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Thursday, 28 January 2010

TESOL France visits TEFL Paris: a Match Made in Heaven?

It's that time of the month again, satisfaction tinged with sadness, the Friday of the last week of January's TEFL Certificate Course here at TEFL Paris and, my goodness, hasn't time just flown by, as it always does!

We had Bethany Cagnol, the current president of TESOL France out at our place today, to talk to our trainees and generally drum up support and share The Knowledge, which was great. Thanks a lot for that Bethany - great to see you again, and thanks so much for forgetting the personal photo calendar I gave you - I see how much you value my presents then... ;-) (Just joking, which you knew, obviously!)

Bethany talked about working life in Paris as an English teacher, and her American roots certainly interested the Americans in this month's group who are realising that there are a few hoops to be jumped through before getting their dreamed-of new teaching job/life on the Old Continent...

Bethany, of course, has cheated and just married into the system. I mean, literally, Married In to the system. That's one of the easiest ways and, to be honest, the definition of 'marry' is getting looser and looser here in France, so that could be a serious option for certain people.

As well as thanking Bethany for visiting us, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all our wonderful trainees here at TEFL Paris for being such fun and so enthusiastic and just so into the course and doing their best. I have been really impressed by all of you - thank you.

And as a final sign/send off, I'll ask you a question.

Do yous guys remember someone telling you that teaching is all about asking questions? Juss wunderrin, az wun duz...

But that wasn't the question.

The Questions Are: "What was your best teaching moment on the course?

And "What event/situation did you learn from most?"

Anyone who has been on a TEFL course can take part, the more the merrier!

Read you shortly!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Burn Your Books?

This is actually a very clever video obviously created by people who not only know English teaching, but are also familiar with all the pretentions and perversities that go with it. Click on the image here to go straight to it.

It's not a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language here - it's probably more concerned with teaching literature to native English speakers, but the fun-poking is delicious and very well done nevertheless.

We've all wanted to be like Robin Williams in The Dead Poet's Society, haven't we? Well this parody captures that spirit and knows how to twist it without totally deriding it.

No, on second thoughts, it does totally deride it. Whatever.
Could we use this video with our students? Well, if you're teaching English literature this might be a bit too close to reality to take the risk. Students might quickly end up laughing at you as opposed to all of you laughing at the video together.

If you're teaching English to non-native speakers again it's a tricky one. There are so many cultural and sociological references in here that it would be hard to communicate the true richness of the material. There's nothing worse than explaining why a joke is funny, which is why I never 'do humour' in class but just let funny situations or events happen spontaneously, of which there is no shortage in the average English class.

It's also probably far too fast for the typical non-native speaker to cope with.

The best bit has to be as he's ripping the covers off the books, but I'll let you see that for yourselves...

Thanks to Alban from our January 2010 TEFL Certificate course here at TEFL Paris for making me aware of this one - I hadn't seen it before.
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

Thursday, 14 January 2010

It's Forkin' Funny, But Could You Teach It?

Now here's an interesting one. The choice of suitable realia (in other words genuine, not-cringy-made-for-English-teaching materials) such as newspaper articles, songs and, well, dodgy You Tube videos is what we're going to discuss here.

In fact, I think I'll make it a regular feature, you know, I'll find a dubious vid, post it here and we'll say how we could use it with our students. Or not. Here's the first one.

And what a classic it is. Many people already seem to know all about The Italian Man Who Went To Malta, and with over 11 million views of just this particular version you can understand why.

So there we are, us teachers, tears running down our cheeks, and then we have a brainwave: We'll use it in our next English lesson! So we do. The lesson with all those nice retired bourgois ladies who so appreciate their weekly English lesson at the local town hall on a Friday afternoon with that nice English teacher which they squeeze in between a visit to the hairdresser and their pooch's regular pedicure...

And the result is... well, what do you think? Could we use this piece of juicy realia with our students, and if so how and if not why not?

This also brings up the whole question of do we 'do' swear words in our lessons. I remember a really contentious book from a few years ago which I loved called Taboos & Issues because it dared to offer a whole load of scary lesson plans on totally over the top topics like death and gays and drugs of which you could only ever do about a tenth of them in your average class but hats off to them - they went for it.

And swearing was exactly the sort of dangerous topic they covered. And naughty words like shit and fuck (and all its multivarious derivations) share the very interesting characteristic of being some of the most common words in the English language, uttered by many many native English speakers on a daily basis.

But should we encourage our learners to use them too? Or just to understand them... Or should we not even venture out onto that slippery slope (volunteers to explain 'I wanna fuck on the table' to the sweet retired ladies, anyone?) Or would they think it was the best English lesson they'd every had?!!

Well, I've said enough; have a look at the video and let us know what you think. Look forward to reading you all.
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Great FREE On-line English Language Teaching Resources

Umm, mine, in fact.

Lots of people are putting loads of effort into creating useful stuff for English teachers to use in or out of their classes, and I don't see why I should be the exception!

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to my baby, my passion, my contribution to the field of English language teaching over and above the call of duty (or 'doodee' as my American trainees are tellin' me) ... my very own free on-line English lessons => An Example

Before I describe each section, let me tell you that your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to contribute to the comments below, and the question is:

"How could you / do you exploit this free on-line ELT resourse with your students."

Please share your ideas which I'm sure will be very interesting for all our regular teacher/trainer visitors. I can't wait to read you!"

So, there are four sections to the page, and the first one is the Video Analysis. My idea here is to start on a high note, in the form of a funny or somehow surprising video. I've blatently taken these from You Tube, which is a phenomenal teaching resource if you use it intelligently and judiciously (two big words for the price of none).

I provide a couple of broad 'gist' questions and a couple of more specific 'detail' questions, although, depending on how I'm feeling when I'm writing the lesson, actual lessons may vary, so don't hold me to what I've just said, thanks.

The second section is the Podcast or Vidcast, depending on whether I've found someone to capture on video or have just had to record my poor old self without the wonder of webcam.

In any case, both of them are pretty interesting and you have the text on the Hotch Potch English Blog so you and your students have all you need to tackle some 'real English' like what it's spoke by zee natives...

The example pic I show here is a wonderful little video of the trainees on the January 2010 TEFL Paris course saying various years, with their personal accents and interpretations, from Glasgow to Texas, from Aberdeen to Alabama, and from New York to Hampshire. A fascinating exploration of accents and humours which I hope will amuse our viewers as much as I liked it!

The third section is an altogether more serious matter, but hopefully no less interesting. I 'steal' a news story from one of the big news providers, such as the BBC, CNN, ABC, or any number of other three letter acronyms, and put it out there.

This is actually one of the most popular sections of the lesson, based on what people have told me, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I pick out six key phrases and record them, with pauses for students to repeat them to practise their pronunciation for as long and as often as they like. Secondly, I record the news story twice. Once very slowly, but not unnaturally. I make a point of saying the text totally naturally but just slowed down. And then I read it at a natural pace, so people can decide whether they want the tricky-quicky version or the slow-mo chilled out mix to really get their tongues around all those sly Saxon syllables.

I also include a pic or two to make sure the lesson isn't too dry, and another feature of the lessons I haven't mentioned yet is the instant gratification angle. People hate to wait.

(frustrated yet?)

(you will be...)

Which is why students have the answer to every question just a click away (on the pink questions marks). I've learnt that you just don't capture peoples' attention with an exercise by telling them that they'll know the answer next week. They want to know if they've got it right NOW! So all they have to do is click on the pink question marks like this - ??? - and they will have the answer, which is satisfying and non-frustrating.

The fourth, and to be honest my favourite section, is Today's Song. Let's face it, we all love listening to music. And when we are enjoying something we are more open to learning (or our subconscious brains are in any case, according to the People Who Know About This Sort Of Thing).

I have purposely made the exercise in this section as simple as possible. The last thing I want to do is to let my boring English exercise get in the way of their enjoyment of the song. But at the same time I am supposed to be helping them to improve their English!

So I take a sneaky approach. I create exercises where I change the words in the lyrics and they have to listen to see what I have changed. If possible, I replace the original words with funny or silly new versions. My ultimate aim is for them to be thinking about the English language without actually realising they are thinking about the English language. And song are a superb way of doing this.

By the way, a song I haven't dared use as my song of the week yet is Sean Paul's We Be Burning. I'm dying to, but really don't know how to explain the 'be doing' future (Jamaican English?) and it sure ain't in any of the course books... your thoughts on this would be great. It's part of the English that our kids, and language students, are listening to every day, after all...
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The English Teaching Sins Top 10 List!

The following list has been put together to help new English teachers (and a few old ones too) understand the most common sins commited in the classroom.

I should stress that this list is completely personal and as such has no particular authority but in my experience these are some of the main dangers to look out for.

If you are a trainee doing a reasonably decent TEFL Certificate or Diploma course then you will have a far better chance of getting good grades if you take these points very seriously indeed. TEFL teacher trainers understand that it takes time to get the hang of things, and that the very reason we exist is that trainees can experiment and make mistakes in a warm, caring and forgiving environment.

Up to a point.

And then, after a while, if you are still spending the first 40 minutes of a one-hour lesson giving another lecture on another of your pet topics our heads start exploding and we start seeing DIRT (Definitely Isn't Really Teaching)!!!

The English Teaching Sins Top 10 List!

1) You speak much more than your students because what you've got to say is more interesting anyway and you make far fewer painful mistakes.

2) You tell the students everything so they don't feel embarrassed when they don't know the answers to your incomprehensible questions.

3) You speak to them as you would a native speaker (or a little faster to push them ;-) because 'authentic input' is the way to go.

4) You follow a course book faithfully because it was written by experts, after all, and has some really nice exercises to photocopy, whilst also cutting down on preparation time.

5) You don't bother planning your lessons because you are the 'spontaneous type' who can wing it (have been doing so for years) and like the element of surprise this brings to the classroom.

6) You focus specifically on the most extroverted, confident students because those who make an effort to contribute deserve most of your attention.

7) You correct student mistakes constantly. It's what they expect, it's what they pay for, and it helps them learn faster.

8) You don't 'get personal' with your students. Your life has nothing to do with their English skills and their private lives are of even less relevance or interest to you. Good solid grammar lessons are what they need and appreciate the most.

9) You use humour as a powerful correctional tool. Subtle humiliation of the weaker students can encourage them to work harder so as to avoid the sting of your razor-sharp wit in the future.

10) You aim for accuracy as the ultimate goal of your lessons above all else. The need to eliminate mistakes is vital and we shouldn't let our students get away with poor grammar or shoddy vocabulary when they speak.

So your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to offer some antidotes to this tale of gloom and doom: let's hear lots of things a great humanistic and communicative teacher should do to make their lessons a great place for their students to be.

Please send in your Top Three Teaching Tips which you think will help make our lessons great to the Comments Section below. We look forward to reading you.
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre

Monday, 4 January 2010

When Is A Lesson Aim Not A Lesson Aim?

A lesson without an aim is like a boat without a rudder or a traveller without a map: there's very little chance you'll get to your destination because you don't even know what it is!

When you start teaching it is particularly important to know where you are trying to get to (or get your students to) by the end of the lesson.

How can you do this? Well, there are different ways. One of the best is to imagine what you would like them to be doing at the end of the lesson, such as confidently ordering a meal in a restaurant. This could otherwise be called The Aim of the lesson.

Once you have decided what you would like them to be able to do at the end of your lesson, you then need to work out all the steps necessary to get them to the point of being able to do just that with the minimum of teacher intervention. Why with a minimum of teacher intervention? Because out there in the real world you won't be there to hold their hands and their confidence will be much higher if they have already 'done it' in the classroom without you.

 So now let's try a little practical exercise. I'm going to give you some sample 'lesson aims', below. Tell us which you think are good lesson aims in terms of how well they will keep you focused on planning a lesson which will take your students 'directly to the goal' of performing the given task successfully, and why.

Consider a lesson aim a good one if it's...
   - clear and easy to understand
   - not too detailed
   - not too vague
   - doable for the students
   - teachable for the teacher
   - useful, fun and ultimately satisfying for all concerned

Sample lesson aims: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!

1) We'll do holidays

2) Students are able to ask for and give direction in the street, using take the first right, go around the roundabout, go straight on, turn sharp left, and the other key vocabulary given in the lesson plan. They will also be able to ask relevant questions using functional language such as Excuse me, can you tell me where the ... is? / I'm afraid I'm lost..., etc. They will also know the names of relevant buildings and shops (such as bank, station, car park, baker, church, hotel, restaurant, and so on).

3) Students are able to write a postcard, using the present perfect tense (I have... but I haven't ... yet) and referring to London sights such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square.

4) Students can present themselves simply in an informal situation, giving their name, their nationality and their home town, and asking the same questions such as What is you name?.

5) Talking about the weather.

6) Past simple lesson.

7) Students can use the same modal verbs (should, must, might, etc.) for both giving advice, e.g. He should go home, and for talking about probability, e.g. He should have arrived by now.

Do feel free to comment on others' comments, and why not try to get a 'best' and 'worst' lesson aim out of the above list?

I look forward to reading your ideas...
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre


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