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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


Nicko the Cheese Monster said...

Some comments, not in any special order:

I like the immediate access to the answers. As you say, students don’t want to come back and look for their answers next week. They’ll answer the question and then check for the answer straight away. At first however I didn’t think the question marks were working because the cursor doesn’t change to the pointing finger to indicate a link. Indeed, the cursor doesn’t change at all, so I wasn’t sure that the question marks were going to do anything if clicked on. Note also that I had to fiddle with pop-up settings to get the answer displayed. Perhaps a sort of hover and reveal method would be easier than pop up boxes. The non-changing cursor also applies to other areas on the page, where I wasn’t sure if a word was clickable or not.

Home done video is great, but sometimes the sound quality can be low compared to professional stuff, unless you have remote microphones. This might make it harder for the students.

I like the supplementary material, like the base jump video and additional images. It keeps the site interesting. Perhaps imbed the video and then the student will not get tempted by other YouTube videos and will return to the lesson.

I used to hate doing songs in my French class. They’re difficult. This one is great though as you’re not doing it blind, you have most of the words etc. Perhaps you could ask some questions on the meaning of the lyrics, although sometimes lyrics are pretty hard to fathom.

On the technical side - the Deezer link plays me Prince and Rage Against the Machine at the same time, an interesting combination for sure. The Prince YouTube link is broken.

I like the way the lesson starts easy, gets harder and then ends on a fun note with the song. Probably just the right sort of length too, around 30mins I would say, bite-size English that fits easily into a busy day or week.

To promote other areas of the site or other sites, you could add links along the lines of “Want to do more lessons like this…” etc after each section. I know section 5 kind of does this, but I find it too complicated compared to a simple question.

How would I use it for teaching? Simple, I’d steal some of the exercises and do one or two of them in my class (the song for sure), and/or some exercises could be given as homework or as extra material. I could also extend or change the questions on the videos or news text to suit the specific level of my class. To be honest I’d try and avoid giving the students the actual web address, as they might look and decide they don’t need their teacher anymore!!!

Larry said...

Well Nick stole not only the thunder but the rain, the sleet, the snow, and the wind as well.

My next training course will be in computer-savviness to bring me up to date in doing this stuff!

My own little comments:
Cartoons were great. I especially liked the skeleton one, since that resonates so well with anyone in any Western country who has ever called anybody's customer service number. As for the cavemen, I did appreciate the New York City accent!

There are alot of things you could discuss in a classroom situation, from they are drawn to to the effective use of satire to express opinions.

I agree that online or in books, the availability of immediate answers is important. I actually think that once students realize that they're being taught, not tested, immediate answers (or easily found ones) are a good idea for another reason: if their answer is incorrect, they will not be reinforcing their incorrect-ness, and they can immediately look up the lesson pertaining to their error.

The first time I saw the podcast I wondered where you ever found that handsome bald guy from New York. I also thought the video gave a wonderful glimpse at different accents.

I might take that theme even further by giving a short reading of the same thing in, say, British, Scottish, American, and Caribbean English. (and of course in a classroom situation that is something that can be discussed as well, depending on needs of students. Someone who is going to be working in the US will have different language goals (perhaps) than someone who is going to spend his winter vacation (note: not "holiday") in New Zealand.

In fact, with more advanced students, I think that pointing out dialectical variations can be very helpful. I do that in Yiddish even with beginners (but their goals in learning that language are very different from those of most EFL students) because the Yiddish that is actually spoken by the people who actually speak it is very different from what is taught in universities, and is often quite unintelligible to those who have studied the language only in an academic setting.

Abu Dhabi was mispronounced: It's AH boo DAH bee, not AH boo doo BYE.

And now for the song. I like the way you use it as a teaching tool, but frankly I couldn't stand the song itself and in fact could not bear to listen through it to the end. Of course online, I have that option; in a class I wouldn't. Thank you for providing the lyrics, though--- without the text I would not have understood anything at all!
(Yes I am an old fart - although I prefer to refer to it as "flatulence of a certain age.")

Nick is spot on (we don't say that in the US either) about the importance of sound quality. There is nothing worse than sitting through a class listening a muddled tape recording in a foreign language on a machine that doesn't work well.

Brianna said...

I liked the cartoons as well. I think they could be used from many types of learners. For beginners, you could supply simple questions, such as the ones you provided. However, I think you could also use a video like this for more advanced learners, and ask more advanced questions and give more context. These videos would be useful in the classroom as well, as long as they were repeated many times.

I also liked the base jumping video. It was interesting, though I agree with Nick. It might be tempting to view some other youtube videos, and you might lose students from the lessons.

As for the Podcast, I think this is helpful to understand the ways in which different people say dates. I also think its very clear from the question you have asked that the viewer would have to watch this video several times before he or she could answer all these questions. This could also be used in the classroom, perhaps in the presentation stages, letting the students read new dates in a production phase.

As a NOTE: for the pronunciation point, the word is written "observation deck," but it sounds like you say "observation desk." Is that a pronunciation difference between America and British English?

I also had some technical issues with deezer, but I am interested by the idea. I agree this seems like a challenging activity. When I am listening to a song in a foreign language, I have a hard time differentiating between the words, they all seem to run together. I, therefore, think the transcript, even with the blanks, would be very useful. Also, the English in songs is often unusual to fit the artist's need for a particular rhythm or rhyme. I think if you were to use this in class, you would have to be careful to pick a song that fit the level and needs of the class, but I think it is definitely a useful activity.

Morna said...

I thought the video of the group saying the years was a great idea. It adds a human touch to the lesson, which is important since the student is engaging with a computer screen rather than an actual human teacher!

Like Larry, I think the use of satire is a good way of getting students interested/making the lesson fun. Similarly, the use of up-to-date news stories from the BBC and elsewhere is a good way of introducing vocab which is topical. I think the recordings of news stories would be a resource which would work well in class. It would provide a break from the teacher's voice and introduce the students to a different accent.

I like how the song at the end is given a context. It makes it seem like it was chosen for a reason, rather than just randomly.

Lastly, the layout of the lesson it great. It's really clear and not too cluttered. It's a nice amount of material to do in one sitting. The only thing i might suggest is that the song could potentially be too long. But whether this is true depends on the level of the students. Perhaps the exercise could be shortened for lower level students.

andrew said...

While i think that the news story idea is potentially very useful if handled correctly, I think there are a couple of issues with the one provided that would leave me wary of using that particular example. One of the questions, the true or false one about the swimming pool, is a little confusing. While the story does mention the world's highest swimming pool, there is no mention of a) whether the public are allowed to access it and b) whether we would have to pay for the pleasure of swimming higher than any man has ever swum before. As such I would perhaps want to take the news section and adapt it with some questions of my own, I do think that it could be a fantastically useful resource if managed correctly and there is a lot of potential for role plays, production exercises, etc based on this. For example we could get students to write a news report about how France has just built an even taller building and they could fill it with whatever they wanted (the world's highest menagerie, Elevators made of gold, etc) it gives them the chance to have a bit of fun and use their imagination while producing genuinely original material of their own. With regard to the questions I think i would probably just steal them directly and give them to the class on hand outs with separate answer handouts to be provided at the end of the exercise if I was to use them. I like the idea of providing answers immediately and obviously that would happen in a physical lesson.

I like the cartoons in the first example because they have a certain resonance with real life situations and add a touch of humour to the class. I also quite like the idea of using the first clip to tell students that this is how I shall be dealing with complaints about lesson content from now on. again there is the opportunity to have people assume the role of the speaker and swap 'needs being met' out for other complaints people might have.

I think the songs are a pretty cool idea, it was actually something I had thought about using myself and it's nice to see that it is a valid tool to use. I think I would probably run that exercise pretty identically to the way in which you have, with the odd word missing for them to listen to and attempt to fill in. One thing I might try to do with more advanced students is replace the word at the end of a line with a synonym now and again and try to get them to rewrite the word that rhymes with it in the next line with another word of their own that follows the rhyme scheme and still makes sense in the context of the song (obviously I would need to find a far easier way of explaining this to the students...)

Paris Set Me Free said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Andrew, it's true you have to invent your questions carefully when using realia (real English stuff) to there is nothing to confuse your students - not always easy! Writing exam questions must be a nightmare - I'll leave that to the experts!

Your ideas on further exploitation of the song are great - you can certainly play with rhyming words and suchlike. And listen to some great music in class as well.

Morna, yes, I love making these little videos with a very human (i.e. homemade!) touch to them.

I'm working on choosing the songs to have some link to some current event, but sometimes I just think of a fav tune and go with that I'm afraid!

Thanks for your comment on the layout - I need to get feedback like that, positive as well as 'things that could be improved' to feel I'm going roughly in the right direction!! :-)

Paris Set Me Free said...

Hi Brianna,
I'm a big fan of short snappy cartoons, and short ads are just as good. They're fun and don't drag on and normally have lots of things to exploit in them.

I think I mispronounced 'deck' as 'desk' (it was late!), sorry.

I think the technical issues with Deezer may have been linked to a couple of dodgy links which I've since corrected. It may also be that your computer asks you to do something strange to hear the songs, but most people seem to get them ok. You have all the lyrics in full to the songs on the link next to the title, in case you hadn't noticed.

And of course you need to pick the song, and create the exercises, at the appropriate level for your students - a key skill for English teachers: being able to grade their tasks.

The pink frog said...

Well, I've got to say my favorite part is the news section with the slow and the fast versions, as a non-native I found this is a very useful tool to get both the pronunciation and the understanding right.
My second favorite part is the video analysis, more for the fun than for the English questions, I have to say !!
Do I dare to add that I found the homemade videos a bit painful to watch, as I wasn't quite sure the future teachers had as much fun as you, Sab !!
I have been using your ideas about song explorations in class, using the songs that my students liked, and that was great fun !!
You will probably get new subscribers as I've advertised the site to my students, as an extra "homework" for the most motivated ones. Unlike Nicko the cheese monster, I have no fear they could decide they don't need they brilliant English teacher anymore !! lol !!! Personalize !!! Sab can't do that over the web!!
And by the way Sab, 7 months later I still going through my notes to get some great ideas for my English classes !! (And I am very proud to have now around 60 students from 8 to 80 years old, with a handful of business classes in between !!) Tomorrow I’m adapting Michelle’s TV screen !! It should be fun !

Sab Will said...

Hi Pink Frog! I'm not sure who you are but I guess you must have been on the June course here at TEFL Paris!

I'm really happy you have so many students and I'm REALLY happy you've been spreading the word about my English stuff. Thanks! Send them all to my free on-line English lessons and I'll do my best to keep 'em coming.

I hope you've had a chance to look at all my new blogs too. They are... well, this one, and the others you have links to in the top right of this page.

All the best, and I wonder who you are..!

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