- part 1
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
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
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
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
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
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
In past Teaching Tips we have looked at the non-believer/doubter & the perpetual writer:
And the rather dominant
This week it's the turn of the youngster & the student
with no opinions or imagination.
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.
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,
Back to the contents
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
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
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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the Past Teaching Tips