Six rather strange "English" things

Six "English keys", according to the Spanish

It has been awhile since I’ve done a language list. I’ve had this at the back of my mind this list for some time. My father, who teaches French cultural studies at the University of Toronto, often does an exercise at the beginning of his course where he asks students to make a list of all the expressions with French in them (e.g. French toast, French kiss etc) and uses that as a starting point for examining attitudes towards the French in the English language.

For us as English teachers, what does English give us? Here are six “English” things, taken from three different languages that I think are curious.

1 An English rose (from the English language) not the name of a flower, this is an expression used to describe an attractive English woman with “an appearance traditionally thought to be typical of English women”. What could THAT mean? It makes me think of a pale-skinned rather fragile kind of person (maybe a bit like Keira Knightley in Atonement?).

2 An English muffin (from North American English) This is a kind of round, toasted bread thing. A bit like a crumpet, but more doughy. I can’t really explain it. It’s good for breakfast. I have not heard the expression in British English.

3 An English rubber (from French “capote anglaise”) the French slang for a condom. Could also be translated as an English hood or bonnet. Now, what does THAT say about the English from the French point of view?

4 To disappear like the English - (from French “filer à l’anglaise”) a French expression meaning to run away or disappear discreetly without telling anyone. To slope off or sneak off I guess.

5 An English key ( from Spanish llave inglesa) – A wrench. I don’t see what is English about this piece of hardware but there you go.

6 An English letter - (from Spanish letra inglesa) A sort of handwriting, a bit like italics but in a thicker font.

Now, I’m really interested. I speak French and Spanish, but are there any expressions in other languages that contain the word “English” and refer to something that does not necessarily have anything to do with England? Please post a comment and share.

Published in: | on May 4th, 2010 | 62 Comments »

Six lists that can greatly improve lesson planning

Right! We continue work here at Six Things by, erm, not continuing work but getting others to do it for us! Actually, I’m happy to have another repeat offender here, none other than Hall Houston a fellow teacher, blogger and author. Please check out his website and especially his book Provoking Thought, a collection of thinking activities for ELT (with some really nice ones on critical thinking). Here he shares some lesson planning ideas.

In a previous guest post by Vladimira Michalkova on the Six Things blog, the author suggested keeping multiple intelligences theory in mind when designing homework assignments in order to appeal to students with different needs and interests. As Vladimira put it, “Keep changing the style!”
This gave me the idea of assembling six lists for a similar purpose.

These lists could serve as…

* a reminder of the many things a lesson can contain
* a challenge to be more creative
* a gentle nudge to use a broader range of activities

There is some overlap between the lists, and there are probably many other lists that could be included here.

1. Four skills and Five systems
2. Three macrofunctions
3. Stimulus based teaching
4. Five senses
5. Seven (or maybe eleven) Multiple Intelligences
6. Higher order thinking skills

1. Focus on the basics – the four skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) and the five systems (structure, lexis, phonology, function, discourse). A good place to start.

2. Focus on macrofunctions – Michael Halliday’s list of three macrofunctions. These are social (for example, exchanging thoughts, opinions, feelings), service (for example, getting information from television, public announcements, or a newspaper and using it), and aesthetic (for example,  reading a poem or creating a webpage) This list can remind teachers to involve students in a wide range of functions to maximize language use.

3. Focus on adapting stimuli – Tessa Woodward’s unbeatable list of five steps for stimulus based learning. This list is recommended for teachers who want to put a little creativity into their lesson planning. Woodward describes five ways of adapting a stimulus (an object, a text, a podcast, a picture) to encourage language practice in class. These are: meeting the stimulus (introducing the stimulus to students), analysis (breaking the stimuli down to its basic elements), personalization (asking students to relate the stimulus to themselves in some way), alteration and transfer (making a change such as reducing, expanding, creating parallels or opposites), and creation (students make something such as a poster or recording). See Woodward’s Planning Lessons and Courses (P. 56-58) for more about stimulus-based learning including some examples.

4. Focus on the senses – vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. The first two relate directly to language through reading and listening, and indirectly through use of images and music. The other three provide more of a challenge to incorporate into a lesson. You can bring in realia, food and beverages for students to describe, but a more economical alternative would be to get students to use their imaginations to recall things appealing or unappealing to the senses.

5. Focus on intelligences – Howard Gardner’s Multiple intelligences theory –  The seven intelligences are visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical- rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. In addition, there are four more intelligences that are not widely accepted , but might make for some interesting lesson ideas – naturalist intelligence, spiritual intelligence, moral intelligence and existential intelligence.

6. Focus on thinking skills - Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation) can help with guiding students through different levels of thinking. The website www.in2edu.com has an easy to follow chart for ways to exploit Bloom’s Taxonomy in the classroom. (Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel)

So what’s missing? What lists would you recommend for other teachers? Post them here.

Published in: | on April 30th, 2010 | 15 Comments »

Six kinds of books on a language teacher's bookshelf

After a slight hiatus while I was in Harrogate for IATEFL and Russia for Macmillan conferences, business resumes here at Six Things. This week I am joined by Paola Lizares, a teacher based in Australia and a great story that could only happen in the ELT blogosphere. Paola was reorganizing her bookshelf and she discovered that she could neatly divide her books into six categories. She then did what any sane, self-respecting teacher and reader of this blog would do. She sent me a message asking to do a post about it! :-) Only too happy to oblige, I present you with the results of the experiment. And an invitation to share your reading lists at the end!

I was getting irritated by how messy and disorganized my bookshelf was looking, so I decided to sort out all of the books. Lo and behold, they can be classified into six different categories! Below is a description of the types of books I own, as well as some recommendations.

1. Language

Being a language teacher, I own quite a few books on the topic of language. I won’t focus on the Macmillans, Cambridges, Oxfords, Longmans, or Heinles; I’m sure you already know them. Instead, let me recommend a gem of a book entitled An Introduction to Language. It’s by Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams. I had to read this in first-year college, and it has provided me with more-than-basic knowledge in the different fields of linguistics, from phonetics to sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics or neurolinguistics. It is easy to understand and is illustrated with real comic strips (“For Better or for Worse,” “Family Circus,” “Dennis the Menace” to name but a few.) This book is a must for anyone with even a mild interest in the languages of the world.

2. Fiction

Are there any language teachers who don’t read fiction? Where I work, most teachers are extremely well read. I’m not going to recommend any novels because it would be pretty difficult to choose only one, but I can recommend a masterpiece which, again, is a must-have for anyone interested in culture: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Published in 1962 by Ingrid and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, it is an illustrated children’s book containing so much detailed information that it is an excellent way for adults to act blasé when they hear names such as Asclepius, Sisyphus or Jocasta.

This book has allowed me to explain to my students the etymology of words like ‘panic,’ ‘syringe,’ or the Bosphorus. I have also dictated passages to my students and used them as a basis to share myths and legends in a multicultural classroom setting. This video can be used in conjunction with the texts as listening practice.

3. Humor

When fiction gets too dense, it’s a good idea to liven up the classroom with some humorous texts. One funny writer is Christian Lander, who published Stuff White People Like. I have a signed copy of his book, which consists of a selection of his blog entries. Of course, you can find them on the Internet (www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com).

I’ve had my students go to the computer room to simply read as many of his blog entries as they can in twenty minutes, then I’ve had them choose their favorite three and talk to their partners about them. Then, we’ve had group feedback and we’ve discussed what exactly Lander means with the term ‘white people.’ Last of all, I’ve had my students write their own blog entry in a similar style, focusing on stuff people from their own country like. Interesting results!

4. Traveling

Most language teachers are well-traveled. This is evident in the high turnover in many language schools. I myself have lived in and traveled to quite a few countries; consequently, I have a nice collection of travel guides, my favorite ones being the Lonely Planet series.

I currently live in Brisbane, Australia, so let’s focus on The Lonely Planet Guide to Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. I might show my students the information concerning the tourist attractions closest to Brisbane. I might get them to skim through the information and make the best travel itineraries for a group of senior citizens, a group of 20 eighteen-year-olds, a couple on their honeymoon, and a family with three kids. This activity is by no means original; still, it’s highly practical and potentially fun.

5. Cooking

Of course, all teachers must eat to survive. That’s, in fact, the main reason why we teach, right?

One of my favorite cookbooks is called 4 Ingredients, by Kim McKosker and Rachel Bermingham. It was written for beginner cooks, so it has brought me up to the pre-intermediate level of cooking. Yoohoo!

It’s a compilation of recipes involving no more than four ingredients. Published in Australia, it has some interesting recipes like Vegemite Twists. I could force my students to eat that the next time they get uncontrollable. They hate Vegemite!

6. Self-help

Yup, every once and a while a language teacher has to deal with rowdy, rude, picky, gloomy, uncooperative students. Many a situation has made me feel utterly depressed. I manage to push through by keeping a mood diary, visiting Lindsay’s website, and reading self-help books.

A book that’s been published here in Australia but that you can surely order online is the excellent Change your Thinking by Sarah Edelman. It focuses on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which, from what I understand, is a psychological school of thought which helps people overcome depression, stress, fear, or anger by challenging their core beliefs. For example, if a student gives negative feedback, an oversensitive person might believe that that means that he’s a bad teacher, ergo, a bad and stupid person. In fact, that’s nothing but irrational thinking. The book has really helped me a lot, so do add it to your library!

That’s my list. What about you? Could your books be organized in the same way? Or is there a category that you would include and that isn’t on my list?

Published in: | on April 21st, 2010 | 37 Comments »

Six little changes in the grammar syllabus

Umm, not sure what this has to do with grammar but I liked the image!

The Grammar Syllabus. The favourite bugbear of teachers and students of English. Many argue that it is a monolith that dominates coursebooks, exercise books and indeed language teaching. There is an element of truth in this of course, and my feeling is that many readers of this blog dislike… no, a better word would be loathe… they loathe the grammar syllabus for many reasons.

As a materials writer I’ve had to look at grammar syllabi from all kinds of coursebooks and grammar books both old and new. What I wanted to highlight here are some of the small changes I’ve noticed in the mainstream syllabus over the past twenty years.

1 HAVE GOT

This used to be right near the beginning in an elementary book. I’ve written elsewhere about how annoying this was to teach, especially when it was sandwiched between present simple of TO BE and present simple in general. Interesting to note then that in many recent coursebooks HAVE GOT gets pushed much further back and we get to present simple more quickly. I think this is a good thing, as students can be perfectly understood just using “have” (e.g. I have two sisters. I don’t have a car.)

2. CONDITIONALS

For the past ten years various people have been rubbishing the idea that you can divide the conditionals neatly into 3 groups. Which is why you will see much of the new material talk more about hypothetical conditionals, or real and unreal conditionals and focus more on the meaning of would and past simple for hypothetical meaning. I know from experience that when (on a previous project I worked on) we tried to drop the words first conditional or second conditional there were howls of rage from teachers.

3. CAN for ability

Another elementary favourite: teaching CAN for ability as the first instance the learners meet it. This gives rise to all kinds of stuff like “Can you swim?”, “I can speak English”, “I can’t dance” etc. Nothing wrong with this, but I’ve started seeing CAN being presented first in the context of permission, not ability. With ability coming a lesson or two later. This comes from corpus research which suggests that can for permission (Can I sit here? You can’t use that door etc) is much more frequent.

4. PAST SIMPLE

I remember when I first taught past simple ever it was done like this. First you do the regular verbs (they are easier to explain), then negative and question forms, then the irregulars. Again, corpus work (and common sense too I think) has changed this. How to divide the past simple up over different lessons is still a huge minefield, but I am seeing more and more “first lessons” on the past simple that focus on high frequency verbs such as eat, go, see and so on. Which is more useful I think.

5. TIME EXPRESSIONS

A little while ago a book called Rules, Patterns and Words came out. It was written by David Willis and had lots of suggestions about grammar teaching, including teaching of tenses. One of the points that I took on board, and I think many other materials writers did too judging by what’s out there, was that of time expressions. In Willis’ words: the verb phrase is the primary means of expressing time relationships, but adverbials play an important part too, and it is worth relating particular classes of adverbial to the meanings carried by the verb. (p.181). So nowadays I think you’re far more likely to see teaching present continuous accompanied by teaching expressions like for the time being, for now, just now, at present and so on.

6. KEYWORDS and PATTERNS

Again, based on work done by John Sinclair, the Willis’s and more recently Scott Thornbury in Natural Grammar there has been a renewed interest in grammatical keywords and how they work. In fact, Natural Grammar is a best-seller among materials writers which is why we see more grammar sections that focus on one word, e.g. have, or would, or take and the associated patterns with them.

Have you noticed any changes in the grammar syllabus now and how it was when you started teaching? Please post a comment and share. However, please reserve any comments about how hateful, linear, boring, totalitarian, uncool and just undogme-atic the grammar syllabus is though, I’ll be trying to put together another post about this where you can do just that.

Published in: | on April 13th, 2010 | 19 Comments »

Andy Hockley's Six Ways to Survive the Crisis through Professional Development

I met Andy Hockley through Twitter and he has become an important member of my PLN (Personal Learning Network). Andy’s got a fun  sense of humour and a great passion for teacher development. His blog, From Teacher to Manager is, as the title suggests, all about managing teachers and has lots of interesting readable pieces on areas such as communication, leadership and feedback. Andy’s quite an expert on this, having also written a book by the same name available from Cambridge University Press. I had been hoping for a good list on the topic of professional development during these difficult economic times. And hey presto, here it is!

I’ll skip over the long introduction as to why professional development is a good thing, and assume we can take it as read. However, when times are hard, it can be one of the first things to get dropped off the budget (as many managers of language schools are only too painfully aware being providers of PD as well). But it’s very important to keep thinking about PD and how you can offer your teachers as much as possible – and it doesn’t have to involve a huge expense.  Here then are 6 ways of developing your teachers without breaking the bank:

1. Peer observation

Peer observation serves both observer and observed. Both can learn a lot from the process and as professional development opportunities go, it is, I suspect, one of the richest.  However, I know of some managers who’ve tried to institute a peer-observation programme and then later given up on it as being unworkable or ineffective. I’d argue that this is because it wasn’t set up properly or because there was a lack of purpose behind it. Peer observation needs work.  It needs to be clear to everyone why they’re doing it, and what the benefits are.  Above all people need to know how to do it.  People are rarely trained in observing lessons and in giving useful feedback afterwards (and on the flip side people are rarely trained in receiving feedback either!) .  I’d recommend working with the teaching staff to set up a scheme that works for everyone (and is clearly perceived as being entirely developmental and not in any way judgmental), and providing effective training in using the system and in observing and giving and receiving feedback.

2. Reflective Practice

Like peer observation, I think most teachers know the value of reflective practice, but like observation, many don’t really know how to do it. Provide some training in reflective practice, and follow some other ideas I listed here.

3. Online conferences

Attending conferences (and paying for teachers to attend them) can be a very expensive option, though it is, I’d argue, an extremely valuable one. If there is an ELT conference going on nearby to you, then I’d suggest taking the chance and getting as many people to attend as you can. If however this is not possible, these days it is increasingly possible to “attend” conferences online.  This weekend just gone for example, the huge and obviously excellent ISTEK conference in Istanbul was streamed online and provided many people with the opportunity to be involved without leaving their front rooms/offices/wherever people like to sit with their laptops. This post by Mark Andrews in Budapest is a great one about the experience of being part of ISTEK from afar. There is also of course the upcoming IATEFL conference which will also have an extremely high online presence.

4. The web (twitter/PLN/etc)

Mark’s post about ISTEK above also talks a lot about twitter and other ways of being involved and keeping in touch online. Personally I have found twitter to be an invaluable tool for keeping up to date with ideas, thoughts, articles, and above all people who can all help me develop. My PLN (personal learning network) has grown hugely since I got over my skepticism and really started getting involved. You can’t force teachers to go on twitter or other online communities (nings, blogs, etc), but you can make them aware of the benefits and possibilities out there

5. Outreach

Particularly for managers in “offshore” schools (that is schools which operate in countries where the first language isn’t English), outreach is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone – develop your teachers and be more a part of your community.  What I mean by outreach is to set up a regular ELT training session for local state sector English teachers. (Say on one or two Friday afternoons a month). The trainer is one of your teachers, and they choose what they want to train (or, better, you  come up with an arrangement whereby the local teachers specify what they’d be interested in learning about, and teachers agree to take on one of the sessions identified).  I’d go as far as to say that these sessions should be free. (The financial benefit to you is that those teachers who attend are more likely to recommend your school if a student or parent comes to them asking how they can improve their English outside class). The teachers who do the trainings get experience in doing teacher training, a very useful and marketable skill, and also through the act of preparing a session, end up really developing themselves in the area they have agreed to train. You have to be careful to ensure that there is no sense of condescending “we know better than you, let us teach you” in the advertising and training itself, but done well, this is an excellent way of getting professional development (As an aside, my first teacher training experiences were through such a programme, and I would say that it was possibly one of the most valuable forms of PD I ever got)

6. Performance management systems

That sounds a bit grandiose, so let me explain a bit. Most schools have an annual performance review/appraisal system, whereby the teacher meets with the DoS (or whoever) to  look over what they’ve achieved in the year and perhaps look forward a little (often there is a teacher observation as part of this process). It would be better to use this meeting as much more of a performance preview – allowing the teacher to talk about what they would like to learn in the upcoming year, and such that both parties can discuss options to that end. This could result in something relatively inexpensive – like that teacher taking their first business English course in the upcoming year (with support of course!) or less so – like that teacher attending a training course or international conference or doing the DELTA etc etc.  But the point is, that it is a discussion, and one in which the teacher feels valued, listened to, and like their development is important.

The 6 things limitation means I haven’t touched upon other ideas like mentoring and coaching, for example, but I think this provides a good list of ideas that you can use to get teachers developing.

The crucial thing is to get people involved in their own professional development, and make sure that they know the possibilities. It’s true you can’t make the horse that you lead to the water drink, but can you make it thirsty?

Published in: | on April 4th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Six regrettable tweets

First of all, in case you are wondering what on earth a tweet is, then please read about Twitter here.

Six regrettable tweets? Or should it be six regretful tweets? Either way, these tweets got me thinking “oh no…” as soon as they went out. At least one of my followers on twitter has threatened to save them (and use them in a presentation, the horror!) so I thought I’d better take ownership now.

I include the context for each of these, and what happened afterwards. Tweeters old and new, take note! Do not repeat these kinds of things! :-)

1. The Tart

The Tweet: “I will gladly sign @dudeneyge, @kenwilsonlondon or anyone else’s book if asked. I’m a bit of a tart like that. :-)

The Context: I had done a blog posting on things that authors didn’t want to hear, where I had mentioned that I had been asked to sign books by other people. My reference to this, and the “tart” bit, had my followers chuckling away and challenging me to explain myself.

2. The Hangover

The Tweet: “I’m gonna start working on tomorrow’s hangover in, oh, about 90 minutes from now.”

The Context: The night of the ELTon awards, I’m sitting in my hotel room cooling my heels and getting ready to go out. I’m tweeting away and someone asks me if I aim on having a hangover the next day. My answer above is the kind of thing they warn you about on social networking. Have I tweeted myself out of a future job I wonder?

3. Terrible Commercial Tweeting

The Tweet: “We designed Global to be just the right size to prop up computers, keep doors ajar, balance wonky tables. 3 more reasons to buy!”

The Context: Gavin Dudeney had been making comments about the use of a book to prop up his laptop, and never one to miss a trick I started trumpeting the use of Global for such a purpose. This tweet sounds rather pleading, desperate even. Not at all the confident author image I’m sure my publisher wants me to emit.

4. Tweeting sound effects

The Tweet: “Ok, try this then. Sssss…. here I coooome…. Deathhhh…. I am heeere… (sound of shuffling, and snorting)”

The Context: I had subtitled a clip from the Seventh Seal about twitter (The Seventh Tweet, which for some reason is no longer available!) and people were asking if I were Death in the clip. So I started trying to sound like death. Did my followers laugh about this and tease me? Hell yes. I’ve also tried to tweet evil laughter once (mwhah mwhah!). Ken Wilson dryly commented that it read more like an air kiss, not evil laughter. Note to self – don’t do sound effects on twitter.

5. The albino massage

The Tweet: “This morning’s adventure. Trip to Turkish baths in Budapest. Broiled myself in steam room. Had massage by rather scary giant albino.”

The Context: I was in Budapest for a conference and EVERYBODY told me I should go to the Turkish baths. I did, and tweeted about it afterwards. My followers (vultures more like it) had an absolute field day with this. Hoots of laughter and replies like “send a twit pic!” If I ever go back there, I’m not telling anyone.

6. The Buyme Tweets

The Tweets: “Dogme Vow of Chastity vs #Buyme Vow of Hedonism. Which sounds more fun? Whose end of year party who you go to? ;-) followed by “Subtext of Dogme: poor is good. Subtext of #Buyme: more is good.” and “#Buyme demands instant salary rises for all teachers. Absolutely necessary for consumption to rise.

The Context: After a few glasses of wine on a Sunday I got onto twitter. I wanted to do my first ever hashtag. But about what? I had been reading about dogme recently, and thought I would launch a counter attack! All good, except nobody was really listening. Only Gavin Dudeney, who kindly said that he thought I was the only one laughing at my own joke (a twitter smackdown, in other words). Shelley Terrell has informed me that this kind of tweeting is sometimes called Dweeting (tweeting when drunk, or after drinks)

Has anyone else had bad tweet experiences? Post a comment, if you dare…

Published in: | on March 30th, 2010 | 14 Comments »

Six ideas and tips for homework

The other day I received a message from a teacher in Slovakia I’m in touch with on Twitter. Her name is Vladimira Michalkova, and she asked me why I didn’t have something on homework on this blog. It’s a very good question, as I have written quite a bit on homework in a book that came out a few years ago. But Vladimira was also interested in starting her own blog, so I suggested that there was no better way to launch your own thing than by posting on someone else’s! Plus it means I get another guest post. Without further ado, here are Vladimira’s six ideas for more successful homework. Enjoy!

There are several reasons why our students reject (or deliberately forget to do) their homework. If you are teaching adults who are happy to save their time for your lesson, you more or less do not even expect them to spend hours with their homework. So why don’t they do homework? I suggest three reasons.

• Lack of time

• Not interested enough to open the book or notebook (lack of motivation)

• Monotonous exercises (tasks not meaningful or relevant )

When designing or setting the homework, try to keep in mind that one kind of activity does not have to fit the needs and interests of all your students. You can’t avoid that, but keep changing the style! Things I keep in mind are 1) Multiple intelligences theory (logic, visual, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal… not only “fill in the gaps”-type activities) 2) Avoiding complicated instructions 3) Relating it to real life.

And here comes the list of my favourite homework tasks:

1. DO WHAT YOU USUALLY DO – IN ENGLISH (read your horoscope, crossword, quiz, read the morning news online, make notes on your shopping list). Students are supposed to either keep track of their use of English or recap orally in the next lesson.

2. CHALLENGE – give them a riddle, race or puzzle to solve for the next lesson. I tend to award my students (even adults!) with stickers (“Well done!” and this sort of thing). Dogs are trained best when you count on their curiosity. And so are we .

3. BROWSE THE WEB – send your students a link to something interesting, provocative, awakening or entertaining on the internet. Work with headlines, brief news, videos or anything they can manage during their coffee break. Ask for their opinion, comment or specific task. I ask my students to reply to my emails. On Thanksgiving Day, I sent my students a link to the following video. Their task was to remember at least ten out of 50 things mentioned. I was really pleased to hear that they watched it several times to understand more than 10 things. I knew that it’s not difficult to recognize 10 things but asking for 50 could have been de-motivating for some of them. I Avoid traditional project works that are usually pretty time-consuming and result in copying of texts from the internet.

4. ENGLISH AT HOME – we usually work with English materials and forgot about the vast range of sources of material in the mother language of our students. Try doing things vice versa. Do you have a favourite song in your language? Try to translate it! Are you watching new dubbed episode of C.S.I. Miami or your daily soap opera? Sacrifice few minutes and translate the dialogues simultaneously in your head or aloud (if alone at home). Have you bought a product with instructions only in your mother tongue? Translate or create a new label for it in English.

5. I SPEND MY TIME ON IT ANYWAY – do what you like to do in English – it is usually connected with watching TV, reading books or newspapers. It is an easy, painless way of learning that creates associations. I love watching Sci-Fi TV series and even though I learn pretty useless words like Warp drive or Roger that! , I keep learning many slang phrases and very common expressions. Many of my students love watching the Discovery Channel because there is always something interesting. They can watch short episodes on YouTube as well, see here for example.

6. KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR FINDINGS – however, it is necessary that your students report back on what they’ve done every week or so. You can choose to do it in the form of a warm up group discussion or through writing. My students write diaries. They are allowed to write anything there, but there is a condition that they must at least write something by the next lesson. They can write down their notes on any of the above-mentioned tasks or just write their reflections from the day. It is up to them what they choose but they know they have to keep a record of their progress.

Finally, ALWAYS FINISH WITH FEEDBACK – the golden rule of feedback is MEDAL AND MISSION (give praise and set a new task, to work on their weaknesses).

There you go! Six nice little ideas for homework. For more from Vladimira, please go check out her blog My English.

Published in: | on March 22nd, 2010 | 8 Comments »

The other day I was browsing through the Oscar nominees (as usual in Spain I’ve hardly heard of half of the films as they are usually just coming out) and I remembered all of a sudden some activities I had done with film titles in the past. Thought I would share here…

1 Title jumble. Write the words of several film titles all jumbled up on the board. Students must try and put them back into titles. For example, can you find the film titles in the words below? Good for work on lexical chunks actually.

hurt the locker air up in the education an this it is

2 Pattern analysis. In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book Natural Grammar he shows how keywords of English help build understanding of the language. On of his exercises focuses on the keyword “of” in noun phrases for film titles. Think about it, there are an awful lot of phrases like that (two in the last two sentences in fact). Gather a group of them, split them in half, and get students to put the halves together using “of the”.

List A: Lord / Planet / Return / The Silence etc.

List B: the Apes / the Jedi / the Lambs / the Rings

3 Translations. Compare how they are translated into other languages. Ask students to research films that have  a different title in their language to the English title (this could be English films translated into their language, or vice versa). They should bring these to class and compare the titles. For some reason my students (and I) have always found it really interesting to know how titles get changed. Did you know the Hurt Locker in Spanish is “En Tierra Hostil” (In Enemy Territory) and in French is “Mineurs”

4 Work with synopses. Get a bunch of film titles and short synopses (from imdb.com for instance). Ask students to match the film title to its synopsis. Students then write alternate titles for the films and compare.

5 Have a laugh with them. Find a film title generator and you or your students create funny film titles. My favourite currently is this one (It’s an Action Film Title Generator. The last three I got were: Extreme Overkill, Fist of Retaliation and Triple Justice. I’d love to get students to write the synopsis for one of these! There is also, for the higher levels perhaps, the following Movie Title Puns Competition which is good for a groan.

6 Work on idioms. Many film titles use an idiom or fixed expression. Ask your students to find (in their coursebook or dictionary) examples of expressions that they have recently learnt. They must then imagine one of these is a title of the next Oscar-winning film. They must write a thirty word synopsis for the film. It’s best if they have already seen some examples of film synopses to give them examples of the genre.

Have any of you done activities with film titles? Feel free to share…

Six ELT book mashups

WARNING: THIS POST IS RATHER SILLY!

An example of a "big hit" mash-up from the UK

A mashup is a mix between two different styles. When I was last in the UK I saw the book pictured above: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It proclaims itself as a mashup of the classic Jane Austen story with elements of the modern horror genre. It has quickly become a hit in England, spawning many others (e.g. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). Could this work with our favourite ELT manuals, I wondered? Never one to balk at a challenge, I set up about experimenting with six of them picked off my shelf. Basically taking a paragraph verbatim and adapting it with elements of the modern horror genre. The result is very silly, and you can see it below.

1. The Practice of Alien Abductions 4th edition by J. Harmer

In a few days (as I write this) I will be going to a large alien abduction conference in the USA which has the title Tides of Change. A couple of weeks after that it’s Poland and a weekend called ‘New challenges for alien abductees in a changing world’; and then there’s a ‘changes’ conference somewhere else, and then it’s off to another country for a conference on… changes and how to deal with them!

2. Zombie Defense that Works by P. Ur

One conventional way of doing this is the “conversation class”, where a group of zombies sit down with the teacher – a native speaker if they are lucky – and are required to talk with her. This often degenerates into a more or less aggressive session of the I-want-to-eat-your-brains-oh-no-you-don’t variety, monopolized by a minority of particularly quick and strong zombies.

3. Vampire-Hunter Games by M. Rinvolucri

I simply ask trainee vampire-hunters to write down three weapons and three vampire-killing methods they like and three they don’t. Trainees then come to the board and write or draw their ideas under two headings. NICE and UGH. Example: A French vampire hunter who had reached an intermediate level of undead-slaying said she really like garlic as a method because it gave her a strong feeling of her mother’s cooking. She did not like using the wooden stake through the heart method because it seemed ridiculous and she often got it wrong.

4. Conducting Exorcisms with technology by G. Dudeney and N. Hockly

Technology in exorcism is not new. Indeed, technology has been around in exorcism for decades – one might argue for centuries, if we classify holy water and a wooden cross as a form of technology.

5. Dealing with Difficult Sea Monsters by L. Prodromou and L. Clandfield

We have often felt that innovative methodologies – communicative, task-based and humanistic – fall, and often fail, on the wet and soggy ground of situations where sailors and sea monsters lack motivation. This book is a response to sailors who feel like giving up on sea monsters, often quite understandably, for the sake of their own peace of mind.

6. Keep Running: Werewolf avoidance activities by F. Klippel

Since werewolf avoidance teaching should help students achieve some kind of survival skill, all situations in which a real werewolf arrives should naturally have to be taken advantage of and many more suitable ones have to be created.

Hm. That was extremely silly. Well, I’ve got it off my chest now and can get back to “serious” writing. Of course, if any of you wish to contribute your own ELT-horror manual mashup below please go ahead!

Published in: | on March 13th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Six jobs in ELT publishing

Feeling tired of teaching? Fancy a change but don’t want to abandon ELT altogether? Many people I know who have felt this way have been drawn to the world of ELT publishing. Publishers are often on the lookout for good teachers for a variety of jobs. Here are six, in order of relative ease of entry/importance. I’ve included a brief suggestion on how to get such a job, and the down side (there is always a down side to every job!)

1 Reader – When a new book is being written, the first draft is often sent out to different readers for feedback. Writing a report involves reading a manuscript closely and answering a series of questions that you are asked about it. One usually has a couple of weeks to do this, and you are paid a small fee and get a mention in the front of the book when (and if) it’s published. OK, so you can’t live off of just being a reader but it gives you an insight, even if only slightly, into the business.

How to get this job: contact a publisher whose work you know (e.g. whose books you have used) and ask if they need any readers. You may not get a response right away. For this job you only need experience as a teacher (the more the better).The down side: there is not a lot of this kind of work around, the fee can be quite small

2 Teacher trainer – Publishers often host training events to publicize their books, and are always on the lookout for teacher trainers. You would be expected to give a workshop or talk on an aspect of methodology, often using a specific book of the publisher’s to illustrate examples of what you are talking about. This is also a fee-based job, but it sometimes involves travelling to different cities (and in some cases, abroad) and they often take quite good care of you. It would be quite hard to do this full-time, but it’s an interesting extra.

How to get this job: contact a publisher who you know does local events and submit a CV. Note: it’s best if you have had some teacher training experience (e.g. giving workshops at your school at the very least). The down side: You may be asked to give a presentation or workshop based around a book that you don’t really like, but this is not that common.

3 Sales representative - This involves working directly for the publisher and travelling around a country or area visiting schools and teachers and well, basically selling books. It’s always preferable if the sales representative is a former teacher, as he/she will understand more what people look for or avoid in books. This is a full-time job.

How to get this job: contact a publisher who you would like to work for and submit a CV, or keep an eye out in the paper for such a job (they are often advertised) You will need to be able to drive most likely for this kind of work, and it helps if you’ve had experience selling in another field (but not essential). You would get trained. The down side: Expect to spend lots of time in a car, travelling around and carrying loads of books to and from places.

4 Editor – Where would books be without editors? There are different kinds of editors, but the first starting point is usually that of copy editor. This involves checking the work before it goes to print, getting a manuscript ready for design (that means formatting it in a certain way). You need patience and a good eye for the work of an editor. There are also content editors (working more on the content and ideas of the material itself) and commissioning editors (see below). This can be a full-time job, although many people freelance.

How to get this job: These positions are advertised in the newspaper, but you could always put feelers out. You should have a keen eye for spotting typos and stuff like that. You would get trained in the specifics. The down side: Can feel endless and tiresome at times, or lonely if you are not working in an office. Deadlines are hell, and they must be met.

5 Commissioning editor – This is the person who commissions authors for a project. They coordinate different aspects of the project and are in touch with everyone involved. They often have to go out into the markets and do research at the beginning of a project. They work quite closely with the authors as well.

How to get this job: This job is usually obtained by working your way up within  a publishing house. You need good organisational skills, and experience already as an editor. It can be very satisfying to see a project through though. The down side: Stress of having to meet deadlines, juggle a million different things and the horrible feeling that if things go wrong then it was on YOUR watch.

6 Publisher The one who calls the shots. The person with the budget and the power to decide ultimately what will be made into a book. The person with the responsibility. This is almost the top of the publishing ladder, after which you get into the senior management positions and CEO’s and stuff. Publishers oversee a whole series of projects and have the different commissioning editors responding to them. An office job.

How to get this job: You have to work your way up for this one, and it usually involves changing publishing houses at least once before you get here. You will need experience in many of the other aspects, at least as commissioning editor in many cases. The down side: the stress is very high, the work hours can be very long and almost all the publishers I know have to travel an awful lot for research purposes. But that’s the price one pays for being at (or very near) the top!

As usual I can only choose six so apologies if you are in publishing and I’ve missed out YOUR job. However, if anyone wishes to elaborate, correct or give more of an insider view on any of these jobs then please do in the comments!

Published in: | on March 6th, 2010 | 10 Comments »