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Teaching Tips 4

Helping learners to sound more interesting
Learner-based language presentations
Using learner diaries

Helping your stds to sound more
interesting

Have you thought how monotone & boring your students sound when they are involved in pair & group work? This could be for a variety of reasons: the activity might not be particularly interesting, there is no genuine communication happening, the stds are tired, the activity is too difficult or they might be concentrating on saying the right words & forgetting about how they are saying it - the intonation.

A simple way to help them with this is to focus on pitch (sometimes called key). This is the height of the voice & can be high (for interest, surprise, shock etc.), mid (for information, neutral) or low (for boredom, disinterest etc.) - it's all to do with how you feel about what you're talking about.

Here are some ways of encouraging the stds to sound more interested:

1. Explain that they sound uninteresting & ask them how they would react to a speaker like that. If they don't believe you then tape them & play it back to them.

2. Talk to your stds in the same monotone way & they'll soon get the message!

3. As you monitor mimic them & tell them to sound more interested.

4. Tape several short conversations & the stds identify whether the speakers are using a high, mid or low pitch. Then in threes, two stds read two line dialogues & the third std identifies the pitch they are using - rotate speakers & identifier to give all a go.

5. In listening activities focus on the feelings of the speakers. A classic extensive task is; how many speakers are there & what's the relationship between them/how do they feel?

6. Put a sentence on the board & stds say it together in different ways; surprised,bored, astonished, impressed...

7. Compare the pitch of your stds native language with English. If they use a narrow range in their own language then make them aware of the difference with English.

8. Give out roleplays & not only give the role but also how they should feel.

9. Mime roleplays - give stds rolecards with a scene on it & three adjectives to incorporate into the given scene - the stds practise & then mime the scene in front of the class who try & guess the three adjectives.

10. Give an 'opposite mood' roleplay: one std is happy about a few things & the other is unhappy about the same things so they have to convince each other to change to their mood. This is similar to the activity 'Moaning Minnies' in Communication Games - Advanced by Hadfield (Longman).

11. Informal/formal language - play two conversations, one informal (usually higher pitch) & the other formal (usually lower pitch) but the pitch is wrong - stds discuss the differences - then they can have the conversation with the script using the right pitch & carry on the dialogues.

So it's not necessarily what you say but the way you say it!

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Learner-based language presentations
If you base your presentations, & any other activity, on your students' interests, feelings & experiences then the target language will be more memorable & the presentation more interesting.
Here's an example of a learner-based presentation.
The target language is 'likes & dislikes' & can be varied according to level.

1. Put the following columns on the board:
Mmmm!/Mm!/--/Ugh!/Uuuugghh!
Elicit the varying degree of feeling from love >> hate but not the language - that comes later.

2. Dictate a series of nouns & verb-ing examples e.g. chocolate, learning English, studying, watching TV, playing football, computers, reading, driving etc.
Students put them under the columns for how they feel about them - I would put chocolate under Mmmmm! & watching TV under Ugh!
I should dictate about 15 different things - they should know the vocabulary already.

3. Presentation - elicit or give the language for each column:
I love/adore - I like/enjoy - I don't mind - I don't like/enjoy - I can't stand/hate
Elicit the form - each can be followed by + noun, + verb-ing, + pronoun
Elicit examples & drill when relevant.
Students copy down the new language.

4. Practice - students in pairs or small groups compare their dis/likes e.g. 'What have you got for chocolate? I like it. What about you?'
To make it more interesting I should get them to explain why they feel as they do about the things.
The object is to find three things in common - the communicative purpose to the activity.
As they do the activity go around & correct.

So here not only is the presentation completely learner-based but the practice also uses the same information about the students. They provide the content & you provide the language!
Which other language areas lend themselves to this type of presentation? Can/can't, future continuous/perfect ...

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Learner Diaries
This is an excellent idea for two-way feedback between you & the individual student about the course & the learning process. The student gets a chance to privately let you know how the course is going, get feedback from you & also be involved in authentic writing practice. You get valuable feedback on your lessons.

Provide, or get your students to buy, a notebook exclusively for the diary. The students complete them individually after every lesson/week/two weeks depending on the frequency of the lessons.

I should give some guidelines to follow:
Which parts of the lesson did you enjoy?
Which parts did you find challenging?
Which parts would you like to go through again?
Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Mode 3 (Collins) has an introduction to learner diaries in unit 4. For very low levels you could translate it into their native language.

If your students cannot complete the diaries outside of class time then let them write in class for 10 minutes at the end of the week.

Take in the diaries & comment in each. You are mainly interested in the content but also give them some feedback on the writing - not too much as it might put them off the diaries! You can also comment on other things that have happened in the class e.g. praise the student for a good performance in a roleplay or encourage more attention to pronunciation etc. Encourage the students to write as often as they like & stick to the minimum. You will have to talk to the students & convince them that it is a good idea to use learner diaries but once you get the project going all should see the benefits.

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