Asked me the same question 100 times

'Those are interesting questions Timmy. I suggest you ask your search engine.'

Well, not everything is perfect, but the not so good lessons can teach us something, right?! Let’s see what I can take from this episode.

Like most teachers, I am not a big fan of having to explain the same thing many times. Whether it is instructions for an activity, some language feature, or the meaning of a word (we are not dictionaries!). I have been trying – since ever! – to minimize questions by using some techniques:

  • Class Menu – every lesson I write a menu of the activities we are going to do so that students know what to expect. Sometimes I even write the material they are going to need (books, notebooks, colour pencils). I also include the aim of the lesson and elicit the day of the week and date. So, whenever a student desperately needs to know if we are going to play a game in the lesson, I just point to the menu on the board and it saves time and teacher-talking-time! 🙂
  • Routines – incorporating routines is a TTT minimizer and time-saver. Students just know what to do. It takes time for them to get used to the routines and they may vary for different groups and ages. With my current students I have a routine for: how are you today? (by throwing a big dice and asking each other the questions), leaving the classroom (by saying a password, something they have learned in the lesson) and evaluating their English use.
  • Pre-teaching vocabulary – before any reading or listening activity, I try to make sure to work with some language I think may be difficult for the students. I also try to have students use their predicting skills by focusing on pictures and titles, and I teach them reading and listening strategies, so that I can remind them (remember that it helps to underline the same words in the questions and in the text…).
  • Ask your friend – last but not least, when I just don’t want to answer the same question for the 50th time, I just tell them to ask their friends.

So, today, despite using almost all of the techniques above, my students kept asking me how to say ‘great-grandmother’, what the meaning of ‘loudest’ was, and so on. It was very frustrating, but, looking back, I believe I could have used a simple miming game for them to practice the adjectives before having to use them in the writing activity. However, students were especially misbehaved today, so I am not entirely to blame.

'I find the best way to stop students from always talking to each other in class, is to keep asking questions. Then they have nothing to say.'

Were given significant input before speaking

“I give the students instructions for the activity, they know what to do, but they end up using L1 or not speaking at all”. “I can’t get my students to speak, unless it’s a very controlled activity”. “I have already ‘taught the language’ and they don’t use it!”

These are all problems we have faced as EFL or ESL teachers, struggling to get students to use L2. As we go through the syllabus we need to cover, students seem to forget all about the language seen in the previous units. When we assign the tasks, even to say something as simple as “I like it” or “I think it’s…”, they resort to L1.

I believe the problem is that we assume students will use the language we want them to use in that speaking activity. We end up forgetting that learning is not a linear process, but instead, it has its ups and downs, and students need to be constantly reminded of the language they have studied in order to use it in the appropriate situations. It is a lot of work for the teacher, though, but it is extremely necessary, especially for lower levels.

Here are two practical examples of how I have been trying to approach this issue with my students:

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In the example above, as I have posted here before, my students have been studying there + be to talk about cities. They have created a “perfect city” and made their drawings. Then, I got each student individually to describe their drawing to me. That was when I had the opportunity to scaffold language and have them go deeper in the description. I made it clear that they we going to talk like this again to their friends. After that, I elicited the language that I wrote on the board above. Students “had” the language, but they needed to be reminded that they could use it in the activity. Finally, in a traditional revolving circles activity, the students could repeat the speaking activity many times and I could – for the last time – remind the ones that insisted on using “have” instead of “there is” or using L2. In the final rounds, they were all using L2 and did a very good job!

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In this quite untidy board, we had a Cambridge Flyers prep class and the focus was on Speaking, part 1, where students need to find the differences between their picture and the examiner’s picture. I used a barrier game where each student would place their own small pictures on the big picture and find the differences between their own pictures A x B. The language I needed to elicit from them: “In my picture, there is…” and prepositions of place. As I had many different sets of pictures, they repeated the activity many times. Again, students used the language well and had fun with the game.

Classroom Language Flashcards

Since the beginning of the semester, it has been one of my main teaching goals to get my students to speak only L2 in class. I have already shared some strategies I have tested, and today I brought something different.

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A very valuable thing I have learned from other teachers was to teach students Classroom Language in the very first day of class, especially for beginner students. There is a lot of material available online, but I have never found something that was truly useful for my context. I needed just a few phrases students can use for asking for the page, going to the restroom, etc. Having a little drawing ability – just enough to doodle things students can understand what they are – I have come up with eight drawings to represent:

  • Ms Duda (teacher, whatever you’re called), come here, please?
  • I’m sorry, I’m late! May I come in?
  • What’s the page, please?
  • May I have a pencil, please?
  • May I go to the restroom?
  • I don’t understand. Can you repeat, please?
  • How do you say ‘casa’ in English?
  • May I say something? / May I go next?

You can download the flashcards by clicking here 🙂

Of course, the language can vary, depending on how formal your school is, or what you want to teach them. The drawings are in black and white so that young learners can colour them. Here’s an example of how I use them in my classroom:

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Started a Reading Club

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This is a project I wish my teachers had done with me when I was a student. Its main goal is to help students develop the reading habit.

Every week, students choose a book in the school’s library and take it home to read. After reading, they must rate it by colouring stars in their reading log. Sometimes they will have some kind of activity to do about the book, such as describing their favourite character.

Parents are involved in the project by having to sign the log and helping their child choose a good time to read and a comfortable place in the house. Even if they cannot speak English, they can help by providing an adequate reading environment.

After reading five books, there will be a bigger activity where students will produce something for the community. For instance, they will choose their favourite book, take it home again and read it to as many people as they can and report the experience. Or maybe they will write a book recommendation for the school’s library’s bulletin board saying what were the best things about the book.

My students were really excited after the first week of the project. Even though some of them forgot to return the book, they all read their books and filled in the log and were excited to take another book home – or sad they could not take it home because they can only take a new book when they return the other one.

It is a very simple project anyone can do if there is a library at school. I believe it is very important to share projects like this, especially in our sometimes ‘over-technologic’ environment, so that children can see that there are other fantastic worlds to be discovered away from the computer screens. 🙂

Image via Pinterest.

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!

Wrote about their favourite books

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Today we continued our project that we started in the previous lesson. I wanted my students to write about their favourite books, focusing on the description of a character. I was quite happy with the results.

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I decided to follow a Process Writing approach with elements of Product Writing because they had a model to follow. Here it is step by step and a picture of the board with the:

  • Students had the information they needed for the text (title, author, type of book, favourite character, description);
  • I wrote a model of my text on the board, by eliciting student’s suggestions on how to phrase the information;
  • Students wrote a draft of their texts on their notebooks and gave me to correct;
  • Students wrote the final version of the project (posters) and drew their favourite character.
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I am quite proud of my board skills in this one 🙂

It was a very simple approach that required little preparation on my part. It wasn’t very open for students to produce ‘new language’, though. They had quite a fixed model to follow, but some of them did try to include some plot details, like the one who wrote about the adventures of Tin Tin, who asked me how to say ‘ the captain was a drunk’ (haha!). However, to me, they needed just to be aware of how to write about the basic details of a book and to make the connection with what we have been focusing on by describing the character. And this objective was met by all of them.

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