7 creative grammar activities | IATEFL webinar summary

Last week’s IATEFL webinar saw the legendary Charles Hadfield sharing some creative grammar activities. He did say he would share seven although my notes seem to indicate it was only six. I wrote to him but it seems he couldn’t find the mystery seventh activity either.
Activity 1: Platform 1
What?  Collaborative pattern poem describing people.

Language focus: Present continuous, describing people

Procedure: Use a picture prompt of a train station platform with people on it (Check Flickr for images). Ask Ss to use the following pattern to create a poem. You may need to demo an example.

Poem pattern

Line 1: Where are they? (is s/he)

Line 2: A (adjective) (woman/man) with (clothes or physical features)

Line 3: What are they (is s/he) doing?

Line 4: … and thinking of?

Example

Sitting on the bench

a sad woman with a long nose

staring into space

and thinking of wasted time

Charles Hadfield webinar 1 Image attribution: Platform 4 by Brett Davies | Flikr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Activity 2. Preposition painting

What? A pattern for describing a picture

Language focus: prepositions

Procedure: Show Ss the picture and ask them to identify the different things in it. Then give them a decision tree like this one and have them craft a description of the picture.  They should create 5 lines plus an extra one starting with “lies a” which they don’t write but have their peers guess.

Pattern

In                          table

On                        chairs

Near           a         sofa

Beside                   bookshelf

Under         the      fireplace                 lies a …

Next to                   tree

lake

mountain

beach                     is a

grass

bench

moon etc.

Example

On the bench

next to a tree

beside a lake

beneath the mountains

under a sunset sky

lies a …

Charles Hadfield Webinar 2 Image attribution: Peaceful mind by Peter Thoeny | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Activity 3. Maternal Advice

What? Advice from a mother animal to its baby.

Language focus: imperatives, infinitives & gerunds; remember, try to take care, don’t forget, be careful + full infinitive, avoid beware of, forget about, refrain from, resist + ing

Procedure: Do you recognize this passage? Listen carefully. Who is talking? To whom? Listen and then compare ideas with a partner.

“When in doubt, any kind of doubt, Wash!” That is Rule No. I,’ said Jennie … `If you have committed any kind of an error and anyone scolds you—wash,’ she was saying. `If you slip and fall off something and somebody laughs at you—wash. If you are getting the worst of an argument and want to break off hostilities until you have composed yourself, start washing … That’s our first rule of social deportment, and you must also observe it.

`Whatever the situation, whatever difficulty you may be in you can’t go wrong if you wash. If you come into a room full of people you do not know, and who are confusing to you, sit right down in the midst of them and start washing. They’ll end up by quieting down and watching you. Some noise frightens you into a jump, and somebody you know saw you were frightened—begin washing immediately … `If somebody calls you and you don’t care to come and still you don’t wish to make it a direct insult— wash. If you’ve started off to go somewhere and suddenly can’t remember where it was you wanted to go, sit right down and begin brushing up a little. It will come back to you. Something hurt you? Wash it. Tired of playing with someone who has been kind enough to take time and trouble and you want to break off without hurting his or her feelings—start washing …

Any time, anyhow, in any manner, for whatever purpose, wherever you are, whenever and why ever that you want to clear the air, or get a moment’s respite or think things over—WASH! `And,’ concluded Jennie, drawing a long breath, `of course you also wash to get clean and to keep clean.’ `Goodness!’ said Peter, quite worried, `I don’t see how I could possibly remember them all.’ `You don’t have to remember any of it, actually,’ Jennie explained. All that you have to remember is Rule 1: “When in doubt—WASH!” ‘

Jennie by Paul Gallico

Elicit that Jennie is a cat giving advice to Peter, a kitten. How many animals can you think of? Ask Ss to brainstorm. Then, ask Ss to choose one of the animals they brainstormed and write maternal advice from a mama animal to its baby.

Activity 4. Overheard in a cafe

What? Reporting on imaginary conversations.

Language focus: Reported speech, said, replied, denied, asked

Procedure: Show pics of people and ask Ss to select two and think of the conversation they might have. Ss then uses reported speech to describe the conversation the two people might have. Charlie had some paintings in this mix including Van Gogh’s self-portrait and some quirky ones such as a dog and a cat looking at each other.

Activity 5: The house that Jack built

What? Build progressively longer sentences.

Language focus: Relative clauses

Procedure: Show the Ss the following sentence pattern.

This is the house that Jack built. This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built This is the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.

webinar grammar Then ask Ss to construct their own from this photo. So their sentence would beging with “This is the photo that Jack took”. You may also want to to supply  words:

Man fish girl boat wind wave whale rod camera rock beach shark cook friend chips cat

Image attribution: Bass fishing by Eileen Jones | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Activity 6: How it’s done

What: Instructions for various topics

Language focus: Imperatives and sequencing words

Procedure: Run Ss through an example of how something is done.

Example

How to make a cup of tea

Firstly, boil some water in a kettle

When it’s hot, pour a little in a teapot to warm it

Then throw out the water and put in two spoonfuls of tea leaves

Bring the water back to boil

Pour the boiling water on tea leaves in the pot

Leave to stand for two minutes

Serve in two cups

Ask Ss to use this template to write instructions for one of the following:

  • Eating spaghetti
  • Falling in love
  • Getting promotion
  • Bathing a dog
  • Going to a wedding
  • Looking after a two year old
  • Taking an exam
  • Having a relaxing evening

Charlie recommended using these activities in conjunction with the following:

  • Sharing session: Choose the best piece you wrote during the lesson and share it with others in a small group.
  • Student control: After doing a couple of these activities, hand over control to the Ss. Give them a particular grammar concept and ask them to come up with their own creative exercise around it.
  • Student ideas: Dialogues, sketches, poems, nonsense sentences, sabotaging the coursebook (playing around with sentences from the coursebook)

References

He had many other references in his list which had to do with the importance of creativity. Here’s a truncated list of language teaching references:

  • Nematis, A. 2009. Memory Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Long Term Retention. International Journal of Vocational and Technical Education 1 (2), pp. 14-24
  • Oxford, R. 1990. Language Learning Strategies. Newbury House
  • Schmitt, N. 2000. Vocabulary in Language Teaching. CUP

Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Apr – May 2015

GDC Online 2011_Show Environment_Jesse Knish Photography for GDC Online

O Webinar, Webinar, wherefore art thou Webinar?

Worry not because they’re all right here in this post! Here’s a list of free online events for ELT educators between April and May 2015. April is going to be an exciting month with the IATEFL annual conference livecast sessions from Manchester. However, I’m going to be teaching, training and travelling through the month… I do hope I get time to attend some of these events. An asterisk indicates that the event requires prior registration.

If you know of an online event that’s relevant to ELT educators that’s missing from this list, please let me know by leaving a comment.

1. Fostering Global Competency and Leading Change Throughout Education Systems | Fernando Reimers | Harvard | Apr 1, 0900 EDT

2. Make Blended Learning Work for Leaders | Sabrina Leis | Kineo | Apr 2, 1300 CST*

3. Teaching presentation skills in a digital age | Elena Matveeva | IATEFL BeSIG | Apr 5, 1500 BST

4. Multiple choices – A Conversation about Language Testing, Teaching & Learning | David Dodgson | British Council | Apr 7, 1000 GMT*

5. How to Develop Great Online Video Training Programs | Maria Chilcote & Melissa Smith |  Training Magazine Network | Apr 8, 1000 PST*

6. “Make Learning Visible – Connect with parents using social media” | WizIQ | Paul McGuire | Apr 9, 1400 EST

7. How to Jump Start Your Video-Focused Learning Strategy | Chris Osborn | Training Magazine Network | Apr 9, 1000 PST*

8. 49th Annual IATEFL Conference, Manchester | Livecast plenaries & sessions by various speakers | Apr 11 – 14 | Live plenary schedule

9. Study Skills | Dorothy Zemach | Macmillan | Apr 15, 1500 BST*

10. Positive Psychology in Language Learning: The Role of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience in Learners’ Stories’ | Rebecca Oxford | IATEFL | Apr 18, 1500 BST

11. How to Develop Great Online Video Training Programs | Chris Osborn | Training Magazine Network| Apr 19, 1000 PST*

12. Setting up communities of practice | Katerina Kourkouli | Apr 20, 1200 BST*

13. Writing A1-B1 | Urs Kalberer | Cambridge English Teacher | Apr 22, 1500 BST*

14. Solutions Writing Challenge #3 | Elna Coetzer | Oxford | Apr 22 & 24, 1400 & 1700 BST*

15. Making the most of classroom management | Veríssimo Toste | Oxford | Apr 23, 1800 BST 

16. Negotiated interaction in the foreign language classroom: Theory, research and teaching practice | Mirosław Pawlak | IATEFL Teacher training & education | Apr 24, 1300 BST 

17. Planning Teacher Professional Development | Marie Therese Swabey & Liz Robinson | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Apr 27 & 29, 1400 & 1000 BST*

18. Inductive & deductive grammar teaching: pros & cons | Jon Hird | Oxford | Apr 28 & 30, 1000 & 1530 BST 

19. Video in the Classroom: From exploitation to creation | Jamie Keddie | Oxford | Apr 29, 0800 BST*

20. Making the Most of Kindergarten Classroom Management | Sandie Mourão | Oxford | Apr 30, 1800 BST 

21. Teach like TED | Paula Mulanovic | IATEFL BeSIG | May 3, 1500 BST

22. Storytelling Special | Chris Rose | Macmillan | May 5, 1100 to 1600 BST

23. Supporting primary and secondary teachers in CLIL and bilingual contexts | Kay Bentley | Cambridge English Language Assessment | May 18 & 20, 1400 & 1000 BST*

24. Business English & General English: Never the twain shall meet  | Marjorie Rosenberg | BELTA | May 24, 1600 CET

25. Creative Grammar | Charles Hadfield | IATEFL | May 30, 1500 BST

+ every Friday at 4 PM EST, Shelly Terrell does a webinar for American TESOL

Image attribution: GDC Online 2011_Monday_Show Environment by Official GDC |  CC BY 2.0

Storytelling in the classroom | Webinar summary

Jamie KeddieThis is a summary for a webinar that took place a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t find time to write up but it deserves to be written up so I’m squeezing out some time for it now. The webinar was hosted by IATEFL and the speaker was the ever-charming and innovative Jamie Keddie.

Jamie asked attendees if they’ve ever used these seven magic words in their classrooms

I want to tell you a story

Well most of us have probably used these words and don’t feel very enthused by them because our Ss are generally not very excited about listening to stories.  Jamie explained that we often see stories as monologues and associate them exclusively with young learners. However stories need not necessarily be about the “there and then” but could be about the “here and now”.  So, the webinar was specifically about the mechanics of dialogic storytelling.

Jamie told us that his own favourite genre of stories were personal anecdotes and he demonstrated his approach to dialogic storytelling through an example. He showed us the following text on a slide and read it out to us:

When I was at school, we used to think it was hilarious to leave notes on our T’s desk. We would wait for the T to notice the piece of paper, pick it up, examine it, unfold it and read it. We would then wait in anticipation of a reaction. The best note we ever left was this: there is a piece of cheese on the classroom ceiling. Of course the reaction that we expected was for the teacher to look up at the ceiling and try to see the fictitious piece of cheese. At that moment, everyone would have to do their best not to laugh. Laughing would demonstrate that you were involved in the joke.  I don’t remember how many teachers we played the joke on. But I remember very well the day we left the note on the desk of Mr. Francis, our cool history teacher. The lesson was almost over and we were starting to think that Frankie was not going to see the note. But then he did. He hesitated for a moment and then, very slowly, opened it. There was a silence. His eyes stayed fixed on the paper. Then he stood up, walked over to the corner of the room and dropped the note in the bin. He looked at us and said, as calmly as possible, “Of there is – I put it there.” We all looked up.

Jamie pointed out that what Ts are effectively working with are not the words on a piece of paper but 106 internal narratives i.e., one story on paper but 106 stories forming in the minds of those who were attending the webinar. As we are working with internal narrative, what can we do better exploit it?

He invited us to participate in a thought task. He asked everyone to imagine that they were going to use this story with their Ss but pretend it was their own. He asked us think about how long we’d take to get through it. Answers varied but Jamie suggested that he would probably take about 15 minutes because he would turn the story from a monologue into a dialogue – a whole class communicative event.

I want to tell you a story but first let me ask you a question. The question is this. Have you ever played a practical joke on a teacher or has a teacher ever played a practical joke on you?

Jamie suggested that this type of commentary is important because you are signalling that the narrative is about to start and there’s a beginning, middle and end. If I reflect on the stories that I have narrated in the classroom, I usually try to cut back on commentary to keep TTT low. He stated that it would be critical to also consider the language in the story that you want to draw attention to or teach, as well as be prepared for language from Ss that you want to reformulate or correct. As you narrate the story, you can do a number of things to make it a dialogic experience which is interactive and useful for teaching language:

  • Ask Ss about their own experiences.
  • Correct their language.
  • Teach the Ss phrases like practical jokes, to keep a straight face and hesitate (although these may not be explicitly present in the story).
  • Ask them guess when the story took place and speculate what was written on the note and guess how Mr. Francis might have reacted based on their experiences with teachers like him.
  • Set up an environment such that Ss want to ask questions.

He underscored the importance of preparation, rehearsal and identification of  language in the story text that may cause problems.

Jamie’s second example was really brilliant and I think it quite effectively demonstrates how powerful this technique is. I’m going to try to recount it the way he ran this dialogic storytelling activity. At the end of each utterance, he elicited responses which then informed the next set of questions.

The story could be called the box or a miniature model replica. What do you want to call it?

What’s a miniature model replica?

Who makes miniature model replicas?

This story takes place in a room. What kind of room does this story take place?

It’s a room with very little light. The walls have nothing on them.

Bare. What else can be bare?

A prison cell with very little light and bare walls. What else would you expect to see in a prison cell?

Did you used to have bunk beds when you were children?

My sister and I used to sleep in a bunk bed when we were kids. I used to sleep in the top bunk and my sister in the bottom bunk because she was scared of falling out. What’s your bunk bed story?

What else is in this prison cell?

A bucket. What would the bucket be used for?

This prison cell has a bucket in the corner, a window with bars and a bunk bed.

This story starts with a man named Alexander. He is alone in the prison cell.

What do you think he did? Why is he there?

What is he doing?

Right now, he is sitting at a desk, reading.

And on the desk there is one of these (shows a matchbox and rattles it).

What’s the difference between a matchbox and box of matches?

And strangely the matchbox is moving.

Why is it moving?

Alexander puts his finger on the matchbox, why does he do that?

To stop it moving OR to stop it from moving?

He picks the matchbox up and opens a drawer and puts the matchbox inside and closes the drawer.

Behind Alexander is the prison door and the prison door is unlocked. Not the state of being unlocked but the action, it’s being opened

And Adam is pushed in or thrown in and the prison door is closed.

Who is Adam?

What is the relationship between Alexander and Adam?

So you think they’re brothers, that’s interesting, how have two brothers come to be in the same cell?

Could Adam be a policeman?

In this story, he’s Alexander’s new cell mate

There they are, Alexander and Adam, looking at each other for the very first time.

They greet each other. What do they say?

They say hello to each other. Alexander says hello, Adam says hello.

Adam is quite surprised by Alexander’s next action. What do you think Alexander does?

Alexander turns around so that he has his back to Adam and he starts reading his book again.

So Alexander has his back to Adam reading his book, he’s more interested in his book than in his new cell mate so Adam is left in silence.

How would you feel if you were Adam? What would you do next?

Adam looks around the cell room? What are the things he sees? (this becomes a revision of the ideas gleaned from each other)

He sees all these things and what does Adam do?

He walks over to the bunk bed and sits on the bottom bunk and notices something.

He notices the bed is sagging and he notices something beside him

He notices a red box.

And he puts his hand on the red box and that immediately gets Alexander’s attention who turns around and says … What does he say?

He says “no lo abras”. How do you say that in English?  Don’t open it. To which Adam says “Porque no” “why not” to which Alexander says “Porque puede arrepentirse”. Because you will regret, it is that the modal auxiliary I am looking for? No, because you might regret it.

So what does adam do? Does he open the box?

He opens the box. What does he see? Well, what could have been another title for the story?

He sees a model miniature replica of the cell – all the objects. And he sees two figures, one sitting at the desk and another whose legs are sticking out from under the top bunk.

You want to know what happens next but I’m not going to tell you. You have to retell the story from start to end and narrate how it ends.

Here’s the really interesting bit. Jamie got this entire story from a YouTube video and refers to this technique as videotelling. This is the subject a new book he’s written called Videotelling.

Some of his tips while using a videotelling activity include:

  • Ask open questions (What’s your bunk bed story?)
  • Don’t be precious about the answers you want to elicit. If you don’t get the targeted response, cell mate, use it as an opportunity to elicit more language.
  • Don’t be teachery. If the T gets an answer she doesn’t like or want, she might say “yes” in a very peculiar tone and imply through paralinguistic means that this is the wrong answer. For example, if the Ss, say Alexander and Adam brothers, ask “Could you explain how two brothers come to be in the same cell?”
  • Give Ss some space to elaborate and justify their answers. Be open to Ss’ ideas.

While doing the extension activity for this exercise, you don’t need to necessarily have Ss write their stories down. Instead, you could have them create video selfies where they speak in front of a camera using all the language you gave them as well as the story text and you challenge them to complete the story.

I’m really excited about trying out videotelling with my Ss and looking forward to Jamie’s new book.

Resources

Finally, here’s a post from last year on interactive storytelling activities.

The Melody of English | IATEFL PronSIG webinar summary

The full title of this webinar – The Melody of English: Research and Resources for Teaching the Pragmatic Functions of Intonation – is a real mouthful and it was the very first PronSIG event that I’ve ever experienced.  The speakers were Marnie Reed and Tamara Jones, both of whom seem to have written methodology books in this area.

Intonation

Why teach the pragmatic functions of intonation? 

Marnie spent the first half of the webinar establishing the need for increasing learners’ sensitivity to pitch movements that lead to some sort of implicature – the speaker implies something through his or her intonation. She suggested that the way intonation is treated in language courses leads to it looking decorative and Ss come away feeling it has no particular meaning. She cited an example of a language lab that she observed where Ss practised intonation with decontextualised sentences and repeated it over and over until their intonation became increasingly target-like, in order to please the teacher. When Marnie asked these Ss whether they would use this native-live intonation in their everyday speech, they apparently suggested that only women speak like this and that it sounds silly and exaggerated.

Marnie went on to explain that her intention was not to force a speech pattern onto the learners and they had the right to reject it if they felt it was irrelevant to them. Her concern was about their ability to decode real world meaning and speaker intent because the Ss were not sensitive to the fact that we use intonation to provide extra meaning (the example she used repeatedly was the teacher didn’t *grade* the papers vs. the *teacher* didn’t grade the papers where the shift in the tonic word reveals more information than the words themselves state).  Marnie felt that the Ss’ beliefs about intonation were going to underpin their receptivity to it. In this case, Ss felt it was decorative, leading to gaps in their metacognition. She also suggested that teachers may also face these same gaps and NESTs are at greater risk because they use intonation unconsciously and are perhaps not motivated to analyse the theoretical basis for it and may not be equipped with dealing with it in the classroom.

What is intonation? 

Systematic and linguistically meaningful use of pitch movement at the phrase level or at the super-segmental level. Pickering (2012)

Marnie pointed out that English intonation is a bit of an outlier and we tend to use a wide pitch contour for everyday utterances and that if we’d  put languages and how they use intonation on a continuum, English would be at an extreme end. German, Turkish and Arabic would also apparently be in the vicinity but English tends to fall at the very extreme end in terms of its use of pitch movement for normal discourse and extra use of it to convey speaker intent where we are making an implication.

Unlike many other languages where grammatical inflection, word order or lexis is used to signal contrast or important information, English does this largely through phonology. Rogerson Revell (2012)

Problems with teaching intonation

Ts spend a lot of time on the attitude or affective areas of intonation such as being sarcastic and showing anger. I think Marnie was referring to that frequently used activity which involves decontextualised sentences being read out in conjunction with an emotion like anger. She suggested that we may working at a surface level producing or imitating intonation without compelling Ss to consider why the pitch range is so exaggerated compared to their L1 and what it might be trying to convey.

What would success look like?

Marnie seemed to describe two sides to this. The first was the ability to grasp implicature and be able to articulate it (in the sense of identify and respond to it). The second was the ability to predict the topic of the next sentence. She shared an example of this which I couldn’t quite hear but the gist of it was that the proficient English speaker is primed to know what to expect when he or she hears non-standard intonation which violates the norms. This might be an important skill in academic lectures where Ss are just following along without knowing what’s coming up.

Resources for teaching the pragmatic functions of intonation

Tamara handled this section of the webinar.  She focused on three situations where we’d expect to hear exaggerated intonation:

  1. Speaker attitude e.g., A: How are you today? B: *great* (with a sort of slow falling pitch movement)
  2. Contrasting information e.g., The *teacher* didn’t grade the papers vs. the teacher *didn’t* grade the papers
  3. Strong agreement e.g. She *does* have a good point.

I’m not sure why Tamara claimed that the utterance in number 3 is also an example of breaking a grammar rule by throwing in an auxiliary verb. Using do/does to add emphasis is generally standard usage.

There are no arguments for teaching intonation in terms of attitude, because the rules for use are too obscure, too amorphous, and too easily refutable.  Brazil et al (1980)

I recall Mssr Brazil being oft quoted in my Delta input lessons as evidence that intonation is a murky area of phonology that’s best left untaught. I could never agree with that perspective and I was happy to hear that Marnie and Tamara concurred. Tamara shared the following activities for focusing on the pragmatic functions of intonation:

1. Noticing: Ask Ss to take a passage and ask several proficient speakers to read it outside class time. Ask them to notice what happens to certain words or phrases and report back. Ss then notice that the proficient speakers all read these words or phrases in the same way or in Tamara’s words, they do something weird to it. Tamara suggested that this noticing is an important part of selling the idea to them – that the pitch change exists in reality and not just in the minds of their teachers.

2. Awareness-raising: Once Ss have noticed the pitch change, use awareness-raising activities to connect intonation to meaning such as:

Let’s conTINue our disCUSion of polLUtion

YESterday we deFINED polLUtion.

1. What will I probably say next?

a. Today we’ll talk about the IMpact of polLUtion

b. ToDAY we’ll deFINE acid RAIN

3. Assumptions understood: Use short dialogues which challenge Ss to interpret meaning or implicature such as this one:

A: Would you like to go skiing this weekend?

B: So you can ski?

What had the man assumed?

(a) A was a good skier.

(b) A was going skiing this weekend.

(c) A didn’t know how to ski.

(d) A did not intend to go skiing.

4. Matching activity: Ss look at a sentence such as “I took the 10:20 evening training from LA to San Francisco” and use the concept of shifting prominence to match it with a range of implicatures such as

a. Not John.

b. I didn’t drive it.

c. Not the 12.20 etc.

5. Quality choral repetition: Along with drills, get Ss to use paralinguistic cues to ‘feel’ the pitch movement in utterances such as “What’s the MATter?” and “You must be JOKing”.

  • Clap: Clap strongly and loudly on the stressed syllable. Clap quickly and quietly on the unstressed.
  • Eyes: Open your eyes wide. Relax them on the unstressed.
  • Eyebrows: Raise them. Relax them.
  • Get up: Stand up. Sit down.
  • Walk: Take a long step. Take a short step.
  • Dance: Take a long step. Take a quick step.
  • Shrug your shoulders: Raise them. Relax them.
  • Snap your fingers: Snap.

Tamara also suggested using rubber bands with words that have exaggerated intonation. I would caution against doing this. I’ve used rubber bands before and find that Ss end up altering the quality and the length of the vowel, reducing rather than enhancing comprehensibility.

6. Card matches: Similar to number four except that the words which have prominence are indicated in the text. These utterances and their implicatures are presented on individual cards.  Ss read and match the cards.

I want to learn to ski on my holiday

I want to learn to SKI on my holiday

I want to learn to ski on my HOLIDAY.

I WANT to learn to ski on my holiday.

My husband already knows how to ski.

I don’t have to learn to ski, but I am interested in doing it.

I am too busy with work to learn right now.

I am not interested in learning to swim or to surf

7. Marking the dialogue: Play short clips such as these ones from Seinfeld and Friends, provide a transcript and ask Ss to mark up words where they hear an exaggerated intonation.

8. Correct me if I’m wrong: Ss complete some sentences about themselves (My name’s … My first language is … My favourite food’s … etc.) and then exchange it with a partner who reads it out wrong “Your favourite colour is black” and then gets corrected “No, my favourite colour is WHITE.” (in the same vein as Mark Hancock’s Contradict me from Pronunciation Games, CUP)

9. What comes before? Provide statements such as “I’m afraid I see some DISadvantages” and Ss work out the preceding statement – “This plan has a lot of advantages.” And then Ss select a dialogue and present it to the class.

Are you sure? Maybe we need TWO new PCs.

I went to the lab on Saturday AND Sunday.

I agree. That IS an unrealistic deadline.

Frank, could YOU do the presentation?

No, the exam is on the FIFTH.

When I reflect on the way I’ve taught intonation, I’ve generally focused on getting Ss to work towards practising intonation that’s definitely not native-like but is easier on the ear either by not sounding too flat or too singsong. I never plan to teach the pragmatic side of intonation and if it happens, it’s usually in emerging language focus. The fact that Ss might be missing out on key aspects of real world communicative competence because of their inability to pick up something proficient English speakers subconsciously process all the time is truly food for thought. I particularly liked the example Tamara shared towards the end when she said that sometimes when she tries to highlight an error to Ss through intonation such as “Louis GO to the bank?”, her Ss use paralinguistic clues to perceive that their teacher is unhappy but miss out on the pitch movement on GO and instead focus on correcting the preposition or some other part of the utterance.

While the studies that were cited and the rationale around teaching the pragmatic functions were really interesting, I felt the activities that were shared were a bit of a damp squib. Most of these (save No.9) are ones that my peers and I have been using variations of for years. Linda Grant’s Well Said, a book that both these ladies seem very partial too was supplementary material for a course I taught with my former employer. Ss could get access to their own copies and they universally disliked doing exercises from it because they found it dry and disengaging.

Nevertheless, I’m grateful for this nice long list of references:

  • Gilbert, J. (2014). Myth 4: Intonation is hard to teach. in L. Grant (Ed.) Pronunciation Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • Levis, J. (1999). Intonation in theory and practice. Revisited. TESOL Quarterly 33(1), p.37-64.
  • Paunovic, T. & Savic, M (2008). Discourse Intonation – Making it work in S. Komar & U. Mozetic (Eds.). As you write it: Issues in literature, language, and translation in the context of Europe in the 21st century, V (1-2), 57-75.
  • Pickering, L. (2012). Intonation. in K. Malmkjaer (Ed.) The Routledge Linguistics Encyclopedia (3rd edition), pp. 280-286.
  • Vandergrift, L. & Goh, C. (2012). Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in action. NY: Routledge, P.22.
  • Wells, J.C. (2006). English Intonation: An Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Wichmann, A. (2005). The role of intonation in the expression of attitudinal meaning. English Language and Linguistics, 9(2), pp. 229-253.

And I think Olya from ELT Stories suggested Paul Tench  (1996, 2001) for functions for teaching intonation.

Image attribution: Flickr | Pronunciation by Steve Bowbrick | CC by 2.0

Language-focused teacher development | Belta webinar summary

February’s Belta webinar was facilitated by Andrew Walkley who spoke about language-focused teacheAndrew Walkley Beltar development. Andrew runs an organization called the Lexical Lab that trains teachers to use the lexical approach. He spent the first two-thirds of the webinar building a case for why we need to prepare teachers for dealing with lexis and wrapped up by talking about vocabulary exercises for exploiting language more effectively.

Why? 

In language-rich responsive approaches such as task-based learning and dogme, the T is expected to recognize, produce and help Ss notice language based on what she observes and hears. The T needs to be skilled in offering Ss examples of the target language or word or lexical structure that’s being discussed. Andrew questioned Ts’ ability to do this on the spur in an instructionally sound way. He refered to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow where the author discusses two types of thinking, one of which is a fast, in the moment, spontaneous sort of thinking. This is in fact a normal cognitive process but instead of thinking clearly, we often replace logical thoughts with heuristics – biases – generalized ideas about something.  Andrew connected this with language teaching through an exercise where he asked us to reorder the following words by frequency from most frequent to least:

ambitious / fun / serious / hard-working

arise / supermarket / store / blonde

banana / controversy / Christian / criticism

paramedic / contend / headline / whereby

after he / in terms of / singer / by the time

He then asked us to write an example (a sentence) for the following words and structures:

ambitious / beard / Christian / past continuous / whereby / arise / criticism / in terms of

Interestingly, beard, blonde and arise occur at a similar frequency in the British National Corpus (BNC) in the spoken component and in the the corpus as a whole – arise comes out on top.

after the (219) serious (122) in terms of (99) arise (96) store (93) Christian (68) fun (52) criticism (47) by the time (37) controversy (21) whereby (20) after he (19) singer (18) supermarket (17) ambitious (16) headline (16) contend (9) beard (9) banana (6) hard-working (2) paramedic (1)

Thinking Fast and SlowSo, we tend to misjudge frequency and according to Andrew we also place these words in examples that don’t reflect real use of language such as “He has a beard” and “She is a Christian”. The latter apparently only occurs once in the entire BNC. Linking back to Kahneman’s ideas, it’s difficult to think of truly meaningful examples on the spur. We place words like beard, blonde and supermarket higher up because we can think of examples more readily than arise. Andrew suggested that if we think of contexts where arise appears such as academic texts and business discussions – there are several more possible contexts than banana or beard. Authentic use of criticism might involve an example such as “The government has faced a lot of criticism concerning its education policy”. Therefore, actual use of these words involve sentences that are far more complex than the ones that readily come to us.

Andrew stated that there are three reasons underpinning this.

  • Availability bias: when we think of a doctor, we imagine a man in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. The examples that we provide to Ss are of a certain nature because they come quicker to mind. When we define words, we put them into the frames of ‘x is y’ or ‘x does y’ which may not reflect the real nature of the word.
  • Representational bias: we tend to exemplify words using the most basic representative structures such as “she’s blonde”.
  • Priming: When we think of the past continuous, we think of examples such as “I was having a bath when the phone rang (was doing, this happened)” because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in course books in typical contexts – we fail to use the wider context that could be used.

Andrew pointed out that sometimes, when we are trying to hear what Ss say in order to correct them, we are primed to hear basic and typical grammar that we’ve taught before. This is problematic in terms of responsive methodologies and can pose an enormous cognitive load for any teacher who is trying to follow TBL or Dogme (and perhaps one of the reasons Ts are apprehensive about these approaches). Language focus in teacher-training courses such as the Celta is on word phrases and tenses, not on lexis, and certainty not on how lexis and grammar work together. We have word forms and we slot stuff in, which again does not reflect real language use. Andrew also added that course book writers have themselves been similarly primed.

How? 

Andrew recommended adding these elements to teacher training and development to address this challenge:

Reflect lexical nature of language

Planning focus on lexis

Observation focusing on responsiveness and new language – not necessarily aims

T development on noticing and exploiting language

in vocab/grammar exercises

in reading/texts

in what Ss say

Andrew didn’t spend too much time on frequency training but he suggested some resources:

For exploiting vocabulary exercises, he suggested the following:

Single word exercises

Think of collocations to give/elicit

Questions to ask vocab

Collocation exercises

Collocates of the collocations

Examples sentences/dialogues

Stories based on one or more collocation

Whole sentence exercises

Think of before/after sentences (when? why? who to?)

Notice grammar or re-usable chunks

Notice other useful vocab

So, an example of a single word exercise from a course book might look like:

rebuild / reconstruct / remake / re-erect

reconsider/ recontemplate/ rethink/ re-examine

recopy / redraft / reword /rewrite

Where Ss are asked to cross out the re word that doesn’t exist in each set and then find more re words. Andrew talked about exploiting this exercise from a lexical perspective by getting Ss to think about what collocations they could create out of these words. Is reconsider the same as rethink or re-examine? Can we use these words in the same types of collocations etc.?  Andrew ran out of time but guidance on exploiting exercises is available on his site.

This was an interesting webinar that created a strong case for including a lexical focus on teacher-training. I do wish, however, that there had been more discussion around how to raise awareness of frequency. While there are tools available for frequency training, getting Ts to become habituated to using them is a persistent challenge.

Finally, here’s an insightful article by Andrew on the Belta site titled Lexical sets/Topic vocabulary.

 

Lesson aims & business outcomes

Lesson aims and objectives

I recently saw this lesson aim in a Business English lesson plan that someone had created for a demo lesson as part of an interview.

To clarify the use of the past perfect in written business communication.

It identifies the target language and the use of the verb ‘clarify’ suggests that the Ss may be familiar with this form but are perhaps using it inaccurately. It also identifies the context for the language use. A fairly well-articulated aim, right? Well maybe in the world of ELT but not in business. After all, who are the consumers of lesson aims in corporate and business training? Sponsors, managers, HR folks and training heads. And what do the aims written in this way mean to them? Absolutely nothing.

Here are some aims from lessons plans that have come out of the business and ESP section of Onestopenglish, a couple are in fact by big names like Adrian Doff. If you were a delivery manager in a software company or an operations manager in a manufacturing firm  or an HR person in a consulting organization, what would these aims mean to you?

Rate the lesson aims on a scale between 1 to 5 where 5 describes a business performance outcome and 1 essentially describes what the teacher will cover or what Ss will learn in the lesson. But, rate them not as a teacher/trainer but a business sponsor.

A. To review important elements of good business writing in English, especially for letters and emails

B. Match a selection of functional questions and responses

C. To produce a description of the production process or the part of the production process they are responsible for or familiar with.

D. To use common expressions for talking about problems and difficulties.

E. Reviewing and extending positive adjectives, giving and receiving compliments.

F. Help medical students to write a case report.

G. To practise and expand vocabulary and phrases associated with fundamental market concepts
and activities.

H. To practise polite language used when taking customer orders

I. To talk about scope for doing things.

You probably feel that these are relatively better than that initial past perfect one. I’m afraid most of them are in fact meaningless to business managers. The two that are somewhat better and would probably get a 4 are F and H. Both talk about things the Ss will do on the job. On the other hand, E is clearly a 1. Even aims that seem ostensibly businessy may in fact not strike a chord with managers such as A and G because they don’t define business performance outcomes or what the employee will do back on the job with this newly honed skill.  You may have assigned C a score of 4 or 5 but this aim, albeit extremely job specific, does not describe the context and criteria under which the employee might do this and therefore is not a business outcome.

My perspective on this comes from many years of working closely with corporate entities on language training. Most organizations use some sort of competency framework to manage learning, drive performance, and ensure role readiness. The workhorse of competency frameworks is the performance outcome that describes what people do or should do back on the job. When sponsors are reviewing course outlines and design documents, they are always trying to fit the aims and objectives they read back into their existing competency frameworks.

I’ve actually taught a course along the lines of lesson aim C. It was for assembly plant workers at a pharmaceutical company and one of the situations they needed to speak in English was with USFDA auditors who would ask them general questions about their work before specific ones about SOPs that needed to be followed. Here’s a simple lesson aim that speaks directly to the managers of these assembly plant workers who worry about their employees fumbling when interrogated by these auditors.

Describe the drug manufacturing process they are responsible for with minimal hesitation to USFDA auditors during a formal plant review.

When the whole point of Business English or ESP  in corporate settings is addressing performance gaps, we can’t keep churning out lesson aims that make sense only to us. Moreover, articulating aims as business outcomes makes business sense as well . When program sponsors see clearly defined business performance outcomes, they are more likely to be receptive to the solution you’ve designed. I know it’s difficult to let go off the ingrained language and style of lesson aims that we are conditioned to write as a result of teacher-training courses but in the context of business, it’s something that’s well worth doing.

Image attribution: Darts by Richard Matthews  | CC by 2.0 

The lady in the stole | An insta-reading activity

instareading

No one reads is the old complaint and yet everyone is constantly reading on social media. I’ve been listening to folks like Shelly Terrell talk about leveraging social media for writing and reading activities and not really been doing anything about it. So here’s an attempt. I’ve been following a journalist named Anushree Fadnavis on Instagram for a while. She takes intriguing pictures on Bombay’s infamous suburban trains, mostly in the women’s compartments. And there are always short and often compelling stories that accompany these pictures. While the language isn’t perfect, it’s most certainly authentic. This is a reading activity based on one of her insta-stories that moved me

Preparation 

In class, you’ll need to display the photo from Instagram which can be accessed using this link. If you don’t have a connected classroom, you may need to take a screenshot beforehand. If your Ss are on Instagram, you might consider getting them to go directly to the photo on the app. Anushree’s Instagram username is anushree_fadnavis. Or you could share the link through a mobile chat app like Whatsapp.

Materials

You’ll need copies of the story that accompanies the picture if Ss can’t access it on their phones.

Procedure

  • Display the picture. Alternatively, ask Ss to access the photo on Instagram without scrolling down to read the caption.
  • Get Ss to work in small groups to come up with as many predictions as they can around the words who, where, when, what and why.

Screenshot_2014-12-01-19-34-25

  • Give Ss the hashtags (#traindiaries #train #Mumbai #mumbaidiaries #dailylife #dailylifeindia #everydaymumbai) that accompany the image and ask them to refine their predictions.
  • Facilitate a whole class discussion on Ss’ predictions.
  • Ask Ss why they think the woman in the picture has covered her face with a stole.
  • Distribute the story and ask Ss to quickly find out why the woman has covered her face.

Screenshot_2014-12-01-19-34-55

  • Ask them to read the story again and find three things that will stay them for a long time because they found it shocking or disturbing or moving.
  • Get Ss to share these three items with a partner and consider whether their perception of Kavita changed after reading about what happened to her.
  • Ask Ss to close their eyes and imagine that they are on the train with Kavita and follow her as she goes from compartment to compartment, hawking her wares.
    • What is she selling?
    • Does she say anything to the passengers?
    • How do the passengers treat her?
    • Does anyone talk to her?
  • Ask Ss to write down their observations in the form of an Instagram diary entry with hashtags. Encourage them to read the original story again as they do this.
  • As homework, ask Ss to find out if there any social media campaigns they can join to support the victims of acid attacks. Incidentally, Sapna Bhavnani has started a safe space for acid victim attacks in Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) called Sheroes’ Hangout and has a book donation drive on Instagram.