Language in Isolation

These are interesting times we live in. Interesting in that the entire world has been turned upside down but also interesting in terms of how quickly we have all adapted. One thing I’ve found interesting is all of the new lexis that has just snuck into daily use. I don’t think I’ve ever said the word “furlough” before and suddenly the UK government used it one and now I say it 10 to 15 times a day.

This lesson aims to look at some of the new lexis we’ve adopted as well as what I’ve been calling “checking in”. In this Covid era, the words “how are you?” as a greeting are a bit redundant. We know people are not great. Instead we’re seeing questions like “How are you doing?”and “How are you coping?”, meaning “I know it’s gone to crap but how are you surviving?”. With everyone stuck in their homes, online communication is our key form of communication so this lesson uses chatting.

As most of us are teaching online, I’ve chosen to use PowerPoint instead of a handout and  I’ve put some notes on the slides instead of a standard procedure.

  • Level: Intermediate / Upper Intermediate
  • Time: 60-90 minutes (depending on what activities are done outside lesson time)

Materials:

 

Pre-lesson Tasks: the great equaliser

It’s a crazy time right now but out of the madness there are lessons to be learnt. We’ve already written about some lessons we learnt for creating and setting up effective post-lesson tasks but what have we learnt about the pre?

Well, in the many blogs and articles on online teaching, I’ve read since Covid kicked off, I came across someone (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t remember their name or where I came across it to credit them) who referred to them as the great equaliser.

It really struck a chord with me as this was exactly what I was seeing in our school and classrooms. The learners who were responding best to the move from physical classroom to online classroom were the shyer students and those that were at the lower end of their levels. Suddenly they were being given two of the most precious things for a learner: time and guidance. They were able to focus on their weaker areas and come to the lesson prepared. They weren’t playing catch-up in the lesson because they’d done it beforehand.

Now, there’s not a learner out there (at least none that I’ve encountered) with the same competence in every area. Spikey profiles are par for the course in the language learning world. With this in mind pre-lesson tasks offer a unique opportunity to give our students guidance and support to focus on their specific needs. Imagine a world in which each student comes to the online class having focused their preparation on the area they struggle with. Imagine a world in which our students are coming to their lessons having turned their weaknesses into strengths.

Ladies andgentlemen, I give you the world of online teaching.

The question is, when all this is over, what other lessons will we have learnt and will we take those lessons back to our physical classrooms?

Post Lesson Tasks: Your tech is sorted…time to focus on learning

It’s been a crazy few weeks. Weeks in which, we’ve seen our entire industry turned on its head, and the mad scramble as we all tried to adapt and keep up. I think for the most part, we’ve done incredibly well. Schools moved online in days, amazing teachers adapted to new class”room” environments in their own homes.

For many of us the first step was finding a platform. Our emails and Twitter feeds were awash with communication from Zoom, Teams, Swivl and countless others offering their help in these difficult times. Once that was sorted, it was on to training. There were literally more webinars than I could keep up with as we all tried to figure out what a breakout room looked like on various platforms.

It was all a bit crazy but we learnt so much in such a short period and to our credit, classes continued. A truly amazing example of need driving innovation. But now the dust has settled…somewhat, and we have chosen our platforms, our breakout rooms are set up and we’ve, hopefully, carved out a section of our houses in which we can deliver lessons without dogs, cats, children or partners. Now that the tech is sorted, what’s next?

Now, it’s time to move our discussions back to the teaching and learning.

But isn’t good teaching good teaching regardless of online or in a classroom?


Well, yes, of course it is. But for our students, when it comes to online learning, there is a lot more responsibility on the student. Autonomy is no longer something a nice-to-have, it is essential. It’s not quite so easy to set up an activity and then move around the room guiding learners and ensuring they’re on task.

I read an interesting blog post earlier that encouraged me to write this one. Russell Stannard wrote that in his language learning experience, it was the work he did outside the classroom that really helped him to learn. He admits that this was guided by his teacher but it was he who put the work in outside.

This rang very true for me and now more so than ever our learners need clear guidance on post-lesson tasks. With that in mind, below are 3 tips for setting up effective post-lesson tasks. I am no expert in online learning but this is what I’ve gleaned thus far. I’m sure we all have much more to learn.

Tip 1: establish clear partners and guidance on how to chat

This is all new for us but it’s equally so for our learners. They might be used to chatting online socially but doing so for educational purposes might not immediately feel natural. We have to take their feelings into account and make it as easy as possible. Much like happened in my classroom once. I was being a little lazy and my instructions weren’t clear. I realised after a minute into a pair-work activity that one student was working by themselves because their partner had decided they were in a 3. It had become too socially awkward for the student so they’d chosen to work by themselves. Imagine that in an online scenario where someone has to make the first move.

Remember:

  • Give partners and put it in writing
  • Explain how and when they should carry out the task (e.g. immediately after the lesson / on Zoom)

Tip 2: Post-lesson tasks are not the same as homework.

A lot of the post-lesson tasks I’ve been seeing have been similar to traditional homework. While self-study homework is important for consolidation, the beauty of online study is the opportunity for post-lesson collaborative tasks.

These tasks can’t just be straight grammar or vocabulary exercises, instead consider the following:

  • Reflection discussion questions:

Encourage your learners to consider some or all of the following: how what they’re learning is relevant for their lives, how it is different or similar to their language, how it can be applied to the current situation, what else they need to know or learn on this topic / skill / language point.

  • Production tasks:

Once they’ve considered how what they’ve learnt us relevant to them or thought about what else they’d need to learn to make it relevant, it’s time to practise. These tasks should ideally include some practise with their partner(s) and something that is recorded and can be sent to the teacher for feedback, be that a screen-grab of a chat conversation, a recording of a spoken conversation or a written task.

The idea is that learners can practise and get feedback from their partners before they send it through to the teacher.

The issue with this is always how can we expect students to give any meaningful feedback? The answer is Tip 3.

Tip 3: Give clear success criteria for the production tasks

With clear success criteria, students know exactly what to listen/look for in their partners’ production. They’re based on what’s been learnt in the lesson so it’s not new information but the criteria serve as a reminder of what to look for.

An example of success criteria for a production task would be:

Have a conversation with your partner about your plans for the weekend.

A successful conversation will:

  • Begin with present continuous (e.g. what are you doing this weekend?”)
  • Use “be going to” for plans
  • Use the natural pronunciation of “be going to”
  • Have natural replies (e.g. “oh that sounds nice”)

The above ensures that students can give effective feedback without it verging into offensive as it boils it down to what was learnt in the lesson, which makes it that bit more objective. Students can even use them to ask their partners to focus their feedback on a particular area they struggle with.

It’s not a bad idea to spend some time in the lesson discussing how to word effective feedback (e.g. “you used be going to for your plans but you didn’t say gonna like we learnt in the lesson. This could make it sound more natural”)

Hopefully these tips will help you to set up post-lesson tasks that help to consolidate and extend your already wonderful lessons.

Howard’s End: Reading for natural reactions – high level learners

So, the origins of this lesson go back to the sunlight times when I taught the Cambridge Exams. Forster’s Howards End was a set text for, I think, CPE. I always loved the three letters that begin the book and those who have followed this blog for a long time will know a lot of the earlier lessons had a literature base. This then, is a return of sorts.

The text itself gives us the chance to do some Danny Norrington-Davies style grammar activities and the chance to really look at how we examine gist.

As always when I use some Literature in class it is only fair to draw attention to Gillian Lazar’s excellent book: Literature and Language teaching.

There is a lot of reading in this lesson and this gives us the chance to look at prepositions as part of chunks of language.

  • Level: advanced C1/C2 (High upper Ints could maybe manage if scaffolded well)
  • Aim: to examine tone and how it is conveyed in an authentic text
  • Time: 2-3hrs

Materials:

Procedure:

For all of these activities I would recommend asking the students to look on their own first and then work in pairs or groups.

Reading and Reaction

The reading here aims to give the students the chance to react more naturally to the text than the standard gist questions. Answers obviously some are subjective here. Your job is to probe the reasoning. I have put some answers below. I would give them time to read, and then put them into groups to answer the questions.

  1. How old do you think Helen is? (Why?) perhaps young – refers to aunt, whole style of the piece
  2. What is the relationship between Helen and Meg? sisters
  3. Who do you think Tibby might be? brother
  4. Who are the Wilcoxes and where did Meg and Helen meet them? family they met while travelling
  5. What is the impression given of the Wilcoxes? Sporty – different from Helen’s family

However, accept any reasonable answers. Here the key is to encourage the students to engage and come to their own conclusions.

Vocabulary from context and co-text

This activity is about building a skill rather than teaching ‘key’ lexis. We want the students to be able to work out meaning from context and co-text. The students will enver need the word wych-elm, but they will need to be able to see when a lexical set is being referred to as it is here.

  1. it is a tree and they can see this from the following sentence ‘I quite love that tree already’
  2. There are 6:

‘Also ordinary elms, oaks—no nastier than ordinary oaks—pear-trees, apple-trees, and a vine. No silver birches, though’

Focus students on the reflective activity, we want them to know why we have done the task. Ask them where they can use it next.

Grammar Focus

This is about moving away from established rules and looking at why a tense or structure is used and how they work together. This can be important as a lot of students can trot out the rules for tenses but don’t seem then seem to be able to use them productively. This type of activity aims to address that.

  1. mostly present simple as it is a series of descriptions of things as they are now. e.g. ‘it is old and little’
  2. This extract gives the chance to see different tenses interacting.

I looked out earlier, and Mrs. Wilcox was already in the garden. She evidently loves it. No wonder she sometimes looks tired. She was watching the large red poppies come out.

  • Which tenses are used here? past simple / present simple / past continuous
  • What difference in meaning do the different tenses show us here?
  1. Past simple – used for main activity in the anecdote
  2. Present simple – Helen’s comments on it
  3. Past continuous – an activity that happened over a period of time in the anecdote.

The interesting thing here is the present simple which is used in an interesting way. The other two tenses follow what we would expect in a story.

3. Now look at the conditional in the sentence below:

…if you shut your eyes it still seems the wiggly hotel that we expected.

  • What type of conditional is it? Does it refer to present / past / future / all time? 0 conditional talking about all time
  • Why is it used here? I think to give them impression of this being like a dream – the idea of being able to go back to their assumptions about the house and people who live there.

Reading and Reaction II

Now look at the letter again and answer these questions

  1. Is there anything unusual about the letter? things have been omitted, lots of fractured sentences, the use of burn this
  2. What impression does Helen give us about Aunt Juley? that she is boring
  3. Can you think of three adjectives to describe Helen? Any answers fine
  4. Use your phone to find a picture of what she looks like to you and compare with your neighbour. Any answers fine

Reading and Reaction III

All answers in this section are up to the students, you should put them into groups and let the students discuss them before coming together in all class feedback to check them.

Preposition focus

The aim here is to get the students to focus on chunks of text. Too often students think of prepositions without seeing them as part of larger chunks.

There is the secondary aim in that looking in the letters for the answers gives them scanning practise.

  1. We can scarcely pack in as it is
  2. … and there are the stairs going up in a sort of tunnel
  3. I must get on to my host and hostess
  4. … she kept on smelling it
  5. how good of her to come
  6. the others do not take advantage of  her
  7. I laugh at them for catching hay fever

Reflection

These questions are just to make them realise the point of the different activities so put them in groups to discuss and monitor.

There is a lot more you can do with this text if you wanted, but these are some hopefully interesting things.

 

Christmas Invite: “will” & participle clauses

This one is quite grammar heavy but there are a lot of skills in there as well. The biggest one is analysing grammar in context and this lesson draws heavily on Danny Norrington Davies’ idea of asking students “why” a particular language point has been chosen in this particular situation. We’ve really found that doing this little and often encourages our students to ask the same question of the language in the world around them.

Try it out and let us know how it goes.

  • Level: Intermediate / Upper Intermediate
  • Time: 90mins – 2 hours
  • Age: Adults
  • Objective: To be able to write an engaging invite to an event

 

Material:

This time for the material, I’ve gone with a presentation instead of a worksheet. I’ve tried to make the slides as intuitive as possible but let me know if you have any questions.

Email invite

 

 

Christmas Memories: Used to / Would

It’s been a while since we have put any new lessons up but for a very very good reason, which will become apparent in about March 2020.

I couldn’t resist putting up a Christmas lesson and what better to focus on around this period but memories. I know there are many who don’t celebrate Christmas so while this lesson focuses on a Christmas memory, the skills and language that will be learnt can be used for any regular public holiday or festival memory.

As with some of our other lessons on memories, this one focuses on how “used to” and “would” are used together but this one also adds in one-off memories as well.

If this one isn’t enough for you, you can find the previous “used to” lessons: here and here.

  • Level: Upper intermediate & Advanced (could be easily adapted for Intermediate)
  • Objective: by the end of the lesson, you will be better able to describe childhood memories
  • Time: 2-3 hours

 

Materials:

  1. Textploitation used to would
  2. Textploitation used to would teachers notes
  3. Audio 1: Christmas
  4. Audio 2: New Years

 

Enjoy, and as always let us know what you think!!!

 

Film Soundtrack Task

So, the origin of this lesson came when I was still teaching exams. I wanted a task that replicated the skills and language needed for Speaking part 3 in FCE / CAE / CPE, I wanted to show that the language for the task had genuine use outside the exam. I also wanted it to be a bit of fun. I decided to use some music as it would allow students to use high level vocab and in the feedback sessions I would have scope to add input and also to check comprehension. There are other examples of how to use songs in class on the site, for example: https://textploitationtefl.com/2018/03/04/the-cure-pictures-of-you-present-perfect-continuous/

or

https://textploitationtefl.com/2015/01/27/writing-lesson-based-on-a-song/

There are a lot more for you to explore.

Anyway, in this lesson, the songs are used for a slightly different reason.

So without delay, let’s get down to it.

  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Level: Intermediate / Upper Intermediate / Advanced / FCE / CAE / CPE (it could be used with lower levels with some scaffolding)
  • Aim: To encourage discussion and practise decision making language.
  • Sub aim: Practising presenting a decision to the group.

Procedure:

Pre-listening: Select 5-7 songs that you intend to use. Try to ensure that the songs have a different feel and that they will evoke a different emotional response.

  1. Listening 
  • Tell the students you are going to play them 5-7 pieces of music/songs. You are only going to play about 30 seconds of each. Ask them to write down any feelings they have about the song. Tell them that you don’t want things like “I like it”, “it is rubbish”, but want adjectives or description of feelings the songs evoke or where it reminds them of being etc.
  • Play the songs allowing time after each for them to write up notes.
  • After all of the songs have been played ask the students to compare what they have written down in small groups. Try to make sure the groups are 2-4 people each.
  • Do group feedback, this allows you to share ideas, but also share any high level / interesting vocab.
  • You may need to play the songs again at this point in order for them to complete the next task.

2. Task – the script outline

Ask the students to skim read the scenes. Ask them what type / genre of film they think it is.

Then, ask students to work in groups and complete the task on the worksheet. 10-15 minutes. There may be some language that the students are unsure of. Try to elicit meanings from them. Encourage them to think about context where possible.

Task: You have been asked to select music to match the scenes. The songs we played you earlier were the ones we have the rights to. We can probably just about afford to license one more song. So if you have a suggestion for one that would work, we can probably manage that.

Direct them to the suggested language on the worksheet (please add extra language to this that you would like them to practice). Encourage as you monitor and also take notes so you can do error correction after.

Give the students 5 minutes to prepare to present their ideas to the group. Try to encourage them to use reasons. This is a chance to recycle the lexis they used earlier and to practice summarising a group discussion.

Optional: Board the different ideas for how the film ends. The students can then vote on the best.

Post task reflection: Ask the students where they can use the language that they have been practising. The aim is that they recognise that this is language that could be used in the exam. If not exam students in business discussions, meetings etc.

Also encourage the students to offer each other feedback on the language they all used. Ask the students which of the phrases they did use, which they didn’t and why. It is about them making choices about the language they use and developing their own personal lexis.

Possible extension activities: 

  • Ask the students in groups or individually to write dialogue for part of one of the scenes. This can then be edited and improved as a writing task. You could also ask the students to film it. This is a great chance for a student to act as director and help students improve. For a similar idea: https://textploitationtefl.com/2017/07/11/modals-of-deduction-a-murder-part-1-2/
  • Use one of the songs and treat it as a text and textploit it. See other ideas from the song lessons on the site.

Materials: