Online teaching: using students’ home environments.

What food can you find at home, did you say?

When you’re used to teaching face-to-face, it can be easy to see teaching online as somehow deficient, the poor relation of face-to-face classes. If, like me, you’ve made the leap from face-to-face to online teaching due to the Coronavirus pandemic, then you may well be teaching a minimally-adapted version of a face-to-face course, trying to meet the same learning objectives and using the same coursebook. In this situation, it’s natural to focus on all the things that are more difficult when teaching online. Maybe you think that everything takes longer? Or you’re finding it harder to get students to communicate with each other? Or your internet connection is so bad that you keep getting kicked out of Zoom at a crucial moment in your class? Ouch, me too!

But I also think that there are definitely ways of using this situation to our advantage as teachers. One of the things that’s unique about teaching online at the moment, when our students are mostly confined to their homes, is the glimpse we get into our students’ home environments. And these can be incorporated into our lessons, leading to a greater variety of learning experiences.

In this post, I’m going to share two activities that I used this week, where the students’ home environments were an integral part of the task. I used both of these activities in a lesson on food preferences with my A1 young adult class.

1) Brainstorming food vocabulary

The first activity was part of a vocabulary building stage. I’d asked students to learn some basic food vocab from their coursebook for homework, which we later reviewed in class. We then brainstormed more food vocab using the word cloud function on Mentimeter. This enabled me to see that the students already had quite a good knowledge of basic food vocab, but I felt that we could extend this even further. So I gave the students 2 minutes to find 2 food items in their house that they didn’t know how to say in English. All the students managed this no problem, although I did hear a couple of confused parents in the background! Students then held up what they’d found to the camera (there were several different green vegetables and some tinned food, as well as slightly more unusual options, such as sopaipillas and guarana tea), and we looked at the English words, with me trying to elicit as much as possible from the students. We then added these words to our word cloud.

2) Food treasure hunt

This activity came later on in the lesson. Before the lesson, I’d prepared a worksheet (see above) with prompts for a basic treasure hunt (e.g. “find 2 green vegetables”, “find a food that everyone in your group likes”). In the lesson, I showed the worksheet to the students using the screen share function and explained the task to them: to work in groups to complete the treasure hunt by finding food items for every prompt in their houses and making sure they knew the English words for all the items. I sent the file to the students using the chat box, so they could all have access to it during the task.

I then sent the groups to the breakout rooms and moved between the groups, monitoring and helping as necessary. Students were very engaged and were helping each other to find the English words. They weren’t speaking English quite as much as I would have liked – a couple of questions on the treasure hunt prompted them to ask the other members of their group questions in English (e.g. “Do you like_______?”) but this wasn’t really happening. However, this wasn’t really surprising given their level and that they were really focussed on finding all the food items.

All the groups finished at about the same time, so I brought them back to the main room, and we did feedback, with students holding the items up to the camera and saying the English word (e.g. “This is a cabbage”). The teams got points for each category they’d found items for, as well as bonus points for original items.

Advantages of these activities

I think that these activities had a number of advantages. First, they were highly personalised, with students learning words for items of food that were relevant to them (unlike coursebooks, which often aren’t culturally-specific enough on this point). It also allowed me to learn more about the students and their likes and dislikes, which will feed into my planning of later lessons.

In terms of interaction patterns, these activities were a welcome change of pace (for both me and the students!), and gave students the chance to work together on a meaningful task.

How have you used your students’ home environments when teaching online?

 

Adapting activities for online learning: part 1

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Working from home in a previous job

Well, hello there, I’m back! And doing something I would never have imagined a year ago: teaching online. The academic year started recently in Chile and, since large parts of Santiago are in quarantine due to coronavirus, all my teaching is currently online. My main class at the moment is an intensive course with A1 young adults (who I’ve never met face-to-face, only online).

If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you thought about when you found out that you had to teach online was “How on earth do I do [name of favourite activity] online?!”. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with different ways of adapting activities to the online context over the past couple of weeks, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. I’ve focussed on Zoom, because that’s the platform I’m currently using, but a lot of these ideas are probably adaptable to other platforms.

Brainstorming

  • Zoom has a whiteboard function with annotation tools, which students can use to write (Share screen –>whiteboard). If you have a large class, this activity might be more manageable if you get students to write on the whiteboard in the breakout rooms, save their screen and then share the file with the rest of the class in the chat box when they return to the main room.
  • Students can also use the annotation tools to write on a Powerpoint slide or a Word document (Share screen and then select the document you want to share). If multiple students are writing at once, then Zoom assigns them different colours.
  • A colleague suggested using the wordcloud feature on Mentimeter for brainstorming vocab, with students using their phones to do this. I’m planning to try this with my A1 group when we look at food next week.
  • At the most basic level, getting students to write ideas in the chat box on Zoom also works (and is easy to set up).
  • Whiteboard.fi is an online whiteboard tool that is good for getting students to work individually. Students can join using their computer or their phone, and each student has their own whiteboard. Students can see only their whiteboard and the teacher’s, but the teacher can see all the whiteboards.

Quick polls

Thinking here of the sort of quick, hands-up polls you might do to introduce a topic or get some feedback on content after a productive task. Of course, you could still get students to put their hands up but only if they’ve got working webcams (and not all mine do). So…

  • The reaction tools on Zoom (“Reactions” on the bar at the bottom of the main screen) have a “thumbs-up” button and a “wave” button. Perfect for a quick vote. (I also get students to use the ‘wave’ button any time they have a problem and want to get my attention – the online equivalent of putting their hand up, I suppose).
  • Zoom also has a polling function, but I haven’t managed to get it to work yet (and I haven’t heard great things about it).
  • Mentimeter also has a polling function, with students voting on their phones.
  • The stamp tools on Zoom (on the annotation toolbar) are great for this. I’ve sometimes written a list of categories on a Powerpoint slide/on the whiteboard and asked students to put a stamp next to the relevant ones for them (e.g. a slide with the names of different pets and asking students to put a stamp next to the ones the people in their group mentioned, or a timeline with different times and asking students to mark the time their partner goes to bed).

A couple of things I’ve learned

  • Students need to feel comfortable using the online platform in order to be ready to learn. My course started with a couple of shorter introductory lessons, and I spent one of these giving students a tutorial on how to use Zoom (in a mixture of Spanish and English!). The tutorial took students right from the beginning (turning their microphones and cameras on and off and saying hi to the rest of the group), through using the chat box to introduce themselves in English, playing with the whiteboard tools and using the stamp tools to respond to simple questions in English, to discussing their expectations of/questions about the course with their classmates in the breakout rooms (in Spanish, as these were A1 level students). It worked well – the students gained confidence in using Zoom, and I got to see how much English they already knew.
  • Not to assume that, because students are younger than you, they’ll be more confident with technology. This really hasn’t been the case with my group. I would suggest introducing only one new tool/website/feature per lesson.

 

What online tools have you enjoyed using with your students?

 

On the current situation in Chile

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The view from my flat in central Santiago one evening a couple of weeks ago, during the protests. The smoke came from fires about 1km away.

I’ve spent the past 3 and half weeks in Santiago experiencing something that I never imagined or wanted to experience: widespread civil unrest. This was initially caused by a rise in the metro fare, but quickly widened to include protests about inequality in general (Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the OECD and the effects of this are really obvious on a day-to-basis here). The Chilean government responded to these protests, some of which became violent due to the actions of a minority, by sending soldiers onto the streets and declaring a State of Emergency, which lasted for over a week, with curfews in Santiago and other large cities. We’re no longer in a State of Emergency, but protests continue, and are often met with repression and violence.Normal life has pretty much come to a standstill.

As you would probably expect, my students and I have spent a lot of time discussing the current situation in class. I wish I didn’t have to say this but I feel that it would be prudent to add that (especially since foreigners in Chile are banned from getting involved in protests by law) I haven’t tried to impose any particular opinion. Instead, I’ve tried to help my students communicate their ideas and feelings in English. 

With their permission, I’m going to share (anonymously) some of the texts that my young adult students wrote a couple of weeks ago.  I think they speak for themselves.

1) “WE ARE TIRED

People in Chile are tired of injustice and inequality, and I’m tired  too, I’m because I spend a lot of money in public transport, I’m tired because my grandmother can’t have a good life with her pension, because a lot of people work many hours and get a really bad wage, I’m tired because rich people have good health centers and education.

And if we protest for these injustices the government send police and armed forces to hit, shoot, kick and throw tear at us. The most of protests are peaceful and they don’t respect anything and anybody, they don’t care if in the protest there are children, old people or pregnant women.

A lot of countries paint Chile like a good, prosperous and fair nation, but it isn’t. Chile is racist against foreigners from another countries of LatinoAmerica, but people treat foreigners from europe better. Chile is clasist, rich people treat poor people like trash, because “he is from the outskirts of the city”, “she doesn’t have brand clothes”, and for me, that’s horrible. I don’t want a country that discriminate for their skin, for their money, etc.

Sometimes I want to leave Chile for all these, but I want to fight with my people to fix these inequalities.”

2) “People in Chile are asking for changes. We want that politicians understand what it means to be poor in Chile.

In this country there are a bad medical attention in the public system. While people with money can go to a doctor when they want, the poor people have to wait for months and years. There are a lot of examples when sick people have died and the family receive a call for an appointment with the doctor months after sick people have already died.

I would like to say that everything hasn’t been bad. TV only focus on lootin but people are helping each other out there. When I went to Plaza Italia to protest people were sharing water and they asked us if we were OK. It was after the police used tear gas to disperse crowds. So it has been a solidarity strike.

I only ask for justice for those people who has been killed for soldiers or the police.”

3) “Since this situation started I stay in my house. I’ve never felt so frustrated. I cannot go out when I want to because could be dangerous, the police are out of control and they attack anyone even if you didn’t do anything specially when you are young and defendless.

The places where you can buy food are scarce because everything dissapears in minutes. Me and my family are lucky because there are markets in my zone but imagine someone have to do a long journey to buy everything a normal person needs.

Not mention the ways that the armed forces and the government are acting is illegal after the constitution because the article 495 no.1 of the penal code it state disrespect the curfew is punish with a penalty but right now the armed forces are taking prisoners not only in the street but also in their houses for bang their pots. Even aside of the curfew there are lots of faults to the human rights that is hard to describe everything.”

4) “For the first time I went to a supermarket near my house, crowded outside, only fifty people could enter and they had twenty minutes then entered fifty people again, I had no problem, I could wait patiently and be fast.

But I felt so nervous and anxious inside the market because it was full of soliders. I’ve never seen that before and I got scared those “bad groups” enter to loot the products and some of us would get hurt. I heard these “bad groups” are policeman and soldiers without uniform. Thank god, my family and I are safe and we want the solutions and see a better Chile as soon as possible.”

 

How did I even get here?

So I keep having these moments where my inner voice says “What the hell are you doing? How did you get here?”

(Here being Chile – again – but this time working as a teacher and a teacher trainer).

The word I associate most with my first two or three years of post-CELTA teaching is “struggle”. Because they were. I might not have been a terrible teacher when I started my first full-time post-CELTA job (in fact, I reckon I was fairly decent for a new teacher and super keen to learn more) but I quickly became one. See, I lost my confidence pretty fast, the inevitable result of working in an environment where everything I was or did seemed to be wrong. And once my confidence had gone, that was the start of a slippery slope. I stopped experimenting with my teaching and became terrified of getting things wrong. I remember crying in the toilets at work at least once a week (if you ever get to that stage with a job, it’s time to leave….). I lasted a year and a bit in that job and am still amazed that I managed that long (the final straw was not being able to take all the sick leave my doctor recommended for a nasty bout of flu).

You’d think that things would have improved quickly in my next job, at a school in the next city, familiar and yet-so-different at the same time. Nope. Some scars don’t heal so quickly. I was a bundle of nerves all the time – I distinctly remember having a panic attack before a cover lesson, and a (perhaps well-intentioned) colleague commenting on how anxious I looked all of the time. Fortunately, I had two or three very patient colleagues and friends who listened to me and helped me (and at times made me confront my fears head on). I’m pretty sure that without them, I wouldn’t be teaching right now.  There were some bumps in the road, but overall, things got better and I learned to like teaching again.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m in a very different place, mentally and physically. I find it hard to imagine myself NOT teaching (even Delta didn’t quite manage to kill the love…) and it’s something that I feel reasonably confident about. Give me some students and a classroom and let me loose. I can do this.

But sometimes I catch a glimpse of the old me. Like on my first day as a CELTA ACT when my trainees were asking me questions about how the course was organised and I kept wondering why no one else was answering them (duh, it’s because you’re the tutor, innit). Or the time when a feedback session did not go well, and I came home and cried, in frustration at myself (and the trainees) but also in empathy.

And I think it’s this word “empathy” that’s key to being a teacher trainer. A friend of mine once told me that “teaching is about the whole person” and I think that’s especially true of teacher training. I try to empathise with my trainees, how they got to this point, the challenges they face, the things that seem easy to me but which might seem to be insurmountable obstacles to them. Sometimes I do ok, many times I realise I need to do better. To find other ways of explaining things, to be more patient. To be more “there”.

I’m still not sure how I got here. But as long as I keep trying to improve, does it matter?

A back to school activity

Today, I want to share a very simple but effective activity I did with my young adult class earlier this week.

Monday was our first day back after a week off for the Chilean Fiestas Patrias break (a national holiday celebrating the start of Chile’s independence process in 1810) and I wanted my students to talk about what they’d done during the break. So this is what we did:

1) I asked students to fold a piece of paper into 4, giving 4 boxes for them to draw in.

2) I asked students to draw 4 pictures, one for each box:

a) something they really enjoyed doing;

b) something they did with other people;

c) something they wanted to do but didn’t do;

d) something they didn’t enjoy.

I made sure that students knew that they had to draw the pictures in a different order, otherwise the next part of the activity would have been too easy.

3) Then I showed students my picture and asked them to guess which picture was which. I wrote prompts on the board to help them, like this:

  • I think you really enjoyed ________________________.
  • Did  you ________________ with other people?
  • I reckon you wanted to _________________ but didn’t.
  • Maybe you didn’t enjoy ______________________.

I encouraged students to ask me follow-up questions.

4) Then students mingled and tried to guess what each other’s drawings were.

5) Then we did some feedback on content (who learned something surprising about their classmates’ holidays?) and language (some vocabulary related to typical Fiestas Patrias activities, as well as gerunds vs infinitives).

I would definitely use this activity again – my students were really engaged. I think it would work with the first lesson back after any holiday break (Christmas, summer holidays etc.).

Here’s my picture (I think it’s really important to be prepared to draw yourself if you’re going to ask your students to draw).

My pictures are, from top left to bottom right, something I did with other people (walking in the Atacama Desert), something I really enjoyed (bathing in thermal springs), something I didn’t really enjoy (the altitude made me feel dizzy) and something I wanted to do but didn’t (we’d booked an astronomy tour but they cancelled it at the last minute because it was too cloudy).

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Here’s one I drew earlier…as you can see, you don’t have to be a great artist to do this 😉

Delta Module 1 self-study tips

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Excellent in-flight reading material…

I self-studied for Delta Module 1, which I sat in June 2018, getting a Distinction. Since then, several friends and colleagues have asked me about how I studied and the resources I used, so I thought I’d write a list and share it here in case it’s useful for anyone else.

Note: I’m not a Delta tutor and I don’t have any inside information. I can only share what worked for me. If what I say contradicts something that your Delta tutor said, go with your Delta tutor…they obviously know more than me 😉
Why I decided to self-study

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to prepare for Modules 1 and 3 at the same time (with hindsight, I don’t recommend this if you want to have any kind of social life as I very rarely managed to have a guilt-free evening off from February-early June). I could only afford to pay for one prep course, and I thought it was more important to get help with drafting the Module 3 assignment, so I did a Module 3 online prep course through IH Wrocław (which I would recommend). At the time, I was also lucky enough to be working in a school, IH Bydgoszcz, where I had several colleagues who were happy to help me with the trickier parts of Module 1 (thank you Sandy, Helen, and Shannon 🙂 ).
General approach

It seemed to me that a large part of doing well in Module 1 is down to exam technique, and therefore doing lots of exam practice should help (a clear example of “negative backwash” in action, which I found very frustrating at times). I adopted what was essentially a test-teach-test approach: when I started studying for Module 1, I did a full past paper to see which areas were the most difficult for me, worked on those areas and then did another past paper (and repeat…). So don’t put off doing past papers – I found them very tough at first but they got easier with more practice.

Accessing past papers can be difficult. There’s a sample test on the Cambridge English website . Here are links to some more past papers (the format of the exam changed slightly in 2015 and most of these are pre-2015 papers, but are still useful to practise with. Here’s a summary of the changes). I think that Cambridge really needs to make more past papers generally available, otherwise people who can afford to pay for prep courses are at even more of an advantage.

Before you start studying, make sure that you know what you need to do for each part of the exam (the Delta handbook has information about how each question is marked). I made a poster with this information and put it on my noticeboard. The examiners’ reports also have information about how to get marks for each question, and examples of good and bad answers.
There’s never enough time…

From February-early June 2018, I spent some time almost every day working on Delta (the only days I had off were my best friend’s wedding day, and a couple of days when my family were visiting…I wouldn’t recommend copying this, I was exhausted by May and just wanted it to be over). I’d estimate that, split between Modules 1 and 3, I spent 1 -2 hours studying every week day, and between 5-20 hours at weekends, depending on whether a Module 3 deadline was fast approaching or not. Using the test-teach-test approach I described above helped me use my time more efficiently: I realised that I needed to prioritise learning phonemic script and memorising terms and definitions, so I spent some time every day working on these areas.
Resources and tips
Specific Delta exam prep resources

  • ELT Concourse has a free Delta Module 1 prep course. As they recommended spending at least 150 hours on it, I didn’t have time to use all of it (or even most of it), but the parts I did use were helpful (although I also found the site confusing to navigate at times).
  • I found Damian William’s How to Pass Delta very useful for getting an overview of how to approach each part of the exam. It has examples of good and bad answers, and tips on how to score more marks and looks more user-friendly than the examiners’ reports.
  • Both Sandy Millin and Lizzie Pinard have written incredibly detailed guides on how to prepare for Delta Module 1. They both refer to the pre-2015 Module 1 exam, but the tips are still relevant if you bear this in mind.

General resources (things that are useful for more than one section of the exam)

  • Tricia Hedge’s Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom was a useful starting point for me – it goes into a good level of detail and helped me to see what areas I needed to look into further.
  • I used the Macmillan Sound Foundations app to brush up on my phonemic script. It’s the only app I’ve ever paid for and it was well worth the money. I tried to use it every day for a few minutes, and I could see myself improving.
  • Quizlet! The Delta Quizlet class has more sets than you can shake a stick at. They’re obviously very useful for Paper 1, Tasks 1 and 2, but some of the sets are useful for other parts of the exam.

Paper 1, Tasks 1 and 2

I’ve grouped these together, because I prepared for them both in the same way: learning terms and definitions. I used Quizlet (I used some of the sets uploaded by other people but also made my own, because this helped me remember/understand more) and also made my own paper flashcards for the things I found hardest to remember (hello, features of connected speech and manner and place of articulation 😉 ). The ELT Glossary on An ELT Notebook was really helpful for this.

N.B. The new exam differs slightly from the pre-2015 version. instead of having to write a definition, example and further point in Task 2, you now only have to write a definition for a given term (2 marks) and an example (1 mark) – but you don’t get the mark for the example if the definition is incorrect. In Task 1, you also have to write 6 terms, instead of choosing 4 out of 6, like in the past.
Paper 1, Task 3

I didn’t do much specific prep for this task. I occasionally tried to do the task with activities I was going to use in class and I looked at coursebooks for levels that I wasn’t so familiar with, to get an idea of the key language points often taught at those levels. But I didn’t find this task particularly difficult – the thing I found hardest was remembering to include a range of language features (e.g. lexis, functions and subskills/discourse features), not just grammar! And don’t forget to put an example for each point 😉
Paper 1, Task 4

Again, I didn’t do much specific prep here. When I marked student writing, I sometimes tried to imagine what I’d say about a particular piece of work if it came up in the exam, but that was it really.

Remember that you might get a spoken text, instead of a written one (I did…). If it’s a spoken text, they will ask you to comment on some features of the student’s pronunciation (among other things), and some words or phrases will have been transcribed in phonemic script, giving you a clue of what to focus on (remember, some of the transcribed phrases may be strengths 😉 ). I wish I’d been more confident with terminology here, as I was asked to comment on the student’s pronunciation of dental fricatives, and I spent about 5 minutes writing a list of all the dental phonemes I could remember and then all of the fricatives, to try and work out which were dental fricatives…

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And speaking of dental fricatives… (I found this on Facebook, original source unknown).

Paper 1, Task 5

Ugh! This task was definitely not my favourite (actually, I’m not sure it’s even possible to have a favourite Delta Module One task. I’ll rephrase: this task was the one I dreaded the most…) And it’s worth a whopping 50% of the marks for Paper 1. I was very rushed for time with this question on the day because I left it until last. With hindsight, it would have been better to spend the first half of the exam (so, 45 minutes) doing as much as I could of it, then moving onto the other tasks and coming back to task 5 if I had any time left over.
Part a): This part is only worth 5 marks, so I tried not to spend more than 5 minutes on it. Scott Thornbury’s Beyond the Sentence helped me think about genre features in a bit more depth than I had done before. I think it’s also helpful to look at authentic materials you come across in your every day life, thinking about how you know what genre they belong to (e.g. what makes a leaflet a leaflet?). In my exam, we had to comment on the rules for playing a board game (I kept thinking that the board game seemed quite fun to play – much more fun than to analyse….).
Parts b), c) and d): In these parts, you have to comment on the meaning, use, form and pronunciation of various language items taken from the same authentic text as in part a).

  • I used Scott Thornbury’s About Language to work on my language awareness (I worked through most of it in the few months leading up to the exam).
  • ELT Concourse has a really useful Language Analysis course that I used to help me with some of the trickier language points.
  • I tried to put my knowledge of phonology into practice by writing notes in phonemic script to a colleague who was revising for her DipTesol, and this helped me think more about connected speech. I also got very bored when revising one day and labelled lots of furniture in my flat with Post-Its with phonemic script on.
  • I looked at the Examiners’ Reports to get a better idea of how to get more marks – the main thing seemed to be including lots of detail, especially in the analysis of form. So, for example, “he goes” isn’t just “present simple” but “irregular 3rd person present simple of ‘go’ with personal pronoun ‘he'” (I’m sure this analysis can be improved, but just to give you an idea…).
  • I also tried to make as many points as possible here, even if I wasn’t completely sure about some of them (you don’t get marks taken off for incorrect answers).

Paper 2, Task 1

This is where studying for Module 3 concurrently was really helpful – I’d had to read about testing and assessment for Module 3 and apply the theory to the course I’d designed.

  • The most useful book I read was Arthur Hughes’ Testing for Language Teachers.
  • The guide to testing and assessment on ELT Concourse was also really helpful, with definitions and examples of all the key terminology.
  • This infographic (from A Hive of Activities) gave me more ideas of what questions to ask when evaluating a test (again, the marking has changed slightly, but the questions are still relevant).

Applying the theory to the tests your classes are doing (or, if you’re in a bad mood, analysing the Delta Module 1 exam in relation to your needs as a teacher 😉 ) is a good way to practise. And in the exam, remember to relate the points you make to the student’s needs.
Paper 2, Task 2

I haven’t got too much to say about this one. I found it quite difficult at times, but it got easier when I practised using material from random coursebooks (I tried to focus on the lesson types I felt less confident teaching). I also made mind-maps with useful language/key assumptions and reasons taken from the Examiners’ Reports, as I sometimes had trouble finding the right words to express what I meant.

In the exam, I’d recommend circling the exercises you’ve been asked to analyse, to make sure you only talk about them. I also found that trying to do these exercises myself was 5 minutes well-spent.
Paper 2, Task 3

a.k.a the completely random pot-luck one. I was initially pretty nervous about this question (a combination of fear of getting a topic that I knew nothing about and being generally pretty bad at writing to time) but then I hit on a strategy. This task is worth 40 marks (30 marks for breadth and 10 for depth). To get full marks for breadth, you need to make 15 correct points (each point is worth 2 marks). To get good marks for depth, you need to consistently refer to your experience, or examples, or a range of contexts, or sources, or theories. My strategy was to do this task first, spending about 35 minutes on it. First, I tried to make as many points as I could (up to 15), just writing a topic sentence for each point. So, for a question about the difficulties students have with idioms and fixed expressions (the topic that came up in my exam), one point could be that ‘students sometimes have difficulty identifying the correct register for an idiom, meaning that they can sound overly-formal or rude’. After I’d written as many points as I could, I used the rest of the 35 minutes I’d allocated to the task to go back and add as many examples or references to theory as I could. So, for the point I made above, the example I used was about a student who had little exposure to natural English thinking that ‘die’ and ‘kick the bucket’ were equivalent in register.

I sometimes had difficulty thinking of enough ideas when I did practice papers, so I came up with this checklist:

  • How does this topic relate to different theories of language learning/methodologies (e.g. grammar-translation, behaviourism etc.)?
  • Have you ever read any methodology books or blog posts about this topic? What did they say?
  • How does this topic relate to different contexts (teaching one-to-one, in a multilingual/monolingual environment, teaching exams, teaching business English, teaching ESP) or different groups of students (adults, teens, YLs, students from different nationalities, students with different learning preferences/previous experiences of learning languages)? Can you think of any examples from your own classes?

To prepare for this part of the exam, I tried to learn a bit more about methodology. I really enjoyed watching Chia Suan Chong’s webinar, A trip down the memory lane of methodology – it was one of the most interesting things I read/watched in the whole of Delta!
One final tip

Studying can be really boring, even if you’re a bit of a languages geek like me. So do whatever it takes to make it more fun. As I mentioned above, writing jokes in phonemic script really helped me learn the phonemic alphabet better. And when I was trying to remember the key points of different methods, I chose a different Minions sticker to represent each one.

Good luck!

Coming full circle

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Autumn on campus

It was seven years ago last week that I started my first EFL teaching job, as a language assistant with the British Council, at the Universidad de Talca, in Talca, a medium-sized Chilean provincial city about three hours south of the capital, Santiago.

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Me at the Universidad de Talca.

I still have very vivid memories of that year in my life:

  • how much I enjoyed teaching and spending time with my students (I’m still in contact with some of them now);
  • how Talca felt like a different world from Santiago, where I’d previously lived for a year as a student (and how I enjoyed living there so much more once I got to know some of my colleagues and students much better);
  • the feeling of being thrown in at the deep end (I taught my first day of classes without ever even having met my boss or having been shown round the department);
  • how little training I’d had for the job I was doing (I had had no EFL training whatsoever, and the British Council induction day we went on focussed almost exclusively on admin requirements; I didn’t get any training whilst I was working there, either);
  • how patient my line manager was and how she trusted me and was happy to let me experiment;
  • how frustrating the bureaucracy was (I was often paid late, once up to 3 months late, due to problems with paperwork, with the British Council either unable or unwilling to do anything about the situation at my host university).

At the end of that year, I said goodbye to Talca with very mixed feelings. I had a place to do a Masters in Latin American Studies and I didn’t imagine that I’d ever work as an EFL teacher again.

Fast forward seven years and (after a Masters, some time back home, a CELTA, teaching in Poland and the UK, and Delta) and I’m now back in Chile, working in Santiago as a teacher and CELTA trainer in a private language school. And last week, two British Council language assistants arrived at the language school branch that I teach some General English classes at.

Unlike when I was a language assistant (I started teaching on my very first day but “only” taught conversation), they get to observe classes for a term before starting to teach (but then could be asked to teach any class, which is less than ideal….). They’ll have a more-or-less fixed timetable of observing the teachers who work at the branch, including me, but no other formal training (neither have CELTA but I believe that one of them has done an online course). I want to help them as much as possible and give them some training, both for their sakes and for the benefit of their future students (“The British Council Language Assistant program promotes a native speakerist ideology. Discuss.”). My boss is very happy for me to do this, but there are certain practical difficulties, mainly involving a lack of time and a lack of structure.

So far, my ideas are along the lines of:

  • getting them involved as much as possible in the classes, participating in speaking activities but also monitoring students;
  • giving them observation tasks (possibly similar to CELTA observation tasks) so that they can really focus on teaching techniques;
  • eventually working towards them planning and carrying out some activities with one of my classes, with me observing and giving feedback.

I managed to briefly discuss this with both of the language assistants and they are keen to get some training but (understandably) don’t really know of any specific needs they’ve got (although they’ve admitted to being nervous about teaching grammar, which isn’t really surprising).

I’ve only been observed by one of them so far (with my B1 young adult class) and it went reasonably well. I got my students to interview him, and then he observed the rest of the class, taking part in some of the speaking activities. As I didn’t have time to prepare an observation task, I asked him just to write down things that surprised him/were different from his previous experience of learning languages, and we discussed them after the lesson.

I’d be grateful for any other ideas (or ideas for specific observation tasks)…

Sherlock

This semester, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching a lovely group of young adults on an intensive B2-level course. A couple of the students are big fans of the TV series Sherlock and asked me if we could watch some of it in class, so I came up with the following lesson plan, designed to help develop students’ listening skills and raise awareness of some differences between spoken and written language.

The video clip I used is taken from the episode “A Study in Pink” (Season 1, Episode 1) and shows Sherlock meeting John Watson for the first time. (The whole episode can also be found on Netflix).

Here’s what we did:

  1. Working in pairs, students discussed the following questions: Do you watch any detective series or films? and What are the characteristics of a good TV detective?
  2.  I then showed students pictures of Sherlock and John and elicited what they already knew about them. Everyone had heard of Sherlock and about half the class had watched some of the series, which is more or less what I was expecting.
  3. I then played the video and asked the students to answer these questions: What do Sherlock and John decide to do? How would you describe them? I then gave them time to work together and compare the words and phrases they’d chosen to describe both characters.
  4. For the next activity, I split the students into pairs, making sure that each pair could access the video on their phones. I then asked them to work together to transcribe the conversation between John and Mike at the beginning of the clip (up to 00:40). I gave them the first line to start them off (“Are you still at Bart’s then?” – Bart’s is a teaching hospital in London where Mike works).
    I monitored and helped as necessary. This was a challenging activity, but overall they did quite well.
    Once all the pairs had transcribed most of the conversation, I gave out my version of the transcript and we compared the differences between my transcript and theirs, discussing reasons for them. The parts that caused the most difficulty were the weak forms in “Are you getting yourself sorted?” and the elision in “I can’t afford”.
    Here’s the transcript with the areas that the students had difficulty with highlighted.
  5. In pairs, students looked at the transcript again and identified features that are characteristic of spoken language, rather than written language. I projected the transcript onto the board and they came to the board and circled them. We then discussed them. Here’s a list of what we came up with (probably not exhaustive, but mostly new to the students):
    Fillers: uh-huh, yeah, oh.
    Ellipsis: Just staying in town, I’m not the John Watson.
    Short forms: gonna
    Vague language: get a flatshare or something.

    I emphasised that students didn’t necessarily have to use these features in their own conversations (although it would help them to sound more natural) but that knowing about these features would help their listening comprehension.

  6. I felt that after quite a lot of work on listening and spoken grammar, the students needed to finish with something lighter, so I divided the students into two groups, one Sherlock and one John, and asked them to imagine that Sherlock and John were going to have a conversation to decide if they really wanted to live together and prepare some questions to ask. After that, they split into pairs and role-played the conversation – there were some very entertaining conversations.

Overall, this lesson worked well – the students enjoyed it and it gave me a chance to focus on intensive listening and authentic language use in a different way, which was something that this group really needed.

Chile, one month in.

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The view from my flat (with the Andes in the distance!)

It’s 1am and I can’t sleep for the thoughts swirling round my head, so I thought I’d try to write them down.

  • I’ve been in Chile for just over a month now –  and what an amazing, overwhelming, exhausting month it’s been. In this time, I’ve met up with old friends, made some new ones, found a flat to live in (and bought furniture and moved in)…and, of course, started my new job (as well as teaching, I’m now training to be a CELTA tutor, designing a TKT methodology course and helping to design an in-house coursebook – all of which are interesting but challenging in their own right).
  • One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself in the past month is that I really need to be more patient – patient with others, patient with the never-ending bureaucracy that comes with moving to another country, but most of all, patient with myself whilst I settle into my new life here. Arriving in Santiago a month ago felt, in some strange way like coming home. I lived here in my early 20s and have a really strong emotional connection to the city. I was incredibly excited to be here for the first couple of weeks, only to then be floored by a intense bout of homesickness (which was made worse by how guilty I felt about it – “I’ve lived here before, I shouldn’t be feeling like this”). I’m starting to feel much better, but am still not sure how I’ll cope with being away from home for 2 whole years.
  • To me, learning a language has always been about communication (ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to travel the world and be able to talk to people in their language). It’s only recently that I’ve started to realise how closely language and power are connected – and how much being able to speak Spanish fluently affects my day-to-day life. I feel so much more confident and independent than I did when I lived in Poland (and didn’t speak Polish well).
  • Teaching in a different context has given me the chance to re-evaluate my beliefs about teaching. I feel very strongly that, as a language teacher, I don’t just teach a subject, I teach people – complex, beautiful human beings. And my job is, as far as possible (given the constraints of the classroom situation) to help my students learn in the best way for them (which often involves try to boost their confidence first). One of my students paid me the loveliest compliment the other day: “Emma, I feel that you know that we are all different in this class and you plan the class thinking about this”….well, I try, at least!
  • Even (especially?!) after Delta, I’m scared of observations – of having all the work put into a lesson weighed up, analysed and spat out into a grade out of 100 (yes, that really happens here).  Of not meeting people’s expectations (even if they’re only my own).  But I also think, in some ways, that it’s good that I feel like this – as a large part of teacher training involves observing people and giving feedback, I need to know and remember what being on the other end of the process is like.
  • I’m still trying to figure out what professional development means for me right now. In some ways, I’m quite involved in other people’s professional development (apart from training to be a CELTA tutor, I’ve also been designing methodology courses), which perhaps makes it all the stranger that I don’t quite know what to focus on next myself. The process of moving here and getting used to my new job has been so all-consuming that I’m not feeling as energetic or motivated as I’d like to at the moment; nor do I really know what’s possible (in times of time, money, resources). I miss having geeky teaching conversations…
  • That said, training to be a CELTA tutor is great – I’m learning so much and really enjoying working with the trainees. It’s also pushing me to improve my own teaching, which can only be a good thing (practising what I preach, eh). The most difficult thing for me at the moment is trying to guide the trainees rather than telling them too much – hopefully this is a skill that I can develop quickly! And I’ll soon be delivering my first input session (exciting!).

    I realise that some of this is quite personal, but I’ve decided to post it anyway – I reckon it’ll be useful to remember how I felt at this point. Buenas noches! 

Desert Island Discs, the ELT version

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Photo from ELT Pics by worldteacher. (Used under a Creative Commons licence)

Packing your entire life into two suitcases and a rucksack ready to move continents isn’t a particularly easy task, especially when your approach to books and clothes is pretty much the opposite of Marie Kondo’s (although I’d very much like to get rid of some of the work clothes I’ve just bought as they really don’t “spark joy” in me…).

This reminded me of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs, where celebrities have to choose eight tracks, a book and a luxury item to take to a desert island. What, I wondered, would the ELT version of this be? So I asked the following question on Twitter and got loads of replies (thanks everyone, there are so many books I want to read now!).

So, here are the books I actually ended up packing. As my new job involves both teaching in a private language school and teacher training, I tried to pick resources that would be both interesting for me and potentially useful for my future trainees.

  • Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (by Tricia Hedge). I found this to be a really useful overview of different theoretical and methodological issues when I was doing Delta.
  • Teaching English Grammar: What to Teach and How to Teach it (by Jim Scrivener). This book was known as “the magic grammar book” in a previous job and, looking at it, it’s easy to see why. It covers a wide range of grammar points and provides example situational presentations, information about meaning (including possible CCQs) and form, and examples of common student errors.
  • Another one by Scrivener: Classroom Management Techniques. So many ideas in one book!
  • Teaching Unplugged (by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury). I really want to experiment more with Dogme…I don’t think I’ve quite “got” it yet. I don’t normally have problems with noticing and clarifying emergent language but then don’t always know where to go from there.
  • About Language (by Scott Thornbury). For those tricky grammar questions.
  • From Rules to Reasons (by Danny Norrington-Davies). I read bits of this last year and enjoyed trying out some of the ideas. Hopefully, now I’m finished with Delta, I’ll have more time and mental space to keep experimenting.
  • ELT Playbook 1 (by Sandy Millin). It’s always exciting to buy a book by someone you know (Sandy was my DoS at IH Bydgoszcz). And the reflection tasks will be useful for my teaching and also for teacher training.
  • Listening in the Language Classroom (by John Field). Is it cheating if it’s on Kindle?! I read this book right in the middle of Delta Module 2 and want to try some of the ideas for developing bottom-up listening skills with my new classes in Chile.

And one object:

  • Rory’s Story Cubes. Great for creative activities and so much fun!

 

What are your Desert Island ELT Books? 

(The idea for this post was taken from a task in Sandy Millin’s ELT Playbook Teacher Training.)