Teaching Tips 176
Last week we looked briefly at different resources for listenings in the classroom & we mentioned using audio scripts.
Scripts can be very useful for both the student & the teacher & worth using as a matter of course after most listenings. Here are a few ideas:
- After listening extensively & intensively, give out the scripts & ask the students to listen & read. After, in pairs they tell each other where they found the text difficult &, if possible, why. Then on to a class discussion of the difficulties - see below for pronunciation difficulties.
You may think that this
- Use the script as part of a listening task - cut up the text into sections of 3/4 lines each, depending on how long the text is - you don't want to swamp them with bits of paper. Give out the sections & the students listen & put the text in order. It might be appropriate to give them time to attempt to put the dialogue in order before they listen as this will give them the opportunity to actually read the sections first. After listening they already have the text in front of them to exploit.
- A variation of the above would be to give a different section to each student & they put themselves in the order as per the text. They listen & then re-order if necessary. Lots of describing & discussion.
- After the listening, the text is used to focus on an aspect of language, a 'noticing' activity. e.g. the students underline all of the past tense verbs, which are then focused on for the introduction of some new irregular verbs that are in the text. The text provides the context for the new language.
- Noticing some aspect of pronunciation. The students compare what they hear with the script & why it is different e.g. the use of intrusion, elision etc. For more on 'sounds in combination.
Also for ongoing awareness of tone units & prominence. Give the script & students mark both aspects, then listen to see if they were right. Could be done before listening to the text or afterwards. For more on this aspect of phonology.
- For oral practice. The students read the dialogue, or a part of it, aloud to each other. If using a part of the dialogue - 6-8 lines - get the students to read to each other several times, each taking a role. Take away the texts & they work out/discuss what happened before & after this section & then have the whole conversation without the aid of a text.
- If you have a difficult song, you might still want to use it despite the difficulties. You could give out the lyrics initially, the students read & you clear up any difficulties. Then, from the lyrics, they try to predict which kind of music they are going to hear, then read & listen to the song. Or you could just give out the script & they read & listen before sorting out difficulties afterwards. The same with a dialogue.
- For testing - a traditional gap fill task. The students fill in gaps while they listen. Careful about the speed - do they have enough time to write & keep up with the text? If not, pause to give time.
- Give out a part of the text & the students write the missing part(s) - the end, the middle, the beginning. Then listen & compare. Good for narratives.
- Writing the script for a situation can be very useful as well. This gets the students to really think about accuracy, especially if they know they will be reading it out in front of the group. This could be a controlled practice activity shortly after a presentation, or a review in which the given situation brings together several different areas of language that have been looked at over the past couple of weeks.
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Sources of listening
There are several ways of providing listening exposure in class. It can come from live listening, the students listen to you or other speakers, the students listen to each other, & the students listen to recordings.
Live listening can save lots of preparation time & can be a natural way of interacting in class. This is where you tell anecdotes, stories, information,.... anything. It sounds easy to simply tell the students but it does need careful planning. Try to do it from memory, or if needed from notes, but don't read it all from a script as it will come out sounding very unnatural. Work out what you're going to say & how you will involve the students as well. This involvement makes it all the more natural as rather than the students sitting in silence, try to get them to be active listeners, responding & asking questions as they would in a conversation outside the classroom. This involvement might pre-empt the need to give pre-listening tasks as you can see how much they understand & clarify accordingly. At other times you might give tasks anyway.
There is also a time for very controlled live listenings. For
example a list of sentences are read out & students tick the
pictures they refer to. This is not natural but serves a purpose.
Cds, MP3s, videos &, less so these days, cassette tapes are essential
classroom resources. Coursebooks & workbooks contain ready-made audios &
the transcripts for instant use but do you often find that
the tape isn't quite what you need? Do you just carry on &
use it all the same or ignore it & look for something
else in the book? How often do you make your own audios? Time-consuming
but well worth the extra effort.
Making your own audios can be tricky. There
are basically three types of homemade audio; scripted, semi-scripted & authentic. Here's a quick
look at each.
scripted: here you write out
+: you can make sure the audio contains exactly what
-: making this type sound natural can be very
semi-scripted: here you give
the idea or language item you want used & the speakers
try to get it in as naturally as they can.
+: this sounds more natural.
-: you need to find good teacher actors to make these.
authentic: here the speakers
are unaware they are being recorded.
+: natural so useful for discourse analysis.
-: the density of the language might make it difficult
It is worth making the effort to produce
your own audio, keeping them for future use with different classes & nowadays it is even easier to make your own with smart phones & computers. A drawback of semi-scripted
& authentic is the lack of a transcript. It can take
ages to write it all down but sometimes it is necessary. A
variation on this is to get the students to transcribe a part
of the text themselves. Give them the recorder so they can
stop, rewind & start when they want & let them write
down what they hear. A dictation that can be very useful.
We've mentioned using transcripts before
as a means to helping students see where they have had problems
in their listening & also as a means to noticing aspects
of language - we usually get them to underline examples or
contrast examples. When they have transcribed a section you
could lead them to analyse what they have in front of them.
A nice variation.
One of the drawbacks with live listening is this noticing with the tapescript afterwards. You could write a script out when preparing the lesson but when you do the live listening do not refer to the script. After, when giving out the script, mention that it is not exactly the same but similar enough for the purposes of the next noticing task.
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To coincide with World Teachers' Day on 5th October below are
three past Tips, among many, centred around the teacher.
For ideas on the actual Day, check out the past Tip at:
& the website for the Day:
A teacher is...
I'm sure we'd all like to be 'good/effective'
teachers - what do you think of this list of attributes?
The effective teacher;
likes people & working with people.
researches & tries to know as much
as possible about what is being developed & taught.
can organise people.
can motivate people.
uses the power of the
teacher with care.
can foster relationships between the
people in the group.
is capable of becoming part of the group.
is patient & considerate.
is realistic about progress, realising
that it is not always (usually?) what is taught that
is what is being 'learnt'.
is human, makes mistakes & has
off days, & admits this.
is interested in doing a better job.
Reading, research & development are considered essential
So which do you think are the most important?
Can you narrow the list down to three or four of the most
important? Do you think all of these apply to you? Are
there any that you could develop much more yourself?Trying
to be an effective teacher means trying to continuously
develop the different areas touched upon in the list above.
A bit of creativity goes a long way...
said to be the combination of one's past experience &
new knowledge that produces a new or innovative result. And
research has shown that not only that everyone can be creative
- nothing new, but that it can be greatly improved with practice.
Going to one extreme of creativity, it apparently took Mozart
16 years to produce a piece of music of lasting greatness.
In the business world, creativity is recognised
as essential to keeping the edge over competitors. Hewlett
-Packard issued the following outline for fostering a creative
Rules of the Garage:
- Believe you can change the world.
- Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.
- Know when to work alone and when to work together
- Share - tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.
- No politics. No bureaucracy. (These are ridiculous
in a garage.)
- The customer defines a job well done.
- Radical ideas are not bad ideas.
- Invent different ways of working.
- Make a contribution everyday. If it doesn't contribute,
it doesn't leave the garage.
- Believe that together we can do anything.
"I believe that if you carry these rules with
you on your journey, if you create an environment where
people's hearts and minds are fully engaged, where strategy
is ennobling, where great aspirations are powered by
the desires of people to do something worthwhile, then
you will have touched others you encounter on your journey."
Carly Fiorina, President and CEO of HP, 2000
A very nice outline on which to to base your
staffroom & teaching approach.
Teaching is clearly a very creative activity,
the kind of activity that can become stale quite quickly if
creativity dries up. Creativity, both in the planning of lessons
& in the actual flow of lessons, can be both actively
persued & developed on the spot. And after the event,
reflection helps us add to our experience.
Creativity in the planning stages is usually
present if we want to make a lesson interesting & useful
for our students, as well as interesting for ourselves. We
save time by using successful plans, stages & activities
that have worked well in the past but we also have to think
how to deal with new materials, language & skills development.
Each group & individual is different , forcing us to adjust
our approach each time. One way to do this is to return to
the definition of creativity above, the combination of the
old & the new. Say we have a new language area we want
to practise with our 15 year olds, we can think back to other
activities & combine these with the new. This is something
that we can do automatically, but by consciously applying
this we can become much more creative & productive. A
pelmanism activity(1) for verbs & their past simple counterparts
can be used for a grammatical terminology matching, a vocabulary
review of pictures & names, a functional sentence match
to their situations etc... A flow chart(2) used to practise
the language of complaining can be used for any type of contextualised
language - suggesting, comparing, inviting etc.. It is the
idea of generalisability that is important here, using the
past (the activity) with the present (the new demand, eg.
the new language) to provide new results (a new practice activity).
This is all about the idea that we take creativity
seriously & consciously try to apply some principles in
order to help us become even more creative, provide an interesting
service for our students, as well as an interesting time for
ourselves. Have another look at the HP garage rules &
think about how they might be useful for you, your students
& your school. And have a look on the net for stuff on
creativity - there's a lot there.
(1)Pelmanism consists of lots of pairs of cards
face down on the table, jumbled up, & in two teams, a
player has to turn one card over & then another to see
if they match. If they do the player keeps the pair. If not,
they are placed face down again & a player from the other
team has a go. All try to remember where the replaced cards
are, as the object of the game is to get as many pairs as
(2) For ideas on using flow charts: Tip
'Going with the flow' & examples
of flow charts.
Are you getting enough? Teacher development, that is. Do you feel that you are developing your teaching? Is your school providing enough ideas & directions?
Or is it your job to provide ways for the teachers in the school to develop? Do you have enough ideas, & provide enough avenues?
More often than not the answer to the above is 'not enough'. This may be due to a lack of time, finances or interest. In the more serious language schools, teacher development is rightly seen as key to successful teaching & happy clients. Here are a few ideas to follow up:
- regular seminars on practical areas - developing listening skills, language practice activities. This is the usual way of dealing with staff development. It is also a useful way to encourage teachers to become involved in teacher development/training by inviting a teacher to give a session.
- seminars of interesting teaching/learning-related areas eg. neuro-linguistic programming. Invite specialists in to give talks on areas that may be peripherally related to teaching.
- invite publisher reps in to talk about how to use the coursebooks they sell. It's the least the publishers can do with the exorbitant cost of coursebooks & the extras in the coursebook packages, plus the regular updating & re-issuing of the coursebooks that mean extra investment.
- invite reps from the exam boards to give a talk on how best to go about training for the particular exam. Again, with the rising fees to sit the exams, the exam boards need to get into schools more & give more direction to the teachers that promote their exams.
- same level idea swap groups - for example, all teachers with pre-intermediate groups get together to share ideas, materials & options.
- lesson ideas, plans & materials swap - a variation on the above but a bit more free-for-all with all interested teachers getting together to learn from each other & share interesting stuff about their lessons.
- development group - a regular get together for a discussion of general development from own lesson observations, taped excerpts of own lessons & excerpts from teaching diaries, discussing the results of action research projects etc. You might set tasks for members to complete before each session & then use the data they bring along as the focus of the session eg. for a focus on teacher talk, members could be asked to tape three sections of three of their lessons & type up short transcripts, look at them & discuss them together.
BTW, if you have written anything about setting up, carrying out & evaluating classroom research, we would be very interested in publishing it in the articles section of the site. Please do send it in.
- co-timetabling - this is especially important with the newer teacher. A senior teacher or the DOS sits down & goes through the two or three-week timetable with the teacher. Timetable is a difficult skill as it needs experience of materials & approaches to provide a balanced diet for the students. Without this experience, the teacher understandably relies heavily on the coursebook. The helper can provide direction & cut a lot of corners for the new teacher. A very useful task for all.
- troubleshooting sessions. This is a chance for teachers to get solutions to pressing problems they might have. Careful it doesn't degenerate into a moaning session so maybe not a regular focus for meetings. Once in a while it can be very refreshing & liberating as you realise that others are going through the same as you.
- observations - the observer could be a peer of a senior teacher. Whoever observes, it is essential that the reasons for the observation are clear, that it is developmental & not evaluative. I personally have the privilege of watching lots of lessons & there is always something to be gained from every one of them.
- teacher buddies - teachers pair up for co-development through a term or academic year. The activities could include meeting twice a month, an observation of each other each month & general interchange. You could encourage the pairing up of new & experienced teachers or similarly experienced teachers.
- online development group - using a forum board or a content management system such as Moodle it is easy to stay in touch & use the medium as a vehicle to discuss teacher development. For a look at how an online meeting could look like:
Developing Teachers.com, through our sister site Developing TheWeb.com, offers teachers their own web space with these programmes set up & ready to go. For more information:
For subscribers to the newsletters, there is a 15% discount on the already very reasonable fees.
The thing that all the above ideas have in common is that they are all collaborative activities. Teaching can be a solitary experience if there isn't this sharing & helping out, & sometimes we just expect it to be happening in the staffroom. Maybe it is for some, but then again, maybe it isn't for others. Formally organising development can solve this problem, making it inclusive for all.
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