A web site for the developing language teacher

August 2005 - issue 8/05


Welcome to the August Newsletter.

George Murdoch joins us for the first time with an article about classroom observation, Greg Gobel returns with a lesson plan for CAE students, plus a new review up on the site & the usual link sections. Trust you find it all useful.

More free Google GMail accounts to give away - if interested, get in touch.

Happy teaching.



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Classroom Observations - making them useful for teachers by George Murdoch

What is at stake

Observations are a familiar part of professional life for most EFL/ESL English teachers working in government schools, tertiary level institutional language programs, private language schools or British Council centres around the globe. However, is it always certain that the professional training of those empowered to conduct observations has fully equipped them for their role as evaluators of classroom teaching? Even though observers are normally experienced teachers, all too often the step up from teaching to observing others teach can unintentionally result in adopting behaviours and practices which are not always in the developmental interests of teachers.

An awful lot is at stake when a director of studies or supervisor observes a teacher in a language teaching operation. No matter how informally or casually the classroom visit is presented, the teacher is aware that his performance is under review. Depending on how the lesson and discussions with the supervisor proceed, the observation experience is bound to have a considerable uplifting or demoralising impact in terms of the teacher's self- image and his or her professional standing within that teaching community. A poor performance will inevitably affect not only the teacher's confidence and relationship with the person who is observing the lesson, but also his/her more general reputation among the teaching staff and others in the organisation. On the other hand, a good performance can boost a teacher's self image and confidence level, so he or she feels a valued, respected member of staff with all the motivational benefits that flow from such a feeling.

Given the importance of observations in the professional lives of teachers, it is vital that those who conduct observations should carry them out in as supportive and constructive a way as possible. Those who observe are (or should be!) teachers themselves, even though they may currently enjoy a more prestigious title! They need therefore to recall the damage that can be caused by the extremes of being overly critical of a teacher's classroom performance, or an inability to focus on areas which might help a teacher grow and overcome difficulties. In this article, I will describe a number of key procedures and strategies that need to be adopted by observers to make the observation process meaningful, supportive and of practical use from a teacher's perspective.

To view the article


Greg Gobel has a lesson plan up on the site centred around the CAE exam, the Frankenstein story & error analysis. Here is a bit of the preliminary information:

Main Aims:
* To sensitize learners to the types of mistakes in Eng in Use Part 3 through an outline of the story of Frankenstein and for learners to successfully practice correcting mistakes in a challenging literature extract from Frankenstein adapted to an Eng in Use Part 3 style.
* For learners to demonstrate gist understanding of a complex piece of literature and to infer the meaning of some literary language

Subsidiary Aims:
* For learners to work out story line from lines from the book and with help of teacher's guiding questions.
* For learners to conduct role play based on ideas and interaction of characters in the text

Timetable fit:
We are just starting Unit 5 in the CAE Gold coursebook. This will be the second class after the holiday break. The theme of the unit is 'cloning'/'genetic engineering'. In the previous lesson we established this theme with basic theme-related lexis through playing bingo and manipulating parts of speech for these words, reflecting Paper 3, Part 4 of the CAE exam. We also made use of authentic text that I gathered from the internet (including pros and cons about human cloning from Raelian/Clonaid websites, the Children of God for Life website, truthtree website, BBC news archive, and the American Medical Association website). Learners engaged in a contextualized debate about human cloning based on the information in the authentic texts. For homework, they did the exam practice reading on pages 60-61. This reading focuses on the gapped text exam activity in the context of Dr. Richard Seed, a famous pro-clone doctor.

To view the plan


Thanks to George & Greg


ARTICLES - If you've given a course or seminar or have a lesson plan & would like to give it a public airing, do get in touch.

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Kev asks:
I'm just about to start a summer class which is mixed ability. It's going to be a multi-nationality class doing project work. Haven't dealt with mixed ability classes before, so does anybody have some tried and tested guidelines or warnings? I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

Although the event has passed, do get along & sign up at the discussion list Costadina23 tells us about:
I'm the moderator of the Global Issues Special Interest Group of IATEFL. From July 19-23, we're having a fielded discussion on Critical Citizenship. Our guest speaker is Prof. Manuela Guilherme. If anyone would like to join, they can go through our web site: Thank you, Estelle Angelinas - GISIG discussion list moderator

ajeneric needs some ideas:
I hope this is the appropriate place for posting this. I'm perplexed and would welcome your insights and ideas. My Thai students have studied English for 8-12 years. Most of them cannot understand a sentence unless I speak "Thainglish"--Thai pronunciation of English and Thai syntax. A similar thing happened when I taught in China. So, I began thinking about why my students seem to be so handicapped despite years of study (albiet, for the most part, only in the classroom).

They have severe listening skills problems, which probably results in severe pronunciation problems. But I suspect that their severe pronunciation problems also affect their listening as well.

I believe that learners' pronunciation problems are rooted in L1, particularly because textbooks and dictionaries use Thai script for pronunciation of English words. Their listening problems are poorly developed because their Thai English teachers, I suspect, have tended to translate a lot for them. Definitely other students translate for them--a culturally appropriate response in Thailand, China, and elsewhere in Asia, but it certainly interferes with a learner's ability to hear and respond in English.

Because there are only 8 consonants sounds available at the end of a Thai word, English is incredibly difficult for them to reproduce. That's why "mad, math, mass, mat" are all pronounced as "mat." Because Thai spelling doesn't allow a consonant sound after the long /i/ sound (as in "fine"), they transfer it to"fine," "five," "find" and say each as "fi". Surely, relying on transcription for pronunciation is a sad mistake and probably the damage has been done, but I feel I need to help them. Nonetheless, I am a bit bewildered about how to help them most effectively. I've been using Clear Speech from the Start, which helps a lot, but it is not enough. I discovered that they have never been taught phonemes and suspect that this might help. Any ideas on this? In thinking about their listening problems, I suspect that learners' inability to isolate words in streaming speech often relates to this pronunciation problem. For example, should an English speaker say, "Jane is mad at him" they actually hear it as "Jane is mat at him." They can only recognize it when it is written on the board. I place a lot of emphasis on listening skills ( has been tremendously helpful in this), but I'm not pleased with the results. I'm not looking for miracles, but I just feel if they mishear spoken English because they cannot hear sounds, I should focus on them.
Thanks for your insights.

rob asks:
does anyone have any forms, formulas, blueprints, how-to sheets for course planning? I will need to discuss a course I have taught for a job interview, and will need to be detailed and not forget anything at the same time... thanks!

Cliff has a job offer - much more information in the posting:
Elementary schools in Hsinchu need foreign teachers! Can be guaranteed now. LIMITED Vacancies! Hsinchu is a Hi-Technology city. It has the first established Science Park in Taiwan, where advanced industries are run and highly-educated graduates desire to work. It owns state-of-the-art technology in Taiwan and has raised a lot of large companies and millionaires. As being the second potential city in Taiwan, we need qualified educators to consolidate our kids' English ability!

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From the BBC Learning English site: 'The English language is permanently evolving and developing. New words and expressions are coined and existing words change their meaning as society, culture and technology progress. Professor David Crystal is one of the world's foremost experts on language. He has recorded 26 short talks on some of these words and expressions that have recently made it into the language, if not necessarily into dictionaries. Each unit contains the text of the talk by Professor Crystal. You can also listen to the talk and download the transcript, audio (MP3) and a lesson plan for teachers. The lesson plan contains teacher's notes, worksheets for students as well as a key to the answers.'
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From the same, a weekly online soap call 'Flatmates' - great idea. Now wouldn't it be good to be able to download the programmes for use in our classes
Always worth a mention - 'Wikipedia, the free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit.'



A few days to plan your lessons around in August:

1st - World Wide Web Anniversary
12th - International Youth Day
13th - Lefthanded Day
31st - Malaysia Independence Day
La Tomatina Festival, Spain
The Burning Man Project in Nevada

To see the list of Days

Wikipedia's excellent focus on days of the year:
Some holiday origins.



There is a new review up this month. Real English Grammar: Intermediate to Upper Intermediate by Hester Lott (Marshall Cavendish) is a relatively new grammar book well worth recommending to your intermediate students.
To read the review

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Train in Spain - Courses running in the near future at the British Language Centre in Madrid:

Full-time four-week courses, next courses September, October, November '05
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Full-time two-month courses October/November '05, January/February '06
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