jueves, 26 de mayo de 2011

Three for Mike

Dear Mike,

Hope these arrive in time.

For anybody else, these are an extension of this post.


lunes, 23 de mayo de 2011

Video Grab

My group of 10-year-olds love Mr Bean.

from mrbean.co.uk (official site)
Say what you like about the rubber-faced git, but as soon as you say those two words in class a cheer goes up. I get their undivided attention for a full second or two. I can get them to stop punching each other just by dangling the mere carrot of a Mr Bean video in front of them.


How does an English teacher use a video which doesn't have any English in it?

(Well given that plenty of people in my little PLN are expert teachers of young learners, and I'm still a total newbie at it, there are probably loads of ways. But this afternoon I stumbled on one at least. So here goes...)

I found a suitable MB video on YouTube (in this case The Library). There are plenty of them there.

As I watched I made a list of some of the key actions, which I transferred to little slips of paper. Thus...

(Well, as you see, they weren't all actions)

And that's pretty much all the preparation I had to do.
In class we watched the video once. No questions, no prep - just watched.

Then I presented and drilled the cards, and practised a bit, spreading the cards out on the table.

Then I told them they had to watch the same video and grab the relevant card when the action happened, or the object appeared.

Which to my surprise worked a treat.

Kids of this age seem to be very competitive, and enjoy games, I find I have to be a very strict, very fair referee during class games. So there were penalties for grabbing more than one card, grabbing the wrong card, grabbing too early, blatant obstruction, life-threatening violence and eight million other infringements. And they all had to keep their hands below table level between grabs.

But it worked fine. So I tried it again with my 8-year-olds the lesson after. Which also worked fine, though with them I reduced the number of cards from about a dozen to nine, if memory serves me right.

And of course if you keep the cards, you can repeat weeks or months later. By the way, here is a very comprehensive post on vocabulary revision and recording by Chia Suan Chong

And I may be able to use Laurel and Hardy with them sometime in the future.

And that surely is progress.

lunes, 16 de mayo de 2011

Want A Fight?

This speaking lesson concentrates purely on arguing and debating. The material looks like this:

The original document is this pdf. [edit - this link is faulty - will sort it out ASAP. You get the general idea from the screenshot opposite :) ] Of course you may prefer to modify  them or write your own statements. Remember to express them as a single opinion which is very clearly on one side of the debate.

Cut up the document into separate cards.

This is what I say to the students:

You're going to practise disagreeing, debating and arguing. Let's get into pairs.

In a moment I'm going to give you a slip of paper with an opinion written in it. But first - did you or your partner get up earlier this morning? [Pause to find out] Okay, earlier riser is going to agree with the opinion on the paper, and late riser is going to disagree. You can't switch sides and you can't agree with each other! [Check they understand this part.]

Here is your opinion card. Five minutes to debate. You're not allowed to ask me for help - we'll do that after." 

And hand out the cards randomly one to each pair.

And then I simply monitor (which I prefer to do as unobtrusively as possible) and take notes for subsequent feedback and scaffolding.

We usually have time and energy to repeat the whole thing 2 - 4 times in a class.


I try to encourage an atmosphere of fun and games, rather than serious debate. I like to think of it as a kind of verbal table-tennis.

Also, I try to space the pairs as far apart as possible.

The feedback/scaffolding/consolidation work will depend on what the students say, of course, but often I find they are short of rhetorical devices like:


You can't be serious!    No way!    Come on!

          interrupting and resisting interruption:

Wait a minute...    Hang on a second...    Let me finish...

I've used this lesson many times, and repeatedly with the same classes, and the cards are always on hand in my classroom just in case. However, it was brought to mind again by Martin Sketchley's very informative video'd lesson here, and especially his reference in his post-lesson comments to 'devil's advocate' arguing.

STOP PRESS Having just read Sandy Millin's reflections on observe-hypothesise-experiment, an alternative model to PPP, I think lessons like this have a relevance.

miércoles, 11 de mayo de 2011

A Car Boot Conference?

Have you ever turned up at a conference, looked at the schedule, and thought...

Damn! At 11.00 I have to choose between four great-looking prezos: there's Shouting at Young Learners in room 9, Musical Farting for FCE in room 6, Twenty Pencil-Sharpening Strategies in room 3 and oh I REALLY wanted to see Spongebob for Business English in room 12. What am I to do?

Highly frustrating. Especially if, like me, you only get to conferences once in a blue moon.

In a discussion following this post, Willy Cardoso suggested one simple solution - twenty-minute prezos a la TED. Great. Only four or five simultaneously.

But here's another idea I've just heard...

Our school is right across the road from the University Medicine Research Faculty, and a fair number of our students are researchers. When a research team have finished a study, how do they share it? They make a poster. A real poster, about the same size as your standard bedroom pin-up. It includes diagrams, images, comments, statistics, whatever.

Then at the conference, lots of these teams turn up with their poster - just one copy. The poster session takes place in a big room. Each team gets a little patch and pins up. One team member stays with the poster to answer questions and the others circulate round the other posters asking questions. And then the team members swop over.

Like a car boot sale of information. 

Couldn't we take a leaf out of their book. Just imagine - you could have one big two-hour session at a conference, lay on a buffet lunch, and dozens, if not hundreds of people could 'present'. Of course, it need not be a poster. A laptop, some photos, props, handouts, whatever. And the only complication is that you'd need to present with a partner so you can both get round the room.

I don't mean to abolish proper talks or plenaries or workshops, of course. But a single poster session might well be worth it. Whaddja think?

lunes, 2 de mayo de 2011

Hearing Voices

Myself and Osama bin Laden were the only people in the universe not at Brighton, and now that he's gone, it's just me left. So I have been doing my best to follow the conference as it echoes around the blogosphere. Just last night I read Scott Thornbury's technosceptical post and its many comments and reblogs. I too feel ambivalent about technology, but have never been quite how to put my feelings into words. But I do feel glad for my modest old laptop and internet connection. Let me offer my defence of that aspect of technology at least.

I've been in this shabby business long enough to remember when the cassette recorder was the only multimedium available, and pretty much all you could play was the cassette that came with the book. (For those of you who do not know what a cassette recorder is, here  is an excellent introduction.)

All that ffwing and rewing. All that tape hiss. All that lugging the frigging stuff around on buses and tube trains. The constant risk of your tape-player turning into a plate of moaning brown spaghetti. So why did I bother?

Because it was another voice. Even a crap one. Another dimension - especially when I was doing one-to-one classes. And I think the content and quality of that third voice have improved in the days of the multi-worldwide-inter-online-blogo-tubo-sphere-net.

And does the third voice get in the way of dogme? See what you think. I've found the following kind of strategy often works - inviting the third voice to join in near the end of a conversation class.

If we've been talking about food or cooking, we might take a look at Videojug. (See the end of this blog for details about each of the sources.)

If we've been talking about just about anything from science or social science, we make a bee-line to TED.

If crime is the subject, we might try The Real Hustle on YouTube. The Real Hustle is also great for social interaction with strangers (shops, hotels, passers-by and so on).

I think there's a huge difference in emphasis between starting a class off with a video sequence (teacher-led) and allowing a third voice to chip in at the end of a student-generated conversation. Dogme? Dogmaybe.

And I notice one curious thing time after time: If the conversation has arisen from the people in the room, students tend to be able to understand the video sequence much better than if it had been brought in by me. As listeners, they seem to punch above their weight.

If you've never done this before, I would spend a little free time skimming through a few videos from each site. But in class I don't hesitate to say "Well since we're talking about what you ate on holiday in Vietnam, do you want to take a quick look at a website which has lots of recipes? Maybe we can find something Vietnamese?"

And if nothing useful turns up, so be it. We do something else with the existing voices.

So definitely a freshly-made dish, but garnished with a little multimedia. Bo proveite!

Appendix - The Sources

The Real Hustle is a TV programme which has been posted extensively on YouTube. It is a hidden-camera programme where a trio of performers demonstrate con-tricks and scams on the unsuspecting public. The English is hard - lots of untidy colloquial speech - but I usually ask my students to try to follow the dynamics, rather than the speech.

TED is a very well-known conference on various key issues featuring many leading experts. All the talks are posted on TED.com and many now feature multilingual subtitles.

Videojug features short video tutorials on how to cook, keep fit, do DIY and many other subjects. Anybody can upload to the site, but the best quality clips are those made by the Videojug people themselves. A godsend for foodies. Try this one.