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Teaching Tips 59

Setting the tone
Being observed

Setting the tone

Intonation is usually seen as a difficult area for both the student & the teacher with quite a few teachers trying to 'protect' their students from disillusionment by ignoring intonation completely. The students won't be able to hear it, let alone come out with it, so why bother?

As suggested in previous Tips, introducing 'prominence' - stress within utterances - goes a long way to helping both receptively & productively. And before getting into more technical discussions of intonation with our students there is another approach to smooth the road. This is through 'voice quality setting' in which the distinctive features of speakers are discussed. In other words, how does it sound? Is the speaker using a deep pitch, using the tip of the tongue, not opening the lips much, sound squeaky etc.. Using this kind of 'lay-language' is attractive for all. Here are a few ideas for incorporating this:

1. Students listen to various speakers of different nationalities speaking in their native language & then discuss the differences between them.

2. Students listen to various nationalities speaking English & discuss the differences between them.

3. Students have a roleplay using the 'foreign' characteristics that came out of their discussions above.

4. Students 'shadow read' - see a past Tip 'Shadow Reading' where students read a script with exactly the same mannerisms along with the tape several times & the teacher gradually turns the volume down, so that by the end the students are sounding very similar to the original on the tape.

5. Students, in their own language, mimic English speakers of their language - lots of fun.

This brings an awareness of what is involved in intonation - a lot more than the sum of the words - without all the technical talk & in a safe & fun way. The teacher can then feel more confident about getting into more specific listening development later on.

For other phonology-related Tips & articles on the site.

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The Breath of Fraternity - Souleymane Keita

This week we're looking at two aspects of tolerance. The first is the kind that a language learner needs for effective learning & the second is the kind we all need & is linked to the International Day for Tolerance on 16th November.

First the language learner. I'm sure you have students who need to know rules & when an exception comes along they find it difficult & uncomfortable. This could also apply to the newness of cultural differences. And on the other hand, the student who is very open to the new & will accept anything but there is a tendency for a too relaxed anything-goes approach. This is all about the cognitive style of 'ambiguity tolerance' - a positive characteristic of the effective language learner.

Clearly neither of the above descriptions will lead to effective learning & a balance is needed. There needs to be a degree of intolerance as this helps to keep one on the straight & narrow as the unnecessary & impossible are rejected. And as language is organic & not particularly regular there needs to be tolerance in order to cope with the new & a dynamic, changing interlanguage.

It is said that awareness is half the battle won, so a discussion of this aspect in class can certainly do no harm, & very possibly a lot of good in pointing to the right direction. Try the following questions:

1. Do you always need to know the 'rule' or are you happy to communicate & concentrate on getting the message across?
2. If you come across words in a text, are you happy to read on & hope that you'll get the meaning from the context or do you need to know the meaning before continuing?
3. Do you find English-speaking customs strange & alien or do you find them interesting?

Developing intuition can also help. 'Does it sound right?', working out meaning from contexts, encouraging guessing & lots of oral & written fluency work for accuracy-conscious students can help to free them up. Training in language analysis through noticing tasks & subsequent analysis helps with self study which will enable students to incorporate the new & see the wider picture of the language. Challenge in the classroom, problem solving & treating the students as decision makers & language organisers make them into better discriminators.

This isn't an area that is looked at much on training courses & in methodology books, probably because it is hard to pin down & because the learner's personality plays a large part, so if you have any more ideas for ambiguity tolerance, post for all in the Forums at this thread.

November 16th is International Day for Tolerance - a necessary reminder. As UNESCO say at their Tolerance site:

Alarmed by the rise of intolerance, violence, terrorism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination against minorities, the General Conference adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance and proclaimed 16 November the International Day for Tolerance.

The following ideas use the material from the site, with permission.

To see the material

Six artists were invited to design Tolerance flags . Here are the flags & a description of each. Ask the students to match them up - five contain clear clues - & then decide which they prefer. They could then go on to design their own flags that celebrate tolerance, put them around the walls & then the class vote on the best.

There is a page at the site on ten ideas for observing the day. Below is a matching activity - headings & paragraphs. Maybe begin with a brainstorm on how the day could be observed, then on to the matching & then the students order the activities in order of importance &/or interest. Then you could carry out some of the activities & round up with discussions on tolerance, in its various forms, in the students' countries & the world at large.

The Ten Ideas page at the UNESCO Tolerance site

The Six Flags of Tolerance page

The UNESCO Tolerance Home Page

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Being observed

I'm sure that most of us have been observed teaching by a friend, colleague or supervisor. It can be a nerve-racking experience but with most things, the more you do it the easier it becomes. This week we offer some advice for when you next find your self about to be observed:

1. Prepare thoroughly - write a detailed lesson plan - which hopefully fits into the fortnightly timetable you have designed. Divide it into Preliminary Information & Procedure. Use the headings in the preliminary information & the stage layouts we use in the lesson plans on the site. For lots of examples click along to the lesson plan index on the site.

2. In the preliminary information, spend time on the anticipated problems. Think each stage through in terms of the problems that might arise with the language (meaning, form, phonology), the classroom management & the activities.

3. You lesson aims are important. Don't have too many aims as you might not get them in! Have one or two main aims & two or three secondary aims. And don't plan to achieve a main aim in the last activity of the lesson - again you might not get there.

4. Well before the lesson get the bits together - the tape recorder, cue up the tape, make sure the board pens work, the visuals you might need etc.

5. If you find it difficult to use the board, make up posters beforehand of the board stages so that all is neat & efficient.

6. If you are nervous just before the lesson do some breathing activities to help you calm down.

7. During the lesson, concentrate on the learners. By doing this you might well forget there is anyone else in the room.

8. If the students want to diverge, weigh up the odds of going with them. Have you already achieved your aims? If so, fine but otherwise it might be better to stick with your well thought out aims.

9. And don't worry if things don't go as planned - react & deal with the situation. Teaching can't be programmed & it doesn't, fortunately, always go as planned. Teaching is about reacting.

10. After the lesson, & before feedback with the observer, reflect on what happened. Think about the following points:

a. How do you feel about the lesson as a whole?
b. How do you think the students felt about the lesson?
c. Did you achieve you aims? Why/not?
d. Were there any differences between your plan & what actually happened? List the differences.
e. Think of five areas to work on as a result of the lesson.

11. Above all, think positively about the observation. It's not everybody that is fortunate enough to be observed. It should be being carried out in order to help you develop your teaching & as there are many ways of carrying out a lesson, it is an ideal opprtunity to listen to a fellow teacher.

A previous Tip P2P, deals with organising peer to peer observations.

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