Posted on 3 Comments

Lesson Structures for teachers

I created this recently, for new teachers at my school. Hopefully this will serve to help newer teachers familiarise themselves with skills teaching, and for more experienced teachers to get a bit of revision!

Note – where the post says “à”, it’s where there was a directional arrow –> to show step by step progression through a class, but it didn’t paste well from the original Word document.

 

Possible Lesson Structures

Systems (Vocabulary, Grammar, Discourse, Pronunciation) Classes

  • PPP

Warmer à “Presentation” (language focus – part elicited, part given)à Practice (controlled) à Production (Freer)

  • I only use this for Elem / Low Pre-Int, because the target language isn’t being drawn out of context – just being presented.

 

  • ESA

Warmer à Engage (effectively, this is where the warmer leads to a slightly extended discussion around a topic, which can then be formalised through text or presentation, so that students gradually start to focus on specific target language) à Study (language focus and controlled practice) à Activate (produce)

  • This is similar to PPP, but with an elongated opening couple of sections. It could also be similar to language from a text, as you could introduce text in the engage stage.
  • You might not have studied this if you did a CELTA – it’s part of the syllabus for the trinity TESOL.

 

  • TTT

Warmer à Test existing knowledge (this could be through a task rather than a formalised “test”) àTeach (language focus, so covering meaning, pronunciation and form) à Test (again, this could be a test or just a productive activity)

  • Obviously, the danger is the students all perform fantastically on the first test stage, rendering the rest of the lesson a bit pointless, so be careful with pitching!
  • The idea is that students perform better in the final stage than in the first stage, due to the language focus. Often, you can add a “meta-cognitive” stage at the end of your lesson. All this means is that you ask them to acknowledge what they’ve learnt, and evaluate their own performance in terms of improvement within the lesson.

 

  • Language From a Text (Inductive)

Warmer à Text / “Language Vehicle” (so there is a reading or listening in some format, with gist / detail comprehension tasks, and the final task is for students to identify and underline specific examples of language in prep for your language focus stage) àLanguage Focus (board the examples they find and do MFP from them) à Practice (controlled) à Produce (freer)

  • This is often the course book approach – don’t make the mistake of seeing a listening / reading and thinking “this is a listening / reading lesson” – if the goal is systematic (vocab, grammar, discourse, pron) then the lesson is a systems lesson. This means not spending too long with the text / language vehicle stage
  • I think that this is by far the most effective way to teach systems, because students view and identify language in context throughout

Skills (Reading, Speaking, Listening, Writing) lessons

For skills lessons, the final part of the lesson (the goal) is for the students to be performing the skill in a more effective way than they were at the start of the lesson, whereas a systems lesson simply helps the students to put new language in to context. So, a skills lesson should end with extended reading, speaking, listening or writing (followed by a feedback stage at the end). With receptive skills (reading / listening), there isn’t a need for a controlled practice stage, and this is often (although not always) the case with productive skills (writing / speaking).

  • Task-Based Approach

Similar to a TTT lesson, but focussing on skills instead of systems.

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Task (practising the skill) à Feedback and language input (either pre-prepared, or from the errors you have noticed) à Task (practising the skill in a similar context – students do it better this time because of the language input)

How does this work with receptive skills?

With skills lessons, you’re trying to help students improve the actual mechanics of the skill. With speaking / writing, this is pretty clear, but with reading / listening, it can be more difficult to understand how students can develop. Here are some ways:

  • Skimming for gist / scanning for detail (reading)
  • Taking notes (listening)
  • Inferring meaning from context (reading / listening)
  • Summarising (reading / listening)
  • Answering specific exam tasks – eg. True / False / Not Given (reading / listening)

This means that the “input” section of a task-based lesson needs to provide students with techniques to help them improve these skills. Generally, this is done by leading the students through the actual process of the skill step by step – in a controlled way. It may be that they are simply getting the mechanics wrong. For example, a lot of students will be scan-reading by reading normally, but quickly, rather than looking up or down / side to side on the page. We can improve this! Here are a couple of lessons that work well.

  1. Reading – inferring meaning from context

Task – Students read a text with some questions focussing directly on the meaning of individual words. Teacher goes through the process of getting answers as per normal and then asks students for their techniques on getting the meaning of these words.

Input – Teacher gets a couple of examples up on the board in context, and gets students to point out linguistic / meaning clues from the context – focussing on tense to help with time concepts, adjectives/  verbs or collocations, and then gives students the chance to do a couple more in isolation, in pairs.

Task – A further reading text with meaning-based questions. I’ve often done this and put made-up words in the text for a bit of fun. Students are now focussing on the mechanics of the task, and should perform better. Ask them at the end! (When students reflect on their learning and perceive their improvement within a class, this is called meta-cognition – it’s very motivating).

  1. Listening – “Dictogloss” (note-taking skills)

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Gist – students listen to a short audio / read text, simply for gist. Notes à Students listen again and take notes, with the objective of a future complete textual reconstruction. They can compare in pairs, and the teacher can do a second repeat. Input à Once the text has been constructed, teacher focusses on note-taking. You could look at structure, organisation, or simply the words that they are noting down (grammar is not necessary, as it can be filled in retrospectively, and students may be unaware of abbreviations, for example) Listening 2 à Students do another dictation / reconstruction, using the skills that have been focussed on.

Productive Skills

With speaking, a task-based approach works very well, but there are a few variations.

  1. A transactional speaking class

This is a class where students are focussing on specific purposes for speaking, in which there are social conventions, “scripts” (things that the English listener would expect to hear) and a definite goal (the successful transaction).

Situations: In a bank, in a train station, in a restaurant etc…

Areas to focus on: Slang terms they might here, making formal / semi-formal requests, situation-based vocab – these would all form part of the input section. This is almost vocab / grammar input in to a skills class, so there is room for a traditional “systems-style” language focus / controlled practice if necessary

  1. An interactional speaking class

In this kind of class, students are looking at the skill of speaking, as a tool for general interaction. So here, the skills are slightly different. You could look at some of the following:

  • Interruption (how to signal that you would like to interrupt)
  • Agreeing / disagreeing / suggesting etc. (language points)
  • Redundancy (how to use redundant language to improve fluency – “I mean…” “like”, “y’know” etc.
  • Circumlocution (how to explain something when you’ve forgotten a word)
  • Expressing interest (how not to appear bored)

Etc…

 

 

Writing

With writing, there are two good lesson structures that work, especially with academic writing.

  1. Product writing – this is a writing lesson where students focus on a linguistic convention that will aid their writing, so this will include a controlled practice
  2. Process writing – this is where students are focussing on the actual process of writing (brainstorming, drafting, editing etc)

You can have a look at simple stage explanations for these here: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/product-process-writing-a-comparison

What else?

Thinking specifically about reacting and responding to student errors, something to consider is Dogme.

Dogme gets a lot of criticism from people as laziness, but if done and prepared in the right way, students react really well to it, as it is a class that looks at errors made on the spot. Dogme is generally thought of as unplanned teaching, but this isn’t actually the case. It is going in to class with a clear lesson structure, as per normal, but with no language point as yet. The language point will become apparent at the beginning of the class. Here’s how:

  • The start of the lesson is either a general chat, or students pick a topic from a list for discussion
  • As the students are discussing (this works in pairs, with rotations), the teacher monitors and lists errors
  • Errors are boarded, and the teacher does an on-the-spot language focus
  • Controlled practice is either done live (teacher starts writing examples and the students start working on them as soon as they can see a first, completed one), or students repeat task 2 while teacher pops downstairs to copy some language-specific resources
  • Students repeat similar speaking task, focussing on linguistic accuracy. Again, teacher monitors and boards errors.

Another way to incorporate language focus is outlined by Ken Lackman here: https://www.etprofessional.com/cat_a_framework_for_dogme_83068.aspx

Dogme with receptive skills lessons / lessons that use a text

Again, the discussion part of the lesson at the beginning is necessary – this is how Dogme lessons traditionally start. Here though, the teacher starts stage 2 with a live listening (teacher tells a story on topic, with no preparation, and goes through gist, detail and language focus based on what they’ve said), or uses an app such as Zite to download and print a text based on the topic the students have been discussing, which students then do gist / detail tasks on, and then mine for vocab / grammar.

Obviously, these kinds of lessons require confidence and a lot of on-the-spot thinking on behalf of the teacher. They should also be used sparingly – I tend to go for 1 or 2 a week. However, with practice, they can become extremely effective strings to a teacher’s bow.

Demand High

Based on general best practices with regards to classroom management, and taking a lot of its ideas from The Silent Way, Demand High is basically a list of techniques you can use within the classroom to make sure that the level of challenge is kept high for all students. This is particularly useful when dealing with classes with a mix of level (so, most classes!) This includes:

  • Delaying acknowledgement of correct answers
  • Silent teaching
  • Demanding more from all student interactions (this is particularly useful for higher level students – if they offer an answer, was the answer delivered with perfect grammar? Can they repeat an answer another student gave? Can they say it again with better pron / using a synonym / using the past instead of the present?)
  • Student teaching (delegate ICQs / parts of the language focus to students)
  • One to one teaching within a group
  • And many more!

You can learn more about Demand High on the website here: https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/

And read my own research paper on Demand High teaching here:
https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/demand-high-a-delta-experimental-practice-simon-richardson/
As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions / comments! 🙂

 

Simon

Posted on Leave a comment

For Teachers – a great speaking activity

Sometimes I wish I could think of more activities where students really got stuck in to a meaty task that required linguistic ability as well as critical thinking. Well, here’s a great one. http://iteslj.org/Lessons/Gibson-PuzzleActivity.html

Originally designed as a job interview task, this lesson requires reading, negotiation, discrimination between important and unimportant information, leadership, organisation, mathematics and a LOT of speaking. This is how I set it up:

1) Do some preparation before the class – typically, students take about an hour to complete it so there isn’t really time for a language focus, setup and a decent amount of feedback in the class itself (in a typical 90 minute class)

2) In the lesson before, I look at language to make suggestions, agree / disagree, negotiate, and also have a revise of conditionals.

3) Prior to the lesson, cut up the bullet point information in to individual strips, so they can be distributed to students randomly. Obviously, the task is more difficult the bigger the class is – I find it’s most effective with 8-10 students, but works well with anywhere between 5 and 14.

3) In the setup, I explain that I will be silent during the task (but I usually provide head nods and facial expressions), and that they should use the board to make their own glossary and put up basic informative notes. They aren’t allowed to show each other the strips of paper that they have, but they can read them out loud (so there’s plenty of listening practice too). I also tell them that some of the information will be there to distract them (you can draw parallels with the IELTS exam here if you have exam students)

4) Now the task begins. I read out the introduction and write the translations of the “fake” words on the board, to reinforce the way in which students need to use it. I then hand out the shuffled strips of paper, so that students have a few each. They then start the task. Don’t worry if they are pretty much silent for 5 minutes or more. It’s a confusing beginning, but eventually, someone will write something on the board and it will make sense to another student that has a connected piece of information, and the task will start moving forward. Obviously, if you spot that someone has totally misread something, or that they are wildly on the wrong track, you can give a nudge, at your discretion.

5) When they complete the task, get them to run through the information they needed once more, and then have a look at the language they used – both to do with making suggestions, and any other mistakes. I usually board a “10 of the best mistakes” and then they have to correct them together.

It’s only fair to mention the way in which you get the answer here!

A) You need to know how many working days there are in a week. There are 4, because one of them is a day of rest. Therefore, they have a maximum of 8 days to complete the task within the two week limit.

B) You need to know how many people are working on the structure – in effect, there are 7, because each team consists of 8 people, but one does no work because of religious ceremonies. Also, only one team is working at any one time.

C) You need to know how many hours in a day they work. The answer is 9, because there are 11 working hours in a day and they get 2 hours’ break.

D) You need to know how many stones the structure consists of. As the structure is a solid cube, you multiply the length, depth and width to get 52,022. The information also says that the stones are 1X1, so that’s 52,022 stones.

E) You need to know the output of the workers – it’s 108 stones per person per hour.

So, 7 people lay 108 stones each in an hour – that’s 756 stones, and then in a 9-hour day, 6804 stones. The structure has 52,022, so they take 7.6457 days to build it. In other words, they finish on the fourth day of the second week, which is called Ee’da’ne!

 

Enjoy!

 

Simon

Posted on 2 Comments

Making Plans and Predictions

Making Plans

What is the difference between “will” and “going to”? Or the difference between “going to” and present continuous? I’ve drawn a picture that I think shows these differences clearly – click on and save the picture to see it in a larger size.

IMAG0964

So, what does this picture tell us?

  1. “will” is used to talk about future events that we haven’t planned yet. We haven’t planned them because this is the first time we’ve been told about them, or the first time we’ve thought about them. Two examples:
  • “I’ll help you with those books” – I’ve seen someone having trouble so I’ve offered to help
  • “I’ll come with you” – I’ve just been told a friend is going on holiday and I’ve decided I want to come.

Of course, we could use “might” or “may” if we’re less sure about the decision.

2.   “going to” is used when a plan has been made, but the future event is still quite far away in time (see example) – so we usually make the time very clear (“I’m going to see Harry Potter at the cinema next Saturday”) – this means I’ve already bought a ticket, so I made the plan some time before I said this.

3.   Present Continuous is used when the event is planned and is really soon. We often use this to talk about events that are happening on the same day. Remember, we must specify time, because if we don’t then the listener will understand that we are talking about something happening now! Example:

  • “I’m seeing Harry Potter later” – I know that this is soon, and therefore unlikely to change
  • “I’m seeing Harry Potter” – This is happening now, so you’re talking to me while the film is on

4.   We also use Present Simple to talk about future events. In this case they are happening very soon, they are extremely unlikely to change, and they are usually actions / events that we can not control. For this reason, we often talk about schedules (transport, for example) because they are on a timetable and being controlled by other people. Example:

  • “The train leaves from Platform 6 at 7:30pm” – this train will leave with or without me!

So, you can see that as you read down the page on my picture, you become more sure about the event as it gets closer to happening (have a look at the arrow).

 

OK, now lets look at how we can make a similar picture for making predictions

IMAG0965

 

Again, there is an arrow showing that as the event gets closer, you become more sure of your prediction. So, “going to” is a prediction we make when the event is almost happening, or is almost 100% certain. Example:

  • “Manchester City are going to win” – I say this after 45 minutes of the match, when Manchester City are already winning!
  • “Manchester City will definitely win” – I say this before the match, so it’s a prediction made with less evidence.

Notice that we can’t use present continuous / present simple to make predictions!

I hope this helps you! As always, email / comment with any questions!

 

Simon

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

What stage are you at?

Further to the CPD log post I made here http://wp.me/s2RmnE-cpd , here are the British Council stages of teaching. A couple of points:

  • You don’t have to fit entirely in to one stage – in fact, you’re probably between two.
  • Admitting to some of the “improvement areas” doesn’t make you a bad teacher. The whole point is that everyone can develop and improve.
  • Set yourself realistic goals and sensible time limits. For example: I’ve set myself a 6 month goal of becoming an accredited teacher trainer as part of my stage 5 development.

Take a look – I think they’re really helpful.

Simon

Stage 1 Teachers

Stage 2 Teachers (1)

Stage 3 Teachers

Stage 4 Teachers

Stage 5 Teachers_0

Stage 6 Teachers

Posted on Leave a comment

Present Simple – Regular actions / routine

An introduction to the Present Simple (Lesson 1)

What do you do every day?

Routine

These things make up your everyday routine. When we talk about these things, and other things that we do more than once, we use the Present Simple.

Now read the text below. What examples of routine actions can you find?

My Simple Life

I get up at about 7:30 and have a quick shower. I usually make my dinner to take to work, but sometimes I can’t get out of bed! At work, I often stay late to do a bit more, but I sometimes feel really tired and then I go home at about 3 o’clock. I always eat my tea late and it ALWAYS contains meat! Later, I usually work out and I occasionally eat again afterwards. I rarely do anything on week nights (except play Sport) but I’m often in bed quite late because I like to do a lot of non-work things to relax after a long day’s teaching!

How many routine actions did you find? Take another look…

I get up at about 7:30 and have a quick shower. I usually make my dinner to take to work, but sometimes I can’t get out of bed! At work, I often stay late to do a bit more, but I sometimes feel really tired and then I go home at about 3 o’clock. I always eat my tea late and it ALWAYS contains meat! Later, I usually work out and I occasionally eat again afterwards. I rarely do anything on week nights (except play Sport) but I’m often in bed quite late because I  do a lot of non-work things to relax after a long day’s teaching!

The examples all use the Present Simple. You make this by using Subject (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) + verb 1 (remember to +s for he/she/it – I work –> He works / I read –> He reads / I go –> She goes

There is some extra information. Can you find the words that give us information about how often I do these things? How many are in the picture below? These are called adverbs.

Adverbs of Frequency

So, if I say always, this is a routine that never changes! For example: I always have a shower in the morning. Look at how the % information comes after the subject and before the verb. Can you make a list from my text similar to the picture above?

Answer

I get up / have a quick shower / do a lot of non-work things (like always – but with no adverb)
I always eat my tea late / it ALWAYS contains meat (100%)
I usually eat my dinner / I usually work out (80%)
I often stay late / I’m often in bed quite late (70%)
Sometimes I can’t get out of bed / I sometimes feel really tired (50%)
I occasionally eat again (30%)
I rarely do anything (10%)

So, we can see that I work out more often (80%) than I eat again (30%).

Can you complete these sentences to make them true for you?

1. I ___________ go to the cinema.

2. I ___________ go shopping.

3. I ___________ eat vegetables at mealtimes.

4. I ___________ visit my friends’ houses.

5. I ___________ phone / Skype my family.

Now write a paragraph about your routine! Use my example to help you.

More Information (Lesson 2)

1. How can I use don’t ?

Do you say “I don’t usually eat breakfast before work” or “I usually don’t eat breakfast before work”?

Good news! You can say both! Take a look at the picture below. If you see (don’t), you can use it there in a sentence.

I (don’t) always eat breakfast beforework
I (don’t) usually (don’t) eat breakfast before work
I (don’t) often (don’t) eat breakfast before work
I sometimes (don’t) eat breakfast before work
I occasionally (don’t) eat breakfast before work
I rarely (don’t) eat breakfast before work
I never eat breakfast before work –> use positive and always!

So you see, in general, more than 50% = don’t before adverb. Less than 50% = don’t after adverb.

How can I make questions?

Example: Do you usually go to the cinema at weekends? Do you always play Football on Mondays?

So, adverb before verb, but after subject.

cinema

How often do you….?

If you want to say specifically how often you do something, then don’t use an adverb. Try one of these phrases instead:

I go to the cinema once a week. –> Once =  one time
She eats meat at dinner twice a month. –> Twice = two times 
They play Football every month. –> Every month = once a month
We see my family three times a year. 

You’re done! Now you can:

  • Ask questions about people’s routines
  • Talk about frequency of actions
  • Write a paragraph about your daily routines

Now try this practice exercise to revise word order!

Present Simple Exercises

Simon

Posted on 1 Comment

Placement Testing

Background

As part of my studies on assessing and developing critical thinking skills in the language classroom, I’ve devised and trialled a new kind of placement test for older teenagers and adults. The objectives are as follows:

  • To more accurately gauge a learner’s ability to apply, analyse, evaluate and create – rather than merely understand and remember.
  • To use the placement test to divide classes of the same level, not than by minute and discrete “levels”, but by level of ability to engage with critical questions.

The idea behind the above, in brief, is that classes where learners have a similar “level” of engagement (critically) are grouped together, ensuring that a common situation in which a very creative and analytical student is stifled within a class of other learners who have not developed these skills yet.  Secondly, a focus on critical thinking skills represents a more “western” learning model, and could be beneficial to learners who, culturally, have had very little exposure to this learning style and might therefore initially struggle to complete this placement test.

The Test

The placement test consists of the following elements:

  • A “general” test divided in to four parts – remembering (a multiple choice grammar section), understanding (a reading summary activity), applying (a set of rules for asking interview questions followed by a chance to apply these rules) and evaluating (a list of items in order of importance). The test is designed, critically speaking, to get harder (move further up the critical thinking pyramid).
  • A speaking test, consisting of two parts. Some general “level determiner” questions, followed by an analysing task – placing a series of pictures in to two columns and giving reasons for categorisation.
  • A writing task – creating – in which students have a choice of two questions.

Logistically speaking, the general test should take 35 minutes, the writing 25 minutes and the speaking 5 minutes (max) per student. The speaking can run in conjunction with the two paper-based tasks, meaning that the goal is to take an hour to get the tests finished.

Recording

During marking, a student front-sheet is filled out. This is copied and given to teachers ahead of their new students arriving in class. The front sheet includes areas for “notes” which are there to give new teachers an early idea of what their new students will need to work on. There is also space to comment on their traditional, “linguistic” performance.

Results

  • I trialled this test on a random group of adults, who had already been placed using a different test. CEFR-speaking, the test matched their class levels with a reliability of just over 90%.
  • With the teen classes, the placement test was used in three continuous enrolment summer schools as the only method of placement. In situations where multiple classes of the same level were required, students were grouped by critical thinking abilities. The feedback from staff was that students interacted well within their classes and were able to respond to exercises on a similar level, showing that the test had “filtered” learners well.
  • Student feedback was at a very high positive level, with less than 10% of students across the three sites expressing dissatisfaction with their placed level.
  • Students completed the placement test upon arrival and then repeated it on departure. Of those who did so, every single student scored higher on critical thinking exercises, showing that teachers had not only addressed critical thinking exercises such as those outlined on other pages on this site, but also that students had responded positively.

I’ve attached the placement test, student front sheet and procedure notes. As always, please get in touch with me on my Email if you want to ask anything / share an experience, positive or negative, of using this test.

BLOOMS Answer Sheet

General Test BLOOMS

Oral Placement Test BLOOMS

Procedure Notes

Student Front Sheet

Writing BLOOMS

Thanks

 

Simon

Posted on 2 Comments

“Ghost” Observations – An Idea for Schools

“It’s time for a round of peer observations”

Why is it that this extremely helpful sentence always sounds like anything but? Sadly, mentoring, buddying, peer reviewing  – whatever your school calls it, often has the appearance of adding an extra layer of stress and scrutiny to an already stressful and scrutinised job. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Initially designed for busy times when there is no cover available for your classes, the Ghost observation allows you to be… well, a ghost. Yes, this is an observation during which your class is not observed by anyone.

Strange.

However, there are some really interesting and positive twists on a regular observation here. In brief:

  • The forms involved encourage and directly prompt reflection, but the pre-lesson form also allows for the teacher to think about the class itself before it has happened – meaning that a greater degree of objectivity can be achieved before thoughts are (often) distorted by the way that the class has gone.
  • No observer = a “normal” class. That phrase “They were far quieter / less communicative etc… because you were in the room” has no place in a ghost observation.
  • Feedback is objective – the “observer” hasn’t observed anything, so they only have your own thoughts to go on, rather than a prior knowledge of student behaviour from having taught / met them before.

Sound interesting? On to the procedure….

  1. The teacher completes this form Pre-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  2. The teacher teaches the class
  3. The teacher completes this form Post-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  4. The “ghost” observer reads both forms and organises a time to sit down and discuss these with the teacher. In the discussion – as with conventional lesson feedback – advice, tips, frustrations, joy and completely unrelated things(!) can be discussed.
  5. Everybody is happy.

With the exception of number 5, this should run like clockwork. Having had a go at this, I can say that I got an awful lot out of it – which wasn’t exactly what I expected. I strongly urge you to have a go – or talk to your manager about having a go. If you do, then please let me know how it goes!

Simon

Posted on 1 Comment

An Introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of educational objectives, separated in to cognitive, affective and psychomotor – as below.

Bloom's Rose

(See http://iteachu.uaf.edu/develop-courses/planning-a-course/outcomes-evidence/ for more charts)

The chairman of the group of educators that conceived it was called Benjamin Bloom. The simplified pyramid below refers to the cognitive skills, and demonstrates the progression of thinking skills from lower order (remembering, understanding) to higher order (applying, analysing, evaluating, creating).

Bloom's New Pyramid

Looking at a range of controlled practice activities (eg gap fills) or reading / listening comprehension activities, they tend to focus more on remembering and understanding, which is a good start. However, if you progress directly to a creative activity, you may have jumped too far, too quickly. The pyramid provides you with the opportunity to take a step-by-step approach in the classroom, as well as clearly see areas where students excel or lack.

Example questions, based on a class about apples:

Remembering: What are the health benefits of eating apples? (Recalling facts, exhibiting knowledge)
Understanding: Compare the health benefits of eating apples v eating oranges. (Demonstrate understanding by comparing or interpreting)
Applying: What kinds of apples are best for baking a pie, and why? (Applying knowledge and facts)
Analysing: List four ways of serving foods made with apples and explain which ones have the highest health benefits. Provide references to support your statements. (Inferring, finding evidence and supporting generalisations)
Evaluating: Do you feel that serving apple pie for an after school snack for children is healthy? (Present and defend opinions)
Creating: Convert an “unhealthy” recipe for apple pie to a “healthy” recipe by replacing your choice of ingredients. Explain the health benefits of using the ingredients you chose vs. the original ones. (Remodel and combine existing information / learning to make something new)

How can I teach this in the classroom?

Through questioning. You can use and adapt the questions that you will find on the staff room wall. Through open questions, students are required to communicate, express themselves and exhibit a higher level of understanding and interaction with the language.

  • Add some critical thinking questions to your lessons after students have displayed initial comprehension, work on their responses and then give them the chance to respond again to these questions in their progress tests.
  • Differentiate your classes by responding to students that finish a task quickly with a question one ‘step’ further up the pyramid. Refer to the poster directly and record their achievement on the student achievement sheet.
  • Get some discussion going, by setting up debates, organising groupwork, looking at some problems, or using some ideas from this toolkit Challenge Toolkit– some of which are elaborated on more on this site.

I have been undertaking some studies on students’ responses to activities such as these in classrooms – have a look at some of the other links on the site for more information.

Simon

Posted on Leave a comment

Phone / Skype Interviews

Hi. Welcome. Congratulations. You’re here, so you’ve successfully negotiated the perils of processing and the pitfalls of print layout to create a CV / cover letter that doesn’t fall foul of any of the cretinous issues mentioned in my previous article http://simonrichardsonenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/efl-jobs/. Now, onwards to interviews.

Job interview etiquette is well-documented on the web. Don’t be late, dress appropriately, make a positive first impression by making eye contact, shaking your prospective employer’s hand firmly and then proceed to the interview room, where you sit up straight and deliver well-prepared answers to anticipated questions with confidence and assertiveness while all the time smelling nice. Oh, and then ask some good questions youself. What could be easier?

Well, let’s think about Skype. For a start, making eye contact involves staring at the top of the computer instead of at the video, something so completely unnatural that if you do it then the person on the other end of the call has absolutely NO option but to assume you’re a serial killer and inform the local anti-terrorist unit. Hear those sirens? They’re already on their way. Erase all files and take own life by auto-asphyxiation using small household pet. There. That went well.

Clearly, there are a few differences then.

Give me a job

“You’re going to give me a job, or I’m going to find you and eat your toes”

1. Appearances

The problem with a Skype / phone interview is that you’re at home. That might sound really obvious, but I genuinely believes that it alters your behaviour.  Sure, you’ve put on a shirt and tie, but under the table you’re wearing novelty Tasmanian Devil slippers and Oh my God, is that LUBE over there, just out of shot?! On some old toast?! That’s just… that’s just foul. You aren’t taking this seriously, but the interviewer is. THEY’RE at work, you see.

  • Put on smart clothes, including smart footwear. It’ll make a difference. Do this for a phone interview too – it’ll really help you get in the mood.
  • Clear your desk of toenail clippings, and arrange it like you would a work desk – mug, papers, relevant literature etc.
  • Remove distracting items from your eye line AND the eye line of the interviewer.
  • Switch off your mobile phone.

My favourite: A very well-dressed man sat with a Justin Bieber poster in the background. “Sorry, can you repeat that please, I wasn’t paying…..”

2. The First Part

There’s nothing like saying “HELLO… HE… HELLOOOO…?” twelve times to calm the pre-interview nerves. Just remember: if the interviewer is choosing this method, then they have seen this before. You aren’t making a bad impression by having Skype problems. They aren’t writing “X – lives in area with poor internet coverage” on a piece of paper. Just stay calm, and make sure you’ve logged on in good time to do the Skype call test. If it doesn’t work, try switching off the video.

Once the call is connected and working, you are now VISIBLE. Then it really gets awkward. Do I say “Hi, nice to meet you”? (because we’re not technically “meeting”).

Something along those lines is fine. At this point it’s probably appropriate to introduce My Favourite: A man who chose “Alright mate?” as his opening line.

NB: If you’re on a phone interview, it’s still obvious if you’re looking out of the window. Remember, the interviewer can’t see you, so they place even more importance on your voice. Focus on your pitch and variation in tone. Nobody is going to be impressed if you sigh or breathe heavily. They may bar your call, but that ought not to be your goal. They also won’t give you a job if you deliver every answer in-com-plete mo-no-0tone.

Firstimpressions

3. Appearances (Again)

You’re still on camera. The interviewer can see you throughout and the answer is “No”, you can’t remain completely still and poker-faced while you slowly edge your hand towards your mouse, and “Yes”, they can hear you / tell when you start tapping in your Facebook password.

Instead of some tips, here are some cautionary tales. (Also, partly because people told me after my last article that they wanted more amusing instances of candidate idiocy).

  • A girl started talking about her previous experience, but got so comfortable that she picked her nose. OK, a surreptitious nose pick might have been forgiven, nut she pulled out a massive, green bit of nose-string that stayed attached to her finger AND nose for about 8 inches, like some kind of offering from a tiny nose-dwelling Spiderman web. Tip: TISSUES.
  • A young man who had prepared his desk well enough to have a mug of water ready for the interview. Perfect, but HIS mug had a pair of tits on it.
  • A young lady whose phone went off. Pretty poor, but then she clearly started texting under the table. I CAN SEE YOUR EYES.
  • A guy who put his chin on his hand for the majority of the interview. He looked like I was telling him a bedtime story.

Sit up straight, don’t lean on your elbows (a headset will enable you to sit further away from the screen without compromising on volume) and keep your eyes on the screen. You wouldn’t look out of the window during a face-to-face interview. What’s that? You would? Get out of my office.

4. General Interview Stuff

There is nothing more galling than devoting time to an interview for which the interviewee is unprepared. Nobody is asking that you spend days on this, but there are a few things that you really should be doing as standard.

  • Check the company website – locations, ethos, any clues as to your potential remit.
  • Be prepared to explain gaps in employment and go in to details about previous jobs. If something relevant happened a while ago, jog your memory about it BEFORE the interview, rather than choosing the midway point of your conversation as the ideal moment for a quick reminisce.
  • Try and think of a positive from each experience you mention. If you were responsible for filing, it was developmentally positive because it enhanced your organisational skills. If you made a “like-clockwork” 30-minute visit to the toilet each morning, it demonstrated both reliability AND intestinal health.
  • Be prepared to answer “competency” questions. (More on that below)
  • What are your weaknesses? This always gets asked. Try and think of something honest, but not too awful. “I need to improve my presentation skills” is OK. Anything that starts “I really hate…” is not.
  • Have some questions ready for the end of the interview. DON’T ask about salary, holidays, perks, benefits, pensions, free chocolate or where the interviewer got that lovely top. Also, don’t say “Did I get it then?”

My favourite: A candidate whose first question was “Yeah… are we nearly done, because I’m off to the cinema… I didn’t know it’d be an hour, you see” (The Email asked to allow an hour)

Special mention: Somebody who said “Nobody has ever told me I have weaknesses, so I guess I don’t have any, because feedback would have told me”. After my feedback, she was presumably unable to ever say this again.

1009

(In)Competency

By this, I mean questions that refer to specific situations and scenarios in which you have to make a decision. I DON’T mean the kind of questions that high-street retailers have started asking students in order to separate candidates (I know for a fact that one well-known retailer currently asks potential employees to think of an animal that they’d come back as if they could choose). Some examples:

  • Can you think of a situation in which you’ve…..
  • (PROBLEM) happens. How would you solve that?
  • (NEGATIVE EMPLOYEE TYPE THING) happens. How would you react?
  • In the event of (SITUATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR JOB), what steps / precautions etc would you take?
  • Tell me about a time when (SOMETHING) happened.

Take a look at http://www.michaelpage.co.uk/content/18002/how-to-answer-competency-questions.html and http://www.interview-skills.co.uk/competency-based-interviews-questions.aspx for a bit more.

NB: Don’t lie. I find it unlikely that anyone is going to believe that this one time, lions came out of a magic closet and started attacking inanimate objects until you strode in and overpowered them all with your bare hands while simultaneously teaching a class of 400 disabled monkeys to complete giant Rubik’s cubes made out of uranium  – something for which you received a 20p-a- year pay rise and an Employee of the Month certificate.

Remember: If you can’t think of a professional example of what the interviewer is asking, be creative. Interviewers like it when candidates can relate experience from different jobs / personal life to what they are asking. It shows intuition, ingenuity and awareness.

Lions

5. Goodbye!

I don’t have much to say here. You’ve asked some questions, the interviewer has told you that they will let you know, and you’re so desperate for the toilet that you’ve spent the last five minutes manoeuvring an empty Lucozade bottle in to position with your feet. All that remains is to say “Thank you very much for your time” / “Good to speak to you” / “I look forward to hearing from you” / “It’s been a pleasure talking to you” and you’re home and dry. So, DON’T do the following things (all of which have happened):

  • Wave
  • Hang up mid-sentence
  • “End” the call, sigh, say “Thank f*** for that” and then realise that you’ve actually just turned off the video, rather than ended the call.

As always, comments, questions and physical abuse are all welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Simon

Thank f*** that’s over… writing that was a RIGHT pain in the…Oh. You’re still there. But, I’ve got the job right? No? Oh….

Posted on Leave a comment

Professional Development – CPD Log

This will no doubt cause irritation. CPD logs are becoming the norm. Schools have already started using them as part of appraisal programmes and are now starting to expect teachers to have existing logs.

Obviously, if you are extremely active on the development front, this will be time-consuming. On the other hand, you’re probably the kind of person who will do it. It may give you an advantage as the industry moves to heighten its standards and differentiate between part-timers and those looking to further themselves and build a career.

The log consists of:

  1. Professional development courses I have attended
  2. Conferences / workshops I have attended
  3. Journal articles I have read
  4. Books I have read
  5. Internet resources I have found useful
  6. Thoughts and ideas from colleagues and peers
  7. Reflection – my thoughts and ideas on my own teaching
  8. Action research projects
  9. Talks / workshops I have given
  10. Papers / books I intend to write

I’m not saying that employers are going to disregard you for not having been to a conference or for not planning to write a book, but keeping an active log of your professional development could well help you.

You can find the log here: CPD Log

I’m doing mine now!

Simon

Posted on 1 Comment

Applying for Jobs – Part 1 (CV and cover letter)

I must be out of touch. In my day, CVs didn’t have photos or opening paragraphs resembling quotes about the person whose CV it is I’m reading. They weren’t written in continuous prose, poorly formatted or in Comic Sans MS. Cover letters were tailored to the specific job being applied for and addressed to the correct person, with no sense of Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V about them.

Somewhere along the way, there has been a cock-up. Or I’m out of touch. I must be – hundreds of applicants can’t be wrong… can they?

Let me tell you something that is clear AND definite. At my company, I am now the employer. It hasn’t taken me long to see an enormous range of CVs and cover letters in a massive diversity of styles. It also hasn’t taken me long to develop pet hates. Some of these are blindingly obvious, and yet they wouldn’t have become pet hates had I not received them again. And again. And again. Others may simply not occur. Either way, here are a few shoulds and shouldn’ts (from the perspective of myself, and others I have spoken to)

CV

What was this job for again, innit?

CVs

1. Don’t make spelling mistakes!

You know that job you’re applying for? The one where you have to have a complete mastery of the language? Make a spelling mistake in your cover letter / CV and you can guarantee not getting an interview.

My favourite: Under “skills”, someone wrote “atention to detail”. Priceless.

2. Pictures on CVs

The general consensus in my office is that they are a bad idea. Imagine a scenario in which, before a potential employer has even read your CV, they’ve called a mate over with the sentence “You’ve got to see this! This guy looks exactly like…..”. Laughter ensues, but not in a good way. The attention has been drawn.  If you feel you simply have to do it, at least follow these instructions:

  • Blank background
  • Professional attire
  • NORMAL smile
  • No props
  • Not huge
  • Black and white

My favourite: A young lady whose CV photo was her, in a pub, holding a pint.

3. The “introductory paragraph”

I say scrap it, personally. It should be on your cover letter and tailored, so that the comments about your personality directly correspond to the skillset required for the job. Because of this, I’ll return to it in the cover letter section (below)

Note: I have been told that some people do like this, but the above points still apply. Third-person commentary and flowery vagueries are not welcome – you should check the job description and then write this part.

My favourite: Somebody who had created a column especially for quotes about themselves. The CV looked like a holiday brochure. Ultimately, I want a teacher, not a person I can “stay in” (so to speak)

4. Formatting

Don’t go over the top. Everybody knows where the “format” button is.

  • Choose a sensible font like Arial or Verdana.
  • Bear in mind that offices all have different versions of Word, so put your CV in a .pdf so that it doesn’t look any different on another person’s screen. Dont send .odt, .jpg, .gif, .png or .IDIOT versions of your CV.
  • Use bolded headings and bullet points – they make it very easy for reference purposes
  • 2 pages! A third could be acceptable if it’s reference info or interests

My favourite: I was sent a CV a few weeks ago in an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that’s right. An Excel spreadsheet. Just in case you’re still pinching yourself, here’s a picture of an Excel spreadsheet:

Excel

I have a degree in Call of Duty

5. Content

It’s pretty standard. Let’s go for four sections:

  • Personal info – Name, address, phone number, Email. You DON’T need your facebook ID. Yes, that’s right. A world where facebook is absolutely unnecessary.
  • Educational Background – most recent first. Include dates (months), institution names and grades. You don’t need to list your GCSEs. Just “10 GCSEs A-C” will do.
  • Employment History – again, most recent first. List key duties and avoid rambling by using bullet points and starting each sentence with a verb. The key here is to be concise. I personally HATE continuous prose on CVs. Also, don’t include useless stuff. If you worked in an ice cream parlour 10 years ago, I frankly don’t care. I want to know what you have done as a teacher. Next time you apply for a customer service job, plonk the ice cream parlour back on there. Until then, either leave it out or merely reference it to avoid gaps in employment. You don’t need to list your duties. A teaching example might be:

April 2011 – July 2012, Teacher, Roger’s Naughty Little Boys School of English, London

  • Taught A1-C2 general English, IELTS exam preparation and Cambridge Exam classes to multinational classes
  • Helped students with self-study
  • Delivered an INSET on pronunciation
  • Was observed regularly both by peers and management
  • Delivered skills-based classes
  • Assisted with and led extra-curricular activities

You don’t need to write about obvious stuff. Every school has registers – I don’t need to know that you can fill one in!

  • Additional Skills / Hobbies – Clean driving license? Black belt in Origami? Extra qualifications,  no matter what they are, show discipline. If you can use a computer, be specific. “Can use a computer” is not as good as “Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint”. If you play Football, put it down. If you go out and drink 25 Jagerbombs every weekend, DON’T put that down.

My favourite: Under “Skills”, somebody put “No tattoos”. I have three. I am still insulted.

Unskilled Workers

David Beckham – An unskilled worker

A final note about CVs

CVs are not colloquial. Exclamation marks, phrases such as “which I really enjoyed” and emoticons (Yes, REALLY) have no place on a CV. Trust me, you aren’t getting an interview.

And another thing… (I sound like my Mother) – put an Email address for your referees, if you are attaching their contact info. Most employers will have a form to send them.

On to…. The Cover Letter

I get the sense that guidance hasn’t been provided. Let’s go for a rough guide:

  • One page is enough – I’m talking Arial, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing. Any more and you run the risk of sounding pompous / making me eat the paper out of boredom.
  • Employers are NOT idiots – I receive hundreds of these things. If you’ve cut and pasted the format of a cover letter online, someone else has too and I WILL NOTICE.

As an extension to the above, here’s the rough format of a cover letter that I’ve seen several times of late:

“Blah blah blah my Cv / resume blah blah native / near-native speaker blah blah blah Thank you for blah blah CV / resume”

If you happen to see this before applying to me, take this as a warning: If I see this, I will press “DELETE”

  • Read the job spec – If there is a name at the bottom and you send your “old faithful” cover letter starting with”Dear Sir / Madam”, then you’re asking for trouble.
  • Refer to the actual job – mention the company name. Actually do a little bit of research. The clicky-clicky-sendy AND REPEAT method of applying for jobs in bulk will get you nowhere.

Content

Here’s a good idea of what should go in your cover letter:

  • A brief introduction – why are you applying? Why should I read beyond this sentence?
  • Overview of experience – NOT the time to mention that ice cream parlour job. Relate your experience directly to the role. Write about 200 words.
  • Your personal approach – do you believe in task-based learning? Does your school take the communicative approach? Are you well-organised? Do you believe that communicating with students outside the classroom lowers the affective filter inside the classroom, thus facilitating more effective learning? PUT IT. Again, 200 words is enough.
  • BYE BYE! – Thank me for reading your letter, state that you would like to arrange an interview to discuss the role further, and then sign off (using the correct sign-off – “Sincerely” if you used my name at the start, “Faithfully” if not.)

My favourite: “Dear Sir / Madam, I am most interested in working for your company and have attached my impressive CV. Please read it and let me know how many weeks’ work you are going to give me. Sincerely, X”. Whoever you are, if you read this, for shame.

Feel free to contact me / comment on this. I’m particularly interested in people between the ages of 18 and 23 who have received input at school / university on CV and cover letter writing and can recall what that input was. As I say, I am clearly out of touch.

Next week: Phone / Skype Interviews: An interviewer’s nightmare.

Simon

Posted on Leave a comment

New Website Layout

Hi everyone

I’ve changed the navigation on the right hand side – hopefully to make it a bit easier to find things as the website becomes bigger. Now, the titles “For Students” and “IELTS” contain nothing, but the headings under the titles (By level – for students and by skill – IELTS) have the posts that match to these areas.

As always, feel free to give me your feedback!

🙂

 

Simon

Posted on Leave a comment

English Lessons / Proofreading Service

Would you like a little bit extra?

Sometimes students find that they don’t get the benefit of one-to-one help in the classroom, if they are in large groups.  With a one-to-one class, you have the chance to choose exactly what you want and how you want it. You also have a teacher who is only focussing on you and what you need.

If you would like to receive some one-to-one lessons from me, then there are two options:

  • Skype lessons

Materials can be Emailed and the lesson works like a regular English lesson. See the price list: Skype Price List 2013

  • Face to Face

At the moment, I am based in Oxford and can visit you at your home to give one to one / small group lessons. Prices: Face to Face Lessons

Are you at university? I also offer a proofreading service – checking grammar, vocabulary and layout. Prices: Proofreading Price List 2013

Interested? Contact me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com

Simon

Posted on 2 Comments

Accents – For Higher Level Students

Like any other country, England is a country of many accents. If you study in London and decide to go and visit other areas, you might be surprised!

Have a go at listening to some of these:

Liverpool http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9pY08Jt_-E

Newcastle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhHLmhchLrU

London (East): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VosbyJa-JMs

Norfolk: mms://audio.bl.uk/media/learning/sounds/contemporarydialects/england/northelmham.wma

Yorkshire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScELaXMCVis

Manchester: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJZQjmLYfi8

Devonshire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1jZCde9pvE

And from Scotland:

Glasgow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91Tj7eezFJ8

Edinburgh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG3ezQUodao

And Wales:

Enjoy listening to some of these – which do you find the most difficult to follow?

Simon

Posted on Leave a comment

A Phrasal Verb Story

Here’s a story I made with a few phrasal verbs in it. It’s intended for higher levels, but depending on the activity, could work with Intermediate students. I devised it not only to teach a bit of new vocab, but as a vehicle for looking at phrasal verbs with regards to idiomaticity, pronunciation and form (separability). This is what I did:

1) Warmer – Students asked if they have seen any fights or violent behaviour. Asked what the common reasons / locations for violent behaviour are in their countries / England.

2) Reading for comprehension – students can read to answer the question “How is the main character doing now / Where is he now?”

3) Students go through text and underline phrasal verbs

4) Students categorise them in to three columns (don’t give them titles, ask them to sort them as they wish)

5) Groups rationalise their choices

6) Look at phrasal verbs in terms of pronunciation rules, separability and levels of idiomaticity (I believe that each of these three categories can be split in to three columns – for more information see my essay: 

Teaching Phrasal Verbs to Lower Learners (particularly pages 3-7)

Drill, answer questions etc.

7) Gap fill / other controlled practice activity

8) Get them speaking – role play, or writing a story.

As a follow up to this lesson, I gave students the following muddled up version of the original story. NB: This is difficult, but my class were all CAE / CPE students, and coped well.

Phrasal Verb Story Muddle

Enjoy!

Simon

Posted on Leave a comment

Idioms – Market Traders

I often get students asking “What does…….mean?” after trips to markets. The fact is that not everyone can be expected to grade their language. This is particularly true of markets, where traders strive to represent their area of the country as much linguistically as anything else. With that in mind, I created this for a high level class.

Steps:

1) Cut up conversation and students can order it in groups

2) Have a look at meaning, form and pronunciation – particularly focusing on London accent variations. I’ve found that students love having a go both understanding these phrases when said rapidly and saying them themselves.

3) Role play!

Enjoy 🙂

Students – can you find any “strange” language in the text below? Do you know what it means?

Market Traders

 

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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