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Teaching Tips 93

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But they won't speak....



We've briefly touched on Community Language Learning (CLL) in other Tips so it's time for a slightly more detailed look. This approach was developed by Charles Curran (1972) in his Counseling-Learning model of education. He took his core idea from Carl Rogers, who promoted the students as a group, rather than a class, & all the dynamics that a group entails. CLL views the teacher as the counselor, who guides the students, the clients, within the supportive group.

The basic procedure is as follows:

1. The students sit in a circle, having already built up a dynamic of trust. They have a tape recorder in the middle of the circle & they decide what to talk about, the topic, something that they choose & all are interested in.

2. When an individual has something to say, they record it on the tape. If they don't know how to express themselves, or wish to do it better, they can confer with the teacher, who is outside the circle. This can be done in the mother tongue & the teacher gives the student the English version of what they need to say. This is then taped. The whole conversation is built up on the tape.

3. At the end, after about ten minutes or so, the teacher stops the activity & before the next lesson, transcribes the conversation.

4. The transcribed conversation is used for analysis; highlighting new language, memory jogs on old language, pronunciation work etc.. & hopefully, the students will be able to work out the different aspects but if not, the teacher, would explain & clarify.

On first reading this you may wonder at the stilted nature of the recording task. This can be less fluid than you might hope for at the beginning but after a few times the procedure moves along smoothly. And if you are worried that the the students don't know what to talk about, you could do some pre-work on this by supplying a series of current topics to choose from. You might also need to work out strategies for avoiding one or two students dominating the discussions. And clearly, the smaller the class, the more manageable.

There are lots of variations on the basic procedure. The students, instead of the teacher, could transcribe the conversation at the end of the activity. A lot is made of the bilingualism of the teacher, being able to understand what the student says in the mother tongue & then give an appropriate way of saying the same in English. For beginner groups, it is necessary to have a high level in the mother tongue of the students but from intermediate & up, you could do the whole activity in English. The students could give an approximation of what they would like to say in English for the teacher to give a better way of expressing it.

This technique is clearly very student-centred & can be lots of fun for all. It was designed with beginner students in mind with the idea that after several sessions, the learners begin to incorporate the language from previous sessions & begin to become autonomous, & less dependent on the teacher. Whichever level it is used at, the students really listen to each other & it is good for developing the dynamics of the group.

Read up on CLL as it is a lot more than the procedure described above, & then try it out.

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Newsletter Projects

Newspapers are a great source of reading material in class, & now with online news sites, combined with lots of free newsletters, there is no end of suitable material for us to use. This is not only great news for our lesson planning but our students can now read at ease, & usually for free, in English whatever subject that takes their fancy.

A couple of regular email newsletters I receive are from the Economist website - - 'Business this week' & 'Politics this week'. The summary paragraphs of major events are ideal for classroom use, so if you get all of your business English class to sign up then you have a ready-made part of each week earmarked. Alternatively copy yours & take the hard copy into class. To sign up for these free newsletters, you have to register with the site first:

There are lots of other free newsletters around on just about anything. Your students are probably receiving some which others in the group might be interested in. Find out what everyone receives & all sign up to one or two, & again, you have an instant & constant resource.

Newsletters can also be designed by your own students. A useful project would be for a group to come up with a learning tip each fortnight, such as how to organise learning notebooks, how to approach texts, what to do outside the classroom to continue learning - the students choose from the ideas that you have introduced over the course. You could ask interested students in the institution to give their email addresses & then send out the Tip each week, fortnight or month. Apart from the tip, the newsletter could also be a vehicle for  news about the school.

The newsletter could also contain other news about what is happening in the local area connected to English; films showing, concerts etc with reviews & recommendations. An interesting new recommended English website could also be a regular feature. Another idea could be to invite questions from learners, the newsletter could then incorporating the response to any questions. The student produced newsletter doesn't have to be very long & sent very regularly, it could have a flexible mailing timetable. It does provide a really nice on-going mini project for most groups.

The newsletter could be from you to your students, a monthly reminder about what has been covered, what is to be covered in the following month, with a request for feedback on the course. Another channel between you & your students.

The newsletter is a technological take on the class newspaper, with the great advantage being that it is free to distribute, you don't need to make any copies, simply email it out. Most email programmes will allow you to send lots of mails & there are more robust software programmes that can deal with a lot of addresses.

If you're not already exploiting newsletters why not get going?

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But they won't

It was Mozart's 250th birthday last Friday so rather than wait another fifty years, you could design a lesson around his life & music. Here are a few links to help you get started:
The Mozart Project
Mozart at Wikipedia

This week we take a brief look at why our learners don't speak in English when we want them to. We set up activities but they aren't forthcoming. Here are a few reasons:

1. Some students may be shy in front of their peers.
2. The topic may not be interesting.
3. They don't have the necessary language to accomplish the task.
4. The students may not know what is required of them.
5. The students may feel that the activity is relevant to their learning objectives.
6. One std may be dominating.
7. The task has been over-prepared and there is little else to say on the topic.
8. The students would rather interact with the teacher rather than their class mates.
9. The roleplay might seem childish eg when asked to take on the role of a younger person.
10. Personality conflicts may mean that students don't want to work with each other.
11. They want to be corrected when they may mistakes. They hear others making them & wonder why you aren't doing anything.
12. The students just speak in their mother tongue.

Not a comprehensive list, I'm sure you can think of some more. Now here are some ideas for helping. They are mixed up so see if you can match the problem & a possible solution.

a. Analyse the task beforehand, predict what language they might need & teach them it before the task. If there is too much language to teach, then maybe this task is an inappropriate choice. If they don't have the language then they will naturally turn to their mother tongue to help them out.
b. Explain why you are asking them to carry out the task. It maybe a roleplay alien to their lives but the language may be transferable to different situations. Also explain the use of pairwork to maximise class time & that we always learn off each other.
c. I personally never get adults to roleplay youngsters.
d. Be aware of the personalities in the class & choose who works with who carefully. If this becomes a big problem, talk to individuals to sort it out.
e. Rotate the roles you give so that all have a chance to play a strong role, so the quieter ones get to come out of themselves & no one person can dominate every time.
f. Help students to ease into the roles by getting them to do some preparation before the class at home.
g. Again explain your methodology. If you aren't correcting during the task, tell them that you are monitoring them & will look at areas afterwards. If you step in during, then you will stop the flow of the activity. Talk about the difference between controlled & freer activities.
h. Try not to give out too much material when setting up the task. Be clear with instructions & check all know what they have to do.
i. Choose topics careful, & not just the next one in the coursebook because it's there.
j. Involve your students in the choice of topics. Give out a list &, as a class, select the next few to look at.
k. Maybe you're expecting production too quickly after introducing new language. Some more controlled activities might be needed.

It can be a challenge to get our students to speak but a lot lies in the preparation, both in our lesson planning & the preparation of the students for the task.

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