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.

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!

November 30

Fortnightly Focus #7 – Kahoot and Quizlet

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!

March 4

Picture Dictations

I had a great time the other day with my 11-year-olds as we were practising the present simple through picture dictations.  One thing I particularly enjoy about running picture dictations with Spanish speakers is that it removes their desire to dictate “phonetically” – in a normal running dictation, learners are obviously keen to get the spelling correct and so end up dictating things like, “The to-ast is very de-li-ci-ous” or “I li-ke waa-ching TV”.

IMG_2650A quick stage guide:

  1. Introduce and model the activity with a learner.
  2. Pair learners up and give instructions.
  3. Learners work on running dictation in pairs.
  4. When they have all the pictures, instruct them to work together to write a sentence (remind them to use the present continuous).
  5. Swap papers with another pair to correct. Elicit sentences from learners, write correct sentences on the board.

I told the groups there were a maximum of five points per sentence and that they should take off a mark for each mistake (hence the numbers on some of the pictures).

IMG_2644IMG_2651

February 17

The (vocab) Box

image from imdb.com

image from imdb.com

Don’t you just love it when things seem to come together?  I was observing a colleague’s class this morning and then came home to find a wonderfully hilarious thread on twitter of #makeamovieTESL, to which one of my contributions was The (vocab) Box.

Anyway, back to my original thoughts about vocab boxes.

They are a fabulously versatile way of reviewing and revisiting both target and emergent language from our lessons – for example, this morning the learners in my colleague’s class were drawing, miming and explaining the lexis from previous units.  It also works well as a filler for fast finishers – give them the box and they can review the lexis in pairs, again perhaps by miming or drawing.

However, whilst observing the lesson this morning, I realised that at the same time, the use of vocab boxes is a rather unnatural and arbitrary way of using language.  In the game today, the lexis which learners faced was: go on holiday, stepmother, arrest, argue, housewife and supermarket.  Whilst I won’t disagree that most of these constitute useful language, each one is taken out of context.

That’s not to say that I’m going to stop using them though – but it’s made me realise that it often requires more effort on the part of learners to identify the word as they must first reactivate schema for that context and then find the particular word being defined.