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Teaching Tips 40

Looking it up - pt 1
Two more students
Post it up!

Looking it up
- part 1
dictionary entry

We haven't really mentioned using the dictionary much in the Tips before so here is part one.

With more & more sophisticated dictionaries coming on the market there is even more reason to help our students to use the dictionary as effectively as they can. Referencing is a skill & training in this skill is necessary for effective learning. And the dictionary is the single most useful reference book available to our students.

So what can we get out of a dictionary? No matter how sophisticated the dictionary, we are going to get help with meaning, appropriacy, form & phonology.

For students, meaning is the area they first come to the dictionary for. They will be given definitions & probably they will be accompanied by example sentences, especially in the newer dictionaries based on a corpus. Appropriacy is part of the meaning of a word &, if relevant, the dictionary tells us something of the context of the word - e.g. 'sl', 'derog', 'med' or 'taboo'. The form will tell you about the parts of speech, as well as the spelling.

Pronunciation will be represented with the word in phonemics & the word stress marked. An essential part of knowing a word, word stress should really be introduced from day 1 of any course. Don't forget to show how the dictionary highlights word stress & how it might be different from the way you do it on the board e.g. a box. As to the phonemic representation, this is reason enough to introduce the sounds passively to your students.

It's a good idea to use & transfer these categories for use in your learners' vocabulary notebooks - the word, the meaning including the example sentences, the form & the pronunciation.

Depending on the dictionary, the definition can sometimes use more advanced language than the word under scrutiny. So you have to think about when it might be time to move from a bilingual dictionary to a monolingual one, & then, as they are not cheap, give advice on which one to buy.

Elementary learners need some support in the form of a dictionary. The coursebook series 'Cutting Edge' comes with a mini-dictionary as part of the student coursebook. Most students will also have a bilingual dictionary. This is fair enough as they won't be able to understand monolingual dictionaries & translation is, after all, a natural activity. Again, give advice on which to buy.

Most schools have class sets of dictionaries for use in class. This means that students aren't lugging around a hefty tome every time they come to class. If class sets aren't freely available then try to persuade your DOS of their value.

Assuming your students can afford to buy a dictionary, ask your students to bring their dictionaries into class at the beginning of a course. This might encourage those who haven't got one to invest & will enable you to see which dictionaries they are using & angle your dictionary training activities towards theirs.

Make dictionary work just another element of the class rather than something special. Incorporate it bit by bit so that it is seen as a useful step not only in discovering the new but also in the checking of the almost known. Your students might then use their dictionaries more naturally & more often outside of the classroom.

A teacher worry is that dictionary work in class can take up quite a bit of time. If you're not sure how long an activity is going to take, do the activity yourself & possibly double the time, depending on the level.

At the bottom of the Books page there are several recommended dictionaries.

In the second part of this Tip we'll give some activities for dictionary training.

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Two more students
X-ray vision

Dealing with groups & all they entail can be complicated & quite a few of the Tips are designed to help with this. This week is about the individuals we find within the group as we continue to look at two more student 'types'.

In past Teaching Tips we have looked at the non-believer/doubter & the perpetual writer:
And the rather dominant student

This week it's the turn of the youngster & the student with no opinions or imagination.

The youngster/adolescent

She finds herself in a class of adults with a marked age difference. She should really be in a group that matches her age but there isn't one at the time she can attend. So it is up to the teacher to cope with the situation. Maybe there is no problem at all & all get on very well but occasionally the adults think they are wasting their time working with her as she doesn't have many opinions to contribute in discussions. She is quiet & seemingly unmotivated.

The simplest approach is to treat her as an adult & see how it goes. If it becomes a problem, an idea would be to rotate the adults who work with her by changing the seating positions every other class - don't forget to change everyone so that it's not too obvious. The youngster usually has something to contribute. If they are learning at school then their knowledge of grammar is usually way above the spoken level so you can call on them when eliciting rules, explanations & examples. She will then feel more a part of the group & the adults will realise that they all have something to offer. And of course talk to them all about it in individual tutorials if necessary.

For the Tip on giving tutorials

The student with no opinions or imagination

I'm sure you've come up against this. For example, when you ask your students to imagine what life used to be like X number of years ago - in order to practise 'used to' - a student throws up her hands & says that she can't possibly tell you as she has no imagination. The same with opinions - a discussion on what you might consider to be interesting & topical falls flat because they say they haven't got an opinion about it.

I'm always amazed at these reactions. It's not as if you're asking them to design a space rocket or anything complex. Or I am amazed until I start thinking about how I set the activities up & wonder if there was any other way to do it more successfully. There usually is!

Students need time to get ideas together. Brainstorming ideas is clearly an essential step to a smooth activity - they need to collect their thoughts before they begin a discussion. Sometimes it's easy to forget the mental load that they are under in our English classes. They have to come up with ideas & express them in another language in which they probably don't feel very confident. No wonder they try to take evasive strategies!

And with a new class, the students need time to get used to you & your approach to different activities. Build up with short activities which require imagination. Also talk to the students about what you are trying to achieve - to use the language. It doesn't matter what they say - within reason - as you are interested in how they say it. The more real the opinion, the more personal investment & all the better, but it doesn't matter if the opinions they give are invented. A last point is to make sure they have the language with which to express these ideas & opinions as it can be very frustrating to have an opinion but unable to express it & have to dumb down - watch out for this.

Any more ideas on these two students??
For the Tip on brainstorming

A note on stereotypes - the above are just that, stereotypes, so careful.

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Post it up!

A very nice way of brainstorming ideas is to use a poster presentation. Put your students into groups of three or four & supply them with a large piece of card & a variety of coloured pens. If you haven't got any card, sheets of paper can be used. Set the task - to storm everything they know about subject - crime, education etc. Encourage them to draw a mind map, with the topic in the middle & ideas growing out of this. All could write or you could elect a secretary in each group. Give them 10-15 minutes. Then get them to stick them on the walls evenly spaced around the classroom. They then wander around discussing the ideas on the other groups' posters. This is then followed by a whole class discussion.

Instead of the one area, you could give out different topics for them to design a poster for. These could be areas you have looked at over the past month - language areas & topics - & use this as the progress review. All look at the posters, bringing recent work to mind once again.

Posters are a great way of presenting mini-projects with younger learners. I saw one recently that was about a 'crazy zoo'. The children had designed new animals from the different parts of other animals - eg. a camels' head, zebra's body with the two legs of a bird. These new designs had been drawn & coloured in & covered one wall of the classroom. Good visual revision of animals & body vocabulary.

Corporate clients are used to 'flip charts' & will take to poster presentations. Ideas for this could be a poster designed to represent company structure, an advert for a new product, a sales process etc.

General students could use the posters to present their field of expertise - a simple drawing of certain processes that they are explaining - eg. how a certain machine works, the players in their favourite football team.

As with language teaching, posters are great for reviewing areas in teacher training. Give your trainees the card & pens & get each group to storm an area you looked at that week - language practice, testing, vocabulary teaching etc. All look at each others' & everyone gets to review the week's work.

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