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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Personalised Dictogloss to Practise Tenses

One way of diagnosing students' knowledge of tenses, or of getting them to focus on the difference between two tenses, is by doing a dictogloss. On Tuesday with my CAE class, we were revising the use of different tenses, and I began by reading out the following short text:

Last Sunday I took part in the Race for Life. 
This was the first time I had ever participated in a race, except for the odd fun run when I was at school.
I took up running in March and I have been training since then - two or three times a week. 
There were over 5,000 women doing the run, of all ages. It wasn't easy to run at first because some of the women were walking.
In the end I finished in 412th position! I'm now thinking of trying to increase the distance on my training runs. Maybe next year I'll do a 10K!
I read it twice. The students then had to write down what they remembered from the text. They then worked in pairs to try to reconstruct the text, paying close attention to the verb tenses used. They could ask me questions about any details they couldn't remember, but I would reply with one word answers. I then wrote all the verbs that appeared in the story on the board and the students could check that they had included everything. There didn't seem to be any problems with the use of tenses in this case, but you can always focus on some of the verbs and ask the students why they used each particular tense.

Today I have a teenage group who were looking at the main differences between the present simple and continuous last lesson. I am going to do a dictogloss with the following text:

I'm feeling nervous and excited. It's very noisy because there are so many people. I am with more than five thousand other people and we are all standing in a small space, like a outdoor corridor. I hear a man through the speakers. He is telling us how long we have before we start. The atmosphere is amazing. Everybody is getting ready to go. The man is reading some names and now five thousand people are singing "Happy Birthday" to those people! The man is now counting ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, go! Now there are lots of pink balloons in the air and we are all running. 
I will pre-teach some of the vocabulary so that the weaker students don't panic when I start to read. The first time they listen will be to find out where the speaker is. This is not explicit - they will have to imagine they are in this situation and guess where they are. Can you guess? The first example should help you!
The second time they can take notes. They will then work in pairs or threes to reconstruct the text. Again, I will write the verbs in their infinitive form on the board. If they find it difficult, I will put the verbs in the correct order. They will have to think carefully about whether each verb should be in present simple or continuous and why.

I am then going to ask them to write their own short text. They should imagine they are somewhere interesting (at a Cup Final, lost in a forest, in the A&E ward etc) and write how they are feeling and what they can see, hear etc. Hopefully, this will get them using both tenses appropriately.

Both texts are true and about an event I took part in last weekend. I think that giving a personalised touch to the materials you use can provoke more interest and discussion - the students may wish to know more, and it is more motivating for students to find out something about their teacher as a person instead of an impersonal text from a book. It may even motivate them to write their own!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Children's Book Week

Last week was Children's Book Week in the UK and I thought it would be nice to have a lesson where we talked about our favourite books. My first stop looking for suggestions on how to focus the lesson was the British Council's Teaching English website because I have previously found great ideas on using literature and poetry there. I wasn't disappointed, finding this great set of lesson ideas by Jo Bertrand.

I didn't know the book "Charlie Cook's Favourite Book" (which you can see here, Jackanory style) but it seemed a great way to introduce different types of books and the topic of "My Favourite Book".
I thought the story video would be too difficult for my class, so instead I followed Jo's advice and concentrated on some of the images from the story. I introduced some key vocabulary and we talked about whether we liked different genres of books or not.

As I don't have a copy of the book, I made this presentation so we could guess what each book on Charlie's shelf was about.

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book

It was then time to think about our own favourite books. One of the girls had brought in a book she was reading (I had asked them to but the others had forgotten!) and I asked her what is was about. I then wrote a simple text on the board with hints to remind the learners what information they would have to include.

My favourite book is ........................ by ........................................
It's about a .................. (who?) who ........................................ (what?) in ........................... (where?)
It's very exciting/interesting/funny/mysterious etc

We completed it with an example and then the learners wote down the text and thought about their favourite book. They are to post their work on our class blog.

Blogging with Kids

By KristinaB

This year I decided to set up a blog for my class of eight to ten year olds. Now I think a bit of background information is required here. Firstly, we do not have interactive whiteboards or projectors in the classroom. However, I have a laptop and wifi access. This has proved to be sufficient to show the learners how to access the blog and to answer any questions with a quick demonstration. In this class there are ten learners but I think even with larger groups you could show them how to use the blog a few at a time and allow them to practise in small groups while the others are working on something else. My main point here is that you don't need lots of equipment to set up a class blog. The main requirement is that the learners have computer and internet access at home.

I wasn't sure how willing the kids would be at first. This is the group I wrote about last month who were having some problems with their attitude towards each other and in particular to one boy. They are in the third and fourth year ar primary school and come to English lessons twice a week after school. For this reason they are not used to having to do homework for me - they have enough of that from school. When I introduced the blog, I didn't use the word "homework" but focused on how they would be able to write what they wanted, from time to time having specific tasks to do. This is in fact not true, at least not yet - I have given them a task to do every week, but until they get used to blogging I think this is a good idea. One of the girls already posted an entry about what she was doing that weekend and I think some of the others will follow suit when they have got used to the platform and how it works.

You can imagine how surprised I was when the very day I gave the homework some kids had already posted their answers! I set up the blog on 21st September and showed it to the class, and I wrote an introductory post which they dictated to me. The following week I set a task - write about your favourite outfit. On that weekend every single student wrote an entry and what is more, they started to comment on each others' posts! Some started by saying hello on our introductory post and then commenting on other people's work. One of the reasons for this is our "Kindness and Respect Box" into which a marble is placed every time somebody does or says something nice to a classmate and the children decided that the blog was a good place for this.

Some of the comments they have made are:
"So good description"
"Wow, your outfit is very beauty!"
"A very good description!"
"Excellent work, goodbye"

There are now 28 entries (so far I have set three tasks, the last one just yesterday) and over 50 comments, some of which are mine. I use the comments to recast some of the learners' errors. However, these kids are not used to writing in English and their work is full of strange spellings and a lack of grammar. I plan to go over some of the more common errors in class, but I'm not too worried about this because they are still young and one of the objectives of setting up the blog was to motivate them to use English outside the classroom.

All in all I am really pleased with the results - the kids are very enthusiastic and love writing and reading each others' comments about their work. The platform we are using is called Kidblog and is designed specifically for primary aged children. You set up a page for your class and then each member of the blog has their own individual page. It is very intuitive and easy enough for children to use without help, once they have been shown how to use it.

Give it a try!
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