Class Activities: Audio Diary

What’s a common homework assignment or part of the so-called on-going assessment? Getting your students to write a diary is a pretty safe bet. We’ve all requested it and most students will deliver. The diary is used as a reflection of general speech and trying to get the student to find their own voice in their L2. But at the end of the day, no matter how much of their voice we can help them find, they don’t always progress when it comes to speaking. Be it confidence or perhaps even the physicality of actually speaking the L2, there are often obstacles. One possible way to alleviate these obstacles are to change tact a little bit. Where many of us teach (Korea, Japan, China…), the students are rather tech savvy little creatures… perhaps more so than the old-fashioned teacher gripping his chalk. It probably goes without saying that the majority of them will have an iPod, mobile phone or access to a computer. Any of these have recording capabilities – yes, even the iPod if you get a measly $2 microphone attachment available from all good electronic outlets based in places like Hong Kong. And for recording on a computer there’s always Audacity… Anyway, it’s these recording capabilities that we need to tap into. Out students want to speak, they have trouble speaking. We assign them writing, they still have trouble speaking. So here’s a pretty radical idea… let’s assign them speaking! Give our students a speaking assignment. It’s pretty simple. They keep an audio diary and can just email it to us before class (I record 45 minute presentations at 32kbs; they are perfectly audible and only weigh in at around 8mb… so a 3-5 minute diary is going to be sub 1mb). Or if it’s a weekly assignment, have them bring them on CD or even have them upload to a free web space. As for corrections, you can either provide written feedback or take the alternate route and give the students audio feedback to assist their listening skills. The ideas today are to focus on verbal communication, so I like the audio feedback route with perhaps a few key notes in the written form if they’re needed. In the beginning, students are likely to forget these assignments but with time and enouragement should become more comfortable. One possible way of clearing the first hurdle is to take the iniative and send a recording to each student via email to get the ball rolling. Once the students get over their initial reservations about this form of assignment, they should open up a little and take some risks… and hopefully they will be able to see the benefits...

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Class Activities: Dictation with Speaking

Here’s an activity that incorporates three skills in one: listening, writing and speaking… with some reading thrown in if you twist it a little bit. The steps are pretty simple, it’s simple to incorporate and easy to control. use a recording of a conversation with the question parts removed… so basically you are playing one side of a conversation. students do a typical dictation exercise for the parts that are played. as a class you can correct the dictation so everyone has the right answers (or give the students the script to read so they can cross-check). work as a class to verify meanings. now the students create questions through speaking to suit the answers (or answers to suit questions if you’re doing the activity that way)… basically, they just complete the conversation. verify the completed conversation on the board so students can get the more suitable questions for the answers (or if having students answer questions, you can have them write on the board some of the possible solutions). As a final activity, play the complete conversation and have students practice speaking with or after the dialogue. Then working with the complete script so they can read and speak simultaneously. The final part of this activity exposes the students to shadowing, which is likely to be something they haven’t encountered all that much. But if given this activity they may come to see the benefits on their own rather than just listening to their teacher mindlessly preaching about the...

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Teaching Culture

Culture in the classroom.. is this something that the students need or want? This argument can very much go both ways and much of it relies on what exactly your students want, but one model for the classroom isn’t likely to please everyone… as you’re not doubt aware. On the one hand we have the ongoing debates of English as an International Language (EIL) and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) being strictly language as a tool – devoid of culture… I’ll come back to this later. The other hand has the Native English Speaker (NES) as the teacher, and he relies greatly on emploring his students with his culture… Whether this is American, British, Australian, etc. depends on the NES’s origins of course. Typically, students enjoy learning about their teacher’s homeland and culture, and just how things are abroad in general because it seems to give them a sense of adventure. But will this serve them well in the future? Yes… if they are communicating with other speakers from those countries. Which brings me back to EIL/ELF devoid of culture. The idea is to implement a tool that can serve it’s users well in an international setting. This tool requires no need for cultural norms and understandings of the NES’s realm… but, the question remains, is culture integral to successful communication? I believe so… as behaving in a culturally acceptable way is above all else in many settings and can make or break a deal, so to speak. However, if our students are communicating in a tool that is devoid of culture and they basically just transfers their L1 norms across to the English tool, well… imagine the chaos. So, there is the question; which culture are they to acquire and how are they to acquire it? Perhaps the answer lies in cultural lectures in the classroom… not cultural lectures as the NES typically provides of their homeland, but cultural lectures in the worldly sense; a general liberal arts sense. If we have an ESP class that has the goal of communicating across North-East Asia in the medium of English, then we should perhaps attempt to provide cultural awareness and sensitivity to these respective cultures so our students are better equipped. Although, we have a conflict that may arise with this; the NES interpretation of the culture they are teaching and the reality of the culture may be on totally different planes. Again.. imagine the chaos. At the end of the day, where are we going with this? EIL/EFL is a great idea.. a great concept. But is it realistic if the NES is still the preferred teacher...

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L1 Tests, L2 Setting

I’m sure if you’ve been a teacher for any length of time you will have stumbled more than once at creating a valid and reliable test for your classroom. The question is, why are we always struggling along attempting to reinvent the wheel? Countless people before us have researched and implemented successful assessments for the classroom… the problem is, many of these are for the L1 setting. If you’re following me, I’m talking about tests like Informal Prose Inventory (IPI), Early Names and Names Tests, St Lucia Graded Word Reading Test and so on and so forth. Assuming you’re familiar with any of these then you’ll know they tend to focus on reading skill primarily. And correct me if I’m wrong… but our L2 students still read don’t they? So, why can’t we use them in our classroom and cut back on some preparation time? Well.. there’s not reason why you can’t… A minor tweak here and there, modify some of the data analysis and away you go… assessment in hand. Things like the Early Names and Names Tests don’t need to be touched. They focus on phonological awareness and give you an idea as to which areas of phonology are troubling your students. The St Lucia does something similar, but has the added bonus of assigning a reading age to your students. This in itself is nothing but a number… but let’s introduce the big daddy of the ones I mention above… IPI. Without a reading age or intimate knowledge of your students abilities, the IPI can become pretty invalid. The material will be too difficult or too simple and the whole process will be fruitless… but let’s assume you select something in the right atmosphere for your students… you have a winner. IPI is designed to be primarily a reading test. It is supposed to assess decoding skills, reading strategies, comprehension through question and answer… and also has a retell aspect that indirectly assesses speaking and structural awareness. …Now, let’s side step a little… you’re in a L2 classroom… how can you use IPI and what will it assess? Assuming your students are literate in their own L1 – which is likely in most instances …unless you’re teaching refugees, asylum seekers or similar – then we can ignore the area of decoding skills and reading strategies as metalinguistic transfer from their L1 should take care of this. Instead, the direct read aloud aspect can be used to analyse and assess phonological awareness. Something of use to monitor progress and development in earlier level learners that wish to improve (reduce) their accent. Comprehension Q&A covers some listening and...

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Needs Analysis

As a teacher it is ultimately up to us to decide what our students should be learning… but on the other hand, it’s also up to the student to let the their teachers know what they could be learning. This is where needs analysis comes into play. Teachers aren’t mind readers as much as we pretend to be and we will quite often need a kick in the right direction when it comes to understanding our students’ wants and needs. This is particularly the case when it comes to English for Specific Purpose (ESP) classes. It’s fine to teach engineering English, but which engineering? This is one of the things we need to find out and getting that information doesn’t need to be a complicated process. In fact, it’s as easy as providing your students with a questionnaire of sorts. Things like background information (college department, language experience, L1, how do you use English) act as a nice softener and can lead into language needs (technical reading, instructions, assignment writing, listening to presentations, discussion participation, etc) together with a self-assessment of their English abilities across the four skills (R, W, S, L) together vocabulary knowledge and grammatical understanding. The final section could include how they want materials and classes to be presented. This is something of a formal questionnaire in effect and can be somewhat leading in the answers you receive… so perhaps the better option? A blank sheet of paper…. Just ask the students to write a short paragraph about their background, language ability and what areas they want to improve. This has the added bonus of giving you some direct feedback on their actual language level as well. From this feedback it’s possible to perceive which directions the class should be heading in and how the existing syllabus can be tailored to suit this classes specific needs. And voila… everyone should be a happy camper by and large. (If you want to take it a little further, you can focus a bit more on the students’ learning styles and look at people like Gardner and his Multiple Intelligences – which I will write about...

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