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Teaching Tips 112

Pushing Student Talk Buttons
ReCORDing the REcord of work
The finish

Pushing Student
Talk Buttons

Everyone's has got a rich imagination but how often have you heard students say that they haven't go any? This week we have an activity sent in by Alicia Delahunty from Bethesda in Maryland USA, that exemplifies the need to help the students out a bit when we ask them to use their imagination. Here's the activity:

Answering the Five Ws and H speculative questions based on a real object can be a rich experience for the beginning as well as more advanced speakers.

Preparation: Ask friends and family if you may rummage through their sewing boxes. Select a variety of buttons including plain, fancy, brass, and plastic. You will need about five more buttons than you have students in your class as well as a strong bag for storage.

In class, the students pass around the bag and select a button.
Ask the students to close their eyes and imagine:

The button
The garment
The owner
The loss of the button

It is important not to prompt; the results will be hopelessly derivative of your example if you do.

Past Results:
A beginning student described a big chef losing his flat white linen button off his jacket in his kitchen. An intermediate student described a large leather weave button as coming from a vintage coat worn by young woman who lost it getting out of a taxi during a night’s clubbing. She was upset because it would be hard to match and replace. A student in an advanced class described a small striped cloth-covered button as belonging to an older woman who lost it from a housedress she was wearing while putting an apple pie in the oven. She was baking for a needy family in her small town. She has devoted herself to good works ever since her childhood sweetheart went off to the Korean War and married a nurse there.

Alice's activity is an excellent one for stimulating students' imagination - lots of interesting speaking! Alice provides the prompts & the students do the rest. Next time you ask for an imaginative response & you get little back, think if have given them enough support.

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ReCORDing the
REcord of work

The last couple of Tips have been about classroom management areas & we continue this week in the same vein by looking briefly at giving students a record of work to take away.

Sometimes we can get wrapped up in introducing or reviewing a language area that we forget to give the students a record of the area to take away. A record of the work is essential as we hope our students will review their work & if there is no record, or a messy & incomplete one, then all our work will be in vain. I am assuming that the students have notebooks in the first place.

So what should go into a record? It depends on what your are looking at but you cannot go too far wrong if you cover meaning, form & phonology.

With meaning you have to consider if you are teaching the literal meaning eg 'to talk about an action in the past that has present relevance' or the functional meaning - 'to boast'.

With the form, you need to ensure that the students know the metalanguage you are using - verb, subject, transitive verb etc.

With phonology, word stress with vocabulary & stress in your model sentence with structures are essential. Then you could highlight any sound problems with phonemic script & tonal movement with structures & functions.

And then do you elicit the record on to the board or give a handout? If the students are copying from the board, they have to at least put some effort into their records, & try to make them presentable. A handout might be glanced at & shoved into the back of the notebook, never to see the light of day again. A worksheet can be a useful way of providing a record. The students are given a guided worksheet that asks them to fill in the gaps as they work out the meaning, form & phonology themselves. This provides lots of investment & doubles up the record with the actual presentation.

And the layout of the record. Consistency is important so that when the student looks through her notebook, she can see the major records & take note. If it is all a jumble, things become meshed together & clarity is lost. A title is needed, followed by headings as in the example below:

Last weekend- the past simple

Meaning: To talk about the past - last weekend.

Form: Subject + past simple verb
irregular - go > went, see > saw
regular - add '-ed' - play > played, walk > walked

I went to the cinema on Sunday.
He played football last Saturday.

Extra information:
We cannot say 'I was playing football last Saturday'. (for Spanish speakers)

If your students are copying from the board, plan this time into your lesson plan, & while they are copying, get around & correct any mistakes they make, especially at lower levels.

What appears a minor part of the lesson can have much longer-term effects. Talk to your students about how they record the different aspects of language & make recommendations so that they can become as effective as possible. We have been looking at records of language areas but there are different types of records for your students such as stratgegies worked on & the principles are the same. Clear consistent records of work are an important part of organised, systematic teaching.

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The finish

The finish

The unofficial Limerick Day, the birthday of Edward Lear, is on May 12th, there is some lesson material in a past Tip 'There once was an English teacher':


As we looked at setting up activities last week, here we are going to have a brief look at a couple of considerations when rounding off activities.

The first consideration would be when to finish the task. Some say you should finish it before the students finish it, while they are going strong, rather than let it peter out. It depends on the task, you might need the task finishing completely before going on to the next.

And then what kind of task is it? If it's a task that you know they have all completed well by going round & monitoring & helping out, you could save time & just breeze on & not have a class feedback. I should give some brief recognition of the completion - 'Everyone did well there, now let's move on to ...' - so that the stages don't merge too much 6 that the students can recognise that there's a transition happening.

If you need to go through some answers, do you just do this orally or do you write the answers on the board? Board work makes the feedback longer but it does clarify it for the weaker students - they can catch up if they are thinking about an answer, they can see all of the answers on the board.

If you are going through the answers to a task, it does not have to be you that elicits the answers. Let the students do it. Choose a different student each time & keep an ear out to make sure they are on the right track. All good for the group dynamics.

If you find that the task has been difficult then you need to decide whether to push on or take action to help them out. Having an 'if necessary' task would help here. Imagine a controlled activity to consolidate a language point that did not run smoothly. The students need more time to clarify it so you can give them the extra activity that you had in reserve.

If it has been a speaking task, you need to give feedback on both the content - did they accomplish what the purpose of the task was - & feedback on the language. It's easy to miss the language feedback out so take notes during the freer speaking tasks & decide what to do with the data you have collected. Do you give feedback immediately after the activity, or do you feed your data into future lessons in the form of memory jogs, re-presentations etc...? Whatever approach you choose, some general feedback on language is essential. At least mention some of the things that the students said well - a pat on the back.

Be attentive to less obvious speaking tasks in the lesson, the classroom speaking tasks; students comparing answers, predicting what may be in a reading etc... Proficiency in these tasks provide the real speaking needs for lower levels, especially if they are learning in their own country. Look at some language they need to do the tasks beforehand & give feedback afterwards on language performance. It might be part of another task, but it is speaking all the same.

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