Showing posts with label studentproduction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label studentproduction. Show all posts

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Teens 6 Magazine Project

Making writing exciting

Whenever I get to a writing lesson, I picture my students complaining and moaning about having to write anything. It’s almost as if they had a radar that indicated “boring activity ahead”. These are, thus, the lessons that intrigue me the most just for the challenge of changing that regular pattern.

DSC06109.JPGTo do so, I am always reflecting on how relevant and interesting the writing can be for my young teenage students. The formula is not so hard: just take the genre of the piece of writing into account and think about how it could be applied to their realities. That is basically what I did for my Teens 6 group. Writing news reports was the goal, so I decided to take my students from the role of students to the role of reporters.

The students were obviously excited with the idea of becoming reporters and writing a story. The idea was that they would gather in pairs or trios and would each be assigned a certain page of our class magazine. Once I had a Google slide template of the magazine prepared and ready to be accessed through a shortened link (, I instructed my students and took them to the Resource Centre to make it happen.

DSC06129.JPGI had to do it in two classes. The first attempt wasn’t so good because some of my students messed around and interfered in other students’ slides. In the following class, I told them off and told them that they would be given a last chance to finish their reports. I also said that those who didn’t finish would have their pages taken out of the magazine. That gave them some encouragement. On the second day, then, they worked a lot better and behaved as expected.

After joining forces with the Resource Centre at the Main Branch, the magazine was printed out and the students were able to have their own copies. The gleam in my students’ eyes when they saw the magazines I had brought paid off all the effort and struggle I described in the previous paragraph.

Maybe a magazine project cannot be carried out every semester, but something we can definitely do is plan our lessons every day wondering whether they will bore our students or excite them. Bearing that in mind and having some deal of willingness, we will be able to come up with many other ideas that can surprise our students and make a difference in their lives.

Lucas G. Silva

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pairwork Activities - If Students Aren´t Sharing, They are Not Pairing

What is a “pair”? The American Heritage dictionary begins its definition of this word by calling it “Two corresponding persons or items similar in form or function”. 

_1030187 15/12: Ceci & MarianoFor the purpose of language teaching or any other kind of teaching, for that matter, the “corresponding” aspect is of the greatest pertinence. A moment comes in a great many lesson plans when the teacher thinks, for example, “OK, we’ve gotten through inductively figuring out how the present perfect is different from the past tense. Check. We’ve engaged in a spate of mental gymnastics filling in blanks in a series of PPT sentences. Aha! Used a technological resource. Check. Looked at lines of prose and eliciting individually in a crisscross pattern among students sitting in a U-shape that facilitates eye contact and intelligible oral exchanges…. decided which sentences contain the present perfect tense and why that tense was used in those situations. Check. Now it must be time for pairwork. Right. So the students are given the assignment to work in pairs on exercise B on page 46 of their textbook. Right timing; ineffective strategy. If the students are naturally gregarious, they will do the exercise collaboratively, or at least verify whether their responses match. But, was there anything about the exercise which necessitated a joint exchange, mutual input, utterance and response? If the answer is “no”, then you don’t have pairwork; you have two individuals sitting side by side engaged in a similar task which can be carried out without the “correspondence” of two people who depend on each other’s contributions to achieve a requested result. 

The following are a few examples of textbook-type set-ups that result in genuine pairwork.
Two students have cue cards which indicate the direction a question & answer exchange might take:  Policeman vs person suspected of automobile theft.   
              P:    for the past three hours
              T:    shopping mall
              P:    own the car you are driving
             T:    two years                                     

Students receive A & B dialog cards to practice role-play situations which include the structure or vocabulary in focus and which can be sequentially shared whole-class; these varied dialogs can also be rotated from pair to pair in closely timed progression.

Two students exchange comments on the ways in which a city has changed in the past few years, the ways in which parental rules have been modified, the changes that have taken place in common domestic technology.
Students pair up to ask and answer questions which will result in the creation of an ID profile card which can then be shared with the rest of the group. Ex: Where have you lived, worked, studied, traveled – etc – in the last two years?

 Variations of these possibilities are as infinite as our general inclination to communicate, and can be found by way of multiple resources, including – most probably – the textbooks you are currently using. But awareness is key in your inclusion of pairwork in your lesson plan:  as regards your students, if they’re not sharing, they’re not pairing. 

Katy Cox

Monday, September 09, 2013

Teacher Talking Quality

Robert O’Neill has questioned a basic idea of EFL teaching that too much teacher talk is bad and therefore more 'student talk' can be achieved by reducing teacher talking time. In contrast, he introduces the idea of teacher talking quality; it’s not the time the teacher spends talking, but the quality of the teacher’s talk*. O’Neill certainly makes a valid point, yet it requires further elaboration.
First, the idea that decreasing teacher talking time (TTT) will increase student talking time (STT) needs to be addressed. One can imagine a teacher doing various things, e.g., telling stories, partaking in speaking activities, and giving instructions. Should a teacher avoid talking when it comes to piquing students’ interest; relaying some culturally relevant anecdotes; explaining how an activity is going to work?  I don’t see how a seasoned teacher could argue that TTT should be avoided when it comes to these situations.  TTT versus STT becomes important when considering speech which does not result in student learning. Such speech from teachers would therefore be lacking in quality and efficiency, but what does that look like?
STT and TTT have to do with time, which is easily measured. O’Neill has proposed the acronym TTQ (teacher talking quality). Quality in comparison to time is not quite as objective, which is why I believe the discussion of TTT x STT seems to be a recurrent theme in TEFL.  That’s not to say that quality can’t be measured. One could design a rubric for scoring the quality of teacher talk just as we’ve developed a scoring rubric for the writing assignments we give to our students. This TTT rubric should give points to a teacher who uses elicitation, gives practical and clear explanations, checks for understanding by asking concept questions, allows students to be responsible for their self-directing their speech, organizes students into speaking pairs or groups, and tolerates silence long enough to give students time to formulate a response. Likewise, this TTT rubric should take points away for a teacher who speaks for many minutes without elicitation, gives explanations full of terminology, transitions to an activity without first asking questions that check student comprehension, controls or dominates discussion to the point where students have limited involvement in the learning process, or impatiently reinitiates talk without giving students time to process so as to formulate a proper response.
Above all, teachers need to be humanistic and understand that although silence can be used as a technique in specific instances (allowing the student time to find their words), being silent all the time is not natural and doesn’t cater to everyone’s learning needs. Students who seek clarification or wish to share their experiences with the class should be welcomed with a warm response from the teacher. In fact, teacher talk can include current issues in comparison to dated textbooks or audio, disseminate relevant content, and fine-tune language to a level that is readily comprehensible based on that student’s level of language development. We also can’t forget that the teacher’s English is a source of input for our students to process both consciously and unconsciously.
 To summarize, it’s safe to say that there are some strong points to O’Neill’s argument for TTQ. When TTT is dry and monotonous, void of elicitation, or needlessly complicated, it becomes obvious why TTQ is so crucial.  That is not to say that TTT shouldn’t be limited at times when students are capable of some learner autonomy; they can guide their own discussions, which both further involves students in the learning process and develops their speaking skills when it comes to turn-taking or discovering the meaning of vocabulary or grammar rules for themselves. English classes can’t be all about the vocabulary and grammar, however.  Teacher talk is needed to build rapport with our students so that they not only learn the language but are given opportunities to use the language in ways that are meaningful and humanistic. In the end, it bodes well for the teacher who recognizes when it is necessary and not necessary to talk during class, duly combined with the idea that when TTT is warranted, it is done with our students’ learning needs in mind.

*Robert O'Neill – IATEFL, April 2004

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thinking about Assessment - Part 2

THINKING ABOUT ASSESSMENT (part 2) – A follow-up on Thinking About Assessment… Again)

Having decided that we were going to pilot the alternative assessment program, we had to inform students of our plans, and listen to what they had to say about it. We were ready to “abort the mission” in case of rejection. They accepted it with no reservations. Still, it was to my surprise that, at the end of the first lesson, one of them came to me and said (in L1, of course, as this is the beginner group) “See you next class… but you will only see me because you told us we won’t have to take that final test.” It took me a couple of seconds to grasp the meaning of what she was telling me. She went on: “I’m too old to suffer with tests. In my life, I’ve taken all the tests I needed to take… Now, I’m interested in learning!”
And that was what we needed to know that we were on the right path. The focus had naturally shifted from teaching and testing to learning. The learners had assumed their rightful place at center stage, taking control of the process. “Now, I’m interested in learning!
Lately I’ve been following Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener’s blog on ‘Demand-HighTeaching, and two of their questions really hit a nerve: How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning? How can I shift my attention from “successful task “to “optimal learning”? Well, this was exactly what we wanted to explore in our “assessment quest”.
Anyway, back to my tale to tell… After the first evaluation of their oral performance, we decided to give them a weekly “assessment opportunity”. On week 4(of 10), the focus was “Listening”.
In the past we had been cautious of venturing into evaluating the listening skills with the adult groups. Adults are afraid of listening, terrified by its unexpectedness,   petrified by the possibility of failure.  Adults are interesting language learners; they bring a whole lot of baggage with them:
  • Their beliefs, more often than not tainted by their previous language learning experience – usually their formal learning of the mother tongue (which they had already acquired in their childhood), with the grammar exercises, linguistic analysis, etc.
  • Their personal history. Your student is most likely a self-respecting human being, a skillful professional, someone who undoubtedly has a lot to teach you, who can tell a number of success stories, and learning English is not one. At least not yet. 
  • Their needs and expectations:  They ‘ve come to us because they want to be part of the world who can speak English. That is the question, isn’t it? “Do you speak English?” or “Can you speak English?” 
These learners, more than any other language learner, need to be able to speak, to communicate effectively! Well, communication implies a message that is sent and, consequently, received: Listening! How can we ever assess language learning without analyzing listening?  If they don’t understand what is said to them, how can they respond?
 Anyway, assessing their Listening skills, after no more than 12 (twelve) classroom hours, for most of them twelve contact hours. How do you do it? Preferably without any extraordinary acrobatic feat, just keeping it simple and structured, with the appropriate scaffolding, and making sure that the lesson is designed focused on enabling optimal learning, while providing you – teacher – an opportunity to assess whether the goals have  been achieved, and how far they have been developed.    
Here is the step by step:
1. We had previously explored the following exponents:
  • What’s his/her name?  His/Her name is…
  • Where are you from? I’m from…
  • Where is he/she from?  He’s/She’s from…
  • Vocabulary: countries

2. On the second lesson, I showed them a PPT with international celebrities… At first I showed a photograph and asked the questions ‘What’s his name?’ and ‘Where is he from?’ (before revealing the name and the flag) Here are some samples:

3. After two or three samples, I invited the students to ask the questions: ‘X, ask Y.’
4. Then, they worked on their books, which brought an information gap activity. Both students had pictures of six people. One student had information on three of the people (names and countries of origin), while the other had to look at a different page, where they had information on the other three. The structure and vocabulary was very much the same as my PPT had prompted: What’s his/her name? Where is he/she from?
5. Next, they were asked to look at an incomplete dialogue – again from the book, and work in pairs to predict what was missing.
6. After a couple of minutes, I asked them to listen to the dialogue and check if they had made the correct choices.
 7. Just before giving them the listening task, I replayed a recording from the previous lesson, and they repeated the names of the countries.
8. Next, I gave them the worksheet with the following task:
They heard the following dialogues:

 Dialogue I
A: Hello! I’m Luis, from Mexico.
B: Hello, Luis. I’m Akemi, from Japan.
Dialogue II
C: Hello. My name’s Charles. What’s your name?
D: Hi, Charles. I’m Mike. I’m from the United States. Where are you from?
C: I’m from London, in England.
D: Oh, yeah? I’m from Chicago.
Dialogue III
E: Hi, I’m Loretta. I’m from Sydney, Australia.
F: Hi, Loretta. I’m Jason. I’m from Australia, too.
E: Oh, wow! Are you from Sydney?
F: No. I’m from Melbourne.
They were graded both on the correct country, and the correct spelling of the country’s name.
As you may have noticed, nothing fancy. The PPT could have been easily substituted with good old flashcards. I used written and audio material from the book. My main worry was to make sure they were “comfortable” when they got to the listening task. The listening element was introduced with the dialogue (steps 5/6), but they had the chance to predict what they were going to hear before they heard it. It was safer that way.
They also had plenty of meaningful and varied practice on the target piece of language. The dialogues they heard were, in a way, familiar to them.  In this lesson, before getting to step 8, they were given at least three different opportunities to produce and listen to the names of the countries, as well as the language structures surrounding them.
Now, the important thing is that this lesson was, as the first one I described here, not designed to test. It was designed to teach, it had learning at its core. The assessment opportunity was created, but it only took as long as those three short dialogues – which, by the way, they heard only once.
So, once again, I invite your input. How do you see this project? Can you help us by suggesting activities and procedures we can use with these pilot groups? We are counting on your thoughts, your suggestions, your criticism… We are waiting for you!
Lueli Ceruti

Friday, March 15, 2013

Alternative Assessment - The Prime Experience

About two weeks ago, our colleague Lueli Ceruti wrote a really interesting blog post in the CTJConnected Blog. In short, her post described our reasons for questioning the way we assess our adult students’ EFL learning and our experimenting with what we have been calling the “alternative ass essment system.”

Basically, what is being proposed is that the assessment of our adult students’ learning be carried out in a more ongoing manner. The objective here is to make it possible for us all, teachers and students, to know how well students are learning in time for us to take action, if necessary, before the last day of class. Also, with this “alternative assessment system”, our student will hopefully get less anxious with the idea of being evaluated at the end of the module.

In Lueli’s post, she described the first assessment activity she did with her Thomas Flex group. Here is the first one my Thomas Prime 1 students and I experimented with. Thomas Prime is a Casa Thomas Jefferson upper-intermediate/advanced course designed for adult students.

The Thomas Prime 1 Experiment:

In week 2 (of 10), we covered the grammar lesson “Suggest ways to enjoy life more”, and students learned about the verbs “stop”, “remember” and “forget” followed by the infinitive and the gerund.
First, we read and discussed the text “Finding Balance”, which opens the second lesson in the book Summit, published by Pearson Longman. Next, by analyzing the examples of the focus verbs in the text, we tried to come up with the different meanings each of them had when followed by infinitives and gerunds. This information was recorded on the board, and right after that, the students compared it with the chart on page 5. They then did the exercise on the same page, and we checked their answers. I assigned an extra exercise on the focus verbs for homework, with the students being responsible for checking their own answers (They had a copy of the answer key).
At the beginning of the following class, after the students had worked cooperatively to check their answers in the fill-in-the-blanks in sentences giving advice, I told them about my sister, a girl who led a very stressful life due to her inability to find balance. The students then individually wrote five suggestions on a chart I gave them, and we agreed on the five best suggestions to give to my sister.

This is what the board looked like:

Before the end of the class, I collected the charts with the students’ sentences and assessed their work at home. I used to following rubrics as a guide.

Each of the sentences is worth two points.

      a)    Deduct two points if the student’s sentence does not make sense.
      b)    Deduct one point if the student makes a mistake with the target structure (verbs stop, remember, forget followed by the wrong verb form)
      c)    Deduct half a point if the student makes small mistakes (prepositions, articles, spelling).

We sent these suggestions to my sister, a Prime 3 student at the Casa, and I asked her to record a video segment to respond to the students. Here is the video:


Needless to say, the students really engaged in the activity and had lots of fun watching the response. The assessment was perfectly aligned with the learning outcomes and instructional strategies. As a result, my students didn’t even notice they were actually being assessed. Their major interest was in communicating authentically with my sister.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

mLearning and Digital Images

Picture this scene: You ask your students to open their books to work on a grammar exercise. You decide to walk around to check how they are doing the exercise, but you, unfortunately, realize some students are actually using their mobile devices to check updates on Facebook and Twitter or sending an SMS to a friend. 

Would you call that fiction? Definitely not! I am quite sure this has already happened to you if you teach tennagers! So, how do you deal with it? Should you ban mobile devices from your classroom? Every time new technologies land in the classroom, students do naturally react with excitement to them. After a while they get used and tend to calm down. As an educator, I believe that we should never ignore the "world" students live in, but rather find ways to bring it to the learning environment. The number of students who own mobile devices has skyrocketed in recent years and the prediction is that every single person will have a digital camera, a cellphone or a tablet in the near future. In some cases, some might already have them all! So, how about thinking of ways to use these devices creatively in order to effectively teach and practice different grammar points and even improve levels of interaction and communication? Here is one idea I have recently developed for the typical ESL/EFL setting. This activity can be used to practice vocabulary related to clothing and the present continuous as well!

Activity: What's the Occasion?

Level: beginning/intermediate 
Vocabulary: clothing
Grammar topic: Present Continuous
Language skill: speaking 
Device needed: any device with a built-in digital camera
Number of devices needed: one per student 
Internet connection: offline

This is a class project that requires in-class and outside-class work. 

Part 1: On the first day, give each student a slip with a particular situation written in it (EX: GOING TO SCHOOL/CHURCH/WORK/THE BEACH/THE CHURCH/THE MALL/THE GYM/A WEDDING/A JOB INTERVIEW/ A ROMANTIC DINNER/ A FAMILY PICNIC/A NIGHTCLUB/ETC...). 

Remind them that they should not reveal which situation they were given. Then, explain that they should go home, pick up in their closet the outfit they would wear for that occasion and take pictures of all items (clothes/shoes/accessories) and a picture of themselves wearing the outfit for that occasion. 

Part 2: On the second day, ask students to sit in small groups. Explain that they should show the pictures they have taken (and orally say the name of all clothing items) and other group members should guess where their classmates are going dressed like that. As a follow-up, ask students to show the picture in which they are wearing their outfit and have other classmates describe using the Present Continuous (ex: you are wearing a pink dress, high heels, a watch and a necklace). You can also have them vote on the student who was best dressed for the assigned occasion. 

Alternative suggestion: In part 1, ask students to send you via e-mail their picture wearing the outfit. Then, in part 2, you can show the pictures of all students in a slide presentation and elicit from them the sentences in the Present Continuous (follow-up part).

I hope you liked it and let me know if you ever have the chance to test it with your students. I am a mobile learning junkie and I display all my ideas in my blog If you want to learn more about mobile learning, be my guest!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Saying the Unsaid - Silent Movies and Reported Speech

Teaching reported speech is certainly not that difficult. When I teach it, I always explain to students that it is used to retell stories, translate conversations between a foreigner and someone who does not speak his or her language, or even engage in a conversation with three or more people in a noisy environment such as night club or a rock concert. I also try to recreate communicative situations that make it as authentic and genuine as possible. If I could take them to a rock concert or a night club, it would be great. Despite my efforts, my students cooperation, and the wonderful ideas teachers always have when planning classes , I am not always happy with the size of dialogues or the quality of language produced by students in follow up activities. You know, we teachers always think that there is room for improvement.
This semester while I was planning one more class to teach reported speech, I thought that silent movies would just be the perfect means to create a situation for having students reporting a third party utterances and actions to each other. How did I do it? I did it in two phases and two places.
In Class
I first showed them a short silent movie (I used a silent version of Star Wars available in You Tube- It lasts only a little more than a minute). Next I paired students and asked them to take turns reporting what was being said right after I paused the movie. So I played a bit of the movie and paused for reporting. It was quick and fun and they really enjoyed doing it.
In the Computer Lab
While we were still in class, I gave them instructions. I told them to go to Youtube and type the search term silent movies. I also told them to choose movies that lasted three minutes or less. Besides that, I instructed them to do as we had done in class: they should first play the entire movie and then play, pause, report. They did it in 25 minutes and posted their reported versions along with the movie straight to our posterous class blog. We later corrected and the posts.The first drafts, however, were amazingly quite accurate to my surprise.