IATEFL 2012: No words: using sound and images in class

Just seen the lovely Mike Harrison sharing a few tips and tricks for using sound and images in class.  And here they are!  (My thoughts/comments in italics…)

Welcome screen on board before talk starts: Beware, for wolves come in many disguises… Please be ready to look, listen and draw.

Mikeharrison

Ooh, excited!  Room is filling up fast – and more people trying to come in!

Mike starts his talk by taking a photo of all of us!  Say cheese…

Let’s start by imagining a French ESP class – French for mechanics.  The teacher needs to teach “car’ but can’t translate for the students.  Pictures are a simple, clear, quick solution.  Concept immediately into students’ heads!  Picture of “voiture” – job done.  Similarly, a sound effect might help (e.g. the sound of a motor to teach “motor”).

Of course there are issues with pics – is it meant to show “car” or “estate car” etc?  But by and large they’re great.

Some recos for image sources – Jamie Keddie’s book and blog.  Ben Goldstein’s book.  ELTpics (credit to @victoriaB52 @vickyloras @cgoodey) collection of images, etc.

Activity 1 (which we try out): half the sts close their eyes; half the sts have their eyes open and must draw a pic to illustrate the sentence on the whiteboard.  After a moment, everyone opens their eyes & the people whose eyes were closed have to guess the sentence from their partner’s drawing (who had their eyes open).

Reference to Willy Cardoso‘s Pecha Kucha talk last night on teaching “at the edge of chaos” – meeting in the middle between chaos and creativity creates a great opportunity for learning.

Activity 2: we listen to a sound effect and have to think about what we’re feeling (in 3-5 words).  The sound effect makes me think: Sainsbury’s Saturday afternoon.  My partner, on the other hand, said: sea, crowd, restaurant, voices, chatting (!).  Mike observes that many of us wrote gerunds: queueing, shopping, etc., and feelings: patience, etc.  He reveals what it was: a 20-second recording in a supermarket (you can hear the beeping of the scanners, etc.).

IMPORTANT NOTE: some images and some sound effects might be upsetting for some students.  Be sensible and sensitive.

We can use images and sound for:

  • vocabulary
  • providing context for speaking activities
  • modifying reading/listening/writing
  • stimulating the imagination

We have a go at activity 3: Mike plays the same sound effect (in a supermarket/grocery store) and we have to create a short typical dialogue in that context.  Here’s my example with the guy next to me:

A: Good morning, Sir.

B: Good morning, can I have a pound of tomatoes and six apples?

A: Certainly, sir.  What type of apples would you like?

B: Golden delicious.

Another very funny example from the audience (thanks @jemjemgardner and @bealer81!) involves a couple talking in an aisle about picking up milk and sausages. 🙂

Mike notes that you could equally play another sound effect, more ambiguous (e.g. a thunderstorm) and see what students produce.  Once his students had things like “I’m in the shower” (!).

Activity 4: we read a couple of sentences and imagine them as animated in our minds. e.g. “There’s a bird, light and delicate, with feathers of silk.”  We have to keep these in mind.  Then we listen and see if the image we had in our mind changes.  He plays us an upbeat flute melody (from Peter & the Wolf by Prokofiev).  This adds a lot to what we read!!  Terrific.  Interplay between text and music sparks our imagination.

Activity 5: Mike reads us a little story about a duck and a bird.  We just listen.  At the end of the story, the duck and the bird have an argument.  Now in pairs, we have to discuss that argument!  What does it look like, etc.?  My thoughts at this moment: in about 10 seconds, my partner and I use all sorts of verbs of motion like “flit”, “hop”, “charge” and so on.  These are frequent in S-languages like English but less so in V-languages like Spanish (see Slobin, 2003*, for some explanation of this concept and research into it – but the gist is that some languages more readily encode manner of motion in their verbs, like in those examples I just typed, whereas other languages tend to use fewer, broader verbs – like walk, rather than skip/trot/amble – and mention manner of motion adverbially, if at all.  Would be interesting to try and develop the English way of manner-encoding in the EFL classroom through an activity like this!)  Anyway, Mike then plays us another clip from Peter and the Wolf to add music to our mental imagery, and again, see if it changes.

Activity 6: stimulating.  We divide a piece of paper into 4 sections, labelling each one 1-4.  (Reference to Vicky Saumell’s Pecha Kucha on choice last night – students have some choice!)  As they listen to 4 short music clips, the students scribble down a little drawing it makes them think of.  Here were mine… (clip 1 was: smooth piano jazz; clip 2: quick piece featuring various instruments, from the Sound of Music; clip 3: something orchestral that sounded like it was from a tense moment in a sci-fi movie, hence my drawing of a spaceship!; clip 4: slow, romantic music that conjures up – for me – images of heat, love, ancient civilisation…. something like Gladiator?)

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Now students write a story to link the 4 boxes.  They work in small groups (3 or 4 ideally, pairs if necessary) to choose the best images from their sections, possibly from different students’ work, and write a story connecting whatever they’ve drawn in pics 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Note: Mike used commercially available music for his demo, but you could use anything.  Try searching for “creative commons” on Google and you might find sounds and images that are licensed for re-use by anyone, as long as they’re not making a profit.

Some more links if you’re interested:

Linksfrommike

My overall verdict: a great talk!  I often use images but rarely – almost never – use sound effects.  There’s so much untapped potential here!  Look out for Mike’s book about this coming out in the near future, to be published with @wetheround.

*Source: something I’ve been reading for my MA about the influence of linguistic structures on thought.

POST-CONFERENCE UPDATE: You can find some more details and links for the session by the man himself here!

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IATEFL 2012: How to teach with an iPad

Damn the Posterous template automatically making the “i” capital in the title of this post!…..

Er, anyway, just seen Steven Bukin talking about how to teach with an iPad.  Especially interested in this as our school’s just got one!  Here’s how it went (notes typed, as usual, while session’s going on, so forgive any typos, unclear comments, apparently random mixing of tenses, etc…) (my comments in italics)

Started by overhearing a guy saying his school director (in Japan) is very excited and wants all his teachers to start using iPads.  Several hundred teachers all teaching using iPads is his dream!

OK, talk starting.

The first thing he sees when he walks into his classroom is a bunch of young sts on various digital devices.  Goes something like this:

Teacher (Steven): “Hello!”

Students (one of whom is tapping away on 3 phones): [radio silence]

Is this a problem?  He says no.  Let’s harness it.  In his words…

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Some terms:

Ambient intimacy: we have the possibility to communicate all the time, 24/7.  No downtime.  No time for reflection.  We are always curating our digital selves.  In the past, people created tools that were an extension of the physical self (hammers, etc.).  Now digital tools are an extension of the mental self.

Nomophobia: No-mobile phobia!  A fear of being without a mobile, or being able to be contacted by one.  66% of people in a recent survey by a newspaper said they had this.  Greater percentage among young generation (age 18-24).  59% had 2 mobiles.  We check our mobiles on average 34 times a day!

Dual-screening: people watch something on one screen and comment on it on another screen at the same time (much like I’m doing now!) 😀

BYOD: Bring Your Own Device.  According to Steven, the biggest thing coming into education technology now.  Students bringing in their own devices to class.  One modern concept reflecting this: the “flipped classroom”.

He proposes: IWBs will become redundant, obsolete.  Tablets will take over – because the same functions can be replicated.

Contents of session today:

1. Presentations can be given using an iPad (as Steven’s doing in this talk!)

2. iPads can also be used as a visualiser – i.e. scanning documents and showing them on a big screen.

3. …and as a remote desktop.  You can use your iPad to connect to your PC and control it remotely, using programs that don’t normally run on an iPad.

4. Finally, you can use iPads as voter response systems, working interactively with students in the classroom.

(4b.) Oh, and he’ll share a few apps, too. 🙂

And, he’s off!  Here we go……

To wirelessly connect an iPad 2 with a projector, you can use an Apple TV.  It also connects with iPhones, so students with iPhones in class can hook up, too.

One free app: Skitch.  Made by same company that makes Evernote.  You can put a photo or any document on the iPad, then annotate it on-screen on the iPad.  (Guy in sesh next to me checking out Skitch on his iPad right now!) 🙂

Another free app: Whiteboard Lite.  You can connect 2 devices so 2 people can write.

Another free collaborative app (though not particularly user-friendly): Groupboard.

And another: Paperdesk.  You can prepare your lesson, annotate things, record things… good for preparing a grammar lesson before class, for example.  The free version only lets you record 3 pages, but if you pay you get more access and it’s not that expensive (about $2?).

Steven’s using Keynote for his preso today.  (Mac equivalent to PowerPoint, for those who don’t know.)

You can also use Prezi.  You can’t create a presentation on Prezi but you can view it on the Prezi Viewer App.

Another thing you can do: screencasting.  You record what’s happening on screen and add audio commentary just by speaking into your computer microphone.  Two examples he likes: ShowMe and Explain Everything.  You can record something on your screen, annotate it, etc.  He shows an example of Explain Everything, which allows you to draw shapes, text, etc. on-screen.  In his example, he has bubbles representing stressed syllables and you can slide words (typed-in text) underneath them to match the stress patterns.  e.g. “vegetables” = 3 circles, first one biggest.  You can also record yourself saying these words so when students drag the words into the right places, they can hear the pron and check their answers.

Importantly, you can also share this!  So you can email images, lessons, whatever, that you’ve created to your students.

Visualiser function now – the iPad has an in-built camera, so you can take a pic of a coursebook page for example…

…and he sort of trails off.  OK, you can project an image from the iPad on-screen of something in the classroom – but why not just get students to come cluster around that actual thing in the classroom?  The iPad seems a bit of a pointless addition here…

OK, another app: iThoughtsHD.  You can create mind maps on-screen.  e.g. vocab topic: “travel” in centre-screen.  You can branch out in to different areas around the screen (how?? demo, please!).  You can also upload images to accompany this.

For note-taking: Evernote.  It’s a way of storing info, storing notes.

How to connect your iPad to your desktop computer?  Doceri.  It allows you to connect to and control your computer from an iPad.  So if for example you have some software that won’t run on an iPad (e.g. anything with Flash!!), you can show it on the iPad by using this program.  It’s a bit fiddly at first but simple once you get the hang of it.  You can mirror what’s on your computer on the iPad screen.  It’s PC- and Mac-compatible.

Ooh, time for a bit of a workshop thing with the audience.  People with smart devices need to log-in to response.smarttech.com and type in a code, so we can have a go with some of the tech he’s showing us.  (He’s going to test our knowledge of Scotland with some kind of IWB quiz thingy….)

Here’s a screengrab of how it looks once we’re in:

Photo

A moment ago, I tweeted this:

Tweet

 

But this quiz, I think, is actually worth the extra tech – Steven shows us how sts can do the quiz on their iPads/iPhones/whatever and as they go through the questions and put in their answers, a real-time table of results can be projected on-screen.  Extra competitive!  And a bit flash. 🙂

The tool he used to make this quiz: Socrative.  You can create a quiz before the lesson and get students to do it in-class.

He’s showing us how to use Socrative (or trying to – tech is failing him! app not working at the moment)…. Oh dear.  Kind of undermining the glory of tech he was touting… this talk might have been a bit more impressive if all the tech was working.  Suggestions from the audience as to what to do are revealing quite a few other ‘experts’ in the room…

Let’s move on.

Some good things about using tech tools for voting/quizzes: research (Cutrim Schmid 2005) shows…

– an increased level of student participation

– instant feedback on sts’ understanding

– sts can check own progress with peers

– increased thinking time during lesson

– fosters curiosity in a specific topic

– stimulates debates on subjective issues

– introduces fun in the form of competitive games

(But if I hadn’t included “tech” in the heading for this list, would you have known it was meant to be a list of factors in favour of technology?  Why can’t any of these things be true in a non-tech classroom??  I personally love technology and use it, but this list won’t convince anyone that it’s necessary.  Again, this all appears to just be tech for the sake of tech.)

And some problems:

– it doesn’t always work! (as seen in this session!)

– you have to design your questions carefully (again – true of all activities, not just iPad quizzes…)

– ….

No more mentioned.  Seriously?

More app recommendations:

Dragon Dictate.  Allows you to speak into your iPad and write what you’re saying on the screen.  It’s free!  What he doesn’t say is that you have to train it to your voice, which takes time.  Might be a bit tricky to use with more than one student – I wonder if you can train it to multiple voices?

Rory’s Story Cubes.  This is fun.  Lets you roll a bunch of ‘dice’, each cube with pics on its 6 faces.  You ‘shake the dice’, they fall into a random position showing a random selection of pics.  Students then create a story from the visible pics.  This is really an iPhone application – get the students to download it and they can play in groups.

OK, enough apps.  Let’s talk about the future.

10,000 tablets (not iPads) in 300 Russian schools.  Target: 16.5 million.

So?

e-textbooks are also on the horizon.  Apple has just released free software called iBooks Author, with which you can create your own books.  He doesn’t mention that this allows you to not only write text, but include images AND VIDEO on the pages.  It’s incredible.

My overall verdict: Forgive the seeming immodesty, but I knew a lot of this stuff – and I think he could have done more to really sell it.  There’s a time and a place for tech in the classroom and it needs to be justified.  I’m not convinced by this presentation (and I wasn’t a skeptic to start with!).  But oh well.  Some interesting apps mentioned, a few of which I hadn’t heard of before and will check out when I get back to my school and its iPad. 🙂

IATEFL 2012: Teacher versus preparation: born survivor

Just seen Howard Smith’s resolutely low-tech session.  A pleasing antidote to all the tech sessions I’ve been in this week so far!

As a teacher who hates having last-minute cover dropped on her, I was really looking forward to this talk, which promised some ideas for how to cope with such a situation.  Here’s how it went… with my asides/thoughts in italics this time, just to mix things up a bit.

To start with, he gives us a brief comment/warning/whatever: he’s one of those grumpy types who loathes participation in CPD meetings like these, and is more than happy if we don’t want to do the activities he’s gonna give us (er, because he’s going to get us to do stuff… maybe just to vindictively subject us to the stuff he’s been tortured with in the past?!).

His session is also not intended to be any sort of overarching vision or mission for EFL.  It’s just lessons learned from his experience of often being stuck with having to do something with some random class at the last minute.

So.  Off we go.

All you need are some bits of paper.  You can always tell the classroom he’s been teaching in because it’s littered with bits of paper like droppings (his words!).  (My thought at this moment… so he’s one of those irritating teachers who doesn’t ask his students to clear up after their lesson, leaving the next teacher to tidy up the mess?)

Activity 1.

– Everyone’s got one long strip of paper.

– They write something on it that they’ve done in their lives which they don’t think many other people have done (doesn’t have to be unique, just fairly uncommon).

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– Two of us swap our papers; then we swap those papers with someone else.

– So everyone’s now got a bit of paper with an uncommon experience on it and we don’t know who wrote it.

– Now we all get up and mingle and ask people if they’ve done the thing we’ve got written on our bits of paper.

– We’re not allowed to say “yes” or “no”.  We have to say precisely this: “strangely enough, yes I have.”  WHETHER IT IS TRUE OR NOT, WE MUST USE THESE WORDS.  (This ensures everyone starts off equally and on a slightly artificial foot.  Gives some thinking time, gives a way into the activity.)

– Then the person talking to you has a couple of minutes to find out if you’re telling the truth.  We can (have to?) lie through our teeth!  Try to make it credible.

– (Note: if this were being done with a multilingual group of students, they should try and make up lies that don’t reveal their nationalities.  Similarly, avoid things which require specialist knowledge – it’ll give away who wrote it if the students know anything about each other’s professions, hobbies, etc.)

My verdict: lots of laughter, lots of speaking, lots of careful listening. A very enjoyable activity.

Howard’s comments: the lying helps, or else it can be a bit embarrassing to go on and on about one’s achievements.  Howard hates “tell your partner something interesting about you” – it always leads to people squinting at you disbelievingly like, “seriously? you think that’s interesting?”

Activity 2.

– Everyone’s got one long strip of paper.

– We have to write in the middle of the strip a time in our lives that was memorable.  Could be very specific (e.g. 7am yesterday morning) or much more vague (e.g. summer 1975).  Doesn’t matter if other people in the group are likely to have been alive then!

– Underneath this, we have to write how we were feeling at that time (a word or phrase).

– Thinking about why we felt that way, we have to make one-word notes on the left-hand side of the paper about things that had happened before that which contributed to your state of mind at the time.

– Then on the right-hand side, we make notes about things that happened afterwards (related things, obviously!).

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– In pairs we discuss the feelings we had at those times (i.e. what’s in the middle of our slips of papers), using the prompts just to help us if necessary.  Basically, we share our stories.

My verdict: You don’t really need slips of paper for this.  It maybe just acts as a memory aid.  But it is certainly a nice activity with plenty of personalised speaking.

Howard’s comments: This is one of the very few activities that naturally produces past perfect.  Not to mention other narrative tenses.  He gets students to write down key words before and after a time in the middle because it gives him a good way to anchor language study or review of things previously studied (i.e. past perfect to talk about things before other things in the past).

Activity 3.

– Everyone’s got a long strip of paper (or several – might need more).

– On it, we have to write down a song lyric we like.

– If we absolutely hate music in all forms or any kind of music with lyrics, maybe we can write a line from a poem or prose – something we like and respond to in some way.

– We have to write these on the strips of paper in nice big words, with nice big spaces between them.

– When that’s done, we have to tear up the strip, leaving lots of bits of paper, each with one of the words on it.

– Pairs swap their piles of words and have to re-arrange them back into the correct original order!

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– Once they’ve got it, they discuss the songs, why they like them, etc.

My verdict: Another fun activity!  It’s fun to tear language (and paper) to bits.  Language begins to belong to you when you can break a pattern and put it together again.

Howard’s comments: Song lyrics works well because they’re emotive, memorable, and learners usually have plenty to say.  But you could use this with any other stuff – example sentences, or whatever.

Activity 4.

– One side of the room has blue strips of paper.  The other side has orange.  One strip per person.

– On the strips, each person writes a declarative statement.  It can be anything.  My example: This workshop is full of good ideas.

– Everyone stands up, blue and orange people meet “in a harmonious pile of love” (!) to make meaningful conditional sentences.  This might involve some stretching of reality… but we have to try and make at least one good combination.

– We get up and mingle – it’s chaos!

My verdict: Too messy.  Maybe the instructions could have been clearer… the blue half of the room had the first clause of a conditional; the orange half had declarative sentences.  But they were so ‘out there’ we only had sentences like “If I hadn’t stolen the haddock… this workshop is full of good ideas.”  Having said that, some others in the group managed to come up with things like, “If you enjoy climbing mountains, everything’s going to be fine.”  But I think it’d be really hard to check the learners really understood what they’d just produced – this activity seems way too much of a free-for-all.

Howard’s comments: Standard coursebook examples are often not representative of how we usually use the form.  Exercises like this help practise any way of putting together 2-part utterances (like conditionals, or sentences with relative clauses).  Students have to find a way to make the parts ‘gel’.

A twist on this activity: Half the students write down something they need to communicate; the other half write down roles.  They all mingle and have to achieve these things with these people (e.g. ask a policeman for a £5 note).  Good for practising register, requests, etc.

More tips from Howard:

– give students bits of paper with common words on top (e.g. ‘get’, ‘just’, never’).  For homework, they have to carry around these bits of paper in their pockets and jot down phrases etc. when they hear the word in use.  It’s amazing how much useful, interesting language this generates.

– give students bits of paper that are too small for what you ask them to do – somehow this makes it fun, funny and motivating.  Consider how when you have to leave a message on a Post-it, you always end up needing more space!  This kind of thing makes students write MORE – they have to scribble to fit it all in, but it’s a challenge.

One leaving idea:

In your next lesson, go into class with a bunch of bits of paper.  Just keep them by the side in case inspiration strikes you!

My overall verdict: An entertaining and instructive session.  Plenty of ideas here that I can’t wait to try out!

Just one bug bear: As predicted, the state of the room when the session finished… OK, I’m nit-picking, but I can’t stand inconsiderate teachers/presenters who leave the place in a state for the next person to clear up.  Everyone had fun and all, but what a tip!

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IATEFL 2012: When do students feel a sense of progress?

Just seen Stephen Shelley (here he is – scroll down to the very bottom) talking about “magic moments”, i.e. those moments when students feel a sense of progress.  Here are a few moments summarised from that talk…

He’s reporting on some research done in east Asia – various countries, various contexts.  His was intermediate adults in Hong Kong.

One query raised when he’s presented this research in the past: a sense of progress?  Surely the progress – not just the sense of it – is the important thing!

Four reasons why students start and continue studying: S.T.I.R. (sense of progress, teaching style, individual attention and relevant course content).

Another speaker at IATEFL this week has already focused on long-term feelings of progress; Stephen focused in his research on sudden “a-ha!” moments.  He did three focus groups, questionnaires to 100 students, plus brief 1-2-1 interviews with 10 students.

The results of the research:

Students reported that they felt a sense of progress when they realised they were able to do something or accomplish something outside class.

Stephen looked at 6 such events the students had mentioned, and also 6 events inside the classroom, just to balance the research a bit.

What do you think were the two ‘magic moments’ students ranked highest as factors in their sense of progress?

1. Understanding better what an English-speaker is saying

2. Understanding more of something I read (e.g. newspaper article, website)

3. Speaking with more confidence and less hesitation in English

4. Successfully achieving something in English (e.g. ordering food, asking for directions)

5. Understanding what I hear on TV or in a movie

…drumroll please…

The first and the third were the highest-ranked!

Did you guess?

Ways to promote speaking and listening for later use OUTSIDE the classroom:

– needs analyses

– role-play and drama

– authentic listening (radio, TV, Skype…)

Some examples:

– Teachers can isolate a one-minute clip from a programme, play it to the class, let them take notes, then they write questions about it which they can ask the rest of the class.  This might not work great the first time, but after a few goes it works quite well.

– With Skype, wherever you are in the world, you can contact 0800 numbers in the UK for free!  So students (even those abroad) can ring one up and have some telephone practice, e.g. book a room in a hotel, then call back and cancel.

(He doesn’t really explain the first two ways to promote speaking/listening mentioned above…)

OK, here we go again – which of these factors gives the greatest sense of progress?

A. hearing a positive comment from the teacher

B. getting a good score in test

C. understanding more words in a reading

D. speaking in longer sentences

E. making fewer mistakes

F. getting a positive comment about a piece of my writing from a teacher

…drumroll please…

Turns out C & D were the highest-ranked by students!

How’d you do?  My partner and I came bottom of the class!  We thought B and E… they were lowest ranked.  Wow.

So if this is what will help them feel a sense of progress, how can we help students understand words in a reading?

– extensive reading

– courses based around texts

– encourage students to read the free English newspaper (if possible, get the people who make these papers to deliver them to your school!)

And if students want to speak in longer sentences, how can we help them do this?

– timed pair- and group-work (some students are reluctant to keep going, so make it competitive/purposeful, e.g. if you want to stop talking that’s fine, but you have to fill in the rest of the time by dancing! or whatever) 😀

– focus on longer turns with visual feedback (e.g. every time they say something particularly long, give them a bit of – fake! – money, like Monopoly money)

My verdict: an interesting talk overall.  Too short, really!  I’d like to have heard some more suggestions like this.

IATEFL 2012: Revising and recycling lexis

Just seen Leo Selivan talking about revising and recycling lexis.  Here’s what happened…

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As we came in, he gave each of us a pink or orange slip of paper.  Like this:

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Each slip of paper had one half of a collocation and as a warmer, we had to find the person whose slip completed ours (pinks finding pinks and oranges finding oranges).

A definition clarification:

Leo uses lexis instead of vocabulary – the first including chunks, formulaic language, individual items, etc; the latter seen as big long lists of this stuff.

You need anything from 6 to 16 encounters with a new item before it gets into your memory and your lexical repertoire (!).  Maybe this is a bit much… if students really engage with the items, they shouldn’t (hopefully!) need as many as 16.

Another definition:

Collocation: a combination of words that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance.

We brainstormed in groups some different types of collocation: verb-noun, adjective-noun (sweet dreams, etc.), adverb-adjective (ridiculously expensive, perfectly normal, fully aware, etc.); adverb-verb, noun-noun (reality show, tourist attraction, etc.), binomials, trinomials….. we got a bit carried away.  Here are the answers, according to Leo:

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1. ONE IDEA FOR ‘CYCLES’ OF RECYCLING

1. Matching collocations in pairs (like in the warmer activity).  You can do an example of such an activity online here: bit.ly/GHBMyT (created with Hot Potatoes).  Here’s how it looks:

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And here’s how we did!  Woo!

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2. These collocations came from 2 texts – 2 groups of 6.  We (or in class, students) have to work out which 6 came from which text.  Then scan and find the collocations in the texts.  (In this case, the top six came from a text about Da Vinci; the bottom six came from a text about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.)

An extra comment from Leo at this stage – sorting in general is a good way to get students to engage with collocations.  In this case, they’re sorting based on which texts they appeared in.  But (here’s a mix of his, my and the audience of delegates’ ideas…) they could also categorise based on form (e.g. adjective-noun collocations versus adverb-adjective collocations), based on their familiarity with them, based on which ones they just like/dislike, which ones have similar meanings/reference, which have positive/negative connotations, ones which have direct equivalents in their L1 versus ones that don’t, and so on.

GREAT IDEA ALERT (credit to Leo): Furthermore, students could do grouping activities like these in pairs, then move around the class and look at other pairs’ work, trying to guess which categories they were working with.

3. Next, we (students) have to try and recall how the collocations were used in the texts (which we’ve presumably read previously in this lesson or another earlier one).  (Note: you could do the same activity as a pre-reading activity – what context do they think these collocations appear in?)

2. ANOTHER IDEA FOR REVISING COLLOCATIONS:

One possible tool – a “collocation fork”:

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e.g. impressive- performance

– achievement

– result

Importantly, this shows students that if they try to translate each combination literally, they often end up with different “handles” (using the fork analogy).  Whereas in English (or whatever language, but here English is our example), all these noun ‘tines’ or ‘prongs’ are joined to the same ‘handle’.

This works especially well on an interactive whiteboard (IWB) because you can move stuff around, easily match up.

As a follow-up with collocation forks, you can remove the ‘handle’ and see if students can remember what it was (e.g. ‘make’, ‘learn from’ and ‘avoid’ = (a) mistake(s)).

As a follow-up to THIS, students can pick a selection of collocates and make up a story from it.  My example, with @sandymillin:

“When I speak English, I always make lots of mistakes but I don’t always learn from them… I really need to avoid mistakes if I want to be understood.”

Some more good examples from the audience:

“He always asks for advice, but when he’s given it, he never follows it!”

“My teacher always gives me homework, but I never do it, and when I do, I hand it in late!”

Some tips for using collocation forks:

– provide at least three collocations, and ones which are appropriately graded, to help scaffold the learning and not overwhelm them with unknown words

– get students to translate whole expressions

– similarly, remind students that words do not (always/typically) correspond on a one-to-one basis between languages

3. ANOTHER IDEA: RANKING COLLOCATIONS FROM STRONG TO WEAK

Leo gives the example that students first match up collocations (e.g. shrug your shoulders, honk your horn, achieve a goal, reach a compromise, etc.), then rank them from ‘weak’ to ‘strong’ based on the first part of the pair (in this case, the verbs).

4. ANOTHER IDEA: REVISITING TEXTS

To get students to pay attention to things you want them to notice in texts, you can abandon the old “highlight something you find interesting/useful” strategy (Leo says it hasn’t worked for him and his students!) and instead, you can direct students to which collocations to highlight, e.g. find a phrase in the text which means… (examples below in brackets, prefaced with the collocations we found).

have half an eye on (not watch with full attention)

hardly turned a page (almost did not touch books)

avid (describes a person who’s very interested in something and does it regularly)

points of view (noun+noun collocation which means ‘opinions’)

hunted out (2-part verb which means ‘searched’)

dead (adverb+adjective collocation, part of which usually means ‘not alive’ but here means ‘very’)

AND/OR you can replace collocations in a text with abbreviations (e.g. gtk instead of “good to know”).  Students try and work out what they are (alone, in pairs, whatever).  For feedback, the teacher reads out the text, occasionally making mistakes – the students shout out the right collocation when the teacher’s wrong!

(An aside: I’ve done this kind of feedback many times before and it’s always a huge hit.  Students love correcting the teacher, at all ages.  Works like a charm for spicing up otherwise-dull feedback on all sorts of tasks.)

And some other important points summarised from various moments in the talk:

Why teach collocations?  Some suggestions from the audience:

– tips learners over intermediate plateau (says @sandymillin)

– helps listening! often you don’t hear something, but if you hear another bit, you can guess at what you missed.

– it kills two birds with one stone – learning two words at once, effectively!

– builds awareness of patterning, not only isolated parts in language

More reasons from Leo:

– allows learners to process and produce language at a faster rate

– helps learners bridge the gap between receptive and productive knowledge

– difference between near-synonyms is often in their collocational fields

“Many words are used in a limited set of collocations and knowing these is part of what is involved in knowing the words.” (missed attribution, sorry…)

Some other points for consideration, based on three studies:

Study 1 (attribution?): Revealed that learners at all levels produce far fewer collocations than native speakers.  Errors persist even at higher levels and are mainly due to L1 transfer.

Study 2 (attribution?): Production of delexical verb (e.g. take, do, put) + noun collocations (e.g. do damage, take account of) shows that learners’ errors are similar despite very different L1 backgrounds.  Their mistakes are caused by intralingual factors (i.e. it’s not only L1 that affects learners’ production of collocations – there’s something in the target language itself causing problems).  Furthermore, errors can be teacher-induced!

Study 3 (Nesselhauf 2005): Essays written by advanced learners and judged by native speakers reveal considerable difficulty in producing collocations.  Most mistakes occurred in medium-weak collocations.  Medium-strong collocations showed the lowest number of mistakes (presumably because there are fewer options for students to muddle up here?).

Leo (leo.selivan@britishcouncil.org.il) has put his presentation online here – a much clearer, prettier, more thorough way to learn about what he was talking about today! 🙂

IATEFL 2012: Developing visual literacy in ELT

Just got out of a talk by Ben Goldstein on “The digital image: developing visual literacy in ELT”.  Ben teaches an MA TESOL module on materials design at the New School.

Interestingly, my experience of the talk started with my overhearing an older gentleman (maybe 60?) moaning that if he heard the word “technology” one more time in this conference, he was going to leave.  He was very unimpressed with the plenary by Steven Thorne on World of Warcraft, saying “we’re supposed to be educating people in values, not killing people. Absolutely disgraceful.”  Makes me wonder what he’s doing sitting here, about to listen to a talk on digital images…. but anyway.

(Post-session update: found out who he is!  Turns out he’s a big name in TEFL.  Shame on me for not knowing his face.  I’ll leave it there…)

Here’s how the session went down…

Visuality is the ability to critically decode and encode visual texts.  This is central to new literacy practices.

If you google “apple”, you get the tech logo.  If you google “apples”, you get pics of real apples.  Our digital world is not that separate from our ‘real’ world nowadays.

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Metaphor can be a very powerful thing.  From metaphors, we get mental images.  (At least, those of us without certain mental/psychological conditions such as Asperger’s do.)

Images traditionally:

– prompt language production

– make linguistic concepts easy to grasp

– act as speech cues/flash cards (e.g. A is for Apple)

– play an integral part in many classroom tasks, e.g. information gaps like ‘Spot the Difference’

But there are other uses of images, not just based on description.  The examples above are quite passive – he wants to encourage students to interact.

Often an image fills a white space on a coursebook page, but teachers/students don’t do enough with it.

But images can also:

– help us personalise and localise material

– act as a springboard for discussion or the centerpiece for a task (not be secondary to a text)

– engage learners on an imaginative and affective level, getting them engaged and motivated for particular tasks

– enhances critical thinking and intercultural awareness

He shows us some examples and asks us to think about how we might use them in class:

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Our ideas: look at the commonality of hands in the images; discussions of class (what jobs are the hands in the pictures doing); discussions of age (what stages of life are these people at); story-telling (what else can you imagine about the people ‘behind’ the photos from their hands?); discussion of dreams and ambitions (e.g. have a family, build your own home), etc.  There’s no black-and-white answer – students’ answers are valid providing they justify them somehow.  Students could then create their own collage of their ambitions, etc.

A good technique when using image: making the familiar unfamiliar!

Nowadays, in the digital age, there are new image types, new ways of reading images and text, new ways of communicating through image, new scope for image creation and curation and new sources and destinations for images and text.

Typical example: people using smart phones to very easily take, annotate and send images to others:

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Another example: informationisbeautiful.net to create ‘infographics’.  The example he shows us is about distractions from work:

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Getting students to analyse infographics like this can be interesting.

Another example: the journey of a tweet – we lose track of what we post on twitter!  This can be problematic…

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Positive perception of all this: ownership; democratisation.  People can bypass official institutions, compete with profesionals, critique the mainstream.  It’s empowering.

Negative perception: dumbing down.  The cult of the amateur.  Home-production can undermine expertise.

 

These new digital visual media can parody themselves!  An infographic making fun of infographics:

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Important to remember: some sites touted as useful for our profession ARE NOT REALLY USEFUL.  Some are complicated, visually unappealing, difficult to use, syntactically too complex for many learners… he suggests ‘Snappy Words‘, a free visual online dictionary, as an example of this.

Your Paintings‘ website is collecting photos of all the paintings in museums all over Britain.  People are encouraged to tag them, so we can easily share artworks.  But, Ben asks… who’s tagging them?  And why?  Some services like these raise questions.

People may credit the producer of a digital device with the success of what they create with it:

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Some project examples:

1. Premier Connections project by British Council: using PowerPoint as the digital tool, teenagers had to find connections between their football team/their town and a London football team/town.  Ben shows us a charming video created by a teenager trying to accomplish this project – he basically subverted it and created a reasonably long video full of jokes about how he couldn’t find many connections between the two cities!  Yet in the process of looking, he produced many interesting images and plenty of English.  Here are a couple highlights:

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2. Hewlett Packard’s ad about personalising your computer – what does your computer mean to you?  The brand ad finishes with “The computer is personal again.”  Students used the format to create their own video ad (ending the same way) about what their computers meant to them.  Here are some highlights (sorry no video so you can’t hear the voiceover):

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Ben continues by talking about tools and tasks.  Tools are all well and good, but let’s not forget the task!  We need to analyse the relationship between the two.  Does the tool enhance the task, or distract the learner from it?  Does the task with the tool generate language?

He did some research into this with his MA students, involving Wordle, Glogster/Blurb, 1000 Words, Photofunia, Vizlingo and Scoop.It.  His students tried tasks with and without the technology to analyse the use/effectiveness of these tools.

The verdicts:

Wordle – the tool was used to create a word cloud for prediction about a text.  It aided and enhanced the task.

Glogster – It took a long time to do and the paper and pen version might have been equally as effective in the classroom.  The process – and its language richness – might have been more important than the product.

Photofunia – Fun but completely useless pedagogically.  Novel but trivial.

Vizlingo – It creates a video image with one subtitled word (kind of like a moving flashcard?).  Verdict as per Photofunia.

He plugs the following, which promote the sharing and accessibility of images.

http://flickr.com/photos/eltpics and http://takeaphotoand.wordpress.com

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The ‘flipped’ classroom and the ‘connected’ classroom are buzzwords of the day.  Images are highly relevant here.

Moral of the story: we need to…

– embrace the visual in our materials and classroom practice.

– encourage learners to create, interpret and interact with images actively.

– engage learners with images both in an out of the classroom.

…and something else which I missed.  Sorry.  Slides go so fast!

He ends with a quick plug for his book, “The Big Picture.”

IATEFL 2012: Awareness, appropriacy, and living language use

Just got out of Steven Thorne’s plenary on “Awareness, appropriacy, and living language use”.  My brain (and tweeting fingers) nearly exploded trying to keep up with him but it was well worth the effort.

Here’s my round-up of the key bits…

Steven starts by saying today is one of the most exciting and compelling moments to be a language educator.

Social media and online gaming offer so much potential for independent and collective language learning activity – maybe even as part of instructional educational formats.  But how do we utilise these effectively?  We need to critically assess their value as sources of linguistic input and meaningful social interaction.

We learn from peers, mentors, on the football pitch… a tremendous amount of life learning happens in non-instructional environments. How can teachers incorporate this?

There’s good news.  Neuroplasticity.  What we do, how we do it, who we do it with, the cognitive engagement in all this have an influential impact on our ontogenesis – our development across the lifespan.  So teachers might want to think about time and place of learning…

Usage-based linguistics: a new area of research.  When you think about it, all language that you’ve learned (and that your students learn) happened in discrete moments of time in particular places and they involve consumption and production of language.  All this learning is rooted in visceral experience.  So what teachers do matters.  We engineer or construct experiences.  We help make things salient, understandable, usable, learnable.  How do the activities etc. that we use matter in terms of language development?

We (as teachers) look at recurrent patterns, microdynamics, how humans ‘mean’ and ‘language’ with each other, register, genre, etc.  Usage-based linguistics study is a solution in part to looking at this real intercultural communication within the artificiality of a classroom.

Representations and models of the world get in the way.  It’s better to use the world as its own model!

Typical gamer stereotype: adolescent boys riddled with adrenaline and… other things… maybe online gaming isn’t a great learning tool?  But in fact there’s a lot for us to learn here.

A talk in four parts:

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Part 1:

It’s never been easier to synchronously communicate.  2.1 billion Internet users worldwide, 200 million Twitter accounts… and people’s technology use starts early!

There are all sorts of virtual environments (e.g. Second Life), gaming environments – massively multiplayer online games in many genres – he’s gonna talk about World of Warcraft, which has (had?) 14+ million players at its peak.

Part 2:

Steven shows us a book by Lankshear & Knobel (2006).  He was talking so fast at this point, I missed the relevance.  Sorry.

“Digitally addicted kids threaten to return civilisation to the Dark Ages.” (The Guardian)

So surely they’ll become “the dumbest generation in history”?  We need empirical investigation to validate this.

Emergent-contingent logics of high frequency digital vernaculars are stigmatized varieties (according to Labov, Bourdieu).

Part 3:

Where was Part 2?!  Looking forward to re-watching this online later… with subtitles, I hope?!  Damn, he’s fast.

Steven Thorne has a female avatar when he games.  Teehee.  He says it’s “awesome”.

Open persistent spaces, massively multiplayer games and serious gaming –> a trilogy that yields potential for learning.

One example: World of Warcraft.

Lots of people are trying to develop ‘serious’ games and content for English language learning, but this is hard.  World of Warcraft has VERY high production values ($50million or so?).  How can we as language teachers exploit commercially available games?  What about organic everyday interaction in the wild, in these settings – what potential is there here for language learning and development?

A lot of emergency relief personnel are trained on World of Warcraft!  They need to be playing the game but all the while communicating by text, VOIP and so on… a busy environment.

An example of language use in World of Warcraft:

afk g2g too eg ot regen no poms = Just a minute. I have to go to the Elven Forest to regenerate, I’m out of mana potions.

Language co-weaves with context and experience.

You can’t understand what’s happening in discourse unless you’re actually there and you share the background, the context… there are lots of shifters and didactic reference that aren’t specified or clarified or determined for us.  A lot of language is very vague.

SLA tenets that are critical to understanding what’s happening:

1. It’s hard to learn things without meaningful engagement and a lot of exposure to language

 2. This helps us figures out distribution, frequency, forms associated with learning to present a social self in a new language.  Linguistic structures need to be salient when presented in a classroom.

3. Quality of linguistic environment…. ohh, I missed it.  Slide moved on.  He goes too fast!  Sorry.  I guess the quality of the linguistic environment is important.

He presents some data from his forthcoming work with Fischer on “online gaming as sociable media”.  People play World of Warcraft for 10-12 (maybe more) hours a week.

Some people did some research into when adolescents and children developed particular structures and mapped this onto online gaming.  Here it is:

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Essentially, sentences produced in the game are either really simple or really complex.

Game-external websites are a big part of playing the game.  Basically – people don’t just play the game.  They’re hooked up to a bunch of sites, looking things up and so on to help them play the game.

Game-related strategy and general topics related to World of Warcraft available at http://elitistjerks.com – best URL ever!

Third level (outer circle in pic above): artifacts.  Fans create their own fiction around the game.  They create narratives using the characters, etc. (See http://fanfiction.net –> Games –> Warcraft)

One L2 learner wrote some fan fiction and within 2 years received 7,000 responses from fellow fans in response to her work.  Maybe this is better than writing essays?  Plenty of enthusiastic feedback from an enthusiastic audience.  And sometimes it’s good advice!  e.g. “Show us what’s happening rather than telling us what’s happening.”

We learn language by creatively imitating.  Some new “remix authors” are demonstrating this – they don’t consider it plagiarism, but remixing what they’ve been exposed to.

We could get students to write fan fiction – inherit the characters and their development from stories that resonate with them, then write their own stories.  A great way to get students enthusiastic about writing.

World of Warcraft quests and external website texts: (1) High lexical sophistication, lexical diversity, syntactic complexity; (2) Mix of both structurally simple & complex sentences; (3) Interactive, phatic and interpersonally engaged discourse.

Narrative & remix texts – compelling by volume, creative, interactive, relevant, community-related.

It’s a complex semiotic universe!  So what can we do with this?…

Part 4:

Internet technologies have transformed everyday communicative contexts, genres & practices.

New literacies are highly relevant to youth culture but present challenges for educators.

We can work on critical language awareness around appropriacy.  Students ask – what’s distinctive about this?  How does it compare to other texts and genres that I’m expected to master?  How are these differences stylistically realised at the level of morpho-syntactic instatiation?

(An aside: Yeah, sure.  My students say this.)

So we can have our students go out, collect texts, observe them and bring them back – report to other students.  Maybe they can subsequently contribute to these communities with their newfound passion.  This will bring some of the world into the classroom context.

People learn when they spend lots of time under conditions of high engagement.  We as educators should let them do this, then pedagogically, expertly mediate it.

Our students don’t need to be GREAT at English. They need semiotic agility. #iatefl

PHEW!!!  Aaaaaand…. breathe.

IATEFL 2012: Encouraging students to use online resources

Sandy Millin started her talk by plugging Twitter and other online communities for professional development! 🙂

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(Sorry for lousy pic quality, Sandy!)

Here’s how the rest went…

Edmodo – A closed-group means of communicating with students, continuing learning in and out of class.  Works especially well in her current school with continuous enrolment – she sees a lot of her students, but Edmodo is a good back-up for homework, absent students, etc.

She did a survey involving 74 students from 16 different countries.  Most were 20-29 years old, with B1+ level of English, and found the survey on Twitter or through teachers on Twitter – so the data are admittedly somewhat biased, but it was her first piece of action research, so… 🙂

4 characteristics of students who did her survey:

1. They’re very motivated! They want to improve so they go out and find the means.  Often this means technology.

2. They’re competitive!  They want to be better than other students and their past selves.

3. They’re already connected.  They have smart phones, tablets, etc.  Technology is already a big part of their life – maybe we could harness this for English… hmm.

4. They know the sites where they can practise, either from their teachers or their own experience of stumbling on things.

This last point is important – how can we add usefully to their existing knowledge?

Students who did the survey were already using the internet to find things, to email friends, for work… but none of them mentioned English for studying!  Occasionally they mentioned using it for social things (e.g. Facebook) but otherwise they didn’t appear to use English online.  Maybe we could adapt/change this…

She also asked students if they actually wanted to use technology to help them improve their English.  Most of them said yes.  So what’s stopping them from doing it?

Some problems highlighted by the research:

1. Facebook!  It can be a good thing, but can be a distraction.

2. Students don’t want to create usernames.  Maybe they don’t want to expose their Facebook profile, or don’t want to make private lives more public, or have “username fatigue” – they’re fed up of constantly creating new usernames!!

3. Students often want exam practice and think online tools won’t help them with this.

4. “I don’t like studying on my computer.”  I already spend 8 hours a day on the computer at work – why should I do more for my English study?

5. “I need translations.” Some students might feel they need more support – many websites for English learning are only in English.

Some possible solutions (and tips for tech tools!) – corresponding to the problems listed above:

1. Quizlet – interesting enough (perhaps) to pull students (temporarily) away from Facebook!  It’s an online flashcard tool with games, a spelling test mode, etc.  For students who don’t actually like tech, they can print the words!  So non-techy students still have access to the same vocab as the more tech-savvy ones.  Technophobes aren’t left out by technophiles.  They can also check their progress by tracking the records saved by the program (e.g. how many words they got right in one game versus the last time they played).  More advantages: they can test themselves; it’s personalised; it’s competitive; it’s social (can be linked to Facebook!); it’s mobile (available online or as apps).  See http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/quizlet for a step-by-step guide to using this tool.  It’s aimed at students – so they can work through it easily.

2. Many websites don’t require log-ins – Quizlet, Lyrics Training, etc. (though note: if they don’t log in, they can’t save and track their progress).  Lyrics Training in particular is relevant to students – many students want to understand the music they listen to in English.  This website makes listening to music a bit more study-like, rather than just blindly watching zillions of YouTube videos.  English Central is another good website like this.  You can watch videos with subtitles, check you’ve understood what you’ve heard, record yourself saying the same words as a new soundtrack, compare this with the original pronunciation, etc.

Aside (from my experience): it sometimes accepts very weird and wacky recordings as “correct”, and other times rejects perfectly acceptable pron (such as Sandy’s) because it’s not American!  Hmm.

3. Some tools allow you to record yourself, play it back, analyse it, etc. e.g. Vocaroo.  It’s therefore exam-style, it’s mobile (students can use the handheld devices they’re so attached to ordinarily), it’s great for self-reflection due to the nature of recording yourself, listening back, etc.  Sandy notes that even if only one or two students try this at first (because it might be a bit scary!), it can encourage other students to do the same – the “me too!” effect.

4. Use tech tools in class.  Flo-joe is a good example for exam classes.  They publish word banks every week with useful vocab.  Sandy used this by starting every lesson (daily) with the words, writing out the words and meaning on the whiteboard and getting further examples of use from the students.  They built up their vocab notebooks bit by bit every day.  20 minutes a day really helped them to get the idea of what their exam tasks would involve.  (Multiple instances of the same lexis.)  Flo-joe also has many other weekly-published exercises, e.g. for writing.

There are also non-computer tech tools students can use, such as voice recorders on mobile devices (e.g. iPhone), podcasts (e.g. on MP3 players).  Teachers might just need to prompt them as to how to use these, where to find them, etc.  A lot of students already listen to MP3 players – why not spend 20 mins a week listening to an English podcast?

5. We can point students to the tools they need to access other tools/resources. e.g. Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary.  In this case, students can click and listen to pronunciation, see examples in context, see common collocations, different forms of the same word, usage notes, etc.  If they don’t understand one of the words in a definition, they can double-click on it and the dictionary will automatically take them to a definition of this word.  It’s a lot, lot richer than using a translator.  Students translate.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Forcing students to only use monolingual resources isn’t always best for them – it may demotivate them.  If you want to encourage them to use this, they need to be pointed towards good resources.  This might mean using them in class, raising learners’ awareness of the tools and getting them used to consulting them.  (Note: the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary also has a FREE mobile app version – but I can’t find a link.  Please comment below if you’ve got one!)

One other tip – don’t just share these tools with your students.  Tell other teachers.  Students may well have several teachers, and they can learn about great tech tools from various sources throughout their course.

BUT – don’t overdo it!  Introduce a restricted a range of tools and do it slowly. One thing at a time, waiting for students to get comfortable with one tool before throwing the next one at them.

Also, once is never enough.  You need to repeat things, reiterate them.  That doesn’t mean showing students the same thing 20 times if the students didn’t seem interested at time #10.  They’re probably just not that bothered.  But equally, don’t just show them something once and never revisit it.  They might need a bit of time to get familiar enough with it to like it and benefit from it.

My verdict – great talk!  Clearly explained, well-justified tech suggestions, with plenty of examples and practical ideas.

Update: A better, more faithful version of Sandy’s talk is her own write-up here.

IATEFL 2012: Using punctuation, modality and phraseology to teach email

Here’s my round-up of Alistair McNair’s session on developing students’ email-writing skills through punctuation, modality and phraseology…

We all use email.  But where is it in coursebooks?  It crops up occasionally but isn’t done justice.  Often it just looks like letters.  But are emails really the same genre as letters?  Some teachers may think so, but is that true?

Students need to request things, demand things, relate to others, etc… by email.  Their teacher needs to help them do this.  Impressions created by the emails someone sends are quite important!  Even IELTS 6.5 level students write “shocking” emails.  They hit “send” arguably without really caring, and almost certainly without proof-reading.

In coursebooks, email examples are almost always external – one company to another.  But Alistair’s intuition is that much of our daily email is internal – from one colleague to another within an organisation (or between friends?).  Students need to know how to write to someone who’s more senior than them, someone who’s in administration, someone who’s a (potential) friend.

Alistair argues that coursebook examples of emails are too consistent – formal ones always starting with “Dear”, informals only starting with “Hi”, etc.  But in his data, there were emails from directors to staff starting “hiya” – and this wasn’t exceptional.  So are coursebooks realistic?  Or simplistic?  Or both?  Or something else?  Is it as simple as categorising emails as either informal or formal?

OK, to be fair to coursebooks, they’re trying to teach email and trying to simplify it.  But this raises questions…

Some tasks are also unrealistic or unjustified.  For example: “take this informal email, and make it formal.” (e.g. Language Leader Intermediate, pg 67)  Well OK, but why, Alistair asks?  When do we do this?

Similarly, the amount of information given in business and general English coursebooks about example/model emails is often very limited.  It may say “this is similar to a formal business letter”, but how often does it say who’s writing, to whom, their history, their relationship, the wider context of their communications, the temporary context of their communications, etc.?  Even the physicality of a building can affect the formality of emails – how far apart are colleagues in the building?  When and how do they physically see each other during the day?  Furthermore, model emails are often presented as electronic letters – not as realistic emails.  But what are students likely going to have to produce?

One problem for writers (and therefore learner writers) is register.  How to define this?  How to quantify it?  It’s actually quite difficult.  Alistair suggests using systemic functional grammar to approach this – look at the mode (length, openings and closings), tenor (punctuation and modality) and field (types of email and phraseology).