Looking for cohesive devices?

August 17, 2009

Apparently, according to my blog stats, a lot of people have found their way here as a result of searching the terms cohesion and cohesive devices. Well, those people must have been utterly disappointed to find only a passing reference to cohesion in a post about using songs in the classroom. I do apologise – as a fellow teacher, I’ve spent hours painstakingly rummaging through websites in search of exercises, articles, pictures etc. to use in class. Are my tags misleading? Do you feel like I’ve been wasting your time? I’m sorry.

In order make amends I have uploaded a couple of worksheets on cohesion. This one focuses on lexical cohesion. It’s based on two newspaper articles about food in New York and Mexico City.
The other focuses on grammatical cohesion – ellipsis to be precise – and is based on a recent David Letterman interview with Johnny Depp. You can watch the interview here:


Both are fairly challenging and are aimed at learners at B2 (CEFR) level learners and above. There’s also a collaborative writing activity on car safety which works on cohesion on my materials page. More exercises on cohesion to follow.

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For authentic listening material, just Ask!

August 6, 2009

In a recent discussion with a group of Mexican teachers about the importance of using authentic listening texts in class, I was surprised to hear someone say that finding such material is difficult.

Surprised because it seems to me that never before has it been easier for teachers to expose learners to real language in the classroom. The availability of so many free web-based audio and video streaming, recording and editing tools combined with the popularity of all kinds of different reality TV shows means that we can easily get our hands on messy, idiomatic, ungrammatical real language or samples of different world Englishes.

“Old hat!”, I hear you say
Now, obviously I am by no means the first to write about using reality TV in classroom. Here’s an excellent article from the the Internet TESL Journal, for example. Meanwhile, Gary Denness, author of the excellent Mexile blog, was actually on Big Brother talking about teaching with Big Brother.

What I wish to bring to the attention of teachers here in Mexico and beyond, however, is this:

Jing screen shot of Ask & Record Tool Bar

Jing screen shot of Ask & Record Tool Bar

The Ask and Record tool bar. It’s great! It allows you to record live any audio that is playing from your computer.

Yeah, and..?
You may be wondering what the point is – after all, you could just play the Youtube or Dailymotion video in the classroom, right? Well, what I love about this is that you can record just the segment or snippet of the video that you want to focus on. I mean, sometimes you don’t want students to watch the whole video; perhaps only a few turns of a conversation are really of interest; perhaps students will be distracted by the visual information when you really want to work on their listening skills; perhaps there’s no internet in the classroom; perhaps you only have access to a CD player…Whatever, this is a very cool tool for teachers. You can download it here.

Over egg it, why don’t you?
Unfortunately, you may have to sit through hours of mindnumbing, crap telly in order to find something you can actually use in class. But do not fear, help is at hand – I set up a Posterous page with some snippets of real English so that you can see what I mean. Please take a look here. Feel free to use it and contribute.


Teacher Development Through Songs

July 27, 2009

After apparently looking at some of the song-based activities on my materials page, a teacher that is currently taking a language awareness course with us asked me an interesting question – “How do you decide on the kinds of activities to do with a song other than filling the gaps?”

It was a question that got me thinking and then made me realise that perhaps I don’t always have learners’ needs or interests at heart when I’m planning classes!

Or, to put it another way, I have selfishly exploited songs in order to further my own teacher development without a care for the needs or interests of my learners!

Anyway, in response to the teacher’s question, after thinking for a few seconds, I made a rather bold statement: “You can do anything with a song!”

Such a statement needs to be qualified, so here goes…

Filling in the gaps
Now, as good EFL practitioner, supposedly well-read on contemporary methodology, I should stress the importance of basing decisions about content on learner needs – and that of course holds true for songs that we choose to use in class and types of task that we plan and design use with them. In an ideal world we should ask ourselves what our students are going to get out of doing these tasks with this song and how is it going to help them.

But, how many teachers working in EFL/ESL live in an ideal world?

So…first of all, let it be said that there is nothing inherently wrong with simply filling in the gaps and talking about the lyrics. That is perfectly acceptable – particularly if the song has been requested by students because they like it. Indeed, by letting students choose a song to do in class you will be making your classes more learner-centred and David Nunan will be very happy. It also gets you dogma brownie points. Filling in the gaps is okay too when the song is being used as a bit of light relief…a change from the monotony of the coursebook (the it’s Friday afternoon, let’s do a song syndrome).

Second, the lyrics of some songs naturally lend themselves to work on particular grammatical structures –I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 and Should I Stay of Should I Go by the Clash come to mind as obvious examples. Meanwhile Where The Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave and Kylie is great for focusing on cohesive devices (although, when I did that one, a couple of my students complained to the school’s owner about the song being too depressing and I was told that I could only use songs suggested by students from then on and after being coerced into doing a class on a Savage Garden song, I stopped using songs until I changed jobs).

It’s all about me, me, me!
But for me, regardless of learner needs or interests, or indeed syllabus content, using songs has been just another way to put what methodology stuff that I’ve read into practice – a means of self-directed teacher development.

Here’s a specific example – after reading Mario Rinvolucri’s More Grammar Games I was really keen to try out some of cognitive activities inspired by Caleb Gattegno (yes, those Silent Way activities that were dismissed as pure hippy nonsense on my CertTESOL course). So what did I do? I downloaded the lyrics of The Importance of Being Idle, which at that time was one of the most played tracks on my iTunes and got to work and set about eliminating the final two words of each line of the first verse and removing the gaps between words in the chorus. The results of that particular endeavour can be found on the teaching materials page on this blog.

A similar thing happened when it occurred to me one day that I had been shamelessly neglecting to do work on diphthongs with my Mexican learners and that it was probably because I didn’t feel confident enough with my knowledge of phonology to do it. So, I chose a song that I liked, identified words in the lyrics that contained diphthongs that I perceived to be problematic for my students and before you could say tlacoquemecatl, I had a lesson ready to go.

Not very student-centred but a great way for me to a) provide some light relief and b) try out something new.

Most songs contain, to varying degrees, a variety of grammatical structures, collocations, slang, idioms, cohesive devices and most if not all English phonemes so I stand by my original assertion – you can do anything with a song!


New EFL Teaching Materials

July 21, 2009

I just uploaded two collaborative writing lesson plans on to my teaching materials page which draw heavily on the discourse analysis work of McCarthy, Cook, and others; one at pre-intermediate level and one at a strong intermediate level. Both focus on issues relating to car safety.

That’s in addition to the materials that were already there which include listening lessons incorporating songs by Oasis and Portishead and some stuff on collocations.

Take a look.