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Monthly Archives: March 2007

>By Delia Jones Siegenthaler

To start off a new class and to help people to get to know each other my favourites are:

Find someone you don¹t know very well, if possible someone you¹ve never met before. Sit opposite the person and take a good look at them. Now take a piece of paper and a pen and write down the answers to the following questions, without speaking to your partner.

1. What¹s your partner¹s favourite drink?
2. What would your partner like to give up?
3. What¹s she/he afraid of?
4. What nationality would your partner be if she/he had to change his/her nationality?
5. Is your partner a morning or an evening person?
6. What is the month of his/her birthday?
7. What kind of car does he/she drive?
8. What was your partner¹s favourite subject at school?

Now get together, share and discuss together what you have written.

Another activity is the circle of life: You draw a circle on the board and place in it a selection of dates, little pictures or symbols which represent important things in your life (eg, the day you got married, 3 little pinmen to represent your children, a candle to represent your interest in meditation and a flower for gardening, the Japanese flag for two years I spent in Japan etc.) The students have to ask questions and guess what the drawings, dates and symbols represent. I then give them white paper and a pack of coloured felt pens so they can draw their own circle of life and in groups of three the students interpret each other¹s circles and ask questions to find out more.

Another activity is called What¹s in a name? Each student prepares a 5 minute presentation on their name. Why did their parents give it to them? What does it mean? How do they feel about it? Do they have a nickname? If they marry, would they want to keep their name or take the name of their husband? How important is the choice of a name for a child? Would they ever consider changing their name? Etc etc. The students share their presentations in pairs or small groups.

Sometimes I ask students to bring an object into the classroom which they then use as a means of presenting themselves. Someone once brought a bike that they had used to travel round Indonesia on! Another good warm up activity is to bring an object of sentimental value to share with the class and answer the following questions: How did you come to own this object? Why is it of sentimental value? How important for you are objects that represent the past? Why do you think it is important for some people to keep all their letters, postcards, concert tickets and souvenirs?

You can also ask students to bring in a mystery object to class and give one object to each group, who must guess where the object comes from, what it is used for and what it is worth. Some students bring in specialist tools or pieces of equipment that they use for their particular hobby or job. One student brought in a bomb that had exploded during the war in a field where her grandmother was working in Italy and had killed several of her relatives. Her grandmother had found and picked up the shell much later. This kind of thing is a good source of discussion and brings the class closer together.

You can also ask students to bring in the best photo they have ever taken (according to their own criteria) A photo may have tremendous personal value or be of high technical merit. They must present the photo and then say why they think it is the best one they have ever taken. We then discuss the characteristics of a good photo etc.

In fact, I would describe a warm up activity as something which motivates, sparks interest and brings the class close together.

As for beginning study of a language structure, I think carefully about in which context a particular language structure is most used and then I try to use it intensively in a real communicative situation with the class.

Eg. Ann, you told me your sister was getting married in June. Has she bought her wedding dress yet? How about invitations, has she finished the guest list? Has she asked you to coordinate entertainment during the reception? Have you decided what you are going to wear? Have they chosen the menu? When you get married there are so many things you have to do!

This is to introduce (or revise the use of the present perfect with Œyet¹) You can do this before any event (birth of a baby, Christmas….Have you bought a pushchair yet? Have you made the birth announcement cards yet?
Have you chosen a name yet? Xmas: Have you done your Christmas shopping
yet? Have you decided how you are going to celebrate New Year yet? Etc.)

For the past perfect, I do something like this.

Œyou know, next week is my wedding anniversary. I will have been married 15 years.
Time really flies. I remember back in 1989 when my husband asked me to marry me.
I had travelled a lot. I had lived alone . I had had a certain number of boyfriends. I had finished my studies. I had lived abroad. I was ready to settle down.

Our first baby was born in 1984. We had partied a lot with friends. We had spent a year in America together. We had travelled round India on a motorbike. We were ready to become responsible parents.

The students are interested in the content and then once they are motivated, we analyse the use of the present perfect and its function in the context.

It would be interesting to take all the major language items on an intermediate course and think of interesting ways of contextualising them in this way, as a way of introducing them to the students. Perhaps people could contribute their ideas?!

I write a letter to students to illustrate the use of do and make and they read the letter with interest before they realise that it is a practice of when to use do and make in English. I then give them the letter with the words do and make missing.

Dear Class, ________ me a favour, and ________ an effort to be positive! When you _______ a test, don¹t worry if you ________ mistakes! ________ your homework regularly and ________ an appointment to see me if you don¹t understand something. Listen to English cassettes while you are _________ the ironing or _________ the washing-up. __________ labels in English to stick on all your furniture! ________ funny drawings to help you remember English words and expressions. __________ friends with English people on internet, _________ a cake using an English recipe. Always _______ your best and don¹t _________ a fuss when we ________ pronunciation exercises. I won¹t __________ fun of your English if you don¹t _________ fun of my French! Believe me, if you _________ all this, you will ________ progress.

I often use quotations as a warm up activity. I either split quotations, give them out and get students to find the other half of their quotation and discuss how much they agree with the quote, or I write an unfinished quote on the board and get students guessing the end: This warms them to a subject of discussion and captures their attention by exciting their curiosity.

Example: The most important thing in life is….. (knowing what¹s important) High fences make…. (good neighbours)

Hope these ideas are useful and that they haven¹t all been presented many times before. I can¹t remember where I picked them up but they are sometimes my own and sometimes adaptations of other people¹s ideas.


>By Amanda N. Parmley – Fortune Institute of Technology, Taiwan

In my business English class, when we do the phoning unit, my students are assigned to call me and make an appointment with “Bob Jones.” I pretend to be Mr. Jones’ assistant. Then I call them right back, and they have to role-play being an assistant for “Susan Smith” who is out of the office.

While conversing with them on the phone, I fill out a chart giving them feedback on what I heard (so they can see if I heard is what they said), tips for what they can improve on, and things they did well. They also record in their “listening logs” (a written account of listening outside of class) what they heard (ie phone number I left with them, my message, and role-played name).

One teacher asked about getting calls at all hours of the day. What I do to prevent this is I tell them what time is ok to call. For example, I tell them I only answer the phone for my fake business on Wednesday and Thursday from 6-8 pm. They can use Skype, my cell number, or home number to reach me.

After this activity, for the remainder of the unit they have to make calls to each other and record them in their “listening logs.”

At the end of course evaluations, hands down this is their favorite homework / assignment. And, they always ask if we can do it again.

I enjoy giving them the opportunity to practice their phone skills actually on the phone. But I only do it twice a semester since it is so time consuming.

For my pronunciation and public speaking courses, they submit recordings as mp3 files of different things throughout the semester to my email. I listen and then comment by Email on their recordings. I have tried using cassette tapes and “oral dialogue journals,” but I found tapes to be way too time consuming and a logsitical problem in carrying them around.

I am always looking for ways to improve, so I would love to hear what others are doing this area.

>By Beth Rathe

I assign two types of speaking homework in Speaking and Pronunciation classes.

One type involves students recording on cassette tapes, and I require that they provide text with the tape, so that I know what I’m listening to. For lower level classes, they simply write some sentences on the grammar topic we are covering, and they record a reading of the sentences. For pronunciation classes, and students who are higher levels, they choose some words or a type of grammar to practice and their recording is a short conversation with a real person, in which they try to focus on a few words or phrases in real time. I have found that students find the feedback from their tapes very helpful. Also many of them haven’t heard a recording of themselves speaking English, so it can be an eye-opening experience for them in that way too.

For the other type of speaking homework, students are assigned to have a conversation or try to use English at a store or with customer service. Then, they write a journal about what they tried, and what words they learned. Although I’m not hearing them speak, I’ve found that some students get a lot out of this activity. One of my students in Level 2 changed her cell phone options to English and went through the English-speaking automatic checkout at the grocery store, which were challenges that she was both surprised and proud to have completed successfully.

>Tony Lee – Shengda College, Zhengzhou, Henan, China

I do not correct every little mistake, and it is not immediately immediate. There are few opportunities for teacher monitored individual speaking – up to the maximum of a whole 3 minutes per person per week when a whole class (32 students) activity is involved.

We have a couple of oral classes of 60 students. Divide that number into 100 minutes!!! The opportunities for leisurely individual appraisal and counselling are aqlmost non-existing — so at the end of each student’s speech I praise it as lavishly as possible and tell the student of ONE major problem and how to go about correcting it.

Reinforcing the importance of active listening by requiring peer appraisal and honest reporting by a randomly selected student seems to help as otherwise the rest of the class just switches off. I agree that to stop at each error would be counterproductive and I was just trying to reinforce the finding that the students do want to be corrected immediately – and I know the keen ones really do mean immediate. Students cannot get discouraged from speaking because they do not have a choice of opting out of a speech.

If it is an impromptu speech and they are obviously stuck then of course I do not allow them to stand there losing face — I will relate cases where experienced actors have a mental blank and go on with the next speaker and give them a chance for more preparation.

We are supplied with texts and sometimes even with the corresponding tapes of such poor quality that they are useless. The students (and I) hate the books involving drill and soon get sick of a semester of ‘argument’ or ‘discussion’ or the provocatively named ‘reproduction’ (which for 10 microseconds led me to believe the subject might be slightly more interesting – until I opened it to the first page — silly me) so we have been very grateful for some of the ideas we get from others.

Over concern with shyness/losing face/self esteem can hold the learning process back. These are not 10 year old kids — they are 19 to 23 year old ADULTS. When I speak in English with some seniors (I have not taught any) who have been learning English for 10 years and find that I am forced to speak at a lower level than I speak to kindergarten kids (I have taught once or twice) back home, I wonder what harm a little losing face can do.

>By Janet Elfring

I have had the “We want to talk all the time” request from a number of people in various classes over the past two and 1/2 years and I have found that it is not always suitable for teaching and or learning. There are a fair number of fair to midling level of students who only want to come to class and gab with their friends at the level of ability they have reached. They have no desire to work and attain a higher level.

They can only all talk if I break the class up into small groups and then I am only participating with one group at a time. If I give them subjects to talk about, they may do it for awhile but they usually fall back into gossip pretty quickly. I’ve tried recreating the groups so they are no always with their buddies. I’ve had students complain to me that there is too much discussion in class and they are not progressing because they are just talking to their friends and not gaining any real instruction.

I try to get them to talk in the class as a whole, but only a certain group are really ready and willing to do that and they dominate the discussion.

>By Katy Miller

When I found students returning surveys which were almost word for word identical, I tried turning these issues into discussion topics to find out exactly what they meant by (for instance) “correct every mistake immediately) and why they thought that would be a useful approach, and found that the students didn’t really know why they saw these things as important, and couldn’t sustain discussion about them.

Yet every time a did a survey, back they came: correct every mistake immediately, more opportunities to speak, and how to learn English. It was interesting that once the discussion on this was over, the same problems I was experiencing as a teacher kept arising: many students were not making use of the opportunities to speak English that I was providing, most students did not easily learn from a correction of a mistake, and some seemed never to take my advice on how to learn English!!

I just wonder how much of the time students give the “cover story” response to these sorts of questions on my surveys – gave the answer that everybody knows is good to give, but hadn’t really thought about them. I’m back in NZ now but I’m coming back to China in September for at least another semester (China and teaching is addictive! Just one more…)

When I get back I think I might spend a little more time explicitly discussing these things in the classroom. I think doing a contract might be a really good way of making sure the students understand the value of these ideas as learning mechanisms, rather than just spouting them off as the expected answer to a question, and might lead them to using them in their learning more effectively.

>By Tony Lee

We can only try to be perfect. I started with a freshman oral class for the first time this semester and they certainly are different.

First thing I told them was since they are paying my salary, they are my boss. A couple of them have taken their responsibility as my boss very seriously and yesterday came to tell me what I was doing wrong.

First I was talking too much. I was their first Australian and yes I had talked for most of the first 2 hour lesson telling them all about Australia and myself. Second lesson they talked the whole time — on a progressive story so I could gauge their ability. Speaking — pretty good. Understanding me or each other – quite bad. So pep talk on active listening etc.

The interesting thing is at a brainstorm session they picked exactly the two top ‘wants’ as Eve’s class – they should speak all the time and I should teach them culture. The one about correcting them immediately was already in place as I had warned them that those who were worried about losing face should leave it (face) back in their dorm. Now the trick is going to be how to satisfy two almost
completely mutually exclusive activities. My easy solution was to tell them they can’t have their cake and eat it too and those who wanted more info on western culture would have to come to our apartment and look at my books, maps and photos and ask me questions.

They wanted things to debate so “who is responsibility for learning” will be more productive than some I had considered.

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery

I devoted half a lesson to “gestures” in my Oral English class last term. The lesson segment mainly consisted of a class brainstorm of all the gestures students could think of. I asked them to explain the meaning of each gesture, and I confirmed whether Westerners give it the same meaning or not. Most gestures they thought of were fairly universal.

When they were starting to run out of ideas, I nodded my head vigorously, and asked what that meant. They all said, “Yes.” I told them that in most parts of the world, that is the correct answer, but not in Bulgaria. When Bulgarians nod their head, they mean “no”, and when they shake their head, they mean “yes”. I asked the students to imagine the miscommunication that could occur between a foreigner and a Bulgarian who were not aware of the different meaning.

I then pointed out some gestures that Chinese often make, which foreigners may perceive as having a different meaning than the Chinese intend: (1) limp handshakes, (2) slightly sticking out the tongue, and (3) the Chinese signs for the numbers 6, 8, and 10. Holding hands with someone of the same sex should probably be added to this list, as well as hailing a cab; I hadn’t thought of either of these at the time. Can anyone else on the list think of more gestures that should be discussed?

Here is how I explained the three gestures in my lesson:

(1) I demonstrated an especially limp handshake, then showed my wobbly hand to the class, “Doesn’t it look like a fish that came out of the water and died? When you shake hands, don’t give the person a dead fish. They don’t want it. They will think it shows disrespect. The stronger your hand, the more a Westerner will think you are friendly and honest.” Then I had each person shake hands with a partner as I went around the room doing random handshake firmness checks.

(2) I told a story in which I was supposed to go to my husband’s office to bring him a paper with urgent information on it that he had left at home. I rode a bus, I took the subway, I walked to the office building, and when I saw my husband, I reached for my bag to hand him the paper,…and I realized I had forgotten my bag and the paper! I flicked my tongue out, then asked the students, “What is the meaning of that gesture?” They all recognized it as embarrassment. But then I told them that was the first time in my whole life I had made that gesture. I have only seen it in China; it doesn’t exist in the West. The only gestures Westerners make with their tongue all show disrespect. So a Westerner might perceive the Chinese tongue gesture as disrespect, rather than embarrassment. If Westerners were extremely ashamed, they might lower their head or cover their eyes. But mild embarrassment is usually just laughed about.

(3) I demonstrated the numbers 1-5 by holding up the right number of fingers, then asked the students how to show me how to do “6”. They all made the gesture of index, middle, and ring fingers folded down, with thumb and pinky extended. I showed them that Westerners show “6” by holding up all 5 fingers of one hand, and one finger (or the thumb) of the other hand. The Chinese gesture for “6” means “telephone” to most Westerners. I then held my hand in that form near my head, with thumb by my ear and pinky by my mouth. The students thought that was really funny. Also, the index finger and thumb extended in an L shape means “8” to Chinese and “gun” to Westerners. And crossing index and middle fingers means “10” to Chinese and “good luck” to Westerners.

To sum up the lecture, I divided students into groups to create conversations using at least 5 of the gestures mentioned in class– with the meanings that Westerners attach to those gestures, should there be a difference.

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery

I asked students to discuss with a partner what percent of their learning is the teacher’s responsibility, and why. The answers ranged from 10% to 100%, but most were between 30% to 50%. The insights used to defend the various answers were really great, too. Since everyone admitted that the teacher had at least some responsibility, this was a good segue into creating a teacher’s contract.

The list members might be interested in my students’ suggestions of clauses to go in my contract, since they create a students’-view picture of the ideal English teacher. I should mention that I taught these same students last semester, so they are already familiar with my teaching style. The numbers reflect how many of the 32 students included the item in their list of suggestions.

26 – Provide more opportunities to speak English
14 – Teach more Western culture
14 – Point out mistakes and correct them immediately
12 – Show more films
8 – Work more on pronunciation
8 – Give more opportunities to talk about daily life
8 – Provide more chances to meet other native speakers
6 – Give advice on how to study English

Suggestions given by fewer than 5 people:

Give advice on reading
Take students out of the classroom
Answer e-mail quickly
Do more role plays
Ask for student suggestions
Give practical knowledge
Give advice on passing the Band 4 Exam
Be friends
More homework
More tests
More oral presentations
More games
More focus on the text
More different topics
More vocabulary
More grammar

All of these seem like pretty good ideas to me, but only the first three are actually going into my contract: I will provide as many opportunities to speak English as possible. I will teach some aspect of Western culture in every class. I will point out and correct students’ mistakes immediately.

>By Jennifer Wallace – Anhui University of Technology, Ma’anshan, Anhui Province

I used to worry a lot about creating lessons my students would like, and that would hold their interest, but my focus has now changed. And it’s changed, I think as a result of training. I taught for several years (starting back in the 1970’s) with no teacher training qualifications – not unusual back then.

To get my present post in China I had to get a teaching qualification, so did a one-month intensive CELTA course. One of the best pieces of advice I had on that course was to work less hard – to do less for my students. One of my supervisors advised me to always keep thinking about how little I could do and how much I could get my students to do.

As un un-trained teacher, replicating many of the teaching habits of my own teachers, I would always tend to try to take full responsibility for all and everything in the lesson. And now I don’t. I try to focus on my aims and objectives for each lesson – the learning and practice opportunities being offered to the students. I try to think through exactly what processes I’m asking them to go through to get to whatever the goal of the moment is. And I expect them to work hard. And usually the lessons are judged successful. Or successful enough.

But if someone’s having a bad day and doesn’t want to participate (and I teach university, not school students), as long as they don’t inhibit others participating, I let them do that. I don’t think it’s my job to be an entertainer, though I know that teaching something in an entertaining way can help. My most entertaining contributions in a lesson always seem to be the unplanned, spontaneous ones.

My blackboard drawings often produce smiles and chuckles. My examples and illustrations tend not to be over-serious. But I don’t think my college students expect entertainment – I think they value far more actually learning and practicing and sensing their own progress. If that can be achieved by pleasurable means, all the better, but they always seem well content to get on with the tasks as long as they understand what’s wanted – and why. And I do explain more and more why we do particular types of activities, what the point of them is, to encourage the development of more self-aware learning.

So, for me the better lessons do often come from trying new things, but not in terms of trying to entertain or hold the interest of the students.