Five techy tricks to practice your English over the summer

Picking up a book, writing a pen-friend or doing a language exchange in English are all tried and tested ways to keep improving and practicing your English over the summer months.  In fact I would suggest them all to my students and many of the activities below are based on them in one way or another. But with the devices and tech tools available to our learners I thought I would put a bit of a spin on the typical summer learning ideas.

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Once upon a time: 10 story activities for the primary classroom

Children love stories! Stories appeal to their vivid sense of imagination and appetite for fantasy. They help children understand and accept their own feelings and are a vehicle to teach values and about other cultures. And from a language perspective, they are a rich source of vocabulary and structures in context and lend themselves to both serious and enjoyable learning for our pupils.

In this blog post we will consider 10 classroom-ready activities to use alongside stories in the classroom. These are divided into three sections: before reading, while reading and post-reading

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Top games for helping our Spanish-speaking students’ pronunciation (Part 1)

If you have taught English to Spanish speakers for a while, I’m sure you already have an idea of what the main pronunciation problems for them are. As a teacher of English and native speaker of Spanish, I have not only experienced those problems myself but also have always tried to help my students with effective and engaging techniques that I will be explaining in this post.

Below, you can find some of most problematic pronunciation areas for Spanish speakers (take a look at the Speakout Study Booster for Spanish speakers)  and how to get around them in class by using games.

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Scaffolding: Giving our primary pupils the support they need

The following is an outline of the ideas and activities covered in my webinar on scaffolding at primary for Pearson Spain and Portugal on 20 February 2018.

Teaching primary learners can be rewarding and sometimes challenging. The enthusiasm and energy can be extremely satisfying and help keep us engaged as educators. To be successful, we often hear about providing support to help our students achieve success. Support can cover a variety of different aspects of our learners’ social and emotional development, their cognitive learning and their language needs. Unlike adults, who have experience we can draw on to create connections and foster learning, when we work with our primary and secondary students, we are often responsible for introducing students to new information for the first time. When this happens, the support that works best for success is referred to as scaffolding. Scaffolding helps us present new ideas and concepts while making sure learners have the tools they need to be successful.

That said, what is scaffolding and what does it really mean? When you think about how you first learned to do something you can get a sense of what scaffolding is all about.

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The art of questioning. Helping our teenage students to become critical thinkers

In today’s world, where news spreads like wildfire, it is not uncommon to find our teenage students taking things for granted and believing whatever is “on the internet”. As teachers, we want our students to become critical thinkers so that they can make sense of this VUCA world. Helping our students to develop strategies for asking (good) questions will not only prepare them for their future but also help them develop critical minds that will maximize their learning experience across disciplines.

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Ten expressions (with talk) to get your students talking

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Stuck for something to talk about in class?  Well here are ten useful expressions in English to stretch your students’ vocabulary plus a quick activity to get them chatting as well.

Teach the expressions anyway you see fit.  You might start out by putting the word “talk” on the board and ask students to think of different ways of talking, or as many expressions with “talk” as they know.  You can then include the expressions you want them to learn and have them guess at the meaning and use a dictionary to check, or have them match expressions to their meanings.

Here are my ten (but you can use others if you like):

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Ask a Stupid Question Day

Interrobang

When you saw the title of this post you probably thought that this is just the latest example of a world gone crazy with yet another apparently random silly holiday.  Better think again.

Ask a Stupid Question day, far from being a pointless unofficial holiday, was created in the 1980’s by a group of teachers with a very specific purpose in mind: encouraging their students to participate more in class by asking questions. They knew that most of them had lots of questions but believed they kept many to themselves for fear of being laughed at.

It takes place on the 28th of September, but it’s commonly celebrated on the last day of class this month. Since its creation, this has been an annual tradition in American schools, and has recently become popular in Britain and India.

So how might we English teachers take advantage of this date at the beginning of the year to foster a more participative classroom which focuses on the needs of our learners? Continue reading

5 ways for students to watch video more effectively at home

Video in ESL classroom

One of the most common pieces of advice a teacher will give to a student wanting to improve their listening (and quite possibly their vocabulary) is to “watch films in English.”  It seems like a sensible enough suggestion on the surface.  After all, it couldn’t do any harm could it?  But perhaps the question is: Does simply watching films in English translate into any real improvement in listening and vocabulary, or does it perhaps require a bit more effort than that?

My own experience of learning Spanish tells me that watching films or television is indeed extremely helpful, but I also remember that most of the time I spent in front of the TV in my first months in Spain was spent in the company of the family I lived with.  I could easily ask them questions to check the meaning of words or concepts and instantly check their reactions to what was happening on the screen to see if I was following the thread.  In short, I had something very similar to teachers on hand.

So, what tips can we give our students to get the most out of their viewing?  How can they make time often spent alone in front of the TV less passive, and actively take control of their learning on their own?  Here are a few tips:

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Integrating pronunciation into your classes: Part 3

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Part Three: A top-down approach

There are many ingredients to good pronunciation in English.  In my last post on the subject I focused on individual, discrete sounds and their importance for our learners, but the thing that strikes me most when I hear a non-native speaker of English with good pronunciation is the rhythm and overall delivery of the chunks of language they use, not individual words per se.  As a native speaker, if I hear a familiar pattern my ear can naturally pick out information which is being packaged in a way that makes sense to me.  If some of the individual sounds are difficult to discern this is unlikely to affect my understanding to any great degree.

The importance of stress-timing

And I’m being quite literal when I talk about packaging language into meaningful chunks.  Let’s see why this is and why one of the most important things we can do to help our students with pronunciation is to draw their attention to the phenomenon of stress-timing.  Here’s a nice activity someone showed me years ago to introduce this at the beginning of a course.  I don’t remember who exactly (my apologies) but I’ve never forgotten it.

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Top tips for dealing with common errors in your classes

errorIn a previous post, we pointed out 5 common errors Spanish speakers make in English. We also stated that errors could be ignored if they are not impeding communication. However, there are times when error correction exercises are needed for the students to make progress in the language. Here are five top tips for dealing with common errors that will help your students to 1) become aware of their own mistakes and 2) make them responsible for their own learning. Continue reading