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May I present Richard Brown (another PLN interview with the other half of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills)

Richard Brown, me and Keith Barrs before a gruelling 10-mile race through gale-force winds and hailstones.

Richard Brown is another valuable member of my PLN that I would like to introduce to you all.  But more than that, he’s a good friend and a great guy.  So that’s disclosure out of the way. 🙂  While living and working in Spain he co-authored the new release, IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills, with Lewis Richards (whose interview can be read here).  I know Richard to be a great supporter of his fellow teachers with lots of great ideas and patience for his colleagues as well as his students.

I won’t bore you any further with introductions; over to Richard!

The Standard 5 Questions

1.  If your students were to describe you with 3 adjectives, what would they be?

I would like to think they would say passionate, patient and supportive. Maybe optimistic too?

2.  What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Half a giant watermelon. I’ve been helping my friend down at his allotment here in Spain. It’s great because I learn about growing vegetables, a bit of Spanish culture and it saves me money at the same time!

3.  If you weren’t a teacher what might your profession be?

I originally trained and worked as a news journalist for 4 years and have always carried a passion for creative writing. Like many people, I think there is novel in me – I just haven’t been able to extract it quite yet.

4.  What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession?

This is a nice problem to have but I think as the teacher, you never stop learning new things. The challenge then is to find room for and assimilate all that knowledge as you go along, hopefully fine-tuning your craft as you go.

5.  What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

The last book I read was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book which I love to read again and again is What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson. It documents the real life accounts of 50 people from all walks of life and what they did when they faced this question at some stage in their lives. For me, it is a true work of art.

Extra Questions

6.  You and Lewis just finished writing a book together.  Why did you write it?

First and foremost we wrote IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills because as teachers of IELTS for many years we knew that there was a clear need for a step-by-step guide to the writing module. To our knowledge, this type of one-stop book simply does not exist. And I think another big reason was that Lewis and I share a lot of the same ideas about teaching and we felt it would be a good experience to work on a project such as this.

7.  Who is it for?

It’s for students wanting to develop their proficiency in writing in preparation for the IELTS exam, or for the teachers who are guiding them. We wanted to create a book which could be used as a self-study guide but also something which makes the difficult job of teaching IELTS writing more accessible for both novice teachers and those with more experience.

8.  Why are neither of you imparting your knowledge through twitter or a blog yet?

We’ve been too busy writing this book!!!   Actually, Lewis and I are ‘guest-blogging’ on Delta Publishing’s development blog from September until November so please have a look and tell us what you think. You can find the blog by following this link.

9.  What do you like to do to unwind?

Now that I’m living in Spain and pretty much fully immersed in the Spanish language and culture, I actually like nothing more than actually speaking English every once and a while because I don’t have to think about what verb ending to use or whether I should be using the subjunctive form. Joking aside, this experience is really helping me to gain a greater insight and respect for my learners and the challenges they face.

New York City (Picture from kylemccluer on Flickr)

10.  What’s your favourite place in the world?

New York City.  Unbelievable.

11.  What do you want to do in the next year and how can I help?

Live more in the moment. You can try it too and can compare notes.

Final Question

12.  Next time we see each other, whose round is it, what’s everyone having and where will we have it?

It’s definitely your round if I remember correctly, how about a glass of bubbly to celebrate the good times and as it’s your shout let’s go somewhere upmarket.  (Gordon – How about a picture of some champagne instead?)

Glasses of Bubbly (Picture from waldoj on Flickr)

Thanks to Richard for the interview and I look forward to seeing more of him and his work online (fingers crossed).  If you want to get IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills you can get it on Amazon or from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.

For more information from Lewis and Richard about the book, watch these videos:

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in IELTS, PLN Interview

 

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Grammar & IELTS Writing (Blog Recommendation)

In the introduction to my PLN interview with Lewis Richards a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Lewis hadn’t started blogging yet.  I was very pleased to see last week that this was no longer the case.  May this be the first of many from him!

Grammar & IELTS Writing by Lewis Richards on the Delta Publishing Blog.  A look at tailoring and improving English grammar for written assignments.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Grammar/Structure, Recommendations

 

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12 Angry Men: A Dramatic Activity Plan

The drama that can happen between a group of people in one room has always been of great interest to me; Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth and Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men to name but a few.* This last one, 12 Angry Men, was a movie with Henry Fonda in 1957.  In 1997 the film was remade, this time with Jack Lemmon in Fonda’s role.  Lemmon’s turn as Juror #8 was so well received that Ving Rhames, upon winning the Golden Globe that year, immediately invited Lemmon on stage and instead passed the award on to him!

The basic story of 12 Angry Men is simple: 12 members of a jury sit down to decide the verdict of a murder case, an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father.  So within the next 90 minutes (or 110 minutes depending on which version you watch) you witness the discussion, debate, arguments and reasoning of twelve men as they try to come to a unanimous decision: guilty or not guilty.

Drawing upon Alan Tait’s idea for bringing some drama into the classroom, I was quickly drawn to this story for a number of reasons.  Having 12 characters, it is easy to give out roles.  The topic of crime and punishment is often in the syllabus somewhere and acting out roles and rehearsing dialogue is a great, creative way to work on pronunciation and intonation.  Nonetheless, what I’m laying out here is for B2/C1 students or above.  I doubt that any lower level students would have the necessary vocabulary or listening abilities for such an activity to flourish and thus remain fun.

So this is how I would start…

The end and the beginning.  No, I’m not being cryptic, but I fully agree with Pablo Ponce de Leon’s point about stories and storytelling being a good activity to complete a unit, chapter, coursebook, topic, etc (see previous post).  The topic wouldn’t necessarily need to be about crime and punishment although that is one option.  If you take a look at the transcript dialogue (here’s the handout) there are a lot of phrases, question tags, etc, that would all be useful for a “small talk” activity.  So I would definitely use this activity with a high level class at the end of a unit.

As for where in the movie?  I’d start at the beginning: the first two scenes.  These are the courtroom scene and what I would call the ‘character introduction’ scene.

The Courtroom Scene

This scene sets the context, explains what is at stake and visually introduces the characters as well as the focus of the whole story, the accused.

Activity 1

Go over vocabulary the students will need to understand the first scene.  The list will probably go something like this:

murder in the first degree

case

pre-meditated

serious charge

tried in the court

testimony

at stake

verdict

unanimous

the bench

mandatory

Best to put these, jumbled up, on the board before the activity starts.  In pairs or small groups, get the students to write a list putting each of these into one of three columns: understand/might understand/don’t know.  Leave enough space on your board to write these three columns as well.

After a couple of minutes, get the students to tell you what they put where.  The key is to put as many of these phrases into the first column as possible and if this does not reflect the lists of all the students then they can get the explanations from each other.  To accomplish this, it’s best to ask something like “What do you have in the understand column?” and exhaust that before you move on.  See where the students take you.

Activity 2

Watch the courtroom scene.  Give the students the following watching activity before you start.

Put all of the words and phrases from Activity 1 into order as you hear them in the dialogue.

Again, let them collaborate with partners and watch it a couple of times.  This does a number of things.  It gets the students ears ‘warmed up’ for the next activity.  It also gets the students familiar with the characters they will be working with in the following scene.

After having reviewed the dialogue with each other and as a class, give them the handout to check against.  However, before watching the scene one more time with the students now having the transcript to follow, give them a new watching task.

Thoughtful, bored, sleepy, impatient, distracted, indifferent, angry, worried, scared.  Which of these words would you use to describe the jurors?

There are a few red herrings in that list (remember this is supposed to be a B2/C1 class) as I wouldn’t say that any of the jurors looked sleepy or scared; all the others are up for debate.  After watching one more time, get the students’ ideas about what they think about the characters.  This leads nicely on to the next scene.

The Character Introduction Scene

This scene is a series of short conversations as the characters first get into jury room.  This is an opportunity for the students to see if their initial assumptions about the jurors were right or wrong.

Activity 3

The students can follow the scene reading the dialogue (on the same handout already given out).  In fact it is probably a good idea to give the students 30 seconds or a minute to skim through the transcript and get familiar with it before watching.

Give the students this question just before they start watching.

Judging from the dialogue as well as attitude and intonation, do you think this jury believes the accused is guilty or not guilty?

It might seem like an obvious question, but it gets the students actively watching during the scene for pieces of dialogue as well as intonation.

The transcript falls about 2 minutes short of the first vote amongst the jurors but the students will probably be anxious to see that part, or at least they should be.  An obvious thing to do is to let the film run for an extra two minutes while getting the students to predict who will vote in what way.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that not everyone agrees 15 minutes into the movie. 😉

Activity 4

After watching through once, you can start to give out roles and get the students to start practising the mini-conversations in groups.  The teacher in the role of ‘bailiff’ keeps you in the activity but away from the important roles.  There are actually 12 speaking parts including the bailiff as Juror #9 spends this scene in the bathroom.

From this, you are on your own.  Switching up roles is a good idea to keep things fresh.  Moving around the groups and drilling short, important phrases to improve intonation and general fluency is also a good idea.  Phrases such as ‘give me a hand’, ‘what gets me is…’, ‘you know something…’ and ‘but if you ask me…’ are all short phrases that learners should acquire to improve their spoken English.  There are plenty of other phrases but it’s a good idea to know beforehand some specific phrases you want to draw their attention to.

Enjoy!

Notes

Where possible, I will usually put the English subtitles on in a movie or at least give my students that option, unless I have a specific reason not to.

For my activity plan, I’ve gone with the 1957 version.  There are a few benefits to this choice and one drawback.  Firstly, the drawback is that the 1957 movie is in black and white and unfortunately more and more people, especially young people, immediately disconnect when they see black and white.  This is an enormous shame as they miss out on amazing masterpieces like Ninotchka, Stalag 17, Arsenic and Old Lace, Some Like It Hot and a movie that will always make it into my Top 5, Beau Geste.  If you haven’t heard of or seen any of these movies then watch them and thank me later. 😉

However, I digress.  The benefits of working with Henry Fonda’s earlier version are as follows:

  1. In the 1997 version, the opening scene in the courtroom does not show close ups of each of the jurors.  Hence, my first prediction activity would go out of the window.
  2. The second scene in the 1957 version is slower (5m40s as opposed to 4m50s for the same scene in 1997).  The speaking itself isn’t much slower but there are more pauses, which your students will be grateful for.  The dialogue is also a little bit more precise with less elision and fewer contractions.  I’m not saying this last part is a good thing, but it leads me nicely to a follow-up activity.

Following up with the 1997 version

Having watched both versions of both of these scenes more than a couple of times now, I’d say that a brilliant way to follow up the activity, perhaps to finish off a long class or perhaps for another day, would be to show the 1997 scenes directly after showing the 1957 scenes (thus if done on another day you should show the 1957 scenes again first).  With this you could get the students to do a number of things:

  1. What differences in dialogue do you notice?
  2. What differences in character do you notice?
  3. Is it easy for the students to identify the characters again?
  4. Which version do you prefer?  Why?

You might even want to start off the whole thing, before Activity 1, by showing the 1997 courtroom scene first.  A newer, in-colour version might make the story more accessible and it would give your students a sense of achievement to recognize their improvement of comprehension between the beginning and the end of the activities (again, I recommend reading Alan Tait’s ‘zombie’ article).  Here is the handout for the 1997 transcript.

* A couple of other ‘one room’ dramas that are worth mentioning are Loring Mandel’s chilling Conspiracy and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s compelling God on Trial.  Both of these deal with the less-than-pleasant topic of the Nazi concentration camps during World War 2.  I’m not advocating using such heavy material with an English language class, but I think they are certainly worth watching.

AND

In doing a YouTube search for 12 Angry Men I managed to find the full movies.  I’m not sure how long they may stay on the site but here are the links.

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men (1997)

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Activities

 

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My PLN Interview with Lewis Richards, author of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills

I’m very pleased to finally accept the challenge laid out many months ago – interview someone in your PLN.  I present to you a guy who isn’t particularly active online… yet.  He doesn’t have a Twitter account and he doesn’t have his own blog… yet.  Hopefully we can change his mind about that soon because I know he’s got a lot of really great ideas to share.

I first met Lewis Richards in 2008 when I started teaching in Portsmouth, England.  With enormous patience, he showed me the ropes with regard to something I was going to have to start teaching soon called Eyelets, or Yelts, or IELTS or something like that. 😉  With another fine colleague of mine, Richard Brown, the two of them set themselves the goal of writing a coursebook.  IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills is the result.

So without further ado, I present a multi-talented Lewis Richards!

The Standard 5 Questions

1.  If your students were to describe you with 3 adjectives, what would they be?

Hopefully, passionate about teaching, fun, hard-working.  But I reckon some would also say strict!

2.  What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Not a lot.  Leftovers.  Rotting vegetables.  It’s lucky you can’t see it, really.  (Gordon – I know this can’t be true because Lewis is actually a very good cook!)

3.  If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

Hard to say, I’ve been teaching for so long, and enjoy it so much, that I can’t imagine anything else.  But I’ve always enjoyed writing, so maybe journalism.

4.  What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

It might sound cheesy, but I’ve enjoyed every class that I’ve taught.  But I did have a class a few years back in Moscow of total beginners, and a couple of the students couldn’t read or write in Russian, so it was quite tough to teach them English.  We had fun, but I’m not sure we made a great deal of progress.

5.  What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

At the moment, I’m reading Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’ – I only started reading his books recently, and I love his style and wit.  The book I re-read the most is Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, even the hundredth time around it makes me laugh out loud.  A work of genius.

Extra Questions

6.  You’ve just finished writing a book with Richard.  Why did you write it?

Well, both of us have taught IELTS for a long time, about 15 years between us, and we found that although there are lots of good IELTS books on the market, we couldn’t find a single book that made it easy to teach the writing to students.  So we ended up writing our own exercises and material, and over the years accumulated hundreds of our own exercises for the writing part of IELTS.  And it’s worked, our students have always done really well in IELTS, particularly in the writing, so we knew that we were on the right track.

A couple of years ago we thought to ourselves ‘well, why don’t we put all these ideas together into a book’, and so we did.  We hope it will be really useful for students, and help them to get a 6.5 or above in the writing, and also I think the book is great for IELTS teachers – because it contains everything that students need to get a good score, and it’s quite user-friendly, and hopefully easy to teach with.

7.  Who is it for?

We decided to write the book so that students can use it either as a self-study book, because we know that a lot of IELTS candidates just don’t have the time or maybe the money to go to a language school and do an IELTS course.  There are a lot of professional people, like nurses and doctors, who need a high score in IELTS, and have good English, but need help with the writing because it’s quite specialised and technical, but because they are working, they don’t really have time to spend a couple of months in a language school.  I’ve met lots of students who spoke fantastic English, and got a 7.5 or 8 in the speaking part, but couldn’t manage a high score in the writing, because they hadn’t had any training.  Our book will help those people.

Of course, it’s also designed to be used in the class with a teacher – and one of the things we think is really important about the book is that every single exercise in it has been tried out in class many times – so we know that the book works.  The aim in terms of a score, is a minimum of 6.5, hopefully more.  We also drew on our experience as IELTS writing examiners to show students what is required to get these kinds of scores.  One of the things we wanted to put into the book were some real pieces of writing by our students, with our comments and scores, so that students can see what a 7.0 answer, for example, looks like.  We hope that these will be really useful.

8.  Why are neither of you imparting your knowledge through twitter or a blog yet?

Well, just speaking for myself, I’m not very up with the latest technology, I’m more of a paper and pen man, but I know I should drag myself into the 21st century!

9.  What do you like to do to unwind?

I’m really into tennis, I play a few times a week, and find that a really good game gets rid of stress, and keeps me fit.  Beer helps too!

10.  What’s your favourite place in the world?

I think I’d have to say Paris.   Not especially for the landmarks, although it is of course an amazingly beautiful city, but because it was the first place I lived and worked abroad, when I was in my early 20s, and the excitement of learning a language and living in a new culture for the first time is something I’ll never forget.

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris (Photo from OliverN5 on Flickr)

11.  What do you want to do in the next year and how can I help?

There are several ideas for other books in the pipeline, but it’s a bit early to say exactly what at the moment.  But, probably some more writing, along with teaching, of course.  Feel free to keep talking about our books on your great website!

Final Question

12.  Next time we see each other, whose round is it, what’s everyone having and where will we have it?

Well, I think it’s definitely my round – you’re actually a rare Scot who’s very generous with money, so I’m sure I owe you a few!  Summertime, a nice cold beer, somewhere by the sea sounds perfect!

Looking forward to it! Photo from bovinity on Flickr

Thank you for the interview, Lewis.  I’m sure the book will be a great success and help many students around the world.  Here are the links to the various Amazon sites where the book is available nowIELTS Advantage: Writing Skills on Amazon UKAmazon FranceAmazon GermanyAmazon CanadaAmazon Austria and Amazon Japan.
For more information from Lewis and Richard about the book, watch these videos:

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in IELTS, PLN Interview, Recommendations

 

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Why I suck at storytelling… and what I need to do to fix it! (Reflections on the August 2011 ABS International Conference, pt 2)

If you clicked onto this page then you are probably interested in storytelling.  So am I.  I think stories in some form or another must represent a large majority of our day-to-day communication: what we did last night, what someone told us once, what you learned from your parents, what the boss told you to do 5 minutes ago.  Not all of these are stories of note, but they are stories nonetheless.

For this reason, I think storytelling is an incredibly important skill and one which learners are hungry to have in L2.

Unfortunately, I suck at it.  As it turns out, I simply didn’t know enough.

Pablo Ponce de Leon’s Talk at ABS

I was very grateful to Pablo Ponce de Leon for his seminar on digital storytelling at the ABS International Conference for ELT Managers and Directors of Studies last Saturday in Buenos Aires.  What I particularly loved was that he didn’t cover the hows and whys of digital storytelling (covered very competently in his handout) so much as the hows and whats of storytelling itself.

I’ve told my classes plenty of times, “Now I want you to write/make a story.”  I recently tried this creativity-heavy exercise myself and it’s really not that easy.  So this left me with a problem; I love stories and I believe they should figure prominently in a lot of our language teaching/learning but I have no confidence in myself to produce an even half-decent story.  We shouldn’t really ask of our students what we cannot do or don’t know how to do ourselves, so I was stuck – no storytelling.

Here are a few symptoms of poor storytelling abilities.  You will probably recognize these as reasons that storytelling activities sometimes fall flat in your class:

  • What should we write about, I don’t have any ideas.” (The infamous blank page!)
  • How many words should it be?” (Perhaps my favourite quote of the whole conference, paraphrased here, “Teenage students tend to see the word count like a prison sentence – counting down the words until they are finished.”)
  • I’m stuck.  I don’t know what to write next.
  • A boring and un-engaging story
  • A poorly structured story, with shifting focus and that is difficult to follow
  • A story with an abrupt, unsatisfying end
  • A story with no apparent end
  • A story with no details (something that reads like a police report)

So how do we fix this?

Like everything else new or challenging, the students need support and structure, in other words, scaffolding.  Like a new essay form, the students need to be aware of every paragraph’s structure, every sentence’s purpose.  That means we, as teachers, need to know this too.

If you pay close attention to Pablo’s case study, Toy Story, in the slides (see slides 14-16) you start to get a better idea about the structure of a modern movie plot.  The point being, and it’s a good one, that the three-act structure usually employed in a Hollywood movie is a familiar structure that is easy to relate to.  So from this we have our structure and quite honestly, I think there is a lot of mileage to be had in an English language class from just exploring, discovering, discussing and picking apart a movie’s structure.

To give you an example, I watched a few of my favourite movies (it was a tough job but someone had to do it).  I believe it is customary here to give a Spoiler Alert and say, if you haven’t seen these movies yet and don’t want to know what happens before you see them, don’t read further (or at least, don’t click for the bigger picture).

So how and where should we use this?

The recommendation for this was simple.  Digital storytelling works best as the end of something, a unit or level, as a way to give closure and to produce something creative.  What I also took from a sample video that was shown is that the grammar point doesn’t need to be complicated for digital storytelling projects to be worthwhile.  A slideshow of few pictures with some present simple narration, either text or voice, is a fantastic achievement for a low-level student (a visual family tree, for example).  We were also reminded that “the journey is as important as the destination” and that the process, of course, yields its own language learning opportunities.

A warning we were given was that student projects, if they are young learners, should not be made public, through youTube for example (of course youTube has privacy settings that still make it a viable way to share class videos).  There is a temptation to publicize the great work that our young learners do, but I couldn’t agree more with the speaker here – we have to be very careful what goes out into the public domain.

For a more creative project at higher levels, the following procedure was suggested (see slide 23): submit a story outline, go into preproduction, continue with production, finish off with post-production work and then take pride in your work during its presentation.  We were also given homework, again!  (I’ll learn from this because I haven’t been giving homework in my PD seminars.)  We were told to download Microsoft Photostory 3 and start playing around with it.  I’ve got to apologize to Pablo here and say, no, I haven’t downloaded and tried it out yet – but I’m about to move country so I’ve got a few other things on plate.  BUT, I will because apparently it is very easy to use.
Microsoft actually has a very detailed pdf, Digital Storytelling in the Classroom, that provides links to real examples of students work along with a step-by-step ‘how to’.
Pablo Ponce de Leon’s experience inside and outside of ELT, as a teacher as well as professional screenwriter/producer/director made his talk something really informative which answered a very simple yet difficult question: how to I tell a good story?  Even in Microsoft’s guide, the tendency in the activity plan is to simply say “identify the key elements, and arrange them into a beginning, a middle and an end” or “Collect/sort/decide which ideas to pursue”.  This is simply not enough scaffolding for students or their teachers, but now I will be far more confident to plan out and try not only a digital storytelling project but just a storytelling project with my students.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
You can follow Pablo on Twitter (@storybusiness), on his blog (HUX Consulting) or on his website (The Story Business).
Thanks Pablo!
 
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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Activities, Conferences, Recommendations, Review

 

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Wrong Side of the Bed (A Video Activity Plan)

This is an enjoyable little lesson activity that could really spice up the somewhat dull topic of morning routines.

  1. Elicit from the students English surrounding the topic of morning routines.  Get it up on the board.
  2. Get them thinking about whether every morning is exactly the same, whether every day is exactly the same.  They should soon be talking about good days and bad days.
  3. Ask the students if they can suggest what the phrase “Get up on the wrong side of the bed” might mean. (There are usually similar phrases in the students’ L1.)*
  4. Divide the students into pairs.  Arrange them so that the pairs are facing each other, with only one partner facing the board, or wherever you are going to display the movie.  You are probably familiar with this technique.  One partner will watch the movie and describe everything they see as they see it and the other partner has to write it down.
  5. Tell them they are going to watch a short video using a lot of the ‘morning routine’ vocabulary that they came up with.  The whole class will see the first 12 seconds.  This helps them to understand that the video is going to look at two alternative realities.
  6. Go through a practice run with the students describing to each other what they saw.
  7. Watch it again so the students can practise observing and describing at the same time as well as dictating the notes.  Get one half of the class to focus on the left story, the other half to focus on the right.
  8. Run through the video once.
  9. Get all the writers together to compare and build their notes.  Get all the speakers together for them to ask the teacher questions about specific vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.
  10. Run through the video a second time.
  11. Get the pairs to look over the notes together.  Can the watcher give any last help or piece of information?
  12. Get writers to read what they have.  Write up any errors you hear and open the floor to corrections. Also make sure to write up good phrases and chunks of language as well – never good to just focus on the mistakes.
  13. Get the whole class to watch the video.  (By this point the writers will want to see the video.)

* It would not be a waste of time to pay attention to these various counterpart L1 phrases.  Maybe get them on the board, or get the students to write it (or them, if there are multiple L1s).  A little bit of translation work to make the various phrases accessible would certainly help the students to remember it and if it is a multi-cultural/multi-lingual class there are obviously other benefits to students each taking a turn to present just a smidgeon of their culture.

Dramatic Finish (for those teachers brave enough and depending on your group)

The students are going to devise and act out their own ‘wrong side of the bed’ day.  But first, get one of the students to read this summary of the story out, one line at a time.  The teacher acts out these plot points.  The reason for this is to give a model and help students not feel so self-conscious.

  • The alarm goes off.
  • The man turns off the alarm… but accidentally breaks his glasses at the same time.
  • The man gets dressed… but trips over while putting his trousers on.
  • The man opens the curtains… but they fall off the rail.
  • The man makes some toast… but it is burnt.
  • The man washes his hands… but the water splashes all over him.
  • The man leaves his house… but his scarf is caught in the door.
  • The man is shouting at a homeless man… and his wallet is stolen.
  • The man wants to eat an apple on the way to work… but he forgot it.
  • The man is knocked down… but a lady helps him up.

While there is a temptation to pick all this English apart and analyze it with the class, your students can only assimilate a certain amount at one time.  Maybe just focus on the vocabulary or the use of ‘and’ and ‘but’, or a few phrases like ‘get dressed’, ‘open the curtains’, ‘on his way to…’.

So after this model acting, get the class into groups, give them some time to work on a ‘worst-case scenario’ morning of their own and make sure they have an actor and one or more narrators.  Float around the class now feeding in phrases and chunks as and when needed.

If you do this part, make sure you allow enough time for every group to perform!

Enjoy.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Activities

 

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Neil McMahon’s “Professionally Developing” (Reflections on the August 2011 ABS International Conference, pt 1)

I’ve just got back from my first conference this year. Disgraceful, I know, considering it’s already August!  Actually, I’m very lucky to have made it to this one, the ABS International Conference for ELT Managers and Directors of Studies, just before I return to Britain next month, thanks to colleague Celeste Batto. And I’m very glad I did made it because it gave me the opportunity to finally meet one of my digital PLN in person.

Neil McMahon has been part of my PLN for a while now and it was great to finally meet someone who, up to now, had just been a small box on Twitter.  Neil was giving a talk on professional development which I really appreciated and I’ll tell you why: it confirmed I am on the right track more or less, it gave me more information on course options available for further development, it filled in some gaps in my knowledge and it has given me some direction and focus for my next teaching project.

Before I go into any more details I’ll come clean and say that this post, a review of the talk, is actually homework given by Neil – yes, there was homework!  Homework #3: “share the ideas in the conference with your peers”.  If I’m completely honest, Neil, I was going to write this anyway but it’s good to know I’ve got your blessing. 🙂

So a lot of avenues for professional development were covered, all of which I won’t go into here but one in particular that piqued my interest was action research.

Action Research

Time being short we had to choose from the handout what we wanted to know about in more detail (a dogme presentation of sorts?).  Along with many other attendees I raised my hand for ‘action research’, mainly because I had a vague idea about what it might be but really was just guessing.

So boiled right down, action research is a project whereby one specific ingredient in the class is added or changed to see if it has a measurable positive effect.  This one change must be based on a specific hypothesis or question with the goal of proving or disproving it after a set period of time, like a month or a semester.  Here is a silly, basic example:

“Will the giving of a cookie to everyone who arrives on time improve the timekeeping of my students?”

Ideally you would have two groups in similar need of improvement, one is asked to improve timekeeping and rewarded with cookies, the other is just asked to improve timekeeping.  This second group is the control group and at the end of the month or however long you choose, the two groups are compared to measure for change.

So why do I like this?

Students tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end; the end coming in the form of a certificate, big exam, dramatic production, etc.  However, teachers often don’t have this end.  Even a new year is often a repeat of the previous year and new students still need to prepare for the same old exams in many cases.  However, something like an action research project can provide that arc and closure to a period of teaching.  It also turns the teacher back into a far more active learner of their profession.  It provides a wonderful opportunity to inject some enjoyment and interest back into your teaching, especially if you are tiring from doing the same level/course year in, year out.  On top of all this, such a project can provide a finished product to be shared with your peers for them to read, consume, consider and benefit from.

One other excellent point raised was that such research lends itself to closer work and collaboration with colleagues as one of you might teach the control group while the other does the experimental teaching, with collaborative assessment, review and write up.  I look forward to an opportunity to implement this soon.

Twitter, Blogs and PLN

It was reassuring when Neil moved onto this topic and highly recommended it.  I’ve been convinced of the benefits and opportunities afforded us by these amazing tools, but it’s always nice to hear someone else champion the cause as well.  He mentioned the recent online debate about EFL teachers as professionals or tradesman.  I’ve got to own up and say I missed that discussion but an idea put forward in the talk was that professional development was the tool by which we as teachers continue to improve, stay fresh and keep our work interesting, both for ourselves and for our learners.  I’m not sure if this really addresses the question of professional vs tradesman as both, if they are dedicated, will continue to actively grow and hone their skills.  Another suggestion I found on Twitter from Neil was this,

twitter is the realm of the tradesman, perhaps you need to blog to let your professionalism out?

It is here where I will put forward an idea of my own, which might be a little controversial.  Twitter, blogs and a virtual PLN are professional development for people who are serious about professional development (PD), those who only do the conferences and leave it at that are falling short of how much they could be developing.  Please don’t misunderstand me here.  I like conferences.  I enjoyed this one.  I think they have an important place in PD.  However, even Neil McMahon in his talk admitted that sometimes the most rewarding parts of a conference are the chats we have and the connections we make during the coffee breaks.  Well, those chats and connections are my digital PLN on Twitter and the blogosphere and I’ve loved every minute of it!  (Thank you to all of you!)

I think what puts people off further PD through a virtual PLN is how time consuming it can become.  “I just never have time.” is something I’ve heard far too often.  Further to this, there is no certificate awarded for 10 hours spent reading teaching blogs or for contributing and debating on #eltchat.  I find the idea of certificates for a conference somewhat ridiculous to be honest.*  I got one from this ABS conference and it probably won’t make it into my suitcase for my return to Britain.  Not because I didn’t value the conference, far from it, but the conference is the start of a chapter in my professional development, not the end, so a certificate to say “Congratulations, you started!” seems to be rewarding achievement before it’s happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed this seminar by Neil McMahon (check out his blog here, A Muse Amuses) and the whole conference in fact.  From the 15 pages or so of notes I’ve got plus a list of websites to get further handouts and view presentations again, I’ve got a lot to think about, consume and try out.  Thank you Neil and thank you Laura Lewin, coordinator of the event, for providing me with so many ideas to think about, organize and act on over the coming months of my teaching.

* I discussed this with a colleague of mine who informed me that career development and promotion for teachers in Argentina is based on a points system, these points being achieved by going to events such as these conferences or other extra-curricular activities.  Hence, the certificates act as necessary proof to aid career advancement.  OK, I understand the obsession over certificates that I’m seeing a little better now… however, I’m worried that it has moved the focus of PD from development of abilities to accumulation of certificates.

P.S.  Having read over my post I feel the need to make clear – this is definitely not an attack on conferences.  I’ll reiterate my point that Twitter, blogs and the virtual PLN define a teacher who is serious about professional development and that those who are only attending the odd conference and not following that up with one or all of these web tools are really kidding themselves.  This might seem harsh but I also reckon I’ll get away with it since anybody reading this blog, by definition, falls into my category of “serious about PD” 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Conferences, Reflections

 

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