Tried to use more L2 in class

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Excellent English strategy

In a monolingual context, it is often a challenge to get students to use L2 in class, especially if they are beginners. After almost eight years of teaching, I have tried many techniques with different groups in order to get them to speak English. Some of them worked for some groups, some didn’t work at all, but I can say that it is the students who will inform your decision of choosing a certain strategy. Here are a few:

  • L1 Pass – a friend’s idea that consists of giving students one or two “passes” (cards, coins…) every class so that they can use their first language when they need to. The teacher may take a pass from them if they use L1 inappropriately. This works well in quieter groups and with students that will follow rules.
  • Points on the board – write all students names on the board when the class begins and whenever one uses L1, draw a line next  to his name. The teacher can choose whatever punishment according to the groups and the school’s policy (removing points from the final grade is particularly threatening for teenagers). This strategy goes in the opposite direction of Behaviorist’s positive reinforcement concept.
  • L2 “thermometer” – during the lesson, students move up and down an L2 thermometer. If they are using L2, they go on to the positive end, if they are using L1, they go down. This requires a lot of work on the teacher’s part, and may cause stress between the students if they thing your judgement is unfair. However, it works well with a highly motivated group.
  • Excellent English – the one I am currently using with my students. By the end of the lesson, students line up and evaluate their L2 use during the activities, they move their tag up or down accordingly. During the class, my job is to call their attention and remind them of the routine whenever they start overusing L1. It works well with small groups and with highly motivated students. It helps create a sense of responsibility, because they will be responsible for their own growth in the usage of the new language. I would not use it with teenagers, though.

What do you do with your students to get them to speak English in class? 🙂

The poster image and balloons are from Twinkl.

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Talked about places in town

After the lesson where my students learned about London, it was time to expand their vocabulary on places in town. They already knew many items, so I decided to try a mind-mapping system with them. This was the result of the brainstorming phase:

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Mind map – Places in town (I wish I had a bigger whiteboard 🙂

They had some time to copy the mind map on their notebooks. As there were some fast-finishers I asked them to do some spelling practice, which is something they are used to doing whenever there is a vocabulary lesson. Then, they talked about their town, by using the structure “there + be”, which I had introduced in the past lesson. It wasn’t even a proper task, as I prefer to set a clear goal (e.g. comparing two towns, making a list of things there are in their town and they wish they had, and so on). Even though they tried to use “have” instead of “there + be”, I could correct them on the spot and they came up with nice sentences. We will need to further practice the structures in order to consolidate the language, though.

In a perfect world, where students would take 10 minutes to copy a mind map – instead of half and hour! – I would ask them to get in pairs and write sentences about their town and compare to another town (maybe London or somewhere they like) and share with the whole class. I would have them try to improve their friend’s sentences – this groups is really cooperative, so they would enjoy doing this.

We still have a few lessons in this unit and there are many projects coming up – something related to fish, and I know nothing about fish!

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Talking about the blog a little… Last month I was very excited to write about my lessons, but in April we had so many holidays and I had to teach so many “boring” lessons that the rhythm wasn’t as I intended. I hope in May I can stick to the schedule. I’m planning on changing things, like how I talk about my lessons, doing a more straightforward kind of posts. Let’s see how it goes. Happy Labor day!

Learned about London

For many Brazilian ELT teachers, teaching there is / there are to describe places can be a challenge simply because students do not get the concept. In Brazilian Portuguese we use the verb ‘to have’ to do this. So, for example, instead of saying ‘There is a bakery near my house’, we would translate ‘Has a bakery near my house’ (ouch!) – also, sentences without subjects are accepted in our language.

Following the syllabus defined by the course book, I had to teach my students vocabulary related to places in a town followed by the grammar ‘there + be’. Being a Dogme advocate, I decided to bring a ‘London Children’s Map’ to see what they could already do and what would come out of seeing a map of a different city.

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When I spread the map on the floor and had them sit down and observe it, they had so many questions! Where’s the Big Ben? Where does the queen live? What’s this man doing on the map? Where did you live in London? What’s that thing (pointing to various things on the map)? To the point I had to stop them, and had them take turns to ask the questions. Some of them were so eager to ask things they didn’t even wait for me to finish my reply!

This took almost the whole lesson. However, we did had time to cover some of the vocabulary planned in the syllabus and to say some sentences comparing our city to London using the target language. The class ended with me trying to explain why Kate Middleton couldn’t be queen and why Phillip isn’t a king????? They were very enthusiastic to learn about the royal family.

Even though things were a bit rushed and we didn’t get to record vocabulary items on the notebook or to produce any written language, it was very productive in terms of English culture and introducing vocabulary in a meaningful way.

Image via Google and this is the map I’ve got!

Talked about their favourite books

Last class, I showed my students some books, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Mulan, Sinbad, Sherlock Holmes stories, and so on. There was a good variety of genres and plots. We played a game where I would describe the story and they had to snap the correct book. It was fun and they were curious about some of the stories. So, we decided to vote on a book they would like to read together and they chose an adapted version of Mulan.

Something I like about the course book is that there is a CLIL section – which is a very soft version of CLIL, but anyway – and this time they are supposed to write about their favourite books. Since we were describing people’s facial features, they also have to describe their favourite character.

Today, I had them bring their favourite books and they wrote the basic information: title, author, type of book, favourite character, short description of their favourite character. Then, we sat in a circle and they shared this information. In order to make sure they paid attention to what their friends were saying, in the end of the activity I asked if they remembered something about their friend’s favourite book. There was a lot of emergent language in this activity, but I am still a bit frustrated that some of them only said “I like this book because I like it, it’s nice”.

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So, this unit’s project is going to be a description of their favourite books and characters. They are going to produce a poster with a short text. As I am trying to demand more from my students in terms of language production, I will also ask them to write their opinion of the book and, in the end, they will share their production to see if they are interested in reading any of their friend’s favourite books.

Let’s see how this goes. 🙂

Images via Google

Told me they liked my lessons

If there’s one thing I have learned during almost ten years teaching young and very young learners is that they are going to show you when they like or don’t like your lessons. They can do that through naughty behaviour, cooperative actions, by hugging you or they will just simply say “I don’t like this lesson”.

When they don’t like your lessons, there’s always the option of developing an action plan in order to ask them what they want (games! songs!) and what they specifically don’t like doing. They usually have strong opinions on those matters and will (hopefully) help you.

When they tell you they like your lessons, it means you’re on the right path. However, as much as teachers enjoy hearing that, it may makes us wonder “what if I don’t live up to their expectations anymore?” or “are they going to enjoy my lessons forever?” or even “when are they going to stop liking my lessons?” :O

It’s been two months since the beginning of the year and things are going well so far. Because this unit’s main topic was describing people, I was able to bring many different games for my students, such as Guess Who?, describe and draw, and guess the thief. Also, thanks to the course book, there were chants to work on pronunciation and a really nice song about a thief who gets away. Therefore, I can say that lessons have been quite fun, and students highly motivated, which makes me want to prepare even better lessons.

However, as I have mentioned, how do I keep my students motivated? I have read a few things on motivation in the ELT classroom, but there always seem to be the consensus of “whatever suits your students”. You can’t always please them because they need to do some things that, even if they do not like them, we know they are important and will bring good results in the future. We also need to ensure students can see their progress, even if it is in the form of “what have I learned today?” by the end of the lesson.

Anyway, I just hope they keep their motivation high and come to class with a smile on their faces because that’s what I am here for: to see them happy to learn! 🙂

Were able to choose the activities

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It was revision day for the test my students are going to take this Tuesday (Listening and Use of English) and Friday (Speaking) and I decided to do something I have always done whenever my students were taking tests.

The procedures were very simple: let them choose the activities they were going to do according to their needs. They included general vocabulary and grammar activities in the activity book (I wrote the pages they could do on the board) and extra worksheets that I spread on my desk so they could come and pick them up.

I believe that by the age of 9 or 10, students know what they can or cannot do very well, that’s why I chose this way of revising content. It is not like discovering the wheel or anything, but, to my surprise, apparently none of these students had ever been introduced to this concept before. While they knew their strengths and weaknesses, they found it so cool that they could choose the activities, get in groups and help each other, they made a lot of comments while doing the activities to point this out (“this is the best revision because we can choose what we want to do”). I was very happy to hear that! 🙂

Even though I am not a big fan of course books, as I have mentioned before, when they bring extra materials and worksheets, they can be very valuable if used right. I don’t like giving worksheets for the students to do out of context, just for “extra practice”. I would rather use them in a revision section the way I did today or to save them for fast finishers.

Of course some students did more activities than others, but they all seemed to agree that it was an useful kind of revision. There was even time to do a “learning to learn” activity that the course book suggests doing after each unit.

Nothing is perfect, though. Looking back, I think students would have also benefited from a fast chat before they could choose activities to talk about what we have learned and to test each other in pairs. I would do that with can do statements, for example, “I can name school subjects” or “I can tell the time using half past, quarter to, quarter past”, where they would tick or cross. This way, I believe students would be better able to define what they needed to do.

Finally, I really enjoyed doing this today because it is one of my goals this semester to promote autonomous learning in class and students showed they are ready. I have noticed that students nowadays rely so much on the teacher and parents to do things for them, even to plan their study schedule, while they could be doing it themselves. I plan to write more on autonomous learning soon.

Played Guess Who? in English

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It was time to begin a new Unit of the course book, which involves teaching students to describe people’s appearances focusing on the head (hair features, facial features, etc.).

I decided to do so through a task-based approach because I was quite sure my students had already been introduced at least to the parts of the body. First of all, I drew some faces on the board while they were getting settled for the lesson, which made them very interested in making their comments about the faces, so I asked them to do so in English.

Then, I elicited and boarded the vocabulary they were supposed to know, such as:

  • hair: long, short, curly, wavy, straight, blonde, dark, red, etc.
  • parts of the face
  • other facial features: beard, mustache, glasses, ponytail, hat, bald, etc.

Finally, I told them they were going to play Guess Who? but in English. They were very excited, but they needed to know the language for that. Therefore, I had to ask them how they play the game in L1 and how to “translate” that to L2. They gave me more or less the grammar they needed, though I had to polish it a little and drill:

  • Has he/she got _____ (hair)?
  • Is he/she wearing _____?

This is what my whiteboard looked like after all the input:

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(If there is something I learned during the Delta was that we need to always improve our board skills. Is there a board course we can do somewhere?)

They played it in small groups and used the language, even though there were some mistakes, such as:

  • Not doing the inversion for questions (She has got brown hair?)
  • Saying “Has he got bald?”

After that, we had to use the course book to do some grammar and writing exercises. I must confess it is a little bit frustrating not having enough time to work on error correction and really use what they have produced in order to teach them. We have a syllabus to cover and, unfortunately, there is still the culture that if there isn’t a course book to follow, then the school is not “serious” or “trustworthy”.

In an ideal scenario, I would have them draw a picture of a friend or family member and write a short text describing him/her to present and display in the classroom. They could also create their own Guess Who? game using cardboard to play with during the break. I would also take them to the library to get a book, read it and then describe their favourite characters, and we could even extend the language to personality adjectives, abilities and expand their language in a much more meaningful and memorable way.

However, the reality is that next week we’ve got revision, tests and more exercises to do, but nothing can stop me from squeezing in something different for the sake of my students’ learning.