February Post - Lists!

Our obsession with lists!

On Facebook this week everyone I know seems to be finding out how many of the Top 100 influential albums they own (have owned). I managed only about seven! But the point is: we are obsessed with lists. We enjoy making them and checking ourselves against other people’s lists.

I decided to make a few lists of my own this month, so here goes:

Three things I don’t like about travelling:

Packing - need I say more? After all these years, I still manage to forget at least one crucial thing on every trip.

Planes – I know, I travel lots with my job, but I don’t like flying. It’s not natural to be in a heavy metal container in very close proximity to people I don’t know in the sky. I just grit my teeth and wait until we land while burying myself in a good book. But once I am at my destination I am a very happy bunny!
3   Hotel hairdryers – even in relatively smart hotels they so often have these ridiculous contraptions. They may be ok for drying someone’s moustache but I’ll be standing in the bathroom for 20, 25 minutes pointing the silly thing at my head and my hair will still be wet. Fear not, I usually travel with my own hairdryer (and iron!)

Five things I love about travelling:
The smell – although this can go either way. If you have ever been to Hong Kong and had the dubious pleasure of smelling smelly tofu being fried in rancid oil in an old oil drum in the streets, you’ll know what I mean. But the olfactory joys of walking round the spice markets of North Africa, cutting into a watermelon on a Greek beach in August or walking under a frangipani tree in Bangkok are incomparable.

The tastes – of course, the food! I have a very eclectic palette so whether it’s prawns in Costa Rica, camel in Cairo, snake in Hong Kong, tropical fruits in Latin America, curries in India...bring it all on.

The sounds – music – Salsa in Venezuela, Bossa Nova in Brazil, Rai in North Africa, Youssou N’Dour in Senegal and the sheer joy of getting to hear live music on my travels. I managed to see the Dubliners in Singapore one time – brilliant! I have even sat through five minutes of Chinese opera in Hong Kong– definitely an acquired taste.

The sensation of– sun on my skin, exotic silks in my hands, sand between my toes ...

The sights – my favourite is blue sky, closely followed by blue sea. Man-made sights can be spectacular too like Borobodur temple in Indonesia, the opera house in Sydney or the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza in Mexico. The vision and expertise of the architects and builders leave me speechless.
Did you see what I did there? The things I like are all linked to the senses.

If we like lists, what about using them with students?

At primary level, I get 5-7 year olds to cut out hearts, draw or find pictures of their favourite things on the hearts, write the words if they know them and create love chains to decorate the class with. Before they get pinned up, I encourage the children to tell me about their hearts, producing even short phrases in English. They can invite their parents in to class and show them off. It’s quite a nice Valentine’s day / February activity.
Older primary students can write different lists and decorate them e.g. my favourite toys, food, places, lessons etc as well as things they don’t like. Allow them to choose. It’s not always a good thing to dwell on negatives but I recall 9/10 year olds I was teaching enjoying creating lists on most frightening and also disgusting things!!!

With older students just writing lists can be fun and a meaningful revision of vocabulary .e.g. my favourite films / meals / songs / places / bands /  clothes. Remember writing tasks do not have to long and boring. Encouraging students to write short lists which are meaningful and can be shared with the rest of the class gives them good writing practice. They can also produce lists like I did above based on their senses.

Have a look at this list. they could read it first, discuss if they agree or not, then create their own versions.

Five senses
In Writing Simple Poems by Holmes & Moulton, CUP, there’s a super idea for writing ‘Five senses poems’. They present the following pattern

Line 1: (a thing, an emotion or idea) is (one or two colours)
Line 2: It tastes like...
Line 3: It sounds like...
Line 4: It smells like...
Line 5: It looks like...
Line 6: It makes me feel (like)....

Students are encouraged to create their own poems using this pattern. One of my 
favourite examples in the book is written by 4 sixteen year old students:

My grandmother’s kitchen is shiny as a silver spoon
It tastes like warm bread and homemade apple pie
It sounds like drums playing as she kneads the dough
It smells like early spring when spices are growing
It looks like bright sunshine in the morning
It makes me feel like having a party

Students get to express themselves, work collaboratively practising sensory verbs, basic sentence structures, metaphors and similies and lots of vocabulary.
If you do any of these tasks, I’d love to see what the students produce and I’ll share the work here on this blog.


Two new stories about sport

Check out the two new stories I have added under the Story tab- both sport related. The theme is winning?

With older higher level teens comparing these with an article about the recent Lance Armstrong revelations would stimulate some interesting discussion. 

Or use the first text for reading comprehension, but rather than set your own questions, show the picture and ask students to come up with questions they would like answered about the picture e.g. Who are the athletes? Why is one of them pointing at something? Collect the questions on the board. (A focus on correct question forms might be needed). Then ask your students to read the text and in pairs check if they can find the answers to the questions they set. I call this a D-I-Y (do it yourself) reading comprehension. I find students are more motivated to find answers to questions they themselves have posed.

I use the short text about the Seattle Special Olympics for dictogloss. 

What's a dictogloss?

  •  Read the text through once at a normal speed, asking students to listen carefully and visualise the story.
  • Read the text a second time, again at normal speed and tell students to make notes of the key ideas / words
  • Organise students into pairs of threes and ask them to work together to reconstruct the text, reminding students that they should try to write their text so that it will be as close to the original as possible in grammar and content, but the words and phrases don't have to be identical to the ones in the original passage. 
  • During this time students form hypotheses and test them. they can use resources such as dictionaries and verb reference books.
  • Look at all the texts as a class and encourage the class to decide if the reconstructed texts are correct - as to details as well as grammatically.


Post of the Month

I am starting the new year with a plan  to post a monthly thought about any aspect of teaching / learning that comes to mind. I have recently been doing some work on projects and teenagers and want to share my thoughts with you...do let me know what you think.

January .....Projects and Teenagers
I meet many primary teachers who do projects with younger learners – up to 12 years old but far fewer who do projects with teenagers. I can understand the reasons behind this
·         There doesn’t seem to be any spare time for anything but the book
·         There is a strong focus on exam preparation
·         There is a sense that projects are ‘light’ and not serious enough for teenagers
Teachers of teenagers may be missing out on an effective tool for motivating students as well as getting them to practise English meaningfully. Too much time spent on grammar exercises and exam practice tasks may not be the best way to go. Getting students to actually use their English is crucial for effective learning.
Most organised language learning takes place in the classroom. What is taught in the classroom may in theory be useful, but the usefulness does not always extend to practice. Often, there is a gap between the language the students are taught and the language they in fact require. It is this gap that project work can help to bridge.
Diana Fried-Booth, Project Work, Resource Books for Teachers, OUP
The Common European Framework of References states that is not just knowing about language that is necessary today but also knowing how to use it.

What advantages are there to doing projects with teenagers?
They are authentic:
In that the language used is for communication. They are using English to get a job done – to explain a hobby, entertain through a drama production or persuade in a presentation. While researching information they are most likely to be reading English on websites – with their own questions and needs in mind. They are also hopefully using English while planning and preparing their projects with their classmates.
In that project work is by nature collaborative. Students are encouraged to work together, taking different roles and sometimes having to encourage and support other students in their group. Learning when to step up and take responsibility and when to step back and allow others to take control is a major lesson in life.
They promote autonomy:
Students get to choose the topic of their projects, its final outcome, how the work within the group will be allocated. (The teacher has to take a background role as facilitator, supporter and interested party.) Not only do projects allow teens to develop these important mature interpersonal skills, they also remove typical classroom restrictions against which teens may rebel e.g. you must do the exercise on page 72.
They are motivating:
Because they have made their own choices, set their own challenges, are allowed to be creative and are able to produce end results which they can be proud of. Plus they can put away their course books for a while.
They help students develop important examination skills:
Topic-based projects allow for lots of vocabulary revision and even learning new vocabulary as well as grammar. Students get lots of skills practice – reading and note-taking (as part of their research), writing and proof-reading (as they don’t want their projects full of mistakes), speaking (together and when doing presentations or role-plays/sketches etc), listening (to each other’s presentations and to each other, and maybe also to news items, interviews which relate to their projects online.

Projects do not need to take a lot of time and can be planned at times like the end of the school year after exams have been taken to add some life into English lessons. Some possible project outcomes are:
Poster displays
Power Point presentations
Videos of interviews, documentaries, adverts, short drama productions
Presentations of songs, speeches
A show – e.g. play, musical, sketch
Presentations using e-tools like voicethread, audacity, zimmertwins, www.glogster.com, www.photopeach.com, www.prezi.com, www.fakebook.com, www.goanimate.com, www.digiteen.org

Remember to encourage your students to make projects SMART
e.g. not a project about music they like
SPECIFIC –but a video documentary about their own personal musical tastes
MEASURABLE – the video will last 5-10 minutes
ACHIEVABLE – they have the technology, tools, resources, time to complete it
REALISTIC – they won’t be able to interview their favourite stars like The Rolling Stones
TIME-BOUND – not only have a completion date, but have a series of dates by which certain tasks will be completed.

Project Steps
1.    Brainstorm/Plan
At this stage you can make suggestions, reign in unrealistic ideas, link topics to language covered already. Allow students to share ideas, think creatively
2.    Proposals
Students map out what they plan to do, considering what resources they need
3.    Time
Decide how much time they have and how many lesson will be dedicated to this and therefore how much time outside class they need to spend
4.    Presenting the projects
This needs to be considered so that every group gets their opportunity to present. You may also want to create the chance for parents and other students in school to have access to the projects
5.    Assessment
The class and teacher need to decide together on how the projects will be assessed. Why not have everyone in the class giving feedback on all projects including their own.
Teenagers response to projects will depend on many factors, but crucially they have to be well planned and SMART and teachers have to trust teenagers to make their own decisions

What’s stopping you from doing projects with your teens?