November 16

Fortnightly Focus #6 – Struggling with a weaker group

I definitely have a lot of ‘works in progress’ this year!  I’m still finding my feet with this group of 10-year-olds who are are much weaker compared to groups of the same age I’ve previously taught, but I feel as though the last couple of lessons have been more productive and that I’ve supported their learning more.

A new activity I’ve introduced focuses on questions each week as I found that they could easily produce “What’s your favourite…?” but struggled to produce questions with other structures and needed more support in understanding the meaning of different question words (‘who’ causes particular problems).

I’m also trying to slot in an activity each week to review much more basic language – so this week we played Bingo with numbers 1-20.  I’m also going to review prepositions of place as this can be problematic for Spanish learners anyway (in/on is generally en in Spanish and in front of sounds like en frente but it’s a bit of a false friend).

Also, fortunately, I’m being observed with this group tomorrow so I’m sure in the post-observation chat my colleague will give me some constructive advice, helpful tips and an outsider’s opinion of the group.

My next Fortnightly Focus is going to be on bringing more tech into the classroom as I’m eager to build up some more resources with Quizlet, Kahoot and Triptico. And, speaking of Quizlet, Sandy Millin shared an excellent blogpost she’d written all about the site which goes into incredible detail about the resources available and give links to sets which she’s produced linked to the CEFR scale – incredibly useful!

November 2

Fortnightly Focus #5 – Listening

Well, my talk for ACEIA is coming together, although admittedly I haven’t had the chance to try out all the activities in class just yet as we had a four-day weekend 🙂  However, one thing which preparing the talk made me think about is how it can be quite tricky to isolate the different sub-skills of listening in order to teach them effectively in class.  It’s very easy to approach the listening text as coursebooks often do and I find that this often means that we are testing learners’ listening comprehension rather than working on the skills which would make them more effective listeners.  That said, the Face2Face series often uses phonology as “Help with Listening” which is one approach which will benefit learners immensely.  Do you know of any other resources which provide learners with more support in listening?

My next fortnightly focus is going to be working with my 10-year-olds who are quite weak linguistically.  Having taught the material before to much stronger groups, I’m struggling to pitch the coursebook to their level, but also aware that they need a lot more routine review of much simpler language too.  So, I’ll be working on that and hopefully make the lessons more engaging and beneficial for them.

October 19

Fortnightly Focus #4 – Dealing with energy levels in YLs

To be honest, this is still very much an ongoing focus, as I try to deal with a tricky group of six-year-olds.  But I’ll share some thoughts now and no doubt come back to it again at another point.

Steps I’m taking to resolve some of the issues within the classroom:

  • I had a points system in place, but it was very limited (maximum of three smiley faces).  A colleague suggested flooding the class with points as this would give more space to take away points when needed.  This is having more of an effect, as I can often move closer to the points charts when I can see some learners becoming a little antsy and, in fact, it’s had quite a positive effect on one of the learners who’s very responsive to the new system
  • Spending more time around the table seems to make the lesson start in a better way.  I think previously, when they were in the smaller space at the front of the class, they became a little touchy-feely towards each other, whereas now they have more personal space
  • Turning off the air conditioning unit which unfortunately makes the classroom hotter, which probably in some ways makes the learners more antsy, but it means that I’m not constantly asking them to move away from it – to be honest, I was genuinely concerned that they would get ill sitting directly in front of it, I’m sure a blast of cold air right across your head/neck can’t be healthy.  However, temperatures are dropping slowly here in the south of Spain, though I can see my classroom being one of the warmest year-round
  • Working on making my routines more varied and dynamic – I’m trying to introduce a new song each week so that we have plenty to sing about as songs and chants can be great moments to refocus them.  Also, I know there are certain activities which they do enjoy so I’m trying to include them without relying too much on them (partly because they need more varied input and also they might then get bored of their favourites!)

Tough as the class is, I’m glad that it’s the first lesson of the afternoon as I do have the feeling of “getting it out the way first” and while it is draining to be faced with a difficult group, I’m trying to stay positive about it – there’s nothing worse than having the sinking feeling in October that you’ll be working with a group for the next nine months and it feels like it’s reached the point of no-return already.  So I’ll keep trying new things and getting advice from colleagues on what’s worked for them in the past 🙂

My focus for the next two weeks will be working on listening skills in the classroom as I’m giving a talk on the topic at ACEIA next month and want to try out some of my ideas before the session.

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 21

Fortnightly Focus #2 – preparation for the new course

Just in case you’re not interested in my reflection on the previous Fortnightly Focus, here’s the topic for the next two weeks:

We often think about routines when planning for our YL and VYL classes.  What routines can we establish with higher levels and older learners?

My previous Fortnightly Focus was a proactive engagement with the course before it started and the focus was, “What am I doing in preparation for the new term?”

One of my personal PD goals for this year is to work on establishing a stronger home-school connection with my VYLs as I’ll be teaching four groups this year and I want to look at how they can share the lesson’s resources with their families, as well as developing the role of English outside the classroom.  I’ve created a website and bought some finger puppets who will be the class mascots.  My plan is that to start with, I’ll build the learners’ relationships with the puppets (e.g. in yesterday’s first lesson they each drew a picture of themselves with their class mascot) and by engaging them in the puppets’ lives (by taking photos of the puppets in familiar places), so that in the near future, they’ll take the puppets home and create their own adventures with them in English which we’ll then share in class.  Obviously it’s early days yet and it’s not something I’ve ever tried to do before, so I’ll update my thoughts on the process and outcomes here!

And, on a techy front, I’ve gone Triptico crazy with my classes!  I’ve got Random Name Generators (Text Spinners) for each class; I’ve created a variety of activities with Word Magnets for the PET and FCE groups (such as matching dependent prepositions); and I’ve also created Text Spinner activities for the Movers group to practise frequent language, such as clothes, prepositions of place and the weather.

And talking of Movers, I also downloaded the Cambridge Picture Books for both Movers and Starters – you can project them and use them for team games, e.g. using fly swatters to identify parts of the picture or teams can take it in turns to make a sentence about the picture without repeating a previous statement.

And finally, as always, I’ve had a good sort through of last year’s material to see what I might use again this year and what I can put back on the shelf for the future!