miércoles, 19 de junio de 2013

Welcome A Board

Have you got mini-whiteboards for classroom use? If you haven't, or haven't ever seen them, this post will be in part a warm recommendation of them. But let us begin at the beginning....

I started my EFL career in a Berlitz outpost somewhere on the smoggy outskirts of Milan, where I was thrown into the deep end teaching low-level adults using Berlitz' own method & materials (basically audio-lingualism).

And now two decades later, I'm full circle! Two builders and a sailor have decided to pick up some English. The three lads are all late thirties, of rudimentary education.

And it's been great fun so far. Many years ago in Poland, I was surprised when my boss Tim Hazell remarked how much he enjoyed teaching absolute beginners. It was not school policy for a NEST to get lower level classes there, and I had got used to the comparative luxury of teaching classes who could understand you to an extent, and with whom you could plan less and have fewer materials. His point was that any advance is a huge step forward if you're a beginner, and if you can work that angle, beginners can engage enormously.

Another nice thing is that my lads are tabulae rasae - they haven't picked up any bad habits yet. No obsession with doing exercises, or language-equals-grammar. So they are still quite keen to do "kids' games" and open to pronunciation work. Right from lesson one, I've been boarding phonemic transcriptions and asking them to copy them and refer back to them.

So what do we do?

Plenty of drilling - thank you, Mr Berlitz!

Plenty of pronunciation and IPA.

Mind maps - one per subject, one per double page. And we revisit them frequently, either for revision or to add new vocab.

Plenty of Pelmanism and card games.

And the mini-whiteboards of course. The lads got the minimum of whatever basic state education was going in 1970's Galicia. They are functionally literate, but by no means comfortable writing beyond shopping lists. I 've noticed that they tend to mix upper- and lower-case letters, having one favourite version for each letter. That's something I noticed with my A2/B1 learners in Libya.

We frequently practice lightning dictations with individual words and short chunks just for simple listening+writing practice. I think the board is more useful than just a notebook. For one thing, I can encourage them to write larger. And for another, the erasability and transience of the writing is comforting for experimenting and making mistakes. And rhirdly, they are great for doodling and sketching on.

If you can get hold of a class set of miniboards, or better still persuade your DoS to fork out for them, you may find them very useful. To give you a guideline, I can get hold of them in a large supermarket nearby for EU6 apiece.

By the way, Tim Hazell is now doing this http://www.myspace.com/djtimhaze

PS I've been taking paternity leave off the blogging for a while, so thanks for being patient. And young Emma is doing wonderfully, BTW!