Handout or no handout

In this post you will find some conclusions we have all drawn from our recent round table session on the topic of using supplementary materials.

To remind you, we looked at various photocopies and answered the following questions:

handout 1

We talked about how different the needs of students of various ages are. We agreed on the following:

  • children and teenagers don’t usually collect the handouts they are given unless they are specifically told to keep them in an organised way; they often throw away loose copies as they don’t know what else to do with them
  • adults tend to prefer to have their own copy of materials rather than share and they like to store their copies (however, we are not sure whether or how many of our students look back at those materials at home)

Hence, we concluded that there are a few principles that can help us decide whether to use photocopied material in class:

  1. assess the usefulness of the material you are going to use
  2. decide whether a hard copy is necessary and beneficial to students’ learning
  3. decide on what form of the material (paper or digital) it is best to use
  4. decide how to use it trying to engage all students and save on the material you are using

The first two steps are essential in lesson planning in general. The material that we use has to make sense and stem from a logical progression of activities in the lesson. If we have done written exercises available in the coursebook or workbook, what is the benefit of photocopying another sheet of exercises for the students to do in the same class? Don’t they need to do a communicative task after that? Does the fact that they have completed a series of exercises on a photocopy we have given them guarantee that learning has taken place? Surely, the quality of the task we give our students will be more important than the quantity. The more we push our students to think, analyse, negotiate and justify their answers, the more they will get from the activity. We may not even need any supplementary material altogether.

However, if we do decide to use additional exercises, we agreed there are several ways of going about the task, which will allow us to either eliminate photocopying or reduce it significantly. The ideas we came up with included:

  • projecting exercises on the board (students either write their answers in their notebooks or complete on the board; kids and teenagers will appreciate a competitive aspect to the activity)
  • cutting up the material (students work in groups and get a part of the material, the mingle or exchange the material in the next step or simply work on their part and exchange information in group feedback later on)
  • posting cut up material on the walls (this involves students working in pairs or groups competing to complete all displayed tasks fast)
  • rewriting the material changing it into an interactive game (e.g. Kahoot, Blockbusters, a trivia quiz, a pub quiz, an auction, etc.)

Although some of these ideas mean some extra work on our part, which may seem more time-consuming than simple photocopying, let’s remember that we do it for our students’ benefit. Quite often we will feel that it’s worth the effort, since our students are bound to take something away from materials that have been well thought through and selected with their specific needs in mind.

We decided in our session that although there are a few occasions when a hard copy will be necessary (e.g. tests, some info gap activities, some vocabulary handouts, some exercises sheets for adults), we can very often eliminate photocopying materials altogether. Going further, we may decide that we don’t actually need any supplementary material if we plan to exploit coursebook material to the maximum and use communicative practice rather than written exercises more often (Ceri Jone’s book may be useful for this).

So, handout or no handout? My own conclusion to the question I’d asked, and I have a feeling all of us present had similar thoughts, is that we have to reassess our approach to material selection and look at every piece of material we are about to photocopy and double check – is this necessary? is it beneficial? how can I use it? I know I’ve got some rethinking to do. After all, all the photocopies we used in the session were made by me ;P

 

by Kasia Kepka

Advertisements

How to make the most of English File

Here are a few practical ideas on how to exploit all materials that go with the English File series.

Do less but more thoroughly

Take advantage of how skills sections (reading, listening, and writing) are designed in the book. Make sure you have a good lead-in to skills practice and an engaging follow-up activity that will give students an opportunity to discuss the content and express themselves in speaking. Check that when introducing vocabulary or grammar you are going through controlled and freer practice stages. Don’t try to use all the materials in one class, save additional resources from the Teacher’s Book for revisions in the following class.

Use the workbook more

The workbook does not have to be reserved for homework. You can pick materials that can be useful to you when revising grammar and vocabulary or use an extra listening or reading. Turn homework check into a revision activity – make sure students compare answers in pairs and negotiate them. When covering grammar ask them to explain their choices referring to specific rules learnt in class. Shift the responsibilities – let the students feel they need to know the answers and that they can depend on each other before they ask you to confirm the correct answers.

Use digital and online resources

Have you ever used the iTutor and iChecker CDs? Have your students used them? Why not try them out in class together? What about the OUP website for students of English File? Use some of the activities in class in a fun game or a competition. Also, try the extra activities marked with a star on the iTools materials. You can use all of these options for revisions.

Additionally, you can check older editions of the series to find extra activities to use in class. Quite a lot of the content has been changed over the years and you may find some useful materials in the older resources. Check our libraries for other editions of the series.

If you have other ideas on using English File resources to the maximum please share in the comments below.

 

by Kasia Kepka

 

Word formation cards

Level: B2 upwards / Age: teenagers and adults

Let’s get creative! What would you do with the word formation cards posted below? How would you use them to practise language? Would you give students the cards or display them? What game would you play?

Here are my two ideas:

  1. Hot potato – Put the cards on the table face down. A student picks up a card with a suffix or a prefix. Students take turns to say a word including the suffix/prefix. To add an element of competition use an interval timer that generates various intervals (example). You can play it in teams or as a whole class.
  2. Make up a story – Ask students to tell a story. First brainstorm characters / places / problems that will have to be included in the story and put them on the board. Start the story by picking up a card and making a sentence and using the suffix/prefix from the card. Nominate the student who has to continue the story. If a card is used correctly the student gets to keep it as their point. If they cannot think of a word they must put away the card and they do not get a point for their sentence. Set a time limit or a card limit for the activity.
  3. ‘Jeopardy’ – Put students in teams. Stick the cards on the board in three columns according to their category. A team chooses a category and the number of points. Once the card is revealed they must say 3 words that contain the suffix/prefix. If they answer correctly they are awarded the points. If not, that card cannot be used any more.

word formation jeopardy

What are your ideas? Please write in the comments below.

word formation cards

‘Good news’ cards

We have recently talked about how important it is to keep parents informed about what is happening in class. We have also said that we should remember to deliver good news to keep a good balance.

I have been experimenting with simple ‘congratulations’ cards where I write something positive about a student and their progress in class. I find it especially useful and important in the following situations:

  • after I completed the ‘incident form’ and would like to tell the parents that there has been a positive change since then
  • for parents of new students who have recently joined a group
  • for students who never misbehave and always get good results (because I have realised I never contact the parents about them and there’s plently to tell them!)
  • to give a gentle nudge to students whose work seems to have deteriorated a bit but they have not given me a reason to complete the ‘incident form’

I would like to invite you to comment on this idea, maybe try it out yourself and see how it works for your students. Remember that young learners never seem to ‘forget’ to deliver good news to their parents or ‘lose’ the note 😉

Here’s a template if you would like to use it: good news cards

 

by Kasia Kepka

good news card

Encouraging listening practice

We have all heard our students complaining about their listening skills, which tend to be  lower than their other language skills. Teachers often suggests that students should listen more at home and provide links to websites where they can find listening texts and tasks.

Below is an interesting guide for students on how to practice listening skills with some detailed instructions on what to do. You may want to have a look to see how else you can help your students.

joyoflanguages.com/improve-listening-foreign-language/

It’s important to realise that we actually need to train our students on how to practice skills at home. It would be a good idea to try some of the tips mentioned in the link with students in class. It will help them understand how it’s done and motivate them to work at home.

If you have more ideas on how to improve listening skills please comment below.

 

by Kasia Kepka

Testing

We are about half-way through the term and it’s probably time to check what our students have learned so far. Here are a few ideas on how to test your students on recently covered material quickly and time-efficiently and how to make testing more fun and interactive.

Vocabulary

  1. Choose 10 words to be tested.
  2. Give students small pieces of paper. They make a list of 10 numbers.
  3. Students may not speak during the test and have to keep their answers secret.
  4. Say a definition of the first word. Students listen and write the word that you defined. If needed, repeat the definition.
  5. Repeat the procedure for all the words.
  6. Once you finish students pass on their answers to the person on their right.
  7. Ask individual students to read out the answers and tell them to give points adequately and count up the total. Collect the scores.

To make it more student-centred you could put students in 2 teams (A and B) and tell them to choose 10 words from a topic to be tested and write definitions. Then you would check the definitions, put students in pairs (A and B) and they could test each other in the same way as described above. The preparation of the task allows them to revise the vocabulary and the whole set up makes it more of an interactive activity rather than a test.

Another way of testing could be through a game. Here’s an example of a game with fly swatters.

  1. Project a vocabulary page from Incredible English (make sure the list of words is covered)
  2. Put students into 2 teams. Have 1 player from each team at the board holding a fly swatter and another student on the side as a referee to keep scores. Revise rules of the game (you can hit only once, no pushing, etc.)
  3. Say a word from the vocabulary set. Players have to quickly hit the right picture on the board. The referee awards points accordingly and you keep a score for individual children (a point for each correct answer, no matter who was first).
  4. You can either have players change after one word or do 3 words in a row and then change.
  5. Note down the scores for each child.

 

Grammar

To test grammar you can choose an exercise from the workbook (e.g. a gap fill, sentence conversion, multiple choice) and project it on the board.

  1. Give students a small piece of paper to write on and tell them to only write down the answers. Set a time limit.
  2. Have students swap their answers in pairs.
  3. Have a whole group feedback. Students correct each other’s tests and award points accordingly.

To make it more interactive and reinforce their understanding of the grammar point taught before feedback you can ask students to compare their answers and explain their choices (quote rules, explain why another answer would be wrong, etc.).

You can also have students write tests for each other. For example, they could write 5 grammatically incorrect sentences to be corrected by their partner, jumbled sentences to be ordered (on little pieces of paper), sentence halves on cut up pieces of paper (to test sentence structure), or multiple choice gapped sentences. You would have to monitor the preparation and okay all the student-created tasks before they are given to their partners.

This method is obviously more time-consuming than traditional tests but also more interactive and does not feel like testing. In most cases I would advise against using ready-made two-page hour-long tests that you can find in teacher’s resources that go with coursebooks (unless you are testing skills). They do not often meet our students’ needs and test what we have not taught, or do not test what we would like to assess. I find I often have to select or cross out certain points or whole tasks for that matter. For this reason, giving students quick tests seems to be a better option. They can be delivered in a relaxed way, they can involve some form of revision, language practice and interaction, they are easy to mark and you can quickly give feedback to the students and plan or deliver further revisions as necessary. Ready-made tests can obviously be a great and a useful resource for teachers if they are used critically and selectively.  In any case there are a few rules about testing we should remember:

  1. Only test what you have taught.
  2. Make the test fair to all students.
  3. Make the task relevant to what you intend to assess (‘test validity’).
  4. Make the test reliable (producing consistent results, not dependent on external conditions).

Finally, in the context of highly exam-oriented Spanish education let’s remember we would like our students to have a different classroom experience from what they know from school and not to focus on tests so much. At the same time, collecting test results is a useful tool for the teacher and can help the student progress in the long run.

by Kasia Kepka