domenica 1 giugno 2014

Teaching for Exams? Have Fun (Part 3)

UPDATE: This blog post has been shortlisted for the 'Blog Award for Innovative Teaching Ideas' by Teaching English British Council.

Here we are with another post about having fun while training your students for their English language exams.

Last month I attended an excellent webinar by the amazing Sylvia Guinan about interactive storytelling for English language exams. She fully explained how storytelling comics could be used to present/revise phrasal verbs as well as for showing English transformation structures before students ever even realise that these are official parts of the exam. You can find her presentation here.

I found her ideas so interesting and stimulating that I started using to create personalized materials in order to train my students for the Cambridge KET, PET, FCE for Schools.

Below you will find some examples about how I used comics to prepare my students for their exams. 

1. KET for Schools
Reading&Writing part 4
Right/Wrong/Doesn't say OR 3-option multiple choice - In this part of the test students have to read for the detailed understanding and main ideas.

(I adapted the following exercise from the book KET for Schools Trainer

(If you are interested in the questions, please contact me.)

2 PET for Schools
Writing Part 1
Sentence transformation - In this part of the test students are given sentences and then asked to complete similar sentences using a different structural pattern so that the sentence still has the same meaning. Candidates should use no more than three words.

(In this example my students and I were revising the reported speech.)

3 FCE for Schools
Use of English Part 4
Key word transformations - In this part of the paper students are tested about lexical and grammatical structures. This exercise focuses on the students' ability to express a message in different ways.

(In this example my students and I were revising the use of comparatives and superlatives.)
If you have more ideas about how to use comics to teach for language exams, please share them with me!

martedì 27 maggio 2014

Fed up with end-of-year tests? A Digital Scavenger Hunt is the solution!

It's time to close books and go on holiday in most parts of the world, isn't it? Well, if you are teacher and in your school an end-of-year test is not compulsory, you can have some fun with your students!

Digital Scavenger Hunt

In my town it's warm these days so I thought there was nothing better than going out and having a digital scavenger hunt on the street with my pre-teen learners.

1) a smartphone/ a mobile phone with a camera per pair.
2) This handout

PROCEDURE & REACTIONS  (6 students):
Last week I told my students we were going to do a special scavenger hunt outdoors so they were excited about the idea of stepping out the classroom. However, when they read the rules and they realized they were supposed to ask questions to unknown people they felt ashamed. I didn't worry because I knew that a prize was going to be the right "medicine" for shyness. And so it was.
We went out all together and we walked along a pedestrian street (where my studio is situated) and on the pavement of a nearby street. Students worked in their pairs but not far from each other. I tried to keep myself behind and I helped them when they tried to talk to the people. (Well, I helped more the strangers than my own students :-) ) I had a whistle with me which I used when some of them were walking too far from the rest of the group.
About 1 hour later we went back to the classroom and the feedback was surprising! The three pairs got 16/18 on average ;-)

1) You can personalise it according to the programme you carried out with your class.
2) You can monitor your students without looking a "slave driver".
3) It helps students be more autonomous.

Remember to ask parents to sign an authorisation form if you want to take your students outside the classroom.
Some of my students ;-)

If you try this activity, please let me know!

mercoledì 9 aprile 2014

Harrogate Online - The 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition (part 3)

Harrogate Online 2014On March 23rd Adam Simpson started a chain reaction blog challenge. He chose three of this year's registered bloggers and introduced them in his blog. These bloggers in turn chose other registered bloggers and interviewed them... That was why Sylvia Guinan interviewed me (you can see my interview by following this link
After my interview I did not want to stop the chain reaction even though it was the last day of the conference so I decided to Facebook Adam and ask him if he was available to answer a few questions about his experience in Harrogate.  Well, he was so kind to reply and here you are some food for thought.

1 - Please introduce yourself

Hi. My name’s Adam and I’m an English teacher in Istanbul. I’ve lived here for nearly fifteen years and I work in the preparatory English program at Sabanci University. Also, I blog about my teaching experiences quite regularly, as well as being an avid believer in the importance of classroom research.

2 - Could you tell us why you were interested in blogging for IATEFL Harrogate?

I tried to do it last year and failed miserably. Anyone who has ever been to IATEFL will tell you what a fantastic social experience it is. Once you’ve attended, it’s not see easy to watch and report from afar. I’m trying to make amends this year.

What areas of the conference were you interested in?

This event is huge… seriously, it’s unbelievably big. Prioritizing is a must, although attending friends’ sessions is also important to me, but getting more and more difficult with each passing year!

3 - What are you going to bring back from the conference?

Physically, I will be bringing back lots of my favourite goodies. I’m originally from the Harrogate area, so this is a great opportunity to stock up on the food I miss from home. Mentally, I know I have experienced some fantastic knowledge sharing from people who I respect greatly in our profession. It will be great to reflect on what I’ve learned and nurture professional contacts around these experiences.

4 - Could you tell us three adjectives to describe your experience at IATEFL Harrogate?


5 - You were interviewed about your blog by Ann Foreman and Paul Braddock, is there anything else you would like to add?

It was a pleasure to have the chance to discuss blogging with Ann and Paul, as I’m a huge fan of what they do online with the BC TeachingEnglish site. Working indirectly with them has been hugely beneficial and they’re doing a great job of building an online community of language teachers. If you’ve listened to Sandy and I talk about blogging, I’d also recommend a couple of other interviews: there’s this interview with Paul and Ann in which they discuss their work, and there’s this one with Willy Cardoso, James Taylor and Katherine Bilsborough in which they talk about the role of blogging in ELT. I’m a strong believer in the importance of blogging and if it’s something that also interests you, these interviews are essential viewing.

It is my deep honour to post this interview. I admire Adam because of his continuous research about the classroom settings and dynamics. Adam's ideas are brilliant and you can easily adapt them to your  students' needs.

giovedì 3 aprile 2014

Harrogate Online - The 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition (part 2)

My first report is about the session Teaching with mobile devices: choices and challenges by Nicky Hockly.
The presenter:
Nicky is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E and has worked in the field of face-to-face and distance education since 1987, as a teacher, teacher trainer and consultant. She is involved in materials development, for both EFL course books and online learning. She is currently joint Co-ordinator of the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group. Nicky has written many articles on education, technology and online learning, and she is a plenary speaker at conferences all over the world. She is a well-known author of methodology books on the application of technology to language teaching.

The session:
Teaching with mobile devices: choices and challenges

The content in 40 words
The workshop dealt about the choices and challenges involved in teaching with mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) in the classroom. There were also examples which showed practically how to implement mobile-based activities with beginner, lower-intermediate, and intermediate students.

Nicky started her workshop by showing the meaning of Mobile Learning. She considered three aspects:
1. when devices are mobile (smartphones and tablets, not laptops)
2. when learners are mobile (students move around the classroom/school with their devices or they use their devices at home)
3. when learning experience is mobile (how mobile devices can be used in language learning tasks)
In order to better explain the third point Nicky showed examples of activies she did during her teaching experience in Cambridge last year. I was particularly interested in the following task activities.
The first activity was one she integrated to the course book with lower-intermediate students. The
topic was water and students were asked to go around the school and take pictures of things which were connected with water but not water itself. They shared the pictures on the group of Whatsapp. Then they justified their choices. The pictures raised a lot of discussion among students.

The second activity was aimed at beginner students and it involved the use of QR codes and it was a
sort of treasure hunt. Students were supposed to go around the school, take pictures and ask questions to the staff. This activity allowed the students to recycle the language learnt, practicing speaking (they asked questions), reading and reviewing grammar.

The third activity is based on geotagging and was done by mid-intermediate students  They used a free app called Woices (it can be used both on Android and Apple devices). They created an audio guide of a place they liked in Cambridge. This activity was carried out both in the classroom and at home over the weekend.

Nicky also took into account the practical aspects of bringing mobile devices into the classroom such as the age of students, using students' belongings or school's, the mobile integration to the course books or assessment.

Finally, she considered the learning aims, the logistic and legal (especially the role of parents when students are young learners) aspects of using mobile devices.

My consideration in 40 words:
I am especially interested in the combination of technology and daily life and this session gave me food for thought. I can’t wait to adapt the activities carried out by Nicky’s students in my classes to meet my students’ needs.

Studying for exams? Have fun (Part 2)

Two weeks ago I started a new series of blog posts about teaching and studying for English language exams. I posted which was about a technique I used in the classroom to help my students improve their results in FCE Reading part 2.
Today I'm posting two pictures which come in handy for FCE Writing part 2. In this part of the exam you are asked to write a piece of writing. The task types are articles, stories, reviews, letters, essays and reports. In the two pictures below you will find some useful tips about the structure of the text and suitable phrases&expressions for each piece of writing.

mercoledì 2 aprile 2014

Harrogate Online - The 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition (part 1)

Harrogate Online 2014Today 2nd April 2014 the Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition kicks off. I wish I were in Harrogate to meet excellent teachers, professors and teacher trainers!
But, no problem! If you, like me, are not in Harrogate you can watch all conference plenaries live on the Harrogate Online website. Plus, you can watch some interviews with great conference presenters and delegates such as those which were held yesterday.
One of the new features of this year's conference which impressed me is the Open Space event. In Adrian Underhill's words an Open Space Conference is "essentially a way of organizing a conference when you haven't got anything. There is no a programme,people just come with what is important to them". (This is the link to his interview).
Do you want to know more about this special type of conference? Read this article:

Bye for now,

giovedì 27 marzo 2014

My Favourite Monolingual Learner's Dictionaries

"What do you call this in English?", "What do you call that in English?", "What does this word mean"?
If you are a non-native English teacher who teaches in a non-English speaking country you will be familiar with the picture below.
Now you are smiling, aren't you? We are teachers, not dictionaries, yes, but how can your students find dictionaries, especially the monolingual ones,  helpful in the learning process, when they are not in the classroom?
In this post I'd like to share with you my 5 favourite online dictionaries and I'll tell you why I like them.

What's a monolingual learner's dictionary?
It's a dictionary designed to meet the reference needs of people learning a foreign language. It deals with grammar usage and common collocations. 

Why I like it: The definitions are written in simple English accompanied by clear examples. Moreover, before its definition you find the CEF level the word belongs to. 
Here you are an example. As you can see you can also check the pronunciation and the forms of irregular verbs.

Why I like it: I like it for its boxes. Yes, boxes about collocations and word choice. The layout is clear and straightforward. 
Here you are an example of the word remember.

Why I like it: Students can easily use it at home. The layout is simple and clear. 
As you know, a word has usually different meanings according to the context it is used in. In the Macmillan Dictionary the contexts are shown in a list so the students can decide which one they are interested in. For example, there are 9 different contexts the verb to come is used in.
Moreover, I love the star system. Below every word you will find 1, 2 or 3 stars. The stars show how common the words are. 1 star indicates words which are used a lot, 2 stars indicate words which are used more and finally, 3 stars indicate words which are used the most. Below an example for the three types.

We usually think monolingual dictionaries are for students whose level is intermediate or more. However, the websites of these online dictionaries are full of resources such as language games. This game from the Macmillan Dictionary aims at the practice of irregular verbs. 

What I like: Another Dictionary website full of games useful for your students at any level is the Merriam Webster.  These games aim at practicing synonyms, antonyms, spelling and even your general knowledge. 

I especially like its Learner's Dictionary version because students can find a lot of examples, idioms, usage tips and some differences between American and British English. For some words there is also a visual aid.
This is the entry of the word cat

What I like: Last but not the least the Oxford Learner's Dictionary. I suggest this website if you are training your students for the FCE because it si full of collocations and grammar usage notes.

To sum up, when your students are not in the classroom they can improve their language knowledge just give them the right tools.