Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Howling Good Cause and Effect Lesson

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Did you know that wolves can actually change rivers?

I didn’t, until I came across a great “Sustainable Man” video clip that one of my friends had posted on Facebook. According to the video, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after having been absent for some 70 years. Since there had been no wolves to control the population of deer, it had pretty much exploded and the deer had eaten a great deal of the vegetation in the park. When the wolves were reintroduced, they killed some of the deer and pushed many of the others out of valleys and gorges.

Predictably, with some of the deer gone, the vegetation grew back in those areas, which attracted animals such as beavers, whose dams create habitats for other animals. Also, the wolves hunted the coyotes. When their numbers diminished, the species that they feed on also returned. As a result, the eagles, hawks and bears had more food and returned in greater numbers, too.

But, the most amazing result of the wolves’ return to Yellowstone National Park has been (and this is where the narrator gets really excited) that the trees have regrown along the banks of the rivers and stopped erosion, so the rivers have actually changed. The channels have narrowed and there are more pools and more riffle sections (whatever those are), all of which are good for the wildlife habitats. In short, the wolves changed not only the ecosystem of the park, they changed the physical geography as well. I, for one, think that is pretty amazing!

From Video Clip to Lesson

As a teacher, however, I never just watch videos on YouTube. I am constantly thinking about how I might use whatever I come across as a teaching tool. As I was being wowed by the wolves, I was thinking in the back of my head about how it would make a pretty nice fit with the cause and effect lessons I had been teaching. The students had already been exposed to cause and effect connectors, done several practice activities (Azar has some great ones in Understanding and Using English Grammar) and written an essay about the causes and effects of not studying for an exam; however, they still needed more practice using a variety of connectors accurately.

To that end, I created a handout complete with screen shots and gap fills for students to complete while they watched the video.

Wolves Reintroduced to Yellowstone handoutWe had to watch it a couple of times because I have a mixed level group and the vocabulary was a big challenge for many of them. The first time, they just watched the video and tried to understand the main idea, that the wolves had been reintroduced to the park and that it had changed the plant and animal life as well as the shape of the rivers. The second time, we completed the handout together, filling in the gaps. Finally, I wrote a variety of cause/effect connectors on the board and students took turns orally creating sentences by joining phrases from the handout with the connectors. For example, students made sentences like “Since the deer stopped eating the trees, they started to grow again.” and “Since the wolves killed some of the coyotes, the number of mice, rabbits and badgers increased.” Even my beginning level students were able to make some pretty nice sentences with the help of the phrases and video.

An Alternative Chain Reaction

Of course, my students are preparing to join mainstream secondary school classes, like Geography and Science, so a video about animal habitats, keystone species and erosion is ideal. However, for other, more general lessons, there is a hilarious video on YouTube from an old Tom Hanks movie called “The Money Pit.” In it, Walter and Anna are having their house renovated. One morning, she is trying to make tea and pulls out a plug that causes a chain reaction that will not only have your students in stitches, but will also prompt them to use a variety of causal connectors to make sentences like “The bricks fell on the board. Thus, Walter was thrown out the window.” and “Walter was blinded by the curtain; consequently, he fell into a chimney.”

Bringing complexity and variety to their speaking and writing is a major challenge for many of our students. The more practice they can get, the better, and video clips are one great way to provide it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Significance of Synonyms

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Not “fat” but “round”

Usually, when I get my hair cut here in Belgium, I just make my next appointment while I am at the salon. Face to face conversations that involve dates and times in French are just so much easier for me. However, I neglected to do this a few weeks ago, so I had to call my hairdresser to make an appointment. When the phone rang, one of the other hairdressers answered it. I explained that I wanted my hair to be washed, cut and dried. I know the name of my hairdresser, but when she asked me who usually washes and dries my hair, I didn’t know. I said the person was young and had short dark hair. Unfortunately, that describes several of the assistants at the salon, so the woman pressed for more information.

I panicked. The only truly defining feature that I could think of at the moment was that the girl who washes and dries my hair is a bit plump, while all the other girls are stick-thin. If I had been speaking in English, I would have said that the girl was a little bit “curvy.” I could have also said “heavy” or “curvaceous” or “big-boned” or “full-figured” or “voluptuous” or “heavy-set” or … well, you get the idea. My French vocabulary, though, is simply not that extensive. I wound up apologizing and saying that she was “fat.” Read more »

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What’s in a Name?

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

What’s in a Name?

That’s what Juliet asks in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I can’t argue with that, but I can point out that the different names by which something can be called may be problematic for our students. It’s something worth considering when you teach vocabulary. If you know that many of your students may be going for education, for business, or for a new life to English-speaking countries, you can be assured that there will be some unique vocabulary they’ll encounter. Countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the US all contain regional variations on what we consider more standard vocabulary. For that reason, you’ll be doing your students a great service if you have lists on hand that focus on the most common regional variations in vocabulary the students will encounter in order to supplement your lessons on more standard words.

I’m a Brooklyn boy, so I know very well that New York City English has a character all its own, mostly to do with its vocabulary. Read more »

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Art of “Yes, But …”

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I am not an unusually argumentative person. but it is true that I disagree with people all the time. I disagreed with my husband this morning when we talked about what might be causing our stuffy noses. Right now, at work, we are renegotiating some of our duties and in order to express my opinions, I have to disagree with co-workers and even my boss. I even disagreed with my mother just last night on the phone about what she should pack for her trip to visit me. Now, I don’t go out of my way to be contrary, but expressing alternate opinions is a normal part of almost all relationships. Just think about it. Who was the last person you disagreed with? It probably wasn’t all that long ago, was it?

Most of these disagreements are no big deal. I mean, just because my husband and I disagree about whether we have colds or allergies, it doesn’t mean our marriage is on the rocks. In my culture, disagreeing with my parents about something like a packing list doesn’t mean I don’t respect or love them. I am just giving a different opinion. So, can we agree that our English interactions are peppered with (usually) minor disagreements? Read more »

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Discussion about Communicative Language Teaching

David-Barker

By David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

In a comment on one of my previous posts, “Why I am not a fan of the Communicative Approach,” a reader very kindly posted a link to a video of a discussion between Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury about what we have gained and lost because of Communicative Language Teaching:

Two points in the discussion made a big impression on me; the first because I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement, and the second because I found myself shouting “No!” at my computer monitor. Read more »

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 5: Fossilization

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I love the visual that the word fossilization prompts, even though I hate the idea that students might be making the same mistakes in 10 years that they are making now. It’s almost as though these mistakes are frozen in time; the speaker keeps making them even though other aspects of his/her English have improved. According to Jack Richards, in his fantastic book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, fossilization refers to “errors that appear to be entrenched and difficult to eradicate, despite the teacher’s [and I would argue the student’s] best efforts.” (Richards, 2008) He further points out that a great deal of the research regarding fossilization put a large part of the blame on the communicative classroom in which fluency is valued over accuracy. In other words, students are encouraged to make meaning when they speak and write rather than focusing on being grammatically correct.

Irregular Verbs or Respiration Vocabulary?

In fact, reading this made me feel a bit worried. In my teaching context, I deal with students whose goal is to get out of EAL and into their mainstream Secondary classes as soon as possible. They matriculate gradually, as their English develops, but clearly, for me and them, the focus is on academic vocabulary at the expense of grammatical accuracy. To my great shame, I have long argued that students in Year 8 Science need to be able to talk about the Respiratory System in order to pass their classes rather than waste time memorizing irregular past participles. I think I even wrote it in an earlier post in this very series! After all, no one ever failed a Science test because they wrote “breaked” instead or “broke.” Read more »

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 4: It Just Doesn’t Sound Natural

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In his helpful book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) points out that one of the big problems with Intermediate level learners’ speech is that, though it might be grammatically accurate and reasonably fluent, it often just doesn’t sound natural. How frustrating this must be for students who have studied English for years but still sound like learners, not users of English! That would make almost anyone throw up his or her hands in despair. After all, what does it mean to “sound natural”? Actually, it turns out this is surprisingly straightforward, as defined by Richards. To sound natural, apparently, is to integrate a lot of multi-word chunks and formulaic phrases into one’s language.

Multi-Word Chunks & Formulaic Phrases

Richards cites O’Keeffe et al. (2007) when he presents the following ranked list of the most common multi-word chunks, as identified by the CANCODE corpus of spoken English.

  1. do you know what I mean
  2. at the end of the day
  3. and all the rest of it
  4. and all that sort of thing
  5. I don’t know what it is
  6. but at the end of the
  7. and this that and the other
  8. from the point of view of
  9. a hell of a lot of
  10. in the middle of the night
  11. do you want me to do Read more »

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 3: The Constraints of a Limited Vocabulary

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Just recently, I wrote a post about the importance of all students developing a robust vocabulary. In Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) stresses that often one of the barriers between Intermediate and Advanced level students is that Intermediate learners rely heavily on lower-level vocabulary. In order to break into Advanced level language learning, students need to know 5,000 to 6,000 words. To further complicate matters, “knowing” a word goes far beyond being able to fill in a gap on a quiz. Students need to be able to, among other things, pronounce it, know the grammar rules that govern its form, differentiate it from similar words (for instance, ”cup” and “mug” distinguish between words that look the same but have different meanings (such as mean, as in unkind, and mean, as in “what does that word mean?”), discriminate between different levels of formality and attitudinal meanings (as in, “ask” and “demand”).

What Goes with What

In addition to a well-developed vocabulary, students also need to be adept users of collocation patterns. This brings to mind a presentation I attended at IATEFL a few years ago about Advanced learners. The speaker, Ben Goldstein, showed a letter about a trip on the screen and asked the audience to identify the words we thought upper level students would find challenging. In other words, what would we pre-teach if we wanted to use that letter in a class? Then, he pointed out all the words that a student might think he or she knew, but really didn’t. For instance, a learner might think “get” is a pretty low-level word and it is certainly in the 1000 word list. However, when paired with “carried away”, it becomes an Advanced level lexical chunk. I found this revelation fascinating because, even though I am an experienced teacher, I had not thought to pick out those smaller words. How embarrassing! Goldstein’s presentation proved to me that even though a word might seem “easy”, I need to be more aware of how it is being used and how it might trip up my students. Read more »

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Question of Terminology

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I am writing this entry in response to a question that was posted by Scott on one of my older entries, “Why I am not a fan of the Communicative Approach.” Here is what Scott wrote:

Hi David,

I’m doing an MA Tesol and one of my assignments is on CLT. I’ve scoured several textbooks and about a thousand websites, but no one seems to really define what CLT actually is! Although, there are plenty of texts that say what it ISN’T. Any thoughts on how to define it?!

Here is my answer:

Hi Scott,

I’m afraid you have come up against one of the biggest problems in ELT, which is the lack of a body of universally accepted definitions and terms. Here is my own interpretation of how and why we have ended up with this state of affairs.

As any successful learner knows, languages are learned rather than taught. Learning a foreign language as an adult requires an enormous investment of time and effort, and teaching methods and materials are only a tiny part of the puzzle. However, as these are the only things that we can directly control, their importance gets blown out of all proportion. Read more »

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 2: The Difference between Fluency and Complexity

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In his great book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) notices that another problem that contributes to the plateau that often plagues Intermediate level students lies in the difference between fluency and complexity. Again, I can really relate to this, as a French learner. For many years, I have been in such a panic to make myself understood and just communicate my thoughts and needs. I am usually okay with the simple past tense; however, if I need to do anything harder than that, I freeze up. My French linguistic system has not yet restructured to accommodate newer tenses, such as the imperfect.

Similarly with our students, they may have the passive voice down in a variety of simple tenses, but when they want to say something more complex, like “the bridge is going to be being built over the summer,” they stumble. In order to put an end to their plateau, learners need to add complexity to their output. Richards (2008) suggests that this can be accomplished in three ways: by addressing the language prior to the activity, addressing the language during the activity and addressing the language after the activity.

The Language Before the Activity

First, by address the language prior to an activity, he means pre-teaching the target language and providing students with a chance for rehearsal. Now, I am sure I am not alone when I say that I rarely begin a lesson without some sort of pre-teaching. If students are going to have a conversation about, for instance, pets, Read more »