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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

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Using Thinking Hats for IELTS

This is a useful perspective for both students and teachers, so I’ve put it in to several categories.

You may have read my earlier article about using thinking hats to create balanced arguments (see here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-oB ) – you’ll need to read this first.

What I’ve done here is write a colour-coded structure to agree / disagree and problem / solution essays, using the colours to show the structure and writing explanations instead of answering a question. I’d love to have some feedback on this – my classes have responded very positively.

I’ve attached the colour-coded essays as word documents in case you have any trouble viewing.

Thanks

Simon

IELTS Hat Writing

 

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Thinking Hats – can you present a balanced opinion?

One of the most difficult things to do in another language is think critically, evaluate a statement, and present an argument – in speaking or in writing – that is balanced. One of the skills you need to learn is the ability to think “What would someone else say about this?” and then present an idea that could be the opposite of your own. Let’s look at an example – an IELTS question I saw recently:

Increasing the price of petrol is the best way to solve growing traffic and pollution problems. To what extent do you agree or disagree? What other measures do you think might be effective?

The chances are that you look at this question and think “Yes” or “No” quite quickly. But are these the only options?

Meet Dr Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats:

Poster_Six_Thinking_Hats

The idea here is to put on a hat and deliberately think in a different way depending on the hat’s colour. Let’s try it. The easiest, and often the automatic thoughts, are yellow – positive and black – negative.

Yellow: This is a positive step. The benefits of this are that fewer people would be able to rely on petrol and would have to seek alternative modes of transport, thus decreasing traffic.

Black: This is not an appropriate solution to the problem. It will serve to widen the class gap and leave many people currently reliant on petrol-based transport unemployed.

Red: The increase in price would cause significant stress in those already struggling financially.

Green: While this is not a viable solution, the possibility of making carpool lanes more widespread would encourage people to share one vehicle, rather than all drive separately.

White: Statistics show that the amount of cars on the road is increasing year on year. However, it would be difficult to implement a sudden price rise without providing a figure related to affordability versus need.

Blue: While carpooling and financial incentive are possible, they will ultimately fail, as car ownership has become part of human consciousness, and this will be almost impossible to change.

So, you can see that you have 6 possibilities:

  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Considering emotions
  • Alternatives
  • Summary
  • Statistics – available and required

If we expand these hats a bit, there are several words that you can use as “triggers” for critical thinking. Have a look at the picture below. You may need a dictionary!

Hatmap

OK, now have a look at these two statements:

  1. School buildings have no future – the advances of the internet mean that all forms of education and study are now able to be done from home.
  2. Strict punishments should be put in place for the parents of children who commit crimes.

Try and write six sentences for each – one sentence for each hat.

A note for IELTS

Where can we use these hats? Think about the written exam:

White – Part 1. You can only use the white hat in part 1!
Black / Yellow – Part 2, body paragraphs. Ideally, one body paragraph should contain a black idea, and the other a yellow idea.
Blue – Part 2, conclusion. In your conclusion, you summarise the main ideas and then present your final view.
Green – A paragraph about solutions would be green. You definitely can’t use the green hat in your conclusion!
Red – A paragraph about personal experience or public reaction to an idea would be red. Don’t forget how something would make people feel, or affect them.

Now take a look at the next article, which shows how the colours fit together in an IELTS writing task: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-pI

A note for Teachers

I’ve found these work well in IELTS classes – once students have read about them and you’ve done some soft practice as a class, you can get them to either work in groups, with one hat per group, or get them to produce six sentences on their own. After that, they can share and compare. I’ve also found that an activity that works well is getting them to read out their sentences without saying which hat they were intending to use, and seeing if students can match the correct hat to the sentence.

Enjoy, and remember: email me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com with questions, sentences etc!

Simon

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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

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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