end-of-unit experiment (with a lot of information in brackets)

I’ve experimented with it a couple of times already, but not always has it been very successful – due to the lack of time, apparently.

As this experiment is somehow in line with the ideas and attitudes proposed by “from English teacher to learner coach” by Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord , I decided to share it here.

Every time my student(s) and me are about to finish a really useful unit in the book (and to be honest it doesn’t happen very often as, with all the things we add to accompany each unitl, it normally takes A LOT of time: ), I have an urge to create an opportunity for more (independent) practice for my students – in other words, not to let them simply turn over the next page and forget all the great vocabulary, grammar and other things (even if it’s just several pictures to be remembered) about it, but to encourage them to look through the unit again, re-assess it, prioritise and take something away with them. As much as I want my students to do all these things with the unit, I can’t get involved wih the process too much – otherwise it will be not their, but “my” thing, so I have to let my students act.

The idea is just to ask the learners to decide which things are the most useful and worth taking away and remembering for future use, and then possibly sharing this knowledge with the trainer (and the group of there is the group). I thought it would be a great hometask – some quiet time to reflect on the unit, to look up some forgotten vocab, to remember what that text was about…

Well, I still think it’s a great task and an intention which should work just fine for highly motivated students. Let me confess though: out of 3 times that I assigned it as a hometask for my students, only once was it done. In all the other cases I listened to a long and captivating tale of how important the task was and how much they had intended to do it, and how reality prevented them from doing it – well, you all know the lines…

So the last time I made it a part of a lesson (it was another one-to-one course,and I was pretty sure that student would never find time – or rather reason – to reflect and prioritise on her own). It worked out beautifully: she took some post-its to write down the new (or unnoticed/ forgotten) words, tried to remember (quite successfully) what the text and the listening tasks were about, and refreshed several grammar points we had discussed, so it all resulted into considerably much speaking with some elements of grammar and vocabulary, to go with a precious feeling of achievement . And we were both happy with that.

Such a task seems to me a consistent alternative to a unit test – a more conscious one, and certainly the one that involves the student’s mind a lot.

Now we are about to finish the next unit, so I suppose we’ll repeat the experiment, and I might even risk assigning it as a hometask!

Anyway, what do you think? Would you ask your students to do such a reflection/ prioritising task? How would you go about it?



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Teaching low level Business English

Svetlana Urisman (Englishteachingnotes):

Looking for materials to teach a very low-level student.(who is actually my husband).will see if and how this will work out;-)

Originally posted on Oxford University Press:

Businessmen shaking handsJohn Hughes is an author of Business Result . The new Starter level of this series will be launched in November at the BESIG 2013 conference in Prague. John will also be running a workshop on teaching low level Business English at BESIG called ‘Communicating much much more with a whole lot less!’

As a new teacher in the early nineties I often used to hear the widely-held view from more experienced colleagues that: “You don’t teach Business English at lower levels. The students just need to learn the basics. It isn’t business.” By the late nineties this view had rapidly altered; it soon became accepted that students at Pre-Intermediate level did in fact need English to help make telephone calls, write emails, meet people and make brief presentations. Logically, it then followed that Elementary students in companies also needed lessons with work-based English that focussed on ‘getting…

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preparing for a grammar lesson (refreshing passive voice in an applicable way)

Last time I checked, there were not too many materials for teaching Passive. I mean, for teaching Passive adequately, and in a practical and possible-to-take-out-of-the-class manner. Somehow, speaking about animals, doing a geography quiz or discussing a process of coins being produced didn’t feel exactly right – not for my current students, anyway. With the lady I have in mind, we’ve already identified the need to refresh her passives, because she has already made mistakes using in in a number of situations, and when we were discussing them, she was not too clear about the forms and usage.

So today I began looking for some nice starting point. As I’m dealing with an individual and high-level class, this makes most of the usual (and even some really interesting and unusual things) a bit pointless, so I wasn’t really left with a lot of choice.

But having researched here and there, I’ve discovered some nice things. A small collection of gems, in fact.

First credit goes to Penny Ur and her book “Grammar Practice Activities”. There she offers another use for the customary “information gaps” – passive picwhy not compare 2 pictures and to say what was done (or what will be done if we take the 2nd picture for a future)? it’s so easy, but it didn’t occur to me before, I have to admit.

I haven’t decided yet if I am going to use the pictures or to take the idea further to HR area. In the latter case we might talk about somebody following his/her career path:

first he was admitted to university, then he was promoted, he was recognized as the best in his area, etc…

Another aspect I’ve been thinking about – and also found in several different books – are the newspaper headings. reformulating them and making into full sentences. Will have to exploit this approach definitely. I think in my case working with headlines and turning them into full sentences (and accompanying it with some specualting on the contents) might work out nicely, after having cleared all the doubts and questions about the passive forms.

I think I’ll start with a picture and some questions leading to using passive structures

How is a position usually filled in your company? (because she is an HR and we are doing HR English)
Do you remember the last movie you watched? How was it called? (because we had typical mistakes of that sort a couple of times: my company called  “..”.because…, the perfomance is name “..”)

I’ll update the post if I find more gems to complete my humble collection, and I will be happy if you share what you do to teach passive in an interesting and practical way!

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using Realtimeboard for teaching English online

I want to share an absolutely fantastic tool for online use: Realtimeboard.com

As I already told, now I teach online, using Skype. When I was preparing for my first online lesson, I was feeling very uneasy – first of all, because I needed some shared space, something that both me and my student will be able to see and use. Something similar to a whiteboard (or, let’s be honest, just an A4 for most of the one-to-one classes) to jot down all the new words, ideas, great language usage and mistakes to correct, and even some drawings (always awful, in my case). Initially, I was going to try sharing my screen in Skype. And then I came across a great resource. I am not sure that ELT usage was the creators’ first priority,  and I can see very well how such a board can be used for some virtual teams, but for me this seems a perfect tool.

You can upload there almost anything you want: video files, pdf files (I even uploaded an electronic version of InCompany, and both my student and I could turn the pages just there, on the board!), pictures. You can make notes and put some post-its on it! And what’s more, you (and students) can move them all around, zoom in and zoom out, change colours and fonts! I am quite sure I haven’t expolred all the board’s possibilities yet…

Here are some of my latest screenshots:

:screen 2

I used Post-its to train some socialising vocabulary, the student had to match the beginnings with the endings

screen 3

Here I used a tagxedo.com image to revise those socialising phrases, and made a gapfill. on the right you can the see the InCompany

screen 4

this is from our first lesson, post-its where we put some of our objectives for the course. A kind of “learning contract”


Aanother lesson: InCompany, some revision, a story with mistakes to revisit vocabulary, and some grammar cutouts from different books.


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my favourite ways of revisiting vocabulary

blog postI’ve recently come back to work!

yes, for 9 month I was off work – at least I wasn’t teaching English to real people, that is. I was a blogger and materials writer. But now 2 times a week I have individual classes (HR English), and 2 times a week I teach an indiviual student using Skype (Business English, conversational English and grammar)

It’s a great feeling – being back to work&different life, to have somewhere to go to for a change, some hours a week to be not just a mom, but smb else!

Now I have a lot of time to prepare for my classes very thoroughly (not that I wasn’t preparing before, but I tended to prefer something less time-consuming, with all the work load and many teaching hours a day), and as both of my students are in need of expanding their vocabulary, I’ve been trying to apply different ways of revisiting it. Here is a short account of what I’ve already remembered and tried:

a kind of jigsaw puzzle (see the photo). Here is today’s example: I wanted my student to refresh in her memory some of the phrases that can be used for giving recommendations – something we worked with at our previous lesson. As I wanted her to remember the whole sentences and to pay attention to the word order, this worked well. It was a starting point for the speaking exercise where she had to give recommendations for several HR cases. And she did use almost all the phrases from the worksheet.

a story with mistakes. A thing I used with my Skype student. We’ve already had 4 lessons, and there were quite a lot of new words,collocations and phrasal verbs, so I wanted him to come across this new vocab again (he has already learned most of the words – more or less, and could remember them if I asked him to, but was not too accurate using them. Moreover, bearing in mind that you ahve to come across anew word 7 times before you really remember it, why not provide a student with an additional opportunity?)  Here is an example of my story story with 12 mistakes

the list included

venue/complain/ autrocious/ apart from the fact that/ whole/ to come up with/ to be sure/thanks to/ i’ve been wondering/ go-ahead/ if it is possible  . My student detected most of the mistakes easily, but he spent  some time in sthinking and doubts, mostly just in the places I wanted him too.

cards. Well, good old cards never fail to work: just write the words on them and ask your students to remember and explain what they mean, or to group them up with some idea in mind (e.g., these words are about sports, and there words are about travelling) , or to use them in a vocabulary story (which I did today, having written the most important words and collocations from the last 3 lessons and today. It found out to be a good way to finish off a lesson). Cards can be both real (paper, mostly post-its in my case), or electronic (will tell about it and other things to use for Skype learning later).

pelmanism. Works great for collocations, of course. My favourite way is to cut a number of round post-its into halves, writing halves of collocations on them.

definitions match To come back to the second lesson of HR English, I made little cards containing definitions of some HR words and phrases my student was supposed to learn. Unfortunately, my student didn’t learn them as she hadn’t had time (what an original excuse, ha? ok, explanation), so we lost a little more time on that, me having to help and hint and giving clues all the time. So for the next time I prepared something more thoughtful: a matching table offering 3 columns: words, definitions and translation. And one more column was left free, for example sentences. This worked better, may be because it let my student feel more confident and to see the wordlist.

this was what I’ve done and remembered so far, but there is definitely a lot more… Any suggestions? What do you do to revisit vocab from your previous classes?

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“lost interview”: a recreative activity to practise asking closed questions

here is a short but effective activity to train asking closed questions like are you…/ have you…/ did you…/ do you…?.- the ones that cause a lot of difficulties with some of our students…

in this activity students are only given the answers from the “lost interview” and have to recreate the questions using the correct grammar and choosing the right auxiliaries.

the key is provided, but there is a lot of room for variety, right answers can be very different – it’s all up to your students’ imagination. and correct grammar, of course!

The lost interview

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a perfect homework: what is it like?

should all our students get homework? Even the busiest (and the laziest) ones?

I am sure they should. Let’s see: if a student comes to class 2 times a week and doesn’t  get (or doesn’t do) any homework, that’s all the English he has – 4 academic hours a week. not to much, is it? But if we add some homework to it, even just a bit of reading, listening, writing, anything – it would already add up to that time. And our student will be spending 5-6 hours on his Enlgish every week. If this is a good – enthusiastic – student we are talking about, he might be listening to podcasts in his car, or watch a movie in English once in a while, and that adds up even more to his “English time”.

But unfortunately, not too many people love doing their homework. Even if a students understands he should do his homework, and is going to, it still doesn’t mean the homework will be done. Why?

because they are lasy? Because they are busy. Because there are so many other things to do and to pay attention to. And we always prefer to do what we really like over something we must do.

That’s why I am sure a perfect homework for everyone just doesn’t exist. Alas.

What exists though is different homework for different people and different needs. But “homework” sounds to some people very school-like. Should it stay in school then?

From my own experience I know how  much difference in progress there is if a student does anything at all in English between classes and if he doesn’t do anything at all.

So what could this anything at all be like? Here are some ideas of either alternatives or supplementaries to usual homework based on a lesson (like grammar/ vocabulary exercise from a workbook):

  • listening to English podcasts (on the move, in the earphones, podcasts for English learners – like “words in the news”, “the English we speak”, “6 minute English on http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ , or just usual podcasts in English – if your students have a high level/ audiobooks, both abridged and unabridged: one of my students, an energetic mother of 4 children, always listened to audiobooks when she was driving, and the results were amazing).
  • watching movies and series in English (with or without subtitles), or just a YouTube video of their interest.
  • reading books and newspapers, or English-language websites and blogs – even several pages or a short article/post would be good for a start
  • writing on a blog – as many of us know, encouraging students to write their own blog in English is a very practical idea.

I really like the approach to homework that is practised by Macmillan in “Global”: both electronic and paper worbooks are available, along with a DVD. A student can download podcasts onto an Ipod/ smartphone, and listen to it on the move. There are also great videos to go with every unit and other great features. All of them worked perfectly for me and my student, who was very enthusiastic. She was also very independent, so sometimes she would completely forget her homework, but watch a video and tell me all about it, and how she understood it, and what she agreed/ didn;t agree with.

And that is the secret: if you want your students to be consious about their learning and to benefit from it, always ask them to share what they got to know when watching a video, looking through someone’s blog or reading a book – not because they have to tell you as it was their homework, but because you will be happy to share something nice with you – just how we share with our colleagues and friends when we saw a nice movie or read an engaging book. And then “homework” will lose its school taste, but keep its effectiveness then.

What do you think?

Do you always assign homework for your students? And what is this homework usually like?

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How to learn any language in six months: Chris Lonsdale at TEDxLing


absolutely great talk on what you should do to FINALLY learn a language! I can relate to almost every word he says. Should be shown to any language learner…

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using newspapers – featured blog of the month

Hurray! My blog has become featured blog of December!!!

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#TeachingEnglish  My post on using newspapers in class has been shortlisted!

Please vote if you like it too! at TeachingEnglish Facebook page

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