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.

Help I’m in a breakout room! Using success criteria to enable peer to peer feedback

For the foreseeable future it seems we’ll be teaching online and apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are going to be our classrooms. But is this just a stopgap while we wait for our schools to reopen? Maybe…but I personally think that online teaching is here to stay. That’s not to say it was never here before but by the end of Covid, I would say online English language teaching will have carved out its own space and will sit side by side with full immersion.

Assuming that’s the case, it’s not about weathering the online storm, it has to be about doing it as best we can. It can’t be just replicating what we did in the classroom and making it work, we have to adapt to this new environment.

One of the first issues I came up against was pairwork. How do we make it work? Well, the answer came quickly: we use breakout rooms of course. Fantastic, problem solved. Or was it?

Feedback from teachers:

Breakout rooms are great but you can’t monitor effectively. The students are chatting away, or not chatting at all and you have no idea because you’re in another room.

Feedback from students:

We just chat but we don’t get feedback. I don’t know what I am saying wrong.

Both valid issues but both issues we had in physical classrooms, but now in the harsh glow of the computer screen it is much more glaringly obvious.

So what can we do? Students have to practise. We don’t want to be the conduit for all communication in the classroom.

The students must become the masters!

We have to accept the situation and adapt. We cannot be in every room at once listening and giving feedback so we have to ensure someone is

But our students aren’t equipped to give feedback! And they don’t want to hear it from another student

Well then let’s equip them.

Success criteria:

By giving clear success criteria for a speaking task, learners can give each other meaningful feedback and, it’s not as subjective because it’s been laid out clearly beforehand.

But what are success criteria and where do we find them?

Essentially it is what you have taught your students that day. If you want them to discuss their careers and you’ve taught them:

  • To use the present perfect to describe their current situation
  • To use past simple to describe past jobs
  • X,Y,Z vocabulary related to careers
  • The natural pronunciation of present perfect

Then successfully discussing your career means doing the things above.

Some tips:

  1. Negotiate the criteria with your students to increase engagement
  2. Ensure they have a written record of them during the task
  3. Allow students to choose which of the criteria they will focus on and therefore which they want feedback on
  4. Repeat the activity again, giving them the chance to upgrade.

Our learners can take a more active part in the learning process…we just need to give them the tools to do so.

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.

School Reunion: A tense review

This is a really simple one that we made as a tense review before an end-of-term test. It had two main aims:

  1. to find out which language points needed a bit more of a review.
  2. to get my students thinking about how all of the language points they’d learnt over the past term might appear together. (so often they are studied in isolation)

Note: depending on the age of your students (mine were slightly older), you might need to change the discussion questions at the end. I’ve attached an editable word copy so feel free to edit it and make it work for your group.

  • Objective: see above
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • level: high intermediate and above

Materials:

  1. Worksheet (word): Reunion tense review worksheet
  2. Worksheet (PDF): Reunion tense review worksheet
  3. Teacher’s copy: Reunion tense review teacher’s copy

 

Procedure:

  1. Students skim read the story and discuss the question at the top of the page. Feedback as a class.
  2. Students match the definitions to the vocab in the story (it’s important that no words / phrases stand in the way of them understanding the text so spend a little time here if needs be)
  3. In small groups, students work through the story, filling in the gaps. I always tell them they should have a reason for every answer they give. I will ask them why!
  4. Students check their answers on the back of the sheet and circle any they got wrong. They should then discuss if their answer was also possible, if it changes the meaning or if it was just impossible.
  5. Feedback as a class, focusing on the ones they had trouble with (this will be clear from your monitoring). If they all had issues with one language point, that’s one to go over in the next lesson.
  6. In the language analysis section, the students look at an isolated piece of language and use the questions to help them analyse it. Discuss as a class.
  7. Finally, students discuss the questions in small groups. Teacher monitors for delayed error correction and emergent language, which they deal with after the discussion.

 

Bowie: Pronunciation in songs

 

Look, the fact is we just can’t resist a Bowie lesson. There it is, plain and simple (If you missed our previous one, you can check it out here) and I can’t promise that this one will be the last Bowie lesson we ever do. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that there will be more. This one came about because I was listening to Hunky Dory and got a wee bit obsessed with the song, Kooks. I thought I’d share it with you.

normal_k_k_k_kooks_tray

It’s a simple enough lesson using a song to look at vocab, “will” and connected speech. I’ve always felt that songs are a great way for students to practise their listening as they’re usually in quite natural speech (not always) and in real life there is very often background noise that you need to filter out when you’re trying to listen. Songs replicate that quite well. This is something I always point out to my students when I do a song. I think it’s important they see the benefit and don’t just think that songs are something we do on Fridays for fun.

  1. Objective: to raise awareness of connected speech in songs / to examine different uses of “will”
  2. Time: 2 – 3 hours
  3. Level: Pre-intermediate and above

 

Materials:

Songhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsSlOGzPM90

 

Barry London: Writing + Study skills

Brixton-Tube-CLosed

So we finally have it, Barry London’s second official lesson. If you haven’t seen the previous one it’s right here. The idea we came up with was that seeing as how for some reason every character in my lessons is called, Barry, we’d just embrace this and create a person and give him a string of lessons. They’re for different levels and will look at different aspects of the language. Also, they do not need to be done in any sequence. They do not build on each other.

This one is very different to our normal lessons in that it looks at descriptive writing and study skills in more detail than we normally would. It started out as a low level lesson but it was most definitely a high level one by the end.

I’d recommend this lesson as something different to do at the end of the week or course or for more creative students. It’s definitely not a straight grammar lesson.

  • Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • Objective: to encourage sts to record language in context and to think about metaphors and imagery in creative writing.

Materials:

  1. Barry London arrives in London – teacher’s copy – Answers / notes
  2. Barry London arrives in London – student copy WORD
  3. Procedure Barry London story – Procedure
  4. Barry London arrives in London PDF -student copy PDF

 

Paint it Black – Listening lesson

I wrote the ‘tense review with the stones’ lesson a couple of weeks ago:

https://textploitationtefl.com/2016/05/09/tense-review-with-the-rolling-stones/

and here, as promised, is the follow up!

It is intended as a short follow up, so shouldn’t take too long, but focuses on listening and picking things out from the song.

Rather than picking this song for its specific merits, I picked a song I liked and then looked for what was there.  Hopefully some of the ideas here can be applied to songs you or your students like too.

enjoy,

now where is my black paint?

Level: Int (and surrounding levels)

Procedure: A lot of this is just following the worksheet.

Discussion: – warmer – associations with the colour black, think about collocations as well, get as much as you can from the students.

Listening: Play the song twice or as many times as needed for students to complete the table.

Answer – the girls are walking by – not painted or want to paint

Grammar: Highlighting causatives

follow the exercise, you could always revise this later in the wk / class.  This is more a case of exposing students to it, getting them to think about it and showing them that get can also be used.

Vocab: Here you can either do this as a reading or a listening, but I would go for a listening and then read to check.

Once they have completed the phrases put them in groups and ask them to work together to think about the meaning.

Check it as a class.

Pronunciation: This section is just to draw attention to natural features, something that we think is important for students to enable them to listen well outside the classroom.

You could drill them and ask them to think of other words that like ‘happening’ are written with what seems like 3 syllables but often pronounced with 2.

For the linking /j/ you could follow this up with the maze activity from pronunciation games by Mark Hancock.

Click to access 5-Link-Maze.pdf

Materials: 

Word: Paint it Black worksheet

PDF:   Paint it Black worksheet

Song without lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPVUa29kHu8

Song with lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4irXQhgMqg