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!
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.
In all honesty, this is a post of procrastination as I’m currently writing reports for my learners and have hit a bit of a wall. Coffee is next on the list of things-to-do-in-the-meantime.
Report writing is, and should be, a long process. Though we often reflect on individual learners during the academic year, the process of putting those thoughts onto paper can be tough. It’s easier to write about some individuals than others, it’s easier to fit in everything you want to say for some more than others, it’s easier to give specific advice to some more than others and it’s easier to identify some individuals more than others.
By “identify”, I don’t mean knowing who’s who – though I did have a startling, and hopefully somewhat exaggerated, conversation with a teacher from another school on the topic – but rather reflect on that individuals’ strengths and weaknesses and bring that together to produce a meaningful, useful report. Some learners don’t stand out as being particularly strong or weak in any area and we run the risk of sending home a banal report with phrases such as “you’re doing well” or “good work this term”, without offering any honest reflection on that individual’s abilities or meaningful advice on how to improve.
Though it’s a pain-in-the-behind when you’re sitting in on a Sunday wading through reports (partly through a lack of organisation hence not getting them done earlier in the week), it really is worth the effort to write a personalised, heartfelt report.
I started a new class yesterday – an A2 group, many of whom studied English many years ago at school or in the government-run language school. I wanted to do some kind of a mingle as a getting-to-know-you activity and thought about doing a ‘Find someone who…’ activity. However, when I was thinking about the actual development of the activity, I felt the mingle stage would be too heavily preluded by a stage on adapting the statements to questions and question formation, which led to doubts about whether we would get bogged down by different tenses and the use of auxiliaries and modals. I was trying to think of a way in which I could adapt the activity so that learners would still get the communicative element of questioning different classmates, without the heavy grammatical focus beforehand.
In the end, I opted for the following stages:
1. Prior to the lesson, print a number of cards with questions on
2. Give each learner four cards and tell them to write their answer, but not their name
3. Whilst they’re doing this, monitor to check everyone’s on task and help with any queries and at the same time, write up some difficult-to-pronounce lexis on the board (for my lesson this included usually, favourite, child/children and husband)
4. Take in their slips of paper and work through the lexis on the board – this was also an opportunity to check their knowledge, e.g. which other adverbs of frequency did they know
5. Give instructions for the next stage: learners will be given four cards and must find who each card belongs to. When they find the match, they should ask a follow-up question
6. After shuffling the cards, give each learner four cards, making sure they don’t have their own
7. Learners mingle – at this point you can either be involved if you’ve written on cards yourself or simply monitor
8. As a feedback activity, ask each learner to make a sentence about a classmate. You can also ask further follow-up questions
9. Do any error correction work which you picked up on during the activity or in feedback
Genuine and meaningful communication between learners takes place
This is one of the criteria in the DipTESOL assessed teaching unit – what does this mean and how can we ensure it occurs in our lessons?
Perhaps we should first look at the two adjectives used in the criterion: genuine and meaningful. By genuine, I understand natural, honest and authentic communication; by meaningful, I understand that there is a purpose for communication.
The question is whether the communication which takes place in our classes is genuine and meaningful. It could be argued that communication which takes place in the EFL classroom is meaningful as we are practising TL, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the language being produced is genuine.
The key is to find ways of personalising the TL and context of our lessons. Here are some ideas:
- In grammar activities, such as Las Vegas Grammar, use the learners’ names in the sentences – this increases their engagement in the activity and you can extend the task by guessing whether the sentences are correct or not after correcting them.
- Provide identifiable contexts for language – a group of Spanish teenagers may not be interested in what Japanese teenagers like listening to in their free time, so either change the context or allow the learners space and time to give their opinions or contrast the context to their own.
- Make all TL personal – this is easier than you may think. Whatever the TL, you can generally ask one of the following questions: “Do you have…?”, “Do you like…?” or “What do you think about…?”
A second aspect of the DipTESOL criterion worth mentioning is the word between – depending on the age of your learners, there may be more or less interaction between them and I do know people who have chosen YL groups for their DipTESOL assessed lessons. It would be interesting to know whether classroom language qualifies as “genuine and meaningful communication between learners” as there may be more natural communication in this respect than in practising the TL of the lesson. This also leads on from my previous post on making the class less teacher-centred as by encouraging communication between learners we can give them more of a voice and more responsibility for their learning.
Here are a couple of other blogposts worth reading on the topic of personalisation:
A Matter of Confidence – Personalising
P is for Personalization