At the upcoming IATEFL Poland conference, I’m giving a workshop on games that can be used in class to introduce students to online materials. In this case I’m using telc’s (free) English Practice Material online, as I was part of the team behind it. This post is primarily created for the workshop attendees.
Occasionally, when talking with EFL teachers about using technology with adult students, I’ve heard things like ‘well, I told them about a great website and suggested that they do the tasks there, but I don’t think they’re interested’, or ‘There’s a CD-rom with the coursebook, but they don’t seem to want to use it.’ In fact, I’m probably guilty of saying the same thing myself at some point.
When it comes to online materials, there’s a huge amount of stuff out there. We know what’s available, we may even be enthusiastic about the resource, but just directing the student to it usually isn’t enough. If we decide to use these online materials or tools, we should ensure that we treat them not simply as some add-on, but as part of the course. This means devoting some time to properly introduce and demonstrate the material before setting it as homework, and then expanding or referencing the content in the next lesson to show that we take the work seriously, value the time our students put into it and believe it to be really useful. Online tools for grammar and vocab practice or tasks on the cd-rom generally give automatic feedback, so it’s easy to think that once we’ve assigned the task, students do it and we all move on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, and students pick up the message that this is optional, you can get by without it. Which is a pity. If you’ve got this great material, why not get the most out of it!
Evening classes with adult learners can be a real joy. Unburdened by the pressure of exams or a set curriculum, students and teachers are free to explore topics of current relevance or of interest to the individuals in the group. Class sizes range from 4 to 8 students, motivation is high and students share their own experiences adding relevance and life to the lessons.
There are, of course, some challenges. One common problem here is punctuality. As students are coming to class straight from the office, a meeting that overran, a last minute conference call or an accident on the motorway all cause delays. Teachers often start these classes off by asking students how their weekend was, if they are busy at work or what plans they have for the coming weekend. The logic is that it gives students a chance to warm up and settle in, while allowing time for late-comers to arrive before the real business of grammar or vocabulary begins. You go around the class and ask each of the 4 or 5 students present for their contribution. It might only take a few minutes, but it might also throw up some interesting vocabulary or grammar review opportunities.
I’ve seen the ‘How was your weekend’ Warm-up in numerous lesson observations and experienced it as a student in evening classes for Spanish. I do it myself from time to time. But if punctuality is an issue, you might have to reassess the impact this low-key, relaxed intro is having on your class. What message does this type of warm-up activity give?
Starting the lesson with general chit-chat can signal to students that it is OK to arrive late. If the actual ‘teaching’ does not start for 10 or 15 minutes, they may feel that being a little late will not hinder their progress. After all, they are not missing much.
To counteract this, we should ensure that the content of the class is just too important to miss.
I read somewhere about a study in America which showed that introducing some type of mental warm-up at the beginning of every class increased the number of students arriving on time. An example would be a question or dilemma for them to work out alone or in pairs. This ‘Welcome – Get Working’ intro has more of an impact.
Here is a selection of easy tasks to get students working as soon as they sit down. They can be done as 5 minute writing activities or pair work discussions. Adapt them to suit your lesson objectives. If you choose the pair work option, assign students partners as they come in. ‘Hi Stefan, nice to see you. You’re going to work with Tina today.’
This prevents them from all sitting in exactly the same seats every week, working with the same partner and rolling their eyes in despair if you ask them to try out a different seat/vantage point sometime. (Do all adults do this or is it just a local phenomenon?)
1. What’s the question?
Students come up with inventive ideas for questions that can be answered with the word given. Write 3 ‘answers’ on the board, or give them one ‘answer’ and ask them to come up with 3 questions. The answer is ‘often’. What’s the question?
The answer is ‘before you go’. What’s the question?
The answer is ‘with a monkey’. What is the question?
Suggested solutions: Have you ever tried kangaroo meat? When should you apply for a visa to visit China? How did the man get the coconuts down from the tall tree?
Jot down some ideas and then discuss with your partner.
Would you rather be good-looking or rich?
Which is better: the power to read minds or the power to be invisible?
3. Brain teaser
There are a lot of sites dedicated to these online. Look for brain teasers, riddles etc.
What 5-letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
The more you take, the more you leave behind. What are they?
It’s a stormy night and a plane takes off from JFK airport in New York. The storm quickly worsens and the plane crashes – half of it lands in the United States and the other half lands in Canada. In which country do you bury the survivors?
(Answers are at the bottom of the post.)
4. Review of last lesson
List three things you remember from the last lesson/ 3 key words from the last lesson. Share with your partner and explain why you think they are important.
5. Ideas for introducing the topic.
Pairs. Put 20 words on the board, somehow related to topic or taken from text you are going to read together. Students make as many pairs as they can in 2 minutes. Must be able to justify each pair. Justifications can be simple (both start with an s) or more complex. They then try to guess what the topic is.
Topic Test. A word or phrase related to the lesson on the board. Students have one minute to write down words related to the topic or facts they already know about it.
Missing letter note. Ask students to rewrite a note/sentence without using a particular letter. Example:
Rewrite ‘Your dinner is in the dog’ without using the letter ‘d’.
Rewrite ‘Don’t dare touch my pint‘ without using the letter ‘t’.
Suggestions: Your evening meal has been eaten by our canine pet. Rover, our animal pal, was scoffing your lovely supper.
Laying a finger on my lager would be a serious error. Hands off my beer.
These type of intros grab people’s attention, get them immediately interested and active, and show students that by being late they are missing out.
Sometimes I get the feeling my students don’t feel as enthusiastic and passionate about English as I do!! For my students pursuing degrees in Marketing and Media, or Tourism and Event Management, English is a compulsory course. Some, while acknowledging that it is the language of business or travel, don’t see the immediate relevance for them and being first years, have yet to shake off the bad studying habits they may have picked up at school, i.e. do enough to get by and cram before the test. The language levels within the groups can range from those who say they’re not very talented at languages to those who’ve spent a year backpacking around Australia or have an English-speaking parent or two. This mix of abilities can have advantages as well as disadvantages, and of course, mirrors more accurately the situation they may end up working in once they have left university. In most cases, graduates in Germany applying for office jobs are expected to speak English regardless of the position they are interested in, and some companies, particularly those with international teams, insist that formal meetings and presentations are carried out in English rather than German. This means English is likely to become an important part of their day to day working lives. How do we prepare these students for this reality? How can we make their English course more relevant, more engaging? How do we help weaker students while still challenging those with advanced or near native skills? Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well throw another challenge into the mix. How do we encourage students to take ownership of their work, to ensure that what they do in class is the best quality they can produce, rather than something thrown together in order to just get the task done? After mulling it over, I am going to give something new a try: An electronic portfolio. A space that allows students to record their achievements, display the work they have created or co-created and document their development. This e-portfolio can be shared with family and friends or kept private, but could also be used later when applying for jobs where English is essential, as a means of proving language skills by showcasing their original work.
I think students will be more conscientious if they see that, rather than just a text or task to be handed in, corrected and forgotten about, the work they do in class can be part of something that shows their language ability, allows them express their creativity and actually says something about who they are. (Am I being wildly optimistic here?!) I spent an hour playing around with Pathbrite and think it could work well for what I plan. It didn’t take long to figure out how to use it, adding different types of media was easy, and I’m happy with the end result. I think it looks good, and can image my students feeling quite proud of their work when presented so stylishly. It will motivate many to take that extra step, be it one final edit or spell-check, having a classmate take a quick look over it and give feedback, or adding a nice concluding paragraph before submitting a text. At least that’s the hope… let’s see how it works in practice! If anyone has experience using e-portfolios with EFL students, I’d love to hear about it. We create podcasts and infographics, digital posters and presentations as well as writing various types of texts. The e-portfolio can link these things together and serve as a record of the hard work and effort the students put into their work. www.pathbrite.com
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on EAP 2014 at the University of Potsdam and my Facebook groups for EAP presentation, here are 2 videos to give details of how to actually go about setting it all up. This first tutorial outlines the steps you take to create a Facebook group to use with your English students. The focus is on creating a space for sharing and collaborating, while encouraging students to use English outside of the classroom using a tool that they are familiar with. All this is possible without teachers or students needing to ‘friend’ anyone.
This second tutorial gives you some quick ideas for getting started. You can post pictures, questions and tasks, create polls or add a document.
Here is the presentation as a PDF. I have included a number of suggestions that I found helped the project really get off the ground. Copy FBshort
Unbelievably simple, yet incredibly entertaining: this sign generator from redkid.net is my favourite. There are other sites, but I found them a bit trickier to use – not as classroom-friendly. Here, you have a choice of 55 signs or images. You just type in your text, press generate and your new image appears! Some images allow for only a word or two, while others can fit a bit more. You can then save the image to your computer. Give it a try – it really is that simple!
My students have used it to create mock book covers to illustrate the ideas or themes covered in their creative writing pieces, titles to upload with their audio boo podcasts, and personalised images to introduce projects. We are all so used to seeing these types of signs in our day to day lives. It’s fun putting your own personal stamp on them.
It’s not just fun, however. Students have to come up with a good title for their stories or podcasts and try to pick a picture that is somehow connected to the title or that they feel fits their work. Deciding what title or message to use takes a bit of thought and if the words don’t fit, students have to start looking for synonyms.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways of using it in class. Let me know how you get on!