Praising Good Vocabulary

In a previous post I spoke about the importance of Positive Reinforcement in the language classroom. It’s important that teachers show learners what language they are using correctly and praise them for it.usterdf7yey-moritz-schmidt

My justification for this is because we as teachers know what language is correct and incorrect, but that doesn’t mean learners know. In fact, as long as they have executed a successful communicative act, then they have achieved the desired goal: they’ve communicated a message.

Language is a wide topic and showing examples of good language use could range from grammar through lexis to pronunciation. Today, I’d like to focus only on vocabulary.  Continue reading

Listening, Beginners and Authentic Materials

When you’re learning a new language, authentic materials can be quite scary and off-putting. While this is true for all skills, such as reading a newspaper or trying to maintain a conversation with a native speaker, it’s particularly true when it comes to listening. When turning your ear to an authentic radio programme, TV episode or eaves dropping on a conversation in a café, it can be so hard to make heads or tails of what’s being said.headphones-791078_1280

This is because listening is live: the words are spoken and then are gone again in a split second. You don’t have the option to go back and look at the words again, like in reading, or check that you’ve understood it correctly, like in speaking. Listening happens in real-time and you’ve got to get it the first time, otherwise you might not get it right at all.

Listening is a challenge for language learners of all levels. However, where higher level learners can manage to understand a lot of what they hear, lower level learners are lucky if they can pick out a word or two from what must seem like a sea of noise.

Listening isn’t easy for lower levels, which is why we often use specially-made materials for these levels. Such materials often take the form of dumbed down texts, with high frequency words, clear pronunciation and a slow pace. Of course, the pedagogical justification for this can be found in theories of learning, such as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

However, despite the methodologically sound reasons for simplifying listening texts, is there any justification for exposing lower level learners to authentic listening materials? Keep reading to find out… Continue reading

Weekend Traffic Lights

An earlier post looked at learner language and ways it can be used most effectively in-class as a learning tool. However, for a teacher to use Learner Language as a tool for Language Input, the learners actually need to produce some language. The underlying prerequisite to emergent language is that learners be put in a Communicative Situation, so that they can produce language.
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However, getting learners to talk at length about a topic while giving them free reign over what language they choose to use to express themselves is perhaps easier said than done. Not all topics engage all learners, and the ones which do are all often too sensitive or cause divisions, such as politics or religion.

That said, there is one topic which learners are usually willing to talk about at length: the weekend. From the previous post you have 5 ideas for what to do with learner language, so this post will look at a simple classroom activity to get learners communicating and producing some language for you to later feed back on.  Continue reading

Positive Reinforcement in Language Learning

The year 1967 saw the the USA and the USSR perform nuclear tests, the Beatles released Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and L.G. Alexander published what is said to be the best-selling book in ELT First Things First.

Scott Thornbury mentions the book in his 2016 Plenary at IATEFL, saying it was so popular that you could even purchase a copy at kiosks! In the plenary, he also quotes the author saying “the student should be trained to learn by making as few mistakes as possible.” good-1122969_640

An idea born out of earlier methods, such as the Direct Method and Audiolingualism, the focus on accuracy over fluency was the pinnacle of the pre-communicative era in ELT. There was a general fear of encouraging mistakes by letting them slip, and ultimately allowing them to become fossilized.

Decades later, learners are now very much encouraged to prioritize fluency, to make mistakes and to learn from them. As a result, lessons nowadays often culminate in a Delayed Error Correction stage, where learners are given corrective feedback on the mistakes they made during the lesson.

However, has this shift in focus from accuracy to fluency been a wholly positive development in English Language Teaching, or have we created a new problem by resolving another? Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

Conversation Classes

There’s a post on WanderingELT which looks at what seems to be a fairly common conundrum in English Language Teaching. Basically, a learner comes to a language school traumitized by the experience of learning English through a Structural Syllabus in the state sector. In the words of Giulia Brazzale, such learners have had enough of grammar and they want “to learn to speak.”minions-363019_640

So, these learners sign up for Conversational Classes, or one-to-one lessons with a conversational focus. From the perspective of the teacher, like Giulia, this raises a number of questions:

  1. Why do learners end up in this situation?
  2. Are conversation classes the solution?
  3. Can good teaching happen solely through the conversation?

This post will take a look at these questions one by one and it will try to offer some answers. Keep reading to find out what they are. Continue reading

Using Trello for Language Learning

I’ve recently been working at a tech firm called Applingua where I’ve had the opportunity to experience what it’s like working in a business – a non education business that is. As part of this, I’ve had the opportunity to use several tools I had never used before. One of which was Trello: a note-taking tool to help organize yourself and projects, available as both a web-app and a native app.

Trello Do Doing DoneFrom what I understand, many startups and entrepreneurs use Trello for Project Management. Although there are many different ways it could be used for managing a project, examples of which you can find following this link, one of the most common I’ve come across is the Do-Doing-Done set up, as in the image to the right.

This approach is very simple but effective: you write in the Do list what you need to do, move it to the Doing list when it’s underway, and finally move it to the Done list when it’s complete. For short and quick tasks, you’ll probably just skip the Doing column. An example of this would be Send Mary a thank you e-mail.

The example of the Trello board in the image is from my personal board, containing the lists of things I’m currently working on: I call it my Task Board. I have other task boards for work: one for all the things I need to do concerning content curation, another for social media and marketing, and another for the projects I oversee.

Recently I was writing up some notes in my language notebook. It’s a traditional school-style notebook, which I have divided up into sections for the different languages I’m learning. As I was doing this, a question dawned on me: couldn’t Trello be used for Language LearningContinue reading

Exam Revision Time

It’s that time again in the northern hemisphere where learners are preparing for their end of year exams and in the southern hemisphere they’re getting ready for continuous assessment and mid-year exams. Education Umbrella Revision Enter a caption Enter a caption

Revising for exams and preparing for assessment is no mean feat. Some top tips will always come in handy.

However, if you quickly search revision tips in Google, you get overwhelmed with millions of hits.

Of course, this just leads to a wealth of questions:

  1. How do you know which ones to listen to?
  2. What are the best revision tips out there?
  3. How should you revise?

Well, I was going to write up a whole post about the most important tips – the ones which have served me and my learners well time and time again – but then fortunately I came across this amazing infographic from the people at Education Umbrella, who have synthesised the top tips into one cool slide.

What’s great about these tips is that:

  • They aren’t based on any niche or outlandish methodology
  • They’re tried and tested approaches
  • They work time and time again

Revision is one of those tasks that you just have to get on with. Knowledge won’t go into your brain without plenty of understanding and repetition. One of the tips is a good example of this: “Try to teach the information to somebody else” – to do that you’ll need to understand it first and you’ll need to be able to repeat it correctly again and again and again.

Like the others, a simple but very effective revision tip.

And on that note, I’ll let you get on with your revision and wish you the absolute best of luck in your upcoming exams and assessment!