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Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Wandering of Websites: Useful On-line Resources for English Teachers

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While a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, a school of fish and, at a stretch, a gaggle of geese might not have too much trouble rolling off your tongue, could you happily take on board (and not feel totally ridiculous saying) "Oh my goodness, did you see that intrusion of cockroaches / squabble of seagulls / paddling of ducks / murmuration of starlings the other day - weren't they quite something?"

(That was all one sentence, by the way - I'm rather proud of it...)

I suspect not.

But a wandering of websites... well I don't see why not. Never let it be said that I never neologise, right?!

And here they are: a handful of interesting, and potentially teacher-exploitable websites that I've come across over the last few days. There have been others, there will be more, but this is what I have for you today...

This offers a series of short videos of people talking about stuff quite similar to what I do on the Hotch Potch English Mega Minute, but it's always nice to have a choice. There are also some interactive exercises and the script which is useful, and lots of different accents which is good too.

This is a very useful on-line depository of newsy stuff, the most interesting of which may be the collection of newspaper front pages from all over the world. They are available in printable pdfs and can be used in class quite easily. Relevant and up to date - what more could you ask for?! Good for comparing approaches to news stories from around the world, with a good collection of English titles to choose from.

This is a great idea in principle but pretty useless in practice... for native speakers. But excellent for students of English. The idea is that people - anyone - creates a short video where they define a word on camera and put it on the site. They can, of course, peruse all the other efforts and there's nothing to stop you from setting exercises based on watching the homespun definitions of certain words. It would be pretty fun for students to define their own words in their own English and immediately see their efforts on the internet. All you need is a free You Tube account and you're away. The reason I say it's useless, or rather pointless for native speakers is that the fun of watching some boring definitions of words we already know wears off very quickly. But for learners this is less the case.
A great site, not only for its large collection of quotes, but because you can sign up for a daily e-mail for free with an inspirational quotation and some other stuff. I just read the quotations and sometimes share them with my students. Why not have a look?
Check out this site for a really cool, and curious little interactive story. There are resources for exploiting it with students and it is very unusual and strangely engaging.
Feel free to also send in your general ideas and thoughts by commenting below, and... read you shortly!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

Friday, 12 February 2010

What On Earth Are... CCQs?

Have you ever spent a good five minutes explaining something to students and had them nodding and smiling happily making you feel they've totally 'got it'... only to prove thirty seconds later by some simple mistake that they totally 'haven't'? It happens to all of us, and that's where CCQs can help.

CCQs, or Concept Check Questions, are a very effective way of checking students' real understanding of vocabulary or even grammar you have just taught them. Let's take an example:

Imagine you are teaching your students 'snow', and you explain it by saying 'It's cold and white', and they nod and smile. You even ask them 'Do you like snow?' and they still nod and smile and maybe even say 'Yes!'. All is going well, you may think. Except that half of them think you are talking about vanilla ice cream!

How about explaining what a strawberry is? It's small, you say. And round. And sweet. Oh, and of course it's a fruit. You can eat it. It tastes good! Do you understand? Good. And you move on. With one third of the students thinking it is indeed a strawberry, one third thinking it's a raspberry, one third thinking it's a cherry, and probably someone who just hasn't got a clue, but what do you know? You haven't checked to see if they've understood the concept asking questions!

Asking 'Do you understand?' is one of the least useful questions you can ever ask in an English language classroom! Why? Because if students do understand the question 'Do you understand?' they will probably just say 'Yes' to keep you happy. And to not lose face if they don't. They may not even understand the question 'Do you understand?' but will say 'Yes' anyway, just to keep you happy. And even if they do understand something, are they understanding what you want them to understand?!

Another example: Imagine, like me, you are a less than useless artist. But that not having a map to hand during your explanation of the continents you draw a hasty map of South America on the board, and label it 'South America'. You then ask 'Do you know South America? And they all nod and smile. But half of them are thinking that 'South America' is actually the English for 'Africa'!

So how can we be more or less sure that our students really have understood? Let's take the snow example earlier. We need some really simple questions which, if answered correctly by the students, will prove to us that they've 'got it'. We could ask:

Is snow is white? The student answers 'Yes' but so is vanilla ice cream and cotton wool and fluffy clouds and sheep.
Is snow cold? The student answers 'Yes' but so is vanilla ice cream and ice and winter and fridges and snowmen...
Does snow come from the sea? (mime waves) The student answers 'No' - a good sign.
Does snow come from the sky? (point to sky) Student answers 'Yes' - another good sign.
Does snow fall in summer? Student answers 'No' - still looking good.
Does snow fall in winter? Student answers 'Yes' - very good - it looks like he's got it.
Do we eat snow? Student answers 'No' or laughs and says 'If you want!'. Really looks like he's got it.
What can we make with snow? Student answers 'A snowman!' Yes, he's probably got it.

Of course, there are many other things you could do along the way if you have the tools, such as simply drawing some snow falling from the sky or a snowman on the board. But often concepts are harder to picture than that, or the required tools are not available and CCQs can come in really handy.

They work with grammar forms too. How would you be sure that students had grasped the concept of 'I used to live in London'? Maybe they think you still do. Or that you are used to living in London. Or that you want to live in London. Who knows?!

So we need some more CCQs. What about...

Do I live in London now? The students should answer 'No'.
Did I live in London? The students should answer 'Yes'.
And why not some optional questions to test deeper understanding, such as:
Do I like London? The students should answer 'We don't know!'

A final example before an exercise! Take the sentence 'I managed to get to the top of the mountain.' What are the essential facts or meanings of this sentence? Choose the best three from:

I succeeded.
I didn't succeed.
I will succeed.
It was easy.
It wasn't easy.
It was nauseating.
I didn't try.
I will try.
I tried.
I like mountains.
I had to do it.
I won't do it again.

The sentences which carry the main meaning of I managed to get to the top of the mountain are 'I tried', 'It wasn't easy' and 'I succeeded'. The other sentences may have some relevance to the event but they are not essential to understanding the meaning. Now, in order to get some good CCQs we simply need to change these essential meaning sentences into questions to elicit the appropriate responses, and be reasonably sure that students have understood:

'Did I try?' (yes)
'Was it easy?' (no)
'Did I succeed?' (yes)

It's often useful to have a question in your set like 'Was it easy?' which require the answer 'No', to check that students aren't just 'keeping you happy' with the answer 'Yes (teacher)' as we mentioned before.

Now here's the task:
Choose one of the nouns and one of the sentences below, write a small set of CCQs for it, and post them in the comments below. Read the comments first and try to write CCQs for a word no-one else has covered, but feel free to also include improved CCQs for words already covered. I'll post the best CCQs below.

Here are the words and sentences:

column / horse / bungalow / pebble / cup / laptop / deckchair
cucumber / barge / sandal / bat (animal or sports equipment!) / handbag / coast / path

Sentences (CCQs for the word(s) in italics)
She was limping badly when I saw her.
I've been living here since 1993.
They'd rather have stayed at home.
My dad went through the roof when he saw the house after the party!
Johnny was caught shoplifting the other day!
I was sleeping when you phoned.
We're seeing Avatar by James Cameron this evening.
I wish I were 18 again.
I'd only been in France for two weeks when I met my future wife.
(The phone rings) Don't worry - I'll get it.

Feel free to also send in your general ideas and thoughts by commenting below, and... read you shortly!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Reflections on an English Lesson

Little poem for ya...


Graceful as a swallow
Skimming past the chair
My latest careful handout
Goes floating through the air

Little Louis' pencil
Is lodged in Sarah's ear
As one pupil in fifteen
Is trying hard to hear

The others are, alas, alack
In quite a different world
Uncovering the guilty
Who Katie's bag just hurled

I gaze around and wonder
Through clouds of chalky dust
How, given any normal choice
To teach, I thought, I must

A little laugh escapes me
To be followed by a song
If I'm going down, you little shits
For you it won't be long

And as a gentle smile descends
Upon my lips to seal
The secrets of the English class
I swear they won't appeal


Feel free to send in your thoughts, ideas and questions by commenting below, and... read you shortly!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO

Monday, 1 February 2010

It's TEFL Graduation Day... So What's Next?

Here are some of our students: Hermann, Alban, Larry, Andrew, Morna and Brianna, to be precise, holding their thoroughly deserved TEFL Paris Certificates on the evening of our Graduation Dinner.

I never cease to be amazed at how your averagely literate person can study intensively for just four weeks and walk out with a virtually guaranteed ticket, not only to a new job, but in many cases a completely new career.

Some of our trainees are fresh university graduates, some are experienced business people. Some are young, some are not so young. Some are nervous but all are excited about this new phase in their lives and the unknown possibilities lying ahead of them.

Of course, no TEFL Certificate totally guarantees you a job. There are many other factors to consider, such as your real aptitudes as an English teacher and both your abilities to adapt to local teaching situations as well as how good you are at avoiding some of the most common mistakes made by new teachers. Not forgetting your innovative use of some of the amazing on-line resouces out there... See these previous posts for more on this:
Quite apart from how well you present yourself at interview, there is the local teaching market to take into account. Here in France, I'll be honest with you:

If you successfully complete the TEFL Paris TEFL Certificate course, with good grades for Teaching Practice, Theory and Professionalism, and make yourself presentable, coherent and enthusiastic during your interview, as well as having the necessary working papers*, you will get a teaching job very quickly indeed.

I know that sounds like a lot of provisos, but hey, you're walking into a very intellectually rewarding and stimulating job working with really nice French professionals, so you should expect to put a bit of effort in to get it! But no more effort than when applying for any other job, and if you fit the mould they'll probably offer you the position on the spot.

An interesting question teacher training schools often get asked is: 'Will you find me a job at the end of the course?' I don't actually know of ANY teacher training centres which guarantee their trainees jobs at the end of the course! This is generally for two reasons:
  1. They are a teacher training centre only and not a language school
  2. They are also a language school but cannot know what their future staff requirements will be
TEFL Paris falls into the first category, as do most TEFL teacher training centres.

Having said that, we have excellent links with the Paris English teaching community and will do our very best to point you in the right direction if you wish to work in France, or indeed globally.

We know from years' worth of successful graduates that teaching work is relatively easy to find all over the world if you respect the conditions mentioned above.

* Some countries require specific working visas, or impose other conditions on certain nationalities, and we strongly advise you to check what the situation is regarding your personal circumstances and the country you intend working in to make sure you reach your teaching goal as smoothly as possible.

Feel free to send in your ideas and questions by commenting below, and... read you shortly!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO


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