Teaching with interactive stories | Teacher training materials

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Attribution:  Pratham Books | Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan | CC BY 4.0

Here’s the next set of materials I wrote on an ITDI course called Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. For this assignment, we were asked to create activities around an authentic text. I decided to use an open-access children’s book from Pratham Book’s Storyweaver (what a brilliant resource!). I ended up designing loop input-ish materials for teachers that integrate interactive storytelling techniques with raising their awareness of the third conditional (if you take a look at the book, you’ll see why).

I had a bit of a think about whether a children’s book from an organisation that promotes literacy is authentic. I think it is for the target audience – lower primary teachers. I’ve included a rationale for this on the last page.

Here’s how the handout is organised:

  • Participant handout (pp. 1-2)
  • Trainer notes (p. 3)
  • Overview (p. 4-5) – this was something Katherine asked us to put in and includes background information on the text and the tasks.

The book – It’s All the Cat’s Fault – is available in more than 58 languages ranging from Telugu and Punjabi to Serbian and Khmer. So you could easily make the materials work within your own context if the teachers you’re training would benefit from reading the book in their L1.

I’ve got a multilingual activity using a book from Storyweaver in the pipeline incorporating at least five or more Indian languages (English, Marathi, Konkani, Kannada and Hindi) so do watch out for that.

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Life in the 21st century | An image-based lesson

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Here’s the third assignment from the ITDI course I did a couple of months ago on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. We were asked to design materials around an image or images. I created some activities around three public domain images from the late 19th century. At the turn of the century, several French artists imagined what life in the 21st century would be like and they came up with some pretty fanciful images. The materials I designed focus on grammar – and a somewhat obscure but useful grammar point –  ‘future in the past’ structures with some speaking activities. My  favourite is image 1!

Have you ever used public domain images to develop materials?

 

Spin to win | A verbing game with ‘body parts’

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In July, I did an ITDI course with Katherine Bilsborough on Creating ELT Materials. I plan to write a longer post about the experience at some point. In the meanwhile, you can have a look at this summary by Geraldine who was also on the course. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share the materials I designed for the course’s assignments.

Here’s my first one … well it’s actually the fourth and last assignment. Interestingly, it was the simplest (at least from my perspective) and the one that I spent the least time on.

Katherine asked us to create a game or a puzzle for this assignment.  Spin to win – the game I designed introduces Business English learners to idioms that use parts of the body as verbs in a process that’s called verbing. But I reckon you could could tweak it a bit and use it for other contexts because not all the idioms are necessarily businessy. You’ll find teacher notes on page 4. Let me know what you think!

 

Free secondary images for Business English materials

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A secondary image is a picture that has a background. I prefer using primary images (which are basically cut-outs on a white or transparent background) in print materials but secondary images can look really good in presentations if used well. Here are some sites that provide free downloads of secondary images under a creative commons license. Note that some images under creative commons require attribution and others don’t – this is usually mentioned next to the image when you’re downloading it.

  • Unsplash: different collections including  Workspaces, It`s business time, Computers, phones & tech, Desk + Work, Work and collaboration, generally no attribution necessary but some individual images may require you to credit the owner under Creative Commons.
  • Pixabay: a huge variety of business images including primary and secondary images as well as illustrations. Some require attribution, others don’t.
  • Picjumbo: Some beautiful shots but the range is limited to hands and laptops on desks unfortunately. No attribution necessary.
  • Gratisography: a limited range but high quality whimsical images including the one I’ve used in this post. After accessing the site, search for key words like business, work, technology etc. No attribution necessary.
  • Pexels: corporate looking images. No attribution necessary.
  • Burst: a nice range of business images with no fuss downloads. A bias for hands on laptops though. No attribution necessary.
  • Stockvault: free business stock photos – quite a large collection with no attribution necessary for their free stock photo collection. You’ll need to be careful on this site though as you could easily end up on Shutterstock signing up for a paid account.
  • Stockphotos: a limited collection of pictures but includes some primary  images, attribution necessary.
  • RGBstock: scroll down to the business categories – there’s a combination of illustrations and photographs. The site requires registration. I have to admit that I’m not completely convinced that the people who’ve uploaded pictures to the site actually own them.
  • Freerangestock: you need to register to download. This is another site where you can quickly end up being asked for your credit card details on Shutterstock. No attributions required.

Do you have any favourite stock photo sites which have a free section for business-related images?

Text mapping | An alternative approach to designing listening tests

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Earlier this year, I attended a course organised by the Hornby Regional School on designing communicative language assessments in Bangladesh. The course was taught by Dr. Rita Green, from Lancaster University, who is a research leader in the field of language assessments. My biggest take-away from the course was an alternative approach to designing listening tests called text mapping. Text mapping is a technique that Dr. Green conceived as a way of addressing some of the issues test designers experience when they select items from a listening text for a test. In January, when I was at the course, the technique was literally hot off the press and her new book Designing Listening Tests had just been published.

Text mapping questions prevailing practices for selecting items in a sound file for a test. Here’s what I normally do and perhaps you do something similar.  I usually skim the transcript to get a sense of the text and maybe write a gist listening question and then read it again to come up with some listening for specific information questions. I might then listen to the clip to ensure that the accent or speed isn’t too challenging for the target learners.

Dr Green challenged this practice and these two quotes she cited drove the point home:

A transcript and the speech it represents are not the same thing, the original is a richer, contextualized, communicative event.

Lynch, 2010

Life doesn’t come with a tapescript.

Helgesen, 2008

Text mapping attempts to address this gap in how we deal with listening texts. But, before we get on to the actual process, it’s important to distinguish between Specific Information & Important Details (SIID) and Main Ideas and Supporting Details (MISD). I think in teacher training, when we refer to these two listening strategies using the oft-used terms, listening for specific information and listening for detailed understanding, we inadvertently obfuscate what they really are. Dr Green differentiated the two in a way that was very easy to understand.

SIID requires selective listening. We listen for information such as dates, times, places, names, prices, percentages, numbers, measurements, acronyms, addresses, URLs, adjectives and nouns.

MISD requires careful listening. We listen for ideas, examples, reasons, clauses (nouns + verbs), descriptions, explanations, causes, evidence, opinions, conclusions, recommendations and points.

Text mapping can be used for gist, SIID and MISD but I’m going to describe the process for SIID which is what I experienced at the course and subsequently tried out on some unsuspecting colleagues.

1. Prep

Choose a level appropriate audio clip and organise a quiet room with good quality speakers. The text mappers you assemble should not have heard the clip before.  The clip should be short (approximately 30 seconds)

You will need to prepare an Excel sheet with SIID from the clip along with the time stamps of individual items which means you will need to text map the sound file yourself.

2. Briefing 

You need at least three text mappers to ensure validity. A larger pool will increase validity. Explain to the text mappers that they are going to be listening for Specific Information and Important Details. You may need to ICQ this to ensure that all the text mappers are on the same page about what constitutes SIID. SIID is usually not more than one or two words.

3. Listening to the sound file

Play the clip only once and ask the text mapper to listen for SIID. They must not make any notes during this time. When the clip finishes, ask the text mappers to write down SIID. The clip is played only once because Dr. Green suggested that over exposure could lead to too many items being identified.

4. Text mapping 

Ask the text mappers to tell you the SIID they wrote down. Enter these into an Excel worksheet. Poll the group to see who else got this SIID and maintain a tally. If you have variations in the response because they only heard a part of it or misheard it, record these as separate entries. After you’ve finished eliciting these responses, copy paste the time stamps that you’d prepared earlier. You’re likely to get items that are not SIID. A simple test is to check if the information being offered has a noun and verb in which case it is MISD and not SIID.

There may be variations with numerals because in real life we tend to write down numbers immediately or ask for them to be repeated. The test designer will need to keep this mind when selecting an item which has achieved consensus through a number of variations such as Room No. 4045, 4045, 4054, 4055 etc.

The text mappers might not give you items chronologically which is alright. You’ll just need to reorder them so that they appear sequentially in the worksheet.  You’ll also need to be strict about disallowing any  responses that were not written down. I experienced this with my colleagues when several said “Oh I remembered that but I didn’t write it down.”

5. Analysis 

Look at the SIID that a majority of the text mappers were able to identify. These are the items you ought to be testing. However, there are some things to bear in mind. Items at the very beginning of the clip should be disregarded even if you reach consensus (consensus means at least two thirds of the text mappers have identified it) with it because a test candidate may miss it merely because she is orienting herself to the clip in the first few seconds. Additionally, if two items appear within four to six seconds of each others, we ought to test one but not the other. Items should be evenly distributed through the sound file. It’s also important that all items test the same kind of listening behaviour – in this case selective listening for SIID.

6. Writing the test

The next step is to design questions using the items that were identified.

Reflections on text mapping

Here’s one that a colleague and I worked on with a sound file on making a hotel reservation. By text mapping a sound file, you have a systematic approach for identifying what you ought to test as we did with this file. The fact that you are listening to the file as opposed to reading a transcript facilitates the selection of  more authentic items  i.e., that reflect how we receive and process information in real situations. Selecting items from a transcript (and this often happens with me) may result in the testing of obscure items which we may not even register in a real life context.

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When we ran this exercise with a group of our colleagues, we faced some resistance to the concept. The main bone of contention was that we were testing memory instead of listening skills. I think the clip we selected (at 2 min 10 seconds) was far too long. I recall Dr. Green using really short clips with us (around 20-30 seconds). In a Google Preview of her book, I also recall seeing something about chunking the clip for MISD and allowing text mappers to make notes while listening for SIID with longer clips. Unfortunately, those chapters are no longer available online.

However, our colleagues came around when they saw the extent to which there was consensus for the items outlined in yellow in the preceding table and interestingly this coincided with an earlier round of text mapping with another group of text mappers.

I’m still a little uncertain about the relationship between the text mappers who are selected and the items that are identified through consensus. Text mapping as a process is designed not just for test designers but also to empower teachers to work collaboratively to design meaningful tests.  Therefore, wouldn’t the items selected depend on the language proficiency level of the text mappers? I suspect that in a monolingual English-speaking environment, the results of text mapping may be different than one where English is not the L1 like I experienced in Bangladesh. Further, what kind of impact does this have on item selection from the learner’s perspective, taking into consideration their own language proficiency. While theoretically, a sound file at B1 should have all of its items at B1 but in reality, this may not be the case.

These unanswered questions not withstanding, text mapping is a useful alternative to the somewhat random way in which listening tests are currently constructed. If you try out text mapping, do let me know about your experiences in the comments section.

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No prizes for guessing who in this triad is Dr. Green!

References

  • Green, S. Designing Listening Tests: A Practical Approach. Palgrave Macmillan: 2017.
  • Helgesen in Wilson, J. J. How to teach listening. Pearson: 2008.
  • Lynch, D. Teaching Second Language Listening. OUP: 2010.

Many thanks to Azania Thomas for creating the text mapping sheet that I’ve used in this blog.

Dr. Green’s book is unfortunately really expensive (as interesting ELT books tend to be). You can read a preview here. It includes some relevant chapters on text mapping for gist and issues with listening texts and working with authentic sound files.

Context analysis practice: the hidden paradigm in contemporary ELT | IATEFL 2017 session summary

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It’s a real pity Jason Alexander’s session at IATEFL 2017 wasn’t recorded. I’m grateful to Silvana Richardson whose tweets gave me a bit of a window into what he presented. His Context Analysis Practice (CAP) model truly validates what teacher trainers, particularly on the CELTA, have been using as a basic framework for lesson planning. During my CELTA tutor-in-training program, one of the trainees, asked me what she should write under approach on her top sheet. I was genuinely puzzled because the lesson shape wasn’t really PPP, nor was it text-based and I now have a label for it.

It also makes sense to explicitly call attention to context especially within the CELTA given the primacy of establishing a meaningful communicative context within the assessment criteria.

I’m not sure what Anderson’s take on the dominance of extensive text contexts was but I reckon the texts are far too long. It really throws new teachers off track.  Texts are but one way to explore language in context and when used, they really ought to be quite short.

And I agree that consciously or unconsciously, we have been endorsing this model on teacher training courses

Anderson seemed to have suggested an optional additional stage ‘evaluation’ but apparently went on to state that four stage models tend not to catch on.

It’s worth exploring whether CAP is truly effective. Do we recommend it to trainees because it makes sense from a language teaching and learning perspective or because it’s relatively easier to plan and teach?

Interesting to note the variations with the CAP model: Context Practice Analysis (CPA), Context Analysis Task (CAT), Checking, Analysis Practice (ChAP). It seems like Anderson has identified how we’ve been deluding ourselves into thinking that we are teaching lessons using TBL or test-teach-test, when really it’s much closer to what he’s described here.

I once worked with a new teacher who suggested that all the fancy names for lesson shapes I was teaching her were redundant because in practice they seemed to reflect a similar type of lesson. I started to defend the theory when I suddenly realised that she sort of right.

I wonder to what extent CAP will fly on pre-service courses. Given that it essentially describes the current situation, there ought not to be too much resistance to incorporating it but the wheels of teacher training tend to turn slowly.

Although Anderson’s presentation isn’t available, he’s got a handout on his site from an earlier session which summarises the same content. 

Top ten tips for writing excellent materials

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I was just going over the presentation used for the MAWSIG & ELTTeacher2Writer session on writing excellent ELT materials at BESIG annual conference in Munich and found some useful advice for materials writers, sourced from the modules/ebooks published by ELTTeacher2Writer. Note that I’ve listed these suggestions in the order that they appeared in the presentation.

  1. Use project management techniques such as Gantt charts to plan and present course design to clients (Evan Frendo: How to write corporate training materials)
  2. Break a task into small, more manageable tasks with opportunities for intermittent feedback (Rachael Roberts: How to write writing activities).
  3. Scaffold instruction by providing verbal cues and prompts to help learners (Rachel Roberts: How to write writing activities)
  4. Divide handouts into sections with clearly labelled sub-headings such as discussion, keywords, information sharing, expressions, comprehension check etc. (Karen: Richardson: How to write worksheets)
  5. Ensure instructions for activities aren’t more complex than the target language  (Philip Kerr: How to write vocabulary presentations and practice)
  6. Separate activity instructions from information for setting up the activity and discussion questions (Sarah Cunningham: How to write speaking activities)
  7. Write options for multiple choice questions that are consistent in length and style, plausible, not too obviously right or wrong and not repeat or contradict one another (Sue Kay)
  8. Test for opinions and intention, not just specific information in multiple choice questions (Sue Kay)
  9. Get to know the digital activity types that are available in the platform you’re using: multiple choice, multiple answer, matrix sorting, select in the blank etc. (Jeremy Day & Peter Sharma: How to write for digital media)
  10. Be careful about screen size issues – computer screens vs. mobile phones (Jeremy Day & Peter Sharma: How to write for digital media)

Olya Sergeeva has a couple of summaries from this event: How to write writing activities & Writing corporate training materials 

I’ll be posting a review of Evan Frendo’s How to write corporate training materials soon.