Month: June 2011

WizIQ Distance Learning Summer Course: Chapter 2: things are looking up

Providing a structure for growth

You may remember what happened last week on my distance learning summer course, (read it here)I was keen to use a fantastic online tool ‘lights out’ and in true form, nobody could see anything! So, this week I decided to aim for simplicity, and it all went much better, so I thought I’d tell you about it.

LEARNER CENTRED TOPICS

The learners themselves choose the topics in class, by putting them into the chatbox and the one people like most wins. This is similar to the #eltchat approach to selecting topics and since it works so well for the Twitter discussion group I thought it would be good to extend it to my conversation class.

Photo credit: theirhistory posted on Flickr

ADUCATION NOT EDUCATION

I’ve written about this before, and other people do the same thing but give it a different name. Basically it reflects my idea that with distancelearning the online lesson is a discussion space that motivates learners, and gives them somewhere to experiment with the language they are learning. I do not use it for long, detailed clarifications of language, although language points do come up and the virtual classroom lends itself well to micro-teaching slots. My summer course: Activate your English, has this name because this is what I hope learners are doing, activating their English in class. But what about input? I hear someone cry. Well, that is the aducating, the leading learners to language. The classroom activities are accompanied by our Activate Your English blog where learners can before lessons to propare for class. (In this class, for instance the focus was on the learners and their countries, towns and lives) so I asked them to make sure before class that they knew the names of countries and nationali adjectives. (the level is very loosely intermediate, with an enormous range). I also gave them a reading text to piece together about me and my hometown, which we then looked at in class too, and I suggested revising comparatives and superlatives, providing activities to do this. So whe’s the learner-centred bit? I hear someone ask. This is aducating because the learners can go to the materials and do the work that they need or choose to do in preparation, and then in class they put it into practice.

DEVELOPING A ROUTINE

I don’t really like the ideea of strict procedure but I know that we human beings find rituals and habits very reassuring so I tend to include the following ingredients in an online lesson:
1) A game or quiz (with winners, I’m afraid, so that everyone can applaud them. The names are published on the blog after the lesson). This week it was an alphabet quiz with countries. I gave them a letter and the first person to type in the country got a point. This is very simple but works well, and what is really nice is the encouraging comments people make to each other as we go.
2) Some microphone work, where learners can speak whilst the class types questions into the chatbox, or vice versa (this is very popular and interesting as we have learners from all over the world with a wealth of experience and plenty of stories to tell us.) This week I put up a map of the world and learners put a cross or a dot on their homes, then I called on various people to talk about where they were and what they were doing whilst the others asked questions in the chatbox. When they got going it was hard to stop them… Wonderful!
3) Structured skills work ( mainly because the learners like it and it provides good scaffolding). In this case I had a worksheet with a picture of me and Haggis my cat and another one of the barges on a canal in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, my home town. This was followed by a jigsaw texts which the learners put into the correct order in the usual fashion, but it, of course, had a twist. The text contained a lot of informaion that was obviously wrong.

Example:
My name is Sharon and I live in London. ( They all know that I live in Verona)

So the next stage was to read the text again and find out what was false. This was a lot of fun and helped the learners to process and understand the information in the text, in a fun, natural way, as well as provoking some discussion and vocabulary work.

4) A screen sharing phase. On Wiziq you, the teacher can share your screen with the class ( although it’s as well to keep this simple too as not everything comes out so well, and some learners cannot see things at times depending on their bandwidth.) I showed them the blog, for the new people or those who weren’t aware of it, and told them how it works. If you want to go the and see some of the things we do this is the link. Then I showed the CUP promotions page ( free grammar and exams preparation apps today and huge discounts for the rest of the week ) and finally I showed them the linoit noticeboard we had made as a back up to last week’s lesson and a new one for this week, where they can load their own photos and comments etc. ( all the links are on the blog). This activity is a follow up, and there are others too, including a focus on idioms: “worldly idioms” since we were looking at the world, for those who like them, but again it is up to the learner what they choose to do or not.

5) The hour was nearly up at this point, but we still had time for a fun final activity, which, this week was a general knowledge geography quiz (hence the need for comparatives and superlatives).

6) and finally the poll, where we chose the topic for next week. The most popular were music and stories, so I’m thinking of soing storytelling based on music, of course… Any ideas?

Scoop.it!! An inspiring new toy to play with for the summer.

Creativity
Creativity comes in all shapes and forms

Recently various scoop.it topics have been appearing in the blogosphere, amd being naturally magpie like, I was immediately attracted by the glitz. So here is my first topic: inspiration for tired teachers. I’m sure that at this time of year a lot of us are not quite as scintillating and enthusiastic as we were at the beginning of the school year. This is definitely true for me, especially after a week of marking 600 written exams :-(. So, in search of insight and creativity I turned to some of my favourite posts, videos, ideas, thoughts etc. This is what keeps me going. Hope it works for you too.

Here’s a little blog challenge (for the summer holidays):

What’s:

one fun lesson activity;

one inspiring video;

one inspiring thought or insight

that keeps you going?

You could either publish them in your blog or write them in a comment and I’ll make a scoop.it topic to keep us all going 🙂

Meet Nina Hanakova…or on Facebook: Nina EnglishBrno

Nina Hanakova known as Nina EnglishBrno on facebook
Nina Hanakova known as Nina EnglishBrno on facebook

 

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the second of my PLN “Who’s next…? Challenge (thanks to Brad Patterson for this Blog Challenge) Interviews. This week I interviewed Nina Hanakova from Brno in the Czech Republic. I have not known Nina for very long, so it’s nice to get the chance to discover a little more about someone who, I can see from Facebook, is an incredibly learner centred, innovative teacher, who combines a love of technology with a truly caring attitude towards her students. If you have never visited her blog you can find her here. English Brno greets you with what looks like a really comfortable sofa for you to relax on as Nina shares her teaching ideas with you and at the same time opens a window for you to take a peek at her learners and some of  their work so… here goes: 

THE ORIGINAL QUESTIONS PLUS A FREE CHOICE OF TWO THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE ASKED

Nina in Brno with her students at their final party

1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?
– talkative, fun, supportive
2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?
– lots of veggies, different kinds of Czech, Slovak and Greek cheese, Greek olives, ouzo (we had Greek family friends visiting us last week), Moravian white wine, two bottles of local beer, strawberry jam, marinated chicken breasts, trout (fish), apple juice, milk.
3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
– intercultural consultant
4) What do you find most difficult about working in teaching, or What has been your most difficult moment in class?
– most difficult in teaching: class time management – sometimes I could spend all day with my students
5) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?
– last movie I saw was “Life in a Day”, the Youtube movie, last book I read “ScreemFree Parenting”, I have seen “The Family Stone” too many times
6) Do you like working as a freelance teacher?
– I love it! I am a big fan of freelancing. I wish everyone on this planet could work for themselves/in small private companies, following their true passions. I love what I do and the fact that I am my own boss gives me complete freedom to choose when, where, how, with whom and if at all I will work today.
7) How do you juggle work and parenting?
– it’s an everyday challenge. especially because I have to plan my working time very carefully. which doesn’t always work the best for me as I like to work in “creative waves”. but my partner and my mom are very helpful. I find it important to feel balanced both personally and professionally.

The passion and enthusiasm for teaching and communicating shines through these asnwers! So I’ll just finish with one of Nina’s favourite quotes from her Facebook page. I like it because it is both brave and liberating, and in tune with the essence of Nina EnglishBrno:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those that matter don’t mind and those that mind don’t matter!” ~ Dr. Suess

If you want to read more interviews that bloggers have done in response to this challenge follow this link to Dave Dodgson’s Scoop.It page

Lights Out!

Light around the world
Lights Out

LIGHTS OUT

Hi everyone, well, I promised I’d tell you what happened when I used my screencast of the lights out tool I talked about last week, which you can see here, if you missed it. I had intended to use this nifty little tool to do an activity where I slowly revealed different parts of a picture of a graffiti covered desk. This was to lead into a discussion about the difference between graffiti and street art, whether it was decoration or defacement etc. But, in fact, it was lights out for my lesson plan because nobody could see the video despite the fact that I’d lovingly uploaded it before the class. The joy of technology, eh? Anyway, this gives you the opportunity to think on your feet so I quickly switched to the screensharing mode, where learners in the WizIQ classroom can see some of the things that are on my screen. Infortunately they can’t use the chatbox during screensharing, so I simply asked them to watch the video and tell me what the picture was at the end. Phew, this worked. But it was an added frustration because the lesson had got off to a rocky start as I had been expecting more of my university students and, in fact only one showed up. This makes me wonder about the wisdom of offering free classes. Is it that people don’t appreciate things that they don’t have to pay for, or is it simply that they’ve all had a lot of exams recently and want a rest from studying…let’s hope it’s the latter.

THE FREE PUBLIC CLASSES

What happens when you offer free public classes in English on WizIQ? Well, you usually get quite a lot of interest and up to 50 or so people will enrol for the class, but they don’t all turn up, they don’t all read your description of the class or necesarily do the preparation work. They don’t all have microphones, and they are all different levels. Added to this you occasionally get someone who is just playing around. (In extreme cases, you, the teacher, can block someone, but it would have to be quite extreme before I felt like doing that.) This means that you cannot know who you will have or what level they will be, so it is quite a challenge. In this lesson I had aimed it at a higher level, because I was thinking of my university students, whereas, when I was in class I realised that the level was probably too high for most of the learners present. So, again thinking on your feet is important, and I adapted some of the questions about “Street Art” which was the topic of the discussion to the level of the people there, whilst giving the more advanced learners the chance to use the language they had prepared in advance too. After the class I felt a little bit frazzled due to the technical and logistics problems and I began to be quite frustrated at the lack of continuity etc. I had also prepared a linoit canvas as back up work for these learners where they could go and post their own photos after class and in my negative mind set I was thinking “Oh, nobody will bother with that!” So, imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that people had gone and posted their photos, and that they have reenrolled for class next week, and that maybe the whole experience hadn’t been quite as negative as I’d thought.

PLUS POINTS

One of the plus points is always the buzz in these classes. Things move forward at a fast and furious rate and learners joke with each other (in English) in the chatbox, and generally communicate a lot. I always end the lesson on a high note with a game of some sort to recycle either content or language that has come up in class. This week I wanted to play “hangman” but it takes me too long to manage the free drawing tool for the whiteboard, to draw the hangman. In fact, this was of no importance whatsoever, as the learners were very happy to guess the letters and the words, applauding enthusiastically when someone won. (All the winners names are published after the event on the WizIQ site, so that is a high point too 🙂 )

I also wanted to make next lesson more learner centred so I asked them for the topics they wanted to talk about and we will be organising our lessons around those areas in the next few weeks. So, I suppose, in the end it was quite successful, and I’m looking forward to next lesson. (I will not be planning for any particular level in mind, but will be ready to think on my feet! The best way to approach it all.)

Oh, and I will not be giving the whiteboard controls to everyone right at the start either. That was another mistake this week. In the virtual classroom you can give the whiteboard controls to the learners and I was using this fundction for a brainstorming session where they wrote questions on the board around a picture I had previously uploaded, but I had not checked who I had in the class, so not only did I get the questions I wanted, but doodles, geometric designs, people moving the board around etc. etc. but it was…. learner centred, that is true, and once again, I just laughed and then took the controls off them again.

Anyway, if you want to see the video of this event you can judge for yourself (Don’t be firghtened when you see me in the video. I had had my hair cut and bore an uncanny resemblance to a goat. I’ve since washed it a few times and it’s… well, on the way to getting back to normal.

See you soon 🙂

ClassTools.net: using their cool tools to work on close ups

merry go round
All the fun of the fair

Technology Returns, and here are some really fun tools

ClassTools.net: Create interactive flash tools / games for education.

I haven’t written about technology for quite a while now but this site provides us with a serious of really “cool tools”. You can simply use them in class, like the countdown clock with various musical themes to choose from, or you can use the templates and then embed them in your blog or wiki, like the Fakebook page we used in the Literature work (See the second Storytelling post). Here’s an example of how I decided to use “Lights Out” in my online class (which is on Tuesday so I’ll tell you later how it went.)

Lights Out

Lights Out is a new take on the idea of covering an image and revealing it slowly. You simply upload an image and then: hey presto, there you are, you can turn the lights out and with a digital torch illuminate just the bits you want to. To do this online though I didn’t know if I would be able to use the application, some of the students would not be able to see it, so I scratched my head and thought for a bit and this is the recipe:

1) upload the image on Lights Out;

2) Decide how you are going to use it, which bits to highlight, what questions you might ask;

3)Make a screen capture video of the exerice with Jing or Camstudio, which is opensource software and my personal favourite;

4) you can either embed the video, save it or put it on YouTube etc. or simply use in class. I uploaded it to WizIQ so that I can use the video in the lesson, and my students should be able to see it. Anyway, I’ll let you know what happens.

Oh, what was that? You want to see the video? Well, as it happens you’re in luck I put it onto YouTube as well 🙂

#ELTchat Summary: how can we teach lexical grammar, going beyond “single word” lists?

#ELTchat SUMMARY : June 15th
2011.
Coming to you from Verona, Italy…..
What is ELTchat?
If you have never been to an #ELTchat discussion, you don’t know what you’re missing. For a comprehensive introduction to these breathtaking chat sessions, read Marisa Constantinides’ great post.  Today’s chat was a discussion of this question:

How can we teach lexical grammar, going beyond “single
word” lists?

I was particularly excited about this chat because it was the first time a topic I’d proposed had been chosen, so it was with bated breath that I launched Tweetdeck and went to the column I keep for the #ELTchat. If you want to read the transcript follow this link.
Why Lexical Grammar?
I had chosen this topic because it is particularly close to my heart. So many of my university students, who have possibly concentrated mainly on grammar and skills work in their language learning careers, later discover something that is not news by any means, in the words of Wilkins (1972):

“Without grammar very little
can be conveyed,

without vocabulary nothing can
be conveyed”.

As emerged in this chat, many of us are in favour of the idea of language as being lexical but are not so sure of how to apply this systematically to out teaching. There were a lot of
“pearls” as always and also a lot of questions. At the beginning there was some
confusion as to what we were discussing but as our great moderator (@rliberni) said at the end:
“Wow this was avery dynamic chat after a rocky start! Thx to co-moderator @Shaunwilden whose lexical-grammar is flawless! :-)”
What is lexical grammar?

What is Lexical Grammar?

This was the first question which sparked off various different responses, a few of which are here:
*I think it is the collocations, chunks etc (@Shaunwilden)
*Is  it to do with ‘colligations’, or the grammar that goes with a word e.g. like + -ing or to+inf  but not bare inf. ? (@sandymillin)
*A  simple example of lexical grammar – adjective synonyms/antonyms that use the same preposition, e.g. good/brilliant/bad at(doing st (@pjgallantry)
*Grammar is seen to be more “right or wrong”, or   black or white. Lexis oozes with various shades of grey. (@chriscatteneo)
*We know that we need grammar but without words we cannot communicate (@hartle)
*Lexis is central in meaning. Grammar plays a subservient role. (@gknightbkk)
*Language is grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar (Lewis 1993) (@gknightbkk)
*Maybe @thornburyscott’s “L is for Michael Lewis” might shed a bit more
light? (@esolcourses)
*Lexical patterns in discourse are a part of any study of textual cohesion – so perhaps this is where it is (@Marisa_C) @Marisa_C Yes. Cohesion and coherence in discourse are vital to understanding meaning beyond the sentence level.  (@gknightbkk)
*Grammar without lexis is irrelevant.  Grammar needs  meaning to give it relevance (@FarnhamCastle)
So we could conclude that Lexical Grammar is “words and the company they keep”, where vocabulary is king and grammar is his court.

Lexis should be taught in context

The chat now turned in the direction of how we should approach lexis in teaching:
 *I think a lot of words are taught in context, but not necessarily explored in similar contexts/grammar not highlighted  (@rliberni)
*We need to teach lexical chunks that have grammatical info attached to them (@gknightbkk)
*Who thinks there’s a split in pedagogy: those who teach grammar “mathematically” and those who teach it lexically? (@bethcagnol)
*If it just comes down to teaching vocab in context., problem solved! (ann_f) RT @ann_f:  No that’s a first step but then users can notice patterning and go on to experiment. (@hartle)
*Context is so important. Otherwise it’s a blind and meaningless journey into a variety of unknown words/phrases. (@MissLadyCaz)
*My students saying “Speed down” have a lexical problem not a grammatical one!
(@gknightbkk): A good case in point: that vocabulary has grammar (@BobK99)
 We generally  agreed that we need to teach the items and the
grammatical information together and in context, so then we moved on to think
about ways of doing this:

Matters  of teaching lexical grammar and Using Corpora

*I agree that concordancing is useful to see who words are “friends”
with.(@NikkiFortova)
(@AlexandraKouk) uses collocations for advanced levels and for self-study work.There were various comments on concordances, some had had negative
experiences, others thought the teacher should use them rather than the students or vice versa and others were interested in how to use them.
*I find that many discussions and reiterations help my ESL learners to become more confident in using new words in correct contexts. (@MissLadyCaz) RT @MissLadyCaz: Yes, exposure and experimenting are essential but noticing is too (@hartle)
*I have my students  look for images they associate with the word and then share it in class. The different associations are amazing! (@OUPELTGlobal)
*The visual and the sharing of the images adds different contexts to different students (OUPELTGlobal)
Inspiration and poetry
Inspiration leads to growth and creative expression.
Incorporating the systematic teaching of lexis into other approaches such as Dogme or TBL
The topic of teaching approaches came up and how we could include lexical teaching into these:
*In approaches such as TBL, Unplugged etc. Focusing on the language that comes from students?
(@ann_f)
*I think that’s a common misconception (that working on student language is only concentrating on output)  about working with student output. Output is reformulated, extended and worked on and becomes input. (@chiasun)
*It is true, lexical grammar does lend itself well to TBL, but it’s all student
output/correction: where’s the input?(@pjgallantry) (In reply @chiasun) There’s
always a way of feeding in and dealing with emergent language and extending it
with Lexical Approach ideas. (In reply @pjgallantry) that’s true, but the issue
there may be one of sufficient input of new lexis – does it make for a large
teacher workload?
*I think whether it’s TBL or Dogme, it depends on the teachers’ approach and seizing opportunities to work on emergent lang. (@chiasun)
* I think an unplugged approach allows for both lexicalisd grammar and grammaticalised lexis depending on the teacher & learners. (@BethCagnol in reply to @chiasun and @pjgallantry)
*Error correction needs to become not just correction but input with reformulation and experimenting. (@hartle
*So biteable chuncks, ss output>input and whatever methodology that suits? (@ann_f)
* Input is not equal to intake (@cherrymp)
Learner training
One important area was learner training and how we can train our learners to notice lexical grammar autonomously.
*(Learner training)sounds like a good strategy, but what do you use as a starting point? single vocab item, grammar point, text…? (@rliberni)
*OK, so do you e.g. take a word they use incorrectly, then examine what the correct grammar around it would be? (@sandymillin) (reply from @hartle) yes, it  could be a collocation problem, wrong syntax etc.
*Students keeping vocabulary records should help (@AlexandraKouk)  Yes and exploring ways for them to keep records other than a list. (@Shaunwilden) (Reply @Shaunwilden) encourage learners to write a sentence/short conversation for each new word they learn  (@sandymillin)
*We should adjust our approach to different learners. Some learn more organically, & some more systematically. (@chiasuan)
*Readymade chunks help students  in attending to the meaning rather than worrying about language especially FL learners. (@cherrymp)
*OK, when dealing with lexis and lexical grammar, we also have to deal with the ‘rules’ of register/style – how to make students aware? (@pjgallantry)
Confusion
Won't they get confused?
Is Lexical Grammar for Advanced Learners?
Some of us thought that lexical grammar is only
suitable for advanced learners:
*Lexical priming also seems more for advanced students (ann_f)
*Corpora in class is, I think, rather a specialised use and not for beginners. (@pjgallantry)
*I think meeting students’ expectations is important, if they want grammar, it’s our starting point (@sandymillin)(reply from @hartle) but they have trouble with lexis, coz they didn’t know it’s important.
*They need to build their base. they need to know what the structures are. but it’s not a must (@juanalejandro)
*Let them find the patterns  – rule is just a term of convenience language has patterns and generalizations 🙂  (@Shaunwilden) (In reply @sandymillin) I like
the idea of letting students find patterns, but grouping language for  low-level students to do this maybe difficult without special coursebooks?
*There are no rules! The first rule about rule club:  you don’t talk about rules. :-)(@BobK99)
*Teaching chunks not words is a habit, I think not level related. I can teach “shower” or “have a shower” and ask students to notice. (@hartle)
*If u want SS to find patterns, often low-level texts have too many language points: how to highlight to students,  which 2 focus on (@sandymillin in reply @Shaunwilden)
Problems
We also have quite a lot of problems, including the
grammar versus lexis debate:
*Currently working on a coursebook and teaching grammar lexically is heavily discouraged. It’s discouraging! (@BethCagnol)
*I think there’s a time and a place for mathematical and lexical grammar teaching. Both should be used. (@BethCagnol) (in reply ) l  think many of us were trained to teach grammar mathematically… not so sure how to teach it lexically myself. (@marcusmurilo)
*Perhaps it takes more time to see how our efforts to teach grammar lexically work. (@BethCagnol)
*Does teaching different contexts for the same word help or confuse students? (@OUPELTGlobal) depends on their level and on how you do it (@AlexandraKouk)
*I think it depends on level more advanced need broader contexts & can compare usages, lower level might get confused (@rliberni)
*I think it’s the ‘noticing’ part that needs a systematic framework which at present does not exist. (@Marisa_C)
*Aren’t we in danger here of teaching ABOUT the language and not the language itself? (@OUPELTGlobal)
*I think some teachers like teaching grammar mathematically because it’s easier to test it. (@BethCagnol)
*I find most of my advanced students actually want to talk about grammar it gives them a prop (may be age tho) (@rliberni) (reply from @mcneilmahon) @rliberni but do they? Or is it the teachers & coursebook authors?  My SS much prefer
new lexis 2 old grammar they still can’t get.
*Grammar is a “teddy bear” reassuring but most of my advanced  students have more trouble with lexis.(@hartle)(reply from @rliberni) Grammar is more finite in a way (we can ‘do’ it) lexis is more infinite in terms of breadth of usage which makes it harder . (reply from @mcneilmahon) so do we continue to take the easy (finite)
way out?
Links shared
Articles and websites of interest
1) Lexical syllabus, Dave Willis  (@cherrymp)
2)     Lexical Approach 1 from TE  (@cherrymp)
3)     A couple of articles by @thornburyscott on lexical grammar: (part 1)
http://www.thornburyscott.com/assets/oup%20grammar%20part%201.html
& (part 2) http://www.thornburyscott.com/assets/oup%20grammar%20part%202.html (@esolcourses)
4)     Taking a lexical approach to teaching: principles and problems http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~nharwood/lexapproach.htm (@cherrymp)
5)     Lexical Approach Classroom Activities http://yeuanhvan.com/teach-english/lesson-plans/2696-lexical-approach-classroom-activities.html (@cherrymp)
6)     Lexical Priming by Michael Hoey http://www.macmillandictionaries.com/med-magazine/January2009/52-LA-LexicalPriming.htm (@Shaunwilden)
Teaching Video/Slideshow links
  1. http://www.slideshare.net/SandyMillin1/if-i-were-a-boy-beyonce (@sandymillin)
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEwaVW858_I (@hartle)
  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSMX7HCLw84 (@hartle)

Useful sites

  1. http://llohe-ocd.appspot.com/ Oxford Collocations Dictionary Online (@sandymillin)
  2. http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/ (@hartle)
  3. https://www.ed2go.com/Classroom/Lessons.aspx?lesson=1&classroom=oanDAP0rPlxv5KWIroT08T5jRHVVSP%2BuRpfxidWBLds%3D A free online course on using corpora (@NikkiFortova)

Back to Dogme: Stage Two…. dealing with emergent language and experimenting.

Magician and rabbit
You never know what might pop out of the hat!

Back to Dogme: Stage Two: dealing with emergent language and experimenting

It’s amazing how time flies but at the same time stands still. It seems only minutes since I was writing last week about me and my poor, tired bedraggled students, as we all braved the elements to get to our Monday evening conversation class. Well, it’s Monday again, so welcome back to part two of the exciting journey into learner centred, conversation based teaching.

Plugging us back in again

Social Networking
Emerging from the machine
Last week, as you may remember, the group told stories about recent trips they had been on, and one learner gave an impromptu presentation on marketing. I took quite a lot of notes during this and I promised I’d let you know what became of them. Well, first of all, I have to say that my teaching may well be learner centred, but in no way can it be described as unplugged. No, I must admit that I use technology all the time, and I am firmly convinced that it brings me closer to my learners and brings them closer to each other. I had written a few of the things they had said, and I selected six “utterances” to send to them by email a few days after the class:
      “We had a good travel although I had to use a lot of suncream.”
     “The traffic was absoltely dreadful….never again!”
      “I really should have checked the traffic news before I left.”
                                                                            “The worst thing was the travel by ship…it was really boring.”
                                                                            “She didn’t have to spend too long in the sun.”
                                                                            “We went for a travel in the mountains.”
I’m sure you can already see the pattern that is emerging here. But all I told my learners to do was:
a)  to decide which of these were utterances that I had been really impressed with and which ones probably needed a bit more work on the language;
b) to see if they could remember who had said which utterance and what it was connected with.
So they duly arrived with their ideas, but the first step in this lesson, as a type of warmer, was pronunciation. There were a couple of words such as “mountains” that were causing problems, and my learners love to be drilled. There seems to be something very reassuring about a bit of backchaining, and it gets us into the mood. So, that’s what we did. After that we moved on to look at their ideas about who had said what, which became both a discussion, as well as a way of reactivating the discussion we had had last week. We revised the use of “didn’t have to” as meaning “not necessary”, something which had come up recently, quite quickly. We didn’t actually spend too much time on that as they really only needed to be reminded of it and asked to give a couple more examples.

Travel Vocabulary

Then we moved on to what was to become a major focus in this lesson. It was obvious that “travel” was causing a lot of trouble, so I had decided to look at nouns relating to travel (Most of these can be verbs too, which we also pointed out, but here we were using them as nouns). The learners had to look at the following nouns, made with the traditional, but excellent, shareware Hot Potatoes authoring tools, and match them to the descriptions:
They were then asked which of these nouns is uncountable (there was only one) and we stopped to think about the uncountable or countable nature of nouns which is reflected in travel and journey. So by this time we had been doing quite a lot of reflection on this language, all of which had come out of the previous lesson. It was time to move on to do some more experimenting.

Experimenting with Emergent Language

Most of my groups are used to working with my wiki, and I’m afraid the wiki has been made private as it has some confidential information like exams results etc. on it now, but I made a little video to show you the page I made for this group and the second exercise which is one way of extending a classic cloze activity to make it into something a little more personalised and meaningful: a springboard into personalised reflection and further discussion.

And that’s where we got to this evening. Of course, the learners can now go back to the wiki page whenever they want to, print out the exercises or download them to their own computers, and they are usually motivated to do that, so who knows what next week will bring? In any case this was just one example of how the emergent language from learner discussions can be extended in a meaningful way, experimented with and then built upon. Oh, and I almost fogot, there is of course a fun element. The first person to finish the matching exercise was awarded a chocolate rabbit,

chocolate rabbit
You never know what type of rabbit you'll get.

because you never know with a learner centred approach, what sort of rabbit will emerge from the magician’s hat.