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Teaching Tips 12

A snail race
Silence can be golden
The rather dominant student

A Snail Race
You're probably beginning to think about the end of term progress evaluation & how you're going to do it. If you aren't restricted to a set written test, try this out:

At the end of term tell your students that they are going to have a 'fun' test in the next lesson & that they should bring all of their notes with them.

Then in the next lesson, divide them into two or three teams. Each team finds a space to themselves where they can't be overheard by the other teams & prepare a number of questions (ten?) about anything that has been covered during the term. They should use their notes to make up the questions & they must know the answers.

When each team has a list of questions bring them together & have a competition. The teams ask each other questions & on getting it correct get a point.

So what about the snail? Well, I've got several different coloured snails which I blutack to the board & draw wavy roads in front of them & divide the roads into a series of steps, which represent a point each. When the team with the red snail win a point they move a step nearer to the winning line. They don't move very fast - hence the snails!

It's a fun way of actually getting your students to review their work when preparing the questions & then when they ask & answer them you can use the opportunity to draw out further points.

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Silence can be golden
There is a tendancy for teachers to start getting nervous when there is silence in the classroom. Maybe the students are bored, they could be upset with the way the activity or class is going or they might be too tired to bother - all negative thoughts about what might be happening.
Try to think of 'productive silence' - this is using silence effectively & viewing it positively.

Here are a few ideas where silence can be used productively:

- use individual work before pairwork. It is thought that this order is much more productive than straight into pairwork. The individual has time to think before sharing ideas.

- use mental effort & challenge actively as a means to working out language for themselves.

- use lots of problem solving with the adult learner. The language then becomes much more memorable & interesting.

- have a silent reflection time of 2/3 minutes after a language presentation or a freer oral activity. In the former the students can think about how they might use the new language & in the latter they can think about how they got on & mentally prepare to tell a neighbour about the strategies they used to go about the task. You're providing 'space' for them to think.

- reflection time could come at the end of a lesson - the students have time to think about what was covered & formulate any questions.

- use silence as another means of varying the pace of a lesson. Plan this in amongst the speaking & listening activities to create a well-balanced lesson

- the writing skill is much underrated & neglected because of the apparent 'waste' of valuable classroom time. OK, but writing is valuable in its own right & as reinforcement for language work. While students are writing it is a very active time for them. I rather suspect that the attitude to writing has more to do with teacher prejudice than student prejudice. More on this in a future tip.

- give silent preparation time before getting into a roleplay or discussion. The students think about the language they will need & how they can go about accomplishing the task. Be on hand for any questions from individuals. The resulting discussion will be more fruitful. This in mentioned in the Tip 'Promoting specific language use in freer oral activities'.

- I always try to get the adult group talking as soon as they come into class but it is the opposite with the younger learner class - they usually come in hyped up after a day at school. A silent activity to begin the lesson helps you take the reins from the start & helps them focus on the lesson at hand.

The above looks at the student & silence but there's also the teacher & silence - more on this in a future Tip.

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The rather dominant student
It's great to see students contributing in a lesson but sometimes a student might be contributing too much & not letting the others have a say. It may be that you have encouraged the student to contribute more & it is over-compensation, in which case s/he'll quieten down soon enough. However, the student might want to show off that s/he knows it all or s/he might want to maximise her/his talking time at the expense of the other students. Sometimes the student might not even be aware this is happening. The other students will be only too aware though.

So what do you do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Elect students more rather than letting it become a free-for-all. When electing & eliciting think about who you're going to ask. Try to bring out the quieter & shyer ones.

2. In a discussion or roleplay give out ten rods/buttons/coins to each student. When they say something they put the rod in the middle & when they have put all their rods in the middle they cannot contribute any more!

3. In the same kind of activities, freer speaking ones, rotate the roles so that all get to play the stronger, more demanding roles.

4. Tell the 'dominant' student to 'take a break/holiday' in a nice way - 'Thanks Julio, now let's get some ideas from someone else.' 'Hey, Julio, take a break for a bit.'

5. There are some very nice activities about working in groups in 'Classroom Dynamics' by Jill Hadfield (OUP). Try some of them out now & again. It will be an excellent addition to your library. You can get it through the 'Books' page.

6. Do some more work on what effective speaking & listening involve. Talk about the relevant sub-skills such as turntaking & active listening. Apart from being very useful for all, maybe s/he will get the message.

7. If it is interfering with the lessons then have a tutorial with the student & broach the subject. Maybe the student is trying to tell you that the class is too low & easy or possibly the s/he is trying to help you out by providing so much. Whatever the reason, it will be worthwhile finding out. See the tip on tutorials & the accompanying pre-tutorial task sheets.

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