Newsletter:Winter 2011 Print
From the Committee
From the Chair...
So, here we are at the end of another year, which seems to have passed even faster than the last one. With the end of the year in sight, I wish to thank all of the people who have helped out with ELTA-Rhine in 2011. That includes the committee – an energetic group of people if ever I saw one – and the co-opted members, who've helped out no end over the year. But it also includes those of you who've turned up early at events and helped carry things, set up things, pack up things, and generally all you members who've been actively involved throughout the year. Our AGM is now approaching fast, and I extend an invitation to anyone who would like to become more closely involved in the running of ELTA-Rhine to get in touch with me. We have openings to join the committee and a range of sub-committees, and any number of tasks you could be involved in. Please contact me at email@example.com if you would like to contribute in any way in 2012.
2011 has been a very successful year for ELTA-Rhine, with our biggest project just now reaching fruition: the new corporate image, the new website, and the associated new Newsletter. The public area of the website is now up-and-running. There have been a few glitches, and there are still a few details to iron out, but the basic design, both visual and technical, is now finished. A big thank you to Emma, Cait and Judith for all their hard work on developing the concept and image, in conjunction with designer Barbara Sailer.
The closed Community section of the website is introduced to you today, with the publication of the Winter Edition of our Newsletter – as you click through the articles in this Newsletter, you will be taken into the Community area. The first article you click on will require you to log on, using the username and password which you have already organised, to gain access to the Community area of the website. As long as you stay logged on, you can move from article to article, back to the front page, etc., without difficulty. For those of you who don't want to read the Newsletter online, there is a print option, which opens a full PDF of the edition, which you can print and read at your leisure.
The Community area of our new website is as yet in its foetal stage. Over the course of 2012, we will be working at expanding it to include the possibility of downloading useful information and teaching resources, and finding archived materials, etc. We would welcome ideas from you as to how you would like this area to be used. Please contact Emma, Cait or Judith.
My thanks to Judith, Karina and Graham and the many contributors for again creating an interesting and enjoyable newsletter. I'm very impressed by all of you and your commitment, even at this insanely busy time of year.
In this mad pre-Christmas time of Glühwein and marking exams, I'd like to wish you all well for a relaxed festive season and a well-earned rest, quality time with family and friends, and not too much over-consumption.
Happy not-teaching (for a few days, anyway)!
Committee Information and News
We welcome new members from around the globe this festive season, some of whom have already made themselves known through festivities and contributions. Nice to have you join us!
Helga Liegat, who we wish well, and who sent us all this lovely farewell message:
Dear members of ELTA Rhine,
the association I appreciate/d so much:
meeting interesting open-minded people,
getting to know wonderful companions-
not only as a former member of the committee, ages ago- (sniff, I still love to remember this time in particular),
joining in joyful events,
attending interesting and useful workshops,
reading instructive newsletters,
and last but not least enjoying attentively
all the mails being sent around.
But alas, it is time to say good-bye to ELTA
due to health reasons.
That is why I’d like to thank all of you
who made and make ELTA what it meant for me
and to wish each one of you and
Elta as the association as such
a lot of joy and success further on.
The ELTA-Rhine Website
A work in progress
I thought I would write a few words about the development of the website so far. Many things have probably been forgotten and I hope I have used the correct technical terms. If not, for those of you in the know please be forgiving of my ignorance.
I would like to say the website is finished, but in fact such a project is never "finished" and needs constant updating, changing, modernizing, etc. Such is the nature of this modern internet age in which we find ourselves.
What is finished, though, is the structure - a lot of which is in the background and not seen by the user - and the appearance and functionality of the site. What is still to come is the expansion and development of the community area. The infrastructure is in place and in the next weeks and months Judith, Cait and I, hopefully with your input and support, will develop the area to be yet another useful resource for ELTA-Rhine members.
Briefly: How did it get to the place it is now?
Well, the starting point was various discussions between the committee, the website sub-committee and the designer, Barbara Sailer. This, of course, was not an uncomplicated process, as we had to find out what we wanted and what was possible within our budget.
Our aims in improving the website and developing a new image were to
- Represent ourselves more professionally, both as individuals and as an organisation
- Increase our visibility both to potential members and to future clients
- Improve communication internally with the membership
These discussions led to a meeting with Barbara, where she quizzed us about ELTA-Rhine. She asked us questions such as: What kind of organization are you? What do your members do? What should be the function of the website and the corporate communication? And many many more...
Some of the key words relating to ELTA-Rhine that came out of this meeting were "trustworthy", "tradition", "communication", "individuals", "togetherness", "modern and up-to-date". On the basis of these discussions a proposal for the corporate design was made: this included logo, typography, colours, photographic and visual language, etc. The logo is the central point of this and should reflect, among other things, the core values and concepts of an organisation or individual.
There has been varying feedback about the design. [See letters below, for example. People have commented on the diamond structure, which appears on the website, letterhead and all printed materials, as showing everything from autumn leaves (perhaps inspired by our current season) and flower petals, through to building blocks and open books. - Ed.] What you see is entirely your decision, but the intention behind the design was to symbolise the nature of ELTA-Rhine: individuals who come together to network and learn from each other and create something bigger than each of us singly. That networking is dynamic, and takes different shapes on a continual basis - something we saw again at the Christmas Party earlier this month.
With the logo, we wanted to avoid incorporating any specific locational symbols - the name already does that for us, and our expanding membership includes many members who live and teach in areas not directly associated with the river or any of the major cities. Instead, we took as our basis the concept of a 'seal of quality'. Again, feedback has been varied, but one particularly memorable comment was words to the effect of "well, it's recognisable - you won't forget it in a hurry" - which is really what the function of a logo should be.
The next steps
After the design decisions had been made came the long hard slog of trying to figure out how our ideas for the website should all come together, what should go where, how it should be connected, what functionality it should have, what images should be used, etc. These were questions we had never imagined we would need to, and yet somehow managed to answer.
One Saturday in the summer, a few of us met in the offices of a client of mine, and photographer Britta Schüssling took some fabulous photographs. Thanks to all who showed up for that! The results are to be seen on the website and will appear in the newsletter too. In this article you can see some of the "making of" photos.
Gradually the website took form and there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, in the middle of October, it went online and after a day or two promptly crashed - just after the letter on our new letterhead had been sent out announcing its launch! After some panicked phone calls and emails, the site was up and running again and we could breath a sigh of relief.
Since the launch Judith and Karina have been working hard to set up the online version of the newsletter and the fact that you are able to read this now is in no small part due to their hard work and perseverance! Well done. Our wonderful programmer Klaus Müller also deserves a mention for rescuing us on many occasions when we just could not work out why something was not doing what we thought it was supposed to be doing.
From the point of view of functionality for those working on the site it is a dream. In a few minutes we can change a text or update a profile. No more fear of crashing the whole system while making changes! Yes, we had to learn a few things, but you really don't need to be a computer buff.
So, a big thank you to all involved and I hope this communication window will to continue to grow and expand in the future.
Emma Stockton, lotus languages
Comments from Members
Letter to the editor
Am I the only ELTA-Rhine member who is less than enthusiastic about the new logo?
The old concept logo embodied ELTA-Rhine itself, with the wavy lines representing the river Rhine flowing through the towns of Bonn, Köln and Düsseldorf where we all work. The circle, with the river, symbolised the unifying factor of this river for us.
This is why, way back in 1989, we chose ELTA-Rhine for the name of our association and not BELTA or KELTA or DELTA, and the logo symbolised this! Furthermore, the prototype logo was democratically chosen by members after a survey in the newsletter. The last ELTA logo was professionally designed, and still looks smart and up to date. Why change it? Why the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and design a new logo which seems to have nothing to do with the original concept and hence with the organisation? This new logo could be a logo for anything………
Dear creatives at Elta-Rhine,
Just wanted to let you all know that I think the new design of the newsletter - (very visual) and the Elta-stationary is really great! I like the fresh, streamline look and the bright colors of the stationary header. In fact, I'll have it in mind as a model when I design my own logo and writing paper.
Warmers and Fillers
Christine Schrempp puts us through our paces with activities to keep our students limber.
Before and after you do sport or exercise, you need to stretch, warm up and warm down. Even when switching activity, it's important to keep moving to keep yourself warm.
The same goes for language learning. When students walk into the classroom, they need time to readjust from their first language and get into lesson-mode.
Here are a few ideas for stretching, warming up, keeping warm and warming down:
Story-telling (all levels)
Preparation: Random words in categories on coloured cards (one word per card)
Activity: 1. Cards face down in category piles
2. Each student has a turn of choosing two cards from each category and tells a story using his/her cards
3. Award points for creativity and each card used
Good for: Fluency and recycling vocabulary
Memory Circle (all levels)
1. Start with a base sentence, e.g. “I went to the shop and I bought some apples.”
2. The next person repeats this and adds one more item.
3. As you go round the circle, each person repeats the previous sentence and adds an item
Good for: Grammar and vocabulary practice; this could also be used to review verb tenses (“Yesterday I got up at 7:00am.“ or “Tomorrow I'm going to get up at 8:00am.“)
Conditional Circle (Intermediate and above)
from Penny Ur 'Grammar Games and Activities', CUP
1. Start with a base sentence e.g. “If I won the lottery, I would buy a boat.”
2. The next person continues with “If I bought a boat, I would go to a deserted island.”, always using the new part of the sentence to continue as you go round the circle
Good for: Grammar and vocabulary practice, and could even extend into a fluency exercise
Past Participle Tennis (lower levels)
Preparation: Verbs on cards (e.g. make, do, have, walk, sit – good to throw in a few regular verbs to keep them on their toes)
NB. The cards are not necessary but are useful for keeping up the pace of the game
1. Divide the cards between the two players
2. Player A turns over a card and reads out the verb / Player B says the past simple form / Player A says the past participle
3. Repeat, Player B starting this time
4. Award points each time a player makes a mistake - tennis scoring (15-love) is optional!
Good for: Grammar practice
Brainstorming (all levels)
1. Nominate a category and a time limit
2. Students in teams brainstorm vocabulary (in teams works best, otherwise alone and then compare with the group)
Good for: Vocabulary practice (Vary the focus by sometimes banning nouns, etc)
Describing Pictures (all levels)
Preparation: Collect a few pictures of scenes with people, objects, activities (magazine advertisements for margarine are ideal!)
1. Each student receives a picture and writes ten questions about it
2. Students work in pairs: A describes B's picture (1-2mins), B ticks off the questions answered and asks the remaining questions at the end as a follow-up
Good for: Vocabulary, fluency, grammar (especially question forms and speculating), Cambridge speaking exam preparation
Deleted Transformations (Intermediate and above) from Nick Hall & John Shepheard, 'The Anti-Grammar Grammar Book', ELB Publishing
Preparation: A few marker sentences
1. Put a marker sentence on the board e.g. “Charlie went to the Pyramids only yesterday.” with the transformed the sentence just as gaps below
2. Explain that students have to fill that gaps to make a sentence which means the same as the first sentence.
3. Students guess the remaining words
(Answer: Charlie has just been to the pyramids.)
Good for: Grammar practice, Cambridge Writing and Use of English exam preparation
Plus a few Old Favourites (all levels)
Good for: Grammar and vocabulary practice
Telling Tall Tales
Lorcan Flynn, on drawing the stories out of your students
One of the most important skills a story teller must master is the ability to listen in silence. If you succeed in giving your students the confidence to tell an anecdote, it is essential that you do not interrupt. At first, your students will ask you to help them with vocabulary. Try to avoid helping them as much as possible. Encourage them to express what they can in their own words.
Here are some of the activities I have successfully used to get people talking. They are all ideas I picked up from others and adapted over the years. Insofar as time allows, I would be happy to visit your group to give a demonstration.
In the following activities, the initial writing of individual words is designed to open up the visual memories stored in our brains. Music helps.
- 1. Students take a blank sheet of paper and draw a random shape on it. This can be anything at all i.e. a geometric shape, a line drawing of an elephant or a car or just a random line drawing.
- 2. It is useful to play a piece of slow music while they are doing the next bit. Tell students to write the following around their shape: A person's name, a pet's name, a place, a date, a random object, a company, a type of car etc. (You can use a list of business related items or topics if you like)
- 3. When the music is over (3-5 minutes) the students should form pairs or small groups. They should swap papers and ask each other what the different items on the list mean to them.
- 4. When you see conversation in one group drying up, you can mix the groups or pairs and start again.
- 5.Students should write one of the stories. They should write for a maximum of 15 minutes whether this is done as homework or in class.
- 1. It might be useful to first do the following activity on a flip chart, or.....
- 2. Students take a blank sheet of paper. You tell them to write a word in the centre of the page, for example “bicycle”
- 3. It is useful to play a piece of slow music while they are doing the next bit. The students should do a mind map of all the images they can unlock in connection with the chosen word. You should explain that this is not a vocabulary exercise. The students should try to associate the word bicycle with some memories. They should only write single words e.g. “Fergus” (My uncle who gave me my first bicycle), “Knee” (I fell and damaged my knee when ….) “Christmas” (I gave my son his first bike........) “Mary” (we used to cycle along the beach together and.....)
- 4. Similar group and story-telling activities to “Random words” above
- 1. Students take a blank sheet of paper. Tell them to think of an important event in their lives. One when they felt happy and or successful. (Example: when they got their driving licence or some other certificate, their first car, when they had a baby or got accepted by a company, gave a successful presentation etc.
- 2. As they listen to the music, they should jot down words related to the images they unlock.
- 3. Alternatively, you can tell them to try to answer the following questions:
Where did it happen
Who were they with
What could they see/hear/feel/ smell/taste
- 4. Similar group and story-telling activities to “Random words” above
- 1. Cut words (see below) and play “taboo“ or similar activity to introduce vocabulary. You can change the vocabulary according to the level of your group or the language you want to practise. However, “Krimis” are a good way to introduce this activity.
- 2. It is also useful to ask people to describe their favourite episode of “Tatort” or some other thriller.
- 3. Small groups, pairs, or individuals choose 10 random words. and create a story that has to include some or all of their 10 words.
- 4. One of the group then tells the story
- 5. Write story immediately or as homework
Murder game variation:
- 6. Place cards in pile. Turn up one card, begin story. Next person turns up next card and continues story.
- 7. Introduce whatever structure you want to practice into this activity e.g. past continuous
- 8. Write introductory paragraph of story with target structure or vocabulary as gaps to be filled in or corrected.
- 9. Individual or groups write further paragraph then compare and discuss
Working smart - a revolution in our pockets
Kay von Randow takes us through her method for creating teaching resources quickly and easily, whilst sitting on the balcony with a hot cup of coffee.
Since I regularly choose articles from British newspapers to use in my lessons, I’m really grateful to be able to optimize preparation time by using my iPhone. There are two aspects with which using the iPhone helps: A) in actually choosing an article B) arranging it for printing.
1. First, I visit the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, Independent, Economist or Huffington Post online by using their particular apps or by calling up the previously saved bookmark to the online site.
2. Then, I scroll through the headlines (I've set up the apps to show those sections of most interest for my students, e.g. Business, World News, Environment, Lifestyle, Politics) till I find 3 or 4 which look promising.
3. The next steps depend on whether I’m viewing through an app (as, for example, with the Independent), or whether I’m on the actual bookmarked website as you would see it on a PC i.e. not optimized for iPhone (as, for example, with the Guardian).
4. App Method: I copy an article to Pages (Mac equivalent of Word), save it as a Word doc., send via email to myself, open it on my PC and edit it, before printing.
5. Website Method: After finding a suitable article, I click on the Reader tab next to the URL ….and this converts the article to one containing Text only, free of images and adverts. This is then copied to Pages and the aforementioned procedure is repeated. This may sound complicated with several steps, but is in fact simple and extremely quick. And fun!
Although one does have a Print option on the newspaper websites, I often prefer to change the font and rearrange the text to create more compact or less dense paragraphs in order to facilitate readability and comprehension.
In case anyone is wondering why I follow this path so regularly, here are my recommendations:
- Business articles containing masses of numbers (ordinal/cardinal/percentages/dates) are marvellous texts for any students who give presentations and need to be really fit with numbers. Regular practice at reading the numbers means that they feel confident when it comes to Question Time during their presentations.
- Articles thematically related to the student’s work help them to increase their use and grasp of vocabulary.
- Articles with surprising/inspiring/outrageous content are wonderful for getting a conversation/discussion going.
In all cases, I often write out a list of questions, or some gap-text sentences needing vocabulary from the articles as homework.
I hope that I’ve convinced you how easy it can be to aid and abet your lesson preparation with an iPhone!
Bert Kerstin whets our appetite with fresh ideas for old problems
1. The challenge
Not many people know Balkesh Kaushal, marathon runner from Great Britain, who competed in the 2010 Berlin Marathon – and came in last. It took him 7 hours, 9 minutes and 24 seconds to cover the approximately 42 kilometres. Quite a while, but at the end of the day he had made it! Many more people, at least within the running community, might know Patrick Makau from Kenya. He ran the same race at an average speed of about 20 km/h and after about two hours he arrived first. What’s the lesson for teachers here?
Students, just like runners, do not move at the same pace, each individual has his personal speed. This sounds trivial but if you observe formal language learning in action, you will find that such common knowledge is often ignored. Studies suggest that the task performance of children and teenagers differs at a ratio of 1:4 in terms of time. A fast learner may take 5 minutes to complete a task; his fellow student sitting next to him might need 20 minutes. Adults differ 1 to 9, according to the same studies. Since completing exercises and finishing tasks is crucial for successful language learning, the challenge is obvious: How can teachers cope with such differences if they teach groups of 10, 20 or even 30 students?
Their usual answer is a compromise, i.e. they allow an average amount of time for the whole class, a measure which seems appropriate for the average student - but not for the rest. Slow learners do not get the time they need. They never have the chance to finish tasks set by the teacher, thus lacking practice and progress. The result is often poor classroom performance and a gradual decline in self-esteem and motivation. “Why bother, I won’t get it done anyway.” Fast ones, on the other hand, feel bored due to waiting periods and lack of challenge. They deserve to be attended to and cared for as well.
Students differ not only in speed but also in cognitive skills, prior knowledge, learning styles, modes of perception and motivation. The “one-size-fits-all” idea, which makes all students learn the same things, with the same objectives, in the same way and within the same time slot is bound to fail. That way, individual learning progress is hampered for many and the bottom line is that both teachers and students feel frustrated.
2. The sandwich principle
Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to meeting the challenges described above, theoretically elaborated and successfully put into practice. Among them there are “best solutions”, which need both time and large scale collaboration to develop but also simpler remedies that can be put into effect tomorrow. One of these small steps will be presented in this article: let’s call it the ‘sandwich principle’.
According to this principle, lessons are sequenced in three steps, just like a sandwich that is made up of three layers. At the start there is a teacher-directed instructional period, a sort of lead-in for the whole class. It is followed by a differentiated study section, the main part of the sandwich. The lesson finishes off with a short plenary sequence, directed again by the teacher. Time shares should be roughly two thirds for the central sequence and one third for the top and bottom of the sandwich together. Let’s take a closer look at each section now.
Holding the reins here, the teacher can engage in various activities to get the lesson going: introducing the topic, raising the students’ motivation, providing a thematic overview, creating a wider context, relating to the students’ previous knowledge, conducting a first practice cycle, etc. The lead-in is basically a teacher-directed input section aiming at an effective preparation of the subsequent study section.
This part of the lesson allocates ample time for actual learning activities. It is characterized by various measures of differentiation to make it most effective. Providing a complete set of several tasks at one point in time instead of single ones piece by piece is a comparatively simple but very effective strategy. Thus, different learning speeds among students are accounted for. Remember - slow learners need four times as long to complete a task as fast students.
Providing a complete set of tasks at the beginning of the study section enables each student to take “his/her time”. Slow learners get the chance to complete at least the first, basic task of the task set, an experience they rarely make in traditional, step-by-step class design, although necessary to develop skills, motivation and self-esteem.
Fast students, on the other hand, are not hampered by a teacher-driven average speed but can – and should – achieve more. On the whole, the study section aims at allowing asynchronous learning processes for the benefit of all.
More strategies of individualized learning can be embedded in this phase: Most important, tasks can be set at different levels leading to different skills. In such an arrangement, however, basic skills have to be trained by all learners through one or more obligatory basic tasks. Slow learners complete fewer tasks but do so more thoroughly for they get sufficient time.
Task sets can have a systematic structure, in which task B is based on task A, task C on B and so on. A different arrangement would start out with a basic task (task E) but then offer a choice of 3 or 4 parallel tasks (F,G and H), which have the same content and objective but vary in terms of social interaction (individual, pair or group work), style of activity (receptive vs productive) or mode of perception (visual, auditive, written).
Students who are more experienced with differentiated learning might even work on different sub-topics, according to their personal interest and motivation, as long as there is a common topical frame.
What if students finish their tasks at different times in a lesson? How can correction of mistakes and feedback be organized? At this point, key sheets come into effect, a helpful tool for closed tasks and semi-closed (or semi-open) tasks. After completing a task a student picks up an answer key placed on the teacher’s desk and checks his answers. Again teachers should grant sufficient time so that this crucial step is carried out with utmost care. Adopting answer keys and individual checks is a point in itself already if you compare it to the usual centralized, hasty and oral checking practice in a synchronized classroom. The latter is especially questionable, for it comes too early for the slow ones who have not finished the corresponding task. What is more, classroom noise and bad acoustics often impair clear understanding. Finally, spelling errors are not revealed in oral checking routines.
Giving feedback on semi-open tasks is more difficult since more than one solution is possible. The answer key could list all possible answers but peer-correction can also be effective here, a method also apt for closed tasks.
Feedback on open tasks can be done in pairs as well but the complexity of such tasks and their solutions demand the teacher’s expertise. He/she could give feedback during the study section itself or do the reading and evaluation of texts at home.
Another way of evaluating written or oral products, e.g. a letter, a little story or a dialogue, is presenting them in the third section of the sandwiched lesson to the whole class. Here feedback can be given by teacher and students alike. As a side effect, slower students get a helpful impression of how others have tackled the task. This experience might enhance their grasp of the task, whether they strive to copy the model or alter it.
The bottom slice of the sandwich, part 3 of the lesson, is guided by the teacher again, like the first section. Here students may present all kinds of results produced during the study section. Even unfinished work could be evaluated to give it a boost. The teacher might want to focus on the essentials of the lesson or look ahead at follow-up questions, issues or topics.
The final section can also be a time to reflect on the teaching and learning process, on the tasks, materials and organizational setting of the study section just completed. Last but not least, the teacher can provide his students with necessary information and useful tips.
It is extremely useful to have a flexible understanding of the sandwich principle so that it can easily be adapted to larger time units such as 60- or 90-minute lessons. In this case a second plenary phase could take place at some point during the study section, where the teacher might provide more input or students might want to present provisional results.
In upper grades the sandwich can grow even more, in thickness and richness. Teaching units may stretch over several days and weeks comprising 10 to 20 lessons. With time periods growing it makes sense to extend the lead-in substantially. In addition, the long study section in the middle can be interrupted by shorter teacher input periods whenever necessary, thus adding more layers to the sandwich.
(A regular 45 minute lesson on “Food & Drink“)
Teacher leads into new topic, introduces new lexical and grammatical items, directs one or two short oral practice cycles with all students, announces following task set, hands out task sheets, gives hints regarding support, study time, solution sheets, etc.
Students start with task A (e.g. a vocabulary matching exercise), come to the front, pick up an answer key and check; continue with task B (e.g. a gap fill exercise), correct using the answer key, etc. Fast students then have time to do task C (e.g. an oral dialogue about “planning a party”)
Teacher conducts quick survey on status of task completion, asks slower students to read out task A or B, faster students function as monitors, then teacher offers stage for dialogue presentations, then gives feedback to individual students and class as a whole, finally announces homework
5. Questions & answers
Are students able to deal with open classroom arrangements? Don’t they just put in minimum effort and waste time?
Many learners have experienced open classroom settings in primary school. Avoiding demands and idling may occur but are less likely if there is a choice of challenging tasks or materials.
What if fast learners slow down deliberately so as to avoid additional work?
Experience shows that this rarely happens. Moreover, the teacher could counsel bright students to make them aim at high level objectives.
Don’t fast learners consider it unfair if they are expected to do more than their fellow students?
It is necessary to lead students to a deeper understanding of fairness, differentiated learning and responsibility. Most children and teenagers want to learn – if it makes sense to them.
Where can material for task design be obtained from?
Publishers of modern course books offer a great variety of additional material suitable for differentiated learning. Moreover, teacher cooperation can decrease time for lesson preparation substantially.
Don’t students simply copy solution sheets instead of struggling with tasks and exercises?
Things like that do happen but not very often. Teachers should try to convince cheaters that mere copying has little effect on learning outcomes. As a last resort answer keys can be handed out upon delivery of the completed task.
What about the noise level during the open study section?
Since self-organized study involves more activity on the part of the learners, the classroom can become noisier now and then. However, as a productive kind of noise it is more acceptable than disruptive interference. Of course, students can be trained to whisper or speak in a low voice. Oral tasks can also be carried out outside the classroom.
Can self-correction with answer keys be relied upon? Don’t students need a centralized, teacher-directed feedback on their tasks to correct wrong entries in exercise-books and on worksheets?
In comparison, traditional feedback routines (students reading out their answers one by one) are extremely unreliable. (see ‘Study section’ above)
How can I know what exactly each student is working on? How can I keep an overview?
Students should fill in record sheets for extended study periods. During those periods teachers have additional time to observe and record students and their activities.
Isn’t it tiring for students to do worksheet after worksheet?
Definitely! Which is why task sets should include reading, listening and speaking exercises, which can be carried out individually or in pairs or even groups.
What can I do if students choose inappropriate tasks?
Usually self-direction works out fine. If mismatching persists, the teacher can provide support in terms of counselling.
If bright learners do demanding high-level tasks, doesn’t this widen the gap and increase heterogeneity in the classroom?
Withholding fast learners from their potential is not the way to go. Homogenous classes are a myth and cannot be created by stopping the fast ones. Differences between students are not the problem, dealing with them is.
Students learn a foreign language, just like any other skill, at their own pace. Equal time allowances and equal tasks for all demand too much from some and too little from others. Classes structured in sandwich-style can alleviate the situation. Balkesh Kaushal was only able to finish his run because he had been given enough time.
Bert Kerstin, EFL Teacher Trainer, Bonn
“Please, Sir. May I have some more?”
Karina Kellermann, on biting off more you can chew, or her experience with the sandwich principle
Imagine you walk into a restaurant. You sit down, take off your coat, chat to your fellow diners, put your phone on silent mode and generally make yourself comfortable. The waiter-cum-chef comes in and says, “Today’s menu is a green salad, followed by beef with potatoes and a fruit sorbet as dessert.” You have to eat it, whether you like it or not. If you don’t like it, then too bad, you can’t change restaurant until the course is up.
That’s how class has been with me, although to my credit, it wasn’t as bad or as dictatorial as it sounds. The guests did have some influence on the menu – maybe they requested it themselves or they signed up for a course which said that that’s what would be served. And in many cases, I tried to make the dining experience enjoyable. By and large, I would say I succeeded and I don’t believe I’m the only restaurant that works this way.
Now, however, I’m faced with a different set of diners. They have only one thing in common, and that’s they would like to do their A Levels (Abitur) at evening school. Given that they have very different backgrounds, tastes and restaurant experiences, not to mention dining etiquette, I have realised that the regular fare just won’t work. When I’ve got a student who can speak fluent English sitting next to a person who’s never spoken a word before, I know I’ve got to serve up something special.
That brought me to the sandwich principle. My tutor at the Bonn seminar, which is responsible for the fledgling teachers during their practical training or Referendariat, introduced me to this new concept of restaurant management. Over the last few months I’ve been trying it out and so far my students are still alive – and still eating!
The concept is not vastly different from my previous cooking style; however the radical change is in letting the students work through the main course in their own time. Instead of handing them the beef and potatoes and saying “You’ve got 20 minutes for that”, now they get the ingredients to make up the sandwich filling. The starter and the dessert remain very similar, except that now they form the top and bottom buns. For the main course, I provide the basic filling and once the quicker ones have finished with that, they get the extra toppings.
Nevertheless, the challenge in the concept is getting it right. During my first attempts, I made a lot of typical mistakes. In my very first lesson, I forgot the answer keys! After running around the entire classroom correcting the exercises as soon as a student was finished, I was exhausted and learned my lesson: never, ever forget answer keys. When possible, make use of them because they save you a lot of time.
Ideally, after the introduction phase when the topic or vocabulary or grammar has been introduced, the students receive a task sheet on which all the exercises are listed, split into basic and advanced, or if you have large groups and know the strengths and weaknesses and most importantly, have a lot of time, you can also include individual exercises, e.g. Mark, Susan and David do page 51 exercise 2. The exercises should be varied: fill-in the gap, texts, games or puzzles, speaking exercises, group/pair interviews. The possibilities are endless. I must add as well, that in preparing task sheets you should have an idea of how long students would need to complete the exercises. In my first lessons with the task sheets, I had underestimated how much time they would need for the basic exercises. When, after the time was up, none of the students had finished the basic exercises, I told them it was okay, they could finish them in the next lesson; my poor students were so upset that they couldn’t even finish the “basic” exercises that they worked through their break to do it! As a result, (and also through lack of time), I have ended up writing the tasks on the board instead of providing task sheets. The advantage is I can change the tasks quickly if I realise that the tasks are too challenging or vice versa. However, the disadvantage is that the students don’t have a record of how far they’ve progressed.
The third area where I’ve had challenges has been the final phase – the bottom bun, so to speak. According to the plan, in this stage, the students present the results of their work and everyone gets a chance to contribute: the slower ones are called on to present the basic exercises and those who managed more present their results, maybe a dialogue or a puzzle that they created. In my experience however, those who have already checked their answers to the basic exercises using answer keys don’t pay attention while these are discussed and the slower students who didn’t get to the more advanced exercises don’t pay attention while these are presented. I’m still working on ways to improve this layer to ensure that this final phase is just as effective as the previous two: perhaps more game or group activities in which everyone has to contribute and should be able to, based on their previous work. Any ideas are welcome!
Otherwise this sandwich principle has managed to sate the appetites of my guests: the slower diners get all they can handle and the faster ones eat until they are satisfied. Interestingly enough, in the lessons in between which I served up in the traditional way, my faster students ask, à la Oliver Twist, if they could have more. This shows me more than anything else how successful the sandwich experiment has been.
The How-to Exam Section
Teaching to the Test - the Cambridge Use of English Exams
Fiona Way and Judith Ellis provide ideas and advice for training students for the exams, or how to use exam training as a teaching tool
How often do we hear the criticism of teachers who just "teach to the exam", and as a result disadvantage their students by not offering a broader experience of a subject? But some exams are so designed that teaching to them provides valuable learning that students may otherwise not be offered. That being the case, even for students who do not intend to sit these exams, teaching the skills necessary to pass the exams can move students to the next level of competence. The Cambridge Use of English exams are one set of such exams.
The Use of English exams test students' knowledge of grammatical and lexical structures. This includes complex sentence structures, use of function words, word formation, collocation, idiom, set phrases, phrasal verbs and knowledge of synonyms. To succeed in the exam, students need not only to have a sufficient level of English, but to be able to think analytically, and they need to be well-versed in the various question types.
Of course, training students to deal with the requirements of the exam will develop the students' analytical skills, their vocabulary, strategies for guessing the meaning of unknown words from their context, and their ability to control complex structures. Teaching to the test will almost inevitably improve students' comprehension and expression of English, along with giving them a fighting chance of surviving the exam - it's a win-win situation.
Getting to know the exam:
The following strategy works for preparing all exams - Reading, Writing, Use of English, Listening and Speaking.
Two methods of familiarisation with the exam itself are very effective: training complete exams (under increasing time pressure) gives a holistic impression, whereas training the one question form from several different practice exams in turn provides a more detailed understanding of the individual requirements. For this purpose, depending on time and financial resources, two different exam practice books are useful, one to work through cover to cover, and the other to play hopscotch with.
In order to achieve all this, it is necessary to have an extended training time before the exam date - a few weeks or months will not be sufficient unless the students are already strong and able to pass timed test exams with a comfortable margin (the pass mark being 60% - and no dictionaries are allowed). Borderline students will need considerably longer to develop their capabilities. If there isn't the time to develop the borderline students, choosing a lower exam for these students would be more advisable.
There are several good course books available which take students through all the different parts of the exam, and through a wide range of different thematic material - for example the Gold series (PET, FCE, CAE and CPE) and the Expert series (FCE and CAE) from Pearson Longman, and the Ready For series from Macmillan (PET, FCE and CAE). These books require an extended course in order to work through them (we generally use a 9-month time plan), and will build the students' English level substantially over the time.
Know your enemy:
Taken as a whole, the Use of English exams consist of (FCE: 42; CAE: 50; CPE: 44) questions, divided up into (FCE: 4; CAE: 5; CPE: 5) tasks/question types, to be completed in (FCE: 45 mins; CAE: 60; CPE: 90) minutes. We will now look at most of the question types, and consider what each one tests, what it teaches, and how to train it.
Firstly, students need to be training both grammar and vocabulary for all parts of the exam. Dealing with vocabulary, here is a task that gets students to think about different ways of recording vocab, not only at word level but also at phrase level:
Students are given a worksheet with examples from a student notebook, and they analyse what techniques each example uses and then discuss usefulness.
Examples include: - listing words all beginning with same letter - words organised according to word families - according to topic - according to the date when encountered and translation - phrases including same key word (e.g at this point, on the point of, I can´t see the point of) - collocations (make: phone call, a noise etc., do: work, the shopping etc.) - semi-fixed and fixed phrases according to a situation (telephoning, in a restaurant etc.)
The exam parts
Task Type 1. Multiple Choice Cloze
The Multiple Choice Cloze is a text (or set of texts in the CPE Reading Exam) with four choices of similar words to fill each gap. It tests knowledge of synonyms and their related structures, collocations, fixed phrases, phrasal verbs and idiom. Synonyms are tested in several ways, but most particularly through context (see example below) and through structural factors (e.g. dependent prepositions, or gerund vs. infinitive in a following verb). Collocations are another way in which knowledge of appropriate context and structure is tested (e.g. intensifiers with gradeable vs. ungradeable adjectives, compound nouns, phrasal verbs).
The river otter has been (1) __________ off the (2) ___________ species list in Illinois, as its population numbers have recovered. The list is designed to protect species which may become extinct within the (3) ___________ future.
(Answers:1. D, 2. B , 3. C)
Train it by:
Students need to be doing lots of reading in order to be exposed to collocations. Vocabulary should be learned in the context of phrases, and synonyms and antonyms should be learned as part of vocab training. Structures involving collocations (e.g. intensifiers) need to be taught. Students should also be encouraged to look at dependent prepositions as they read, and record verbs, nouns and adjectives along with their dependent prepositions. It is helpful to correct the questions together in class, and check why all the other options don't work (e.g. sometimes all the other possibilities are followed by one preposition but only the correct one fits with the preposition given in the task). Students can then highlight and take note of the alternatives as well.
Task Type 2. Open Cloze
The Open Cloze is a gapped text, where the student needs to use their own knowledge to come up with a single word to fit each gap. Students should be trained to read the whole sentence first, and lookat the sentence before and after, before attempting to fill the gap. Indeed, it is advisable to read the whole passage through once just to get the general drift, and then read again with intent. The whole sentence approach is necessary, as the end of the sentence often gives hints as to the type of word which is missing (e.g. it is only by reading to the end that we can choose in which of these sentences we need and, and in which we would choose but: a) She tried really hard, ____ eventually she managed it. b) She tried really hard, _____ still couldn't manage it.).
Generally, there will only be one possible answer; however, sometimes 2 or 3 different alternatives might be possible (e.g. that or which in a defining relative clause). This part tests analytical knowledge of grammar, through the use of function words. The gaps will not require content words, as this would open up the field too wide. Students should be introduced to the range of function words which could occur, such as:
- auxiliary verbs (be, have)
- relative pronouns (which,who, etc.); question words (what, how, where, when,etc.)
- prepositions (at, on, by, etc.) and particles (if, etc.)
- determiners (this, these, etc.) and articles (a, an, the)
- quantifiers (some, few, lots, etc.)
- negatives (not, any, hardly, never, no, etc.)
- discourse markers (however, whereas, despite, etc) and conjunctions (and, but, so, because, etc.)
- personal pronouns (he, him, his, etc.)
- comparatives (as, than, more, less, etc.)
The Food and Drug Board is still considering (1)_____ to ban the drug or simply to restrict sales. Professor Maguire is against (2)____ ban, stating that responsible use of it (3)____ part of a managed treatment program (4) ____ proven very effective.
(Answers: 1. whether 2. a 3. as 4. has)
Train it by:
Work with the students on developing grammatical accuracy using the above list. This list can guide your curriculum development with at least some of your teaching of grammar and writing - for example, even at CAE level, students still have difficulty with discourse markers (e.g. although vs. despite), which are essential for this activity.
A useful introduction to this type of task is an activity which gets students to think carefully about cloze tests by focusing on what comes before and after the gaps. Students are given a visual image of something related to the topic in the task, then speculate and discuss. They then have a worksheet which has only a few key words that make the context clear. In teams students suggest words which could be inserted in the gaps and slowly the task is completed, analysing the wrong suggestions where appropriate.
When doing practice examples, analyse the correct answer according to the category it belongs to. A very effective way for students to identify function words, and become more familiar with the kind of words involved, is for them to create their own activities using existing texts (from books, newspapers - make sure to use texts at their level). Working with a class, you can then get the class to attempt each other's activities, and see where the difficulties are (e.g. if the student removes a content word, there is much less chance of being able to figure out what word is missing). Also useful for this section is training words which have the same form but different functions (e.g. a gap before a past participle could be an auxiliary verb for perfect or passive, or an adverb before a past participle adjective).
Task Type 3. Word formation
Word formation is generally considered to be one of the easier question types in the exam. It consists of a gapped text, with a base word given for each gap. Students need to analyse the sentence to determine the part of speech required, and then figure out how to make an appropriate one from the given base (this includes deciding if it should be a singular or plural verb/noun or a positive or negative verb/adjective/adverb). This tests knowledge of word families (especially difficult are those families with two different forms for one part of speech – e.g. economic and economical, unsatisfied or dissatisfied). As a result, it also tests knowledge of prefixes and suffixes, including derivatives with both prefixes and suffixes, and compounds.
Example: The company hopes that a shift in public (1) ___________ of climate change will make its range of (2) ___________ friendly products (3)___________ attractive, despite their higher prices.
(Answers: 1. perception 2. environmentally 3. increasingly)
Teachers should help students with building, learning and testing word families. Train students in the functions of prefixes and suffixes (e.g. -ity Adjective > Noun (electric > electricity); en- Adjective > Verb (large > enlarge)), and where there are several forms with a similar function (e.g. negatives), these should be learned outright. Also helpful is learning irregular closed sets (e.g. -ceive/-cept) - these normally affect a group of related words, so you can build several word families simultaneously to show the pattern.
In dealing with the task, students should read the whole text through, and decide what part of speech each gap should be. Sometimes there may be two possible derivations which would fit, but only one can be used in the context (e.g. economic and economical are both adjectives, but only one works when the theme is a washing machine, and the other goes better with politics and national interest). Again, creating their own activities will help on a conceptual level: students should use an existing text, and remove one derivation from every line, replacing it with its base form. For this, students need to analyse in reverse, to find the base hidden in the derived form.
Task Type 4. Gapped Sentences (only CAE and CPE)
In this activity, the one word, in exactly the same form, needs to be inserted into three different sentences. Very often, the function or the meaning of the word is different in each of the sentences. This part tests knowledge of multiple meanings (therefore homonyms), as well as conversion (e.g. Verb = Noun), phrasal verbs and idiomatic use of vocab.
You need to _______ towards the railway station, and turn left just before you get there.
Sally always keeps her _______ and remains calm, even in the most stressful situations.
John sat at the _______ of the table for dinner.
Here again, training in same form/different function is important (e.g. -s can be plural noun or singular verb; -ing can be noun, verb or adjective; -ed can be simple past, perfect, passive or adjective), as is learning more than just the most common meaning/usage of a word. Get students to look very carefully at all 3 sentences before coming to a decision, as often each sentence can be completed with more than one possibility but not all the same, i.e. two might fit with one word and two might fit with another word but neither with all three. Students should be encouraged to record new words in phrases or with common collocations (e.g. to establish a friendship/a business/the reason for something).
One useful activity for increasing knowledge of homonyms is: Students work in pairs analysing several sentences all using the same word but with a different meaning. After a feedback session, each pair is allocated a word with multiple meanings (e.g. break, engaged, etc.). Students use dictionaries to help, and make their own sentences with as many different meanings as they can. They then present them to the group.
The gapped sentence task is an activity where being open to insight is also necessary - if students don't get the answer at first, they should move on and come back to it after doing something else. But they should always remember to come back to it - they should learn to leave no question unanswered.
Students can create their own activities by choosing words in the dictionary with longer entries (i.e. multiple meanings/usages/contexts) and building sentences using a variety of contexts. This would help with developing vocabulary knowledge, but does not necessarily help with strategic learning.
Task Type 5. Key-word transformation
The Key-Word transformation is considered by many students to be the most difficult part of the Use of English exams, and it certainly takes considerable effort to train. In this part, students need to re-express an idea in a phrase using different vocabulary and different structures. A whole sentence is given, then a gapped sentence (the beginning and end of a sentence) which paraphrases the initial sentence, plus a key word which must be used unchanged in the inserted phrase. The inserted phrase has a minimum and maximum word length, which varies depending on which exam the student is taking. This activity requires students to be able to control complex structures (e.g. gerund and infinitive structures, reported speech, participle clauses), tenses (e.g. the perfects or the continuous tenses), phrasal verbs and dependent prepositions, idiom and inversion (in the CAE and CPE). Training this part of the test has the advantage that it improves the students' written and verbal expression.
It is important to know that the correct answer is split into 2 halves, with a point awarded for each correct half. This means the student can get 0, 1 or 2 points for their answer. However, if the half with the given word (i.e. the key word) is incorrect, no points are awarded.
The film started before we got to the cinema.
The film ________________________________ at the cinema.
(had already started when we arrived)
"I'm sorry I broke your camera, Julie," said Tony.
Tony ___________________________________ Julie's camera.
(apologised for having broken)
Ensure students are comfortable with the different grammatical areas covered in the exam. For the FCE, students need a good knowledge of intermediate/upper-intermediate grammar. For the CAE and CPE, students need a good knowledge of advanced grammar. Special attention should be paid to vocabulary which introduces complex forms (e.g. reporting verbs: admit to doing something, agree to do something; structures with prepositional phrases, objects, possessives, etc: arrange for someone to + infinitive, be surprised/annoyed by his + -ing, etc). Events need to be re-expressed from different time perspectives (e.g. watching out for adverbs or contexts which introduce simple past or past/present/future perfect (e.g. when vs. since, already, by the time), adverbs for continuous (e.g. while). Word formation and parts of speech are also important for this activity, as the paraphrase may involve a verb/noun, and the subsequent adverb/adjective, transformation. Give students plenty of opportunity to paraphrase ideas - for example, when looking at any grammar area, ask them how else they could express the same information. Very often, two separate structures are tested within the phrase, and the activity is awarded two points for a correct answer, and one point if only half of the phrase is right.
It is also useful to practice dividing sentences into three parts, i.e. two main parts and a connector (as this is how the sentences here operate) and together trying to rearrange sentences e.g.: (see page 75 of CAE Testbuilder, from Macmillan Publishers)
A It was very easy for someone to steal the bicycle B because C Ron forgot to lock it
C Ron forgot to lock the bicycle, B which explains................. A ................................easily
a. what question word comes after "explains"
b. what pronoun can replace "the bicycle"
c. how "stolen" can form part of a passive construction
d. what adverb should go in front of "easily"
Analysing errors is useful for students to understand what they need to know in order to do this task successfully. Students are given 5 or 6 sentences which are either completely correct or only partially correct. Students have to discuss how many points would be awarded for each one and why.
The sentences can include such errors:
- the key word is not used
- the key word has been changed (e.g. interestingly to interesting)
- gapped part could fit with the words either side, but the sentence as a whole makes no sense
- answer is correct but spelling in one part is incorrect
- used too few or too many words (contracted words are counted as two words (e.g. haven't = have not - NB the only exception to this is can't, which is from cannot)
Students can also create their own activities, but this needs to be handled with care. Students can choose a complex sentence from a reading text, and use it as the gapped sentence. Take out up to the maximum number of words from the middle of the text (including a complex structure or idiom), choose one word to be the key word (one that controls the structure – e.g. a preposition, a reporting verb, a noun derived from a verb which will appear in the paraphrase, a word from an idiom), and write a paraphrased sentence to be the 'original' un-gapped sentence. This is hard work for the students, and should only be attempted under teacher guidance and when they are already well-acquainted with the question type.
Survival guide tips
Your students should:
- answer all questions
- follow the task instructions - if it says 3 - 6 words, don't use 2 or 7.
- not forget to read the titles of the texts - this will help with understanding the themes.
- be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and they may choose to complete their strongest question type first in order to budget their remaining time effectively.
- budget 5 minutes at the end of the exam to transfer the answers to the answer sheet - no marks are awarded for empty answer sheets.
- fill in the answer sheet correctly (in pencil, colour the boxes in - no ticks or crosses, words should be written in CAPITAL LETTERS.
- always check spelling carefully. Correct spelling is required throughout the exams.
Our Four-lettered Friends
Francis Martyn goes places where others dare not tread
[Warning: Contains coarse language]
“There's just one thing, Dude. Do you have to use so many cuss words?”
... “What the fuck you talking about?”
A legendary moment in movie history. And a fine example of the almost excessive use of indecent verbal diarrhea in the brilliant 1998 Coen Brothers' 'The Big Lebowski'. I have not (yet) done the exact math, but with an average of two or three of the aforementioned cuss words a sentence, 'The Big Lebowski' clearly belongs in the league of foul-four-letter-friendly films, alongside 'Pulp Fiction' and 'In Bruges' - which, incidentally, are also fantastic movies. Even young, tender, innocent, impressionable me (you are at liberty to snort in disbelief) was slightly taken aback when I first saw each of these films.
To be frank, I have never been all that tender, impressionable or innocent, especially when it comes to language. I spent most of my childhood in the country that spits out entertainers like Kevin Bloody Wilson, Nick Cave and Tim Minchin – wonderfully rogue minds, colourfully rogue tongues; where parliamentary privilege is treated less as a privilege and more as a prerequisite of practicing politics; whose 2006 $180 million tourism advertising campaign came up with the infamous catchphrase: “So where the bloody hell are you?”; where Toyota launched the “bugger” ad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHOqXzfOxak&feature=related); where the most common synonym for 'cheers' is 'up your arse': glorious Australia. Maybe it was growing up in such an environment that desensitised me, for I have rarely considered offensive language to be really... well, exactly that: offensive.
I have, however, always been aware of the fact that a large part of the English-speaking world feels differently. I learnt at a very early age that there is a place and there is a time. Apart from one unforgivable slip at the age of fifteen months – sitting next to the sink while my daycarer was doing the dishes, playing with a tea-towel which I then dropped: “Shit” - I never swore in front of my teachers, grandparents, orchestra conductors, friends' parents, etc. In fact, I quite distinctly remember swearing in front of my beloved grandmother for the very first time just about twelve months ago. And I did not do so with comfort. That, I think, speaks for quite a few years of linguistic impeccability. Funnily enough, I never had to bite my tongue around my parents; to this day they tend to tell the tea-towel tale in a distinguishable tone of pride.
When I became a teacher, there was no doubt in my mind as to what role my own colourful tongue would play in the classroom and in the workplace: none whatsoever. Despite being someone who occasionally swears like a [imagine the adjective I'd be most likely to use] sailor amongst friends, no one ever needed to tell me one does not swear in front of one's employer, nor does one swear in front of one's students. The classroom is not an environment in which it is appropriate to flex our foul-four-letter-friendly muscle.
There was a period (which I have thankfully overcome) during which I actually overdid my appropriateness. I can be very shy, and while I put on my teacher-persona expertly as soon as I'm in front of a class, as a less experienced teacher I made up for my shyness and insecurities by being over-correct. My poor first students probably thought I was a bit of a poncy, posh, uptight, humourless madam. And I wouldn't blame them if they did. Part of this shield I would hide behind was made up of me being overly conscious of, and exceedingly careful with, the language I used. After all, we are the language role-models, aren't we? I was so focused on my exemplary use of language, on being 'proper', that I almost entirely neglected one of my greater strengths as a teacher: my sense of humour. Imagine me, all conservative and correct (completely contrary to my natural state of being) suddenly confronted with humour in the classroom. One particularly memorable lesson, young lass teaching a group of male, middle-aged IT experts, and one of the students starts talking about his last vacation, where he stayed in a rather odd hotel, that “had no beds and no doors, so there were haystacks on the floor and they had sacks in the doorways”. I don't need to tell you which word he pronounced slightly unfortunately. This gem of a misunderstanding, which all the students in the group enjoyed and appreciated, was un-enjoyed and unappreciated by me. The moment so thoroughly clashed with the correctness I was trying to portray that I tragically failed to join in on the joke. All the more tragic seeing as these days I would revel in a misunderstanding like this, writing 'sacks' and 'sex' phonetically on the board and really drilling (no innuendo intended) the difference in pronunciation.
The experience that prompted a considerable softening up on my part was a comparatively innocent one – but an eye-opener all the same. I was working with a small group of very sweet ladies in a telephoning course, level CEF A1. It was the first time I had ever taught beginner level, and we got off to a bit of a rocky start. All being secretaries of the company I was teaching for, the course participants knew from the outset that I was fluent in German. So when it became clear to them that I for the most part refuse to speak anything but English in the classroom, they became just a tad miffed and hostile. I realised quite early on that I would get nowhere putting on my super correct, impeccable teacher-persona, I needed something more snazzy to connect to this group. The only solution I found was to stop overcompensating for my insecurities and to start behaving a little more like me, a little more human. As if being rewarded for trying to overcome my shyness, I got a golden nugget. I'd already hit a collective funny bone pantomiming the difference between the German 'Chef' and the English 'chef', when one of my students unwittingly – intending to say 'message' – said 'massage'. You probably had to be there, but something about me suggesting 'taking a massage for your chef' had everybody in the room in stitches. I had managed to break the ice with a bit of ever so slightly saucy humour.
Sure, 'massage' and 'sex' aren't exactly the naughtiest words in the English language. But both of these experiences taught me valuable lessons. The first was there's nothing like sharing an even only vaguely suggestively dirty joke with your students. The second was that 'inappropriate' language will sometimes creep in whether intended or not. You won't catch me teaching Business English students how to pronounce 'sex' and 'massage' just because – but it is incredibly important for language learners to be aware of such possible misunderstandings, and if they happen to come up in the classroom they should be talked about.
I have relaxed considerably as a teacher. And I now thoroughly enjoy moments of humorous misunderstanding and ambiguity. Still, occasionally, the question of appropriate language bothers me.
While clarifying misunderstandings for adults is clearly important, when I'm working with teenagers, I sometimes feel an inner 'don't even go there'. I find it immensely difficult knowing where to draw the line – and as always when I am unsure, I tend to go with the more correct and less self-incriminating option. My most memorable panic moment was a few years ago, when a fourteen-year-old student started talking about Harry Potter casting spells with his 'magic stick'. I told this student the word he wanted was 'wand'. He, however, flustered and a little offended, responded that the rapper 50cent used the term 'magic stick' in one of his texts. Needless to say, the little voice in my head shouted “DON'T EVEN GO THERE!” I repeated that the word he was looking for was 'wand' and that he probably shouldn't use 'magic stick'. “But why?? What does it mean??” - I very abruptly and inelegantly changed the subject.
At the same time, I know I would have been offended if a language teacher had treated me like that when I was fourteen. But how does one deal with situations like that? Where do you decide to draw the line? Is it OK to tell a student not to use that word because... um... 'because I said so'? If not, how far do you go in explaining?
... because it's offensive
Because it is.
- but what does it mean?
Young ages and coarse language will always be a tricky one. But even with adults I sometimes find myself asking where to draw the line. It's one thing to include 'Mist' in a list of false-friends (the English translation of the German 'Mist' being: crap.) but when students start asking the walking dictionaries teaching them to provide them with indecent language, should we, can we, dare we oblige? Again, as a language learner I would be the first to admit wanting to know some dirty new vocabulary. And let's face it, there is something fascinating about coarse language, for some reason we are all just a little bit curious about it. Yet even when asked for my rather profound knowledge of coarse Australian idioms, I cannot see myself ever actually teaching any. Even though I use rude Australianisms regularly in my 'natural' language, I doubt I would ever provide my students, curious as they may be, with any of them. Even though one of my absolute favourite pieces of English language is the expression of surprise that, despite involving imperatively doing something very naughty to a duck, is not considered offensive to most Aussie ears, I don't think I would ever share this gem with a student.
November 5, 2011 - Elephants in the classroom – a problem of hedging
Speaker: Andreas Grundtvig
Time: 14:00 - 17:00 at Carl Duisberg Centre, Cologne
The title of this workshop comes from the English idiom "an elephant in the room", which means there is something extremely obvious but we choose to ignore it. Imagine for a minute that there really was an elephant in the room: this could be an uncomfortable situation, given its size and wild nature. Someone turns to their neighbour and says: "There's an elephant in the room." The nervous reply from their neighbour: "I agree, there's not much room in here at all." The obvious truth is being hidden in the second reply. The second response is also an example of hedging, where we use our words to create a barrier to protect ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. It is up to the listener to interpret the meaning.
The workshop started with a brief history of conversation, looking at literature that influenced how we speak to each other and people who developed theories explaining the underlying rules of conversation, and then went on to look at how we generally interact verbally today. We then moved on to the difficulty some cultures have with making small talk and the problems non-native speakers can have understanding this. This is probably one of the topics most often requested by German students as it is the one thing they say they are not good at. During our discussion we realised that Germans make small talk all the time, for example over coffee or on facebook, and the questions and topics are no different from those in English.
In class, we teach general questions and phrases such as “How are you?” and “Have a nice day”, which can be interpreted as superficial by the listener. They are phrases you just use and there may not be a real interest in the answer. A more constructive approach to teaching small talk is needed. From this we looked at ways to introduce this concept in the classroom and prevent our students from being overwhelmed by simple “small talk”.
Andreas introduced us to hedging, words and phrases we use to protect ourselves and minimise risk. We use hedging every day, whether we realise it or not, and it can be a very useful language tool when we teach our students to be aware of it. We looked at various advertisements and how even advertisers use hedging to deliver powerful messages while including an underlying truth to safeguard the company or product. One example was Carlsberg beer with their slogan “Probably the best beer in the world.” Probably, in this case, is protecting the statement best beer in the world.
Andreas used word clouds developed from videoed speeches of various politicians answering different questions, to show how much hedging they use. (Word clouds, for people who do not know, come from software available on-line from wordle.net which analyses texts and displays the most frequently used words, mixing them to form a cloud-like shape.) We spoke about the use of hedging in negotiations and watched some video clips of this in various situations. Hedging can be broken down into five different categories: bald-on record, positive politeness, negative politeness, off-record and avoidance. In the video clips we had to identify when they were used in the given situation. In our discussion, we went into the expressions and categories in more detail, highlighting the fact that there was often a mix of categories in one expression. An explanation of each category is better saved for the follow-up workshop; but afterwards you will be equipped with the teaching tools to identify this with your students and also yourselves.
Finally, we discussed the fact that every language has a form of hedging and Germans speaking in their native language can still be ambiguous and indirect, the much-used word eigentlich being a case in point.
I found this workshop very informative and helpful and recommend everyone to attend the follow-up.
15 October 2011 - From Fear to Freedom: How to deal with vocabulary
Speakers: Liz Jolliffe and Helen Smith
Time: 15:00 - 18:00 at Alte Feuerwache, Cologne
An English learner recently told me that a good English lesson is like a day out at an adventure park: full of ups and downs, variety, changes of pace, new challenges, and with a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction at the end. In their workshop, „From Fear to Freedom“, Liz Jolliffe and Helen Smith provided eager ELTA-Rhine members with a treasure trove of practical activities, games and ideas for turning a standard, even boring, vocabulary lesson into an exciting adventure park trip.
The venue at Cologne's Alte Feuerwache filled up quickly, with the advertised limit of thirty attendees easily exceeded by the 2pm start. After some refreshments and despite a small hiccup when Liz and Helen realised that one set of presentation notes hadn't made it from Frankfurt to Cologne, the workshop got under way with a mingling activity. Everyone was given a slip of paper with the beginning (e.g. syno-) or end (e.g. -nym) of a word on it, and asked to wander about and find their corresponding half. All the word fragments were from words associated with teaching and learning vocabulary, and the activity successfully got everyone „on topic“, moving around, and talking. This was followed by a short getting-to-know-you activity where everyone introduced themselves by tossing a coloured ball around the room (with the ball serving a similar function to the conch in the novel ‘Lord of the Flies’). For the rest of the afternoon, Liz and Helen ran us through a cornucopia of classroom resources and activities for helping learners to expand, practise and review vocabulary. A small sample of their ideas would include word association, mind maps, Wordle word clouds, collocation matches, taboo, translation, student-generated lists, back-to-the-board, bullshit bingo, and noughts-and-crosses.
In order to transmit all this information clearly, Liz and Helen divided the three-hour workshop into three parts: survival strategies, ways of recycling vocabulary, and a final section where we could contribute our own ideas.
In the first part, focusing on survival strategies, Liz and Helen discussed the importance of providing learners with tools to cope with gaps in their (or their conversation partner's) vocabulary. They focused on using communicative crosswords as a fun activity for getting learners to practise describing vocabulary. To demonstrate the value and challenge of one of these crosswords we were split into pairs and given a communicative crossword grid to complete (with words and phrases like „glossary“ and „do not panic“). The to-and-fro seemed to absorb everyone, providing more of a challenge than I expected. During the feedback session most were agreed that this was an engaging classroom activity, relatively quick to prepare, and had a lot of potential for extension. Another activity that proved to be a hit was „The Car“. Helen and Liz gave everyone a piece of paper with a car part on it (e.g. ignition, windscreen) and asked us to come to the front of the room and arrange ourselves as a car. This physical and visuospatial activity was great at getting everyone moving around to compare their words and negotiate their relative positions. It took a few minutes but we eventually managed to assemble a crude human car! Liz and Helen then demonstrated how this activity might be extended by asking which car part would be used first if we wanted to drive off (some of us answered the ignition, some more safety-conscious participants the seatbelt).
During the second part of the workshop, which covered ways of recycling vocabulary, Liz and Helen stressed that vocabulary is essential for all communication: They made their point by asking us what we would rather take on holiday to a foreign country: a dictionary/phrase book or grammar book. They also emphasised that learners need to be exposed to a word multiple times before they can remember it and begin to use it. Some of their ideas for recycling vocabulary included bingo, dominoes, matching games, gap-fill exercises, and word association games. They also suggested building „memory aids“ to help learners remember vocabulary by using pictures, jokes, anecdotes, and "talking around a word“.
Finally in the last part of the workshop, we discussed which of these ideas and activities we liked, which we might use (Wordle word clouds, communicative crosswords, and „The Car“ were particularly popular), and how they could be extended or modified for our specific contexts.
From “Fear to Freedom” proved to be a wonderfully vibrant and participative workshop with variety, changes of pace, great new ideas, and a sense of achievement and satisfaction at the end. A bit like a day at an adventure park really.
This activity was used by Liz and Helen as the workshop warmer. Everyone was given a slip of paper with a word fragment on it (e.g. homo-) and asked to find the person with the other half (e.g. -phone). The activity was thematic (“vocabulary”) and successfully got everyone mingling and “on topic”.
Word association and mind mapping
Liz and Helen elicited a list of five objects (umbrella, house, sat nav, backpack, and laptop), writing them on the board. They then recorded any associated words and phrases that the audience volunteered (rain, castle/home, getting lost, outdoors, problems). Mind maps were suggested as an alternative or extension activity to this type of word association game. It was mentioned that both mind mapping and word association are good activities for recycling and expanding vocabulary.
Communicative crosswords were recommended as a fun way to learn and practise describing vocabulary. A communicative crossword is a set of two crossword grids with half the words already filled in. The grid patterns of the two sheets are the same, but each grid has different words written in. Learners then complete the crossword by explaining the missing vocabulary to each other.
Liz Jolliffe's recipe for making a communicative crossword:
1.Choose a topic and some twenty related words. You can use any number but twenty is a good number for a class activity.
2.Go to the website www.variety-games.com/CW/
3.Select “Old puzzle maker” to see the instruction panel.
4.Enter words in panel as follows:
Enter your choice of title in the box under the panel. Accept default auto in the boxes of columns and rows.
5.Click on “Create puzzle”.
6.A screen appears giving puzzle statistics.
7.Select “Click puzzle to see your puzzle as a web page”.
8.The puzzle appears just as an empty grid with numbers in the boxes, and columns of across and down words (numbered) below.
9.Click anywhere on the screen with the right mouse button to show the menu with print options.
10.Click on “Print” and Bob's your uncle, the puzzle is printed out to enjoy!
11.The next stage is to make two photocopies of the blank crossword, one without the list of down words (cover it up with a piece of paper) and one without the list of across words.
12.Copy only those words listed on the page by hand into the relevant boxes in the grid of each photocopy.
13.Divide the group into two teams and give each one a different copy. They then have fun explaining the missing words to each other (not using the given word, of course).
14.My students love this activity and it does not take long to whip up a crossword with special vocabulary.
Liz and Helen introduced everyone to a website called Wordle.net for making beautiful, colourful and personalised word clouds with a few simple clicks. These word clouds generated significant interest, with participants suggesting them for a variety of different classroom activities (e.g. warmers, introducing texts, word searches).
Helen Smith's instructions for making your own Wordle:
1.Go to the website www.wordle.net.
2.Click on the “Create” button.
3.Type or paste your words into the box at the top of the page.
4.Click on the “Go” button.
5.After a minute or two, the programme will create a Wordle with your own words.
6.The menu bar at the top will allow you to alter the direction of the words, change the font, colour etc.
7.Check that you have the correct number of words. Some common words will not be accepted unless you tick (check) “Do not remove common words” in the language menu.
8.You can play around with your Wordle until it is just how you like it.
9.It is also possible to join words together using the ~ symbol (e.g. board~meeting). You will find it in Microsoft Word in the Insert menu under Symbol.
Vocabulary sheet for self-learning
A handout with four columns (headed English, German, English, German) divided by three perforations or lines (A, B and C). The learners write English words in the first column's rows and then try to remember and write the German translations in the corresponding rows of the second column. They fold the paper on perforation A (hiding the first column) and then attempt to translate the German words in the second column back into English in the third column. Finally they fold the paper on perforation B, translating the visible English words into German one last time. Liz and Helen indicated that this was a good activity for self-study and had proved especially useful for German-speaking learners who had to learn long lists of vocabulary.
Helen and Liz gave everyone a piece of paper with a car part on it (e.g. ignition, windscreen). They then asked everyone to come to the front of the room and arrange themselves as the car. This activity was great at getting everyone moving around to compare their words and negotiate their relative positions. Many of the teachers present said they would use this or a similar activity in class.
We were organised into small groups and each group was given a pile of paper slips with different words or phrases on them. We were then asked to make appropriate collocations (e.g. entertain + a client). It was suggested that these slips of paper could easily be modified for dominoes.
An activity based on Hasbro's vocabulary guessing game. A learner tries to get other learners to guess the word on a card without using the word itself or any additional words listed on the card. Liz and Helen suggested a format where one learner explains the word, another makes sure that none of the prohibited words are used, a third monitors the time limit, and the remaining learner(s) try to guess the word. It was suggested that the taboo cards could be integrated into a class vocabulary box or reused in a game like back-to-the-board.
A competitive game where learners list as many words as they can according to certain criteria within a set time period. For example, they could be asked to write down as many words beginning with ‘b’ as they can in two minutes. These learner-generated lists could then be extended by getting learners to classify the words into different parts of speech or build word families.
Bullshit bingo is game where learners listen for buzzwords or functional terminology (e.g. signposts) and tick them off when they are heard during a lesson, activity, video or presentation. The goal of the game is to tick off a predetermined number of words in a row and then yell "Bingo!", and builds students' awareness of the use of this vocabulary.
A noughts-and-crosses grid is drawn on the board with a different word or phrase in each of the nine blocks. Individually or in teams, learners must try to use the words in a sentence or give a definition or example to make a row of three noughts or crosses before their opponents.
Closed-eye shout out
This was suggested as an activity to end a class. Learners close their eyes and shout out any vocabulary they can remember from the lesson. The teacher writes the vocabulary on the board.
Finally, Liz and Helen suggested a range of activities for recycling vocabulary. Their suggestions included bingo, dominoes, matching games, gap-fill exercises and word association games.
ELTA-Rhine Christmas Party 2011
You may find this difficult to believe, but back in the mists of time, when your correspondent was a young university student, English was seen in other departments as a last-resort course of study for those not up to the academic rigor of other subjects. Students and even professors were often dismissed as intellectual lightweights and a lackluster lot.
Intellectual lightweights? A lackluster lot? Your correspondent begs to differ. English departments around the world nurture our creative thinkers, our poets and our storytellers. The 2011 ELTA Christmas party showcased some of the multi-faceted talents of these keepers of the linguistic and cultural flames.
Lorcan Flynn opened the festivities by wishing us "Nollaig Shona Daoibh" and leading us down the winding pathways of Celtic storytelling. Elements reminiscent of Greek mythology, the Brothers Grimm and the Old Testament, spiced with unique Celtic and Irish flavors, made an intoxicating brew that kept us - enchanted - in our seats.
ELTA's indomitable Chairwoman, Vasi Sarnow and her team of creative thinkers, who did much of the heavy lifting a good party requires, turned a rather prosaic room into a festive venue, filled it with tantalizing smells, kept the wine flowing and urged people to fill their plates (over and over again) from the eclectic buffet. And as the party was winding down, the traditional doggie bags were handed round to ensure that nothing went to waste.
Judging from the lively discussions, the decibel level and general merriment a good time was had by all. Your correspondent has already put a note in her diary to keep December Saturdays free for the 2012 sequel.
Elizabeth Hormann December 14, 2011
How can we make grammar instruction more motivating for learners at higher levels?
4th November 2017 from 2pm - 5:30pm
Alte Feuerwache Melchiorstr 3 50670 Cologne
Few of the students in our classes here in Germany are beginners any more. Many of them have had at least eight years of English instruction at school and plenty of exposure to the target language thanks to modern technology and media. However, these students often demonstrate fossilised errors in productive language activities, and it can be a real challenge to make grammar interesting for them when they have already had the same grammar points presented to them on multiple occasions over the years. In this workshop, we’ll be exploring alternative ways of looking at grammar in the classroom, focusing mainly on the process approach as opposed to the product approach. Participants will gain an insight into collaborative classroom activities such as Grammaticisation and Dictogloss and will leave with fresh ideas to take into the classroom on Monday morning!
About the speaker
Sarah Leek has worked in ELT for almost 10 years in Germany and the UK. Having completed Delta and the IH Director of Studies certificate, she is currently venturing into the world of teacher training and teacher development. In the classroom, she is always looking for ways to bring coursebook material to life, making it more meaningful, memorable and challenging for students who have ‘seen it all before’.
Sarah is currently working at RWTH Aachen University, where she teaches academic, business and technical English.
Event dates in 2017
9 September OUP joint event with John Hughes
4 November Making grammar instruction more motivating for learners at higher levels with Sarah Leek
2 December Russel Stannard, Building blocks of a Cloud Classroom & Christmas Party 2017
Page updated: 27.07.2017
Lit Group meeting 16.10.11 “Heart of Midlothian” by Sir Walter Scott – a review
“This is an extraordinary and not a very probable tale, young woman”, resumed Mr Staunton, addressing our young heroine, Jeanie, who is walking all the way from Edinburgh to London in search of justice for her sister, Effie, convicted of infanticide and due to be executed.
The same could well be said of the novel itself, divided as it is into four distinct sections, which seem increasingly to strain credibility as the novel moves to its conclusion. On the other hand, the basic storyline of the sisters is based on the true story of one Helen Walker, and is set against the historical background of the Edinburgh Porteous riots of 1736, not so long after the controversial 1707 Union with England. The heroine, real and fictional, would not perjure herself in court to save her sister, but chose the much harder alternative. Notwithstanding the length, and the rather convoluted plot, I personally really enjoyed the book and was grateful to the Lit Group for at last picking a book that I wanted to read and was worth the effort!
Not everyone in the meeting, however, shared my enthusiasm, with one member not having got further than the opening chapters. It is true that the literary conventions of the early 19th century, and the dialect conversations in the novel, and indeed the subject matter itself may well be initially off-putting to contemporary readers, but sticking with the book to the end paid off for the majority of members present at our meeting.
The novel is set primarily in Scotland, but also in England, and Scott seems to enjoy contrasting and playing off the Scots against the English. The former seem to occupy, on balance, the high moral ground (the seducer is, after all, English, and meets a sticky end) and the clannish nature of the Scots outwith Scotland is nicely shown in Jeanie’s London experience, where she is helped to her aim by none other than the influential Duke of Argyle.
“Heart of Midlothian” gives fascinating insights into what it was like to live at this time (there are some lovely ironic descriptions of the burgeoning coach transport competition), and the fine distinctions between the religious sects (the protagonists belong to the radical Cameronian sect, who oppose almost everything) provoked an interesting discussion in our group about contemporary religious attitudes and behaviour in the southern states of America, as well as in Scotland.
Why is Sir Walter Scott apparently so little read now, compared with in the past? The ELTA-Rhine lit jury seems to still be out on this: is it lack of interest and demand that leads to bookshops not stocking his books, or is it the absence of these books in the bookshops - currently pushing fashionable Scandinavian crime fiction in translation - that leads to neglect? Perhaps his day will come again. It would only take a film with the recent Jane Eyre heroine cast as Jeanie, and wonderful Scottish scenery as a backdrop, not to mention an atmospheric depiction of 18th century Edinburgh and rioting citizens, and Walter Scott would be back in fashion. The descriptions of the build up to the Porteous riot is especially interesting and reminded this reader of Dickens’ descriptions of the London Gordon riots of 1780 in “Barnaby Rudge”. Who says these classics are not relevant to modern life?
The next meeting of the Literature Group will be at 8.00 p.m. on Friday 13th January to discuss "Desperate Characters" by Paula Fox. This meeting will be at Majella Nì Labhran’s, Werkstattstr. 107, Köln-Nippes. Telephone : (0221) 716 37 10. New members are always welcome but please contact the host or hostess in advance to let them know you’re coming.
The ELTA Choir
After singing to their hearts' content at the Christmas Party, the ELTA Choir will be meeting again in January 2012 (date TBA). Anybody interested in joining us for a bite to eat, a chat and a sing, please contact Davine Sutherland at firstname.lastname@example.org
Newcomers are always welcome.
Here are a few examples from the 2011 Christmas Party:
The Grammar Group
Cait Kinsella talks us through the background of the Grammar Group, and foregrounds the present perfect along the way.
Topic 15th October: Simple past vs. present perfect
Why a grammar group? It really is a pleasure to realize that you are not the only one struggling to explain how to use the present perfect for the umpteenth time in yet another innovative way - only to hear “I work here for 5 years now” in the next lesson. It’s also a relief. It can’t only be me that has this feeling of guilt at not being able to get some matter of grammar across to all learners at all levels. Isn’t this central to teaching a foreign language? I trawl though websites looking for some fun and new way of revisiting the continuous vs. the simple present. I flick through grammar books and textbooks hoping to find that one perfect explanation that will help a particular student to “finally get it”. They don’t always.
The ELTA-Rhine Grammar Group met for the first time on 15th October after the October workshop with Liz Joliffe and Helen Smith. 10 people launched into quite a passionate discussion on the present perfect with a very lively exchange on whether or not grammar should be taught explicitly in the first place (advocates on both sides). There were numerous concrete ideas shared on how to explain the present perfect and an unexpected discussion on what exactly is the correct way to draw a timeline.
A number of people described keyword prompts that they use to trigger discussions along the lines of, for example, How long have you been… working at this office? Have you ever… met a celebrity? How long have you had… your car for? Prompts can be creatively visualised in mind-maps and Wordles (world clouds that can be created online at www.wordle.net).
At one stage we were set the challenge of reducing the following four sentences totalling 26 words down to one sentence with just 14 words: “Paul started his English course some time ago. He met lots of people. They became his friends. He continues to meet new people and makes friends” (*solution below). Although most people advocated speaking activities (e.g. with prompt cards and questions) for practicing the present perfect, writing was also mentioned - rewriting ideas with different key-words, and translating from German to English, to recognise the contexts where different tenses are required.
Comparing biographies of both living and dead personalities like, for example, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, is another way of allowing learners to examine examples in reading texts - which can then be related to the context of the text (relevant to the present/all in the past).
Showing cartoons or sketches with the time shown on clocks works well with all ages.
Songs can be very effective in helping learners remember model structures, for example; “For 24 years I’ve been living next door to Alice…”.
How time is seen and experienced by natives vs. non-natives was mentioned several times by different participants. Here, showing the differences on a timeline or through pictures (Is the focus on the past event or the present situation?), or through translation (What words can we use in English to express this German idea? or How would that work in German?) were raised as ways of developing this awareness in students.
Next year Grammar Group meetings are planned on the same dates as the monthly workshops. Topics, times and locations will be announced over the e-list, and will appear on the Events page of the website. All members are welcome to come along. The materials and ideas shared in the Grammar Group will in future, where possible, be shared in the Community (Members-only) section of the new ELTA-Rhine website.
(*Paul has made a lot of new friends since he started his English course.)
In the mood for modals
By Graham Sutherland
The Grammar Group met on 5th November to discuss the English modal verbs. We took as our starting point a three-columned table (see illustration) aligning the basic modals with the parallel forms used to express ‘subjunctive mood’, often known simply as the ‘conditional tense’, together with the verbal phrases, officially known as semi-modals, which convey similar meanings in slightly different contexts. The table was accompanied by a number of ‘rules’ pointing out the strict limits to when the modals themselves can be used and when they should be replaced by the semi-modals. We then explored the usefulness or otherwise of this way of understanding the modals and the degree to which this means of presentation could be used with students.
One good example of where it can be helpful would be with translating müssen. This is a German modal which also functions in special ways in special situations but often cannot be translated with English ‘must’. For example, since ‘must’ only functions in the present, musste must be translated with ‘had to’, werde müssen with ‘will have to’, etc. Moreover, both ‘must’ and müssen mean there is an obligation to do something, but ‘mustn’t’ means there is an obligation not to do it, whereas müssen nicht means there is no obligation to do it, which must be translated with ‘do not have to’ in English. Also, müssen has a subjunctive form müssten, and the table makes clear that there is no equivalent in English though ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ perform the same function.
It was pointed out that a dimension is missing from this table, in that most modals have both a deontic meaning (to do with action) and an epistemic meaning (related to the certainty of our knowledge):
- Deontic: I must go home. (I am obliged to do this.)
- Epistemic: There’s a message in my mailbox. It must be from Fred. (I’m not sure, it’s only a deduction.)
However, with this extra information, the table helpfully points out that where, although etymologically related, sollen and sollten cannot be translated with ‘should’, for example for a deontic meaning in the past or an epistemic meaning, ‘to be to’ or ‘to be supposed to’ provide appropriate translations:
- Fuerta Ventura soll sehr schön sein = Fuerta Ventura is supposed to be very nice.
- Das solltest du gestern schon machen. = You were (supposed) to do that yesterday.
It’s also quite enlightening to look at an old chestnut, the difference between the will and be going to futures, in terms of their modality. With ‘will’ a modal originating from German wollen, we’re not surprised to find it being used with an especially present reference, for example spontaneous decisions, or for volunteering, while ‘to be going to’ is more for processes which have already begun or at least been set in motion.
With representatives of quite a range of world Englishes present, it was interesting to get a global perspective on the use of modals. While some of us had grown up with the ‘shall’ future, for instance, others had no experience of ‘shall’ as a spoken form beyond the offers and suggestions formed by first person questions. This made teaching it, with practical examples, a relatively simple affair. Indeed, there seemed to be considerable consensus in the group on the occasional need to advise students, at least in preliminary stages, to stick to a single formulation ‘because it’s safer’.
There was also some scepticism about the contemporary relevance of ought to. It was pointed out that ‘ought to’, two words including a long vowel, is nice for emphasising a course which would be morally correct but which one doesn’t actually intend to pursue – Yes, I know I ought to stop smoking but it’s so difficult ... but used correspondingly less in the negative, where it quickly becomes clumsy. It also seems to be very popular in the US but in forms such as ‘oughta’ and ‘didnoughta’, which rather suggested it has freed itself from any of the formal constraints we had been looking at.
As usual, the discussion frequently veered off topic for varying lengths of time to consider other points of language interest which occurred to us during the discussion. With a considerable Australian presence it was no surprise that on this occasion one of our follow-up issues turned out to be swearing, obscenities and taboo language - whether, when and how to teach them. But that’s another story ...
The Grammar Group meets regularly, usually on the same day as the monthly ELTA workshop, to discuss a certain aspect of grammar and any other grammar teaching issues that are on our minds. Come and join us.
The Grammar Group
Topic 10th December: Simple vs. Continuous
Since becoming a teacher, my favourite exercise has become brainstorming. It is a brilliant way of collecting ideas. And of course, when ELTA comes together it is refreshing to have a chinwag about grammar. Each to their own, and as long as it is fun, differences aside, we all get something out of it. The theme at the Grammar Group session before the Christmas party was how to help students understand the concept of progressive forms, which, apart from the Rhinelander saying “Ich bin die Kuh am Schwanz am rausziehen”, doesn’t even exist as a German grammatical structure, so no easy way out in translation either.
Our group, consisting of Vasi, Philip, Lorcan, Randa, Margaret, Judith and Cáit, had a wealth of ideas:
- Going through signal words - at the moment, now… - as opposed to actions we usually, or sometimes, do
- Through actions or mime. All but one student, who leaves the room, has a task to mime - reading a book, using their phone, etc. When the student re-enters the room he/she describes what each individual is doing.
- As a teacher: perform an action (open a window, for example) and ask the students what you are doing.
- An alternative to the above idea is the game “tea potting”, where to teapot is the substitute for the progressive verb. This is a variation on Twenty Questions, where one student imagines they are carrying out a certain task of a professional nature (e.g. giving an injection - nurse) and the others have to guess what the task and profession are within twenty questions, by asking, for example, Are you “tea potting” with a uniform on? or Are you “tea potting” with other people?
- The students make a list of family members or friends and tell the class what they believe these people are doing at the moment.
- For visual learners, use flashcards or photos to describe maybe a photo of a holiday scene and the students can then also grasp the concept of the past progressive - when we went to the seaside a man was fishing on the pier…
- A drawing also shows how to grasp the idea of past progressive as a continuous form - the word continuous in itself shows that an action occurs over a length of time, and can be interrupted by a single action - while I was reading a book the phone rang.
- Song texts are very versatile and popular for discussing grammar options. For example, the song “Family Portrait” by Pink deals with progressive forms, along with several other interesting grammatical forms: An interesting website with activities for a range of song-texts can be found at http://www.musicalenglishlessons.org/popsongs/index.htm . (N.B. "Family Portait" is a great song, but the text - a child's point of view of divorcing parents - could be too heavy for some students: use with care.)
- In order to demonstrate the present progressive as a future form, the students could have a copy of a diary entry (for a week, perhaps) with appointments marked in, and enact a conversation with a friend or client, telling them why they can’t meet up at certain times - “I’m sorry on Tuesday I am meeting another client”
- An explanation of stative verbs, such as ‘belong’, versus dynamic verbs, such as ‘drive‘ and is important for the more advanced students. Interesting are those words which occur in both tenses, but with different meanings (e.g. I have a car, versus I am having a cup of coffee). Translating the words into German according the tense-specific meaning can be very helpful in order for students to understand that you can only see something in the simple form with your eyes, while the meaning changes when it is used in the continuous tense, - you are seeing a doctor, i.e. visiting him and not visually eyeing him up and down! (Equally, the difference between I have a 10-year-old son and I am having a ten-year-old son should bring the message home fairly clearly - and the mind boggles...)
We all, however, agreed that if students aren’t learning grammar in order to pass an exam, and even some examination boards no longer expect absolute grammatical correctness, the students don’t necessarily lay great emphasis on grammar in communication, as long as they are understood. It is up to the individual student whether grammatical details are important in a language class or not.
Pat Schmitz December 2011
“To be or being,” that was the question…for Karina, Uwe, Monika, Jane, Vasi, Eva and Claudia
Our topic this time was different kinds of continuous forms. We shared our experiences and some activities we had used to teach this topic.
- Karina suggested an activity that involves the students representing a certain profession, wearing a badge naming that job. Then they do an activity such as drinking coffee, reading a comic or playing football. In this way, the students should realize the difference: He/She is a teacher.. He/She usually works at a school. He/She corrects mistakes. He/She is fluent in a foreign language… But now he/she is drinking coffee, reading a comic or playing football. Those activities were given to the students on laminated cards. This more or less “playful” activity is followed by the formal teaching of the present or past continuous in grammar books. We all agreed that it is easier to teach it through contrasting it with the simple present or the simple past.
- Jane suggested letting the students imagine what their friends or relatives are doing right now.
- Monika lets her students (at middle school) act out certain activities: two actions following each other. One is in progress, the other one interrupts or disturbs the first one. For either the present or past progressive signal words are good to note the difference.
- Vasi has her students watch “Mr Bean” and then describe what he was doing or what was happening to him. We had a good laugh when Karina told us about Mr Bean’s Christmas. And believe it or not: she used the simple present as a dramatic tense!!!
- Then, of course, there are also songs, poems, limericks or ads (“I’m lovin’ it") we could use to teach different tenses or the –ing forms. (Living next door to Alice… although it’s hard to teach have been living, let alone a future continuous form. We agreed that it is important to teach our students these kinds of continuous forms through answering a question like “How long have you …”)
We talked about modern technology that we could also use, such as slow or fast motion in films (I remember an ELTA workshop with a teacher using “Night at the museum” for all sorts of tenses), Christmas songs, and NPR.org, where you can download interesting teaching material.
For those who are interested, here are some books for reference:
Grammar Games, Cognitive, affective and drama activities for EFL students by Mario Rinvolucri; Cambridge University Press, 1984
Training Englisch: Grammatik, 7./8. Schuljahr und 9./10. Klasse by Philip Hewitt; Klett Verlag, 2005 Basic English Grammar in use, Reference and practice for students of English by Raymond Murphy; Cambridge University Press, 1993
Monika Reinwand, 11th December 2011
A Five-Star Conference – BESIG 2011
18-20 November 2011
“A fantastic networking event” “amazing location and facilities” “as always extreme value for money” “interesting and thought-provoking” “I always come home brimming with new ideas and contacts” “If only I could introduce all the wonderful new methods into my teaching!” “very well-organised and planned” “friendly and efficient” “everything was catered for for our physical, mental and psychological well-being” “this was my first but certainly not my last BESIG conference” “it’s a pity that there were not enough flights suitable for freelancers who have to work on Fridays and Mondays” “out of season not the easiest location to reach” “ if I had known how fabulous the location was I would certainly have booked for a longer stay” “I always enjoy the variety of topics and style of presentations” “several pleasant surprises and no unpleasant ones as is often the case with the large IATEFL event” “fantastic to also have wellness/fitness facilities to help unwind”
All of the above are quotes that I gathered from people attending the 2011 annual BESIG Conference in Dubrovnik over the weekend 18 -20 November and give you a quick insight into the conference, which took place at the wonderful 5-star Dubrovnik Palace hotel. From start to finish well organized and professionally presented, from registering, to airport transfer, to facilities and refreshments available in the conference rooms, tour, disco, networking opportunities, etc.
The conference started with a plenary from Jeremy Comfort entitled “What’s culture got to do with business? Supporting our learners in a complex world”, which you can access on the BESIG website (http://www.besig.org/). This set the tone and standard for the rest of the high quality talks and workshops throughout the weekend. I found it difficult to decide which workshop to attend and was pleasantly surprised by all of my choices, which is not always the case when I attend IATEFL. There was an equal balance between book presentations, individual people’s research or working practices as well as more theoretical presentations and looking at cultural effects on doing business; so that there was something for everyone. As well as that there was an ample arena to socialize and network, which is especially relevant for freelancers and those looking to cooperate with people from other universities, companies, etc. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “To approach the stranger is to invite the unexpected, release a new force, let the genie out of the bottle. It is to start a new train of events that is beyond your control...” and in this way the BESIG event was certainly a thorough success.
Have you heard of TED?
This is a question I seem to be asking rather frequently of late. Some of you for sure have heard of it, in which case please bear with me while I fill the others in. The next lines are a quote from http://www.ted.com/pages/about as I am sure they can say it much better than I can!
TED is a nonprofit [organisation] devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences -- the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer -- TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.
And why am I writing about TED here, you might ask? Well, a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend the first TEDxKoeln, Stories of(f) Balance, which took place at the Altes Pfandhaus in the Südstadt of Cologne on Friday, 28th October. The programme was from 12 midday to 8.30 in the evening and the talks by inspiring speakers from many disciplines were held in a mixture of German and English.
I arrived at the venue just in time, after rushing from my morning teaching, and was immediately immersed in a day of new impressions, new people and new ideas. The programme started with a short video address by the curator of TED, Chris Anderson. I haven't been able to locate that particular video online, but here's a link to another of his TED talks: http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_anderson_how_web_video_powers_global_innovation.html
This was followed by another four "live" talks and a video talk and then a break, which set the rhythm of the day.
The speakers were delightfully introduced by Ole Tillmann, an actor and TV presenter, and during the breaks, as well as having the chance to eat, drink, chat with the other attendees, and have a few breaths of fresh air or nicotine according to preference, it was also possible to talk to the speakers in person and find out more about them and their topics.
Some of the speakers that had a strong impact on me were:
- Torsten Hardiess, whose talk "Lernen morgen, Video-Tutorials will rock the world" predicted that the future of learning is online through video tutorials. Fascinating stuff.
- Dirk and Leander Jakob were another highlight for me. They talked about their experiences of Leander's hyperactivity while growing up. Hearing and seeing this courageous young 17-year-old sharing his insights into his life was very moving.
- Birgit Mager, a professor of Service Design at the University of Applied Sciences Cologne gave an engrossing talk on the use of Service Design - I know, I had never heard of it either!
In addition, there were some video clips from TED.com
- Hans Rosling
"The best stats you've ever seen"
- Itay Talgam
"Lead like the great conductors"
My personal favourite and a must-see.
- Ken Robinson
"Schools kill creativity"
Thought-provoking and controversial, but he makes so much sense...
- Adora Svitak
"What adults can learn from kids"
This kid rocks.
Sadly, it was all too soon 8.30 and time to go home, tired and filled with impressions and ideas and waiting for the promised TEDxKoeln next year.
I am sure you can draw your own conclusions, but in my book TED talks are a great teaching resource, so get clicking and find your own personal favourites. On a practical note, most of the talks on www.ted.com are in English and are videos of between 4 and 18 minutes in length. Subtitles in many languages are available and for many of our learners a great help.
By Emma Stockton
A day out with the three Rs
There’s only one Rhine, there’s only one Ray, and there’s only one Ray’s Walk. That sounds like a good marketing slogan for this traditional autumn ramble but in fact, of course, it’s nonsense. Just as you can never step into the same Rhine twice, so one walk is never the same as, and sometimes not even similar to, another. And even Ray has different sides which he reveals by turns: guide, gourmet, teacher, raconteur, sympathetic ear, paramedic, historian , naturalist – and ever the Irishman!
No surprise, then, when this year’s perambulation took us up the near-vertical south face of the Drachenfels, which few of us had scaled before, to inspect the work going on on the visitor facilities near the summit, and then, crisscrossing previous routes, slowly descended to Kloster Heisterbach and some light refreshments in the cafe of a former monastery now being refurbished as a home for the elderly.
No surprise either when a completely new walking formation developed, with an advance party of ambitious lady walkers pressing ever onward to new frontiers, an equally female and very loquacious rearguard, coping admirably with the terrain after recent ill-health, and in the middle a bevy of gentlemen and other motherly types doing their best to maintain the contact between the two.
All finally reconvened around a table in a Spanish restaurant in Bad Honnef to replenish their fuel tanks and review the pleasures of the closing day. Thanks, Ray, for another great day out with the three Rs!
Advanced Expert CAE Coursebook New Edition
By Jann Bell & Roger Gower
Course Book with CD Rom
Before I go into detail about this excellent course book, a word of warning to anyone planning to use it in the near future:
The Advanced Expert CAE New Edition (updated for the 2008 exam specifications), first published in 2008, has been re-released this year with minor but annoying changes, and with an identical cover and ISBN. As a result, having planned to introduce the book in several classes this semester, I found that my students had variously procured the old-new edition and the new-new edition, leading to confusion and complications several times in the first few lessons. But the changes are all trivial and unnecessary, and so far I've only found differences in the first module. There is no didactic justification for the changes, leading me to think that the new-new edition was a pragmatic decision of the publishers – by making obvious changes early in the book, perhaps the hope is to persuade teachers into insisting on students buying the latest print-run, thus undermining the impressive online trade in second-hand books. But the changes are minimal and can be ignored or duplicated for all, as you see fit.
And now, on to the book itself. 10 modules, each divided in two halves, with each half providing material for at least 2 - 3 double double lessons, plus homework; large writing and grammar reference sections at the back; CD-Rom of practice tests; but unfortunately no answer key or listening transcripts (These can be found in the Teacher's Book). Audio CDs are sold separately.
I am an old fan of Advanced Expert, and taught for several years from the old edition, using it for exam courses and as supplementary material for other advanced courses. In particular, the grammar, listening and reading activities are excellent. The themes (eg. the inexplicable, value-systems, eco-tourism, sport and health, success against the odds, crime, and so on) lead to great opportunities for discussion.
The grammar is very well presented – easy to work with, challenging for the students, fun to do, and well-integrated with the comprehensive grammar reference section at the back of the book. The activities require students to read the explanations thoroughly and take note of exceptions to rules, etc. Generally further practice of the grammar is provided in Keyword Transformation activities, and often it can be integrated into the writing for that module.
Also worthy of note are the listening activities, which develop not only exam-specific skills, but also general comprehension and analytic skills - such as becoming aware of the use of discourse markers to recognise structure, focussing on the attitude of the speaker, or listening for the gist. The listening activities are interesting, challenging and entertaining, making them a pleasure to use in the class and providing a springboard to further discussion.
Vocabulary is generally provided in integrated activities based on the reading sections, with varying levels of success. Areas which are dealt with less thoroughly include Word Formation and other Use of English question types, such as the Open and Multiple Cloze questions. All exam activities include hints and tips, which are sometimes more confusing than helpful, so I recommend students ignore them. Each module includes a writing activity, but style and register are handled fairly superficially. One further criticism is that the gerund vs. infinitive structures and the reporting verbs are in modules 6 and 9 respectively, which does not give students enough time to absorb the structures and learn the vocab effectively before the exam, so I would suggest skipping ahead and teaching those sections earlier in the course.
All in all, a fun book to teach and learn from. My students have responded as positively to the new edition as previous courses did to the old one – the book has a lot to offer, brings a smile to the face, and leaves you with the satisfying sense that your students are really learning something.
At Work - Englisch für den Beruf
By: Rosemary Annandale
Level: A2/B1 mit Audio CD
The book contains transcripts of the audio-CD and vocabulary lists, and you can get access to the solutions, which you can download as a PDF file on the Internet for free. You can also skim through the book online. The book costs €22.99 on Amazon. My first impression was: well, this is a book which is straight to the point, with a plain cover but also in plain language. Its pictures are good, too: lots of business people and also buildings from the business world. You know at first glance what the 20 units are about. Already the first unit drags you into the world of people at work.
All 20 units are well-structured. There is a vocabulary and a grammar section in each of them, and – surprisingly enough – there are some exercises on pronunciation and their phonetic transcription. I would say, on average you would need 30 minutes of preparation for each 90-minute lesson, especially if you accept a little help from the online solutions.
There are topics on personal details, office or canteen equipment, working conditions, business meeting terms, as well as on small talk and hotel features, just to mention a few. The book invites you to learn on your own, but in class you are also encouraged to fill in the gaps with a partner or a group.
The four basic skills a) reading, b) writing, c) listening and d) speaking are also dealt with through a) letters and e-mails, short factual texts, fill-in gaps tasks (also b) and matching exercises (also b), etc.; b) vocabulary and grammar exercises, finding synonyms, designing ads, etc.; c) looking at pictures and deciding who is talking, marking a sentence right or wrong, practising your pronunciation, etc.; d) dealing with presentations, talking about daily business routines, initiating small talk, presenting a product to the class (in partner or group work), etc.
As far as “Global English” is concerned, there aren’t any specific hints on it in the book or a separate unit. I couldn’t find any intercultural aspects either.
I do like the book and would use it for my Realschüler, preparing them for their world of work, because it’s easy to handle and well-structured. The cover and the book show adults only, so it might be a bit difficult to use it for young adult learners, but the levels A2/B1 are okay.
By Monika Reinwand
BOOKS OFFERED FOR REVIEW
The following titles are currently available for review. We’ve got some new titles just in time for Christmas: Crossroads - Englische Handelskorrespondenz und Bürokommunikation, and Next B1/2 with a Companion. Don’t forget the Fit for FCE, released in August. We’ve also got new copies of Language Leader Intermediate, both the Student’s Book and the Workbook.
If you decide to review a book, we provide criteria to help you with writing your review and the book is yours to keep after reviewing. This is a great opportunity to keep up-to-date with all the teaching materials out there and will benefit those of us who are always looking for new books to try out in our classes. The reviews also help other teachers to choose new books for courses or their schools. So please do not hesitate to contact me (email@example.com) with your name, address and the desired title and I will gladly post it to you.
Optimizing Lesson Preparation using the iPhone-SimpleMind
Most teachers probably aim to reduce the time they spend on actually preparing lessons, and I'd like to share two ways I've found to do this.
SimpleMind is a really effective mind mapping tool for iPhone/iPod Touch/ iPad, available from the iTunes App Store. There is also a version for desktop computers. I use it when I want to create a clear, simple, visual aid to present a point of grammar, or to stimulate conversation. The beauty of it for me is that it is indeed deliciously simple and straightforward to understand and use. It also introduces a fun element into the lesson; I've always found that students like the colourful aspect, and appreciate the clarity.
The developers describe it as a tool for brainstorming and organizing your thoughts, and this is exactly what it does. I can be waiting for a train, or for the coffee machine to finish or just sitting enjoying the sunshine in my lounge, whip out my iPhone and instantly 'save' ideas for a future lesson. The Prepositions map took 15 minutes from start to print out! I've used this, and the Questions map as warm-up material.
The finished maps can be exported as email attachments in PNG and PDF format to your computer, and then printed. There is also the possibility to export to Freemind (a desktop mapping programme) , and also to the desktop version of SimpleMind (Windows/Mac) though I haven't felt the need to do either of these, yet.
There are 10 built-in colour schemes, and you can further customize any of the individual nodes. Although SimpleMind places each new node intuitively, it's extremely easy to rearrange them. In the These -&-Those and the This -&- That maps (see below), I chose the colours and didn't use one of the built-in schemes.
This is a quick, simple tool to create an effective mind map. It does not belong to the collection of sophisticated programmes which can produce elegant and complicated designs, but at a cost of €5.49 you can't complain, can you?
Kay von Randow
Teacher Development Courses
I hope you all had a good start to 2012 and are raring to go.
Here is my new list of teacher development courses for the next few months …
Skylight offers a number of highly professional trainer-the-trainer courses in Cologne.
Transforming business processes into scenarios
Communicating internationally in English 1
NLP Business Diploma
4 – 6 May and 27 – 29 July
Communicating internationally in English 2
The Consultants-E offer a wide selection of online training and development courses for teachers of English:
Cert ICT: Certificate in Teaching Languages with Technology
23 March - 17 August 2012
Cert IBET: Certificate in International Business English Training / Cert ICT: Certificate in Teaching Languages with Technology
23 March – 8 June 2012
mlearning in Practice
03 May – 13 June 2012
E-Moderation: A Training Course For Online Tutors
01 May – 30 May2012
elc - European Language Competence is offering a four-day trainer-the-trainer course in Cologne entitled Intercultural Competence in English.
16 + 17 / 23 + 24 June 2012
LTS training and consulting are offering a five-day course in Bath entitled Teaching English for International Business
21 – 25 May 2012
International House is offering a Cambridge CELTA course in Frankfurt/Main:
4 June – 29 June 2012
International House offers CELTA and DELTA courses and online training. Take a look at their website for details.
Teacher Development Interactive offer online courses for ELT professionals.
I’d love to hear from you if you go on a training course. And do drop me a line if you feel I’ve missed anything.
PS Remember to look at Russell Stannard's ELT / ESL Training videos. They're all F.R.E.E. http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/
PPS And read his Webwatcher Column:
Publication Information and Details