Monday, 21 February 2011

Old Mc Donald - Content with Young Learners

Wordle: Untitled

The story/song Old McDonald is a fantastic way to introduce content with YLs. Today I  used it in class with a group of 6-7 year olds. I drew a farm on the blackboard and elicited as I went.I asked them who lives on a farm and introduced them to the character Old Mc Donald with a flashcard. I then got them to close their eyes, when their eyes were closed, I put on my Old McDonald hat which brought on fits of giggles

After the giggling subsided I got them all sitting on the floor and sang the song and showed them the book simultaneously. After the first round I ask them to help me with the E-i E-i-O bits and the animal noises. I gave them the chance to put on the hat and take the part of Old McDonald, (this led to more laughter) and we sang a bit more.

The next step was to introduce the concept of domestic animals, then I showed them some plastic animals and asked if they live on a farm. Slowly, we made the distinction between domestic and wild animals. There are lots of other concepts that you can teach such as herbivore,carnivore and oviparous and viviparous using the book. Here are some links from the British Council :

Friday, 18 February 2011

Ancient Greeks - Writing with Primary Students

Motivated by discussing writing last week in the 9pm GMT #ELTchat, I decided it was high time to do a bit of writing in class. I work as a freelancer and one of my jobs is as a language assistant in a primary school. I only see the children once  a week, so I had to get permission from their English teacher before I could get them writing. Luckily she agreed to my suggestion and we designed an activity together.

The children in question are 11 and 12 year olds. They're in the last year of primary school using Cool Kids by OUP. Like most primary schools I've see in Spain, teaching is heavily course book dominated. So, we were working with language and vocabulary taken directly from their course book.They're on unit 4 of Cool Kids 6 which is called Myths in Greece. As you can probably imagine, we're looking at the past tense. The past of the verbs to be and had to be precise. The unit also teaches adjectives to describe appearance and character such as old, beautiful and strong.

The activity itself was very simple. We put the children in pairs and they choose a picture of one of the gods or goddesses. We wrote simple stems on the board to help them . We only asked them to write simple sentence level descriptions. There was nothing revolutionary about the class, it was just a welcome change from all the games and communicative activities we usually do on days that I go to their class.

I didn't correct their written work before I displayed them as I didn't want to be heavy handed the first time I did a writing activity with them. There were mistakes that the English teacher drew their attention to when they read out their texts to the rest of the class. I'm going to suggest that we take their work down next week and ask the children to re-write their descriptions correcting any mistakes they made. Then to give them a bit more motivation for the rewritng activity I'm going to take in my laminater and when they've finished their descriptions they can laminate them. The final step will be to stick them all together in a class book. I'll give them the choice of three titles for their book and we'll vote for the one they like the best.

Here is a link for Carol Read's blog  W is for Writing

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Teaching and Marking Writing #ELTchat

How do you teach writing? And how do you mark it? This was the topic of the #ELTchat on Wednesday 9th February at 9pm GMT on twitter. 

As always the pace was fast and furious. I’m pleased to say that I won the golden accolade of writing up the summary! I’ve tried to summarize people’s tweets as accurately and concisely as possible. Please forgive me if I’ve missed anything out.

You can find the transcript for the chat here :Transcript

Here is the summary:

Thoughts on Writing

• Writing used to be the Cinderella skill but the tide is changing.
• People need writing more today than they did in the past because talking is now writing.
• Even though Ss look for conversation they are more likely to need writing than speaking.
• The net has changed the role of writing. It’s no longer just about teaching Ss how to write informal and formal letters.
• There are more genres of writing today which is partly due to technology.
• Many jobs require Ss to communicate by the written word.
• Ss expect to write in class. They may complain but they like it.
• A teachers’ attitude to writing is very important. Too often the teacher introduces writing with an apology ¨Ok – writing today”.
• Writing should be taken seriously.
• An audience is crucial – using technology in the form of blogs and wikis gives Ss an audience.

How to teach writing? – a process or product approach?

• In order to learn to write Ss need to write. Little and often in class is a good way to start.
• Use classroom time to prepare with a process writing approach and get Ss to finish writing as homework.
• Some teachers feel uncomfortable teaching writing in class but the teacher has an important role to play in writing as a facilitator and monitor.
• Play background music in class when Ss write.
• Provide models of writing styles.
• Use a lot of process writing when familiarizing Ss with genre and then gradually move to product.
• Collaborative writing activities help ideas flow more easily and put less pressure on the Ss.
• Ss don’t need to write long compositions it can sometimes be micro-writing activities.
• Get Ss to write short pieces it helps them focus on the language.
• Low word limits often stimulate creativity.
• Teaching writing often goes hand in hand with teaching vocabulary and genre.
• Graphic organizers can be a helpful tool to organize Ss writing.
• Sometimes process writing in class can last too long and Ss can lose their motivation.
• Speed writing activities are a good way to introduce a new topic and focus on written fluency rather than accuracy.
• Creative writing activities just for fun are a good way of getting Ss into the habit of writing.
• Ideally in a process writing lesson there should be no marking or coding as the focus is on the process rather than the product.
• It’s important that teachers teach Ss to be clear and concise when writing.
• Text messaging in class could be an unintimidating way to teach writing in class. Good with teenagers as it’s important to communicate at their level.
• Give lots of guidance.
• Get Ss writing on OHPs or long rolls of paper.
• There are differences between speaking and writing that must be attended to.
• Audience, purpose and communicative element are must haves in teaching writing.
• Product writing is mainly for assessment.
• The process approach to writing is yet another opportunity for teaching and learning.
• Models are good for teaching writing to exam classes.
• Provide sample texts for children. They may copy but they are often lost without them.
• Reading is the input for writing – speaking and listening may be the springboard.
• The more Ss read the more they’ll be able to write.
• Encouraging Ss to write diaries is a good way to get them writing but they may run out of steam.
• Give Ss regular topics to write about and do peer reading and feedback.
• Use online tools such as Google Docs to produce collaborative writing.
• Create and use a class blog or wiki.

Thoughts on Correction

• Whatever correction technique we use we must try and get Ss to reflect on their work
• It’s important that we make it very clear what we’re looking for in Ss written work.
• It’s equally important that we focus on what they’ve done well.
• Comments work well as a correction technique.
• Feedback from the teacher is paramount.
• Grades can demoralize or make Ss overconfident.
• It’s important to have some free writing activities that are not corrected.
• It’s important to be aware that some Ss might be traumatized by the use of a red pen or a lot of ink.
• Remember to praise Ss when they’re doing writing tasks because they may be very vulnerable but be careful of too much praise as it weakens the power of praise.
• Marking is one of the most time consuming (and rewarding) activities for NNES.
• Don’t me a meanie always pouncing on mistakes!

How do you mark writing?

• Using a public marking scheme, although research says that Ss find them confusing. Counteract this with close teacher support and monitoring.
• If you use codes consistency is vital but difficult to maintain across different classes/teachers.
• Through Peer correction.
• Using selective correction – focusing on 1-3 things at a time.
• By picking out three good things and by rephrasing three things the S was trying to say.
• By seeing marking as feedback not just error correction.
• Using Jing an online tool which allows you to give Ss video feedback on their written work. Chatters thought that this was a great way to give feedback and liked the fact that it integrated listening skills and provided the Ss with a video that they could review before further writing activities.
• Through 1st draft using peer review, 2nd with a correction technique and t 3rd with a Jing screencast.
• By collecting written work and producing a sample paragraph with the most common mistakes and asking Ss to correct them in groups.
• Through wikis in moodle.
• By giving Ss the error correction code and allowing them to correct each other’s writing.
• By using a system that focuses on SIT strengths, improvements and targets.
• Using as a collaborative error correction with multiple computers.
• Using reformulation as a technique -
• Correcting with numbered notes.

Tasks and assignments our Students Enjoy

• Dictagloss
• Collaborative story writing.
• Running, shouting and whispering dictations.
• Creative writing - Shape poems
• Writing messages on Post-its using 140 characters or less.
• Writing descriptions of other Ss in the class and then guessing who.
• Using songs to generate writing – She´s leaving home
• Using minutes from a meeting and getting Ss to correct them for BE classes.
• Writing a letter to the head teacher about something like recycling.
• Word cloud speed writing.
• Post-it compliments – get Ss to write compliments about their classmates.
• Treasure hunts with fab clues.
• Writing about images.
• Writing stories based on different pieces of music.
• Writing as role plays with Ss playing the different roles.

Online Tools and Resources

A great source for genres

Writing for an authentic audience

Writing Resources page

Writing to learn

Times Education article about feedback with Jing

Examples of video feedback with Jing

Writing Diaries

Scrap the marking code

Write Ways

Writing prompts

Shape poems
Specific writing aims

Correcting with numbered notes

Correcting with reformulation

Graphic organizers 

A post about a writing lesson

That’s all folks!

More from Henrick Oprea on his blog about  Teaching Writing

More from Sandy Millin on her blog Write on!

More from Paul Braddock on his blog Writing Blog Challenge

Monday, 7 February 2011

Nothing to do with ELTing - A draining Affair

The crisis is having a terrible effect on many families.  Animal charities  are also being hit hard. There's less money to go around and so donations are fewer and far between.

I used to work as a volunteer for a neuter and release cat charity. I did it for four years. I lived with my partner in a house with about 40 cats. Yes, it's true. 

The cats weren't the problem. It was the people. The people who didn't want to pay to sterilise their cats or dogs. The people who didn't want their cat or dog anymore because it peed or it was too big, too small, too noisy, or too much work. It was the people who thought it was okay to dump animals in the rubbish, or leave them tied somewhere.

After four years I quit. I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't listen to the stories or the excuses. I closed my eyes and moved out. I decided that it was better to take my own animals and move on. It was so hard to change people's attitudes towards animals here in the Canaries.

It left me disheartened and exhausted.

I still do a bit of voluntary work from time to time. I've got six cats and three dogs of my own so that keeps me quite busy.

There are so many individuals and charities out there that try and make a difference.

Here are a couple that work on the island where I live.

I'm sure there are some near you!

Twinkle Trust Animal Aid


To all the volunteers out there KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!.