In 2006, my wife and I packed up our things and moved to Lithuania. One of the first things we did was to purchase a small apartment near the city centre. It was an old German building with only six apartments built around the time when the area was known as East Prussia. The apartment also had a cellar with storage for each apartment and the pipes and services for the whole building. The main door didn’t have a buzzer and need someone with a key to open it. Beside this door was a sign with the phone numbers of those who had keys in case someone needed to get into the cellar such as service personnel.
One day, I was at home getting ready for class when I got a phone call. I hated getting calls since inevitably I wouldn’t understand them and would feel really stupid afterwards. Here is what I heard during that call (in English since it wouldn’t make sense to you otherwise): Continue reading Listening
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A number of years ago, I decided to convert an audio book on CD into MP3 files so I could listen to them on my iPod as I walked back and forth from work. This was a great idea, except that somewhere in the process, the files got shuffled around and the only way I could figure out what order to put them in was to listen to the start and end of each file. Through that labourious process, I got the idea that this might be helpful in the language classroom. I did a little test on my own to see how it might work in a lesson and then I located a file that lent itself to being played out of order. I wrote up some questions and ran it in class. To be honest, it didn’t work that well. I had chosen something that was too difficult for the group I was working with and from there, the lesson went downhill. Since then, I’ve tried it a few times in class using different listening material and with each attempt, things seemed to get better and better as I adapted and changed things for the next time.
Fast forward to last Friday and my latest attempt at a shuffle listening. For some reason I can’t comprehend, I decided to do it on a day when I was being observed as part of my work at the college. Usually I would play it safe, but instead I created a whole new lesson based on a listening I hadn’t used before. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have done that. Thankfully, it worked, or at least it seems to have; I’ll have to wait to hear the comments from my colleague who observed me. Continue reading Shuffling
Image courtesy of Premshree Pillai
I really enjoy being a language teacher, but I make a terrible language learner. When I was younger, I barely scraped by in my French lessons, but when we moved to another province in Canada when I was in grade nine, I found out how far behind I was in regards to the other students. One of the biggest things I noticed was how small my personal lexicon was compared to my classmates. Sure my grammar was bad, but since I didn’t have the words to put together meaningful sentences, no one really noticed.
Fast forward a number of years to when I had moved to Lithuania and was taking Lithuanian language lessons while working as an English language instructor. There was this initial rush of learning as my vocabulary grew while taking lessons and living my day-to-day life shopping, working, and socializing with others. My confidence grew as did my vocabulary, but it was somewhere around the six month mark that I started to notice a levelling off in my lexical growth. I decided I needed to take action, so I bought myself a set of CDs that promised to help me learn a pile of new words. I transferred the audio files to my iPod and listened intently as I walked to and from work each day. It was at that time that something hit me. The words I had learned in my first six months were sticking in my brain much better than the ones I learned while walking. At first I thought it was the fact I wasn’t seeing the words, so I wrote them out to look at as I walked. That didn’t really help. “Okay,” I thought, “what else could it be?” Then it hit me — context. That is what I was missing. Continue reading Acquiring
Image courtesy of Sean Benham
On a side note: This is my 50th post on this blog. As most of you know, I don’t get too excited about things like this, but it is nice to look back over the six months I have been working on this blog and see what has transpired since then. No matter how many visitors, retweets, FB shares, and so on that I get, I am in awe that anyone would think I have anything even remotely interesting to share. Thank you for putting up with my rants and incoherent rambling. I appreciate you all. Really.
Today I did elevator pitches with my students and I thought they did a really great job. I decided to do those instead of a traditional presentation for a number of reasons, but mostly because I feel it is more realistic than a lecture style speech. For those who are not aware of what an elevator pitch is, here is the basic situation.
Imagine you have walked into an elevator and standing there is the CEO / President / Manager of the company you would like to work for or with which you would like to do business. As the doors close, you have one minute to pitch yourself or your idea before the doors open again and you lose your opportunity of a lifetime. Continue reading Pitching
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I’ve waited a while before writing this post in order to protect the person who I am writing about. I don’t want anyone trying to guess who it was who did this. The point of this post is to make all of us think about what we do when we choose reading or listening material for our students.
One day, when I was having lunch, a fellow teacher was showing me a text that she planned on using with her class that afternoon. As I looked at the text, I wondered about the difficulty level and asked her if the students were going to be able to handle it. She exclaimed, “I know it is too difficult for them, but the students have been mentioning that the texts I have been giving them were too easy and they were finishing too quickly. I am doing this to put them in their place.” Continue reading Punishing
Image courtesy of Ed Brambley
One of the teachers I had in university made heavy use of an overhead projector (OHP). He used the roller type of transparency and he had handwritten notes for each class on separate rolls. He would come into class, put the next ‘scroll’ on the OHP, turn off the lights, plop down beside the OHP, and roll the transparency to the first section. He proceeded to read over the densely packed section and then roll the ‘scroll’ to the next section. The first time this happened, I panicked. Being a novice notetaker, I was attempting to write out his notes word for word, but since he could read out the notes faster than I could write them, I could only get through about a quarter of the page before it scrolled off the screen. I learned very quickly to only jot down what I needed to remember and then expanded on those notes when I got home later that day.
That was me as a university student in my own language with a basic understanding of the topic. Imagine that you are an English language student taking courses in a language you are still learning to understand at a general level. Add technical language, a variance in speaking styles, and the pressure of marks and you have a situation which can cause no end of frustration and heartache for the student. Continue reading Lecturing
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Yesterday, I was reading over a discussion happening on the #AusELT Facebook page about students’ perception regarding games / activities in the language classroom. I don’t think I am alone when I say that I have had similar discussions with students about teaching methodology in my classroom. I haven’t had it happen in a while, but that doesn’t mean that students haven’t been thinking it. I would agree with some others here in saying that I probably don’t do that many activities or games in my class anymore, but my approach to teaching is still quite different from what many of my students are accustomed to.
Language teaching is one of those things that most people have an opinion on how it should be done. Even those who have never stepped into a language classroom already have a mental picture, rightly or wrongly, about what that looks like. There is no way that we can please all of the students all of the time. Someone in the classroom is going to think that things should be more serious or fun or something in between.
Upon further reflections regarding this discussion on Facebook, my mind started to wander in a somewhat different direction (anyone who knows me understands that this is completely normal). One of the comments from Mike Smith was in regards to how to best use the time you have with the students in the classroom. He suggested that there is work that is best done by the student on their own leaving more time in the classroom for more interactive practice. I think Mike is onto something here. To flesh out his point a bit more, I decided to break down the various components of language learning into two camps: teacher guided or led and individual work. There really is two parts to the teacher guided or led, that is one-to-one tutoring and group or classwork, but for the sake of this post, I will clump them together into one inseparable group. Continue reading Guiding
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When I initially proposed the idea of having an ELT Research Blog Carnival to share what we as English language professionals had been learning through academic journal articles, I never really anticipated the response I would get. Deep down, I thought that this idea wouldn’t really catch on and it would die before it ever got started. I was pleasantly surprised, actually shocked would be more apt here, at the response I received from others. I thought I might be too optimistic to think that 2-3 people would join me in the first run, but instead there are a total of seven posts to share! I believe it shows how much ELT instructors care about learning and growing in their field. They are happy to question and reflect on what is happening in their classroom in order to help their students grow. I am proud to be a part of this community of teaching professionals, even if we don’t always feel like we are treated as such. All I can say is thank you.
To get things rolling here, I am going to summarize each of the posts that people have written for this edition of the blog carnival and provide you with links to each of them. Continue reading Commencing
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Note: This post is my submission for the 1st ELT Research Blog Carnival. If you are interested in knowing more about writing one yourself, please go to the ELT Research Blog Carnival website.
I was barely 16 and has just moved to the ‘big city’ when I started looking for my first job. With a fist full of resumes and a dress shirt and tie on, I wandered up and down the shopping mall looking for help wanted signs when I spotted a notice in the photo store window. Having grown up around photographers and my dad having a photo shop and studio when I was younger, I thought this would make a great fit. I strode up to the counter and asked for the manager. She came out and I politely introduced myself and handed her my resume. She took a minute to look things over before spinning around and grabbing a semi-professional camera off of the shelf. “Sell it to me,” she exclaimed as she handed the camera to me. I was stunned. In that moment, I was caught completely off guard and didn’t know what to do. I took the camera (which was a new model for me) and looked it over. My brain was whirling. I was panicking. All of those things I had prepared myself for before walking into the shop fell away. I knew about photography and cameras, but that sudden disruption to my plan took me off guard.
Now, think about your students at the moment just before you press play on the class CD that came with your textbook. Are they ready, or are they slipping into panic mode? Do they know what is expected of them or are they just left to figure things out as they go along? Compound the problem by making the listening a high-stakes test such as an exit exam. How do you think they feel now? Continue reading Preparing