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Preparing for an EFL Interview

It’s nearly the end of an incredibly busy summer. Summer schools are a number of things – enjoyable, full of energy, manic, full-throttle, but above all, extremely hard work. In peak week this year, I was overseeing a summer school of 9 classes and 130 students in conjunction with an adult school of 17 classes and 208 students across three buildings. So, 26 teachers made it through the interview stage to join the team and me for up to 7 weeks of mayhem. Now it’s fair to say that, with such a large organisation, staffing is difficult and certain concessions have to be made simply to ensure that we have enough staff. Employing a teacher on a short-term contract for a summer school is far less about selecting the technical cream of the crop, so to speak, than it is about making sure that said teacher is likely to be able to cope with the craziness and go in to class every day, smiling and enthusiastic. Because of this, I’ll start generically and then divide parts of this post in to two sections: Summer school and… let’s call it “Normal” school, because summer school is many things, but it certainly isn’t normal! I’m not going to name any names or even years – in nearly three years as a Director of Studies, I’ve worked out that I’ve employed over 100 teachers, conducted over 200 interviews, and unfortunately sacked three people. Suffice to say, I’ve seen some things in applications and interviews. Not all were good…

Applications

Application forms are a real pain. Mostly, they require you to copy information from your CV in a slightly different way. They are a complete waste of time, but seem to be a staple HR requirement. What they do do though is weed out people who are just clicking around and applying for every job under the sun. The assumption is that if you spent an hour on the application form, then you are genuinely interested. This is completely negated if you do a half-arsed job! Fill it in!

CVs

I have witnessed CVs get worse and worse. I’m not sure if the UK secondary education has stopped providing guidance or if the guidance they are providing is just simply bad, but writing a sensible CV is so easy!

  • No photos unless specifically requested. They encourage negative judgement. If you are asked for a photo, make sure you are dressed sensibly – work clothes, with a neutral background, perhaps some study materials visible. Certainly not like one CV I received – pint in hand!
  • You could start with a few sentences that sum you up, but I advise against it – it almost always sounds cheesy and false. Certainly don’t do what one candidate did, and annotate your “key skills” with stickmen!
  • Start with personal details – Name, address, phone number, email address, LinkedIn. NOT Facebook, Snapchat or Tinder (yes, really!) Also, make sure your email address isn’t absurd and / or childish.
  • Education and Qualifications is the next section – A-levels and above only, most recent first! Nobody cares about your class exams from year 8!
  • Time for the work experience section – dates (from / to), company name and a bullet-pointed list of key responsibilities. No waffle, no long paragraphs and no meaningless jargon. Here’s an example (this wouldn’t be in a table on your CV – it’s just so you can see it clearly here:
Date – Date, Teacher of English, Company Name
·         Teaching General English (A1-C1) and IELTS classes to mono- and multi-lingual classes of 8-15 students
·         Designing assessment materials for General English
·         Invigilating IELTS mock exams
·         Using (name of system) online student maintenance system
·         Mentoring new starters
·         Attended CPD sessions on Task-Based Learning, Flipped Classrooms and CLIL

 

That’s it! Turning up every day, planning your lessons and wearing a shirt are NOT key responsibilities!

  • Other skills – Microsoft Office, playing instruments, typing speed, sports etc. Keep these sensible and short!
  • “References available on request” – make sure you have contacted these referees and they are willing to provide you with references. You won’t be able to start at a new job until references have been received. Remember, one must be your current employer. Try and choose referees in the field, and your father is not a referee!

Finally, remember that this is a job for an English teacher. If your CV contains typos or spelling mistakes, it will go in the bin. Check your work. Also, keep it to two pages – 2.5 at most. I once received an 8-page CV. It went straight in the bin.

The Interview

You’ve made it to interview. You’ve either got a good CV / application, or the school in question is utterly desperate because it forecasted for 100 fewer students than are turning up in three weeks’ time! Either way, you must treat an interview with respect and do some proper preparation even if this job is only for the summer.

Interview – Summer Schools

A large part of a summer school interview is going to be based around pastoral care / supervision of under-18s. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Young learners need supervising inside the classroom and out. Supervision ratios are typically 1 adult to 15 students under the age of 16
  • There are certain topics you will have to avoid in class – think about this
  • Groups of young learners will usually have afternoon activities – sports, projects, trips. Showing interest in getting involved will win you brownie points
  • Young learner classes are different from adult classes. Juniors are there temporarily, and for a fun holiday. You will need to use lots of games with shorter, more interactive / physical activities and minimal grammar input. Have examples of these
  • Young learners need discipline – be prepared to answer questions about how to deal with bad behaviour. Generally, a class contract is a good thing to establish, with clear boundaries and rules in place BUT never shout at them!
  • You may be asked about professional boundaries. Think about the importance of maintaining the role of a teacher, and having a policy of not being alone with individual students, especially if you are a male teacher
  • Think about the challenges associated with teaching students of different ages. You might have classes with 13 and 16 year-olds together.

Interview – “Normal” schools

The feel of a year-round school is different, as a proportion of the students will be studying for a longer period of time. Some may be sponsored and have progression requirements imposed upon them. As a result of this, they may be stressed. There will be other students who are only coming for short periods of time, and the needs of both these sets of students will need to be carefully managed and monitored inside the classroom.

  • What’s your approach to teaching? You can talk about the communicative classroom, task-based learning, blended learning… have a think and do some research
  • Example lesson structures – you may be asked to bring a lesson plan or you may be asked on the spot to go through stages of a lesson. This kind of question is designed to see that you know how to follow a structure correctly. If it’s a reading lesson, have you gone through prediction / gist / detail stages? Does your lesson finish with a communicative activity? If it’s a systems lesson, have you got a controlled practice stage?
  • If you’re asked to come prepared to do some demo language focus work, PREPARE IT! This summer, I asked for teachers to come prepared to go through Meaning, Pron and Form of 5 items of vocab of their choice on the whiteboard. Some of it was almost embarrassingly bad, or worse, unprepared. If you can’t do the most basic, staple EFL task in an interview, how do you expect a Director of Studies to employ you?! If you spell “messy” with one “s”, you are asking for trouble (again, yes, really!)
  • You will be asked a grammar and / or vocab knowledge question! This shouldn’t come as a surprise! Do some revision! The most common grammar questions centre around the differences between one thing and another, e.g. present perfect and past simple.
  • Don’t waffle – your answers should be concise. On the other hand, one-word answers don’t help an interviewer at all.
  • Look at the school website. All of them tell you what they teach. Don’t ask at the end “So, what classes do you offer?” Instead say “I’ve seen on the website that you offer X… how do you….?” – this makes it obvious that you have done some preparation.
  • Have some intelligent questions ready for the end – don’t ask about salary!

 

Finally, and this applies to both schools, come dressed smartly, shake hands, be polite, DON’T call the interview “mate” and DON’T turn up to the interview late or pissed! Again… yes, really!

 

Simon

 

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Product Writing – A Report (Useful for student feedback!)

Who is this post for?

  • Students looking at writing skills – especially writing a report for FCE / CAE
  • Teachers looking at lesson structures
  • Teachers / Managers looking at effective ways to get honest feedback

Teachers

The thing I love the most about a product writing lesson is that it’s surprisingly multi-level. Because you structure the class around a model text and language from that model, (as long as you grade the model and the target language accurately) you can use this kind of lesson with classes from A1-C2. Students have the support they need because they can see a model, and when they finally produce their own work, they can rely on this model to different degrees depending on confidence and competence. Obviously, student output will vary wildly, but once you are at the written output stage of a product writing class, the pressure is off both the teacher and the student in that the traditional “teaching” part of the class is over, as is the stage at which students openly exhibit what they do and don’t know in front of the whole class.

Sample lesson / structure

Have a look at the material here (from New English File Advanced) Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

  1. Start students off with a discussion in small groups about the positives / negatives of their school, or things they would like to see in their perfect school. You could produce a form for them to make notes in.
  2. Get group feedback
  3. Students read the report on P.80 – ask some comprehension questions and get feedback on the structure / language used (How is it paragraphed? Is the language formal or informal?)
  4. Start looking at the controlled practice activities – P. 80 b, P. 81 c / d. Remember to get some of this language on the board – look sideways at the sentences (What comes after “advisable to” / “strongly recommend”?) – and go through meaning / form / pronunciation.
  5. Organisation stage – students look at how they will structure their report (ordering) – they can do this in a group
  6. Individual writing stage – the output stage. They’re trying to write their own report about the school, using some of the target language.

They can finish this for homework, and then you can either use some of their mistakes for another lesson, or provide feedback in a different way.

Adaptation

You could use this lesson with any level. I would even say that you wouldn’t need to adapt the model text for Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate students; grade the task, not the text. So, perhaps you would only focus on exercises c and d with an Int class (P.80 ex. b might be a bit tricky). For Elem / Pre-Int, you would need to simplify the text a bit, and perhaps your language focus would focus on something like “Ways to give opinions” (I believe / In my opinion / I think) or “Reporting using past simple”. You’d then need to prepare controlled practice activities around the model text, but this wouldn’t be too time-consuming, as a lot of the adaptation would be exactly that: adapting rather than rewriting.

Teachers / Managers

I watched a fairly inexperienced teacher do a great job with this product lesson from New English File the other week – they used P.80 and then c / d from P.81, missing out the brainstorm etc. stages after that, because they would be more applicable to a process writing task instead (see more on product /  process writing structures here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-sj ). The thing that makes this lesson interesting for students, teachers and managers, is that the output stage gives students a chance to reflect privately on what they believe the strengths / weaknesses of their school are. This is perhaps more revealing than focus groups, as students are often reluctant to voice their issues directly to a manager, or in front of other students. The timing of this class supported this theory; we had a focus group the week before and much of what was raised on the written reports from this lesson hadn’t been mentioned! I’ve since arranged for all classes to do this lesson at some point this term, so that we can get some really good feedback to work from.

Students

Have a look at the material in this file. Here are a few things to consider if you’re preparing for Cambridge Exams.

  1. The structure is based on a series of titles
  2. The introduction clearly states the aim of the report
  3. The conclusion is very generalised
  4. There are a lot of examples of the passive being used, as well as language for generalising – eg. “It is generally thought…”
  5. Precision is an important part of the test. Why say “making classes smaller” when you could say “reducing class size”? The words do  / make / get are often used because a student doesn’t know the exact verb that a native would use. When you start to write one of these verbs, think: is there a better word I could use?

Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

As always, if you want to send your attempts to me, I’d be happy to receive them! 🙂

 

Simon

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A look at writing lesson structures

It can be difficult to adjust your mindset from systems to skills in the language classroom. “Traditional” General English and its course books revolve around grammar and vocabulary over skills teaching. Not only this, but the CELTA and other pre-service training programmes provide the opportunity for trainees to run through systems lessons exclusively, meaning that skills teaching is an almost completely un-encountered mystery until a teacher gets extra training, or decides to take on a higher-level qualification. Therefore, when you’re presented with a skills-only class, like an elective or an exam class, it can be difficult to know what to do differently. What I’ve found in my experience, is that this results in teachers doing the dreaded AAA (activity, activity, activity…) lesson structure!

What I’ve done here is outline a few different structures for a writing skills class. This could be IELTS, general English or ESP. The four structures are product, process, process genre (kind of a mixture of the first two) and then a task-based learning lesson structure. Obviously, the first three are specifically for writing classes, but TBL can be used for any skills class. I’ve also put a couple of benefits / drawbacks at the end of each structure. In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting a lesson plan for a product writing, and I’ll follow suit with the others over the coming month. As always, feel free to comment on or query anything.

Here’s the link to the word document:

Writing Lesson Structures

 

Simon

 

 

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Multi-tasking in a foreign language

Note: Students, if you find this article difficult to understand, read the part about exams!

What is linguistic multi-tasking? When do we encounter it? And how is it tackled in the classroom? In this article, I’ll go through the idea of skills and skills teaching in a bit of detail, and look at the challenges involved as well as the areas in which teachers can aim to develop their students.

Skills

In language teaching, when we talk about “skills”, we are referring to four things: Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing. We can divide these up in to two categories: receptive (from the word “receive”) and productive (from the word “produce”). These words refer to how we are interacting with language. The two receptive skills are reading and listening, because the language comes to our eyes or ears through text or audio, and the two productive skills are speaking and writing, because we produce the language ourselves, either orally or on paper. As language students, we ideally want to improve all four skills to achieve both receptive and productive fluency.

Challenges

When we try to improve a skill, we face a number of problems. The problems could be systematic – this means that with our productive skills, we might struggle with parts of the skill; pronunciation (speaking), spelling (writing) or vocabulary, grammar or discourse (both). These aren’t the only problems though. We might also find it hard to perform the skill itself. Here are some possible problems:

  • Fluency – it’s difficult to speak without stopping regularly.
  • Expression (circumlocution) – I don’t know a word and I can’t explain it
  • Comprehension – there might be too much text / audio, or it might be too fast or advanced in level.
  • Structure / Coherence – it might be difficult to write in paragraphs, or to organise spoken ideas.
  • Recall – It’s difficult to remember what was said / written about, because I’m not very good at taking notes
  • Inference – I find it difficult to use context to guess meanings of difficult words

There are, of course, many others, and teachers should work on helping students acquire the techniques to improve their skills. However, there is another level to this: if each individual skill is difficult, how on earth are we supposed to perform two skills at the same time?!

Multi-tasking

Here are a few examples of times when you need to multi-task.

  1. Conversation – listening (to the other person or people) and speaking (replying, conversing)
  2. Ordering – reading (a menu) and speaking (talking to the waiting staff)
  3. Lectures – listening (to the lecturer) and writing (taking notes)
  4. Research – reading (the material) and writing (again, taking notes)

It’s fair to say that number 1 is the most common, but what links these scenarios? Notice that they all require you to use one receptive and one productive skill at the same time. Generally, we are OK at this in our own language, and can pick this up in a second with correct training and practice. But what happens to our brains when we try to combine two receptive or two productive skills at the same time? Give it a try. Try writing an email while having a conversation. Try reading a book while listening to the radio.

Was that easy? I’m guessing your answer is “no”. It’s pretty simple – if we listen and read at the same time, there is too much information coming to our brains at the same time. Similarly, if we write and speak at the same time, we put pressure on ourselves to produce twice as much language as we usually would in a particular space of time. Granted, some people can do it, but it isn’t a majority, and the percentage of those who can drops significantly in a second or third language.

The Problem with Exams

So, where are these situations in which we are pushed in to combining two receptive or productive skills together? The answer is that, in general, they don’t exist. This is firstly because communication is about direction; we give and receive. If we need to give or receive twice, we just extend the interaction, rather than doing it all at the same time. It’s also about avoidance. We can usually avoid these situations by having a measure of control over our communicative environments (although this often requires classroom training in a second language). Unfortunately, exams take away this control and put us in strange situations, which aren’t always reproduced in real life. I personally think that those parts of exams are therefore not very useful, but whether I like it or not, they exist. Here’s an example which we come across in Cambridge Exams (FCE, CAE, IELTS):

A listening exam with a multiple choice section. The question and the choices account for a lot of text – too much to remember in a short time.

So, in this situation we are being trapped. We don’t have enough time to read and remember all the information in these questions, so we find ourselves reading while listening to the audio. Unsurprisingly, this is difficult!

An Exam Solution

I’ve had a lot of success with focussing students more on note-taking. Not only is this a real-life task (as mentioned before, lectures and meetings both require this), but it helps prevent this situation. Here’s how:

1) Student reads the questions and focusses on their meanings and keywords. They don’t really look at the multiple choice options for more than a couple of seconds (reading).

2) Student listens and takes notes (listening and writing).

3) After the listening, student matches their notes to the multiple choice options (just reading).

At no point is the student completely engaged in reading and listening at the same time. The student can make notes in English or their mother tongue (depending on preference), and they can use shorthand, abbreviations or spider diagrams – all of which can be taught and practised in class.

In the classroom

It is clear, then, that there is more to teaching skills than perhaps we acknowledge. Yes, it’s all well and good to teach a speaking or a listening lesson, but do we teach them in conjunction with each other as preparation for real-life experiences? I’m not suggesting that this would necessarily work with lower-level learners, but as students approach fluency and competency, they need to be challenged with real-life scenarios. Part of this is recognising and implementing strategies to avoid overload by extending conversations to avoid double-receptive or double-productive situations, or by learning to take notes in exams to minimise a clash of tasks. It is also accepting that receptive and productive skills often run parallel, and then receiving training on how to deal with this fact.

In light of this, I’m going to be publishing some ideas for real-life, “multi-skills” classes. If anyone out there has got any resources / ideas on this, I’d love to see them. In the meantime, watch this space.

 

Simon

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IELTS Speaking – Finish your Part 2!

“And…er… that’s it…”

Have you ever finished your two-minute topic like this? How did it feel? I imagine there was a bit of silence as the examiner tried to work out if you had finished. It doesn’t need to be like that (it shouldn’t be like that!) Here are a few ideas to help you.

  • Sequence your ideas

If you are telling a story then you should be looking to use phrases like this:

Beginning

I remember when… / There was this one time… / I’ve got this story about when…

Setting the scene

It was (date) and we were / I was…. / So, I remember that I / we were -ing…

Moving On

Next / After that / Then / The next thing that happened was / So then

Ending

In the end / At the end / So anyway / Finally

Do you know any more?

Remember to finish your final sentence with a decreasing tone to your voice, so that the examiner can hear you have finished.

Here are some sequencers you could use when giving your opinion about something

Statement – your main topic

Well, I think / I reckon / Basically / I believe that…

Support

I guess that’s because / It’s all down to /

Sequencing – moving on

Also / I also think / Furthermore / Not only that, but

Ending

So, basically I / So yeah, that’s what I think / In brief / To recap / To put it simply

Let’s have a look at a couple of examples. The sequencing language is in bold. Read and think about what the topic is. Do you think the speaker would be successful? Try reading some of the sentences aloud – practise saying some of the sentences more and more quickly, but focus on a natural rhythm – remember, fluency DOES NOT mean speed!

1. Telling a story

I remember when I went to a really nice park with my best friend. It was about 4 years ago, I think, in the Summer, and… it was hot… So anyway, I remember we were walking along through like a forest-y bit, y’know, and then we realised that… it was… we were all alone and it was actually a bit dark. I…er… then I said to him, like, something like “This is a bit creepy – do you wanna get outta here?” and then he was like “Wait, did you here something?” and then there was like a creaking sound, which was really scary. So the next thing that happened was we were looking around trying to work out what was going on, and we saw some bushes moving. I think we were just creeped out because we were young and making each other more and more excited…er… scared. Anywaythen we like walked really slowly up to the er… bush, and we were crouching so that it was likely anyone would see us! Aaaaand… when my friend finally plucked up the courage to look in the hedge, in the end it was just two squirrels fighting – it was so embarrassing!

2. Giving an opinion

Well, I think that video games will pretty much take over our lives, to be honest because…well… technology and virtual reality has become so important in every day life. You can see examples of this in cinema, the home, even the street…all around us. Anyway, I think kids have come to expect a certain level of reality and…of absorption… immersion in a game. They, y’know… get bored and stuff really quickly… and  I guess it’s all down to what you’re used to. I reckon not only that, but that we’ll have VR headsets and 3d gaming in most first world houses within the next ten years, and then kids will refuse to leave the house. Also that kind of technology will be used in the workplace – y’know, for meetings and conferences, so people will go out less. So, to put it simply, I guess that technology has become the most important… thing in our lives, yeah.

Remember – your speaking test isn’t just about grammar, or speaking quickly. It’s also about being able to have a conversation in English, and part of that is signalling to other people either that you want to continue speaking, or that you are about to finish.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

 

Simon

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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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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

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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

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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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“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

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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.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….

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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

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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.