over the past couple of years in Spain there have unfortunately been more and more of these desperate conversations.

I need my B1, pero ya. (right now)

I’m graduating in two months, if I get my B1 by then.

If I don’t get my B2, schools won’t even look at my CV.

She failed her teaching exam, but got a job because she had a B2 in English.  How can that be fair?

Changes to the European education system and the implementation of the Plan Bolonia mean that most university graduates are required to have proof of a B1 level in a second language.  Reform to the Spanish education system mean that many schools are now implementing bilingual streams, requiring their teachers to have a minimum of a B2 level.

Whilst in the long-term I believe that this has a number of benefits, it means that during this period of adjusting to the new demands, many people are suddenly finding themselves in desperate need of an official qualification in English, leading to an increase in learners who are learning the language taking classes for all the wrong reasons and as such struggling to improve.

February 11

B1 in English – perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all

B1

El Plan Bolonia requires all Spanish university students to have a B1 level in a second language in order to complete their studies, leading to a massive increase in the number of young adults attending classes, but also a shift in motivation and purpose.  Few people now come to an academy saying, “I want to learn English” but rather “I need B1”, which is often followed by a “pero ya” (right now) in Cádiz.

Most people choose English rather than a different second language as they have had more English in their mainstream education, although El Plan Bolonia doesn’t specify which language should be taken.

There are a number of pros and cons to the scheme, but this morning on the bus, whilst listening to a couple of mothers talking about their children’s homework, it occurred to me that this push for B1 could have positive repercussions for the next generation. Those parents who have studied to B1 level may feel more able and ready to help their children with their English homework, something which they often find difficult nowadays. However, the pessimist in me then asks whether this could lead to even more disparity in English levels in schools…