Post-Exam Review Class Ideas

February 14, 2013

I just finished end of level testing with a group of adult students at a local company who are supposed to be at A1 CEF by now. I was looking for good ideas for post-exam review classes. Here’s what I came up with but would love to hear some of your ideas.

1.Spelling Review

Make a list of about 10 misspelled from students’ written tests. Add some correctly spelled words to the list. Give students a copy of the combined list and have them decide which words are spelled correctly and which ones incorrectly. Then have students correct the incorrect words.


2: Structure & Writing Review

Take example sentences from students’ writing and follow the same procedure as above but, this time, with whole sentences.  


3. Listening Review

Give students a worksheet containing parts of the exam  tape script but with some sentences missing. Students work together to fill in the missing parts of the conversations. They can then read their versions of the conversation out loud, while other students  listen and decide if conversations make sense with what was added. As a final step, students listen to the original audio and compare it with their own versions.

An alternative, or additional, exercise would be to treat longer audio scripts as a cloze or as a gap-fill exercise. Students complete gaps in audio script and then read through the conversation.   


Any other ideas for post exam review that you’d like to share?


Teaching with technology training session

September 5, 2012

I’d like to share the ideas and the links that I used in a practical training session on how teachers can use technology to do 3 things:

  1. to build up and manage their PLN (personal learning network)
  2. to connect with their students outside of the classroom
  3. to supplement their class material / with web resources

The teachers had just finished a 200-hour in service teacher’s certificate course but some felt that the sessions on using technology had not been practical enough. So, this “hands on” technology session was organised (nice example of teachers taking responsibility for their own development!).

I set up a quick web page using the fantastic Check This  for the participants to use throughout the session – it was to be completely paperless, with the teachers working online during the 4 hours.

To get teachers started I had them set up accounts on Twitter  – the best place to start building an online PLN.  Once set up, the teachers then found 10 TEFLers to follow.

To help the teachers think about managing online PLNs, I had them take the first steps in setting up a Netvibes account. Netvibes, which is one of  most attractive and user friendly sites for receiving web feeds, will suggest dashboard links for you to follow, based on topics that you suggest, even if you are not registered a user.

We then found some TEFL blogs to follow via Twitter and the teachers added the links to their Netvibes dashboard.

We also briefly explored ways of using Evernote to store, produce and share (with students) teaching materials and web content, and Scoop It for book marking and finding online teaching and learning resources.

To show the teachers how simple setting up a class webpage can be, I had them make a Check This page for their students and then post there a resource for learning English that they’d found on Twitter. Check This is just so simple to use!

Finally, the group used a collaborative Google spreadsheet to make notes on ways to use 7 different web tools  in class. All the tools were ones that I’ve come across via my own online PLN, including Bombay TV, Animoto and the BYU Corpus of Contemporary American English.

Despite initial problems with web connections and setting up Twitter accounts, the session went quite well. The aim was really to help teachers see that using the web for teaching purposes needn’t be intimidating and that getting started is quite straight forward.

Note: If you were to do a session like this, I’d suggest getting the Twitter accounts set up beforehand, as it took longer than planned…but we got there in the end.


UPTC 2012 Slides and Links

May 27, 2012

I was invited to give some talks at the annual teachers’ conference at La Universidad Panamericana in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The conference title was ENGLISH TEACHER DEVELOPMENT: A HUMANISTIC APPROACH.

The event was really well-organized and a real privilege to be part of. The teachers that attended were great fun too. It was also nice to meet one of my online PLN face-to-face for the first time and also great to extend my PLN further by making new connections.

I gave three sessions: one plenary titled Taking Responsibility for our Own Development; and two workshops, one on teaching using a Dogme framework, and another on using classroom observations as a tool for professional development. Prezi presentations and links for all three talks follow.

Plenary: Taking Responsibility For Our Own Development

In my plenary talk, after quickly looking at how humanistic approaches had found their way into our classrooms through various techniques, methods and approaches, and after considering the weaknesses of various models of teacher development, I argued that the best kind of teacher development would naturally be humanistic in nature. We explored a number of practical steps that teachers could take to kick start their own development, including conducting focused classroom observations and developing an online PLN. Participants were very responsive to the ideas proposed. You can see the Prezi presentation here:

Or see it on Prezi, here.

Web links:
Here’s Brian Tomlinson’s article on the dangers of in-service teacher training, from the Teacher Trainer journal.

And Tomlinson’s article on materials development TD sessions here, from Humanising Language Teaching Magazine.

Here’s a link to Russel Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos, which is where the original idea for using screencasts for grading students’ written work comes from. There are also plenty of other fantastic videos about using technology in the classroom on Russel’s site.

Here’s a link to the International Teacher Development Institute.

Links to books:

Here’s a link to Michael Wallace’s Training Foreign Language Teachers.

Ruth Wajnryb’s book on classroom observation provides a comprehensive, practical guide to using classroom observations as a teacher development tool.

Also, the first edition of Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching had an excellent collection of focused observation tasks, but I couldn’t find the observation tasks in the the latest edition, so I just tweeted him to find out why:

That’s what I was getting at in my talk when I said that the world is flat!

For an extensive overview of teaching methodology, read Richards and Schmidt.

I also mentioned that David Nunan’s Second Language Teaching and Learning was a must read for anybody want to their classes more student-focused.

Dogme ELT – Preparing Class Materials-Light
I ran a workshop on teaching using a Dogme framework. The first part of the session was a micro-lesson sequence involving a dictogloss task about an embarrassing travel experience. I read my anecdote out loud twice, allowing the he participants to take notes the second time. Participants then worked in small groups to reconstruct the text. We then briefly looked at the uses of the past progressive for providing background information, and finally students told each other about their own funny / embarrassing travel experiences.

In the second part of the session, we analysed the dictogloss sequence using the following criteria: Was is productive? Was it communicative? Did it integrate language skills? Was there a focus on form? We then moved on to look at the rationale and principals behind Dogme ELT and looked at Dale Coulter’s excellent ideas of using lesson skeletons to prepare for Dogme classes. The final stage required participants to design a lesson skeleton for an interaction-driven Dogme activity.

The participants really seemed to enjoy this session and I got a lot of good feedback.

See it in Prezi here. And you can click this link: Dogme Handouts, for the handout containing the interaction-driven tasks that I used in the final stage of the session.

Scott Thornbury on Dogme.

Thornbury and Meddings book,Teaching Unplugged – the link also has downloadable parts of the book in PDF.

Dale Coulter’s Language Moments blog.

Martin Sketchley’s e-book on incorporating Dogme into your teaching.

Initiating Classroom-Based Action Research Projects: Observation Tasks
The third talk was a workshop on using classroom observation as tool for professional development and it drew heavily on Ruth Wajnryb’s book on observation tasks.

The session started with the participants reflecting on their experiences of classroom observation before we brainstormed and discussed the different aspects of the learning and teaching process that could be the focus of observations. The participants then analysed a series of observation forms before planning their own observation plan.

The session went well but the participants initially struggled to see the idea of observation as anything other than an assessment tool. Hopefully by the end of the session, they were beginning to see the potential that observation tasks hold for teacher development! Here’s the Prezi slide show:

See it here on Prezi.

Ruth Wajnrib’s Classroom Observation Tasks

Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching

Student-Generated Comprehension Questions

February 8, 2012

Paul Emmerson, the TEFL writer / trainer has an excellent section on his website with tips on using authentic texts in class which involve zero preparation.

I’d been looking for ways to make work incorporating authentic reading and listening texts purposeful and fun without depending too heavily on worksheets (last thing my production workers want either before or after their 9-hour shift is a worksheet; and part of the ongoing “unplugging” of my teaching!) and was delighted to find Paul’s ideas. I’d like to add to Paul’s ideas with a couple of my own.

Image-based Text Summaries.
Show students a collection of photos related to the article / report that you’re going to use (a lot of online newspapers have news galleries that you can use – see the Guardian ones, for example). Instruct students to write down a few words /phrases that come to mind with each picture. Get students to pool their ideas and write a 2-or-3-sentence summary of what they expect to see / hear in the story. When students are done, give them the text to check their ideas. They can then amend or add to their summaries.

Key Info Prediction Task
Activate students’ prior knowledge and topic knowledge by looking at the headline and photo of a news article and pre-teach any necessary vocabulary. Then, write some of the key details from the text on the board and have students try to guess what the details refer to – students can discuss their predictions pyramid style and come up with a final list. Then, give out the text and get students to check their answers.

Jumbled Articles
Find two different news articles and cut them up into sections which each contain 2 or 3 sentences. Give each pair of students the two jumbled stories and have them separate and order the texts. Once they have finished (and you have checked that the texts are in the right order) give one of the complete texts to one of the pair, and the other complete text to the other partner (i.e. text 1 to student A, and text 2 to student B) and have them write 3 or 4 comprehension questions based on their text. Finally, have students exchange texts and questions and get the students to answer each other’s questions about the text.

Typical Texts
With texts that tend to have a fairly predictable structure, such as film reviews or job ads, have students write questions that they expect the text to answer, then give out the text and have students answer their own questions (i.e. What happens in the film? Who stars in the film? What’s the salary? What are the main job responsibilities?) Here’s a sample text that you could use for this:

Would love to hear more ideas from you…

Organising Class Material with Evernote – ELT Library January Blog Challenge

January 25, 2012

I’d been thinking about writing a post on Evernote and a couple of other web tools that I’ve been using lately when I came across the ESL Library January blog challenge, which is about how teachers use bookmarking tools. So, here’s short post on how I’ve been using Evernote to organise content for some classes that I’m currently teaching. You can also see a screencast that I made using Evernote here.

Evernote allows you to create Notebooks for storing information that you find online. When you come across something interesting, you can clip it to Evernote. The easiest way to do this is by clicking the Evernote icon in your tool bar. Here’s what Evernote looks like (Click on the image to see a larger version):

What I really like about it though, is that in addition to web pages, I can also store other kinds of notes. Notes can be added as text, photos, or voice recordings and they can sit along side the web pages that have been clipped. In practical, classroom teaching terms, I can have a clipping of a news report that I want my students to watch, a clipping of a picture gallery related to the report, and next to them both, the corresponding worksheet that I will use in class (which I had previously typed up in Evernote!). I might also have a document with vocabulary that has come up in class there too which I can easily access and add to. All those things together in the same folder for easy retrieval!

Here’s one of the worksheets that I mentioned:

I can also share these via email, Twitter etc. This is handy for sharing worksheets, for example, with students.

The desktop version of Evernote means that I can see my clippings when I’m off-line, while the Android Evernote app allows me to take photos, record voice notes or type in notes on my phone and save them directly into the corresponding Evernote folder. Here’s an Evernote Snapshot of (not the neatest!) board work (to be used in planning the next class), taken via the Evernote app on my phone:

Of course, Evernote is completely searchable and searches will even recognise text in photos!

There are also some other Evernote related products that, from a teacher’s point of view, are really nice. One in particular is the Clearly extension. This changes any webpage into a text-only version, getting rid of menus, ads and other stuff that you might not want your students to look at. It also makes them easy to print out or copy and paste. Here’s a comparison of a news article from the BBC before and after the application of Clearly:

So there you go, that’s Evernote, which, so far, has been pretty useful.

Adaptable, Fun, Student-Centered? Too True, No Lie

November 21, 2011

Recently, I mentioned reading some great posts on Dogme and materials-light teaching (for Dogme teaching in a nutshell, see Oli Beddal’s post, here). While reading, one comment caught my attention – a comment in which a teacher talked about how he frequently uses variations of the game, 2 Truths and 1 Lie, in class, not only because it is materials-light but also (and more importantly) because it always goes down well with his students, and because it can be adapted for just about any language area.

“Two Truths and One Lie”, I thought. “I haven’t used that for a while!” And my mind wandered back to the early days of my teaching career. It’s a learning activity that I associate with the the period immediately after passing my CertTESOL. Part of the newly qualified teacher’s classroom survival kit.

But why? If it’s communicative, fun, adaptable, why did I stop taking advantage it?

With no good answer to my question, I decided to put Two Truths and One Lie’s adaptability to the test and put it to use in class last week.

My Challenge
I currently teach a number of blended courses at a large international company. Learners spend 2 hours working through a unit of Tell Me More – commercially available language learning software, and my colleagues and I are required to design and deliver the face-to-face element – two-and-a-half hours of consolidation work and productive skills development based on the online material.

Last week, the language areas that my group of B2/C1 level learners worked on on-line were lexis related to airports and, teacher’s favorite, reported speech. I challenged myself to work 2 Truths and One Lie into the lesson.

You can download my lesson notes and handouts by clicking the following link, Reported Speech 2 Truths 1 Lie

The Lesson Sequence
Rather than worry too much about tense change and “back shift”, I targeted reporting verbs, in order to expand the range of my learners’ vocabulary. I prepared a dialogue script – two friends discussing a recent travel nightmare. I initially used the script as a gapfill exercise to check some of the airport lexis that had been presented online (testing language seen online is a course requirement). After some brief teacher-centered, form-focused work on reporting and reporting verbs, I had learners use a number of reporting verbs to complete sentences about the conversation that they’d read in the previous stage. Learners then did some work analyzing the structures that follow the various reporting verbs before classifying the verbs as either “attitude” or “non-attitude” verbs (in line with the classification in Parrot).

Further consolidation work was provided by having learners listen to and take notes on a course book recording in which a couple discuss their honey-moon trip to Europe. Having compared notes, learners made reporting sentences based on the recording, using the verbs from the previous stages.

Two Truths and One Lie
I planned to use Two Truths and One Lie not only to provide fun speaking and listening practice but also as a vehicle for getting learners to use reported speech. I set up the activity, demonstrating with my own examples and having learners interrogate me. I then had them write their own sentences in order play the game before pairing them up and instruct them to start. I monitored discretely, taking notes and letting the activity run. Once the majority of pairs had finished, learners changed partners. I asked one learner to report back on the previous stage but pushed her to do so by using reporting verbs (i.e. “My partner claimed that…”,). I then instructed learners to report back on the previous stage to their new partners, using reporting verbs.

The lesson was effective in the sense that learners it provided further practice of work that learners had seen online, integrated all 4 skills, and provided study and fun (and hopefully) memorable practice of a notoriously difficult grammar area. In the final stage, learners had to be prompted, in some cases, to use the reporting verbs, but then expecting spontaneous production of new language so quickly is probably a little over optimistic.

So, Two Truths and One Lie passed my first test – it was easily adapted to fit my class last week. And I will endeavor to put to use in a different class this week too. And leads me to my final question: Is good teaching (or a least a large part of it) simply about having a repertoire of highly adaptable, easy-to-set-set up, learner-centered activities?

Focus on patterns, not just exceptions

November 2, 2011

My advanced level students seemed surprised yesterday when I corrected their mispronunciation of the words figure and feature by referring to the pronunciation of bigger and teacher. Of course, negative transfer from the L1 means that Spanish speakers tend to pronounce words as they are written and thus pronounce the u in the final syllable of the two words mentioned above. Yet, the final syllable of words in English spelled er, re, or, our, ure, ar, tend to be pronounced in the same way – /ə(r)/.

It surprises me that this particular pronunciation pattern hadn’t been pointed out to my students’ before, as they worked their ways up to an advanced level.

Surely part of our jobs as language teachers is to work with, and exploit patterns and regularities (as well as the exceptions!) in English.

Another example of this kind of thing, with beginner level students, might be showing how regular English question patterns are – e.g. Can you..? / Do you..? Did you..? Are you..? and working with this pattern, rather than over-analyzing conjugations and subject and auxiliary inversion.

It would nice to hear other patterns that you think English teachers should exploit!