Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singing the Way to Paraphrasing Success

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

ARGH! Summarizing!

Students rarely find anything more difficult to do. There are just so many steps and potential pitfalls. First students have to understand the primary text. Then, they have to identify the key points. Finally, in order to avoid copying, they have to use synonyms to restate the main points and shift those words around to form grammatical constructions that differ from the original. Any one of these steps is difficult on its own. Doing them all together is enough to make even the coolest secondary school student break into a sweat.

Right now, some of my students at the British School of Brussels are studying for the IGCSE E2L exam, which they will take next year. One of the sections of the test is a summarizing component in which the students must read and summarize an academic passage. The students struggle with this part of the exam more than the other readings and writings they have to do. Having the vocabulary to understand and restate the key ideas from the passage is a huge challenge for them. But, more than anything, they have trouble transforming the structure of the original sentences.

Grammatical Cartwheels

Summarizing demands a high level of grammar flexibility that challenges even advanced students. For instance, they need to be able to make passive sentences into active sentences and vice versa. They also need to have a range of options from which they can pull alternatives to the classic “if … then” conditional structure. In order to reach this level of flexibility, students need repeated practice with the target structures. That’s why we do gap fills and all those other grammar activities in Azar’s books. However, after a certain number of traditional grammar exercises, my secondary students’ eyes tend to glaze over. When they are beginning to get that fidgety look, I open YouTube and rev things up with a music video.

Let Her Go

The key to making this work is to find a song that has a lot of the grammar structure you are targeting in the lyrics. For example, when we are covering paraphrasing the conditional, I like to play Passenger’s “Let Her Go.” Ideally, I find one of those unofficial music videos that shows the lyrics as the song plays, or, if I am especially organized and forward thinking, I print off a copy of the lyrics for each student. Basically, after reviewing the possible words that express conditions (provided that, unless, otherwise, or else, etc.), I play the song and pause it after each phrase. Either as a class, or individually, I have students come up with alternative ways of expressing the same message. For instance, when the lyrics say, “Well, you only need the light when it is burning low.” the students paraphrase with something like, “If the light is burning low, then you need it.” or “You don’t need the light unless it is burning low.” The students enjoy the challenge and, of course, they love listening to the music.

Some Other Songs

Here are some my favorite suggestions for songs that help students change grammatical structures without losing the meaning when paraphrasing:

  • “Let Her Go” – Passenger (conditional)
  • “If I Were a Boy” – Beyonce (conditional)
  • “Moves Like Jagger” – Maroon 5 (conditional)
  • “Parents Just Don’t Understand” – DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (reported speech)
  • “Blow Me One Last Kiss” – Pink (the subjunctive)

I would love to hear what works for you!

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

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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.”

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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?

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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,

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part I: The Gap Between Production and Reception

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

I was recently reading the magazine, “Runner’s World,” and I came across an article called “Reboot, Refresh” about plateauing. The article basically points out that “every runner eventually reaches a period in their training where their progress levels off.” Apparently this plateauing is inevitable, and it is easy (at least for a slowpoke like me) to understand how a straight, climbing trajectory of improvement would be physically impossible.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the plateaus that frustrate runners’ dreams of personal bests and the plateaus that we notice in our students’ English development. Just as “[o]ver the course of a running life, there are natural peaks and valleys – and flat lines in between,” I have noticed my students’ English skills grow, recede and stagnate. In my experience, this leveling off seems to happen when students are trying to move from Intermediate level to Advanced. Many of them simply give up, deciding that their language skills are sufficient for their purposes. But, some struggle on, and eventually they become advanced and then proficient users of English. So, what made the difference for those students? How do some students make it through plateaus and what can I do to help?

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Words! Words! Words!

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

Whenever I am at a TESOL Conference, there are a few speakers I go out of my way to see every year. Keith Folse is one of them. Whatever he is speaking about, I know I will learn something new and have a great time doing it. He is entertaining and witty and so, so smart. (Can you tell I have a bit of a TESOL crush?)

Anyway, I managed to make one of his presentations at the 2013 TESOL Conference in Dallas, Texas in April. It was, as always, genius! He spoke about practical activities for learning vocabulary, a great topic for me, as my students needs to master lots of academic vocabulary quickly to succeed in their mainstream secondary school classes.

Folse organized his suggestions around Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, which I had never heard of before. At any rate, he contends that if teachers structure vocabulary development around this instructional design model, students have a better chance of retaining vocabulary. At the risk of miscommunicating Folse’s message (I hope he will see this and correct me if I misspeak), I wanted to share them with you.

1. Gain learner attention of target vocabulary. Folse says there are several ways we can do this. We can present the students with a problem that prompts the target vocabulary, ask them questions that contain the vocabulary or show them an advertisement with the vocabulary. I sometimes like to start a lesson with a simple card match (word to definition or word to picture) to see what students already know and to show them what words they will need to learn.

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