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.

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2: Structure & Writing Review

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

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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.   

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

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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…


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.


Free English Courses

July 15, 2009

I came across a blog post today of 20 Free English Language and Literature Courses. Click here.

Now, in my honest opinion, most of the general courses seem a bit too grammar focused (see my comment above for more on that) but you may find something useful to help practice. Furthermore, the pronunciation link doesn’t work while the listening files on the American English Audio Course were, in fact, inaudible – it sounds like an American woman is talking to a washing machine.

Anyway, here are 2 (of the 20) that I think are worth checking out if you want to improve your grammar:

Grammar Workshop This is from about.com so it’s a safe site. You register and they send you grammar practice materials each week.

1-language.com Grammar exercises for intermediate and advanced level students here.

Here something that I posted ages ago on another website for students about practising English for free:

There are literally thousands of websites for learners of English. Here is a short list of ones that we like:

Word Power www.word-power.us is a website that describes itself as “a free survival guide for all who would like to perfect their spoken English language.” In the Business Word Power and you will find definitions, recordings and exercises with which you can practise business vocabulary. Many of the themes such as meetings, telephoning and socialising relate to work we do in class. And, there is also a section on football vocabulary!

Yappr – A free website which helps you learn English through videos. Highly recommended!

The British Council’s website: http://www.learnenglish.org.uk/

And this is what the BBC has to offer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/

Is this the future? Practise your English online with a native speaker for free! (after you’ve downloaded Skype): http://www.speak-english-today.com/

Would you believe it? Free books online: http://www.gutenberg.org/

The Business podcast, from Macmillan, is a monthly interview focusing on working life in the UK. The Podcast offers authentic listening practice for you: http://www.businessenglishonline.net/TheBusiness/podcasts.htm


Yappr and English Through Football

March 11, 2009

I just came across Yappr and English Through Football

Yappr is, according to their front page, a place where learners can “practice and learn English the fun way with entertaining videos”. I’m going to recommend to my class in a minute. It looks really good as far as it goes. Watch the video, read the text…

English Through Football, meanwhile, is great for language learners who love the beautiful game. Basically, each week there’s a podcast where football action from the Champions League, La Liga, EPL etc. are discussed and an accompanying activity sheet.