Category Archives: Teaching English

Peer error correction using Schoology

In my last post I wrote about how students were writing more in the classroom using blogs and the learning management system (LMS) Schoology. By using the add discussion option within Schoology, I created a space for students to write and reflect on what they, and others, had written.

In this blog I would like to share how I have started showing students how to spot and highlight their peers mistakes and how I have adapted this to work on an LMS like Schoology.

Before asking students to look for mistakes in their partners work, they really need to know that they are not there to correct the mistakes, but simply to highlight the errors.

The first task was to have a lesson where students were given some writing with different kinds of spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes, which can be found in many coursebooks such as Headway or New English File from pre-intermediate levels upwards. Before touching the computers, students had to underline any errors and show what type of error it was by using a key, e.g. Spelling mistake = Sp  “I’m enjoing the party.”

Using the computers for error correction is a little harder. You’re not able to underline, highlight, or circle errors, so I had to think of a way that students could work around this.

I set up a discussion called ‘Correcting mistakes’ and, after adapting examples from the same coursebook, showed students how it should look using this new system:

Sp = Spelling – e.g. I’m <enjoing><Sp> the party.

WW = wrong word – e.g. They went <in><WW> Italy on holiday.

WO = word order – e.g. I have <two brothers younger.><WO>

Gr = grammar – e.g. She’s got some new <reds><Gr> shoes.

T = tense – e.g. He <arrive><T> yesterday.

P = Punctuation – e.g. They <arent><P> coming.

^ = word missing – e.g. She’s <^> doctor.

From here I set the task for students to highlight the mistakes in six sentences, making it clear they should not correct them.

One great thing about the add discussion resource is that you can set it up so members have to post before revealing other peoples responses. By doing this I was able to type in the correct answers, so that when students had finished they could compare their answers.

Since doing this with my class, students are used to highlighting their peers mistakes. At the start of any writing class on the computers I will first get them to work in pairs and use the key to correct writing from the previous lesson. They seem to enjoy spotting mistakes and appreciate their classmates input. Once they have finished highlighting mistakes they will then have to correct their own work.

This type of activity has saved me a lot of time as a teacher. Students all expect a certain amount of individual focus, but in a large class it is impossible to devote this time by correcting every piece of writing they do. Another thing is that it has also made my classroom much more learner focused. I have made it a permanent, twice a week, fixture with the class and would definitely recommend that any teacher give this a go, whether using Schoology or another LMS.

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Filed under EduTech, ESL, Teaching English, Tech

Blogging and English Language Learners

Writing is something that I feel gets neglected a lot in the ESL classroom. Motivating students to write more is a struggle, but it is a necessary component for learning and mastering a language where students can improve their skills.

I have used discussions in Schoology for some time. They are so simple to set up and they are a fantastic way of encouraging students to participate in writing activities.

schoology_discussions

Discussions are a folder option in the virtual learning environment Schoology which can be used just like a Facebook wall. Students can write as much as they want to, and the teacher, or other students, can reply.

In the discussions I post a question to which students respond to, often around a subject we have discussed in class. Since they have already had the discussion, following on with writing helps students to repeat the information, and use the vocabulary, which would otherwise be forgotten.

Recently I found that these discussions can be assigned individually, which gave me  the idea of assigning students with their own discussion wall and calling it their “blog”, where only the assigned student and myself can see what has been written.

I am really pleased with how well the blogs have worked so far. Students are motivated to write on their blogs and many do so several times a week, using it as a diary for their learning. It has really encouraged students to learn more independently, as they have taken ownership of their blogs.

The blogs have made it easier for me to spot common errors amongst my students. I am able to reply to their writing, just as you would reply to a comment on Facebook, point out errors in their work, and paste direct links to websites where they can practise improving their English. Students will later reply with their errors corrected.

For this class I decided to make it so that only myself and the assigned student are able to see the blog. My reasoning behind this was that I had one student who seemed very shy about their writing because it was of a lower level than his peers. I thought by not allowing others to see his mistakes, it would encourage him to write more. With my future students I want to try more peer error correction, perhaps assigning students into groups, where they will write on their own blogs and correct their group’s work.

I would recommend that all teachers of English should consider student blogging. I use Schoology, but there are many different ways of doing them on-line.

I shall definitely be making blogging a permanent fixture with my classes.

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Timing in the Classroom

This blog is for me to reflect on my teaching, as any learner would, and recently I became more aware of how important timing is in the classroom.

The lesson in mind was a 60 minute speaking lesson, but I felt my timing let me down so much that the students had little time to actually do much speaking.

Time management makes for good classroom management and in my next classes I want to improve my timing. Here I will examine what went wrong and what could have been done differently to make the class more successful.

For this class I think I let some activities take longer than they should have. I let a 5 minute activity run on for 15 minutes. Something that should have been brief ended up costing a quarter of the lesson.

One thing I usually do is break my lesson up into different parts. As a new teacher I like to note down how long each part should take. In a lesson I will have 5, 10, and 15 minute activities. I would rarely do one for 20 minutes. I realistically think about how long something should take including the time it will take to set up and complete. Moving forward I will be more strict with my time frames. I will think about where I should be by a certain time and not let things drag on for longer than necessary.

Another thing I did for the class was to try include everything that I had on my plan. I spent too long on explaining something that the students already had a lot of knowledge about. In this instance I should have prepared concept checking questions that would have helped check students understanding quickly to be able to move onto the next task more effectively. I should also know where to drop certain tasks that I feel are not as important as others. For example, a speaking lesson should have had more speaking in it then say writing.

After searching for more information about timing in the classroom I came across Scott Thornbury’s blog, T is for Time. I would definitely recommend this to anybody else who might think they need to improve their timing a little. I especially like the ideas around developing classroom routines so that students get into a rhythm of knowing what will come next, and also setting homework activities for things that take up a lot of time in class such as reading.

For now I will continue to improve and reflect on my timing. I will be strict with the times of activities, not let shorter activities eat into the time of longer ones and know when to drop activities when things are not going quite as planned.

Thanks for reading,

Tom

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Filed under ESL, Teaching English

Warmers, Fillers and Activities

English as a foreign language is a great subject to teach as it has endless possibilities of ways that you can teach and practice the language.

One thing that I always try to include in my lessons are fun ways to start and end lessons. I call these warmers and fillers, since they can warm students up at the beginning of the lesson to get them motivated, or they fill in an amount of time at the end of the lesson if students have finished all the tasks earlier than expected.

In this blog I want to write about my top five favourite ten minute activities that I use regularly in class and that work well. I am always interested in trying new activities so if you are reading this and want to comment on what works well for you then please feel free to do so.

1. Countdown

Countdown_titles_2012Countdown is a well-known TV program in England. The basic rules are that a player chooses 9 letters from a selection of consonants and vowels. After choosing the 9 letters, teams have 30 seconds to make the longest word possible. The longest word wins and the winning player receives as many points as they have letters in their word. If there is a tie then each team receives the same points.

To work best in the classroom I change the rules slightly from the TV show. I use a bag of scrabble tiles and choose the letters at random for the students. I do this mostly to save time, however I have divided them into consonant and vowels on occasion.

The reasons why I like this as a short activity is that it generates motivation and competition. It also gives students a chance to think of the way spelling works in English and it tests their vocabulary knowledge. From my experience, it is a winner every time.

2. Backs to the board

Backs to the board is a game where teams compete to describe a word written on the board where a member of their team cannot see it. Their back is literally facing the direction of the board. The student’s team have to try help explain what the word is but without actually saying the word.

I change the rules from class to class, but the basic principle is that the teams have a minute to guide the student to the word.

The reason I enjoy this game is that it is helpful in revising vocabulary that we have covered in class and it also allows students to use as much English as they know to communicate and give meaning to a word. Again it’s competitive and gets students motivated as well as having the benefit of checking students understanding of vocabulary.

3. Find someone who

This activity is a classic used by many teachers as a first day of class ‘get to know you’ activity, but I think it can be adapted to practice a whole array of different things.

First start with table with enough rows for your sentences and enough columns for the names of other students. Students have to walk around the class and ask questions to each student filling out their tables.

One thing I don’t include is the question. I elicit at the start of the task how I might make a question using the board. For example, I will write ‘Find someone who…… has the same favourite colour as you/prefers dogs to cats/has been to Scotland’  and then elicit back ‘What’s your favourite colour?/Do you prefer dogs to cats? Have you been to Scotland?’.

What I like about the ‘find someone who’ activity is that it is adaptable for lots of things and that it gets students out of their seats and mingling with students that they wouldn’t usually speak to. It also gets them producing the language necessary to make questions on the spot. One thing I have found about this activity is that it works best with a big class. I will sometimes drop this activity if student numbers have been too low.

4. Who/what am I?

This activity is very similar to 20 questions since you have to guess who or what you are, and the person you ask is only allowed to give yes/no answers. In this activity I usually start by reviewing how to ask yes/no questions and eliciting examples, e.g. Am I a man? Am I American? I might demonstrate the task first by asking students to think of a person for me to guess. It doesn’t matter if I don’t guess correctly but it helps them to understand the way the activity should be done.

In my version of this game I like to stick a famous person onto the backs of the students. Instantly this generates interest and smiles as students look at each others backs. Students then have to stand up and mingle with other students asking their yes/no questions. If I think students are talking to the same person for too long I will shout ‘MIX’ so students stop who they are talking to and move to a new person. It helps to pre-teach this word first to avoid any confusion.

The reasons why I really like this activity is that it gets students out of their seats, gets them laughing and smiling, and it gets them really thinking about the best questions to as in English. It can be also be adapted, so instead of being a famous person they will be a phrasal verb, or a country, or any other lexical area you are covering that week.

5. Act or Draw

Act or draw is a mixture of charades and pictionary. What I do is have a bag of vocabulary that students learnt in previous lessons. I allow students to choose a word at random and then roll a dice deciding whether they will act out the word or draw it, 1-3 is act and 3-6 is draw. I set a time limit and if students don’t guess the word in time then I’ll pass it onto the other team to have one guess.

Splitting students into teams really helps with the competitive nature and students are able to laugh at each other trying to act out or draw a funny phrasal verb or other word and it’s another great activity for reviewing vocabulary.

There is always a place for a short activity in a lesson and these are only a snapshot of the ones out there. I have tried using lots of different ones but these five are my fail safe options for a motivated class. Of course the types of activity used in one class do not always work for another. Factors such as age, culture, personal character and the size of the class all have an effect and it is important to consider that what one class finds motivating another class won’t. It helps to know your students well before attempting anything new but I go by the motto ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, so even if an activity doesn’t work well the first time you try it it helps not to be disheartened but to ask yourself what went wrong and what you would do to make it better.

Thanks for reading.

Tom

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Filed under ESL, Lesson Plans, Teaching English

Using Smartphones in the Classroom

This week was the first time I have got my students to use their smartphones in the classroom. I hadn’t planned to use smartphones in the classroom but the positive results really got me thinking about my future lessons and how to include the use of smart phones more.

The first opportunity arose after I was told that the printer wasn’t working one day as I came into the college. I was covering for a sick teacher so no printing had been done in preparation for the lesson and I was left thinking about what to do instead.

smartphones

Entering class I had decided to just work from the book, but after looking around the classroom I noticed that every student had a smartphone. I had 7 students in class and all, whether it be a Blackberry, an iPhone or an Android, placed their phones in front of them as soon as they sat down. An idea popped into my head and I started to direct students to the website where I had a gap fill exercise as a downloadable document. Luckily I had an IWB to use in class so directing students to the right website and links wasn’t too difficult. Once there, I instructed students to download the task sheet so that they had it ready to use later in class.

Really all that I did was swap a paper copy of a task sheet for a digital copy. The task sheet was a gap-fill activity so students, unable to fill in the gaps on their phones, still

had to write their answers on a separate sheet of paper. There is nothing incredible about how I got students to use their smartphones, and I would still have preferred a paper copy of the task sheet to an electronic version, but just being able to use them for the first time really got me excited about their potential in class.

The second opportunity came again during another class I was covering. It was an IELTS class and the teacher I was covering for had kindly planned the lesson thoroughly. The teacher had included some IELTS speaking cards for the students.

The IELTS speaking cards usually focus on a topic where students have to describe a personal experience, for example a teacher who has had an important influence on your education. The card also gives hints about what you should include such as where they taught you or what you liked about their teaching.

There were only 4 students in class so the first activity we did as a group. I got one student to pick up a card and read it to the group. The student then had one minute to prepare and immediately after the minute was up they had to try and speak about the topic for two minutes. After this I instructed students to give some feedback on how the student performed, sandwiching one constructive criticism with two positive comments. This task worked really well and the students were using their iPhones to monitor the times.

After each student had spoken I split them into two pairs. I told the students to use their iPhones as voice recorders and continued the task as before, having one minute preparation then two minutes talk time, followed by feedback. The only difference this time was that after feedback students could listen to the recording of what they had said and then discuss if they agreed with the feedback and what they would have done better. The task worked really well and all students said that they would be trying this task at home independently.

I’m really excited about other things that I can do with smartphones in the future and I am sure they have lots more potential.

If you are reading this blog and have used smartphones in your classroom then please make a comment. I would really like to hear your stories.

Thanks for reading,

Tom.

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Teaching English as a foreign language: the good, the bad and the ugly

Today is my day off and instead of being in class teaching I am relaxing at home and having a well deserved break. Did I say break? Actually I’ve been updating my files, looking for resources, reading other ESL blogs, chatting to other educators on Twitter and writing this blog! I have booked 3 days of holiday and since teaching has become such a big part of my life I find it hard to switch off from it.

On #eslchat this Wednesday we were discussing our dream ESL job. In my blog I’d like to share my experiences of ESL teaching so far, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Lets start on a positive note. The good. Teaching English now for over a year I am in love with my job. I feel like I am a good teacher and that I’m learning new things everyday. The people that I work with are great and supportive and the people who I see the most of, my students, are a pleasure to teach. I love how I can go into class most days and come out smiling. When a student tells me that they’ve enjoyed the class that day it can make all the effort I put in worth it. Teaching English is a fun and exciting job and I don’t think I could find the same level of job satisfaction anywhere else.

The bad. The past few months I feel like I’ve been working non-stop. In ESL you are paid for the hours you teach. There are no half-terms and no breaks. Classes are Monday to Friday and Sunday is my planning day so Saturday feels like the only time I get to relax. I feel exhausted. I feel like I work a 40 hour week sometimes when I only get paid for 20. I teach 4 hours a day, but if you count unpaid breaks and the time I come in to do printing and organise my files, I’m probably in the school for 5.5 hours a day. On top of that is lesson planning. Now I’m guilty of spending too long on my lesson plans. I think I should be spending no more than 15 minutes for every hour I teach. So 20 hours teaching should equal 5 hours planning a week. In reality I probably spend up to 10 hours. Now that’s not all planning. A lot of it is looking through the vast amounts of resources on the web, or creating my own because there’s nothing that works better than something you’ve designed yourself. So, if you want to teach English as a foreign language, expect to put those hours in.

The ugly. No sick pay and zero hour contracts, and that’s just in England! Schools can only give you hours if there are students to attend the lessons. I understand at the end of the day the school is a business and you can’t give work when there is no work to be had. After a great run of hours, with extra hours to be had from other teachers taking holiday or calling in sick, I have just been given the call that unfortunately there will be no hours for me next week, or possibly the week after, or maybe the week after that. Job security is one thing that a lot of people want from their careers. It’s unfortunate that a job such as this which I love doing will never have that.

If you are reading this and thinking about taking the first steps to becoming an ESL teacher please don’t let those bad points put you off. I love teaching English and wouldn’t change my job for anything and would recommend that you go for it and don’t hold back.

Since I have got this time off I will use it constructively. I’ll think of it as an unplanned half-term break. I’ll search for articles, watch webinars and do all those things that I’ve wanted to but just haven’t had the time for. Perhaps I’ll even write another blog or two.

Thanks for reading,

Tom

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My new blog

Welcome to my new blog. Here I will share my experiences of being a new teacher. I hope to write about things like what went well and what didn’t go quite as planned in class, new things I am trying with my students, and resources that I find the most useful.

I started teaching English as a foreign language in September 2011 in a city called Arequipa which is in the south of Peru. I did a 120 hour online TEFL course plus a 20 hour weekend course, both of which didn’t really prepare me for the classroom or teaching English. I was lucky to have already worked in education for 2 years as a learning assistant helping students with learning difficulties, so I wasn’t too nervous about standing up in front of a class.

Going straight into teaching like this is a real sink or swim situation. I felt like I didn’t know the first thing about grammar and for the first few months I spent as much time planning my lessons as I did teaching them.

The first 3 months were the hardest but after that everything just seemed to stick. I really began to start loving my job. I was even giving ideas to other experienced teachers of things that worked well for me.

In April 2012 I started a CELTA course in Ecuador. I saw it as the next step in my professional development, and if you really want to be taken seriously by an employer as an English teacher it is necessary to get a TEFL qualification which includes classroom teaching and observation. I put a lot of effort into the course and came out with a pass A grade. It was the hardest I had ever worked on a course.

I think receiving a higher grade really shows your ability and commitment as a teacher. Many TEFL jobs will ask for a CELTA plus at least 2 years teaching experience but I was offered work by schools with just under a years experience. I can only assume that this was partly due to my high grade and also to my past experiences.

I am currently teaching in Manchester, England. After teaching in Peru at a school with not much in the way of resources, I have started to embrace as much as I possibly can. I have a Twitter account which I use for my own learning and I have found many new, exciting things. I have started creating Wikis with my classes, using interactive whiteboards and more recently started using Schoology, an online learning platform, with a group of students.

Lastly I have found WordPress! I had my own website, using Google sites, but this started to look dated, and with little time to attend to it I decided to start this blog instead.

I will blog again soon.

Thanks for reading!

Tom.

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