Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Christmas Post

Merry Christmas!

I'm off for a couple of weeks, but normal service will be resumed in January.  For now, here's a video of someone gift-wrapping a cat!

Have a great Christmas / holiday / whatever, and see you in the new year.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Interactive Resources: doing it right

Sometimes 'interactive' means 'get students to do a traditional multiple choice quiz on the computer', and sometimes it means 'invite students to explore a professionally produced multimedia resource which has quality content and more than one possible learning application.'  Guess which sort I prefer!

The following three resources stand out to me for their depth of content and production quality.  Although none was produced specifically for an English teaching context, they can all be integrated smoothly into lessons on a variety of typical topic areas - and I have used them all successfully with my classes.

Track an Email with Google Green

The first site is The Story of Send, produced by Google Green.  This is an interactive journey following the path of an email from your computer, through Google's data centres, all the way to the eventual recipient.  On the way, guided by appealing animated characters, you can use text, video and photo galleries to learn about data security and green technology.  The text is in bitesize chunks, and introduces complex technology in an approachable way.  You can also use more or less of the site depending on student level and time constraints, by skipping some of the multimedia content.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Qwerty in the English Language Classroom - why practise writing skills online?

In my earlier post on writing, which looked at the reasons for and against using class time for writing assignments, I focused almost entirely on traditional pen-and-paper writing.  I'd like in this post to look more at reasons for using ICT-based activities for writing skills, and suggest some activities that could work on a VLE such as Nfomedia (which is free!).

So, why are ICT tools and online writing good for students?

1.  ICT-based reasons.

  • Students need to be familiar with basic internet tasks in English – logging in and out, completing web forms, reading and replying to short messages, and using web etiquette.  (OK, so most students will already be extremely familiar with this, but by no means all!)
  • The configuration of UK keyboards is different – for example the @ key is in a different place from European keyboards.  And of course, many students will also be used to keyboard configurations for completely different alphabets.
  • If students aim to use their English in a professional environment, they are likely to be using a computer; hunt-and-peck typing is rarely going to be acceptable.
  • Many exams are now computer based, and this will become even more common in future.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Tired Lesson Topics - Part 3

So, we've jazzed up Family, Food, Daily Routines, Sport and Education with lesson ideas that are just a bit different, now it's the turn of Hobbies and Work - both yawn-inducingly familiar textbook topics, I'm sure you'll agree. So how can you teach them again without falling asleep? Read on for ideas.

1. Hobbies

  • Students use Etsy or Folksy to search for real examples of unusual craft items or hobbies.  It could be a competition to find the most unusual / beautiful / overpriced / pointless item possible, or they could try to 'sell' the item to another student using persuasive and descriptive language.  
  • Story-telling - students choose a hobby and tell a story where the hobby led to a disastrous result (such as loss of a relationship or home, illness, or even death) or to unexpected success (a scientific discovery, a successful career, a new relationship or your home becoming a tourist attraction, for example).  You could use dice as described in my first post to randomise some of the story elements.  Alternatively, Googling "my hobby led to" could provide some useful ideas for students to start with.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Writing in Class - a Waste of Time?

The class sits in silence, apart from the rustling of paper and the scratch of pens.  Meanwhile, the teacher stares off into space, completes her marking, surreptitiously checks her texts or reads the newspaper.  Through the walls drift the sounds of another class apparently having a lot more fun - they are watching a video, playing a raucous game, talking and laughing loudly...  Sound familiar?

Writing in class is a tricky area: some teachers swear by it, while others consider it to be a total waste of time  for all concerned.  Here are some of the most common arguments:

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hitting the doldrums - or not

When you start teaching, everything's a blur, but after a few months or a couple of years, you can suddenly realise that you're in a rut, without even knowing how you got there.  You know what you're doing (or at least you think you do), you have a repertoire of lesson ideas, mountains of photocopies that you might use again one day, and just that nagging feeling that something isn't quite right.  Somewhere along the way, after you lost the sense of panic, you also lost some of your drive and enthusiasm.

So how can you get them back?  How can you stop the doldrums turning into your permanent teaching home?

Here are my top tips:

Friday, 5 October 2012

Jazzing up Tired Lesson Topics - Part 2

In the previous post I looked at 3 textbook 'classics': Daily Routines, Education, and Sport, and some ideas for approaching them in a new way in the classroom.  This time I'll be considering Family and Food, again with activities that are just a bit different, and can be adapted to many different levels and lesson objectives.

So, without further ado...

Two More Typical Tired Textbook Topics, and how to enjoy teaching them again:

1. Family

  • Students make a technology family tree.  Which device or invention was the 'parent' of another?  Which devices share a family resemblance?  Which device wants to be just like its big brother or sister, or always goes on about how things were better in the past when it was the latest thing?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tired Lesson Topics, and what you can do to revitalise them

It's no accident that so many textbooks cover the same old topics.  Family, hobbies, education, work and all the rest of them are exam and textbook staples precisely because they are real-life conversational staples as well.  The problem starts when teacher, students or both are bored by the topic because they've covered it so many times before: when Unit 1 is predictably going to be family and talking about yourself, when food is inevitably the topic for teaching countable and uncountable nouns (yawn), and when you realise that you could actually teach that lesson on the environment (using future forms or conditionals) in your sleep, because you've done the same thing so many times before.

This is for those times.  Here are some techniques for adapting typical ELT activities, and a few less obvious ways of approaching traditional topics.