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Monday, March 28, 2011

Dave's Wordle Challenge

Dave Dodgson has set us all a challenge named "Every blog has a silver lining". The idea, if you haven't already heard about it, is to create a Wordle of your blog by pasting in its URL and looking at the results. Wordle will take all the content from your recent posts and show you which words you have been using more often, by increasing the font size. The bigger words are those you have used more often. Below you can find the word cloud of this blog. I have removed  people's names, as they don't really tell us much - they are only there because I wrote two posts about the TESOL Spain conference recently. (Oops, just realised that I missed one!)

As you can see, the most popular word by far is CHILDREN. This is hardly surprising, seeing as the majority of my students are children and that my blog focuses on them. Other important words come from my last post on story writing and the previous posts on the conference I attended.

Things I have noticed:

I seem to use a lot of nouns! The words that stand out most are nouns, and there are few adjectives - I don't know whether this is normal or not, but I think it illustrates the fact that I don't have a particular writing style - I write in a similar way to the way I speak and I think this makes my blog easy to read.

Like many other bloggers taking part in this challenge, I seem to use the word ONE quite a lot! I would imagine that this comes from "one of the ..." type phrases, but I am just guessing here. I haven't noticed any unusual words on the Wordle.

As this word cloud seem to only use the last four or five posts, I think it would be very interesting to look at the "all-time" word stats. I suppose the only way of doing this would be to literally copy and paste each post into Wordle, although there is probably a limit to the number of words you can include. As Dave suggests, it could be something to do every now and again, to see how your blog is evolving.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our Very Own Superhero!

As some of you may know, I have been experimenting this year with a CLIL approach in one of my classes. I wrote about my reasons for doing so on Ken Wilson's blog. Our latest unit of work has been on the topic of heroes, and over the last couple of weeks more specifically on superheroes. When we began discussing the topic in the first lesson, the children automatically started naming superheroes. I wanted them to understand that we have real life heroes in our society who do not have special powers and magic swords, so we first looked at heroes in our families and their characteristics; and in the following lessons, heroes in the community. This gave us the opportunity to look at vocabulary for several professions, as well as reinforce some of the postitive characteristics that we may associate with heroes.

This was all very well, but the children are six years old, and what really interests them is superheroes! So, we moved on from more traditional heroes to Superman, Spiderman, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four and so on. We discussed what makes a superhero and what powers he/she can have. We reviewed vocabulary such as climb, run and fly, and I introduced new phrases such as "seeing through walls", "invisible" and "super strong".
Each child then had to design their own superhero. They drew a picture of their hero and his/her powers and gave him/her a name, and in the following lesson they presented him/her to the class. We then had several rounds of voting to choose our favourite superhero. This character would be the protagonist of our very own superhero comic book!

We ended up with a character with several powers - he can fly, he can climb walls and he is super-strong! We then made suggestions for his name, and another voting session until the unanimous decision was to call him Spiderman. I must make it clear that this is not the Spiderman, but our very own character with the same name. I then told the children that in Spiderman's city, there is a big problem. We disussed various suggestions as to what the problem could be, and we ended up choosing a tsunami (even six year olds watch TV and see the world's important events). I divided the board into ten sections (there are ten students in the class) and we began to decide on how the story would develop. As the children are learning to read in Spanish, but not yet English, I tend to shy away from the written word and use pictures, at least until they are familiar with the vocabulary and its pronunciation. I drew a quick sketch of each event in the story as we came up with the ideas. Each child had one page of the story to draw. They had to try to copy the original drawing (that I had copied and whose colours we had chosen as a class) so that the story has continuity.

In the next lesson, I told the story (I had written one short sentences for each picture using language they would understand) several times, with the children's help. We played a couple of recognition games where I would read out a sentence from the story and they would have to find the appropriate picture. I gave each child the sentence describing their part of the story on a piece of paper. I went round drilling individually, and then they practised their sentences in pairs, with me helping and prompting. Their homework was to practise their sentences ready for the following lesson.

In the final lesson of our Heroes topic, I uploaded the photos of the pictures to Voicthread and recorded each child saying his/her sentence. We now have our very own comic book - on paper in the classroom and in digital format online. I have embedded the slideshow into our class wiki so that the parents can see it. The children had great fun in the whole project - they actually really enjoyed learning their sentences and then recording them and listening to each other's voices on the computer.

Here is the finished product. Be patient as the voices can take some time to load. I hope you like it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

TESOL Spain: Young Learners Part 3

This is my final post on the Young Learners talks I attended at TESOL Spain last weekend. The first two talks by Carol Read and Nina Lauder were very informative and given by experienced speakers. Both Carol and Nina are professional educational consultants whose jobs include giving training sessions and presentations about their areas of expertise. The two sessions I am going to talk about today were by classroom teachers, who wanted to share their ideas. I am going to provide an outline of their talks and say how useful (or not) their ideas were for my own teaching context.
The first session was entitled Writing Instructions - Where? How? Where Does It Fit In? by Elizabeth Forster and Richard Stenhouse, from the British Council Primary School in Madrid. Elizabeth talked about reading (following) instructions with lower primary learners and Richard with upper-primary.
By atibens on flickr

One of the main points was how difficult it can be to give effective instructions. We experienced this for ourselves, trying to make a "snapdragon" by following Richard's oral instructions, and most of us failed miserably! We then had to work in pairs where one of us would give instructions to make a paper aeroplane and the other would follow. This didn't work for me as neither my partner nor I could remember how to make one! These two tasks did illustrate very well the complexity of giving clear instructions, whether oral or written, and I think this is something we need to pay more attention to in our classroom language. Demonstration is also equally as important as the instructions themselves. Elizabeth explained why it can be useful to practise writing instructions with children and how this ought to be done. Some relevant real life situations include: Making things for festivals such as Halloween and Christmas, playing a game and recipes. She also showed us an example of the instructions she had given her class for how to make a jack o' lantern. She had written the instructions onto large pieces of card and had used these as reading prompts (even with non-readers who would pick up some of the key words), doing activities such as sequencing, run and touch the instruction card etc.

Richard then talked about how to gradually make the instructions more complex by using different connectives, imperative verbs and by evaluating the instructions of their peers.

Overall Feedback: Although both presenters highlighted some important points and gave us practical ideas, I'm not sure this was enough to warrant a whole session on writing instructions. This talk may have been more useful for primary school teachers in a CLIL or bilingual setting.

The final session I attended on Young Learners was the last talk before Herbert Puchta's Closing Plenary. This was called Classroom Management for Primary by Helena Kennedy. I decided to go to this talk because it is always useful to find out how other teachers successfully manage their classes of young learners and pick up new ideas.

Helena teaches both extra-curricular and curricular primary children at the Hyland Language Centre in Madrid. Her session was relevant for all teachers of primary-aged learners. The talk focussed on how to maintain control in the classroom. Some important aspects she mentioned were:
  • Coming up with a fixed routine
  • Obeying responsibilities (learners)
  • Not only work but also play
  • Tell the learners how well they are doing
  • Reprimand when necessary
  • Give an overall behaviour mark
  • Leave the last class in the past.
What can happen in the classroom if you're not careful! Photo by Aislinn Ritchie on flickr

Lots of practical ideas were demonstrated and I will now outline some of these:
  • Name cards - these could be used to make a seating plan before the students arrive; to choose classroom monitors; to keep a check on behaviour.
Helena showed us her system of having a sun, a cloud and a storm on the board and under which she would stick the children's name cards, depending on how well they were behaving.
She also gave each child a card at the end of the lesson, with from 1 to 5 stars coloured in, which showed their overall behaviour in that class/day.

  • Use positive comments and stamps on the children's work to motivate them
  • Smile!
  • Allow those who have performed/behaved best to leave the class first
  • Give postive comments to their parents
She also showed us a few flashcard games to maintain interest and focus such as:

  • Odd one out - learners decide which flashcard is different
  • Remember and re-order - Learners close their eyes and say what has changed 
  • Password - show a flashcard and the children have to say its name before they can sit down
  • Run and touch - one or more students go out of the room and they have to find the hidden flashcards
  • Through the keyhole - stick a keyhole template in front of a flashcard and learners have to guess
I have to say that none of these games were new to me, although it is nice to be refreshed sometimes and I do recognise that it can be very difficult to come up with original ideas!

The main problem my friend Leahn and I had with this talk was a difference of opinion on the use of praise and punishment with the presenter. I don't want to go into details as I think Leahn is going to write a blogpost of her own on this subject.

Overall Feedback: A varied talk on different aspects of managing young learners, providing a variety of techniques. I don't agree with everthing that was said, but I value the usefulness of having plenty of tricks up your sleeve!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TESOL Spain: Young Learners Part 2

In my last post I talked about Nina Lauder's session "Exploring the Real World in the English Classroom", which you can find here.

It is now the turn of Carol Read, who is an expert in teaching primary-aged children. I recommend taking the time to have a look round her blog where she discusses the theory behind many aspects of teaching younger learners and provides practical ideas on how to do so.

By Enokson on flickr
Carol's talk at TESOL Spain was entitled "Picture books and cross-curricular themes". It was a very interesting session, where Carol talked about different kinds of picture books and how to use them in the CLIL classroom. Unfortunately, I arrived slightly late (blame the slow waiters at VIPS restaurant!) and missed the introduction, where Carol introduced the audience to BICS and CALP (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency).

We looked at Cummins' Quadrant (see below) and where picture books might fit in. Of course, this depends on the book in question, and Carol divided picture books into three categories: Factual, Fictionalised Science and Fiction.
Cummins' Quadrant
We were shown examples of each type of book and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. Personally, because the group of learners I am using a CLIL-type syllabus with are very young (6 years old, first year of Primary) I prefer fiction. All young children love stories, and pick up lots of language from listening to a story and participating in a story-telling session. Stories are more fun than non-fiction, although it may sometimes be more useful to use a fictionalised science book, where the story is based on scientific fact, than a fantastical story of pure fiction. Carol did mention, however, that she had never come across a child who had problems distinguishing between fact and fiction in stories. Just because in the story the ladybirds talk, doesn't mean that the children will actually believe that ladybirds can speak! Children are actually very good at differentiating between what is real and what is not.

Carol the showed us some of the books more closely, providing us with examples on how we could use these books in the classroom. The two story books I remember clearly from the presentation, were:

I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato by L. Child
Lost and Found by O. Jeffers

Eric Carle's books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Tiny Seed were also mentioned. I have used The Very Hungry Caterpillar in my own unit on Creepy Crawlies as a basis for the introduction to the life cycle of the butterfly. This was also one of the ways Carol suggested using picture books as a springboard into CLIL projects. Others she talked about were the life cycle of a frog and the food pyramid.

Overall, Carol's talk was very informative, but more importantly in my opinion, fun! She read us the stories as if we were the children in her class, and we all really really wanted to know what happened next! This was a valuable experience, as sometimes it can be hard for teachers to tell a story effectively, especially when you have a class full of restless children. Carol managed to keep around 200 of us engaged - not such an easy task when your session is just after the lunch break!

If anybody is interested in using CLIL resources in their classrooms, Carol has shared a couple of projects on Onestopclil.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TESOL Spain: Young Learners Part 1

Small Explorers - from Morgue File

In the first of this series of posts I plan to write about the TESOL Spain 2011 convention, I will first be looking at the talks I attended about Young Learners. Those of you who regularly read this blog will have discovered that teaching children has become one of my passions over the last two or three years and where better to start than with something I am always striving to do better?

Often, when I go to conferences, I tend to go for any session related to young learners, but this time I decided that a healthy mix would be more valuable. I attended four sessions where the focus was on our younger learners and in this post I will summarise some of the key points that were made in the first session, as well as my own reflections on what was said.

The four sessions were the following:

Exploring the Real World in the English Classroom by Nina Lauder
Picture Books and Cross-curricular Themes by Carol Read
Writing Instructions - Where? How? Where Does It Fit In? by Elizabeth Forster and Richard Stenhouse
Classroom Management for Primary by Helena Kennedy

Exploring the Real World in the English Classroom by Nina Lauder
Nina gave an informative and enjoyable talk about how to incorporate different aspects of a child's world into our classes. Suitable for both a CLIL context and a more traditional language learning setting, her presentation provided lots of practical ideas to take away and use in the classroom. The talk began by looking at reasons why we should be trying to bring the real world into our lessons: It can be motivating and fun; it makes English real and meaningful; it helps the children learn values such as respect and tolerance.

Practical Activities:
  • Have children bring in a photo, an object, a song to show and tell
  • Bring realia into the classroom e.g. if you are looking at food, bring in real or plastic food, have tasting sessions etc
  • Riddles: Choose an animal (or a word from the lexical set that is being studied) and write a set of clues about it. One by one, give the children a clue and ask them to think of what it could be. They could discuss this in pairs or put their hands up to answer.
  • Guessing Games: Show the children pictures of the words they have been learning. The children ask each other questions to determine which word was chosen.
  • Stamp or Clap: Like a guessing game, the teacher (or pupil) chooses a word (in this case an animal) and asks questions about it. If the answer is "yes", the children should clap. If the answer is "no". they should stamp their feet. A fun way of getting children to listen carefully and respond.
  • KWL: This stands for KNOW/ WANT TO KNOW/ LEARNT. Draw a table with three columns and write KWL at the top, one in each column. The children write down things they know about the subject and things they would like to know. When the children have learnt more about the subject (e.g from reading a text or doing a project) they fill in the last column.
  • Poster Grids: With any poster or large picture, divide it into cells with co-ordinates. The children then ask each other what they can see in a cell of their choice.
Nina also talked about doing experiments and using estimates, code-breaking and using charts; bringing Science and Maths into the classroom.

One of my favourite ideas from this talk was the idea of explorers. OUP have a series called Explorers and Nina showed us her cardboard friends from the series that she takes everywhere with her. She takes photos of herself and the explorer in different places and then brings them into class to use as a springboard for discussion. I love this idea because it really brings the real world into the classroom. Your little "friend" does not necessarily have to be an explorer - it could be any classroom pet or puppet that you choose, but I particularly thought that the idea of an explorer would appeal to children of all ages, both boys and girls, and that it lends itself well to work on the environment, geography, history and so on. After all, what an explorer does is go out and explore new places.

Overall Feedback: A very positive session with lots of practical ideas and the reasons behind the theory.

Next up:  Picture Books and Cross-curricular Themes by Carol Read

Monday, March 14, 2011

TESOL Spain Annual Convention - Changes and Challenges: Expanding Horizons in ELT

This weekend I have been at the annual TESOL Spain conference. I had a great time, met lots of lovely, interesting people, heard some inspirational talks and learnt about some new practical activities to try out in the classroom. When I go to a conference like this one, I try to attend a healthy mix of plenaries, keynotes and practical workshops, and I think I managed to do so this time. Almost all of the sessions I attended were well worth seeing or participating in and I have taken something positive away from all of them.

Over the next few days, I will be posting on some of the talks I enjoyed. I'm going to look at the handouts and the notes I took at each session and split them up into categories before I start posting what I learnt here.

Just to whet your appetite, you can expect to hear about talks by Herbert Puchta, Paul Braddock, Karenne Sylvester, Nicky Hockly, Hugh Dellar, Jamie Keddie, Carol Read and Nina Lauder (in no particular order!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Troublesome and Intolerant: Part Two

Yesterday I outlined some of the problems I've been having with a particular group of young teens. You can read this post here. Lack of motivation (to do anything - not just things they don't enjoy), hormonal mood swings, a tendency to answer back and general apathy are the main factors which complicate the possibility of a successful lesson.

This second post is not to continue to moan about my unsuccessful attempts to get them using English (you'll be glad to know!) but to talk about something that came up in our last two lessons and has been troubling me ever since.

We were discussing the topic of human rights and how everybody should be treated equally whatever their race, sex, sexuality and so on. The class seemed to agree that this was logical and fair. We then discussed a basic human right which states that every citizen has the right to leave his/her country if they wish, and I explained that many people had to leave their country because of war or the political situation and that they were called refugees. Suddenly, some of the students started to complain about some local immigrants who sell packets of tissues at the traffic lights. Comments were made both about African and Chinese immigrants, who form the main group of non-Spanish speaking immigrants. The attitudes expressed by these students were, to put it mildly, not very tolerant. As some of the students were getting quite heated up, I decided against a dogme-style discussion of the matter and to leave it for another day.

The thing is, I'm not sure exactly how much importance to give the topic or quite how to treat it. I'm fairly sure that they were the typical outlandish remarks that teenagers often come out with, without thinking of their consequences. Maybe they were trying to shock me or each other, more likely they were just regurgitating things they had heard from their parents or on TV. 

So my question is: should I plan a lesson on tolerance or should I leave it to their "Citizenship" classes at school? (To be honest, I have no idea of what is taught in "Citizenship" but most people deem it a useless subject around here.)

If I do take advantage of this situation, I wonder how I should go about it. I was thinking of possibly doing a lesson on stereotypes and bringing it around to how the Spanish are sometimes considered and how that makes them feel. I'm not sure though, that this wouldn't actually have the opposite effect and make them even less happy with people of other nationalities. Another idea is to try to find a copy of a documentary that was on in the UK a few months ago about asylum seeking children who have been mistreated in the UK and somehow adapting it to their level. If only the African tissue-sellers spoke English - maybe if that were the case I could ask the bloke that stands on the corner of our school's street to come in and answer questions! That would be a bit unorthodox but at least it would be effective! Unfortunately, most of these guys are Senegalese French speakers who don't speak Spanish very well, which would make communication quite difficult. To be honest, I'm not sure how happy some of the parents would be about me bringing in a stranger from the street into the classroom.

Anyway, I wondered if you had ever tried dealing with this kind of topic with such young students, and whether or not it was worthwhile. I'd love to know of any websites that promote the education of tolerance that you may know of.

And before you say it, J (I'm beating you too it!), I know I'm being far too teacher-centred in all this and doing far too much work myself, but I think this group need some kind of input on this in order for them to have a personal reaction. Just asking them to imagine won't work.

So, any ideas or experiences on this that you'd like to share? If you have written a post about something similar, please add a link in the comments section. Cheers!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Troublesome and Intolerant: Part One

He would fit in well with my class!
Every teacher has one of those classes. You know the one I mean, the class that you come out of with feelings that range from slight dejection to outright depression. The class that makes you feel like a bad teacher because it doesn't go as you'd hoped. The class that makes you react in ways that you wouldn't have dreamt of doing when you were training and may have even got you thrown off the course. Now don't worry, I'm not talking about anything violent here! I mean reactions such as raising your voice, getting into useless discussions with students, sticking to your guns when you know it's best to change tactics or move on.

Every year there seems to be one of these groups to spoil your otherwise perfect timetable. And the funny thing is, that the class in question isn't a group of bad kids, their previous teacher thought they were a lovely group, but there is something invisible that prevents you from gaining their respect and trust. Maybe you started the year on the wrong foot, maybe they preferred last year's teacher, maybe they have just changed over the summer. Maybe, as teachers, we know that the year is not going to be perfect and that there will be one group that will ruin things and we unconsciously stick a label on this group in the first week. Yes, this is going to be my dreaded group this year! I would hope this wasn't the case, but it is a possibility.

For me, this class changes as time goes on. Once upon a time it was very young learners that made my life difficult. Four year olds that I couldn't keep on a chair for more than five minutes. This year it's a group of thirteen year olds. Hormones all over the place, these kids are giggly, touchy-feely (with each other!) and would be much happier if they were allowed to sit chatting in Spanish all lesson. It may not help that I am no longer a "playing games" type teacher. It certainly does not help that they are in that in-between stage of mental and emotional development. They want to  "play games" but they don't want to get up from their seats or actually do anything. They definitely don't want to "do the book"!

So, I try (I really do) to find more fun things for them to do. They have been reasonably responsive with a couple of lessons based around activities from the Timesavers Speaking Activities book of resources. They particularly enjoyed the drawing activity but get quite bored with the "opinion" type discussions. They all profess to prefer "grown up" activities like the previous type, but don't really have the maturity to do them effectively. Sometimes they come out with things they have seen on TV and show some interest, so last week I took in a simple copy of the summarised Declaration of Human Rights and the following lesson we looked at what was happening in Libya. They didn't complain as such about the content, although I could tell it went a bit over their heads. A few of the students had never heard of Libya. Only one knew where in the world it was and could easily locate it on a globe. I wasn't particularly surprised as Spanish education focuses on mainly just that: Spain. Spanish history, Spanish geography and so on. I'm sure I had never heard of Libya myself when I was thirteen, but the again it wasn't on TV twenty-four-seven. Very few had heard of Gaddafi, but when we read a short article and discussed briefly what was happening, they were at least showing some interest. Maybe this was because I had promised them a game after we had finished!

Some of the students have showed an interest in history. I'm wondering whether to try a few lessons on historical events. I'm not particularly well-read on history myself, so I would have to do some research first, but if it keeps them happy...

I am open to any ideas on how to keep this group motivated. My main concern is to get them speaking, as I can focus on vocabulary or language features that either emerge or that I can smuggle into the activity itself.
If anybody knows of any resources suitable for teenagers with an elementary productive level (but pre-intermediate receptive skills) please add a comment below.

This post is a two-parter - this is the "Troublesome" part. You can find Part Two "Intolerant" here.
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