Integrating pronunciation into your classes

pronunciation cloud

Part One: The Basics

Pronunciation.  It’s often the area most avoided by new teachers for lack of confidence, and also the first thing experienced teachers leave out due to lack of time and a desire to get on with the “meatier” issues of vocabulary, grammar and skills work.  But like it or not our students are aware of the importance of pronunciation and will expect us to work on it with them, so getting comfortable with it and finding the time should be one of our priorities as teachers.

The following is the first part in a three-part series outlining some basic tips for successfully integrating pronunciation in your classes.

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Getting a Handle on Fluency at C1

speak

A big part of being an English teacher is gauging our students’ abilities in relation to what is expected at the level they’re in.  It’s not an easy task by any means, but we do seem, after years of experience, to get a certain feel for it.  But the real trick is actually being able to nail it down a bit more, to point to concrete features of their spoken output that are more reliable measurements of their proficiency.  Let’s take a look at what fluency looks like for our advanced C1 learners.

Often times we might find ourselves saying things like “You know you’re fluent when you dream in English” or “You know you’re fluent when you think in English”, but what does that actually mean?  I don’t know about you, but if I’m giving my advanced students feedback on their speaking I want to point to something a little more specific (and professional sounding) than their dreams.

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Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

Like most of you teachers, ELT Learning Journeys will be taking a much deserved break for the holiday season.  We hope that your time will be filled with family, friends, plenty of good cheer and a healthy dose of rest as well.  And my the New Year find you refreshed and recharged.  We will be back with a fresh post on the 10th of January.  All the best…

Correcting Writing: Less Red Pen and a bit more Zen

Getting into the zone

So, you’ve got a stack of writing assignments on your desk.  You have a quick glance at the correction code you use with your students.  “Gr” for grammar errors, “P” for punctuation, “V” for vocabulary, “R” for register, etc.  The pressure’s on now.  The sooner you get these back to your students the better.  They’re anxious to see their grade and you want them to make corrections based on the code and notes you make as soon as possible.  You have a quick glance at the clock and estimate that if you spend X number of minutes per assignment you might even be able to get in some lunch before your next class.  So with a steaming cup of coffee at your side, and red pen in hand you dive in.  You’re in full-on correction mode.

Ruby red pens

A familiar scene.  We’ve all been there.  And when we finish up and hand them back to our students we’re likely to feel some real professional pride at our ability to be so efficient at our job (I got them all corrected in how long?).  Oftentimes though, for me at least, this is coupled by a nagging doubt that maybe I could have done just a little a bit better.

Cop or Coach?

Did my intentions to give meaningful, personal feedback take a back seat to my robo-corrector mentality as I plowed through assignment after assignment?  After all, the power of the red pen does tend to bring out the authoritarian in us, transforming us from the friendly coach we like to think of ourselves as into the grammar cop pulling over our students at the slightest infraction: “Were you aware that you are using a register unacceptable for this genre?  May I see your certification to operate at this level please?  Put your pencil down and back away from the desk slowly.”

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For English Teachers it’s time to skill up – and celebrate our success!

For English Teachers it’s time to skill up – and celebrate our success - Ilustration by Tang Yau HoongAt the beginning of this month I attended the Teaching for Success Conference at the British Council in Valencia, and got to see the always entertaining and thought-provoking Jeremy Harmer deliver a rather ominously titled talk. “Through a glass darkly: does ELT have a future?” centered on the technological disruption we’re beginning to see in our sector and the possible effects on teachers and learners. Harmer made quite clear that he was not in the business of making prophesies about the always uncertain future, and raised far more questions than he answered, but he did serve to get across one clear and solid message to the audience that might be summed up in a single word: Beware.

That technology’s impact on education, and ELT more specifically, can no longer be ignored is a sentiment being echoed elsewhere by technophobes and technophiles alike (as well as many of those in between). There was a time when it may have been easier to think that the inevitable tipping point into this new age of English Teaching everyone had been predicting for so long would never come, but, as Harmer said, employing a fairly well-known saying, “change comes slowly, and then all at once.” So, if this is to be taken as general truth, I’ll throw in another useful motto from my days in the Boy Scouts – “Be Prepared.” Continue reading

Innovations in how we measure progress

Innovate ELT Conference - Brian EngquistIn order to further prep myself for the Innovate ELT Conference in Barcelona where I will be giving a talk titled How technology helps you improve what your students can do I sat in on Ian Wood’s session yesterday at the Pearson Morning for English Teachers of Cambridge Exams event in Madrid.  Ian is something of our own in house guru on all things testing and is extremely adept at using clear language and metaphors to express quite difficult and meaty concepts from the world of English language assessment.

So, in that same spirit of clarity I would just like to sum up the thrust of Ian’s talk with this very simple, but important question that he reminded us we all hear from our students, but are often at a loss to answer entirely adequately: How good is my English?  All of us have our ways of dealing Continue reading

ELT Ideas for Secondary Teachers

Pearson Evens for English TeachersFollowing our visits to Zaragoza and Valencia last week for the Pearson Evens for English Teachers, Elena Merino and I would like to share our presentations with you as promised.

We hope these ELT Ideas for Secondary Teachers come in handy, and we certainly appreciate the thoughtful participation of all of those attending.  Your comments helped us to come up with a few new ideas as well! Continue reading

Baseball, culture and language

For Americans baseball is much more than just a sport.  There is a whole culture tied to baseball that tells us where we come from, what our values are and how we view the world.  It even influences how we speak the English language!

So I was very pleased to kick off our cultural talks for 2014 with a new presentation titled Play Ball! Understanding America through its national pastime in the beautiful Autonomous Community of Extremadura.  I visited the Oficial Language Schools in Zafra and Plasencia and had the opportunity to share my views on a sport which is still somewhat of a mystery here in Spain with almost 300 students at 3 separate talks.

I just have to say how welcome I was made to feel in both schools, and I would like to give an extra special thanks to Antonio, Raúl and Veronica (pictured below) who lent me a hand looking up some useful expressions that have their origins in the American pastime.

Baseball Vocab

Among some of the expressions they were able to “catch” from the talk were “to touch base”, “to take a rain check” and “to be in the same ballpark.”  Do you know what they mean?

UPDATE:  Today (7/11/14) I gave another talk near my “home base” in Madrid when I visited the EOI in Torrejón de Ardoz.  The woman below reminded me of something that I knew but forgot to mention in my talk.  Her name was Ana and she told me of her memories as a girl watching the American servicemen at the military base there play the men from the Cuban embassy.  Torrejón has its own special history of baseball as well!

Ana, who is one of the most intrepid beginner learners of English I have ever met, also thought I neglected to mention the film A League of Their Own and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  A point well taken Ana.  I promise to do that in my next talk!

Baseball Torrejon

Teens, teen brains and exam prep

Ian Wood Madrid

Ian Wood’s visit to Spain last week was not only a wonderful opportunity for him to get the message out  about changes to the Cambridge exams.  At our Madrid and Seville events he also did us the added favor of looking at teenagers, teenage brains and exams with this thought-provoking talk:

 

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mission impossible

 

The teen brain is a topic which I’ve written about before, and so it was great to be able to follow up his talk with one of my own, Helping students help themselves with assessment.  It focused on implementing technology via the SAMR model to foster a Blended learning approach in exam preparation courses by giving students more autonomy and protagonism.

At the center of both of our talks was an emphasis on the teen learner as a doer actively constructing their own learning in a social context which is relevant to them.  Voice, choice, grouping, creativity and personalization were words that really jumped out at me on slides 18 and 19 of Ian’s presentation, for example.  And when he spoke about using media teens relate to, like texting for practicing writing skills, it really resonated with me as it is also similar to something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I know I speak for both of us when I say we sincerely enjoyed giving these talks and getting a chance to meet and speak to many of the teachers who came out to see us.  Thank you for all the energy and good vibes!

Changes to the Cambridge Exams and what they really mean to students and teachers

Last week Pearson took its Learning Journeys on the road in Spain, visiting almost 250 teachers in Madrid, Bilbao and Seville.  The topic was exams and so we considered ourselves extremely lucky to be able to count on Pearson’s very own Ian Wood (Product Development Director Assessment).  Few people have spent quite so much time in and around the world of ELT assessment as he, so his knowledge proved invaluable as he tackled an area of particular concern to his audience – Changes to the 2015 Cambridge Exams.

Some are minor changes on familiar exercises, others are entirely brand new tasks (Cross-text multiple matching anyone?), and still others are subtle (or not so subtle) changes of focus.  But all of them are going to impact the way we and our students prepare for these exams.

Thanks again to Ian for laying this all out so clearly.  Changes are always a bit stressful, but being well informed is a great way to reduce some of that anxiety.  You can have a look at his presentation by clicking on the image below.

And our deepest thanks to all of you who came out to see us.  We certainly enjoyed meeting and talking to you.

 

Cambridge Changes

 

 

For those of you who would like to view Ian’s other talk on teens, the teen brain and getting them ready for Cambridge exams, you can find it here.