Post Lesson Outcome-Mining

Recently I wrote this post on aims and objectives and as always with this topic, there will be those that agree and those that disagree. It really seems to polarise our industry in a way that it doesn’t seem to in K-12 teaching (or at least that I’ve come across). I thought it would be interesting to think about that and consider some of the common arguments against knowing and communicating what you want to achieve and it seems to me to boil down to one main issue. The belief that:

Having aims and objectives locks us in and an English language lesson should be free to go wherever the students need it to go.

Now, there are a lot of things I could pull from that. The two sides of the Great Objective Debate could spend hours arguing back and forth with neither giving any ground, like academic Brexiteers and Remainers. But where would that get any of us.

Instead, I mentioned it to my wife and she mentioned that in her industry (grant-giving/management in the charity sector) they always have clear objectives for a project but afterwards they like to sit down and carry out an activity called outcome mining in which they pull out and discuss all of the unintentional outcomes they achieved throughout the project. And as she said it, I wondered if maybe this was a bridge between the two camps.

I in no way believe that one should teach their aims/objectives blindly without thinking about the students in front of them or dealing with interesting language that comes up as a matter of course. I fully believe that the job of the teacher is to react and manage what happens in front of them, ensuring that what they’re teaching is relevant and accessible for the specific students in front of them. But I also believe they (and their students) should know from the beginning of the lesson what they are trying to achieve.

Maybe the perfect world is:

  • Knowing what you want to achieve
  • Communicating it to your students and discussing how you intend to achieve it
  • Being open to your students wanting to achieve it in a different way
  • Being open to unintended outcomes that arise throughout the lesson
  • Spending time at the end of the lesson reflecting on:
    • the achievement of the objectives
    • the unintended outcomes that were achieved.

Outcome mining…food for thought. Thanks Louise.

For Student-Facing Textploitation, Click Below:

Textploitation for students has arrived

In 2019, I remember going to a talk by Peter Watkins and one thing he said really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing but it was essentially that what students needed in the early days of (and indeed throughout) the language learning process was lots and lots of comprehensible input. At the time it really struck a chord with me as I was learning Spanish and all I wanted to do was read, read, read. Sadly, the only graded readers I could find were pretty rubbish and much to my chagrin, I just couldn’t understand the news in Spanish. It was very frustrating.

Well, with that in mind we decided to bring Textploitation directly to learners of English with Tiny Texts for Learning English. The plan being to give learners the opportunity to read a little & learn a lot.

If you have students who need to work on their reading, send them our way. They’ll find recipes, diaries, stories, articles, reviews and much more, all at their level. With each text, they get a little task that helps them exploit what they’ve just read. They even have the opportunity to push themselves, produce something related to the text and get feedback from us and our community.

Click here to see more.

EFL Christmas Grinch

Let me start by saying I love Christmas. Absolute love it, can’t get enough of it. Keep that in mind when I say the following:

MY MOST HATED TIME OF THE WHOLE ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING YEAR IS CHRISTMAS!

I can’t stand it. I have always hated teaching at this time of year largely because of my context:

  • Continuous enrollment: this means that half of the class have been in the school for months and are looking forward to some more relaxed lessons over Christmas as they wind down while the other half are only in the school for a few weeks and are keen to make every minute count.
  • Numerous teachers: most likely students studying for 3-4.5 hours every day will have a number of teachers and are likely to have several people trying to do Christmas lessons with them.

For these reasons I made the decision many years ago that no matter the holiday, I was going to teach the same as any other day of the year. Sure, I might use the holiday as a topic but no more than that. This means no questionable gapfills of Jingle Bells or scenes from Love Actually with tenuous objectives, and definitely no bringing in the Winter Wonderland song and trying to make sense of the madness that is “in the meadow we can build a snowman and then pretend he’s Parson Brown”. Who in the name of the wee man is Parson Brown?!

But I digress…

So yes, that’s right, I am saying that I am the EFL Christmas Grinch, stealing relaxed Christmas lessons from my students and colleagues.

But worry not, I am not completely without heart. As I said, I do embrace the holiday as a topic in my lessons so here are 2 for you if you decide to go down the EFL Christmas Grinch route.

Overt Teaching

Overt Teaching is something we have spoken about many times but never really written about…overtly. It is a part of our lessons, our procedures, our approach to teaching English but we’ve never really made the case for it on our blog…which seems odd.

No time like the present to sort that out.

What do we mean by Overt Teaching?

In our industry there has often been a tendency to hide what we are doing from our students. We sneak grammar in under the cover of darkness like spies crossing from East to West Berlin, afraid that our eagle-eyed students will notice the present perfect and completely disengage from the lesson. Or, we work towards the big reveal, the “ahhhhhh” moment when our students realise what we’ve been working towards this whole time.

The flaw with the above is that if our students don’t know what they’re doing and how it applies to their life, they’re much more likely to be disengaged. Equally, if we tell our learners we’re doing the present perfect, they are likely to disengage if they don’t see how it applies to their real lives.

Teaching overtly suggests that we involve our learners in the learning discussion throughout the lesson. Below are some key stages of the lesson when this can be easily applied.

Starting off on the right foot:

The beginning of your lesson is arguably the most important aspect as this is where we get all of our buy-in from our students. If we look in the average coursebook, considerable time and page space is (quite rightly) taken up with engaging our learners in the topic of the lesson. As an industry we recognise the importance of this but the actual aims and the objectives of the lesson are not given the same pride of place.

They are very often squashed into a tiny box in the top-left corner of the page. As teachers we very often display them on the wall or on a board or as part of our lesson plan that nobody looks at but why do we do this? Is it because our institution demands it? Is it so we can tick an accreditation box? Or, is it because we recognise that a clear understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is crucial to student engagement? If it is the latter, then we should be bringing it into our lesson, not as a monologue from the teacher but as a dialogue with our students.

Tip 1:

Have a clear distinction between your objective (the final outcome you are working towards) and your aim (the things you will cover in the class to help them achieve the objective successfully). Careful and consistent wording can help with this. Consider:

Today we are going to:

  • aim
  • aim
  • aim

So that you can:

  • Objective

Tip 2:

Make it a discussion and increase student engagement through simple questions:

  1. How will this objective help you in your real life?
  2. Which of these aims will be challenging for you?
  3. Which is most important for you?
  4. Which do you feel will be revision for you?

By involving our learners in this discussion, we put some of the learning responsibility on them. They have decided which aims they will need to focus on more; they have related the objective with their lives and decided how it will benefit them.

Setting up an activity:

Aims and objectives at the beginning of the lesson are crucial but it doesn’t stop there. Sadly, minutes after we’ve finished with the above discussion, our learners have probably forgotten what we’re working towards and are focusing on the interesting reading or listening exercise. Maybe they’re entirely focused on the grammar because they’re finding it challenging. Continued discussion throughout the lesson is key. We need to help our learners see that everything in our lesson is building towards the final objective; it’s not busy work, it’s not just stuff we’re doing, it’s building towards something greater.

Tip1:

Before or after an activity consider asking your students why it was important. For example, why did we just learn 6 new collocations to do with work? Because we’re going to need them later when we introduce our jobs. And will all of these collocations be useful for all of you? No, these 3 are useful for me but the others aren’t as useful because I don’t work in an office.

Or

Why did we just listen to that conversation? Because it was a model for the conversation we’re going to have later on.

These quick interactions help keep our students (and us) on track and moving towards our objective. Don’t expect them to have the above answers the first time you ask them though. As with anything, you will need to elicit and support your learners in coming to these realisations. Gradually, you can train them to understand why as opposed to just what they are doing.

Ending up on the right foot:

The beginning of the lesson is crucial to engagement but if you don’t actually reach the objective, you’ll lose your students’ trust the next time around. We’ve all been derailed mid-lesson and changed our plan because something more important has come up but how often do we communicate this to our students? It’s so important that we explain our decision-making process to them. We laid out our objectives and why they were important; if we veer from them, we owe it to our learners to explain why.

But lets assume we don’t get derailed. We reach our final production stage. We’ve spent 2 hours teaching vocabulary, grammar and skills that we now want our students to use in this final conversation. We set up the task and…none of them use the language! We’ve all been there but the question is what do we do about it?

Tip 1: Success Criteria

Very often our learners just forget what is expected of them. They’re keen to communicate so they fall back on what’s easy and use the language they had at their disposal at the beginning of the lesson. Clearly setting our your expectation before the activity is key. Ask your learners what a successful conversation looks like for them. Elicit that in order to be successful, they’ll have to use the language and skills from the lesson. The beauty of this is that everyone goes into the activity clear in their minds what success looks like but this can vary from one student to another. Success for a new student to the group might just be using the grammar correctly but for a stronger student, it might be combining the grammar and the new vocabulary. By opening it up to students and making it a dialogue, you move the responsibility for success back onto them. They’ve decided their own level of success and now they have to try to achieve it.

Tip 2: Repetition

Accept that you will have to do the final activity two or more times and plan this into your lesson. The first time students have the conversation, they are usually considering the content. They’re just trying to communicate and asking them to add in new language and skills is quite the load.

Let them have the conversation, then refocus them on the success criteria. Ask them to discuss whether or not they used the language from the lesson and then set the task up again. The second and third time round, content is not an issue anymore and they can focus on upgrading their language and skills.

Conclusion:

Overt Teaching doesn’t require you to change how you teach drastically, it just suggests you ask a little more of your learners. We all say we want more autonomous students…perhaps this is a first step. Throw back the curtain on your teaching & planning, let them in.

12 Angry Men – Persuasive Language Listening Lesson

Using clips of films has long been a favoured method of mine in classes. Sometimes as a model for pronunciation as with this lesson: https://textploitationtefl.com/2015/02/18/video-lesson-catch-it-if-you-can-connected-speech/

This lesson instead looks at persuasive language as well as offering students the chance to practise listening and giving natural responses.

Why 12 Angry Men? I have wanted to write a lesson using this clip for about 3 years and with the current political climate, this seems like a good moment to look at a clip which demonstrates prejudice. I find this clip optimistic in that most of the jurors move away from the speaker. Anyway, I digress. We were both impressed by a session given by Angelos Bollas (Dublin: 2018) on using materials that are emotionally engaging and hope some of that has filtered into this.

  • Time: 2hr
  • Level: Intermediate (B1) and above
  • Aim: to look at persuasive language and structuring a response
  • Sub-aim: to generate discussion in class

For more lessons like this, check out our book: https://www.bebc.co.uk/textploitation

Materials:

Procedure:

Getting the Gist

Pre-Listening:

  1. Show the clip with the sound off and ask the students what they think is happening? What makes the men stand up one by one and walk away from the table? This is to generate interest and pique their curiousity.

Listening:

2. This task relates back to question in pre-listening – giving a reason to watch and a chance for those who are stronger to identify the issues with what the speaker is saying.

In terms of answers you might want to let them know that it is the jury in a trial

3. This is more detailed and is looking for the following answers or similar. (However, if you think other answers work, go with it.)

  • Who has been accused and of what? – a kid (probably can infer murder)
  • What is the speaker’s attitude towards the case? clearly prejudiced against the kid and ‘others like him’
  • What do the rest of the juror’s think about what he is saying? again you can infer they disagree by walking away in peaceful protest
  • How does the speaker react when he is told to stop talking? Bemusement – defeat 

Natural Response:

This section is meant to promote discussion in a lest gist orientated fashion. Allowing the students to analyse the text discuss it.

  1. Is there any language here which is used to generalise a group of people? phrases like “you know how these people lie” “it’s born in them” “They don’t know what the truth is” “they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone either” “they get drunk”
  2. Why might that be a problem in a trial? Clearly this speaker isn’t impartial
  3. Do you think the speaker is racist? clearly this is contentious, but acting like this could definitely be considered as ‘Cultural racism’

Persuasive Language:

  1. This is just a simple matching task

1 = H  2 = F  3 = D  4 = B  5 = I  6 = G  7 = E  8 = A  9 = C

Adapted from BBC Bitesize Literary techniques: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zx7cmnb/revision/2

2. The following techiques were used in the speech

Techniques: 1 2 3 4 7 9

Responding and debating: the rebuttal

The point of this is to give the students some chance to respond to the speech used in the clip by recording their own version. You could hold class discussions on suitable topics to include. The main aim is to get them to record a response that you can check and to use the check list.

The two methods of beginning are by no means the only options, but should give the students some help in starting. If you have others you prefer, please use them.

  1. What do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of both?

Concession – advantages deflames situation / disadvantage could be that it implies a degree of agreement

Refutation – opposite to above.

Your response:

Give students time to plan. Let them think of arguments (claim and evidence) to help them in their short response.

Setting Success Criteria: When you mark these, tell the students in advance exactly what you will be checking for. If you are looking for structure, do not only correct them on their grammar or pronunciation. The checklist is here to help with structure, but depending on the needs of your class you could negotiate others with them. Or, in mixed ability classes even for each student.

Extension activities:

  • After feedback, students rerecord their response focusing on one or two points highlighted.
  • You could ask your students to read this review and again look for persuasive devices featured in the lesson or any of the myriad of ideas for reviews you would normally use

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-12-angry-men-1957

  • Alternatively, you could ask your students to look for any examples of cultural racism and the generalising of different nationalities into negative traits.

English UK Webinar August 2020: tech for returning to the classroom

Last week (11th August) we led a webinar for English UK on the topic of Socially Distant Classrooms. It was based to some degree on a previous blog post we wrote (which can be found here).

In the webinar, we examined some of the key features of our teaching toolbox that we stand to lose in a socially distant classroom and how we can replace them. We suggested using technology to replace some of these activities and techniques that we will be losing for a number of reasons:

  1. We need our students to be ready to go back online at short notice if there is another lockdown / outbreak.
  2. We’ve learnt a lot about teaching effectively online and with technology in the past few months; it seems a shame to throw it all away.
  3. It mirrors the real world in which people use technology to communicate all the time.
  4. It helps us to reduce the amount of paper we are bringing into the classroom.

 

There are many different options when it comes to using technology and countless blog posts have been written about the various platforms and which is the best. Below, we have included a list of the platforms we mentioned in our webinar and some of the pros / cons of these platforms but before looking at the list, please remember:

It isn’t just about the platform. It is about knowing why. In a socially distant classroom, we stand to lose a lot of what makes us communicative language teachers.

Know what you are losing, know what you want to replace and then choose how best to do that.

Train your teachers and your students in its use and make it consistent in your schools…otherwise it is another piece of technology that won’t be used and we’ll all end up lecturing from the top of our classes.

Different platform options:

  • Microsoft Teams

Teams does it all. Your students’ data is protected and you don’t need their phone numbers. It’s one of the most effective tools for in / out-of class communication and has high levels of transparency for teachers and management. But it costs and individual profiles need to be set up for each student.

  • WhatsApp

In my experience, if schools don’t provide an option, many teachers will revert to using WhatsApp for communication and sharing materials. It’s handy, most people have it and it’s easy to use…and it’s free. But obviously you have data issues so for many of us it’s not an option. Remember though, if teachers aren’t provided with an alternative, they may resort to WhatsApp out of necessity.

  • Zoom

We’re all a lot more familiar with Zoom than we were a few months ago and it’s been great but it’s primarily for conference calling and not for sharing material or messaging in class. You can get around this by setting up calls and just messaging, but it’s a bit more awkward than Teams. 

  • Edmodo

Actually a really effective tool that is designed entirely for the classroom. We haven’t tried it out on a school-scale before but if you are planning to do so, remember that both teachers and students need training on it for it to be effective. 

  • BackChannel Chat

This is very low maintenance as you don’t need any info from students. You just set up a chatroom as a teacher and give the code to your students and they can access from their phones. Downsides are that it’s a bit difficult to manage if you have multiple rooms at once and I’ve had issues with students being unable to log in or it crashing on them. But it’s free…

Other websites we mentioned:

  • Mentimeter: Free and easy to use. Great website for gathering anonymous info from your students. Very useful for Needs Analysis and also for encouraging shy students to participate. Can be used for things like single sentence answers too.

 

  • Kahoot: Fun and engaging way of injecting energy into the room. This is great for ‘gamifying’ tasks. Your students need a shot of life. Cahoot awards more points for fast response, so where in a class you could do a running dictation, in kahoot you can set quizzes.

 

  • WordWall: as above. You have to pay for it but you can get some of the site for free.

 

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:

 

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!!!