Invisible Women: Independent Research Skills

We feel strongly that one of our jobs as teachers is to encourage discussion. For this reason, each year we write a lesson for international women’s day (9th March) in an effort to increase discussion on this topic specifically.

You can find our previous lessons here, here and even here. Or, you could try our latest one.

This lesson marks a bit of a departure from our norm as I will not actually be encouraging the use of the whole text and I will be encouraging you to allow your students to use their own phones to read the text…I know, I know. But the way I see it, people these days don’t tend to sit down with a broadsheet and read it cover to cover, they dip in and out of articles online and follow the trail wherever it takes them. I wanted to reflect this in class.

Note: I will include the text as an attachment for those whose students to not have access to the internet in class.

  • Objective: by the end of the lesson, students will be more confident researching online and reporting their findings.
  • Level: Upper int / Advanced
  • Time: 1.5 – 2 hours

Material

  1. The article
  2. Invisible Women Article
  3. Women’s Day Independent research skills – worksheet

 

Teachers’ Notes:

Discussion:

  • This is a simple discussion designed to create interest in the topic and see what learners already know.

Introduction:

  • I find that learners can sometimes rely heavily on their own language / sites for internet research. The idea here is that they consider googling in English.
  • By the end of this section, they should have googled the key words from the article and found it on their phones. They should all be ready to read.

Reading:

  • This is quite a tricky article. There are a lot of cultural references and high level language. I would like the learners to choose which of these they look up. Whether it is specific words or information, it should prepare them to discuss the main point of the introduction.

 

Reading 2:

  • I have specifically chosen not to read the whole article here as I didn’t want it to take away from the research and discussion and I wanted it to mirror real life. If they’re really interested, they’ll read it themselves later on. If not, that’s ok. They can move onto something else.
  • I think it’s important to engage with the text and the facts but I wanted them to consider how they would tell others.

 

Useful phrases:

  • I’ve just given them a few phrases here. I would encourage them to report their favourite facts to each other, using some of the phrases.

 

Engaging with the article:

  • It is important to give them space to discuss the article, perhaps in ways you might not have imagined. I’ve tried to leave this as quite an open discussion. Feel free to add questions or poke and prod as needed. The aim is to encourage discussion and to see where their interest is taking them.

 

Language Focus:

  • I’ve isolated the introduction here as it is quite important to understanding the whole article but there is quite a bit of tricky language in here. I’ve focused on the 4 words that students might be thrown by or might need to describe the article:
    • patriarchy / prejudice / jaded / neophiliac

 

Independent Research

  • Learners follow the instructions and choose something related to the article to google. They make notes, following the research tips.
  • They then report what they’ve found to their partners. Remind them to use:
    • the reporting language
    • any key vocab from their research
    • key vocab from the text they’ve just read

Reflection:

  • I always think it’s important to take time to reflect. They haven’t just read part of an article today, they’ve learnt how to engage with online articles in English and report what they’ve found. This can be applied to any interest.

Further practice:

  • Take them to a news website (e.g. BBC News) and let them run free on their phones, researching a story / topic they like.
  • In groups, they can report back to their partners.

Manners, language and the importance of keeping with the times.

So, this lesson was a challenge. Literally, ‘Teaching Cat’ challenged us to make a lesson from this text so here we are.

The original text is one of those fun quirky texts aimed at people in the past that is now ridiculous, you know the type. So far, so not very promising. Except, how many of your students use strange bits of language that make them sound ancient. At EC London we have a 30+ group and this happens a lot, but also with younger students they have often picked up bits of quite bizarre English, outdated phrases, archaic words, or odd uses of more commonly used ones. This lesson aims to ask students to focus and reflect on register and appropriacy in their writing.

Enjoy and thanks Cat.

Objective: by the end of the lesson students will be more aware of appropriate register in their writing

Level: Upper intermediate & advanced

Time: 2-3 hours

Material:

  1. Bicycling Etiquette – teacher’s copy
  2. Bicycling Etiquette

 

Procedure:

Introduction:

  • Sts discuss the questions in small groups. T feeds back as a whole class and prompts them with further questions if they are struggling to come up with ideas
  • The idea here is to get them thinking about their own reading habits and how it largely happens through their devices these days. In question 2, I’m thinking of click bait type posts on social media or even video instructions on Youtube. I’d also like them thinking about formality in English. There is a misconception that more formal mean more polite and therefore better. But English these days, even written English, is very conversational.

Reading:

  • Sts skim the text and answer the questions in pairs.
  • T directs sts towards the reading tip and sends them back to underline anything in the text that shows the author’s world view. If they’re struggling, T directs them to the 3 sentences on the right.
  • The idea here is that very often learners don’t critically analyse the opinion of the writer. Given the archaic views in this text, it should be easy enough to identify them but by doing these kinds of activities little and often, you can improve a learner’s ability to question writers more effectively. 

Discussion:

(N.B. at this point, I would ask sts to fold the sheet along the dashed line so they only have Discussion and Language Focus sections)

  • Sts discuss the questions in small groups.
  • While this will herd them towards the final task, it also gives them space to disagree (or agree) with the text & writer, which is an important part of any lesson. These kinds of real life questions will show comprehension.
  • There is a lot of interesting language in this text, much of it dead (e.g. wheeler). Sts try to find them. T uses this stage to deal with any unknown vocabulary.

Language focus (register)

  • Sts look back at the text for unnatural examples of English. T elicits and writes / highlights on the board.
  • If sts are struggling, T can give one of the examples and send them back to the text.
  • If sts are really struggling, T can instruct them to open their page and direct them towards the 3 sentences.
  • Sts rewrite the 3 sentences and any other words/phrases/sentences they have found.
  • T corrects as a whole class, discussing what would be natural and unnatural in modern writing contexts.
  • Feel free to consider different types of writing contexts. I’ve suggested online articles and such as I figure that’s where we get a lot of advice these days. I also think written English (even at work these days) is conversational and overly formal English sounds unnatural and rude.

Language focus (analysis)

  • As this is for higher levels, I do not see the need for large grammar presentations but judge your learners and do what is necessary.
  • Sts look through the text for repeated language structures particular to this type of text.
  • They are looking for conditional sentences, relative clauses and passive voice.
  • Sts analyse the two sentences.

 

Writing task:

  • Sts make notes, using the questions to guide them.
  • Sts work in small groups to produce their text.
  • T displays them around the room and sts move around in their groups. They judge the writing on register, use of the above-mentioned language points and on how entertaining they are.
  • T displays any errors on the board and sts work together to correct.
  • I would suggest taking common errors and editing them slightly for content. Then allow sts to self-correct their own errors, using the boarded ones as a guideline.

 

Reflection:

  • Sts discuss what they have taken from today and how they can use it in their own writing.

 

 

 

 

Rewordify: website for simplifying a text

So you’ve got a text and it’s ridiculously interesting but it’s just that little bit too difficult for your students…

If you’ve ever been in that situation, you might want to try rewordify. A colleague of mine put me onto this website a few years ago and I thought it was time to pass it on.

The idea is simple: you put your text in and it dumbs it down with helpful synonyms and explanations. You may argue that this isn’t authentic and that it stops the flow of the text and you are probably right. But what I love about this website is it then lets you create worksheets for all of the trickier words.

Here are two ways I have used it in the past:

  1. I simplify a newspaper article on a current issue for a lower level class. We work through the trickier language using the worksheets. I then let them watch a news segment on the same topic and discuss the topic. The worksheets have allowed them to both understand the video and discuss it.
  2. When teaching CAE and CPE, encouraging them to show off or upgrade their language in their writing can be difficult. I like to dumb down a text using this website and set them the task of upgrading it. I then get them to compare it to the original and see how they did.

It’s a great little website. Check it out and let us know how you use it.

If you’d like to learn about more useful websites, check out this blog.

Hand in hand, arm in arm, we all read together…

I should say that this is not a lesson but rather an idea to put into your reading lessons.

Recently at my school we were running some sessions on developing reading skills and I remembered a website I used to use quite a lot to help students read more quickly and to read in chunks instead of one word at a time.

The idea is simple:

  1. Choose a text
  2. Copy it into online teleprompter software
  3. Choose the speed
  4. Set the task
  5. We all read together…

For students who tend to read one word at a time instead of in chunks, it forces their hand a little.

There are just a few things to take into consideration though:

  • Your students may find it stressful at first. It’s very important that you explain to the students what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • The task must be appropriate. It should probably just be a gist question as you are asking them to skim read the text really.
  • It’s important that you don’t just test their reading skills. You have to help them to develop. After choral reading, discuss how they felt, what their strategies were. Discourage them from reading one word at a time.

My favourite website to use is this one as it’s easy to use and soooooooooooooo free.

Check it out and let us know how you get on.

(T)ex(t)ploiting a coursebook listening text

So this one is not a lesson as such but more an idea for your lessons.

Coursebooks are rich resources for texts and sadly, due to completely understandable constraints (space / industry traditions / overall themes of a book / editor pressure) they are very often under-used. Listening exercises tend to test comprehension or act as a vehicle for uncovering the target language. While this is a totally valid use of a listening text, I’ve often asked myself if perhaps we could be exploiting them further.

Recently a teacher came to me with a problem. She had finished her double page spread as per her plan, her students had really nailed the controller and freer practice and she had dealt with feedback. All in all, a perfect lesson. But, she had been left with 30 mins in the class so she has dragged out feedback a little and then let them start on some of their homework. She hadn’t really been satisfied with how the class had ended and wondered if I had any advice.

I suggested revisiting the listening text from earlier in the lesson. There is so much that can be done. What follows are just a few ideas that you should be able to apply to almost any listening text.

Reflection:

The idea here is to encourage sts to think about why they struggled (if they did) with comprehension. This can then inform what part of the text you examine. It also means learners don’t just blame their “bad listening”, there will always be something we can teach them that will improve things.

  • What percentage of this text do you feel you understood?
  • What did you find difficult about this listening?
  • What would help you to understand it better?

Pronunciation for listening skills:

The main idea is that if students don’t know it is possible, they won’t hear it. Consider “do you want to” versus /juhwanna/. We cannot expect a learner to know that they are the same. They do not expect written English to vary so drastically from spoken English. It is our job to highlight the differences, little and often.

  • Listen to the text with the transcript. Encourage sts to underline chunks that sound different to what they would expect.
  • Highlight one or two chunks in the text that sound different to the expected written form. Drill them, encourage sts to write personalised sentences and then drill them.
  • Highlight one feature of spoken English (schwa for articles / final consonant & initial vowel linking / stressed words at the end of a sentence or clause) and then encourage sts to listen for other examples within the text.

Speaking skills:

Very often coursebook texts will work on functional language for conversations but if you revisit the text, you may find something else that will help them with their speaking.

  • Give sts the transcript and ask them to mark a circle above words they think will be stressed (spoken clearly). Then listen and check. Examine which words tend to be stressed (info words: nouns/verbs/adj/adv)
  • Do the same but ask them to mark when the speaker pauses with a slash. Listen and check. Notice it tends to be at the end of a sentence, after a comma or after a linking word. This will help sts with the flow of spoken English.
  • Examine any fillers in the text. It might seem strange but the noises we make in one language can be very different to another. Take for example the Turkish /tch/ that simply means “no” but in English can signal a lack of respect or interest and can be quite offensive. It’s worth pointing these differences out.

Learner training:

What we really want are learners that can analyse texts by themselves, that notice chunks, that don’t really need us. If done little and often, these exercises can help create these super students.

  • Ask sts to underline any prepositions on the transcript. Notice what their function is. Are they linked to an adjective, are they part of a phrase, are they related to time or movement? Prepositions are so often overlooked but by drawing their attention to them in context we can avoid having to do lengthy preposition lessons.
  • Get sts to underline any interesting chunks in the text. Discuss the meaning, drill the pron and ask them to choose 2 that they will use in conversation that week. Remember to get them to think about how they will use it. They must plan the context. Make sure you follow up with them at the end of the week or they will never do it again.

So, just a few ways you could revisit your listening texts the next day or during the lesson. Just because the coursebook hasn’t had time to look at these, doesn’t mean you don’t. And remember, I don’t expect you to do all of these for every text. That would be insanity and you’d never get anything done.

The key is little and often!

So try some out and let us know how it goes.

Responding to a Reading – Critical Reading

Continuing the theme of IELTS lessons, this is another that looks to help students with their exam but also their university studies after.

This looks to explore what arguments are being made and then asks students to respond to them. Stance and criticality are key elements of university study. The ability to understand a writer’s ideas and then use them in their own writing will be tested but sometimes perhaps gets lost in the IELTS classroom. This is a lesson which will work a little on reading skills, but which mostly seeks to prepare students for university. That in turn makes it suitable for any high-level class.

Of course, you can, and should, do all the other lovely textploitation things with a grammar and lexis focus.

Level: IELTS / Advanced / Proficiency

Aim: To give students an opportunity to examine a writer’s opinion and respond to it.

Procedure: 

Reading Skills – Prediction

  1. Direct Students to the worksheet and put them in pairs to discuss what the terms could mean. Focus students on the form of the words. Remember to stress the importance of prediction as a reading skill.
  2. Read to check – Now ask the students to read the text and find out what the two terms mean. Ask the students which reading techniques they will use: ‘Scanning’ to find the terms and then ‘deeper reading’ to understand.
  3. To check understanding and practice paraphrasing, ask the students to write their own definitions. Encourage them to think of synonyms and to use different grammar structures. This might be a time to bring in the idea of plagiarism if they haven’t discussed it before. Below are the sections of the text that would need to be paraphrased:

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a policy whereby a financial payment is made to every citizen, unconditionally, without any obligation to work, at a level above their subsistence needs.

Half-Earth – the simple but profound idea that environmental repair could come from allocating half the Earth’s surface primarily for the benefit of other species

 

Reading – Note-taking

  1. This skill will help with IELTS tasks such as matching, but it is a skill I encourage all of my students to do every time they read an exam text. Ask the students to skim read the text – set a time limit (5mins) – encourage them to take notes in the margins.
  2. Now ask them to compare their notes to their classmates. Make your own notes and see how similar your students are.

NB The article roughly fits a situation / problem / solutions / questioning solutions and conclusion structure.

Reading – Stance and argument

  1. Ask the students to reread the text and look for the writer’s opinions. Then follow the instructions on the worksheet.

Answers: People would still work; break link between work and consumption; ability to say no to undesirable jobs; chance to think long-term

2.

Answers: Reforesting already in action / our views on nature are forged by our society / re-establishing humans as part of nature / seems popular

note taking on different sections – explain how it helps with matching

Students’ Reactions

Ask students to work in pairs or small groups and discuss the points on the worksheet.

Writing: summary and reacting to it in an academic style to be set as homework.

When marking, encourage students for their content, don’t just mark the grammar and the vocab. Look at the structure, arguments and how they are supported and their paraphrasing / summarising skills.

Materials:

Original article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/12/universal-basic-income-and-rewilding-can-meet-anthropocene-demands

Barry deals with “get” collocations and inequality.

Barry, the main character in this lesson, has wormed his way into a number of our lessons. If you’d like to see his other ones you could try here, here, here, or even here.

With this lesson I have learnt something about myself. I have learnt that try as I might, I cannot write a lesson without including some study skills. I tried to do a straight collocations lesson for my students and came out with a collocations + online concordance lesson.

“Get” is one that my students ask about all the time and I am often reluctant to do a lesson on it as I never feel it will do much good unless students actually go out and start to notice these collocations themselves. It’s the whole fish saying thing:

Give me some “get” collocations and I’ll use them for a day, teach me to find them and I’ll use them forever…

That’s the saying, right?

Objectives:

  1. By the end of the lesson students will be better able to notice collocations in context and to use an online concordance to find common collocations.

Time: 1-2 hours

Level: intermediate and above

Material:

  1. Barry Deals with Get Collocations – teachers’ copy
  2. Barry Deals with Get Collocations – worksheet

Procedure:

  1. Display the question: what are the major issues we face in the workplace these days? Sts discuss. Feedback as a class and deal with any emerging language but don’t focus on any one over the others.
  2. Explain students are going to read an extract from story. In it, the main character raises an issue with his boss. Read the story and decide in pairs what that issue is. The issue is inequality in the workplace.
  3. Discuss as a class if they have similar issues in their countries and what could be done to avoid this in the future.
  4. Explain that one word is used quite frequently in the story (get) and see if they can find it.
  5. Sts underline all meanings of get and document them and their colocation in the space below.
  6. In small groups, sts examine the get phrases and decide what they mean in this context.
  7. Optional practice: sts write their own sentences using the phrases to check understanding.
  8. Discuss the following questions with sts:
  9. Do you avoid get in general? Why?
  10. Do you use alternative words?
  11. Are these words more or less natural than get?
  12. Where can you find more examples of collocations?
  13. Depending on your tech, either display the following on an iwb or take sts to computer rooms or encourage them to use their phones. For the purposes of this procedure I will assume you are using an iwb. If you don’t have any tech, I have taken some examples and copied them into the worksheet for you.
  14. Display the British national online corpus and explain what it is. Ask sts how this could be useful. Show them how to use it with “get” as an example.
  15. Turn over the page and ask sts to analyse the examples. Are they the same as previous examples, are some different?
  16. Feedback as a class.
  17. Direct students to the controlled practice exercise to do by themselves and then check in pairs.
  18. T deals with any errors or confusion. (Note: confusion and errors will probably occur when manipulating these semi-fixed language chunks in context. Students tend to understand them but can struggle when it comes to using them.)

Optional follow up:

  1. To encourage some level of autonomy, ask the students to choose another verb they find difficult to use. Suggest “have” or “pick” or something that has a lot of collocations or uses.
  2. Students use the concordance and find common collocations. They record them in a spider gram like with get.
  3. Students write their own story using as many as they can.

Optional Follow up 2:

  1. Students write the conversation between Barry and his boss and act it out, trying to incorporate as many “get” collocations as possible.
  2. T gives points for originality, accuracy and use of collocations and decides on a winning pair.

Reading and tense discovery: “I caught a falling baby”.

So, the inspiration for this came yesterday at the Pearson Amazing Minds day in London. Ken Beatty mentioned this story and as he put up one of the direct quotations, I found myself just looking at the past tenses thinking, “ooooh, lesson”. I really am that dull.

The lesson itself is fairly standard textploitation. We have a text, we are going to look at the grammar used, look to build learner autonomy with the vocabulary and investigate a litte bit of pronunciation. Also borrowing in the grammar from the wonderful Danny Norrington-Davies ( https://dannynorringtondavies.wordpress.com/ )asking students to identify what the grammar is doing and why it is used.

Like with all textploitation this focuses on a little and often.

Let’s go.

Level: Intermediate (with support) / Upper Intermediate / Advanced

Objective:

  • By the end of the lesson, students will be better able to analyse language in context and to recognise subtle differences in meaning.

Aims:

  • To analyse language in context (vocab / grammar)
  • To build the skills needed for the above
  • To practice the schwa and connected speech

Time: 2-3hrs

Procedure:

Pre Reading:
Prediction task.

  • Write the phrase “I caught a falling baby” on the board and ask students what they think happened immediately before.
  • Ask them to create and build a back story.
  • Put them into pairs or groups for this.
  • Then do feedback as a class.

Prompt them with questions such as where did this happen / when. Also, ask them to justify these answers.

Reading:
Skimming

Ask them to quickly find out:

  • Where the story took place?
  • How the baby got out of the apartment?
  • Why was it not surprising the woman caught the baby?

Natural Response

Place the students into small groups and ask the following questions:

  • Did you find the story interesting?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Do you think the woman is a hero?
  • Do you think that the parents of the baby should be punished?

(you could break these questions into two sets if you prefer)

Grammar:

Rather than looking at the whole text this lesson breaks the text into little chunks.

Make sure the students really look at the function and use of the grammar. Do not let them just trot out grammar book rules.

Exercise 1

(picture is of Christina Torre just for context and as the sheet was looking dull)

“I’ve always known that I’m very quick with my hands. If someone throws something, I catch it almost before I’m aware it has been thrown.”

  1. present perfect and present simple
  2. Present perfect is used to describe a skill / ability that the person has had for ever. – the adverbs ‘always’ is a natural fit here. Present simple is used for a fact / ability. Encourage the students to think of how the present perfect and present simple work with each other.
  3. 0 conditional + the present perfect time clause
  4. 0 conditional is used to refer to something that always happens “If someone throws something, I catch it”, the present perfect here relies on ‘almost before’ and I think places the time close to the first ‘throws’ in the conditional. It doesn’t neatly fit any rule, and that is important for you to get across to your students.

Exercise 2

For these put students in pairs to check before doing all class feedback.

I was going to visit a friend with her newborn and was on my way to a toy store to buy a gift. I’d once lived in the neighbourhood and on a whim I decided to head back to my old haunt, a cupcake shop, for a coffee.”
Vocabulary

On a whim (adverbial phrase) – spontaneously – normally used in positive stories. It is important to let students think about connotation as well as meaning

I decided to head back to my old hauntMy old haunt – a place i used to spend a lot of time in. Get them to give you examples of their own ‘old haunts’ and provide examples yourself. Also, worth highlighting the meaning of head back to here.
Grammar

  1. Past version of be going to used to talk about a plan that did not happen.
  2. Past simple used for the main actions in the story.
  3. Past perfect used to refer to a time before the time of this story.

Extra – ask if they can find other examples of these tenses being used.

Exercise 3

“I just wanted the child, who I later found out was called Dillon, to feel safe”

  1. extra info
  2. yes

(if they ask about why there seem to be two clauses in the relative clause I told them that find out always needs an object) sentence could be rewritten as just “who was called Dillon”. If they don’t ask, I wouldn’t raise it at this stage)

Exercise 4

We didn’t practise together, but I guess my reflexes must have naturally developed.

  1. it could fit in the beginning, between the clauses, or at the end. (Though) We didn’t practise together, (though) I guess my reflexes must have naturally developed (though).
  2. The first place sounds more formal, the middle is possible but quite informal(to me, not so natural), the end is also informal

I was approached by a typical Brooklyn older man, who in a calm and very matter-of-fact way told me to call 911, because there was a baby on a fire escape.

  1. because –> as / since
  2. because (informal / neutral), as (neutral), since (formal)

(If you wanted here you could extend this by asking them to rewrite using ‘despite’ or in the second sentence maybe think about restructing using ‘so’

Exercise 5

“what would have happened if I hadn’t caught him.”

“if we let intuition lead us, we can deal with anything.”

  1. A – elicit the form from students
  2. Imaginary / hypothetical past – to talk about regrets or how situations could have turned out differently. “If I hadn’t been late, she wouldn’t have dumped me”
  3. It talks about every time / general time. It is general advice for the future.
  4. It is used at the end, to provide a motivating ending / student’s own answers may be more interesting than that.

Exercise 6

Vocabulary

This is focused on developing learner autonomy, so do not let them use dictionaries until they have tried to work out the meaning themselves. Explain why, get them to think of substituting other words etc.

  • looking around nonchalantly – without a care
  • baby boy became my only priority. – my main focus
  • Apparently he had slipped through pieces of cardboard – people told me (might suggest surprise)
  • Instinctively, he grabbed on as he fell, – without thought
  • my attention was purely focused on my intention to catch the baby – purely means solely or only here
  • As he tumbled, he hit a protruding plastic sign – tumbled – fell / protruding – it was sticking out
  • it turned out it was only his lip that had been cut – we later found out
  • Dillon’s parents had been woken by the commotion – the noise and fuss

Exercise 6

The reality of saving someone’s life is intense. I play it over in my head so many times, I think it has changed me. I am calm and more at ease with things. I study mindfulness, and I see now that if we let intuition lead us, we can deal with anything. I think I was meant to be there.

This paragraph has present simple / present perfect / past simple and a 0 conditional. Again get them to think about why each tense is used – sometimes the reasons are not the same as earlier.

Pronunciation

The idea is to look at the schwa and the effect that it has on rhythm when we are speaking.

Schwas are in bold (different native speakers may decide differently. To me, this is the most likely.) Connected words underlined

  1. ‘The reality of saving someone’s life is intense. I play it over in my head so many times’

Ask the students to practice saying the words, model and drill, but really focus on the schwa and the connected words.

If you wanted to do further work, you could ask them to work in pairs and select another piece of direct speech and examine it, looking for the same features.

Further practice:

You could ask students to find a news story that they found interesting and examine the grammar in it. Bringing it to a future class and asking them to explain it to others in a group and discussing it.

Materials:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/18/experience-i-caught-falling-baby