Monday, 14 January 2013

Classroom activity - Would I Lie To You?

Just a quick entry about a classroom activity I trialled today and worked well - I've called it 'would I lie to you?'after the BBC TV programme.
This activity works best at intermediate level and above, although I used it with an E3 group, who are actually a good pre-intermediate level, and can be used as a way of writing present perfect sentences and asking questions in past simple to elicit further information.
Teacher writes something on the board about themselves, e.g. 'I have written a novel'. Tell the students that they must ask a question to get more information. Put students in pairs/groups, and get them to brainstorm questions. They must then decide which question would be the best to ask, and , of course, ask it. The aim is to produce questions using past dime, but monitor and allow questions in other tenses if appropriate, e.g. 'How much money have you made?', as one of my students came up with :)
Place the students into groups of four, and tell them that they must now write down something about themselves that no-one else in the room knows. Make sure they use ' I have....' Or 'I have never....' Model some sentences if necessary, e.g. 'I have met The Queen' or 'I have never learned to ride a bike'. Students write down their secret on a piece of paper, and share it with their group. The teacher then collects the secrets, and distributes them to another group.
The groups must then decide a question for each secret to ask to get more information. Teacher monitors to help/ suggest etc. The groups then ask each member of the other group the same question, and decide which person is telling the truth. If they guess correctly, they get a point. It is then the other group's turn.
This was a fun activity, and very good for consolidating tense use, although some students found it difficult at first to make up a story - however, by the end, they became extremely inventive!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Web Profiles

Well, it's back to the grind once more. I arrived back at work on the third for a day of speeches and workshops and Working Stuff Out On Flipchart Paper. Reading College is actually not bad at delivering lots of CPD - there's quite a variety, although it does tend to be aimed at newer teachers, I find. In fact, I have delivered CPD sessions myself, something I quite enjoy. It's always nice to do the teacher equivakent of a Show and Tell, and have your work recognised.
Doing one of the training sessions last week, however, I was a little surprised to see a worksheet with something a bit familiar on it. A web of some kind.
'Right, we've got these here', said the CPD leader in our room, 'Now, what I think you've got to do with these is draw a little spider on them, showing where you think your department are in relation to one of these key criteria....'
I looked at the diagram. There was no doubt about it - it was MY idea. The trouble was, it was a poor imitation of it, and the person leading the exercise didn't understand it!
What a bloody cheek.
Now, I wouldn't mind if they'd acknowledged my name somewhere - I feel ideas should be shared, within reason. I also wouldn't have minded so much if they'd deployed it correctly, which they didn't. It was the combination of using the idea poorly and no acknowledgement which really narked me.
So, I hear you cry, what is this idea then?
Simple: It's a Web Profile, or a GLAW (Global Language/Learning Ability Web) Profile, and I'm going to share with you how it works.
The idea came out of a problem I'd been toying with during tutorial sessions with my students - how do you show a learner's ability and progress in the different areas of skills and systems (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary and Grammar) in relation to each other?
I began by toying with circles and blocks - the idea being that the bigger the circle or block, the greater the learner's knowledge of the skill or system represented. Then I reasoned that learning a language is all about expanding knowledge - that is, it is a holistic experience: In order to represent this, you need something that expands from a middle point.
After toying with circles and different gradients of colour, I then thought about segments to represent the different skills and systems we expect a learner to become proficient in, and suddenly, this was born:
In short, a simple web. Here's how it works. Let's label it with our skills and systems:
In this example, I've put the receptive skills on the left, the productive on the right and vocabulary and grammar at the bottom. I should point out that this is the simple version: We could quite easily break down vocabulary, for example, into passive and active knowledge (or at least that's what a couple of my students did when presented with this - but more on that later).
We then add the levels of knowledge. In the diagram below, I've used the CEFR scales from A1 to B2 as an example, with A1 representing the centre of the web and so on outwards:
Of course, we could use ESOL levels from E1 to L2, or add extra external layers to the web. We could also use criteria like the IELTS score scales or TOEFL boundaries. The whole point is that the web, as it expands, indicates greater profiency in the learner's language knowledge and mastery.
So, how do we use it? Simplicity itself: You just colour in the segments. So, you might have a learner who you judge to be at B1 as a speaker, but hasn't reached that level in writing. You just shade in the appropriate level. What immediately becomes apparent is the relationship between the different skills and systems - for example, someone who is poor in reading is likely to also have poor vocabulary, while someone else may have excellent grammar knowledge but finds it difficult to be productive.
We can also use two or more colours, to represent whether a learner's use of a particular area is weak, emergent or consolidated. In the (slightly exaggerated) example below, I've used a two-colour system (basically two flourescent markers ):

The beauty of this system is that it visually represents the learner's global, holistic use of a language. I have given these to students to complete themselves, then got them to compare their ideas with my own. During tutorials, it really allows the learner to understand which areas they need to focus on, and the relationships between the different areas that make up language.
However, it doesn't stop there: this profiling system can easily be adapted to other learning areas as well - indeed, several teachers in my college are looking how it can be used to help their students in areas such as Maths, Digital Photography and Plumbing!
We can also make it even more complex - for example, I did play around with adding all the key 'Can Do' statements for CEFR on it seeking to highlight specific targets, but keeping it simple seems to work better.
And THAT is how this is meant to work!
Feel free to experiment with it and use it - all I ask is a little acknowledgement :)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


First of all, Happy New Year everyone, and I hope that you all have great time in the classroom over 2013.
Now, I'm not one for making resolutions generally at this time of year, as I find that if I do, I end up a) with a ridiculously long list of propositions, b) I start off trying to do them at a manically high level of activity that is unsustainable and c) I rapidly get bored of them by about 3.30pm on the 1st.
One problem with making resolutions is that they are often made within the framework of giving up or forgoing something, e.g. 'I'm going to give up smoking'. The fact that they are worded in this way means that we end up in our heads fighting our way away from something, rather than making the resolution about an aim towards something. Taking the example above, if we make it 'I'm going to be healthier next month by saving money, as I won't be smoking this month' makes it seem something more concrete and attainable.
Anyway, what has this to do with an ELT Journal? Well, two things - firstly, a short list of resolutions for myself, aiming to be as positive as possible:
1) I'm going to keep this journal more regularly, with a greater focus on classwork.
2) By the middle of June, I will have handed out fewer photocopied pages to students.
3) I will make greater use of the students' various tech gadgets - smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc  - to creater more differentiated approaches.
That, I think, will do.
Secondly, just a thought about using New Year Resolutions in class. The obvious one is as practice and consolidation of future forms - as you probably noticed above, I've used will, going to and future perfect in  my little list. It depends, of course, on the level of your students, but resolutions can be a great way for learners to differentiate between future predictions (using will) and future plans and intentions (using going to). One thing I did last year was make students write down resolutions and predictions for the next 6 months for themselves, a classmate, me, and the world on a piece of paper. We then folded them up and put them in a box, which I sealed and didn't open until the last lesson of the year.
Another technique is to get students to make suggestions for what another person in class should do in the year to come - this is a change of focus towards giving advice of course, but it can be useful for getiting students to produce will/'ll/going to statements as well - learners discuss what other students have said, and reply to the suggestions made for themselves.
Of course, the one resolution all our learners should be making is to use more English! However, this may be easier said than done, so this time of year is a great time to remind learners of all the different ways they can engage with language learning outside the classroom. I find getting students to brainstorm ideas on flipchart paper works well, and once it has been done, students look at what others have written and pick a technique that they either haven't used or one they haven't used for a while, and promise to try it for a week or two.


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