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Writing – Using the Passive

A lot of exam classes and coursebooks focus on the form of the passive and I’m sure that most people know how to “make” a passive sentence. BUT… do you know why you are doing it?

I’m going to start with two sentences that might surprise you:

1) The Passive is not “formal”.

2) The Passive is not “grammar”.

I will explain.

Form

Just to check… the way to “make” a passive sentence is: Object + “be” + Verb 3 (+Subject)

So… “Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings” becomes “The Lord of the Rings was written by Tolkien” and “Someone is robbing me” becomes “I am being robbed” – ‘by someone’ is not necessary.

Why Passive?

OK, I said before that I don’t think passive is grammar. Yes, it has a form, but so does vocabulary. (“Interested + in” for example). So, why do we really use it? Well, here are a couple of examples.

1) Groups of people

The police have arrested three men for burglary.

Scientists say that we are now using more of our brains than before.

  • Only the police can arrest people, so we don’t need the subject.
  • Which scientists? You don’t know, so does it matter that they are scientists?

I would write: “Three men have been arrested for burglary” and “It is said that we are now using more of ours brains than before”.

Is this formal? Well, the news often presents stories including information from groups of people – scientists, students, doctors, teachers… so this may make us associate the passive with formality.

2) Flow of Information

Look at the short paragraph below:

The Internet

Tim Berners-Lee wrote his internet proposal in 1989. Mike Sendall accepted the revision in 1990 and CERN put it online in 1991. The first page that CERN published was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html and it provided an explanation of how the world-wide web worked.

First of all, the text above has no “mistakes”, but it could be improved.

In written text, we try to put new information at the end of a sentence. Look at sentence 1:

“Tim Berners-Lee wrote his internet proposal in 1989.”

The title of the paragraph is “The Internet” so this is not new information. The new information is “Tim Berners-Lee” and “1989”. So, let’s write:

“The proposal for the internet was written by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.” Now the new information is at the end. We can do the same for the second sentence, which is in two parts:

“Mike Sendall accepted the revision in 1990” – Mike Sendall is new information.

“CERN put it online in 1991” – CERN is new information. SO…..

Revisions were accepted by Mike Sendall in 1990 and it was put online by CERN in 1991.

Now let’s look at the next part:

“The first page that CERN published was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html and it provided an explanation of how the world-wide web worked.”

In the first part of the sentence, the new information is the website link. In the second part, the new information is what the website does. So, do we need to write “and an explanation was provided of how the world-wide web worked”? No!

So, after our changes we have:

The proposal for the internet was written by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Revisions were accepted by Mike Sendall in 1990 and it was put online by CERN in 1991. The first page that CERN published was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html and it provided an explanation of how the world-wide web worked.

This paragraph shows better style, and this is something that examiners look at when marking IELTS and Cambridge Exam papers. One extra thing we could do is avoid repeating “CERN” by using the passive again:

“The first page that was published was……”

Conclusion

Next time you write a paragraph, try checking what you have written and finding the new information. Is it at the end of the sentence or sentence part? If it isn’t, can you change the sentence? Would using passive help or have you used passive in a place that doesn’t need it, meaning that the new information is at the start?

Simon

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Thousands and thousands of lessons and activities

OK, maybe just thousands rather than thousands and thousands. This is basically a whole load of word documents containing ideas for activities / half lessons / longer lessons. In the word docs, I usually use Ctrl+F to search for key words rather than trawling through the lot of them – there are rather a lot, but I’ve found so many useful, fun things to do from these. So here they are: enjoy!

Simon

162 games for Adults and Young Learners

95 Games

20 Games

14 activities

12 Games Bank

11 Games

7 Games

100 Games for Young Learners

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The ASBO months

If I were a mathematician, I would suggest that age is directly proportional to irrational rage at every little thing around you. But I’m not a mathematician, so instead I’ll just say that I am a twisted, bitter ball of hatred. Or at least I am when I am on a TRAIN.

A TRAIN

Otherwise known as a wheeled hellbox, trains were first invented by FIAT in 1963 when they decided that they really were duty-bound to take their unique brand of unreliability to the public transport market. They rapidly became hugely popular amongst commuters, giving them something to moan about with even more irritatingly loud vigour while to-ing and fro-ing between upper middle-class Turdville and headset-wearing Utopia. After a few years, however, the novelty wore off and so FIAT, in their desperation to maintain a monopoly, decided to invent “regressopment”. Exactly like development, only backwards. By 1990, engines and electrics were a thing of the past and trains started running on the power of bloody mindedness alone, something which FIAT have since covered up by employing one man per train to constantly make train-like noises in to a microphone for the entire journey, thereby lulling passengers in to a deafening sense of security. I can only assume that the 2020s will see octogenarian paraplegics manning hand-pumped trolleys full of obnoxious businessmen in exchange for being kicked and spat at. I would enjoy this.

Old Person probably on Minimum Wage

In the last four months I have spent over £1000 on trains. This has given me ample time to devise a complicated and extremely intelligent system of categorisation of types of train people. These are:

1) Utterly hateful wastes of oxygen who need repeatedly stabbing and then force-feeding live dogs until they explode.

2) Me.

I find myself becoming more antisocial the more time I spend on trains. Seeking solitude, I sit in the aisle seat, plonking all my worldly possessions on the adjacent seat and then spend the rest of the time looking menacing, listening to loud music and ignoring everybody else. I sigh loudly if anyone dares to request that they sit next to me and am almost moved to insanity if the train so much as approaches full. To calm myself, I irrationally pick out the person around me with the most hateful face and focus my rage entirely on them. “What an appalling, wretched excuse for a human being you are. Melt, perish and decompose right here before me, foul urchin”.

Commuter on the 925 from Orpington

What then invariably happens, is that the train stops working / is late / falls over on its side. Then the real fun begins. “SQUUUUUUEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKladies and gentlemen… we apologise for the delay. This is due entirely to me, JOHN SMITH, being a completely incompetent, gibbering ape. I was born without opposable thumbs, half of my brain and the ability to distinguish between situations in which it is OK to fling piles of my faeces at passers-by and those in which it is not.” All of this is said at MAXIMUM VOLUME and yet is unintelligible even to an English teacher. OK, well. Turn up the volume of my music, sit tight and… wait… really? Is the man next to me really talking so loudly to his disinterested colleague that I can hear him over music that is being directly pumped in to my ear holes?

Colleagues have discrete train chat

“Well, you see Crispin… haw haw haaaaaw… Brian over at HR really doesn’t have the slightest clue who I am and what I’ve done for this company to be honest… so I got my sec to give him a bell and put him straight, you know… haw haw haaaaaaaaw…” Is there ANYONE out there who doesn’t feel a little violent after reading that? I just punched myself in the groin simply for typing it. I’m not even halfway to my destination and I have already committed at least five different unspeakable crimes inside my head. I am the Patrick Bateman of trains. By the time the train arrives I usually eject myself from its foul clutches at such an alarming pace that I am through the barriers and out of the station before Usain Bolt can eat a plate of chicken nuggets. Or at least I would be but for the cruellest of parting shots at the barrier:

X        Seek Customer Assistance

Simon

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Finished!

Celebratory cake!!

After 8 weeks of blood, sweat and tears (without the tears) I have discovered two things.
1) I have an attention span of no longer than 8 weeks.
2) 8 weeks of blood and sweat fills more of a bucket than you might expect.

Still, what this means is that I can devote a little more time to the site now, so expect more uploads to follow!

Simon

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IELTS Academic Reading – Practice Links

If you’ve read my other entry about reading (What to expect and Time Management), then you might want to do some practice reading. Here are some links to a few different kinds of question. Also, at the bottom of the page, you will find some documents you can download.

http://www.examenglish.com/IELTS/cbIELTS_reading.htm (A computer based test)

http://www.ielts-exam.net/practice_tests/50/IELTS_Academic_Reading_Passage_1/481/

https://www.teachers.cambridgeesol.org/ts/exams/academicandprofessional/ielts/academicreading (The links at the bottom are to different kinds of question)

http://www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample/academic_reading_sample.aspx (.pdf sample papers)

http://www.britishcouncil.org/professionals-exams-ielts-reading-exam-home.htm (The links on the bottom left are all practice papers)

Reading – Music

Simon

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IELTS Academic Reading – What to Expect and Time Management

1 hour, 3 texts, 40 questions. IELTS reading is not easy! Being prepared for all possible question types and having a clear strategy for each of them is important. On this page you can find examples of all the question types and a few tips on how to do these kinds of tasks. At the bottom of the page, there are a few general tips on time management to remember when doing the test.

What to Expect

In the IELTS reading, you could find any of the following question types:

  • Short answer  questions
  • Completion questions: Completing sentences
  • Notes
  • A summary (with no words to choose from)
  • A summary (with words to choose from)
  • A picture
  • A chart
  • A table
  • Matching information / opinion with writer names
  • Yes/No/Not Given questions
  • True/False/Not Given questions
  • Matching lists or sentences
  • Matching Paragraphs
  • Classification questions
  • Multiple choice questions

Let’s have a look below at examples of these.

Short Answer Questions

This is where you will have a general question and you will need to write the answer with a word limit.

Using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS, write your answers to the following questions:

Example: What kind of flower bears the most fruit in Autumn?

Advice

Find a key word in the question. Here, “Autumn” or “Fruit” are good examples. Now, start from the beginning of the text. These questions will be in order in the text. So if you find an answer, the next answer will come after this one. The answer will not exactly match the question, but will use synonyms or paraphrase. Here, you are expected to scan for specific details. Read the questions first, then scan. You do not need to read the text first – this is a waste of time.

Completion Questions

Similar to short answer questions, you have a word limit but this time you complete the sentences instead of asking questions.

Use NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the text for this answer.

Example: The roots of the plan then point towards the _______________ .

Advice

This is a similar kind of question to short answer questions – scanning for information and synonyms. The difference here though, is that you are asked to find words that are in the text

Summaries, Note completion, table completion, chart completion, picture completion

You will be given a summary, some notes, a table or a chart that refer to part of the text, not all of it. You then have to complete them with words either from the text or not (READ THE QUESTION!)

Below are some visual examples:

Table

Name Size Area Found Endangered?
Red Kangaroo 1.3-1.6m West and Central No
Eastern Grey Kangaroo 5_________ East and South 6___________
7___________ About 90cm North No
Western Grey Kangaroo 85-110cm 8_____________ No

Summary (with words)

The All Blacks were expected to win the 1991 championship __________. However, they encountered great ____________ before the tournament, when a number of the team suffered ______________. Ultimately they were ­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________ of making the final, their tournament ending in ______________________.

Happy Incapable Players
Injuries Success Difficulties
Easily Disappointment Able

Sometimes, you will see this summary with no words to help you.

Advice

With these five types of question, the important thing is to find the correct area of the text. This means you need to skim. Remember, when you find the correct paragraph, answers inside the paragraph might not be in order. If you get a summary with words question, it is often quite easy because there might be only one possible word that fits in the space. You may not even need to read the text! Can you do the exercise above?

Matching information / opinion with names

In this section, you have to match names to opinions, facts or information. The key here is to remember to read the question, as you will often be able to use each letter more than once. Look at the example below:

Match each item with its inventor.

Write the letter A-E in boxes 7-10 on your answer sheet. You may use any letter more than once.

7          Phonograph

8          Absorption Refrigerator

9          Carbon Microphone

10        Telephone

A        Thomas EdisonB        Albert EinsteinC        Alexander Graham-Bell

Advice

For this kind of question, you need to scan, not read. Names are easy to search for, because they always contain capital letters. Find all the names and circle them, then go back and read the two sentences around each name to find the answers.

Yes / No / Not Given and True / False / Not Given Questions

Advice

OK, so you get some questions and have to write Yes, No, Not Given, True or False. CHECK THE QUESTION. Don’t write “True” if it asks you to write “Yes” and don’t write “Y” either. Do exactly as the question asks you so that you aren’t worried after the test. Also, you have to forget any knowledge you have of the subject from outside the exam. Only look at the text.

Finally, be happy: these questions are in order in the text!

What is the difference between No / False and Not Given?

NO / FALSE means that there is information in the text that disagrees with the question. NOT GIVEN means you can’t find any information. Trust yourself: scan the text for the area you think the answer is from, and if you can’t find any information, write NOT GIVEN.

Matching Lists or Sentences, Matching Paragraphs

Like with matching information or opinion, you will be given some sentences that are incomplete, which you must match to sentence endings, or you will be given a list of paragraph titles which you will need to match with paragraph titles. There may be more titles than answers, so you don’t need to use all the choices.

Questions 1-5

This passage has 5 sections, A to E.

Choose the correct heading for sections B to E from the list of headings below.

Write the correct number i-vii in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet

List of Headingsi   The effect of globalisation on Eastern Europeii  What is Globalisation?

iii  Future prospects for developing countries

iv  Problems in South-East Asia

v   Solutions for Small Businesses

vi  The economy long-term

vii  The impact on urban areas

1 Example: Section A           v

2 Section B

3 Section C

4 Section D

5 Section E

Advice

Paragraph matching is possibly the fastest section you can get. The sentences that have the same information as the titles are always found at the beginning of the paragraphs, so that’s all you need to read! The paragraphs are clearly marked, so you don’t have to spend time looking through large amounts of text to find your answers. Remember here you can only use each title once!

Multiple Choice Questions

With these questions, you will be asked to choose one or two letters that answer the question correctly. Check the question carefully.

Questions 1-3

Choose the appropriate letter A-D and write them in boxes 1-3 on your answer sheet.

1          According to the text, foxgloves are

A         Endangered in Britain

B         Pink or Blue depending on the season

C         Poisonous

D         A source of medicine

Advice

These questions are in order, which is always good! Find a key word in the answers and scan the text for it. For example, if I want to check C, I will look for a word that means poisonous. Is it mentioned with reference to foxgloves?

Time Management

  • Take a watch. Instead of trying to time every question, time a section. You have 18 minutes for each section. Don’t go over! You need five minutes at the end to guess all the answers that you haven’t found. Don’t leave anything blank – you don’t get anything for nothing!
  • Practise the test before going in. This may sound obvious, but practising will help you learn which kinds of questions you find easier. I personally think that matching paragraphs to headings is the easiest task, so I would do it first. You don’t need to do the test in order. Choose the easiest question types first, or the types of question where guessing at the end is impossible. For example, sentence completion, summary completion with no words.
  • Read the questions first and decide if you are skimming or scanning, and if the answers are in order or not. Then you know how much you have to read. Don’t read the whole text first – you might not need to and it would be a waste of time.
  • Write your answers directly on the answer sheet. Unlike listening, there is no extra time at the end to transfer your answers.
  • Practise speed reading outside the classroom. Take a newspaper and read one page. Time yourself. Now do another, but set a time that’s 30 seconds faster. In your language you don’t look at every word individually – you just look at three together, or the ‘meaning’ words, skimming the grammar. Try and make yourself do this by not reading with your finger.
  • Trust yourself. When you have written an answer, move on. It’s difficult, but you have to do it.
  • Don’t get interested in the text. Don’t think about the text – think about the questions and try to be as much like a robot as you can! So don’t read the text first. You risk becoming interested and reading more slowly!

Above all, good luck. I hope these tips help you with the reading test. Remember, to get 4.5 you don’t even need to answer half the questions correctly, so be positive and practise, practise, practise!

Simon

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Solving Typical New Teacher Problems – 11 questions

If you have  just finished your CELTA / TEFL etc and have started your first teaching job, you are probably finding life pretty tough at the moment. This is the period of time when planning takes longer than the lesson itself, your sleep is interrupted by feverish dreams about classes, and inside the classroom if anything happens that you didn’t expect, it results in panic and demoralisation.
It gets easier. Believe me, it gets easier. And fairly quickly. But what can you do in the interim? Survive? I recently asked a new teacher to write down a list of problems she has had in her first two weeks of teaching and they make for interesting reading due in no small part to their familiarity – I reckon a lot of new teachers experience at least a few if not all of these problems. With this in mind, I have posted the problems below, along with a few solutions that might make your life a bit easier.

1) I don’t know how much to prepare, or how much material a class will get through in the lesson.

2) I can’t tell if students will whizz through an activity or whether they will struggle with it.

Timing is a problem that a lot of teachers experience, even later in their careers. When this transfers to the classroom, there can be a fear of under-preparing material. Bear in mind though, that there is no necessity to complete everything you have prepared. With this in mind, let’s focus on two areas of a lesson – controlled practice and the end of the lesson.

Controlled Practice: If you are teaching grammar / vocab / discourse / phonology, you will have a controlled practice stage in the lesson. Remember though, that “control” is not something that is on a single level. There are degrees of control, some freer than others. Why not prepare an extra controlled practice, that can be used if learners need it and dropped if they don’t?

If this is a skills focus, you may not have a controlled practice. That doesn’t mean that skills practice can’t be repeated though. If they have done a speaking activity they could do it again in different groups, a different situation or with a greater degree of autonomy. If it’s reading, they could summarise, report, write or collect vocab. If it’s listening, talk to them. Tell them a story – this is called Live Listening. If it’s writing, they can read and correct other’s work. All of these things can be put in or taken out.

The end of the lesson: This is where you can put emerging language on the board, error correct, chat or get learners to reflect on what they’ve learnt. How many of these things you do is up to you. If time is short, you can just get them to reflect and leave the emerging language until the next class (I’m not suggesting you leave it all together – if it’s come up, then students need it). This stage is very flexible indeed – anywhere from 2-15 minutes. Remember this and schedule it in your plan.

So, at these stages, over-plan and consider these areas as flexible.

3) What do I do when everyone else gets something except for one student?
If there is someone else who speaks the same L1, why not get them to explain in their language? L1 in the classroom is discouraged on the CELTA, but I think this is bad advice. The fact is, some things are just quicker, and if it helps the focus of the lesson, go with it. Students can negotiate pairings, explain and translate in their L1 and it will only make the actual focus of your activity clearer and run smoother.
If there are no L1 opportunities, you can only do so much. A student not understanding does not equal a lesson failure. Reassure the student that they will have another chance to meet this language in the future, or give them a chance to speak to you after the class. You can’t always go with the lowest level student, and something to remember is that students will only get something when they are ready to anyway – maybe that student simply isn’t ready yet.
4) What can I do with the early finishers – some of the things they teach on the CELTA just aren’t good ways to deal with this.
Set time limits for exercises and don’t be afraid to challenge students with the limits. Emphasise that it doesn’t matter if other students haven’t finished and don’t wait around until everyone has finished, unless it is a reading comprehension exercise requiring everyone to have read everything. If there are a couple of students who always finish early, what else could they do? If they are responding to questions, could they write the questions again using different words? Could they make a few new sentences? Could they be persuaded to start making an entry in their learner journal about the lesson during this time (learner journals are excellent)?
5) What can I do if students reject material on religious grounds?
This is difficult. Obviously, the better you know a class the more prepared you can be for this. Think about what the language or skills point of the material is. You can still teach it – could you do it the old-fashioned way? Unplugged, pen and board. If it’s pre-language focus, you could switch to PPP. If it’s a controlled practice, do you have a back-up ready? It’s unlikely to be freer practice, because the context of the language will already have been defined and rejected. Have a look at what Luke Meddings says about Teaching Unplugged: http://lukemeddings.posterous.com/
6) How can I cope with students who missed the previous lesson / a related lesson?
Give them a handout of the language focus summary / refer them to relevant course book pages. Then move on. You can’t do it all again just for one student.
7) How can I deal with arrogant or difficult students who disrupt the class and believe they know it all, even if they don’t?
Remind them that all students are here to learn and to be fair and respectful. Don’t be afraid to warn persistently disruptive students or even to send them out. Your DOS will be on your side with this. If the student is simply arrogant, help them to notice their mistakes and main weaknesses with the language. Don’t be afraid to correct them on the spot, or to say “no”. Also remember that not all students are good learners. It may be that the class just isn’t working for them and they need time to adjust.
8) How can I prevent unjustified usage of L1?
Simply put, you can’t really. But be careful. What is “unjustified usage”? If a student is translating, negotiating or explaining and it is within the context of the lesson, why not allow it? If this is still a problem, why not rearrange your classroom a bit? “Cafe style” – tables with four chairs each, or circles of four chairs can manufacture separation of students who persistently use L1 to chat, rather than help with the lesson.
9) How can I prepare for one-to-one lessons? What are the differences between one to ones and a larger class? What can I do in the first class?
Think of a one-to-one as an excellent way to cater your lesson specifically for a learner. They get all your attention and you can customise everything specifically for them. Bearing this in mind, you need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their motivation. Do a diagnostic and a needs analysis as your first class. Ask your DOS for a copy of their placement test and needs analysis and use this to highlight weaknesses. Talk to them in the first class; get a clear picture of them and their needs. Get them to write something for you – maybe a summary of what they want or their learner goals. Then work from there.
Obviously, groupwork doesn’t work. But as the second person of a pair, you can direct and manipulate pairwork very effectively in the class. Remember, the student has requested one to ones and will be wanting to interact with you as much as possible, so let that happen.
Other than that, try and view the lesson as a regular class. Don’t be afraid to give controlled practice exercises, writing or reading. The relative silence and lower monitoring needs can feel akward, but this will pass and it isn’t a bad thing.
10) How can I vary the exercises? My coursebook seems very samey.
Students won’t notice lesson patterns as keenly as you. If you are always using a text for new grammar, that isn’t a bad thing; you want students to have learnt by the end of the class. Try rewriting the material, reading it out loud as a listening, or using different speaking exercises. Use the teacher’s book, and don’t be afraid to substitute materials.
Have a look at what these are online: Dictogloss, grammaring exercises, Task-Based Learning and Inductive approaches in the classroom.
11) How do I mark writing?
Most schools have a policy or a key: sp = spelling, WW = wrong word etc etc. But is this enough for students? Try remodelling a sentence of two at the end of each student’s writing. Also, give them something to work on. Find a problem that they have, then write a “teacher tip” at the bottom of each piece of work. “We use present simple / imperatives / “to+ing”  to….” or “Can you think of different words for these?” are good examples. In this way, you are ensuring that every student notices and can work on one area of their writing, which personalises their experience.
I hope this has all been helpful.
Simon
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Lesson Planning – Aims and Staging

Have you just finished your CELTA / TEFL / other pre-service qualification? Have you been teaching a while and you now have to produce a plan for an observation? Chances are this is quite irritating.

Anybody can write down what they are going to do. But does it make sense? Is the order logical? Are the students learning? What the hell are my aims anyway?!

Aims

What will the students be better able to do by the end of the lesson? How will this be achieved?

At this stage, think about what is achievable and what is not. For example, “Students will be able to use passives” is not an achievable aim if you are introducing it for the first time. “Students will be better able to recognise present passive forms” IS. Tailor the aim to the level of the class and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Here’s an example:

By the end of the lesson, the students will be better able to hear the difference between /ɪ/ and /i:/

This will be achieved through:

  • A listening activity in which students discriminate between the sounds
  • A systems focus that looks at sound length and use of the diaphragm
  • A controlled practice activity in which students are drilled using display sentences
  • A free practice activity in which students create their own sentences using the sounds

It is no more complicated than that. You are looking for students to be more aware to start with. Production comes with a lot of repetition, at a level you can not provide in a single lesson.

Staging

What have I missed? What should come next? Broadly speaking, I have found that keeping it simple helps. Don’t overload on activities, don’t teach the same language twice, don’t lead in to the language focus twice. A brief outline could be:

Speaking / Listening / Reading / Writing – lead-in, activity that helps students notice what they can’t do, skills focus, repeat or expand on skill, feedback

Lexis / Grammar / Discourse / Phonology – lead-in, activity that helps students notice what they can’t do, systems focus, controlled practice, freer practice, feedback

That IS over-simplifying it a bit, but the idea is true: Don’t overload. Don’t be afraid to talk or to teach. Make sure everything is covered in the correct amount of depth. This can take time.

Below are some suggested structures for an hour-long lesson. If the lesson is longer, either the timings can be adjusted, an extra stage can be added in (do students need two controlled practice activities) or the cycle can be used twice for two separate language points that then join together. For example, if you are doing PPP, you might do PPP1, PPP2 and then combined activity 3.

Lesson Planning Suggestions for Teachers

Hope this helps somebody!

Simon

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IELTS Speaking – Improve your fluency (Part 1)

How can I sound more ‘English’?

Have a look at the question below.

Part 1: Tell me about your home town.

OK, if you’re doing the IELTS test, you have enough language to talk about your town. But what makes a “good answer”?

  • Vocabulary that matches the subject (25%
  • A good range of grammar (25%)
  • Fluency – not just speaking quickly, but understanding how we speak (25%)
  • Natural English pronunciation and tone (25%)

These four things are marked at 25% each. Have a look at two answers, and we will compare them.

Answer 1

“My home town er….. is a small town in Spain. It is on the coast, so er…. we can go to the… beach when we want. There aren’t er… many er…. skyscrapers, but there are …… many old buildings and er… churches. The weather is usually sunny and…. er… about 20 to 25 degrees in Summer. Maybe 10 in Winter, but it…. never snows. I like it there.”

OK, there are no grammatical mistakes here, which is great. The vocabulary matches the subject too. But does it sound ‘English’? Look at this second answer below:

Answer 2

Well, my home town is, you know, a small town in Spain. So… it’s on the coast, I mean, we can go to the sea… to the beach when we want. And there aren’t many tall buildings, I mean skyscrapers, but there are, like, many old buildings and places to see, like churches. It’s usually sunny, like, I mean, 20 to 25 degrees in Summer and, I don’t know, 10 in Winter or something, but it never snows. I like it there.”

Is the vocabulary different? No. Is the grammar different? No. So why does this second answer get a much better mark than the first?

The answer is the natural English in the middle. Look at the language in bold.

1) Did you know that “you know” and “I mean” are the two most common phrases in the English language? They have no meaning, but we say them all the time. They are like a pause, but better, because they copy what English people do when they speak. Can you think of what you say in your languages?

2) We often repeat ourselves. This speaker says “we can go to the sea… the beach” and this is completely natural. We are always thinking about what we say, and we go back and correct ourselves all the time.

3) What does “like” mean? It can mean: About, you know what I mean, um… and we use it a lot.

4) Look at how the speaker starts a sentence with ‘and’. We teach you not to do this in writing, but in Speaking it is completely natural.

5) Look at how the speaker doesn’t often give exact information. ‘About’, ‘like’, ‘or something’ and ‘I don’t know’ are all examples of language that isn’t exact.

6) Starting sentences with ‘So’, ‘Well’, ‘And’ and ‘I mean’ are very common.

How can I practise these??

Because these pieces of language have no meaning and they are automatic, we say them very quickly. Listen to the recording below. How do I say these bits of language:

“You know”, “I mean”, “Well”, “So”, “And”, “I don’t know”, “Or something” ?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNX0JnAYByk

  • Fast or slow?
  • Do I pause after I have said these things?
  • High or low sound?
  • Loud or quiet sound?

Think about these and then practise saying them again and again, like a loop:

“Y’know y’know y’know y’know y’know…” quickly. Then put this back in to a sentence? Did it help? It will help your IELTS mark.

Email me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com with any questions.

Simon

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Headway English Learner Games

Have you seen these?

http://elt.oup.com/student/headway/;jsessionid=06C8EF7D606EB4AC10B52C006DA0CDFE?cc=gb&selLanguage=en

This is from the Headway coursebook. You can click on your level, then choose to review units from the book, or there are grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation games to look at. I think this site is a really useful learning tool, AND fun!

Simon

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Talk to me about yourself!

Hi everyone!

I’d love to know you are all doing with your lives. If I’ve met you before tell me all your news and if I haven’t then tell me about your studies and your plans. Write anything you like as a comment on this page and I’ll try and answer everyone’s posts. I’ll even make corrections if you want me to! Just put the word “correct” under your name so I know.

Simon

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Useful IELTS websites for students

I know it can be difficult to find good, useful IELTS websites that help you with your studies. I’ve posted some links below with descriptions to help you understand what they are for.

1) http://www.ielts-exam.net/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

This website has got a lot of good practice examples. The menu on the left hand side is below:

From here, you can see hundreds of writing tests and a few reading, speaking and listening examples. It’s best for writing though. The model answers are good, but NOT perfect.

2) http://www.goodluckielts.com/IELTS-speaking-topics.html

This is an excellent website for speaking example questions. The link above is for Part 1.

3) http://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/prepare-test/free-practice-tests

This is the British Council’s page. It has some free practice tests for you to try on the left of the page.

In my opinion, these are some of the best pages out there for you.

If anyone has any questions about IELTS, please comment, Email me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com or tweet me (link on front page)

Simon

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Online Resources

So, my scribd account, www.scribd.com/SRenglish is where I store links to course books, resource books and theoretical material online. I’m always adding to it, so go and take a look. Amongst other things, all the Cutting Edge and New English file books are currently linked there, as are the Extra book series (Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing), Pronunciation Games and also an assortment of academic reference materials by Thornbury, Larson-Freeman etc.

I believe I’m legally obliged to mention that these are links for reference only…

Happy Weekend!

Simon

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Phrasal Verbs

“Teacher, I want more phrasal verbs”. Ever heard that one before? Students come here with this idea that phrasal verbs are a mystical force, a secret code that we native speakers talk in so as to exclude all the “outsiders”. Nothing could be further from the truth, but we are almost cornered in to teaching them as if they were magic. They aren’t; they’re vocab. Yes, some are idiomatic. Yes, some are separable. But these are only aspects of meaning and form.

I did a bit of research in to this area after deciding that course books don’t deal with them at all satisfactorily and I stumbled across the idea of a lexical notebook. It came from this “Teaching Collocation” by Michael Lewis, and Scribd has it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/76949359/Teaching-Collocations-1

Basically, it encourages students to view vocabulary sententially, but this is particularly helpful for phrasal verbs, as they are then encouraged to record these by topic and co-text rather than in a long list called “Phrasal Verbs”.

I spent some time analysing phrasal verbs, and you can find a copy of my work here:

http://simonrichardsonenglish.wordpress.com/teaching-portfolio/

What I’ve also done is attach my step-by-step lesson plan for my first DELTA observation, along with the text I prepared. It’s for Intermediate level, but it gives a possibility of how phrasal verbs can be introduced on your terms to a class with typical concerns about them. I found the language from a text method really useful, because it encouraged students to discover the vocabulary for themselves, thereby seeing it in context and viewing it as vocab rather than magic. The links to the lesson are below:

Lesson Staging

Email reading

Email reading BOLDED

Email reading GAP FILL

I was pretty happy with this lesson and it passed the first assessment, so even happier!

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The Inevitable (A career path devoid of responsibility)

I would like to thank and apologise to my Mother in equal measures for this short story…

I can hear the sun. It’s telling me drag myself from my pit and go outside. Honestly. It’s a lovely day. The problem is, it’s November. I am far too worldly wise to fall for that one. So, with the option of venturing more than 40 feet from my bedroom very clearly ruled out, I’ve slithered in to action. In this case, action involved making coffee and then going back to bed. Now here I am, shiny new web page, very exciting, I am a force of creative…bugger.

I am not a good student. I have a woefully short attention span and am prone to quite severe bouts of verbal diarrhoea. All this has, I imagine, not just made my recent decision to study for a DELTA intensively (more on that later) a skipping, whooping joy for all my classmates, but also means that I can more than adequately fulfil all the clichés of being a teacher by being gleefully hypocritical. What this also means, inevitably, is that I am now sitting here wondering what I should write. No, scratch that. I’m ACTUALLY thinking about Morrison’s High Juice. It’s extremely tasty, you see.

I am truly a lost cause. Relegate me to the back of the blogger’s class. Backs of classes are for doodling, absent-minded tapping and the insertion of index fingers in to an eye-popping number of orifices. Sadly enough, I am, if I say so myself, pretty damn talented at all of the above. So, with almost inevitable irony, my own profligacy and complete unteachability has led me to that self same fork in the road encountered by the Russian knight, and I have chosen, as I often tend to, to ride to the right and lose my head. Robert Frost will insist that I am in a yellow wood, but I’m not. I’m at my Mother’s house in an excruciatingly posh suburban town, hunched up in my sheetless bed, drinking coffee and waffling desperately on to a page that 99.9% of the world will never set eyes on.  Nevertheless, my fork in the road has led me to this point, a 28 year old teacher who, after four years of deliberating, cogitating and digesting to a level that would surely make Lloyd Grossman vomit, has taken the plunge in to the realm of getting a “proper qualification” and “committing to a career”. Wouldn’t my Mother be proud? Well, maybe not, seeing as I just referred to her town as excruciatingly posh. Sorry Mum.

DELTA is hard. If you are blissfully unaware of this acronym, just stop reading. Seriously, shoo. You are time-wasting to a level that even I can not aspire to, and I currently have a pencil inserted somewhere unspeakable. Still here? Right. DELTA is hard. I have essentially bankrupted myself in order to spend eight weeks practising my profession for free, while a smattering of teaching oracles poke me to see if I bruise. Then, every evening, I have gone home and discovered that, contrary to popular belief, books do actually bite. To outsiders, I may appear to be going to extreme lengths to ensure that my own native language becomes a form of personal torture, but, given my afore-mentioned goldfish-sized attention span and the fact that this career is not financially rewarding until a level 7 qualification is achieved, the decision to cram a 9 month course in to 8 weeks as if I were a WAG stuffing my suitcase full of fake tan in preparation for 3 nights in Magaluf, is actually the correct one to have taken. What is more, and this part is almost as shocking to me as the appalling demise of “good music”, I appear to be nearing the end of the course unscathed, fulfilled, enlightened and unnervingly motivated. I have enjoyed the last four years of work immensely and am genuinely looking forward to a career in TEFL. What has happened to me? Am I becoming an adult? Am I shedding the pimpled skin of my youth, forever replacing it with the wizened skin of experience? Am I… a nerd? It was not always this way.

I didn’t so much as choose to become a teacher as I did fall in to it, and I didn’t so much fall in to it as I did stagger, sway and ultimately tumble in to it with my tongue hanging out and my trousers round my ankles. Inevitably, my CV reads more like a scrapbook than a logical and sensible progression, the kind of collaborative classroom presentation where it is painfully obvious that none of the collaborators actually agreed on anything, but they painstakingly completed the task because the teacher told them to. A call centre, a bank, a hospital and a warehouse walked in to two bars, and the barmen say “Seriously?” In one line, I can almost, but not quite, tell a joke about my CV pre-2008.  I obviously found this extremely amusing. However, my Mother (there she is again) did not.

So, one fine morning, I nonchalantly tore open an envelope displaying her distinctive italic script and was taken aback to see inside not a Guardian article about the dangers of excessive drinking, but a clipping from the very same newspaper about the ever-expanding universe of something called TEFL. Obviously, I threw it straight in the bin and went to work. It was only later that something started niggling, gnawing, eating away at the back of my mind like a persistent and apocalyptically powerful nit. Desperately unfulfilled and completely devoid of ideas, I vowed to rescue the now screwed-up clipping from its unenviable resting place of a student bin and actually give it a bit of thought. One thing of which I could be entirely certain, is that, despite being full to overflowing, the contents of the bin would not have been even so much as glanced at.

Making decisions has never been a strong point. So, deeply dissatisfied by this seemingly inseparable link between human existence and agency, I was instantly gratified beyond belief after reading Luke Rhinehart’s “The Dice Man”. The concept of assigning potential decisions that tackle the entire spectrum of possibilities – from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous – to an arbitrary medium seemed to be a shining beacon of light that pierced the darkness I had always perceived as mind-numbing sensibility. Of course, presenting this idea to a group of already wayward students embodied the stock tagline of theatrical farce throughout the ages: “…with hilarious consequences”. Inebriation, idiocy and irresponsibility in equal and generous amounts had ensued (all above board of course, Mum) and now here I was, actually contemplating making a pivotal life decision. Ironically, there was only one option, and that was the option of not to opt. So, I scanned my bedroom, located a half-chewed biro from underneath a disturbingly discoloured tissue, and wrote the following:

1 – Take Mum’s advice: apply for the CELTA

2- Stick at this job

3- Quit this job TODAY

4- Apply to go back to University

5- Ask for old job back

6- Buy a plane ticket to a country that will be decided by a further dice roll

Lucky dice cupped in my right hand, I shook it in the kind of manner that could easily have been mistaken by a passing sign language expert, and let it drop on to my impressively stained carpet, bounce, tumble, deviate and eventually come to rest…

The rest is not, as Hamlet would say, silence, but simply inevitability.

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FOOD!

I love food. Because of this, I have developed a number of materials that allow me to teach students about it. My enthusiasm = their enthusiasm or something. Anyway, I designed these for World Food Day, which, besides being about food, is actually about helping third world countries. So there’s the schemata. Hope some of these prove to be enjoyable.

Cut up and match – Lower Levels

Select Recipes from The Forme of Cury – Advanced

Recipe Gap Fill Int

Two Recipes with Vocab

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Games and Freer Practice Activities

ARGH! I’ve still got 15 minutes left! How many times have I said that in a classroom?? Well, none actually, but I’ve certainly thought it on many, many occasions. Sometimes I just can’t think of a game that doesn’t provoke the response “Oh, THIS again…”. Well, here’s a few lists of games and quick activities that can be really helpful in this situation. And, as it goes, a lot of them can be used or adapted for freer practice activities. I hope these are of some help.

162 games for Adults and Young Learners

100 Games for Young Learners

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Day One

Well, I have finally got myself set up. I now have this page, a Twitter that links to this page, a LinkedIn account that links to this page and the twitter, a separate Twitter as a personal account which links to my Facebook page, which is linked to my Spotify, and all of these things are somehow magically on my mobile phone in the form of Apps, which do whatever they want without instruction and then tell me about it afterwards. I mean, what is the world coming to? Soon I’m going to have a fridge that links to my stomach, which in turn is linked to my neighbour’s dog and then we’ll all be in big trouble. Does anyone out there have any useful tips, hints, advice, mockery or unhelpful taunts that could steer me in the right direction on these sites? Actually, I’m getting the hang of Twitter now I think about it. I’m following all the people that I’m expected to: Stephen Fry, Mrs Stephen Fry, QI, Stephen Fry’s mother’s sister’s cousin’s great-aunt Brenda. Oh, and Lord Sugar. He’s definitely got a lot in common with me.

So anyway, if anybody stops by and wants to provide a metaphorical stroke of the head or soothing lullaby, please feel free. If you don’t then I’m worried I may have a technological breakdown. And, in this day and age, that could be very unpleasant indeed.

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Hi!

Hi to everyone out there!

This is my site where I discuss, share ideas and write about English as a Foreign Language.

At the moment, the menu on the right of the page links to help for students with general English and exam English, as well as teaching resources and tips for teachers. I add things fairly regularly – at least once or twice a week. Take a look and feel free to comment, download, peruse and enjoy!

I hope to get to know people, students or teachers and hear about teaching and learning experiences from as many people as possible.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the site!

SimonSimon Richardson