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! 🙂

Final Thoughts

This Friday is the last day of Autumn Term at the language school where I work. The A1+ group I’ve taught since November has gone from 8 people to 14 to 10 to 4 to 6. I’ll be teaching A2/A2+s from January and will meet some of my ex students, which makes me happy because I do miss having them in the classroom. I’ll also have one online student in my class. Hello, hybrid teaching! I’m a tad nervous about it but my new classroom is a bit better equipped for this (there’s an actual monitor on the wall, not just a whiteboard and an OHP) so I guess I’ll be fine, especially considering how supportive my colleagues are.

So, what have I learnt in the past 2 months of working at a big language school in England?

  1. Environment is the key
    I’m extremely lucky to work at a school where the main rule is that we teach students, not the coursebook. This means that the coursebook is just a springboard. However, the best thing is that I am not pressured to finish the coursebook in a certain amount of time as I had to do in some of my previous workplaces. It’s all about how what I teach matches students’ learning needs. Awesome! I eneded up teaching a mixture of coursebook-based lessons, lessons designed by other teachers, and self-designed lessons. I also had a chance to get as creative with the coursebook as I possibly could.
  2. How to get the most out of coursebooks
    The coursebook we have been using this term is Speakout Elementary. Since I had all the time in the world, I made sure to exploit each listening and reading task as much as I could in order to help my students build language skills they had problems with.
    Audio recordings in this textbook are quite natural and fast (at least in the second half of the book), so we did a lot of decoding practice with them. I especially love the DVD sections which feature authentic clips from various BBC programmes – those are even better for decoding! My students enjoyed decoding practice tremendously and got quite competitive 😀
    As for the texts, I used them to teach students how to recognise different parts of speech and analyse word order (a big problem for Arabic and Japanese students), as well as look at how familiar words are used in context. These tasks appeared to be less exciting for my students but definitely useful.
    Another great thing about Speakout is their pronunciation section. For A1 level, it’s mostly weakening, contractions and basic intonation, and I made sure we looked at all those features. The dialogues used in the FL sections are really good for working on intonation and connected speech.
    An interesting anecdote: there’s a dialogue on p.95 in which an angry passenger lashes out on a flight attendant who failed to get him a vegetarian meal. I was really unsure if I should use it with my students since this was definitely not the way I wanted them to speak to other people, but in the end I decided to give it a go and see how they react. My students said it was very rude, and one of them remembered being told off by a bus driver for using ‘What?’ instead of ‘Sorry, could you please repeat that?’. We looked at the intonation, i.e. which melody and tonality the passenger used that made him sound angry. I then asked my students to look at the transcript and rewrite the rude phrases making them more polite. This task was a bit challenging for them but they did their best.
  3. Teaching low levels is not as scary as it seems
    It’s actually quite the opposite! Working with low levels is extremely rewarding because they tend to progress faster. We have lessons 5 days a week, 3 hours a day, and I can’t express how amazing it feels when a student who could barely produce a clumsy sentence in Present Simple starts producing nicely structured sentences using the words we’ve learnt and Past Simple (and even Past Continuous) just in a month or so! We even ended up doing a bit of Dogme and just chatting about things that were important to them, e.g. education, job hunting, etc. The vocabulary that emerged was quite high-level at times but they were so eager to learn and use it. We all felt inspired.
  4. It feels a bit weird to teach students whose L1 you don’t speak at all (I only know 2 words in Arabic). I belive in the positive use of L1 so I do not prevent them from having a chat in Arabic as long as they’re doing it for the right purpose. However, because I have no idea what they’re talking about it’s hard for me to judge. They do try to briefly fill me in on what they were talking about, but still. Oh well, the drawbacks of monolingual classes. Or maybe I should find an Arabic tutor 😀

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.

Lesson Plan: Raiche – Drive

I have never taught a lesson based on a song. Yes, for real. However, this song just got so deeply under my skin that I had no choice but to create a lesson plan for it. It is quite meaty because there is a lot to unpack and explore but it is a very engaging and inspiring lesson. At least that is what I think 😀

Lesson Details

Level: B2+-C2

Format: groups (could be adapted for 121); online / offline

Duration: 90′

Materials: access

Procedure:

Continue reading “Lesson Plan: Raiche – Drive”

PSLLT 2021

As some of you know, instead of attending the IATEFL conference, I ended up attending the 12th Annual Pronunciation and Second Language Learning and Teaching conference. This was not planned at all and I learnt about this conference one day after the registration had been supposedly closed, but the organisers were kind enough to let me register and attend. To make a long story short: this conference literally blew my mind, gave me an understanding of what my next CPD step should be (will be announced later), and pushed me to start planning how I am going to re-design my pronunciation course.

Below are short summaries of some of the talks I attended yesterday and the day before yesterday (I simply cannot summarise all of them!).

1) Foreign language learners’ views and attitudes towards the type of label used in perceptual training: phonetic symbols vs. keywords
If you ever wondered, which is better – phonetic symbols, keywords, or something else (e.g. pictures) – here is the answer: more students prefer phonetic symbols, so it is definitely worth teaching them. The use of keywords only will most likely confuse them and create a double cognitive load because, as we all know, letters do not equal sounds. I usually use phonetic symbols + keywords to create a stronger link. You could also try using pictures, e.g. flags, geometric shapes, etc.
Another thing to try is the Color Vowel Chart developed by Karen Taylor and Shirley Thompson. I have not used it with my students but it seems to be pretty popular among ESL/EFL teachers in the U.S. and Canada.

2) Whose input matters? The influences of various input sources in adult L2 phonetic learning
The aim of this research was to see if adult learners actually differentiate between teacher’s pronunciation and other L2 learners’ pronunciation, and which they prefer as a model.
A fake language was used. Participants were exposed to 3 models: teacher, students, and test (teacher and student). Different voices were used to ensure reliability. For the test model, they had to decide which pronunciation is better based on the knowledge of how these words sound when produced by a teacher or student.
Results: Participants showed a preference for the teacher talker pronunciation. This means that not only are they sensitive to various phonemic features (in this study, aspiration), but it also matters who produces target words. For us teachers it means that we have to be aware of what kind of pronunciation model we give to our students (does not come as a surprise, right?).
Personally, I think that aspiration, for example, is an important feature and should be practised and acquired by students as it enhances intelligibility because in fast speech, an unaspirated /p/ can sound very similar to /b/. However, as for /th/ sound, it seems that more and more people nowadays do not articulate it as clearly as they kind of should. Some speakers pronounce it as /f/ and /v/, some go for /t/ and /d/ or /s/ and /z/. As Dan Frost said, when middle-class women in their 20-s stop using these interdental consonants, we will know that /th/ is officially dead, and this might happen even earlier than we think!

3) Talks about teaching prosody: Put prosody first and Using lip synching to teach L2 prosody
These two talks introduced great ways of working on prosody which is usually the most crucial point in acquiring a more intelligible L2 pronunciation, especially if we talk about learners whose L1s are syllable-timed. One of the activities was very similar to what I do with my students, but it was using phrases instead of numbers, so I will definitely give it a try! Another activity focussed on students doing regular lip-synching exercises to better understand how rhythm in stress-timed languages works. They would start with slower songs and slowly progress towards faster ones. I have never tried anything like that with any of my students and am excited to actually try and see how it goes. These talks also made me think that I do not focus on prosody as much as I should (probably due to the fact that my students are mostly Russians, and Russian is a stress-timed language). I do have one Japanese student and several French and Italian students, so I already know who my guinea pigs are going to be 😀

4) Multiple talks about the use of visual feedback in pronunciation training
Research has shown that students are likely to improve their pronunciation faster if they can see their speech; for this, we can use software like Vowel Viewer, Audacity and Praat (I am already working on this). Unfortunately, to be able to use these tools effectively, you need some advanced knowledge and understanding of lab phonology, which is, obviously, not taught to CELTA and Delta candidates (so a degree in Linguistics/Applied Linguistics will be of great help).

I officially pronounce PSLLT conference the best conference I have attended in 2021!

Image source: https://brocku.ca/psllt-2021/

Lesson Plan: What Does It Mean To Live Your Life To The Fullest?

As a voracious reader, I absolutely LOVE working with texts; maybe I can even say that I tend to prioritise texts in the classroom over audio and video materials. I guess the reason for this is that I grew up reading books and almost didn’t use to watch TV at all. Even now, I’d rather read an article than watch a video, and oh my, I absolutely can’t focus on podcasts for longer than several minutes and am always in need of transcripts. Obviously, if someone decides to look through my lesson library, they’ll find tons of text-based lessons – no wonder, right? In our latest ELT Lesson Jam, I decided to share one of them because I just can’t keep it to myself! 😀

This lesson is based on an authentic text (or rather four short authentic texts) and includes a vocabulary focus, a reflection part and a meaningful discussion. What’s more, it’s rather flexible, and the framework it uses can be adapted to any other lessons that use an authentic text.
Basically, when I teach a text-based lesson, I spend most of the time helping students analyse the text and understand the nuances. With each student it’s different; I let them take the lead and decide where this text exploration (that’s what I call it) brings us. This helps my students process the text better and kind of own it (if you know what I mean).

Lesson Details

Level: B2-C1 (you could give it a try with B1+ but you might need to make some adjustments)

Format: 121 (online) but can be adjusted to groups

Duration: two 1-hour lessons / three 45-minute lessons / one 1.5-hour lesson / one 2-hour lesson

Materials: lesson slides, reading, and vocabulary worksheet

Procedure:

Continue reading “Lesson Plan: What Does It Mean To Live Your Life To The Fullest?”

Lesson Plan: Zoom across an Icelandic glacier

Since I moved my teaching entirely online, I have been experimenting with different online tools and websites to see if I can find something to use on a regular basis. Wordwall (great but most of my students said they needed a printable copy to revise at home), Baamboozle (love it!), WheelDecide (one of my most used tools), Jamboard (kind of a free alternative to Wordwall), Padlet (good for webinars)… And obviously, I have also tried various resources that provide lesson plans and online exercises based on authentic videos – a great way to save time on adapting YouTube videos if you are a very busy teacher (which I sometimes am).

This lesson is based on one of the videos I found on the Sensations English website. What I especially like about this resource is that each video comes in 5 levels and can therefore be used with many students at once as long as you differentiate the tasks. I used it with my B1+ student (I went for the B2 version of the video to add a bit of a challenge) and it turned out to be a really nice and engaging lesson, so I hope your students enjoy it too if you decide to give it a go.

Level: B1+-B2

Length: 60-80 minutes

Framework: Integrated skills lesson (vocabulary, listening, speaking)

Mode: 121/online (but can be adapted to groups/offline)

Materials: these slides, this video

Procedure:

Continue reading “Lesson Plan: Zoom across an Icelandic glacier”

Lesson Plan: A Cooking Recipe

It’s a vocabulary and TBL lesson based on this authentic blog post: Super Creamy Vegan Mushroom Sauce Pasta. Originally, it was designed for a 121 lesson, but it can be easily adapted to a group one. It’s good for any student(s), but especially for those who LOVE cooking 🙂

Level: B1+ and higher
Objectives: to introduce a set of useful lexical items for reading (and understanding) and writing cooking recipes; to provide practice in writing cooking recipes
The ultimate goal: to write and publish a cooking recipe of student’s choice
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Materials: The Recipe, Gap-fill
Procedure:

Continue reading “Lesson Plan: A Cooking Recipe”

My Top-10 Resources for Teaching Pronunciation Physically and Visually

I am a strong advocate of the physical approach to pronunciation teaching. I mean, how can you pronounce a sound if you have no idea about what’s involved in the process? Articulation comes first, and only then it is followed by imitation. So if you want to teach pronunciation physically and visually, here is the list of 10 invaluable resources for you to use:

  1. Introduction to Articulatory Phonetics: Vowels and Consonants.
    These are two short but informative videos aimed at teachers and linguistics students that give you insight into how vowels and consonants are articulated.
  2. Seeing Speech
    This is a product of collaboration between researchers at six Scottish universities, including my alma mater, Edinburgh University. The sounds on this website are visualised in three different ways: MRI, ultrasound, and animation. This is a great tool to use in class.
  3. SPAN: Speech Production and Articulation Knowledge Group
    This is a project similar to the one above. Some differences are: MRI only; separate words and sentences are recorded as well.
  4. Tools for Clear Speech and Sounds of Speech
    These are two different resources for animated versions of English IPA sounds. Both of them are using American English, which means that some vowel sounds are missing though.
  5. Interactive Pronunciation Animations
    This one is good for introducing the sounds of British English to young learners. Funny cartoons contextualise each sound and make it memorable.
  6. English Club’s Learn English Pronunciation
    This page offers a range of resources, from an interactive phonemic chart to various pronunciation games, that will keep your students engaged.
  7. The Sounds of English
    This is basically a ready-made British English pronunciation course on YouTube. Not a single sound is missing! What I like the most about these pronunciation videos is that they focus on contrasting sounds and minimal pairs as well. Can be used both in class and at home.
  8. Pronuncian.com
    Good for practising minimal pairs and getting ready-to-use lessons on American English pronunciation.
  9. Youglish.com
    This is an amazing website that lets you listen to the pronunciation of whole sentences, not just single words. You can search for any phrase, e.g. a famous movie quote or just some common everyday expression, and listen to all possible pronunciations. Other resources you can use for this purpose are TubeQuizard and Playphrase.me (the second one is limited to three phrases per search).
  10. Tongue Twister Database
    I personally think that tongue twisters are a great way of practising pronunciation, from single sounds to the features of connected speech to stress and rhythm. This is probably the biggest tongue twister database out there.
  11. BONUS! A 15-minute morning pronunciation practice with the amazing Hadar Shemesh. As someone who is taking singing classes and studied drama and acting (for a short while though), I know that your vocal apparatus needs to be warmed up before you can use it fully. This video introduces a range of exercises for the muscles involved in speech articulation. A tip from me: don’t resist yawning – it’s unavoidable!

Know any other useful resources? Give me a shout, and I’ll add them to the list 🙂
Have a question? Get in touch, and I’ll help you out 🙂