Author Archives: natibrandi

About natibrandi

I've been teaching English in a variety of contexts since 2008. I did DELTA in 2012 at IH Buenos Aires International Training. After that, I was so lucky that I became part of the IH Montevideo Director of Studies' team. I say team because IH Montevideo is engaged in so many projects, that they always have at least 4 DoS. In 2013, I felt that my life needed to change a bit, so I moved to Buenos Aires, where I've been working at IH Recoleta as senior teacher and Younger Learner coordinator. I am into teacher development and training, learner training, and of course, brewing ideas with my ELT colleagues. Thanks for visiting! Natalia Gonzalez Brandi

Top 5 low-tech learning games for the English language classroom! Suitable for all ages and levels

 

Most authors would agree that games have plenty of advantages. However, when it comes to learning a language, some of them are more effective than others. I personally prefer games which are fun and engaging and, most importantly, boost learner participation and involvement. I would usually choose the ones that can be played in pairs or small groups so that all the students have equal opportunities to participate. I usually go for games which involve producing more than just one word or phrase in order to ensure that the learners have plenty of opportunities to practice their English. Of course, training students to play games in pairs or groups may be time consuming, and you may well want to play them whole class at first so that learners get used to these games and feel ready to have fun in smaller groups. Games need to be “carefully selected or designed to make sure they do in fact work: that they are both “gamey” and learning rich.” (Ur, 2016, p. 25)

1 – Who am I?

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If you have headbands for your learners, fantastic! Surely, they’ll love them.  If you don’t, you can simply stick some post-it notes with a word  or “I am….” Sentence on your learners’ foreheads or backs and get them to work with a partner or mingle around the class to find out what word they got.

Procedure

  • Before the class, come up with a set of words that your learners have learned before but that you think they should revise. You should create flashcards or post-its which say I am….. and the name of the vocabulary item you want to revise. If you want to make this more challenging, you can vary the tenses I am going to….. / I was….
  • The first time you do this exercise, you should probably demonstrate it whole class. Stick a post-it note on your forehead e.g. I am a lion and ask your learners a range of yes or no questions in order to guess the word: Am I a person? Am I an object? Am I a film? Am I an animal? Do I have four legs? Can I jump? Do I roar?
  • The first couple of times you play this game, elicit and write a range of possible questions your learners may ask during the game on the board.
  • Demonstrate whole class with a stronger learner.
  • Check instructions by finding out if your learners understand that they can only ask yes or no questions.
  • Divide your class into pairs and get your learners to do this exercise with a partner. Ask them to change flashcards without peeping and get them to continue the game for a few minutes.
  • Ensure you finish the game before momentum is lost.

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Another variety of this game is: Guess who? (Ideal to revise parts of the body) – in this board game your learners will have a board each with 24 characters and by asking yes or no questions related to physical appearance, they will be able to guess the character that their partner has selected.

2 – Charades (An adapted version)

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This classic family game is certainly a hit in the English language classroom. It allows learners to produce plenty of language or have fun acting out. Most people play it whole class with two opposing teams, personally, I prefer to divide the class into a range of smaller teams, and have one person describe a word in each team, as this boosts learner participation.

Procedure:

  • Before the class, write different words on small slips of paper. These words should be carefully selected based on whether you want to revise specific vocabulary items or you simply want your learners to be able to produce a lot of language when explaining the meaning of the word.
  • Divide the class into small groups of 4 or 5 students. Give out a set of word cards to each group. Tell them to take one card out, and set a time limit of 60 seconds. If the group were able to guess a word, they get 1 point, if they weren’t they don’t get any.
  • Do a couple of rounds and finish the game before momentum is lost. Whoever gets the most points, wins the game!

 

Another variety of this game can be done with the phone apps Charades or Heads Up. This makes the game more environmentally friendly, and if teachers choose to ask learners to create vocabulary lists on the Charades app on their phones, by the end of the year, each student will have gathered a big list of words with all the vocabulary that was learned in class.

3 – Stare!

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In this game, your learners will have plenty of opportunities to speak, to have fun and to develop learning skills. If you have the family board game Stare, excellent! Otherwise, you can create your own and use it as many times as you want to.

Procedure:

  • player A gets to pick up a flashcard from a pile and stare at it for thirty seconds.
  • Once time is up, player B looks at the same card and asks a range of questions to player A (the teacher can choose the number of questions, or the time that this player will have to ask the questions).
  • If player A remembers all the details, they get 5 points. If they remember some details, they get 3, and if they only remember 1 detail, they get 1 point.

Stare is learning-rich, not only because it allows learners to practice their fluency in a meaningful context and their ability to ask clever questions about a photograph, but also because it helps learners to test their photographic memory and visual intelligence.

4 – Mini Whiteboard fun!

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Whether you have bought a set of mini whiteboards for your class, or you have decided to create your own using plastic sleeves or laminated sheets, this low-tech resource will certainly allow you to exploit it in such a range of ways, that you won’t regret buying / creating them.

The truth is that with this resource, you will be able to do more than just 1 game, but I have decided to group these as one, and share a range of tips so that you turn simple classroom activities into more engaging games using mini boards.

 

a) Spelling race – show a flashcard and get learners to spell a word or sentence. Once they finish, they put up their boards. The ones that got it right get a point.

b) Board race – Say a definition of a word and your learners write it down on their boards. Once they finish, they share their answers with the rest of the class.

c) Collaborative Writing – Divide the class into groups. Give learners the first line of a story. After that, they need to add 1 sentence to that story, and pass it to the left. When they finish, you can get learners to share their boards with other teams, and they can all get to choose the funniest, most memorable, most creative, etc, story!

d) Hangman – Personally, I am not a huge fan of hangman, as I often feel that it is very time consuming, and learners get to practice very little language, especially because this game is usually done whole class. However, if you have a set of mini whiteboards, you can get students to play this game in groups of three, and that makes it a lot more effective.

e) Pictionary – you will need one mini whiteboard every two teams. I strongly suggest, you make very small teams of two or three people, so that they play against each other and have plenty of opportunities to speak. One learner will draw a word or phrase on the mini board, and the other learners will have to guess. As simple as that, but certainly loads of fun and English production guaranteed

 

 

5 – Foamy Letters time!

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Very often, course books bring  rather dull word-formation or tense transformation exercises. Our learners may not enjoy them that much, but a focus on accuracy can be very useful. Foamy letters are an excellent resource to turn word formation or tenses exercises into a game and they require minimal preparation!

Procedure:

  • Divide the class intro groups of two
  • Show learners a word-formation or fill in the blank with the appropriate form of the verb in brackets exercise, and get them to use the foamy letters to create the word that goes in the blank.
  • The one who finishes the fastest and spells out the word correctly gets a point.

 

What other games do you enjoy playing with your learners which you think are learning-rich and gamey? Please comment and let’s create a useful list for ELT teachers together!

 

Effective Video-Conferencing English Teaching – 5 top tips and a bonus

Would it lack personal connection? What if technology fails? What about communication breakdowns? As an experienced in-school teacher and manager, these are some of the questions I would ask mysefl whenever I chose to reject on-line teaching opportunities. However, a broken arm which resulted in a rather long medical leave, encouraged me to try out video-conferencing teaching and the experience has been more than positive. As a holiday gift, I’d like to share with the ELT community, the following tips I have put together and which have helped me to make the most of on-line teaching, and you will probably realise that most of them are not just applicable to video-conferencing.

 

1 – Know your learners – You may not be able to appreciate how heavy your lerarners’ backpacks are, but do we even pay attention to that? Start with e-mail exchanges in which your learners tell you about their lives, their previous studies and why they want to learn English with you, all the typical questions in-school teachers usually get their learners to answer on a first class can be done in advance. Once you have arranged to have a class, you can move the conversation to instant messaging, you may want to send them a tutorial about how to use the videconferencing platform, information about the materials you expect them to have or anything else you may want to ensure that’s crystal clear before the class begins, and your learners may be able to clarify a few queries before the beginning of the course.

 

Remember you can implement fun ice-breakers in order to get to know them really well and some of them require minimal planning and boost learner participation significantly e.g. a tour of a room, a guesssing game about something they may have on their desks or even getting them to show you their favourite and least favourite objects. Having the opportunity to teach from your house straight into your learners’ houses or offices provides you with a lot of meaningful informaiton, to which you don’t necessarily have instant access in a classroom.

 

2 – Keep the lesson moving and engaging – “The more fully occupied the students are in purposeful learning activity, the more likely they are to cooperate and work well. Boredom is a key cause of discipline problems” (Ur, 2016, p. 15) Discipline problems are not usuaully a thing when it comes to on-line teaching, but boredom can be a major cause of drop-outs and most importantly, it can be detrimental for learners who may end up associating learning English with a negative experience. This is exactly why it is very important to keep plenary work low and ensure that the learners have plenty of opportunties to work on a range of dynamic activities. I strongly suggest planning lessons from the poit of view of the learners, thinking about what the purpose of each activity will be for them and stopping longer activities before momentum is lost. Combine stirrers and settlers by adding a few games every now and then as these can boost energy levels and help you to end the class on a positive note apart from the fact that many of them e.g. guessing games, are both fun and learning-rich.

 

3 –  Personalise – It is true that video-conferencing can sometimes feel distant and lacking personal connection. However, as metnioned above, the teachers can easily get to know their learners at a sometimes more personal level than in traditional classrooms. Moreoever, it is crucial to remember to personalise as much as possible, and there are a lot of resources available for learners to be able to do this in an even richer way than in class. Imagine you are working with comparatives, there may be no reason to work with dull workbook activities during class time, when you can get students to compare two actual rooms in their houses and get them to show these to everyone or even their pets or any precious objects they may have at hand. They may also be able to share any photograph from their personal laptop, or their favourite youtube videos or memes just by clicking on the share screen link.

 

 

4 – Keep track of the learners’ progress and areas to work on – I personally prefer avoiding dull power-point presentations and instead, using word documents to which I add a few activities and keep thorough records of all the langauge that may emerge during class time. Apart from that, I like adding mistake – corrections columns, so that the learners can keep track of the areas of lanague they still need to work on and how they can correct these. It is very easy to type their mistakes and later on allow for delayed feedback and sef-correction. In addition, the learners usually enjoy it when teachers write down examples of great langauge they have come up with and this usually shows evidence of progress. Forutnately, you can keep all the summaries in your computer and share them with your students either via e-mail or through any virtual learning environemnt you may use. Undoubtedly, ensuring that the students have plenty of opportunities to revise is of utmost importance, and this can be done by sharing goodle docs with writing exercises for them to do for homework, making use of a range of on-line activities or even fun and enganging flashcard generator games like quizlet which are not only useful to study but can also help to keep track of progress in a fun way.

 

5 – Be Professional – If you have chosen to do on-line teaching and become your own boss, it is important to remmebr that a) we are not alone – there is a community out there from which we can get tips and even help whenever necessary. Use twitter, go to conferences and try to ensure that you have as much contact with other teachers as posisble b) be autonomous “We ourselves are responsible for maintaining professional standards… ensruing that teaching is not performed by ill-qaulified amateurs.” (Ur, 2008, p. 388). Share your qualifications and experience with your learners, explain why you choose to do different activities, feel free to take well informed decisions based on your own judgement and charge your learners accordingly without being afraid of asking other teachers how much they charge.

 

Bonus track! Choosing the right platform is not easy. Some people prefer Skype but there are many options to chose from e.g. Big Blue Button, Adobbe Connect, Google Hangouts, etc. My personal favourite and the one I find easy to use and trian my learners to use effectively is Zoom but my piece of advice is try them all and choose the one you feel most confident with and best matches your teaching style.

As you can see, most of the tips in this post would really make sense in any class, but I consider them particular relevant when it comes to teaching online. Would you like to share any other tips? Do you have any questions? Please share below! 🙂

 

Here’s to a more autonomous 2020! Happy new year!

Don’t tell teachers how, ENGAGE them – A bottom-up approach to teacher observation.

 

Have you ever worked at an institution where you were frequently observed? If the answer is YES, you’re probably very well acquainted with observation forms, in which most of your teaching is defined as a set of boxes which you either tick or not e.g. did you give successful instructions? Did you focus on meaning rather than form? Did you use concept check questions? Did you have a board menu? I find all these descriptors useful (though not always efficient, it very much depends on the learners we’re dealing with), however, observations which focus entirely on assessing the quality of the teaching based on external principles or recipes do not necessarily lead to professional development nor do they improve student performance.

 

How can we therefore make observation more useful to both teachers and students?

I see teaching as a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies. I genuinely believe that one should make informed decisions based on research and science, but I also think that those books and principles do not define the class a teacher has.

In fact, Art-Craft conceptions of teaching claim that “teachers should not set out to look for a general method of teaching or to master a particular set of teaching skills but should constantly try to discover things that work for them, discarding old practices and taking on new ones.” (Richards 1998: p. 46).

Therefore, I strongly believe that our observations should reflect this, in order to help teachers solve problems and enhance learner performance

These are the steps I’ve been following at the institution where I work to make teacher observation more bottom-up:

  • The first step is,pre-observation meetings, where you find out about the class. The teacher tells you about the things they think work well, and what they think doesn’t. You ask them to describe the learners, and they will tell you about the problems they have with some of them e.g. “X” does not pay attention, “Y” finishes before everyone else, etc.
  • Agreeing with the teacher on what will be the main focus of the observation, and what task you will conduct in order to help them with the challenges they have mentioned in the pre-observation meeting. E.g. sitting behind a learner that the teacher finds particularly problematic, and take notes of everything that learner does and how they respond to the teachers’ instructions / tasks, etc.
  • Having a feedback meetingwhich reveals the findings of the observation task you agreed on, and together involves hypothesizing and coming up with solutions to solve the problem.
  • Written feedback summarising the points discussed during the meeting.
  • An action plan with follow up steps as to how to tackle the issuesdiscussed which may require observing another teacher, doing some background-reading, or even team teaching with a more experienced teacher or coordinator, in order to see how students’ would react to other teaching skills.
  • Professional development interview to reflect on progress.

Although the approach above, may appear time-consuming, I believe that if you’ve observed a teacher ten times and that person has shown no change whatsoever, that’s a waste of time. Nevertheless, when you observe someone to help them solve a problem, it is more likely that the person will make a stronger effort to make changes to their practice, as an attempt at solving those problems should ultimately make the teacher’s life easier. It also makes the observation circle a lot more personalised and goal-oriented.

In general, I have seen that most teachers have shown improvement with this approach to observation. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to follow all the steps mentioned above, given all the other admin tasks coordinators have to comply with.

If you’re a teacher trainer or academic manager, and like me, you’ve felt you’ve been wasting your time doing observations, to solely tick boxes, why not give this approach a try? Perhaps you already have! It’s certainly not new and has been described in the teacher education literature many times.

Below, are some examples of written feedback, which aimed at tackling issues mentioned by practising teachers at our school.

 

X gets bored and he finishes the activities before the others. Even though you follow the ABC to giving instructions in the sense that you explain the exercise clearly and you elicit an example, you are handing out the worksheets before you give instructions and that isn’t a very good idea.

X was doing the exercise whilst you were giving instructions, mainly because as he’s older, it’s easy for him to predict that he’s got to complete the blanks using words from the box.

You could draw the box and write the example on the board, and after you’ve checked instructions, you can give them the worksheet. That way, you won’t have a student who has finished before the others started the exercise.


You could also elicit instructions from him.

 

Another suggestion, demonstrate more and explain less. See Scrivener’s chapter on instruction giving.

 

 

 

 Students lose concentration or stand up and chat in Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a rather large class, and students are tired after having spent 8 hours at school before coming here, so I understand they may stand up.

Obviously, busy kids tend not to misbehave, which is why, as we’ve discussed on the feedback meeting, we need to come up with a plan to avoid dead time in class, which is when a student is doing nothing, wandering round or simply bothering someone else.

Here are some of the tips we discussed to prevent dead time.

 

A) Instead of checking homework as they arrive, check them at the end, when they line up to leave the classroom.  There were a lot of late comers and you spent 20  minutes trying to check homework before moving on to the next activity. You were really busy doing this, which is why you probably didn’t pay attention to the fact that some were literally sitting down and waiting or standing up and chatting in Spanish. You did notice that (student)  was standing up and chatting, and I understand he gets distracted very often both here and at his Primary School but I do think that overall you’re coping well with him, and that less dead time, will help him to behave more appropriately.

 

B) Class routines: It’s good to see you’re incorporating some routines. To trigger classroom management issues, I’d suggest the following:

  • Have students line up at the beginning of every class. Ask them a question, or get them to ask you a question, and sit them where you want them to sit down (without leaving gaps so that pair work is easier to set).
  • Have a routine at the beginning which involves some production, ask what day it is, what the weather is like and have a student write the next on the board.
  • Make sure you’ve got a board menu. That way, students know what’s going on, and you remember that there shouldn’t be a lot of dead time.
  • Combine stirrers and settlers. Before each class, think about in which activities students will be chatting, standing up and/or moving around and in which activities they will sit down quietly. Young learners need movement and they also need quiet moments to learn. The ideal classroom should have a combination of both.  After you did the course book listening, you moved on to dictation, that’s two quiet activities in a row, and that can be quite tiring for the learners.  See this link on the topic http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/stirrers-settlers-primary-classroom. If you’ve already seen Task 5 – Routines course, you might have noticed the noise thermometer, that may help your learners to know when it’s ok to speak and when they should be quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a teacher? Have you ever been observed? Was it useful? Are you a teacher trainer? Do you currently do pre-obs’ meetings? How do you conduct observations? Please post your comments below!

Dear new teacher self – A letter to new and not so new ELT teachers

In less than a month, I will have turned 30, and I will be celebrating my 10th teaching anniversary. I first taught a class just before I turned 20; a teacher was moving to Canada, and my former boss at IH Montevideo, Rosario Estrada, who trusted me lot more than I trusted myself, gave me my first teaching job. Despite my dreadful board-work, my high teacher talk time, all the mistakes I made and being a rebel myself, that Elementary teen class changed my life. Here’s the advice I would give to that 20-year old, and I hope other new teachers will benefit from it.

 

Dear new teacher self,

Stepping into your first class as a teacher will be scary, you will make a lot of mistakes, and you will be very aware of them, which probably means you will reflect on it, and you will do your best to improve your practice. Yes, there’ll be times when you will feel that you’re awful and you just can’t improve. So don’t be afraid of taking risks, you will never feel 100 per-cent ready to take up the challenges people will offer, yet you won’t learn unless you try, make mistakes and try again. But do not stop reflecting, even if one day you think you are very experienced. If you think about your practice, and if you identify your strengths and areas to work on, you will be able to become a better professional. You cannot possibly improve, if you teach the same type of class again and again. After all, teacher development is “…a self-reflective process, because it is through questioning old habits that alternative ways of being and doing are able to emerge.” (Head & Taylor: 1996 p.1).

Stop talking and talking and blah blah blah! Yes, you will have to over-plan at the beginning in order to learn to give successful instructions, improve classroom management and find the best ways to teach different topics, but that does not mean sticking to your lesson plan to the minute and doing most of the talking yourself. One day, you will understand that the most important resource in your class is not you, let alone the interactive board. Your learners are the most powerful resource, and if you listen to them carefully enough, you will be able to help them. Instead of wondering: “How am I going to present the present perfect to talk about experiences?” Think about how you are going to help them discover it and practice until they make the new language point their own. That’s no easy task, and it certainly requires practice, but you will soon hear about guided discovery, and although you may not get it at first, there are a lot of online resources available to help you, for example, check out @whatisELT?’s Youtube channel and blog; they have a range of posts which can be incredibly useful for new teachers, and they are so generous that they even share lesson plans and examples, and yes, you can learn about guided discovery on their blog.  Once you think that’s the way in which one should teach, there’ll be authors who start making comments against these approaches and favoring a Just tell them approach, which obviously leads to more TTT.

Be a sponge! You will be really lucky because you will have academic managers who observe your lessons and give you tips. You will find them annoying every time they tell you that you need to speak less and give your students more opportunities to think, talk and practice, but one day, you will get it… and when you think you finally got it, someone will come and tell you about Teaching Unplugged. You may initially think that these people are a bunch of lazy teachers, but they will actually help you discover that you do not need to teach every single page of the textbook, especially when that’s not relevant to your students, and you will find out that meaningful dialogue and student involvement are key to learning. You will also start reading Paulo Freire’s books, and little by little, you will become a new professional. You will understand that you can’t possibly do 50 per cent of the talking in class, and soon you’ll do a lot less talking, and a lot more scaffolding.

Take up new courses, go to conferences and share ideas with your colleges.  If at the age of 23 your boss suggests doing a Diploma e.g. DELTA, don’t be afraid of it, embrace the opportunity. You will learn about a range of procedures which will help you improve your practice. I find courses which involve a lot of teaching practice, way more useful than those which don’t. You will also meet people who recommend on-line blogs and discussion groups such as @ELTchat or BRELT, and they will also recommend international conference. Some amazing colleagues like Vicky Saumell will offer to proof read your first speaker proposal, and one day you’ll be helping others. Attending conferences can be expensive, and it will require saving, but one day you will meet a network of professionals, who are even more passionate about teaching than you are – they will become an incredible source of motivation, you will learn about what goes on in other classrooms around the world and thanks to them, you will never regret being a teacher. Sometimes you may wish they worked with you, but knowing that you will see them at the following conference will be reassuring. Besides, you can start sharing what you’ve learnt with your colleague teachers, and that passion for sharing may help you become a very young academic manager. If you don’t have the money or the time to attend these conferences, don’t worry, there are a lot of free online webinars you can watch and attend, check out @EFLtalks.

Be careful with rules of thumb. After a few years in the field, you will discover that many teacher trainers and bosses will give you a range of recipes to become a better teacher. Some of those “recipes” can be very effective, but you need to be very careful. Every time someone tells you things like “You can’t ever do reading aloud.” or “You must have a board menu.” think about why they may say this and also find out about other people who may challenge these views. Being a reflective professional involves going beyond recipes, and adapting your teaching to what works in your context. Yes, you may think that reading aloud for comprehension activities is not effective at all, and you may avoid it altogether. However, a lot of students will tell you that they want to read aloud, and one day you will attend a conference and find from Dorothy Zemach that perhaps every once in a while you can do reading aloud, not necessarily for comprehension purposes but to practice phonological features of the language, personalization, showing progress, having fun, etc.

Some people will tell you that you can only give delayed-feedback, others will say that you need to give feedback on the spot, and there will be some who believe that you should not correct students’ mistakes at all, this may all sound very confusing, but through classroom research, you will find that in your context,  most of your students want to be corrected, and every single class you will have to decide, what, when and how. When it comes to learning, there really isn’t a one-size fits all kind of answer, so keep reading, listening to your students and colleagues until you find an answer which somehow works with your class, but bear in mind that this answer may not be suitable for the class you’ll teach the following year.

Be genuine, as a person, you will not always feel happy, and if students ask whether you are having a good day or not, there’s no point in faking,  it’s okay to say “not really”. I don’t think you should share with them every single personal detail about your life, but if they see you as a genuine human being, they may feel a lot more identified with you. You don’t need to do activities you don’t believe in either, you may not like class contracts, whilst other teachers may love them. If you don’t like contracts and you don’t believe in them, your students will probably hate the class contract lesson you bring. You must be genuine to yourself and to your students.  It’s not just me who says this “Genuine people don’t try to make people like them. Genuine people are who they are…. They know that when they speak in a friendly, confident and concise manner, people are much more attentive to and interested in what they have to say than if they try to show that they’re important… sincere leaders are much more effective at motivating people.”(Bradberry: 12 habits of genuine people, FORBES – May 2016).

Stop labelling students – labels can be positive and negative. Sometimes you will feel exhausted and there will be students who bother you, you may initially think that they’re anxious, disrespectful, etc. All these negative labels can do a lot of harm, both to you and to your students: remember that you may be being judgmental or even projecting, so instead of wasting time talking about these labels, write down what you’ve done and what the student has done, and ask other people for advice. “No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an opinion and is not willing to listen.” (Bradberry: 12 habits of genuine people, FORBES: May 2016).

Last but certainly not least: be passionate. Of course there’ll be difficult times when you don’t enjoy it as much and cannot possibly be as passionate, but remember that you’ve chosen to become a teacher because you love education. Continue enjoying it, reflecting and sharing. Listen to your colleagues, pay attention to inequality issues, get involved and never stop learning. If you do things well, as you grow older, some people willl  thank you for having been their teacher, and that will give you enough motivation to keep going.

best wishes,

your older teacher self

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Hidden Figures: Addressing Inequality issues in the Young Learner Classroom

It has only been two weeks since I came back from the 16thBraztesol International Conference and I have not been able to stop reflecting on the importance of ensuring that education plays a key role as a defense mechanism against violence, racism, extremism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, discrimination and intolerance. This is mostly thanks to the amazing women involved in the Braztesol VOICES Special Interest Group @VoicesSIG , who gave a range of talks (including short but incredibly though-provoking pop-up talks in the halls of the conference venue) to raise awareness of the different minority issues, which both ELT professionals and learners face in education.

  • Exposure – “You can’t be it if you can’t see it”

This was one of the slogans of the VOICES SIG, and extremely relevant, as it shows how exposure is key. This is especially relevant in the Young Learner Classroom, as research suggests children develop prejudice between the ages of 5 and 7.

Here are two different lesson plans I have come up with to raise awareness of some of these issues:

  • Lesson 1 – film summary (level A2 / B1 – ideal for YLs aged 8-12)  – Reading comprehension
  • T writes on the WB, the word: Hidden Figures.
  • T asks learners to put up their hand if they have watched this film and if there is a learner who has already watched it, the T asks them to remain quiet during the brainstorming stage (I’ve done this activity before and none of the kids had watched the film)
  • Brainstorming: Learners predict what they think the film is about in pairs.
  • Ss read the following text to check predictions.

Hidden Figures

This film is about Mathematician Globe, who worked as a human computer at NASA in the 1960s. Globe was a real genius and could solve a lot of math problems, which is why  NASA’s superior, Harrison, invited Globe to take part in the team which helped famous astronaut Glenn travel to Space. Globe worked really hard and everything was ready for the spacecraft to go to space. However, on the day of the take-off there were some problems, but the talented Globe,  worked them out and thanks to that, Glenn became the first U.S astronaut to orbit Space. (author’s data) 

  • Ss compare the summary with their predictions.
  • Follow up: Students read the text again and underline adjectives. Based on these adjectives, the learners draw what they think Globe and Glenn looked like in the film.
  • Ss watch the trailer and later compare drawings with actors.

At the school where I work, the vast majority of the students drew a male and white mathematician and a male and white astronaut. There was one person who drew a white female astronaut. After the gist task, the students had initially thought that the film was called Hidden Figures, because the astronaut became famous and the mathematician probably didn’t. However, they did not imagine that the talented Globe’s name was actually, Katherine, let alone the fact that she was black. They were extremely surprised after watching the trailer, and this became an incredible learning opportunity to all the learners

  • As a follow up, you should get learners to reflect on why they had not imagined that the mathematician might have been female and white. They can also watch the film for homework and/or find about about Katherine Globe’s life.

 

  • Lesson 2: Speaking – problem solving – dilemma (A2/B1/B2 – ideal for teenagers)
  • Ss read the following dilemma and identify the problem.
  • A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son is rushed to the hospital. At the hospital the surgeon looks at the boy and says “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son.” How can this be?
  • In pairs the learners discuss how this can be possible and what might have happened.
  • At the school where I work, a lot of students said that the surgeon may have been the biological father, others said that the kid might have had two dads as the couple might have been gay  (which is one of the possible answers) But only one student out of twenty-two considered the fact that the surgeon might have been the mother (which is also a possibility)
  • After this, the learners can reflect on how gender bias we can be, and they could reflect on why they assumed that the surgeon was male, you could also ask them: what would you have thought if the text had said nurse instead of surgeon? Why?

Why should we teach these types of lessons? 

Given the fact that The European Parliament has identified the social and civic competences as one of the eight key competences for the new educational platform for lifelong learning and that as, Paulo Freire states, progressive education should commit itself to making the world “a fairer and substantially more democratic” place (Freire: 1997). I firmly believe that we should allocate class time to raise awareness of the challenges minorities face in our world, and help our learners develop strategies to make this world an equal place. It must be clear, that we should not feel afraid of complaints when doing so, as we have got more than enough academic reasons to do this, and if scaffolded well and carried out in a friendly way, these activities should not offend anyone.

 

Beyond: What’s your lucky number? Icebreakers that help!

I often feel that  with most get to know each other activities, the learners end up sharing information that’s not particularly interesting or useful to develop a sense of community in the classroom. Their age, their parents’ names, their favourite food or lucky number and where they live does not provide the class with enough information to sympathise and get to know somebody, so I’d like to share this very simple activity with you all and see what you think.

My life in Cuisenaire rods

Objective:         To get to know interesting facts about your learners’ lives. To develop group dynamics, sympathy and empathy.

Materials: Cuisenaire rods (if you don’t have them: Legos or just drawing, but I’d certainly recommend Legos or Cuisenaire rods to somehow materialise someone’s life).

Level: This lesson was designed for B1+ but teachers can grade the input and do it with pretty much all levels.

Procedure:

  • Teacher shows a timeline of their life in Cuisenaire rods and elicits what learners think it’s about. By referring to the shape and what it looks like (hints: it’s a line…. It’s in order), the learners will eventually guess it’s a timeline (from now on we’ll use my timeline as an example)

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  • T now helps learners guess one or two facts about their timeline as a whole class. E.g. “So, what do you think these blue rods mean?” (hint: all these things (point at vertical rods) happened there?) learners should guess it’s the country where I was born and raised.
  • T divides the class into groups and gets groups to guess what each rod refers to. Each group is allowed three –wh questions to help them guess.
  • Ss share ideas as a WC
  • T provides the learners with his/her biography. As a purpose for reading, the students have to match the events which appear in the text with the rods. (see appendix 1 for my own model)
  • Check if learners understood what each rod refers to.
  • Learners are now given time to create  their own timelines using Cuisenaire rods. (You’ll probably see that some have many ideas and immediately get on with the task. Others may be more hesitant, so get ready to monitor unobtrusively and help them on an individual basis (some back up questions: Can you think about the first time you travelled somewhere you really liked? Can you think about an important person you’ve met? Etc).
  • Finally get learners to share their timelines in groups.
  • As a follow up, teachers can ask students to write their own biography.

Here’s a picture of my own students conducting this activity, they really enjoyed it last year, and I’m certainly going to do it again. I’d like to thank Hannah Pinkham for inspiring me to try this out.

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Please comment below and share more icebreakers that help!

Appendix 1:

I was born in Uruguay. I did both primary and secondary school there and during this time I met at least three very important people that have become my best friends and whom I still talk to and see. I cannot imagine my life without them.

While I was in secondary school my two nieces were born. Their birth was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I started University in Uruguay and soon moved to the United Kingdom, where I spent some months in Cambridge. I absolutely love this city. I won’t ever forget the times I spent studying at cozy café’s with a view of the river or outstanding buildings like King’s College. I also met fantastic people and went to pubs and night clubs. Besides, I was able to visit wonderful museums and I tried mouthwatering dishes. My personal favourite? Curry, especially chicken tikka masala!

When I came back from the UK, I went through a difficult time. I lost a very important relative and had some family issues. I did eventually get over these things and after finishing my studies, I decided to move to Buenos Aires to study for the DELTA, which is a post-graduate English teaching qualification. I went back to Uruguay, found out that my little cousin had been born in the USA and I was offered a job as teacher and Younger Learner Coordinator at IH Buenos Aires so I decided to accept it and move to this vibrant city.

Before moving to Buenos Aires, I went to my first international teaching conference: Braztesol. This was a life-turning point because it helped me to realise that I love my profession and I generated a wonderful network of good colleagues and friends who are passionate about teaching.

I’ve lived in Buenos Aires for the past four years, and I’ve been lucky enough to make really good  friends. I also saw two of my very close friends get married last year, which was absolutely amazing!

KEY:

Across:

Blue – Uruguay

Purple – UK

Green – Buenos Aires

Down:

Purple: Primary and secondary, university (teacher training) & DELTA

Orange: friends and important people.

Pink: nieces’ birth, cousin birth, friends’ wedding.

Black: tough moment.

Yellow: first international conference

Beyond Gap Fills. Using songs to learn a language. Why, how and which?

At the beginning of this year, I was surprised to find out that many of my students, especially adults, stated in the Needs Analysis that they wanted to use songs. I must admit that I’m used to using songs in the YL classroom all the time (especially clapping games –  my personal favourite!) but I didn’t pay too much attention to the importance of music in the teen / adult class.

Why should we use songs?

I think we all know why, but here’s a couple of reasons I’ve come up with.

  • They can be fun.
  • They generate interest in the target language culture.
  • Some are catchy and students keep singing them at home.
  • Students can feel motivated to learn on their own by googling more songs by the same artist / similar genre.
  • Some songs can be used to teach language points.
  • Karaoke is fun and useful to acquire pronunciation features.
  • You can deal with the physical aspect of pronunciation; singers tend to move their mouths a lot. They are thus, excellent awareness raisers.
  • You can study a wide range of varieties of English.
  • Learners can bring their own songs!

How? (and not just gap fills)

  • Fist thing that comes to our heads? Gap fills?… fortunately, they’re not the only thing we can do with songs.
  • Get learners to draw a song http://drawmeasong.com.Not only will the good drawers have fun with this, but you can also engage the whole class by encouraging them to use their computers, or even collage. The main advantage of this idea, is that learners are actually focusing on their own interpretation of the song, so unlike gap fills, this is not just listening for specific purposes.(see pictures of the Draw a Song Competition we’ve done at the school where I work). Another advantage of this one is that it is rather materials’ less in the sense that you are not bringing a worksheet. However, to scaffold it and get learners involved, you may want to start by showing really interesting models, so that they get really involved and want to create something meaningful. Monitoring is hugely important and getting learners to brain storm ideas before drawing is essential too.
  • Learners can also listen to a song and write down the words they think are the most important ones. As a follow up they should create their own Word Cloud. Finally, they can type the lyrics of the song into a Word Cloud generator and compare.
  • Another listening exercise, which is similar to gap fills is handing out a worksheet with some words in the song that have been changed. Learners have to listen, spot the words that have been changed and correct them. To make it easier, you can put the words in bold, and learners have to check whether the words in bold are correct or not. This one is particularly fun and as a follow students can change some words in the song to make it fun, sad, etc.
  • If you are a fan of gap fills, students can visit the site lyricstraining.com and fill in the blanks of their favourite songs. The advantage of this is that you can choose different levels and learners can try to beat their own record whilst learning the song by heart.
  • If your learners love apps like https://www.dubsmash.com, exploit this to teach them exactly how to move their mouths to sing and look like their favourite singers. I’m a huge believer in the fact that pronunciation is something physical and using this app can help your students to understand the physical aspect of pronunciation e.g. see where in the mouth they have to place their tongue, and whether their jaw drops or is relaxed, among other things. With dubsmuch they’re not necessarily singing, sometimes they’re just mouthing, but this one technique is amazing to pick up pronunciation features.
  • If your learners enjoy singing, they can download karaoke apps and practice singing their favourite tunes. This helps with connected speech because they have to sing at the same speed as their favourite artists. There are many free singing apps e.g. http://www.smule.com
  • As a fun game, you can get learners to mime their favourite songs, yes MIME! All you need is a phone / mp3 player and headphones. Of course, you may want to show them many examples first, so that they get inspired. Again, scaffolding plays a huge role. Check out this example. (you can play it mute, so that they have to guess the title of the song, which makes it really fun).

Which songs can I use to teach language point ?

Songs are an amazing tool, and I’m a big believer in the fact that they shouldn’t just be used to teach language, but here’s a very short list of songs I love using to revise certain language points:

All I want is you – Barry Louis Polisar – Juno Soundtrack (to teach 2nd conditional)

El Condor Pasa – Simon & Garfunkel (Would rather and hypothetical structures) 

Wish you were here – Pink Floyd (wishes)

I want to know what love is – Foreigner (indirect questions) you can compare it with direct questions in the song: What is love? – Haddaway 

La Isla Bonita – Madonna (different past aspects – talking about holidays)

Which other song activities would you recommend? Is there any other song you use with your students to teach different structures / vocab? I’d love it if we could create a list together, so please comment below! 

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How many poems must Dylan sing… A lesson plan

Learner aims:

To develop the sub-skill of making predictions based on clues.

To listen for gist and to check predictions.

To become better able to express opinions in the context of Bob Dylan’s song: Blowing in the Wind.

Level –  B1 plus and above

Procedure

1)    Warmer:

T writes on the WB

Who’s won the Literature Nobel Prize?

Do you know anything about his life?

Discuss in pairs

(If students don’t know much about this topic, get them to look up information using their phones, a possible topic of discussion is the fact that a song-writer has won a Literature Nobel Prize). Don’t force the discussion based on what you want to discuss, try to elicit interesting ideas from students and their on-line research.

 

2)    Pre-listening: Reading as a springboard for discussion.

Tell students that the text you will give them is about Dylan’s interpretation of a song he wrote.

Ask them to guess the title of the song and choose three key words they feel summarise the main idea of the text.

 

Text: There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind — and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some … But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know … and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many … You people over 21, you’re older and smarter. (Dylan, Sign out, June 1962)

Students share answers in pairs and report to the whole group expressing their opinions.

 

3)    Reading parts of the song to predict content.

Tell students that you’re going to give them part of the song and they have to predict which words go in the blanks. You can use the first one as an example You may want to pre-teach cannon ball, or get them to google image it. Allow students some time to do this individually and then compare in pairs.

 

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

 

How many seas must a white dove sail

Before ___________________________________?

Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly

Before___________________________________?

 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

 

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist

Before___________________________________?

Yes, and how many years can some people exist

Before___________________________________?

 

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head

And ___________________________________?

 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

 

Yes, and how many times must a man look up

Before___________________________________?

 

Yes, and how many ears must one man have

Before___________________________________?

 

Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’till he knows

That ___________________________________?

 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

 

4) Listen twice or three times to check predictions and finally project or show the lyrics of the song.

 

5) Follow up 1: Expressing opinions

Get learners to choose their favourite sentences in the song and explain why they have chosen these sentences.

Follow up 2: Learners write their own idea using the structure…

How many times must…………….
Before…………………………….

My personal example: How many poems must Dylan sing, before they call him a poet?
If learners enjoy singing you can use all their sentences to create a song and sing along.

 

I’ll be teaching this in a few minutes! Let’s see how it goes, please post your comments below!

bobdylan-xlarge_transeo_i_u9apj8ruoebjoaht0k9u7hhrjvuo-zlengruma

 

 

Those liberating learning moments

 

fullsizerenderThis afternoon I went into class ready to teach something new. I had a plan in mind and I was ready to get learners to talk about life experiences and introduce an aspect of the present perfect in that context. I must admit I do not choose to teach this, we follow a syllabus and the syllabus indicated that this needed to get done. However, nothing went as planned and our school allows for a great degree of flexibility…

 

This is a very small class of four 4 A2 young learners aged 10. One of these learners had been absent for two and a half weeks and now he was back! Obviously, a lot had happened during those weeks. We started the class as usual, with a lot of revision activities and the classmates soon picked up on the fact that the kid who had been absent was a bit lost. Immediately, I noticed that the other three students were being extremely collaborative. I had two choices, go on with the activities as planned or take another route and adapt it (or change it) to this one learner’s needs. Obviously, I hadn’t planned for this, but these words came out of my mouth “You three are responsible of teaching your classmate what we’ve learned” I guess I thought about that because I firmly believe that when people are engaged in teaching someone else, they understand things better. Moreover, as a student myself, I was absent a lot because my parents used to travel for work, and I remember it was my classmates who always ended up helping me.

 

No sooner had I said that, than they stood up and told me: “We have to play the acting out game we’ve played before so that he learns the words for different feelings and the difference between –ed and –ing adjectives” obviously they didn’t word it exactly like that, but I got the gist 🙂

Students were soon acting the words embarrassed and explaining the difference between feeling embarrassed and an embarrassing situation. This was obviously done partly in English and also in their L1. I was surprised that they had so much language awareness. They said things like: “Adjectives that end in –ed son como momentaneos, tipo algo que sentis un ratito” (-ed adjectives are used to express temporary feelings) and thus compared them with –ing adjectives. Would this be emergent learning? Possibly, we hadn’t analysed language like this, but by getting learners to think together, this is what emerged.

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This was followed by an instance in which these 3 learners got the student who had been absent to add the new words to his vocabulary list, and in some cases started discussing possible translations for some of the adjectives e.g. “frightening” Was I anyhow upset by the use of L1 that was going on? No way! Language awareness is quite abstract and I understand that A2 learners may not be able to express such abstract ideas in L2. Do I think that the use of L1 enhanced learning in this case? Definitely! I know they were using mostly English, but when it was too difficult or they thought it was useful, they used a bit of their own language, and that’s absolutely fine by me.

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As you can see in the picture, it was very interesting how students were doing something that I always do when I monitor, which is standing on my knees so that I can be at eye-level with them. They were also catering for learner training, as they themselves were getting this student to take good notes of the new language.

img_0199To my surprise, this didn’t finish there, one of the students said “Can I write some exercises on the whiteboard to see if he understands?” Soon, the three students who’d always come to class were coming up with exercises on the whiteboard (see picture). These exercises weren’t completely accurate but the target language was being tested successfully. They wrote down three sentences and the student they were helping had to look at his vocabulary list and choose an appropriate adjective to complete the blank. Finally, I gave them some feedback and expanded on the practice my students had designed by playing a game.

 

Now, what have I learned from this experience? I’ve learned that as teachers we panic a lot. As YL coordinator, I’ve been told many times “What am I going to do with X who’s been absent a lot?” “What revision activities can I give them?” I myself have panicked numerous times.  However, I have noticed that when you teach something well and you cater for students’ needs, the learners themselves pick up on good learning habits and may be able to put this into practice by helping someone else. With freedom and also careful monitoring and feedback when necessary, these learning moments can occur, especially if as teachers we choose to use our learners as the most valuable resource we have every single class. As stated by Paulo Freire, “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information.”(Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed: 1972)

Waiting time before the teacher speaks and the purpose of silence in the classroom

This is my first #ELTchat summary. It’s a bit difficult to join the chat when you work in Argentina because #ELTchat usually takes place at times when we are busy teaching. However, whenever I can, I join in. It’s extremely motivating to take part in a discussion full of thought provoking comments by educators from all over the world, so if you’ve never joined #ELTchat, I suggest you do.

Now let’s cut to the chase and talk about silence and its role in the classroom.

Why are we afraid of silence?

The discussion kicked off with @Marisa_C asking why teachers are worried about silence and whether we’re worried about our silence or students’ silence. @SueAnnan mentioned Adrian Underhill who suggests teachers want to fill in the ‘emptiness’ of silence. @sandymillin pointed out that many teachers are afraid of silent moments when being observed. It seems teachers feel the observer may think nothing is going on if the learners are quiet. @priscilamanteini shared some teachers feel the learners are afraid of expressing their questions when they are silent so they decide to jump in. @ashowski told us there are educators who feel students don’t know the answer when they don’t speak. Various chatters also felt silence can be extremely intimidating in asynchronous learning environments. Finally, @theteacherjames raised a very important point by saying that in ELT we focus too much on talk, be it STT or TTT but rarely do we talk about silence. To read more about this click here.

The perks of silence

By being afraid of silence, teachers are missing out on its benefits:

  • “It is perfect for processing time. Students need quiet time to talke language in.” (@sandymillin)
  • It allows learners time to work out answers by themselves.
  • It can be seen as time to personalise. When you’ve taught a number of strategies or lexical items, you could provide learners with opportunities to use them in a context that’s meaningful to them (@natibrandi).
  • A silence break after 45 or 50 minutes of class can help learners relax and get ready to continue learning. (as suggested by @angelos_bollas)

 So how do we make sure we give learners enough thinking time before jumping in?

  • NLP suggests waiting until eye movements have stopped which show processing of information before continuing with conversation (@MarjorieRosenbe).
  • You could also wait until learners look at you again (@MarjorieRosenbe). However, @Marisa_C pointed out it’s difficult to follow eye movement when teaching on-line.
  • Many chatters also suggested counting when teachers notice they’re jumping in too often helps e.g. counting ten seconds by going “one thousand, two thousand…ten thousand” in your head.
  • Avoid allowing dominating students to jump in all the time. Sometimes teachers wait but dominating students jump in too soon. To prevent this from happening, you can use different techniques such as asking learners to look at you or put their pen down when they are ready. Do not allow them to speak until a good number of students show they are ready.
  • Give silence an aim and a time limit: e.g. time to copy from the board in silence and add examples, time to figure out a problem quietly (@natibrandi & @Marisa_C).

But sometimes teachers want silence and studnets won’t stop talking. What can we do?

  • With YLs you can clap or sing a song like: “One, two three, look at me” (@sandymillin) or “I touch my head, I touch my ears and I go silent” which can be accompanied by Total Physical Response (@natibrandi).
  • Other teachers prefer standing in silence and looking at the classroom or use different signs to indicate silence.

Conclusion

It was generally agreed that silence has many benefits, especially when learners are engaged in an activity and remain silent because they’re thinking, processing information and coming up with new ideas.

However, @Sue_Annan and other chatters agreed that sometimes teachers need to jump in to engage the learners when they are too quiet with no purpose. As @theteacherjames pointed out “there are many different kinds of silence, some good, some bad. Not all silence is equal.”