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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

6 Clue as Warm-up

I guess it's a good resource as it doesn't take a lot time if you use just one card every class.
How it works.
Choose 1 card from the set. It has 6 descriptions (clue-statements) of an object. Your students are supposed to guess what this thing is.
You give them the first clue:
1. I hate the heat.
Students: " Are you a snowman? " - "No." Other questions of the kind.

When there're no more ideas you give the second clue:

2. I'm very good for you.
Students: "Are you a vitamin?" -"No." Blah-blah-blah.

3. I come from an animal.

Got it?

Plenty of ready-made clues here

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Idea for warm- up

A while ago I used magazine pictures as a warm-up activity which worked well. In the long run I faced a problem of finding a proper picture....And.... I was really lucky to find a set of 50 questions (conversation startes) on!
I intend to make maximum use of this stuff.
Idea 1. Group. I ask my students to choose any number from 1 to 50. He/she chooses say number 40 and I ask question 40 from the list:
If snow could fall in any flavour, what flavor would you choose?
The question might seem a bit strange, but it helps to switch off and get tuned for the lesson.

Idea 2. In pairs. I made flashcards with these questions.
At the beginnining of the class every student is supposed to take one question and ask his partner. Don't forget about follow-up questions:) and time-limits. I guess 5-6 min will be enough:)

Any other ideas?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pecha Kucha

Today on Jeremy Harmer's blog (I think you all know him) I've come across very amasing stuff which might be helpfull for us all: Pecha Kucha presentations. Basically if you are doing a PK presentation, you have 20 powerpoint slides, each lasting for 20 seconds, no more, no less. The slides change automatically; the presenter has no control over when this happens.
To understand how it works it's better to watch this video:

I think we could discuss that:)

If video doesn't work watch it here

Friday, February 12, 2010

Concept checking

Today at school we had a seminar on Effective communication which took me back to concept questions.
When we, teachers, present something new(doesn't matter if it's a grammar rule or a piece of vocabulary) to our students, how do we usually make sure that all of them really understand what you mean?
Most of us ask that trivial question " Do you follow me?" and get a predictable responce "YES".....
And only checking students' papers do we realise that they didn't understand it then.
To avoid this misanderstanding I use very important tool - concept checking questions.

When planning a presentation lesson on a new language point, I prepare a series of concept questions that will fully test understanding of the new language.

Things to remember

Concept questions themselves are often difficult to construct since they involve clarifying function and meaning using simple language but not the target language itself.

Apart from their classroom value, thinking of good questions also helps inexperienced teachers to understand the complexities of form, function and meaning, and to practise grading their language. Some basic tips for good concept questions are:

  • Make sure the questions are simple and that no difficult language is required to answer the question. Yes/no questions, either/or questions and simple 'wh' questions are particularly effective
  • Don't use the new (target) grammar in your questions
  • Don't use unfamiliar vocabulary
  • Bring out basic concepts such as 'time' and 'tense' in your questions
  • Use as many questions as possible to check various aspects of the language and to cover as many learners as possible.

Some examples
These examples show how concept questions could be used to help differentiate between the main functions of the present simple and present continuous.

Target sentence: Look! They're painting the wall.

Checking questions:
Is it happening now? Yes
Can you see it? Yes Yes
Is the painting finished? No
Are they painting now? Yes
Is this the past, present or future? Present

This example shows how concept questions can be used to clarify the meaning of more complex structures:

Target sentence: If I won the lottery, I'd buy a new car.

Checking questions
Have I won the lottery? No
Am I going to win the lottery? Probably not
Am I going to buy a new car? Probably not
Has he got a lottery ticket? Maybe
Is this real, or imaginary? Imaginary

Learning to construct concept questions

One way of beginning to think about concept questions is to break the meaning of a word or structure into components. A vocabulary item might be diagramatically represented. Here is an example of the concepts included in the word 'bed-sit':

Questions may be of different types:

  • Yes/no questions. 'Is a bed-sit a room?', 'Are there other rooms in the house?', Can you sleep in it?'.
  • 50/50 chance questions. 'Is it a room or a building?', 'Is it cheap or expensive?' Do you buy it or pay money every week or month?'
  • Information questions. 'Who lives in it?', 'How many people live in it?'
  • Discrimination questions. 'Do you only sleep in it?', 'Can you cook a meal in it?', 'Is it the same as a flat?'
  • Shared experience questions. 'Is there a bed-sit in this building?'
  • Life experience/culture questions. 'Have you ever lived in a bed-sit?' 'Are their bed-sits in your city/country?'
  • Remember that the answers 'sometimes', 'it depends' and 'I don't know' can tell you as much as 'yes' or 'no'.

Another way of constructing concept questions is by writing a sentence containing all the elements of the concept, from which questions can be formed. This is a useful method when distinguishing between two functions of the same structure, particularly where those functions would be expressed by different forms or tenses in other languages. For example:

  • 'He's been eating garlic.'
    Concept: He isn't eating garlic now, and I didn't see him eating it, but I know he was eating garlic because I can smell it.
  • 'Harry's been working here for two years.'
    Concept: He started working here two years ago, he's still working here, and he'll probably continue working here.

The value of concept questions should not be underestimated, but many teachers either forget to use them or find them difficult to construct. Teachers are often satisfied that the learners 'seem to understand' on the basis of their performance in practice exercises. A few important points to remember are:

  • Concept questions are particularly valuable after the presentation and explanation of an item, and may be asked at any stage during a lesson. They are valuable after guided practice, particularly if the learners seem not to have grasped the target language fully, and at the end of a lesson, as a final check and review.
  • Time lines and other devices are not substitutes for concept questions. They are aids to explanation, but do not necessarily check understanding. Concept questions, however, may be used to elicit a time-line from the learners.
  • Concept questions are particularly valuable where a concept does not exist, or is different in the mother tongue (e.g. the perfect aspect, ways of expressing the future), and where a language item is culturally loaded as in the case of the word 'subway' which has very different meanings in British and American English. In such cases, concept questions often form part of the initial teaching process.
  • Concept questions are also useful for raising awareness of association and connotation, and for drawing attention to collocations and fixed expressions. They are also good listening practice for learners, and can even lead on to class activities such as guessing games in which the learners write their own questions.
  • The teacher does not have to concept check every new item. In many cases, function and meaning are clear because the language has been presented in a meaningful context.
  • When learners perform poorly in guided or less guided practice, it is often because they are not clear about the function or meaning of the target language. This may well be because the teacher has asked 'do you understand?' or 'is that clear' rather than good concept questions.

Further reading
Graham Workman, Concept Questions And Time Lines; Chadburn Publishing, 2006.

first published 08 June 2006

Friday, February 5, 2010

Make it real: successful ideas for role-plays

We launched Tuesday Speaking classes in our school and this has set me thinking.... how to get students to talk so that they feel relaxed and motivated?
There're lots of speaking activities, but to be honest role-plays are my favourite.
Role-plays, or simulations are one of the ways we can ease students' transition into using
English in real world situations. A simulation is where students act out a real-life situation, for example checking into at a hotel, but do not act out a different personality. Role-plays are where students take on different personalities. In a role-play, for example, one student may be asked to take on the role of "an angry neighbor" which is out of character for the student.
Role-plays are interesting, memorable and engaging. In their assumed role, students drop their shyness and start thinking in English.
What is important for a successful role-play? Preparation and a "hot" topic. The thing is it's not that easy to find a good role-play. And I'm always happy when the course book offers something really good, e.g yesterday we had a nice time with Business Result role-play (Unit 6 Solving crosscultural problems)

Role-plays can range from 30 minutes or one hour to a year-long corporate simulation for business English. Staging role-plays can be challenging for a teacher, but is also great fun. After you have done a few, you will know what to expect and feel more confident.

My experience is students love them and often leave the classroom laughing and still discussing the topic!

BTW I found a really great resource on role-plays. It's a presentation with ready-made roles:)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blended learning

It's a method of learning which uses a combination of different resources, especially a mixture of classroom sessions and online learning materials.
"The American Red Cross Finger Lakes chapter in Geneva is offering the so-called blended learning option as an alternative to its four-hour classroom course. Blended learners sign up to watch video clips, read and take a test online. They also must schedule an in-person session … to demonstrate their skills to a Red Cross instructor."
In an age dominated by new media and the Internet, there are so many alternative ways of learning. Gone are the days when, if we couldn't make it into a classroom, the only real option was to pick up a book, or when audio materials consisted of bad quality cassettes or sporadic radio and TV programmes. With the advent of broadband access to the Web, we have a whole new learning domain at our fingertips. Sophisticated learning materials in the form of text or high-quality audio are now available at the touch of a button, and tests and assignments can be submitted and marked online. Questions and answers can be posted on discussion forums, and wiki pages can be created for collaborative teaching and learning. Studying away from the classroom has never seemed easier. Yet many teachers would argue that face-to-face contact between teachers and students is an essential part of the language learning experience. Enter the concept of blended learning, an approach to education which seeks to combine the best of both worlds, incorporating both new technology and actual human contact.

Advocates of blended learning argue that an approach to study which combines the benefits of new technology with the best aspects of face-to-face (often abbreviated to F2F) teaching, will achieve better results. For example, there are some aspects of study, like practical sessions, dealing with more subjective queries, or tackling the needs of an individual student, which require face-to-face human interaction, whereas the more mechanical aspects of learning, such as practice exercises or answers to clear-cut questions, can be managed simply and effectively in a remote environment using new technology.

Blended learning therefore typically comprises a combination of F2F sessions and what is often referred to as e-learning, i.e. the use of Internet-based learning materials for reference, practice and electronically-provided feedback. The blended learning approach has proven especially appropriate in language learning. For example, in an ELT (English Language Teaching) environment, a simple scenario might be a classroom session where a teacher asks a group of students to use a wiki to create a text. Students then go away and compose and edit the text remotely. The teacher subsequently reads their collaborative efforts before the next class, and provides feedback during the next F2F session.

Background – blended learning

The fundamental principle behind blended learning is, of course, nothing new. Even conventional courses of study have tended to incorporate different kinds of resources, such as practical sessions or video/audio, as well as teacher-talk and text.

However the expression blended learning (sometimes also referred to as hybrid/mixed learning or combined resource teaching) is one of a number of educational buzzwords gaining ground in an era where electronic learning materials are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so there is the potential to combine and/or enhance face-to-face teaching with valuable interactive resources. A related term is distance learning, which refers to remote study away from the classroom, now based largely on electronic resources available online.

If you'd like to know more about the application of blended learning in ELT, you can order your copy of Blended Learning: using technology in and beyond the language classroom, written by Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett and published by Macmillan.

When I came across this article I said"Oops" - it's the same method we are using at school, I just didn't know this term! Live and Learn!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Recording audio vocabulary

In our school with every group of students we collect monthly vocabulary on A3 sheets of paper and at the end of the month teachers record audio vocabulary, which is really helpful for our students.
Last year it was pretty time-consuming as we had to come to school (there was a schedule) to record all audio, then those files were brushed by special software , and eventually we sent them to our students as an attachment.... You can imagine our feelings...
Every problem has a solution, since September we've been doing it from home!

We began with computer programs, than our principal told me that there are voice recording progammes on the net. And I found one! It's It's very user-friendly, truth be told I have to convert wav file to mp3, but it's fast. A while ago my collegue shared a great link with me, which provides you with 2 gb online space for your files!

So, life's getting easier!

Have a look

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

It is said that if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of bad weather, and if he doesn't, that spring will be here soon.
Let's hope for the better:)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Catering for early finishers

I was really happy to find this post on

Inevitably students read at different speeds, and some students are left twiddling their thumbs as they wait for their peers to finish. I usually have one or two generic reading tasks up my sleeve to give to those who finish before the majority. Most of these are adaptable for use with any level, from elementary upwards:

- Students devise two extra questions about the text. Tell them that they will able to ask the others at the end.
- Students think of a better or optional heading for the text.
- Students do a collocation hunt and write up 3-5 very useful collocations on the board for the class ( they should check them with you first).
- Students work on four words that you select from the text and work on the word family, e.g. choose adjectives in the text and they make the nouns, using a dictionary to check.
- Students work out the meaning of two or three lexical items that you select from the text, using the context. They then check their predictions in a dictionary.
- Students write a summary of the text in less than 30 words.
- Students write a question or two to the writer of the text, to find out more information, if the text is appropriate.

-Ask them to underline 3,4 words they like or dislike saying why (sound,form, meaning…)

I would like to continue this list:

- I give such students 3-4 definitions, written on cards and ask them to find corresponding words.

- working with collocacations is really rewarding. I always use this option.

I'd appreciate if you added something:)