Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Not to Give a Presentation

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

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

Have you ever sat through a really terrible presentation? I’m guessing that you have, and probably more than once! If you Google the phrase “Death by Powerpoint,” you will find that there is a whole mass of articles and videos about this on the Internet. Last week, I did a presentation at the JALT national conference in Hamamatsu, Japan that was aimed at raising awareness of the need to prepare properly for conference presentations. The title of the presentation was “How Not to Give a Presentation,” and I tried to cram as many common presentation mistakes as I could think of into 12 minutes. I have uploaded the video onto my own blog, and I wrote a very long article to go with it listing the things that bug me most.

The presentation was very well received, with the audience taking it in the spirit in which it was intended and joining in the fun. Many of them came up to me later that evening and said, “I watched your presentation at 12, and then I watched it again at 1, at 2, and then at 3!” It seems that we still have a long way to go in raising the standards of presentations at teaching conferences. Anyway, if you are interested, please take a look a the video. (Please note that it makes much more sense if you read the article first.) http://www.btbpress.com/category/btb-blog-for-teachers/

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Conversation or Interrogation?

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

My husband, a wonderful man but not an English teacher, thinks that teaching private conversation lessons must be a breeze. In his mind, it’s just basically making conversation for an hour. He knows that I am a chatty person by nature, so how hard can that be?

Well, it IS hard! It IS really, really hard! Even on a good day when the teacher is feeling great and the student has eaten and slept well and they have all sorts of common interests, it can be one of the most demanding hours in the week of an English teacher. And that hour can seem like forever, as the teacher juggles the dual burdens of keeping the conversation flowing and focusing on accuracy at the same time. Sure, I can chat with just about anyone at a party, but when someone pays me for my time and expertise, I feel as though I need to step it up a notch. Read more »

Thursday, October 11, 2012

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 1

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

Now that I’m retired from teaching ESOL, I have the luxury to sit back and observe things at my leisure. Having been in the field of ESOL for the better part of four decades, one thing I like to observe and muse about is how many items in English are now accepted or may one day be accepted as standard language that weren’t “back in the day,” as they now say. I’d like to share some of my observations with you and ruminate a bit about a few of them. I’m going to have some fun pointing out why some items don’t seem logical and why others seem totally unnecessary to me. But the long and short of it is that these items are commonly used by native speakers every single day, and that’s what I think needs discussing.

Almost all the examples I’ll be giving come directly from educated native speakers, which is what I find most interesting, that educated speakers are saying what they’re saying. It used to be that many of these utterances were considered uneducated or nonstandard, even substandard – but oh, how times have changed! Read more »

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Praise of Explaining

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

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

When I did my initial teaching course way back in 1992, our trainers made it clear that standing at the front of the class and explaining things to students was simply not the done thing. Good teachers, we were told, don’t explain things; good teachers have special techniques for “eliciting” or “facilitating discovery” of the points they want to get across.

I suspect that this was a reaction to the excessively teacher-centered methods that had gone before, and to be fair, my trainers did have a point. After all, who wants to sit in a classroom and be “talked at” day after day? As with so many things in our profession, however, this new awareness did not result in a logical “Perhaps we should do less one-way explaining” or “Perhaps we should combine explaining with other methods of instruction,” but rather the more reactionary “Right! Nobody is to explain anything anymore!”

This way of thinking was particularly noticeable in the area of vocabulary instruction. In the 1990s, no self-respecting teacher would offer students a simple translation of a new word. Well, not in an observed lesson, anyway! I remember being told that there was no need to translate words because a skilled teacher should be able to convey the meaning of any vocabulary item through other methods, such as the use of gestures or mime. I still hear this claim a lot even now: I can explain any word without using the students’ language!

Again, an argument can be made in favor of this approach, but I think it misses an extremely important point that is often overlooked in language teaching: the question we should be asking ourselves is not “Is it possible for me to do XYZ?” but rather “Is XYZ the most productive way of using the very limited time available?” It is all very well contorting yourself to demonstrate the meaning of a word like “accelerate” through exaggerated mime, but is that really the best use of the teacher’s and the students’ time? Read more »

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

She Was in a Lift with a Priest Who Sneezed

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

You may be wondering why that title is important.

I know I am.

And I wrote it.

I found this gem of wisdom in a stack of old conference papers. A quick audience survey—how many teachers (and students) out there have that same stack of old conference papers? You know—handouts and notes you took at sessions at local, state, national, and international conferences. Yours might not be piled in a stack on the floor between two bookcases, like mine (which is not a system I recommend); perhaps yours are in the bottom of a box, or tucked inside folders and filed in a cabinet, or perhaps they’re in notebooks on your shelves.

But I bet you have them. Handouts, often on sheets of brightly colored paper so you’ll (in theory) notice them more. Sheets of loose-leaf paper with your careful outlines at the top, then the notes you wrote to the person sitting next to you halfway down, and finally at the bottom some doodles that might be flowers. Some brochures might be in there, too, for new (at the time) textbooks and CDs, exciting grant opportunities, volunteer teaching abroad programs.

How many years do your stacks go back? Mine aren’t too bad, if only because I moved around a lot, often from country to country, so I could thin things out each time I had to pay to ship my worldly possessions.

But I still have them. A few years ago I got inspired (if you want to call it that) and sorted many of them by subject area; so now I have a folder called “Reading,” and another called “Culture,” and another called “Grammar,” and so on. These are then carefully arranged in a file cabinet drawer. And I go through those folders just as often as go the stack on the floor between the bookshelves.

Which is to say, never. Read more »

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sorry I’m Late, But …

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

I am the kind of person who is usually on time, and I will move heaven and earth to be somewhere at the time I promised. I’ve even arrived early to things, which has resulted in flustered hostesses and long waits in dentist offices. What can I say? It’s just the way I am. However, I know that not everyone is like me. There are many people, and some of them are my students, who don’t make it places on time. Some of them are simply over-committed and running 15 minutes behind everything and some of them are just chronically late. In my social life and the office part of my work life, this doesn’t really bother me. I know who will be on time and who to expect a few minutes later and I adjust my schedule accordingly.

In the classroom, though, it can be a little more difficult to manage. In a perfect world, all students would be in their seats eager to learn at the stroke of the hour. The class could begin without fear of students missing vital information or much-needed review. In reality, however, when I taught adult students, inevitably one, two or more would come late, sidling in with apologetic faces. It can be difficult enough to manage big classes of multi-level learners without students coming in in staggered blocks of time. Over the years, though, I learned some tricks to dealing with late students that helped me manage the class and (to some extent) helped students get to class on time. Read more »

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Explain THIS, Part 4

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

Welcome back once more! In Part 3 we took a look at sentences, most of which show subtle but important differences or changes in meaning. In the first section below, I asked you to explain the differences in meaning between pairs of sentences. In the second section, I asked you to make any corrections you felt necessary and then, most importantly, think about how you would explain the corrections to your students in a clear, simple fashion. So here are my explanations and changes. Let’s see once again how similar our work is.

Section 1. What’s the difference between . . .

a. Mr. Spock is a character on Star Trek.

    Mr. Spock is a character in Star Trek.

Explanation: We say on Star Trek if we’re talking about the television series, but we say in Star Trek if we’re talking about the movies. It’s on a TV show, but in a movie.

b. Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

    A Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

Explanation: In the first sentence, the speaker knows the person who’s on the phone. But when the speaker doesn’t know the person on the phone, he/she communicates this to somebody else by placing the indefinite article before the title or the title and name. That’s what we see in the second sentence. Read more »

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Some Lessons are MORE DIFFICULT to Plan than Others

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

Maybe we all have the same problem: that one grammar point that has us pulling out our hair when it comes time to plan the lesson.  For me, it’s the comparative and superlative.  The actual teaching of it is not the difficult part, really.  They are not hard concepts to understand and many other languages have similar structures.  Students get them pretty quickly; they just need practice to be able to use the comparative and superlative effortlessly, lots and lots of practice.  That’s where my hair pulling comes in.

Most grammar books provide gap fills and conversation and writing prompts.  They are fine.  But, let’s face it, comparing a student’s home country with the target language country again and again can get stale.  So can describing the children in a family or even the students in the class.  This problem is compounded by the fact that comparing and contrasting are key skills, and students encounter them repeatedly as they progress through grammar levels.  So, they get to compare the weather in their country with the weather where they are studying multiple times.  This repetition led me to search out some more interesting practice activities that help reinforce the comparative and superlative.  Here are four of my favorites.

Which Animal Runs Faster?

Shenanigames: Grammar-Focused Interactive ESL/EFL Activities and Games, by James Kealey and Donna Inness (Prolingua) contains some great practice activities, one of which is perfect for practicing both comparative forms of adjectives and adverbs.  This photocopiable resource has instructions for how to play the game, but I have adapted it to use in my classes a little differently.  The book provides a sheet of little cards (which I don’t bother cutting out) each with a comparison. For example, which animal runs faster, a cheetah or an antelope?  I put students into pairs and, after I read out the comparison, students have 1 minute (or more or less) to write a sentence, such as ‘A cheetah is faster than an antelope’.  The groups all read their sentences and then I read the answer.  Pairs get 1 point for every right answer, meaning the sentence has to be both factually accurate and grammatically correct.  Many of the comparisons are really challenging, which adds to the excitement level.  Admittedly, some of the comparisons are a bit dated, so I have also added some of my own, like which car is more expensive, the Bugatti Veyron or the Ferrari Enzo?  Google it to find out! Read more »

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thoughts on Teaching Listening (Part 3)

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

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

Speaking from my own experience, I think a strong argument could be made that, wherever possible, it is better to study the pronunciation of a language before you study the actual language itself. This is because listening to a language when you have no idea of its vocabulary or grammar forces you to rely 100% on your ears, which results in you hearing the language the way it really sounds. If you learn a non-phonetic language like English or Chinese by reading and writing graphic representations of the words, your brain will automatically assign sounds to those characters according to how it thinks they would be pronounced in your first language. I had that experience when trying to read Chinese words written in “pinyin.” I was fortunate in my learning of Japanese that I was able to learn the sound system before doing any formal study of the language by listening to Japanese pop songs and learning the words by heart. One great way of helping your students to understand what it means to use only their ears is to play them videos or recordings of songs in a language that none of them is familiar with. Check out this video for a famous example of someone just using their ears to copy the sounds of a foreign language. Isn’t it amazing how much it sounds like English while being completely incomprehensible!

In my last post, I discussed the importance of developing pronunciation skills in order to improve your listening ability, but I did not say exactly what skills I was talking about. That will be the topic of today’s post. There will be nothing new here for experienced teachers, but I hope it will remind people of things that they might have forgotten over the years. For newer teachers, I hope some of the points will give you ideas about how the teaching of pronunciation can be broken down into manageable (i.e., teachable) components. Read more »

Monday, July 16, 2012

Explain THIS, Part 3

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

Well, I’m back. Your inquisitor is at it again! I hope you enjoyed Parts 1 and 2  of my mini-crusade to help you, the English teacher, avoid “discomfort” when a student asks a question about grammar or usage and the answer doesn’t fall trippingly off your tongue. I also hope you learned a little something from the answers supplied in Part 2.

Now it’s time for Part 3. This time we’ll deal with sentences in which just one little word can change meaning tremendously, albeit subtly. So, without further ado, I’ll leave you to it. Please remember not to go running to a dictionary for help and not to google anything. If you can’t figure something out, that’s fine for now. Just have fun with these 16 items. The answers, of course, will appear in Part 4.

1. What’s the difference between . . .

a. Mr. Spock is a character on Star Trek.

    Mr. Spock is a character in Star Trek.

      b. Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

    A Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

      c. She’s going to have the baby.

    She’s going to have a baby. Read more »