Giving feedback using voice recording service

Hello everyone!

Today I’m going to be blogging about a trick which one of my fellow-teachers Viacheslav Kushnir from St. Pete has recently recommended to me, and this compelling and heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes to him, he really deserves it. I do believe, his tip is worth sharing.

I’ve been away for some not very convincing reasons, however one of them still remains the best escape from explaining the real state of things which is obviously lack of quality time for anything. Let alone blogging or reading something for continuing professional development. And one brief professional chat about my groups with Slava has changed everything.

In order to boost my students’ fluency and accuracy both in writing and speaking I’m bombing them with a lot of tasks. Writing emails, reports and ‘making-up questions for further discussion’, letting them record themselves in order to give them more opportunities for speaking activities, and, no doubt, so on and so forth. Since I’ve got three groups, it should not be a big problem for me, should it? But it is a big problem. So I was wondering if there’s anything that can be considered as a way to get out of all of this.

Slava recommended that I recorded my feedback for my students. I know, I know, a lot of teachers recommend peer correction first and then teacher’s correction. However, when you need to give ‘short and sweet’ feedback, that’s the way to do it. I usually use www.vocaroo.com for it. It’s pretty straightforward and does not need any registration. My students use the site for recording themselves (there’s an option to save a link to the recording and then to share); I use the site for recording feedback for my students, then I save the link and send to them.

What’s my take on that? First and foremost, it’s a really time-saving activity. Given it’s related to using technology which is really valuable for my IT students and can’t be overestimated. Secondly, the feedback from my students is surprisingly positive, they find it useful and helpful. And, what’s more, it gives them one more listening activity. What I always do is I never forget to thank my students for the piece of work they’ve done, be it writing or speaking. Whatever.

That’s all what I wanted to blog about today.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Warm up your Elementaries

Hello everyone!

Today I want to share a last-minute activity which came to my mind just several seconds before my lesson with Elementaries started. I was on vacation last week, and the students had around 10 days without classes, so it was no use rushing into coursebook materials right away. I wanted to give them some time to talk to their partners instead of answering my questions about their last working week and challenging projects they all are involved in. In ‘Speaking Games’ by Jason Anderson there’s a nice game called ‘A thing about cleft sentences’, where students speculate about the diversity of topics using phrases like ‘The most surprising thing about (Facebook) is that…. ‘ or ‘What annoys me most about (credit cards) is… ‘. With a bunch of topics and a tremendous lot of sentence beginnings it was quite a challenging task for my Upper-Intermediates (I used to have it as a warmer for a while).

Moving on to the task itself, I asked my students to choose from a set of topic cards the one they are most interested in (shopping, the Internet, Hollywood movies, restaurants, fashion, the environment, pop music, children and others). The task was to create 5 questions (including 4 special, or wh-questions, i.e. one of them should obviously be a general question). The idea was tempting and they started with encouragement. After the questions was ready, I asked the students to work with a partner and ask those questions. I loved the activity and so did my students for many reasons. The topics were interesting to discuss, the questions were different and they had a chance to talk to each other in the beginning of the class, so it could be considered a classical warmer.

That’s why I had enough courage to give my blog-post a name ‘Warm up your Elementaries’, because I do believe, this task works best for this purpose. I also believe, this warmer could be adapted for stronger levels. Let your students give you a hint.

Share if you want to try it out and please, share with me.

Thank you for reading!

Ice-breakers are awesome

Last week I started a new group with Intermediate students. There were 6 of them and this fact really makes me feel happy about the group in general. When it was a Pre-Intermediate group, there were 4 of them and they used to miss classes sometimes, and the progress was not transparent for both parties, I mean for me as a teacher and for students themselves. Now with 6 of them (we added 2 more students) it’s great to have lessons full of joy and as a result, to have a sense of achievement, because, it seems they are really enjoying lessons (though we’ve had only 2 so far).

My today post is one of the ice-breakers I gave a try to with this group. Before the very first lesson I had a short chat with my curriculum manager Lena, who gave a piece of precious advice for me, related to ice-breakers. And here comes the short outline of how I managed to have it at the lesson.

Outline: I gave my students small square sheets of paper and asked to write 6 sentences standing for 6 facts they know about their partners in the group, including me. I also took my sheet of paper and wrote down 6 facts about my students (I should say, it was great to be in my students’ shoes, for it was quite difficult to write facts about some of them). Thinking and writing took us about 6 minutes. Later on I nominated a person and everybody shared his facts with the whole group. It was so interesting to learn more about my students, and also to learn how they see me.

So, I should admit, I would love to repeat this activity with other groups (when I start new ones). It was amazing to have such a wonderful lesson and I love sharing it with you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Enjoy spring!

Yummy Revision

    I love ideas that simply come out of nowhere. My colleagues sometimes share their ideas and teaching tips that are extremely handy and appealing. That’s why I try to find a chance to use them as soon as possible. Today I was thrilled to have massive revision with my Intermediate students, following the idea of one of my colleagues Darya. I would call it Yummy Revision, and soon you’ll find out why it is so.

The idea is fairly simple. You should get a pack of M&M’s or any other brand of coloured candy. They serve like teaching aids for creating tasks for end-of-course revision.

Outline:

Step 1. Check the colours of M&Ms you have and cut out paper circles (one for each colour).
Assign each colour a category/topic for revision (e.g. Green: Decision­ making, Yellow: time-
management etc.) Stick  the circles on the whiteboard.

Step 2.  Divide your group into mini­groups. Pour M&Ms or any other multicolour candy into
3 bowls (I had 3 mini groups). Make sure the number of candies is equal in each, say, 9.

Step 3. And here we go­ Explain students that each group should come up with as many
tasks/exercises on a topic as they have candies of the same colour.

E.g. There are 3 green candies in their bowl (Green: Decision­making), so they think of 3
different exercises/tasks/activities on the topic. ( Make sure you elicit types of possible  tasks before –explanation, correcting mistakes, using the right preposition, gap­filling, providing synonymous phrases etc.)

As a result ­all your students are engaged, they revise target vocabulary, collaborate. After the class ask each group to send what they come up with to you by email, so that you
could check if everything in their tasks is fine.

Next class? It’s up to you­ have a competition using those activities, or pick the best ones, or
have them exchange their tasks etc.

And, of course, let them eat the candies at the end of the class­ they’re really well­ deserved.

I’m posting this large quote,  it’s how my colleague explained the activity.
So, today I was having the funniest class ever. It was fantastic to help students to create their tasks, to support lower ones and to ask the stronger to support the lower too. And yep, we ate those candies just after the lesson, sitting together on the sofa in the middle of the office and sharing our smiles and laughs.
And here comes a photo:

IMG_20160329_111425

I would love to thank Darya for this amazing experience!
This really made my day and I’m happy to share with you.

Thanks for reading!

Newcomers give food for thought…

Yesterday one of new employees joined Intermediate group of students. This can happen quite often, when in the middle of an academic year somebody starts a course. So, yesterday I was quite interested in having a lesson, in showing our internal rules and traditions (I mean, inside the class). But I did not do it myself, I asked my students to help me and to introduce themselves in an alluring manner.

So, I used one of ice-breakers I was really into, when you introduce yourself using a model:

I’m Anna, I’m ‘A’, I’m awesome.

I’m Paul, I am ‘P’, I’m polite.

This time along with the initial model I added a question “Why are you in the group?”, so it made my students introduce themselves and, thus, they told about their goals and ways of learning English there. I personally loved the way they accepted the activity, because it somehow showed their ability to support the new guy and give him awareness of how classes are conducted. It goes without saying, the newcomer and me introduced ourselves as well, and though my speech was different a bit, it helped me to realize how I participate in the group, not only in a role of the teacher, but also as a person who’s ready to give any necessary support and be helpful whenever they need it.

Thanks for reading!

An activity for drilling irregular verbs

One of my favourite methods of drilling irregular verbs was shoring students cards with all three forms and asking them to repeat after me. Since my first English teacher showed this activity to me when I was a pupil I´ve never seen anybody did the same with her students or it´s just because I haven´t observed much of the lessons of my colleagues. So, to my mind, it was one of the effective ways of drilling those verbs: those who are visuals could visualize and memorize much better, those who have a good ear for music, like me, could use it for better memorizing.

When my students used to study irregular verbs, I always started my lessons with asking them to repeat after me. After a chat with my Curriculum Manager (we were discussing new games with irregular verbs among other things) and having told her about my idea to realize my favourite idea, I suddenly thought about trying something new and just watch how it would work?

Today I was having a lesson with Pre-Intermediate students and the first activity was repeating again. But not after me. But after them. I mean, everybody was a person who asked to repeat those verbs after him.

I distributed a stack of cards for everybody and first of all, asked to look through. Later on  the students one by one were showing their cards to partners and the whole class was repeating after the one. It took us about 5 minutes.

To conclude… I would recommend this activity to my colleagues, because it at least reveals one of my favourite learning-related Chinese proverb:

Tell me, I’ll forget.
Show me, I’ll remember.
Involve me, I’ll understand.

The students were involved in the process and took on a role of the teacher and I’m sure they learned much more today. To my mind, this is what the whole learning process is about.

Thanks for reading.

To run for running…

monks

I’d like to begin with a story.

Once upon a time the Russian sportsmen found out that in Tibet there was a monastery where during one religious festival the monks used to run about 80 km. Sportsmen became interested in this achievement and sent their people to learn from the experience. The monks were asked to demonstrate their art. At first, Tibetans did not understand what the Russians wanted from them. Why run when there´s no festival? As a matter of fact, they used to run to the exact place where the holiday was held. But the guests were insisting. The monks had to agree to fulfill this useless deal. And they started running.

Here came one monk: he had not run a kilometer, but sat on the roadside, breathing hard, sweated, then another monk, then another… The Russians came up and asked: “Why are you sitting? You’ve not even run a kilometer…”. The monk replied: “I’m tired”. A typical oriental guy. A typical oriental reply. If you are tired – sit and have a rest. He does not understand that it´s fine for somebody to run aimlessly, just for counting time and distance, to run for running…

In other word, no one could run even a kilometer, everybody withdrew from a race. The Russians left the monastery empty-handed. And when there again was this Buddhist festival, the monks again ran to the festival place, and they easily ran those 80 km. The point is they did not count kilometers, they did not count time. They were thinking about other things. Running to the festival place for them was a part of a festival ritual, they did not think about running, they were thinking about the festival. Running for them was just only a method, and the festival was the aim.

To begin with, the idea of this blogpost came up to me tomorrow just after the lesson with Intermediate students. They are currently studying key expressions for getting information and managing appointments as well. After many communicative tasks the students admitted it was not at all easy to be imaginative and create artificial situations. I always thought I have already been aware of how to incorporate personalization into the tasks, but presumably I was mistaken. The tasks did not provide students with the opportunity to think about the real situation in which to try these expressions will be a pleasure.

Reflecting on the lesson just after it, I recalled this story in the beginning of the post. It was narrated by a very famous Russian linguist Ilya Frank, and the point was the talk about the lack of personalization. Or even better about the lack of teacher’s awareness of how to incorporate the personalization in the classroom. And what I heard from the students proves my guesses: sometimes tasks are methods of teaching, but they do no stand for the aim. Does the teacher show her students the beauty of the language by suggesting talking about the working day (using Present Simple) or about memorable events from their life (using Past Simple of Present Perfect), etc.? What about students? Do they only mechanically fulfill tasks without looking wider at what they are doing?

So, these questions are left without answers. And sometimes I feel like I’ve never been taught to be a teacher. But I try, I really try to be on a bright side, and my blogpost today is a kind of a personal insight into my teaching practice. Let’s admit that personalization is one of the key elements in the classroom and let’s admit that I sometimes struggle with personalization, especially when my students have very specific and relevant topics. So, in my case, what I do is I make them run for running. Aimlessly. Counting time and distance.

… Currently I’m working on a personal project which is supposed to reveal my teaching plans and insights by means of writing articles and assignments on particular topics. In one of them I admitted myself that it is a very necessary thing not to escape from – to find the inner courage to admit negative moments of the lesson (and of the practice itself, like in my case). And the idea of the blogpost was to reflect on this particular thing and be ready to do something to change it.

Thanks for reading!