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.

The Post-Covid Classroom & Our Empty Teacher Toolbox

So, the mad rush to get online has subsided. The barrage of webinars on how to set up breakout rooms on Zoom have ended and the conversation is turning once again. It’s crazy to think all of this only started a few short months ago. It feels like days ago that our teaching context was turned upside down and we scrambled to bring our courses online and now, with restrictions being lifted in various countries around the world, it looks like it’s all about to be turned on its head again.

The question on my mind is:

what does the post-covid classroom look like?

Now, I’m not talking about 2022 when all this is done and dusted (fingers-crossed, touch wood and all that lark) and we can go back to the way things were before. I mean the classroom between now and then.

Many schools will take a blended approach, carrying out some lessons in a physical classroom and some online. Undoubtedly, we will have smaller class sizes. Schools will consider staggering start times and closing public areas. Hand sanitiser will, of course, feature heavily in any reopening. Depending on government advice, masks might be a pre-requisite or they might be discouraged. Depending on your country, your borders might be open to new students and there may / may not be a quarantine period.

But let’s assume that all the above has been taken care of by school management and the government. Where does that leave you, the teacher, when it comes to your face to face lessons in a physical classroom? Is it business as usual but with fewer students?

I don’t think so.

Let’s take a close look at our teaching toolbox, our tried and tested techniques, the bread & butter of teaching in a communicative classroom. What happens to them in a socially distant classroom?

  1. Pairwork: sadly, this is probably done and dusted for a while. We won’t be casually leaning over and checking answers.
  2. Group discussions: Unless it’s a whole-class discussion, which has its limitations, we won’t really be able to conduct group chats with a metre between each person.
  3. Hand-outs: You won’t be moving around the classroom giving your students a beautiful photocopy. Depending on school guidelines, you might not be able to give any material that the student didn’t bring with them.
  4. Monitoring: while it won’t be impossible to monitor, sneakily looming over a student’s shoulder and offering advice & encouragement is going to be frowned upon.

 

Unfortunately, a socially distant classroom is going to leave us without our go-to teaching techniques but all is not lost. If we’ve learnt anything over the past few months, it is how quick our industry is to adapt to the situation and adopt new techniques that better suit the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Adapt and adopt, we shall.

When deciding how to adapt, we must consider what we are losing and how we can try to replace it.

Mentimeter:

One of the main reasons, I use pairwork in class is to give students thinking time, to allow them to learn from each other and help each other to formalise their opinions before they bring them to the class as a whole. Often, having a moment to share an answer with a partner will give a student the social reassurance they need to then share it with the whole class. This is the beauty of pairwork and something we really don’t want to lose.

One way to give students the thinking time, to give them confidence in their answers without having to share them with the whole class is by using poll / survey websites like Mentimeter. It allows students time to think and to answer anonymously; they can very easily see how the rest of the class feels or is answering and then stand by or alter their answer before bringing it to the whole class. It encourages the quieter student to get involved and gives them an easy communication avenue.

Text Discussions:

Much of how I communicate is via text messages or social media. There are people I speak to regularly that I haven’t talked to in person for years. This is the same for many of our students yet in a communicative classroom we tend to focus on speaking. Most schools will by this time have chosen an online platform to deliver their lessons be it Teams, Zoom or something else. For Zoom, students could simple start a meeting, turn the cameras & audio off and use the chat box.

By using these same tools or even WhatsApp, students can still carry out discussions in a meaningful way before sharing the outcome of their discussions with the rest of the class in whole-class feedback.

The nice little by-product of these types of discussions is a written record. The chat box can easily be screenshot and shared. Students can reflect on what they actually said/wrote and analyse how well they used the target language. And you have a concrete source to reference for feedback.

Displaying:

If handouts are behind us, that’s no bad thing. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but the environment won’t thank us for all of the dead handouts that ended up in bins around the EFL world. In the socially distant classroom, we will be forced to abandon them and use the tools we have. So what do we have?

  • IWB: many of us will have an IWB. Apps like Microsoft Lens allow us to scan in resources; the snipping tool allows us to chop them up and deliver them to our students one piece at a time…as the writer no doubt intended.
  • Phones: our students don’t need to have a piece of paper they never look at again, they have cameras. Cameras that save photos in clouds according to their dates. Photos that they can access forevermore without having to sift through crumpled, wrinkled, ragged remnants of lessons long-forgotten.

If we don’t have IWBs, we have phones, which means we can send photos / documents via online platforms, WhatsApp, email, etc. Our learners can zoom in, they can edit, they can engage with it however we see fit.

Support over Presence:

Something that I’ve really found in online teaching is that support is more important than presence. In the past we have relied upon the fact that we can monitor closely and be on hand to answer every little question. In breakout rooms, this became impossible and in a socially distant classroom it becomes trickier.

All this means is that we need to spend more time setting up an activity. Learners need to know what exactly they should be doing, why they are doing it and what success looks like. Instructions are more important than ever and checking instructions is crucial. With students potentially working more individually or on their phones and you unable to loom over their shoulder, checking they are on task becomes more challenging. The answer may be to spend more time on giving and checking your instructions and getting buy-in for the activity from the students.

 

Above are just a few of the issues we may face in the socially distant classroom. No doubt there will be others that we haven’t even considered yet. Some of the above ideas for coping with these issues may turn out to be unworkable depending on your teaching context but we have proven our ability to adapt and adapt we will. I am excited to see how we tackle these issues and to hear your ideas.

Send them along!

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

 

Grammary Songs! The Script

I’m sorry…I may have gone too far this time and I completely understand if you want to turn your back on me and leave me to wither away into nothingness. I’ve made a lesson out of a Script song. In my defense, it’s not my fault. A student made me do it. This is what happens when you have Spanish teenage girls, who’ve spent a summer in Ireland as students. Honestly not my fault.scripts 1

Anyway, you may remember that I once wrote abouthaving a short extract from a song for every language point. The idea was that it was engaging for students, it gave them a bit of access to the culture and it (hopefully) made the language point a little more memorable.

My first lesson was on “used to” and “would” using a Coldplay song…again, sorry. Check it out if you want to see what I was on about.

This one shouldn’t be a long lesson but it’s a nice communicative one with some guided discovery in there.

Level: Int and above

Time: 1 – 2 hours (depending on how chatty your students are)

Aim: see above

Objective: see above

Materials:

  1. if you ever come back – worksheet
  2. if you ever come back – teacher’s answers

 

Procedure:

  1. Listening for gist / engagement: Play the full song and have students discuss the questions at the top of the worksheet. The idea here is that they engage with the song and love it, hate it or loathe it but at least they engage.
  2. Language focus (vocab): these are quite nice phrases and this activity will really encourage them to think about language in context instead of jumping to dictionaries. You can help them out with the individual parts of the expression (e.g. shoulder) if you think they need guidance.
  3. Language focus (wish): this is all quite self-explanatory guided discovery. The hope is that students can analyse the language in context and decide how it would be used. You might need to walk them through the first one if they struggle with this kind of thing.
  4. Practice: always good to practice.
  5. discussion: This will bring the whole thing together and give them a chance to discuss the topic and use the target language.

The bits of the paper we ignore 1!

This is to be part 1 of a 2 part series focusing on the bits of the newspaper we throw away. A lot of our lessons on this blog and the lessons we do in class use articles as the basis for the lesson. But what about the rest of the paper?

We want to encourage our students to be fully-functioning autonomous machines out in the real world, constantly analysing the English around them, learning new words and structures and reconfirming what they have learnt before. One way to do this is to help them find what they should be analysing in the first place.

This first lesson looks at an advertisement for a film. It’s a film I haven’t seen a to be honest I have absolutely no intention of seeing ever…but that doesn’t matter. Check out the lesson and let me know how it goes.

Level: Intermediate and above (although low-ints might need some help with some of the questions on the worksheet. A lot of ICQs and CCQs please!)

Time: 1 – 2 hours (depending on discussion times and follow-up activities)

Aim:

  1. to encourage sts to notice and analyse the language in the world around them.
  2. To gather vocab on dating

Materials:

 

full ad

Procedure:

This is quite a straight forward lesson. The worksheet takes you through it nice and easily. I think the only part that might need to be commented on is the final part, the reflection. The idea here it to get them thinking about the English that surrounds them. Even if you don’t live in an English speaking country, the Internet is at your disposal and by driving them to sites like IMDB.com, you can help them to see this.

Possible Follow-up Activities:

  1. students write their own tweets about bad dates (real or imaginary) and either put them up around the room for correction or tweet them using the hashtag at the bottom of the ad.
  2. Students look up new films in groups on IMDB and summarise them to their partners.
  3. Students set up a class online dating profile and send comments to people.

Giving advice with Connected Speech!

At our school we offer weekly free pronunciation lessons to all of our students. We get quite a lot of students attending each week and some of them come week on week but for others it’s their first week. This means we need to come up with new ideas all the time, building on the previous week but ensuring that new students can join at any time and not be lost. We also need to design lessons that span all levels from Elementary to Advanced (sometimes Beginners attend but not so often).

My favourite thing to look at in these classes is connected speech for the following reasons:

  1. All students from Elem to Adv need it.
  2. Most of them haven’t come across it in their countries so it is usually new, even for Adv.
  3. We need to raise awareness of features of connected speech over and over if sts are to be able to understand native English speakers.
  4. They love it!
  5. The easiest way for you to get to grips with it is to teach it. 

In the teacher’s worksheet below, I have included my own boardwork so that you can visualise what I’m talking about.

NB: don’t panic if you don’t know the phonemic chart off by heart. Highlight where linking occurs and model any other connected speech that comes up. You don’t need the phonemic symbols (but they do help).

boardwork

Level: All levels

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

Topic: advice (almost every level has come across 1 or 2 ways of giving advice).

Materials:

Procedure:

  1. Display the discussion questions from the worksheet and allow sts to discuss them in small groups. Discuss as a whole class (see possible answers on the teacher’s sheet).
  2. Tell the students that you will be talking about giving advice today. In groups ask them to brainstorm different forms for giving advice.
  3. Tell them your problem. I usually use the one below but feel free to improvise.
  4. Ask the students to write one or two pieces of advice per group using the different forms from part 2.
  5. Write them up on your board, 1 from each group. Ensure that they have used the advice forms from above. If they have all used “should”, reformulate their ideas as a class so that you have some variety on the board.
  6. These pieces of advice are what you’re going to analyse for features of connected speech.
  7. NB – don’t panic! you don’t need to be a pro at connected speech, just follow the steps below.
  • Ask students to underline which words they think will be stressed in each sentence. Check as a class.
  • Say each sentence out loud as you would normally and ask students what happens to the other (unstressed) words in the sentence. e.g. are they weaker? are some words connected? do some sounds disappear?
  • As the same things happen in each sentence, draw your sts attention to the patterns. E.g. “to” is usually pronounced = /tə/ & “and” is usually pronounced /ən/.
  • Drill each sentence with the class.
  • Ask sts to examine the sentences and try to find common patterns.
  • Get sts to fill in the Sentence Pronunciation Guidelines on their worksheets.
  • Check together.

Help me, I need some advice!

My girlfriend came home last night and told me she wanted to move to Brazil. She says she is sick of London and needs a change. The problem is that I have friends here, I have a job, my family live close to here.

I would love Brazil, it sounds amazing but now is not the time to move. I’m scared if I say no that it will be the end of our relationship.

 

A might well:The many forms of “might”

A borderline advanced student stopped me in the corridor the other day and asked me what the difference was between might, might as well and might well and for a moment I was stumped. He was holding his Upper Int coursebook on the grammar reference section for “might” and he made a very good point which was:

The Upper Intermediate book has exactly the same information as the Intermediate.

He was right, so I decided to look at it in a little bit more detail and came up with the lesson below.

The materials and the teaching notes are all in the same file and I’ve attached it as a PDF and as a WORD doc so that you can edit it if you like.

Enjoy

  1. might-as-well  – WORD doc
  2. might-as-well  – PDF

 

guys pic

 

Could I ask your advice on something? Should / If I were you…

beaten up

This is a relatively straightforward test/teach/test type of lesson but there’s lots that you can do with it. I’ve put the basic lesson plan below and then a few suggestions for extra activities you could do.

The whole point of the lesson is to practise giving advice, largely using conditionals and should. It really encourages students to analyse language and hopefully to use it afterwards.

Level: Intermediate and above

Time: 2 – 3 hours

Materials:

  1. advice
  2. problems and pics
  3. advice (PDF)
  4. problems-and-pics (PDF)

Procedure:

(1)

Test:

As the first test, I like to walk in and tell my students a personal problem. I quite like pretending that it’s a real one and asking their real advice but that’s up to you, you could even say it’s your friend’s problem and your telling them about it. Here’s a problem I often start with:

So, my girlfriend rang me last night. Turns out she wants to move to Brazil. She says she can’t handle the weather here anymore and needs a change. I completely get it, going to Brazil would be amazing but we’ve got stable jobs here, things are going well, I’m really enjoying where I live right now…I just don’t know what to do.

We usually discuss it for a bit and then I say OK everyone, write down one piece of advice for me. (It’s a nice idea to give them a post-it note and then collect them in afterwards). you can come back to these pieces of advice later on.

(2)

Pre-Reading / Gist Reading

Display the picture of the 2 men on the board or hand them out and get sts to decide what they’re discussing.

Instruct sts to read through the dialogue and answer the questions on the top.

(3)

Language Focus: Advice structures

Get the students to read the dialogue again and underline any structures giving or asking for advice. They should find the obvious “should” and “if I were you” but also highlight the chunks of English “Do you mind if I ask your advice on something?”.

Very often students skim over language without really noticing what’s going on. The idea with this exercise if to get them in the habit of examining the structures they come across in the hopes they can reproduce them in the future.

The really interesting piece of language here is that the “If I were you” structure is used twice, once to give advice for future and once to comment on the past. Draw their attention to this and to the form as they’ll have the opportunity to practice it in a second.

(4)

Controlled Practice

Display one of the pictures and the problems from the set, whichever one you like.

In pairs, ask sts to write their reply to this person. Don’t give them too much in the way of guidelines here as this can produce some really interesting language. I like to give them a post-it note to do this on as then I can collect them in easily.

Correct any errors in advice that come up, board any other ways of giving advice that come up and any interesting language you find.

(5)

Freer Practice

Display the remaining problems and pictures around the room. Students walk around in pairs and give advice to the pictures.

Teacher monitors, helps out when necessary and notes down interesting errors and language.

Feedback as a whole class and correct anything that has arisen.