Question: What new services do we need?

Last week I was getting a class ready to go to “Seven Days in the Life of Simon Labrosse”, a play being presented by the BeMe Theatre. It’s about a guy who has been unemployed and is trying to break back into the market (and into life, really) by inventing new and intriguing services: “emotional stuntman, ender of sentences, ego flatterer, easer of consciences”. Well, I asked my students to invent services they thought there was a market for and to write job advertisements for them. In this week’s podcast I’ll tell you about their ideas — and I’d love to hear yours! Please add yours in the comments below, or blog about the subject and link this post to your blog.


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Net neutrality

It’s not always easy to follow the bureaucrats, but Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined actions he says the FCC must take to preserve the free and open Internet. The FCC’s existing case-by-case enforcement of communications law is already guided by four open Internet principles that say that consumers must be able

  • to access all lawful Internet content
  • to access all lawful applications and
  • to access all lawful services of their choice
  • and to attach any non-harmful device to the network.

Mr. Genachowski has now proposed two new principles, saying that Internet access providers

  • must be prevented from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, although they must be allowed to manage networks reasonably
  • must be transparent about their network management practices.

It’s a complicated world out there, and some of the corporations oppose net neutrality as limiting technological and market development, especially in wireless services. But as one comment says, “If AT&T doesn’t like it, that’s a very good sign.” For a good overview of the concept and the players involved, see Wikipedia. Also see, set up by the Obama administration, where the public can watch Mr. Genachowski’s speech and post comments.

For teachers only: Vocabulary

Yesterday I ran a workshop for English teachers at VW in Wolfsburg who are having trouble adapting the coursebook they are using for their mixed level courses. Before they get started on the given tasks, they have to pre-teach the more challenging vocabulary. The coursebook comes with great texts that can be exploited, along with a little booklet called “Pocket Coach”. Teachers can get a lot of mileage out of these. Some of my favorite vocabulary activities include:

Mind maps: Create a mind map to extend a word to its related vocabulary, creating sets

Rinvolucri’s elephant revisited: Use an image to locate the new vocabulary, Rinvolucri style. I like using a long, winding road (complex processes, projects) and the learners write words or phrases along it and explain why they belong in that position. I use a simple staircase  for simple processes; a house or tree for organisations or systems; and a pyramid or target with dedicated fields to symbolize frequency, values, relevance.

Memory: Use memory picture cards (I like art boxes best myself). Write the sentence with the new word on an index card. Draw a picture card and explain why that picture is connected to that sentence. Have a second student explain the connection in his/her own words. Do this for up to 7 new words. Then play memory with the picture cards and the sentence cards.

Shopping for words, A. Hot seat: The first scenario construct is that a shopkeeper needs to know his/her goods. After discussing the new words, write them on the board/ on cards and stick them on the board behind the “shopkeeper”, a student in the hot seat. The student is not allowed to look at the board. The class explains the word without using any derivatives of that word. The student must remember the word, and then gets to cross it off (or take it down) when he/she has remembered it correctly.

Shopping for words, B. Haggling: A variation of this game without a hotseat, uses the image that the shopkeeper wants to sell as many of his/her goods as possible, but that a customer has specific needs. In this case, the cards are visible to all participants. Here the shopper explains the context in which the word would be used, and then the shopkeeper haggles over which word(s) would be best and has to make a case for why they work well together. I like to have two shoppers vs. one shopkeeper: One shopper wants only one word (“shopping on a shoestring!”), the other wants several. That makes the dynamics more fun.

The amazing disappearing sentence: Make a sentence using the word. Write it on the board. The class reads out the sentence. Erase words, one at a time, and the class keeps reading out the sentence until there’s nothing left. Have pairs dictate the sentence to each other.

Dictogloss: Discover your inner author and write a text using the new words. 12 sentences work best. Then read the whole 12 sentences at natural speed. Students are allowed to take notes. Read it again, at natural speed. Don’t slow down or repeat anything. Keep smiling. Groups of students try to reconstruct the entire 12 sentences word for word on paper. The most valuable part of the learning process are the discussions among the students.

Quick switch: Replace the word in the sentence with another word and discuss how the meaning changes. See how many switches you can make for the word. Make a word map with the words that made good replacements.

Marisa Costanides wrote up activities adapting “companions”, little booklets that accompany coursebooks in Greece. Her suggestions are very helpful for adapting any supplementary materials, and could be used with the book at VW, too. So I’m reposting some of her suggestions here. This is an excerpt, and you’ll find her complete original post “Companions: An aid, a crutch, a snag?” in her blog (follow this link).

Synonyms-Opposites race: Write a list of words already known to the students on the board and ask your class to look through a page of the companion quickly and provide the synonyms or opposites.

Categorizing & Copying: Ask the students to search through the word lists for one or more units and copy all the words that fit certain categories:

Odd-Man-Out sets: After you have played the game Odd-Man-Out a few times, ask your class to prepare some odd-man-out sets in teams so that they play against another team. Put an example on the board.

Student-made crosswords: Students revising make an easy crossword and check companion for help with definitions or examples.

Student-made board games: Students designing a board game to check another group on known vocabulary prepare cards with definitions, gap-fills or synonyms which will be used as question cards by the opposing group during the game.

Wordwatching: Students make multiple definitions of known words to trick an opposing team (as in “Call my Bluff”) or write sentences with correct/incorrect uses of a word.

e.g. What is a HABITAT?
a. your clothes?
b. a bad habit?
c. the home of an animal?
d. an exotic bird?

Spelling bees: Groups select ‘difficult’ words to use against an opposing team in a spelling bee game.

Storytelling competition: The teacher, a student or a group, assign random selection of words to everyone, i.e. the fifth word on every page. These words are studied by pairs/ groups or teams, and each one has to create a story in which these come in naturally. Best story wins!

Dialogue improvisation: Each group is assigned 3-4 words from a page which they study and then have to incorporate in an improvised conversation/ role play. The rest of the class has to spot the words, situation and topic.

Creative dictation/ improvisation: Each group selects six to eight words which they dictate to another group. This group must then cooperate and make up a little story or conversation in which all these words are used.

Word competition: A word is chosen randomly by the teacher. Pupils have to hunt through their “companion” as quickly as possible and jot down as many words as they can which begin/ end in the same letter.

How many words can you make? A long word is chosen and students try to make as many other words as they can out of the letters of this word.

Word association game: A word is chosen randomly by the teacher or a student. The class in pairs/ groups/ or individually, hunt through the pages of the “companion” and try to find other words that they associate with this word. The teacher is the final judge in this game where the pupils can create any associations they like but should justify them, and the winner(s) are those who produce the longest list of acceptable associations.

For teachers only: One to one

In a workshop that I’ve given for Cornelsen (and will be giving again on Friday) to promote a book on one-to-one teaching, I invite English teachers to formulate questions. Teachers at MELTA asked these questions last Saturday, and I’ve sorted them into three groups:

1. My role as the teacher vis a vis the student

  • Are one to ones really more effective than groups?
  • Why do things take longer?
  • How do I minimize my speaking time?
  • How do I help a student relax in my “headlights”?
  • How to motivate a learner – without being too bossy?

2. Building a repertoire of methods and an effective suite of activities

  • How does the teacher identify what areas to address next?
  • How does a teacher effectively transition from one concept to the next?
  • How to vary the methologies one uses as a teacher?
  • How do I break out of a “tried and tested” formula?
  • How can I reduce learning steps to make them bite-sized?
  • Should I use a book y/n? or articles … to encourage discussion?
  • (About the book in question:) What’s on page 23? … because it’s a mystical number 😉

3. Keeping a learner focussed on the learning process

  • What to do with someone who has NO time to practice English ouitside the lesson?
  • How do I increase the effects of my one to one lessons when my student is so busy & only has an hour free every two weeks?
  • How do you make/ keep English learning a top priority? (re busy lives)

Here are my answers in a nutshell:

1. My role as the teacher vis a vis the student

Let me recommend Peter Wilberg, “One to One. A Teacher’s Handbook” (many thanks to Jo Westcombe for lending it to me). Wilberg says so many things that ring true. He talks about the unique opportunity a one to one setting gives us to be utterly authentic as teachers. He also explains how difficult being fair and avoiding what he calls one-upmanship can be in our relationship with our students. We need to be very aware of any type of power play. Reducing our talking time, he says, is not really the issue. Instead, we should be creating space for the student to learn, and that will take many forms. Most importantly, he says, we should not teach any content. Instead, we should provide formats (his word for tasks) to the student to output his/her contents and communication needs, which we then feedback, allowing the student to reformulate. Wilberg confirms practically all of my beliefs about teaching one to one, so I warmly recommend reading this impressive and comprehensive – and  classic, pioneering –  book! About relaxing: I’m an advocate of alternative teaching methods, including relaxation and anything that allows for imagination to come into play. Also: Move the student’s interests to center stage to take pressure off the two of you.

2. Building a repertoire of methods and an effective suite of activities

In Up to Speed, Louise Kennedy and Carole Eilertson have created a one-to-one teaching model that is very useable and accessible — even if you decide you don’t want to use their book. They have created suites of learning cycles. The basic concepts they employ are:

  • Define goals at the outset, work towards them, revisit them, base evaluation on them.
    The student won’t know where you are going unless you define your goals first. Don’t expect to reach a goal that you didn’t target in the first place.
  • Test, then teach.
    Don’t waste your student’s time by teaching anything he/she already knows.
  • Output, input, output.
    Always start a learning cycle with a productive student task, and only then provide content and tasks that will build further knowledge and skills. Finish the cycle with another productive activity that integrates the new content.
  • Repeat the output-input-output cycle.
    Allow many short, tightly managed learning cycles for knowledge to build, going from simple to complex. The more often your student can repeat, and the more varied formats you provide (using as many skills as possible), the better.
  • Push yourself and your student out of both of your comfort zones by using role play.
    Don’t talk about communicative situations, act them out. Be fair to your student by playing the game on par, and really thinking yourself into the situations your student needs to master. Challenge your student linguistically, and yourself in terms of the roles you play.

3. Keeping a learner focussed on the learning process

There is only one point where I tend not to agree with Wilberg, and that has to do with sharing responsiblility for your student’s progress. Wilberg says you can’t promise anything. However, we teachers are accountable to our clients, who after all are investing in the training, so we do need to make sure the learning goes well. Of course we know that lessons are a small part of the learning process, not much more than an impulse, and that our students will forget anything they don’t use. What our students do after class is out of our hands, sure. But the key to continuing the process is motivation boosted by a good self-image based on the positive experience of actually making progress. I’m convinced that by staying focussed using the methods outlined above in 2. you create a positive dynamic and flow that will keep the student focussed, turning the curriculum and extra curricular activities (including the things you point out on the Internet) into an integrated project.

Dear readers, I’d love to hear your comments!

PS: It was so very nice having Karenne Sylvester of Kalingo English and Shelly Terrell of Teacher Rebootcamp at this workshop.  An honor!

Question: How do two of the things you do compare?

We generally have more than one kind of task to do at work or at college. For instance, we might need to write up our research and then make a presentation, which are two entirely different kettles of fish (“2 versch. Töpfe mit Fischen” = 2 Paar Stiefel). Or we might need to manage a group of people, but also do some highly specialized work ourselves. Each of those elements of work has its own challenges and rewards.

In my case, as a provider of language services I translate, write and teach, and each of those requires very different skills. I have to change my mindset when I go from one to the other. Let me just compare writing and teaching: When I write I’ve got an audience in my head, and need to use my imagination to figure out what the reader will want and need. When I teach, I do some of the same kind of imagining in advance, but I don’t fix things absolutely. Instead, I wait for immediate feedback, and just need to be very awake and aware to respond to what I see and hear. Another difference is that when I write, I can make corrections once I see the whole thing. But as a teacher, once you’re in the situation, it’s live. This is something I really enjoy. And finally, when I write I’m responsible for the content. When I teach, my students and I share that responsibility.

So: I’d like to invite you to think about two such types of work you do:

  • Where are the challenges?
  • Where do the rewards lie?

Essay models for this question

This could be a nice essay question for a 6 paragraph essay: 1 introducing your subject, then 4 dedicated to the challenges and rewards of the first and second type of work, and then your final paragraph summarizing something that your reflections have led you to recognize.

An alternative, 5 paragraph essay could take 3 differences between the two types (as I did in the text above) and devote a paragraph to each, plus the introductory and closing paragraph.

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