Experimenting with Affective Reading

I’m currently taking an online course on Materials Development with NILE and can say that it has been one of the most eye-opening courses I’ve taken since COVID-19. One of the modules focussed on affective learning and, in particular, making reading more emotionally and congitively engaging. This overlapped with the plenary given by Dr. Gabriel Diaz Maggioli at IATEFL in Belfast just a couple of weeks ago. It felt really nice to compare those two as well as combine them to see a bigger picture. Well, obvisouly, I couldn’t resist the temptation to run a quick experiment 🙂

I used a text called Architect’s World from UNLOCK Reading & Writing A1. I especially like the fact that it was an interview and features images of the buildings mentioned by the interviewee.

Lesson procedure:

  1. Warm-up: I asked students to describe and compare the buildings they live in here in Bournemouth and in their home country. They were encouraged to show photos (if they had any) and share their feelings about those buildings. (It also allowed them to review comparisons.)
  2. Reading: Nothing innovative here – just good old reading. Students were encouraged to use bilingual dictionaries (I’m trying to teach them to use those instead of Google Translate) or ask each other or me for help.
  3. Post-reading: The text is followed by typical comprehension questions that don’t require actual understanding of the text, but we still did them. I then threw in some more affectively engaging comprehension questions that encouraged students to reflect on some statements in the text and share their opinions. For example,
    – How are ‘green’ houses different from any other types of houses?
    – Do you think it’s a good idea to use glass and plastic as building materials? Why (not)?
    – The architect said that ‘there have been many changes in home design in the last 30 years’. In your country, are new buildings very different from old buildings? If yes, then what makes them different? Which buildings do you like more?
  4. Images: We then worked with the images of the buildings accompanying the text. Students tried to describe them and choose the one they liked most. They had to explain their choice. We also looked at ‘green’ buildings in more detail using Google search. My students were fascinated by Singapore and its futuristic architecture. We looked at Marina Bay Hotel, Botanic Gardens and just some random ‘green’ buildings. I have a small group, so students were sharing their feelings and opinions as we went through the photos. I told them I’ve been to Singapore so they asked me some questions about my trip there. They then started remembering interesting buildings they’ve seen, for example, Petronas Towers – we googled them all, of course. They also showed me some famous buildings in their countries.
  5. Project: The final stage was the experiment itself 🙂 I asked students to draw a building they would like to live in or stay during their holiday. They had to think about the building material(s), exterior, size, shape, layout inside, etc. And, of course, they had to draw it. I told them that no one would judge their drawing skills and that it was just to make their descriptions a bit more visual.
    They then showed their buildings to their classmates and explained why they drew these particular buildings. I took some photos and am attaching them to this post (with my students’ permission, of course).
    To be honest, I didn’t think they wouldn’t be very inspired by this task, but I was wrong! They put quite a lot of imagination into their drawings and even drew the surroundings like trees, sea, lights and even birds. They talked about how many rooms there are in their houses, who lives there, etc. It felt very heart-warming and rewarding and really helped me to get to know my students even better.

Conclusion: I’ll definitely keep experimenting with readings and turning them into projects – it’s full of unexpected, and I love it! This week, we’ll be reading a text about the longest cycling tour, and I’ll ask my students to plan a road trip around their country. I’ve already printed simple maps they’ll be using for their presentations 😀

Visualizing sentence stress for A1+/A2 learners

This is something I always do with my high-level students when we look at word and sentence stress, but somehow I’ve never done it with my low-level students. Well, until yesterday 🙂

It all started with that exercise from Speakout Elementary coursebook (which I love for its focus on prosody). The task was for students to underline the key words in each sentence, then listen to the recording and check themselves. And then it struck me: why not showing them how word and sentences stress looks? If I explain it in an easy way, they’ll understand it, they’re smart. And so I did it.

First, we looked at word stress. We took some words we learnt previously and the students told me which syllables the stress fell on. I then quickly recorded myself saying these words using this tool: https://online-voice-recorder.com/. We then looked at the audiogram and checked where the tallest vertical line was. I told them that this is how word stress looks.

I then uploaded the coursebook recording here: https://mp3cut.net/. We played it sentence by sentence looking at how the tall vertical lines corresponded to the words in each sentence. We identified the tallest lines in each sentence as the main stressed word (I decided not to use the term ‘nucleus’ not to overwhelm the students). We then listened to the melody, i.e. whether it went up or down (I’ll try using Praat next time to visualize it) and practised saying the sentences in the exercise more naturally.

This is what my students saw on the big screen.

We then recorded each student saying one of the sentences and checked if their sentence stress was in the right place, which they found quite amusing 🙂

Finally, we did a role-play based on the dialogue in the exercise, but the students had to come up with their own content. They tried their best to use polite intonation and appropriate sentence stress, and this made quite a difference!

After the role-play my students said that they now felt more confident to go to a shop or a cafe and interact with people who worked there becasue they knew they sounded polite.

I will definitely keep using these tools to visualize English speech for my students. Audacity produces a bit more accurate audiograms though (I did not use it because I have to get permission to install any extra software on my classroom PC).

If you decide to try this with your students, let me know how it goes in the comments section! 🙂

A Useful Tool for Busy Teachers

I have taught in a lot of different contexts: from language centres (or eikaiwas) to a university to an international IT company. However, the context I am immersed into right now is something unique (at least, for me). The most challenging thing was to get used to the fact that I teach the same group for 12 weeks, Monday to Friday, 3 hours a day, which makes 15 hours a week.

The amount of lesson planning I had to do seemed enormous. First week into my new job, I felt like I was snowed under with work and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. This meant that I had to find a way to optimise my lesson planning process. If not the creative part of it then the admin part at least.

This is when I came across Teachwise App.

This start-up claims to cut preparation time by 75%. To be honest, it is difficult for me to estimate the exact percentage, but from my experience, it definitely makes lesson preparation more efficient and less time-consuming.

Once you have created an account, there are three main functions available to you: Resources, Community and Lesson Planner. Now, the Lesson Planner is not a free function, but in my opinion, it is totally worth it.

Before switching to Teachwise App, I used to type my plans in MS Word or Notepad on my laptop. Since no lesson ever go exactly as planned, I had to do a lot of amendments afterwards, which meant creating new files, etc. I also had to do all the formatting to make my plans look a bit more user-friendly because during the lesson, I have to be able to quickly navigate through them.

With Teachwise, I simply click a button, and all the activities I did not finish in the previous lesson get copied into my next lesson(s).

Basically, it is like Lego. For each lesson, I have various activities typed in. I can then tick them off as completed or carry them across next several lessons. I can change the order in which they follow and edit them if necessary.

The Lesson Planner itself looks like a calendar. You create a profile for each student/group (you can add students to groups as well) and then create recurring lessons to be displayed in the calendar. You can delete or cancel single lessons, change their duration, etc. Pretty handy for a busy freelancer!

Obviously, you can do the same with your Google Calendar, and you can even attach files or write notes for each meeting there, but it will not let you rearrange the activities in your lessons easily or transfer them to the next lesson.

The Resources pool on Teachwise is also pretty cool, I have found some interesting activities for Business English. You can save the activities you like to your library or add them to your lesson plan just with a click of a button. You can also add your own activities to the resources for other teachers to use. Sharing is caring!

Finally, for those who like having a paper copy of their lesson plan, you can download any lesson plan from Teachwise as pdf and print it out. Simples!

There might be some other functions for freelance teachers I have not had a look at yet, so it is up to you to discover.

All in all, Teachwise App has definitely made the admin part of lesson preparation much less daunting for me, which means that I have more time for creativity 😊

Back to Basics

After a really long, long time I’m back to teaching A1+ learners (up until recently, the lowest level I had ever taught was A2+). To make things even more interesting, I don’t know a single word in their L1 (I happen to have an almost monolingual group).

During my first week at work I was so nervous that I could hardly eat anything. I realized that I don’t really remember how to teach low levels. I spoke too fast and demanded too much from them.

After reading a bunch of articles about teaching low levels and getting observation feedback from a senior teacher, I finally felt better. I learnt to adapt my speech when needed, scaffold more and explain new words by mimicking (my mom says I could become an actress).

I also decided to try doing authentic listening with them. I had no idea how it would go and tried to choose one of the easiest videos on Tubequizard.com. And you know what? It turned awesome! All students were engaged, including those who tend to zone out most of the time. They were so surprised how simple words they knew sounded together. They were able to describe some basic processes, e.g. “he didn’t say don’t – he said doun!”. We tried saying things the same way – just for fun. I emphasized that they don’t have to speak this way, but if next time they hear doun and understand that it’s actually don’t, that’s great, that’s why we’re doing this.

Here’s a photo of my board work:

Authentic listening for A1+ learners

P.S. I know that /n/ in don’t doesn’t really turn into /m/ but there’s is certainly some lip rounding happening there. In fact, some students were uncertain if they had heard /n/ or /m/ so we ended up looking at it.

P.P.S. We actually work on connected speech and intonation a lot, and it’s so much fun! More fun than I expected because I usually do this kind of stuff with higher levels. My next challenge is to analyse texts a bit more intensively in terms of sentence structure and use retelling to develop their sense of language.

5 Awesome Tools for Audio & Video Editing

As someone who teaches pronunciation on a regular basis and prefers to do it with authentic materials, I have to edit tons of audio and video files. So here’s my selection of the best tools you can use for editing audio and video.

AUDIO

1. Audio Cutter

There are many online tools similar to this one, but mp3-cut.net is my ultimate favourite. It allows to trim your audio as precisely as possible by adjusting the start and end time manually. Pay attention to the last number: it’s deciseconds, guys, and it’s amazing. You can also fade in or fade out your audio. Finally, you can change the speed, volume and pitch of the audio. For more advanced users, there’s an equalizer function, too.

2. Audio Joiner

This tool is provided by the same platform as the previous one and has similar functionality. Before joining the audio files, you can trim them if necessary as well as fade in / out or crossfade them. Another good thing is that you can choose the format for your output audio file.

If you need more format choices, you can use this audio joiner tool instead but keep in mind that it doesn’t have the trimming function.

3. Voice Recorder

There’re various options available here. I know many teachers use Vocaroo, and it’s a good one with basic functions like retry recording, remove background noise and auto-adjust volume.

This voice recorder has a nice add-on: you can trim your recording if, for example, there’s a long pause at the beginning.

However, if you want to have some fun, go for this one. It allows you to modify your voice to sound like a man (if you’re a woman), a robot, or even a space squirrel.

VIDEO

4. Video Trimmer

If you already have a video and need to trim it, this is the best tool you can find. The functionality is impressive (for a basic user, of course): manual input for start and end time; rotation, speed and volume change; and other functions like cropping and looping your video.

Another great way to use this tool is when you do decoding practice with your students. By adjusting start and end time, you can play and re-play precise bits for your students to listen to be it just one word or a whole phrase (I found it wat easier to use than Aegisub).

5. Add Subtitles to Your Video

Now, this is something I’ve discovered recently, and it’s a real gem. Before, I used to add subtitles manually using a .txt file and time coding (to get precise timings, I was using Tool #4). I then reformatted the .txt file into the .srt one and added it to the video using a corresponding function in the video player. However, this tool allows you to do this much faster. It’s pretty intuitive: you type the phrases in the boxes on the right and then adjust the timing for each box at the bottom. Easy-peasy!

That’s it. I hope this info helps! These tools have made my lesson preparation easier and I can’t see why they can’t do the same for you 🙂

Banana? Banana!

This is a lesson plan I presented during the last ELT Lesson Jam, organised by Myles Klynhout, Rachel Tsateri and me.

Intonation. One of the trickiest aspects of pronunciation to master. Yet, so much depends on it. Even the simplest, the most innocent words, pronounced with a certain intonation, can sound rude and even threatening. So, how to raise awareness and provide our students with an opportunity to practice intonation?

Banana!

What I do is I say the word ‘banana’ in different ways – neutral (flat tone), unsure (rise), surprised (fall-rise), and irritated. Students have to identify the emotion involved in each different case. I then ask them to say the word using these emotions. After that, I offer them to brainstorm other emotions and try saying ‘banana’ using them (e.g. ‘enthusiastic’, ‘bored’, ‘surprised’, ‘relieved’, etc.). They then work in pairs saying the word ‘banana’ and trying to guess the emotion.

Step 2 is a role-play (image 1). Each pair of students gets a scenario. They have to role-play it, but they can only use the word ‘banana’ (they can use this word as many times as they wish). They have some time to rehearse (you can monitor and help out). After that, each pair has to perform their role-play in front of the class, and the listeners have to guess what is going on (roughly). The student whose guess is the closest to the original scenario gets a point. The student with the highest score wins (you can give some award to them).

Step 2. Role-play

Step 3 is real-life dialogues. Student A asks a question, and student B replies with different intonations. Student A has to guess how student B feels. You can rearrange the pairs ad conduct this activity one more time.

Step 3. Real-life dialogues

Step 4 is, obviously, a freer practice. Students share some short stories about moments when they experienced strong emotions. They have to use intonation as an instrument to make their stories as vivid as possible.

How to Save Money: A Step-By-Step Guide

Even though this has nothing to do with teaching, I thought this could come in handy.

Before we start, there is one thing you might want to consider:

Get rid of your credit card and switch to using cash only. I know that it might be difficult in some countries, but I still recommend using cash whenever it’s possible. Why? There is no scientific proof, this is just my personal belief, but I really think that cards make us spend more (especially credit ones!). Seeing how the amount of banknotes and coins is getting less day by day makes you more cautious and thoughtful when it comes to spending money, which is extremely important if you want to save as much as you can. The more tangible something is the more difficult it is to let it go.

Getting started

Buy a notepad you are going to use for writing down your expenses. Spend three months writing down literally every pence/cent/yen/whatever you spend. Make sure to always ask for a receipt – this will make your task much easier. If no receipt is available for some reason, make sure you write down how much you just paid straight away without putting it off for later.

After you have finished your probation period, it is time to make some calculations. These are the numbers you will need:

  1. The average amount you spend on food per month (be it eating out or doing grocery shopping)
  2. The average amount you spend on rent and bills (gas, electricity, water, internet, phone service)
  3. The average amount you spend on commuting (train/bus tickets or petrol)
  4. If you have any regular monthly appointments (e.g. language classes, counselling sessions, beauty treatment, etc.) add them too.
  5. Next, put aside a fixed extra amount for unexpected expenses (e.g. a night out with friends, carwash, a new pair of shoes instead of those that fell apart while you were walking, etc.). This will depend on your salary – decide how much you can afford.
  6. Finally, since living on a tight budget might be somewhat depressing (especially at the beginning), think through how you want to cheer yourself up. Would it be a delicious dessert you eat every Sunday? Or a new aromatic candle you get at the end of the month? Or something else? The key is that you have to plan these little treats and make sure their cost is already included in your monthly budget. If you do not wish – or cannot afford – to spend money on this then you can ignore this step.
  7. Add all the amounts above. The number you get at the end is your fixed monthly budget.

Moving on

  1. Now, as soon as you get your monthly salary, divide it into two halves: the fixed monthly budget and the rest. The rest should stay in your bank account, and the fixed monthly budget should be converted into cash.
  2. You UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES CAN GO OVER the limit aka your fixed monthly budget. If you go over it then you were not careful enough when spending money. You have to develop a new mindset. Your will has to be as strong as it has never been before; resist the temptation to buy everything you lay your eyes on, even if it is just a cup of Starbucks coffee – unless you have classified it as your monthly treat (because in this case it is already included in your monthly expenses!). No one said it would be easy, but everything is possible (the impossible just needs more time to be done).
  3. If you systematically go over the monthly budget you can consider making it slightly bigger but keep in mind that the amount you save each month will become less. Make your choice.
  4. If you receive any kind of bonuses at work, leave them in your bank account. They should be added to your savings.

Wrapping up

  1. At the end of each budget month, make the following calculations:
    • Assets (= how much money you had when the budget month started)
    • Income
    • Expenses
    • Leftovers
  2. Leftovers become the first part of your monthly budget for the next month. The rest of the amount should be taken from your monthly salary.
  3. The more you have left at the end of each month the less you need to take from your monthly salary, i.e. the more stays in your account.
  4. Gradually, you will start noticing the numbers in your bank account going up. Congrats, you have started saving money!

I hope you will find this useful!

Plenary Speech

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a plenary speech at excitELT, a conference that always makes me feel excited.
Of course, it did not go as planned (nothing does, right?), but nevertheless, here is the script.
You can also find the link to download my article about the Dialogical Feedback project in the text below.

———- (INTRO) ———-

Oh well… I am feeling very nervous right now.
Actually, I’ve read somewhere on the internet that this is the worst phrase you can choose to start your presentation with.

However, at the same time, even though hardly anyone admits it out loud while presenting, the majority of people do feel nervous and even anxious when they have to speak in front of an audience, even a small and well-known one.
In fact, public speaking anxiety and communication apprehension, in general, are among the most widespread types of anxiety.

Communicative Language Teaching emphasizes communication. Students are constantly talking to each other, even if it’s a simple pair-check for the answers for some activity.
At universities, they have to take discussion classes, presentation classes and all other kinds of highly communicative classes.

Raise your hand if you teach such a class.
Raise your hand if you think your students might feel anxious during your classes.
Raise your hand if you ever felt anxious when communicating in a foreign language.
Raise your hand if your teacher ever asked you how you felt about communicating in a foreign language.
Raise your hand if you ever asked your students how they feel about communicating in a foreign language.

Continue reading “Plenary Speech”

Lead-In

Like all lessons (well, most of them) begin with a lead-in, I start my blog with a lead-in post.

Who am I? 24601. Well, nope. My name is Lina, I’m 25. I originally come from Russia, and I am an English Instructor at a university in Tokyo.
I have an MA in Scandinavian Studies (surprise surprise!) from the University of Edinburgh and two ELT certificates: TEFL and CELTA.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for quite a while but would always find an excuse not to do this, such as ‘you’re not experienced enough’, ‘oh come on, what do you have to say about ELT? you hardly read any monographs!’, and ‘do you really think anyone would read your dull entries?’. You see, I’m being like extremely extremely honest right now.

Anyway, the time has come, and I do have some things to say about teaching English (and about being a non-native teaching English as well).

What you will NOT find in this blog: Long academic entries filled with quotations and sophisticated arguments. I ain’t good at academic writing, and I do not intend to make you doze off.

What you will DEFINITELY find in this blog: Short notes based on my own experience teaching English to Japanese students, practical tips and sample lesson plans.