Friday, 26 November 2010

Planting the seeds of dogme - unplugged lessons with YLs

Several weeks ago, I pondered the question Could dogme work with young learners? here on the blog reaching the conclusion that while it could be done in theory, practical considerations such as a set syllabus, school policy and government regulations would make it difficult to implement. I’ve never really done a full-on ‘unplugged’ lesson with kids, however, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to give it a go. As schools were closed here in Turkey last week for a holiday, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to go into class with no definite plan beyond asking the students about their week off. And it just so happened that this week, Karenne posted Dogme Blog Challenge No. 8, a call to explode the myth that dogme wouldn’t work with certain classes, such as young learners…

I decided to try this out in my ‘split’ classes (where I take half of the class to another room for speaking/writing practice) meaning I actually did this ten times over! Obviously, I won’t describe every single lesson but I will reflect on a lesson when it went well and another when it went not so well…

When it went well…

With my first split class of the week on Monday, I started off by asking if they were happy to be back at school. The answer to this is invariably ‘yes!’ as the kids come from all over the city and usually don’t get to see their friends during holidays. I told them that while I was also happy to be back, part of me wished the holiday could have been a little bit longer (that seemed to surprise them but they appreciated my honesty and some of them then said the same!). I asked them about their holidays and, shock! horror!, they understood the question Did you go anywhere during the holiday? despite having never learned past simple! As they answered, I asked further questions about the places they had been to and prompted them with a few phrases like I went to…, I saw…., I visited…

The conversation then turned to families as everyone, whether they had been outside the city or not, had visited relatives and a few of the students started to tell me about things they had got up to with their brother and sisters. I helped them out with words to describe their siblings (older, younger, baby, twin, etc.), which in turn led to my first ever attempt at a language plant on the board:


I was then asked about my holiday, during which my dad had come over from the UK. They asked me about him and I told them he was retired but used to be a soldier. I then got them to tell me about their parents’ jobs, helping them out when they didn’t know the exact word in English. After a few minutes, we had built up quite an extensive list of work-related vocabulary as well as a few phrases like: (s)he works in a bank/for a large company, (s)he runs a hotel, (s)he has got a fashion shop (as this is a private college, most of them are from well-to-do families), all of which was relevant to them, much more so than the usual coursebook fare of postman, baker and greengrocer!

To utilise all the vocabulary that had emerged during the lesson, I asked them to write a paragraph about their own family. Unlike most of the other writing activities they do, there was no model to refer to, no prompts and no instructions. I just asked them to write about their brothers, sisters and parents. They came out with some really well-detailed pieces of writing, incorporating everything we had discussed. When they finished, I got them to swap notebooks and read each other’s work before finishing the lesson with a quick error correction session based on some common mistakes in their writing.

Naturally, each lesson was a little bit different. With another group, the conversation moved more towards grandparents as most of the kids had spent part of the holidays with granny and grandpa. In another class, lots of the kids had younger brothers or sisters and had a great time imitating their baby talk. In nearly every class, we had a good discussion and they had produced a piece of writing by the end by the end of it.

When it didn’t go so well…

Remember the class I mentioned in Outdone by the Pink Elephant? Well, they are an ill-disciplined bunch and it’s difficult to hold their attention for more than a few minutes at the best of times. They also seem to think that the split lessons, coupled with the fact that we go off to a different room, are a good excuse to play around (true for both split groups unfortunately). Unlike most of the other classes, they were just not interested in hearing about each other’s holidays or families that much. Whenever one kid was telling me something, others would start talking, knocking each other’s books on the floor, knocking each other on the floor… Without a specific task to do, they paid no attention to what was going on in the class (and this is true for pretty much all of my lessons with them, alas). I therefore had to move quickly onto a set writing task and go round giving individual help where needed. I did manage to have a couple of interesting one-to-one chats while they wrote but they class dynamic meant we couldn’t go with the flow, hear everybody’s voice or share thoughts as much as had happened in the other classes.

So, could dogme work with young learners?

Again, I come back to the same answer: yes and no. It worked really well with some classes and they definitely enjoyed the chance to talk more about themselves and learn to say the things they wanted to say. As for the difficult class, to be honest, I think they would be difficult whatever the lesson, whatever the approach!

One difficulty in my situation is that I only see each class for a few lessons a week, usually for one 40 minute period at a time. In a few classes, I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the conversation at the start of the lesson so there wasn’t time left to do the writing or give any feedback. They are also not used to doing things this way. A few students were hesitant to start writing without explicit instructions of what was expected and some were even disappointed because they had thought at the start of the lesson that they were finally going to learn past simple!

A telling sign of how the kids viewed the lesson came at the end of one class when I asked “what did you learn today?” A girl replied: “nothing, we just talked”! I guess it’s all a matter of giving them time to see that ‘just talking’ can actually be quite productive!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Our first time with dictogloss

This post is an account of a lesson I did in my split classes a couple of weeks ago but, due to the Global Education Conference and a holiday here in Turkey last week, I’m only getting round to writing it up now. It was the first time I did a dictogloss activity with the kids and I thought it would be of interest to describe how I approach this lesson with young learners.


For those of you wondering what dictogloss is exactly (I myself only heard about it and tired it for the first time about a year ago), here’s a brief summary. Basically, you present the students with a text (usually by reading it to them) and they reconstruct it. However, unlike a classic dictation exercise, the students do not write while you talk. They only take notes and, after hearing the text a few times, they collaborate in small groups and try to write it out. There are two main reasons I love doing this activity:

  1. It forces the students to engage with the language on a much deeper level than pure dictation. They need to focus on how the sentences and the text are structured, which is perfect for focus on form and promoting noticing of language features.
  2. It’s a great activity for getting students to work together. If attempted alone, it’s very difficult but when done in pairs or small groups, the students really support each other a lot.

Phase 1 - Pre-task

Anyway, onto my lesson. They had recently covered family in their main lessons so I decided to read them a short passage about my own family. As they had never done dictogloss before, I needed to offer them plenty of support so I utilised the pre-task phase to recap family words and get them thinking. I did this by displaying a word cloud made from my text, which you can see below:

My family (dictogloss)

I first asked them what family words and names they could see and then asked them to speculate in pairs about who these people might be. We then compared predictions, discussed which ones were more likely and put them on the board. The first task when listening to the text was to check which predictions were right. I supported the first reading with photos of my family so they could make a visual connection with the people I mentioned and I encouraged them to ask any questions they had (they were especially interested in my son and the cat!)

Here’s the text as I read it:

“I’ve got two sisters, Louise and Claire but I haven’t got any brothers. Louise lives in England but Claire lives in Pairs! I’m married. My wife’s name is Çiğdem and we’ve got a son. His name is Jason Demir and he’s four and a half years old. We’ve got a pet cat too. He’s called Sean.”

Phase 2 - Take note(s)

For the next phase, they needed to listen and take notes. As this was the first time they had tried dictogloss, I gave them a table to structure their note-taking (they were also unfamiliar with the concept of notes so it was useful for framing it), like this one:


Yes/no? How many?

Extra information?














They listened again and filled in the first column and then listened a couple more times to find extra information (names, ages, where they live etc.). Once they were happy they had enough notes, they compared their notes in pairs, filling any missing gaps and clarifying any clashing information. One thing that threw a few of them, for example, was when I said “We’ve got a pet cat too” with some of them thinking I meant I had two cats. The great thing was, most of the pairings were able to resolve this misunderstanding by themselves when they checked their notes together!

Phase 3 - Reconstructing & comparing

I then asked them to use their notes to re-write my text. That got a few puzzled looks at first but, with some prompting, they got the idea. I provided support by displaying the word cloud again as well as the photos, which I directed them to when they were struggling with spelling or the exact information needed. This phase of the lesson was completed fairly quickly so the pairs were then asked to read through their text again and check it. Next, I matched pairs together to make groups of four and had them compare their texts, looking for any differences (for both content and language).
The final phase entailed the class comparing their texts with the original as a final noticing activity. The act of comparing, first in small groups and then as a class, allowed them to see where they had made errors and I believe this is much more effective than me simply telling them. Many students, for example, corrected their peers when they had written ‘Louise live in England’, pointing out they should add -s to the verb. Through this collaborative comparison process, they were even able to reconstruct things they haven’t formally been taught yet like He’s called…

A good challenge

Of course, the lesson was not without its problems. Some students were disappointed when I revealed the original text and they saw they hadn’t got it 100% the same. I had to explain that there were several ways to say the same thing and the point was to make a good paragraph with the information I gave them, not something word-for-word the same.

On the whole, it went well (although one girl did, quite rightly, scold me for failing to include I love my family at the end of the text!) and I will be doing it again with slightly longer texts in the near future. In one class, we finished the lesson with a new word as I asked them what they thought of the lesson and whether they had found it easy or difficult. They wanted to say it wasn’t easy but wasn’t so difficult that they didn’t enjoy it. Challenging was the word they were looking for.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Dogme Blog Challenge No. 7–And now for something completely different…

So far on the Dogme Blog Challenge, I’ve enjoyed doing things a little differently using a variety of web 2.0 tools: I recorded my own video and uploaded it to YouTube for challenge no. 4; I used Wetoku to have a split-screen intercontinental conversation for challenge no. 5; and I made an animation with Xtranormal for challenge no. 6. This time, I’ve decided to answer the latest challenge with something I have yet to try…..

…. I’m going to write a regular blog post!!!

But first things first. Here’s the obligatory…

power plug (rosipaw)
…picture of an unplugged plug
Image by rosipaw

So, onto the myth: dogme = no technology…?

I think there is a real problem here of people taking things far too literally. I believe many people look at the phrase ‘Teaching Unplugged’ and make some connection, consciously or otherwise, with literally unplugging the computer. But isn’t dogme really about focusing on what the students need and want to say? Isn’t it about breaking free of prescribed, artificial materials? Isn’t it about finding ways to bring authentic language into the classroom?

So what better tool than an internet connected computer to bring authentic language into the classroom? What better way to acknowledge and exploit the students’ interests? What better way to give them a voice than to encourage them to broadcast it, blog it, podcast it, share it?

Of course, there are ways to misuse technology: CD-ROMs with multi-choice questions, gap-fills and drills; ‘İnteractive multimedia’ that actually offers no interactivity; reading and listening comprehension tasks with no scope for student-generated content… It all comes down to the old saying: “It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.”

Technology at its best (specifically the internet) offers the chance to break down the classroom walls and bring the real world into our schools. At its worst, it leads to another pile of meaningless language practice activities. As teachers, it’s our job to ensure technology is used at its best to support the needs of our learners.

Other posts in response to Dogme Blog Challenge No. 7

And for those of you who feel deceived having come over here expecting some Monty Python-esque humour, here you go:

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Adam Simpson’s Twitter Challenge - 10 people I follow and why

This post is in response to one made by Adam Simpson on his ‘One Year in the Life of an English Teacher’ blog, listing 10 people he follows on Twitter. As I’ve connected with some great people over the last 4 months or so and learnt a lot from them, I thought I’d participate. Obviously, as I follow 350+ people at the time of writing, I can’t mention everyone so apologies in advance if you’re not here – everybody in my PLN is important in one way or another!

follow (pieter mustard)
Can you guess which one is me?

I won’t re-list anyone from Adam’s 10 but I would like to send special mentions to: @NergizK, a fellow MA student of mine who helped get me started on Twitter in the first place; @ozge and @burcuakyol, who both provide some invaluable local context; @englishraven, one of my favourite bloggers; and @harrisonmike, a great TEFL teacher as well as an all-round ‘nice’ bloke.

Anyway, in no particular order, here’s my 10:

1. @tombarrett – Tom is the king of all things EdTech in the UK and a great educator as well. He is the creator of the ‘Interesting Ways…’ collaborative slideshow series, which can be found on his blog,

2. @jasontbedell – another EdTech specialist, this time from the US. He offered me encouragement in my early days of tweeting and blogging and his Professional Development 2.0 series on his blog is well worth a read.

3. @ShellTerrell – anyone working in ELT or education who is serious about professional development should already be following Shelly! Always tweeting fantastic ideas, advice and links, backed up by her award-winning blog and present at every online event, some people even speculate there must be two Shellys for her to be able to do all the great work she does!

4. @cecilialcoelho – Beyond being English teachers, Cecilia and I have little in common: she’s a Brazilian teaching in her home country, I’m a native speaker teaching abroad; she works in a language school teaching teens and adults, I work in a regular school with 4th graders. However, as she pointed out in our recent collaboration, we seem to share a lot of the same beliefs and ideas about teaching. Also, for some unknown reason, she is one of the few people on this planet to find my jokes (especially the puns) funny! And her blog, Box of Chocolates, is always a good read.

5. @vickyloras – Same as above, Vicky and I teach in very different settings but she’s a valuable part of my PLN. Always good for an insightful convo and a regular re-tweeter of my blog posts! Vicky hasn’t been very active on her blog recently but I’m looking forward to more posts from her soon.

6. @nutrich – Richard is someone I have more in common with: we are students at the same university (albeit me by distance and him onsite), we both support Manchester United and we both appreciate the humour of Monty Python. He’s also a regular contributor to ELTchat and he has possibly the best blog title out there: I’d like to think that I help people learn English

7. @DavidWarr – I only started following David recently after discovering his blog, Language Garden, which is already one of my favourites. His ‘language plant’ images are eye-catching and his blog posts are well-written and thought-provoking.

8. @hoprea – Another teacher from Brazil with a great blog, Henrick can always be relied upon for high-quality blog posts, interesting tweets and great convos. I look forward to a round of Devassas with him and Cecilia one day. Mine’s a Ruiva!

9. @gret – Greta’s love of teaching and love for her students shows in everything she tweets. She oversees a blogging project for her class, Sharing Good News, as well as her own blog, About a Teacher. It’s also great to share a connection with another teacher of young learners as well as with a San Lorenzo supporter!

10. @michelleworgan  - Another recent but valuable addition to my PLN. Again, it’s great to connect with another teacher who works with kids, especially as she shares such great lesson ideas on her blog, So this is English…

Hard to pick out only ten as there are many more people I enjoy following, especially all those involved in and contributing to ELTchat and the Dogme Blog Challenge.

So, come on then – name your ten!

Here's Cecilia's list: Only Ten??? 
And Mike Harrison's: Ten twitterers to tweet

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Dogme Blog Challenge No. 6–A staffroom conversation

Time to get back to the dogme challenge! This week’s post from Karenne called on us to ‘explode the myth’ that non-native speaker teachers can’t do dogme and, inevitably, the discussion has swung towards the different perceptions of teachers from an English speaking country and those who were students of English themselves before they became teachers.

I would have loved to do an interview with one of my Turkish colleagues for this challenge but school’s here are on a week long holiday so I had to make a conversation up instead:

All, of course, very much tongue-in-cheek but the fact is, I have heard many of these lines used in discussions between/about these two different ‘types’ of language teacher.

I will say at this point, I’m not a fan of the NEST/NNEST acronyms. As Ceri Jones suggested in a comment on one of my older posts, I shall now refer to NESTs as ‘imported’ teachers and NNESTs as ‘local’ teachers. Of course, this doesn’t fit well for native speaker teachers working in their home countries but it will do for now!

So, to answer the first question:

Are Non Native English Speaking teachers disadvantaged?

I’ll give the easy answer: NO

Just look at some of the regular contributors to this challenge so far: Cecilia Coelho, Henrick Oprea (got it right again!) and Willy C. Cardaso – all from Brazil; Sabrina de Vita from Argentina. All interested in dogme and teaching unplugged, all because they are dedicated professionals looking for ways to improve themselves as educators.

And that is the key: we should be looking for ways to expand our horizons as teachers by constantly challenging and evaluating our teaching practice and beliefs. Maybe imported teachers don’t know grammar that well but this isn’t a problem as long as we seek the knowledge we lack and, most importantly, learn how to teach it effectively. Local teachers may lack natural fluency, perfect pronunciation and a complete vocabulary but they can improve as long as they are willing to.

We are not really that different at all. Both ‘groups’ have examples of great teachers who strive to improve professionally and work on their weaknesses as well as poor teachers who see teaching as nothing more than a way to pay the bills.

However, there is a problem: I know and recognise this, you know and recognise this BUT do students always know and recognise this? What about parents? School directors? Ministry of education officials? They see us as different and until that changes, the misconceptions and presumptuous declarations shall remain…

Other Posts for Challenge #6

Self-assessing my Global Education Conference Presentation

Yesterday, I presented my first-ever webinar, Directing Young Learners Towards Effective Self-Assessment, as part of the Global Education Conference 2010. As the topic was self-assessment, I thought I should air some of my own thoughts on how it all went.

First of all, the whole thing ran with no technical hitches (though we did have a little trouble hearing from Cecilia in the Q&A part), a great relief as those kind of problems were my main worry beforehand. The only hic-cup to occur during my session was a brief interruption from my son, who burst into the computer room at about the halfway point to tell me something that had happened on his Wii game!

I covered everything I planned to say (at regular conferences, I usually immediately recall several things I should have said post-session) and my slides were generally well-received (they are currently being ‘showcased’ on the education page at Slideshare as well!). The main thing I would like to work on for future webinars is increasing interaction with the attendees. Beyond ‘where are you listening from?’ and an initial ‘what is assessment?’ question, it was mainly me talking.

Teacher modelling – did it get a laugh? Probably not!

The lack of immediate interaction was generally the most difficult thing as there is no way to be 100% sure if everyone is engaged and if it’s all making sense. On the one hand, nearly 40 people were attending, but on the other hand, I was sat in front of my computer talking to myself! In a regular conference, you can observe expressions on faces, hear comments of agreement/disagreement and chuckles (or groans) for the little jokes. Then again, with my jokes, perhaps it’s better not to have any immediate feedback!

Tumbleweed (VancityAllie)
I thought it best to provide my own tumbleweed
Image by Vancity Allie

The very best thing about the whole event was my audience! It was truly global stretching from the Pacific coast of America to the Pacific coast of Australia. One of my neighbours and work colleagues was in attendance as well meaning the participants came from across continents and from the floor directly above me as well! Having a few members of my PLN present helped my relax a bit so a big thank you to Shelly, Cecilia, Greta, Henrick (Oprea!) and Sue for being there (hope I haven’t missed anyone) as well as to everyone else who was there. They fielded some great questions afterwards too which gave me an opportunity to expand on some key points.

If you were in attendance, I’d also like some peer feedback:
  • What did you think of the session?
  • Did you take anything away from it?
  • What could I do differently or better next time?
  • Any other thoughts?
If you missed it, you can access the recording from here and I’d like your feedback as well.

Here’s the slideshow:
And here are the links to the documents and blog posts I referred to. Great for further reading:
Unfortunately, as I was busy this week (despite it being a holiday here, we’ve been inundated with visitors and guests!), I haven’t been able to attend many other sessions. I made sure I had time for Shelly Terrell’s presentation on global projects though and I’m glad I did! If you want to view it (and I strongly recommend you do), the recording is available here: Global Class Projects

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

2 more minutes, please!–My 2nd 2 Minute EdTech Talk

You will be seeing a lot of me around this week. Not only am I all set to present at the Global Education Conference on Wednesday, 17th Nov (tomorrow – yikes!), but I’ve also followed up my 2 Minute EdTech talk about Wordle with another one about the mind-mapping tool!

The interview has now been posted on SimpleK12’s IHeartEdTech blog along with a couple of example images of brainstorming work I’ve done with my students in class. Here’s the link:

Why go paperless with online graphic organisers

Thanks again to Kimberly Warrner for inviting me back for another chat. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, 12 November 2010

TED ELT Conference 2011 - ‘English Beyond Walls’

My employers, TED (Türk Egitim Dernegi or Turkish Education Foundation in English) today announced to us confirmed details of what will be our 4th ELT conference. It will be held at the TED College in Samsun on the Black Sea Coast on April 16th, 2011 and the theme is ‘English Beyond Walls’.


TED usually invites international expert speakers for the plenaries but also likes to have its own teachers involved in the workshops sessions. Cynics may say that’s a cheap option (!) but I think it’s really great that we get to see teachers from other branches of the school present their ideas. Well, I say ‘we’ – I don’t get to see them as I’m usually presenting myself!

Anyway, next week is a holiday here in Turkey so I’ll take the time to mull over my ideas. Perhaps you, the good people of my PLN, might help me frame my proposal…. I was considering doing something on using Twitter and blogs and one title that popped into my head immediately was Professional Development Beyond Conference Walls in which I would explore the ways Twitter is used by educators across the world, how blogging can expand your teaching outlook and how something like my fledgling professional development wiki could be set up and used.

Showing how technology can take English beyond the classroom walls would be an obvious choice (working title: If you can’t take your class out into the real world, bring the real world in). Student blogging as done by the lovely Greta Sandler, video projects like Michelle Worgan’s Young Learner Video Challenge and pretty much anything Shelly Terrell and Özge Karagoglu have come up with would be perfect examples for this. The only hesitation I have about this is that, as of yet, I haven’t had much chance to try anything like this myself. I’m currently awaiting permission to make videos in reply to Michelle’s challenge but nothing is certain at the moment.

Or, my final idea, building on a recent theme in the blogosphere, would be a session on dogme/teaching unplugged and how it can promote more authentic and personalised language development. Doing it dogme style would probably be inappropriate for a session aimed at primary school teachers so instead I’d go for something like Scrap the book (kids scrapbooks, you see?) or Pulling the plug: personalising the learning experience.

Any other suggestions? I’d be happy to hear them!

If you fancy joining me for a weekend on the Black Sea Coast next spring, you can find details about the conference, including proposal and enrolment forms at We also have a Twitter page this year (@TedElt4) as well as a Facebook one. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Dogme Blog Challenge No. 5–Sharing my voice with Cecilia

Recently, I decided to join in with Karenne Slyvester’s on-going Dogme Blog Challenge with a video response of me airing my thoughts on being materials light. It was fun to make and something different to do and, over on Twitter, one of my favourite PLN buddies, Cecilia Coelho gave me some good feedback which led to us discussing how/if we could have a video conversation for a future post. The perfect opportunity came up straightaway as Dogme Blog Challenge No. 5 rolled up with the topic being ‘voice’. What better way to answer than by combining our voices in conversation over on Wetoku?

Below you can see the result. It was a productive chat and, except for a little bit of audio lag and my cat constantly scratching and fidgeting around my feet, it all went smoothly. Hope you enjoy it! (Be warned though that it is slightly on the long side as time flew by quicker than we realised!)

If you have any questions for either (or both of us), post them in the comments section and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

So thanks again to Cecilia – always a pleasure to collaborate with you. Hope to do it again soon!
If you are not doing so already, follow @cecilialcoelho on Twitter and check out her blog, Box of Chocolates, where you’ll also find a cross-posting of this video! Cecilia says her blog got its title because ‘you never know what you’re going to get’ but that’s not exactly true as you know you’re going to get well-written, insightful and though-provoking posts. Thumbs up

Other posts in answer to Dogme Blog Challenge No. 5

  • Mike Harrison's guest post on Karenne’s blog, Objects in the Rear View Mirror

  • Paul Braddock's Barefoot Teaching Challenge/Poll

  • Paul Braddock's Response to challenge 5

  • David Warr It's all about them

  • Diarmuid Fogarty You only sing when you're winning

  • Candy von Ost What is talking for anymore? 

  • Leahn Stanhope Can you hear me? 

  • Cecilia Coelho Showing our voices in a real conversation <<-- Well worth a look. ;) 
  • Wednesday, 10 November 2010

    Upcoming Presentation–Global Education Conference 2010

    As you may know, the Global Education Conference 2010 takes place starting Monday, Nov 15th and runs literally round the clock until Friday, Nov 15th. It’s set to be a truly global event with an amazing 317 sessions from 62 different countries scheduled. All presentations will be online and totally free with no registration required!


    I’m happy to say as part of  those 317 sessions, I will be presenting my first ever online session. My talk, entitled Directing Young Leaners Towards Effective Self-Assessment will take place on Wednesday, 17th November at 1pm GMT. That’s a great time as it covers lunchtime in Europe, breakfast time in the Americas and dinner time in the Far East! I hope to see as many of you as possible there.

    I won’t reveal too much about my session but, my dear PLN, you can help me get ready. I’d like to get your thoughts on the following question: what do you associate with assessment? All I need is a brief answer – one word or a short sentence is enough and I’ll make use of your answers (anonymously!) during my session. Please contribute by adding your thoughts to the following Google doc:

    What do you associate with the term ‘assessment’?

    Thanks for contributing and I hope to see you at my presentation!


    For more information on the conference, sessions and schedule, check out the website:

    You can also follow @globaledcon on Twitter and get more information by using the #globaled10 hash tag.

    Also, if you have any previous experience using Elluminate, you could help out by volunteering to moderate. Obviously a conference of this scale needs plenty of moderators! If you’re interested, you can get more information here:

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    A place for grammar in the YL classroom?

    The first session of ELTchat last Wednesday (3rd November) focused on how to teach grammar with the discussion inevitably including how much grammar to teach and whether or not to do it explicitly (transcript available here). Following on from Richard Whiteside’s great follow-up post, I thought I’d elaborate on the young learner angle.

    One huge difference I’ve noticed between YLs (again, I mean the kids I’ve worked with aged from 8 to 12) and adults is the amount of grammar and vocabulary they know. The adults I’ve taught were often obsessed with grammar and judged what they had learnt and how good a class/teacher was by it. By contrast, the kids are obviously not capable of handling complex “grammar rules” but they do know an amazing amount of vocabulary! I recall one lesson with adult learners where my students were stumped by the sentence “he was tied to the chair with a rope”. They got the structure but had no idea what was going on as none of them knew what ‘rope’ meant. When rope came up in a story book with kids, I was shocked to find they immediately translated the word and mimed either tying up actions or pulling out lengths of the stuff. In these examples, I believe the students who knew the vocabulary would have had a better chance of understanding the sentence than those who knew it was a passive structure.

    Hand in hand
    Grammar & vocab: inseparable

    All of which (kind of) brings me to my first point: grammar and vocabulary go hand-in-hand. It’s no use knowing one if you don’t know the other. If vocab is the clothing of our language, grammar makes sure it fits well. Anyway, enough with the analogies. Smile with tongue out When kids (or any learners) pick up and learn vocabulary and chunks of language, they pick up parts of the grammatical system as well. They then go through a ‘messy’ process of hypothesis testing, reformulating and testing again. It’s the teacher’s role to encourage the process, providing opportunities for noticing and testing language as well as plentiful chances to recycle. So, they may pick up some adjective-noun collocations and later start to recognise that an adjective generally comes before a noun and describes it in some way before attempting to match other adjectives and nouns together and seeing what works.

    So where does controlled, targeted practice fit into all this? Despite their young age, I still feel kids can benefit from some explicit grammar instruction. The key thing is to provide a meaningful context, otherwise it just goes over their heads. For example, a couple of years ago, my students were struggling with an activity in their book in which they were asked to describe items on picture cards using the target language of “I have/haven’t got…”. It was going nowhere so I started to give examples using the kids own items. I showed one boy’s pencil case to the class and said “Look! I’ve got a Spiderman pencil case.” Their faces immediately lit up and they started to show me and each other their merchandised items (that globalised kids’ culture again!). That meant they got their controlled practice together with a meaningful context. I dare say they picked up on some adjective/noun and compound nouns structures as well. At this point, I should also say that although I believe explicit grammar instruction to be of benefit, that does not mean I spend time at the board telling students about adjectives, participles and verb tenses. Such metalanguage is not necessary at this stage. When students make errors like ‘he go swimming every weekend’, I don’t remind them about ‘3rd person singular present simple’ but I may say something like ‘I go, he/she ….?’ and elicit the correct form from them, hopefully helping them notice something in the process.

    where's spot
    Not your typical grammar book….

    I’ll finish by referring to one of my favourite grammar books for kids. Of course, I don’t mean an actual grammar book (although they do exist for kids as I have seen a particularly dry one on my students’ desks which they use with their other English teacher). Instead, I mean ”Where’s Spot?” by Eric Hill! It may not strike you as a grammar book at first but take a look inside and you’ll see pages with a target language structure of ‘Is he (preposition) the (household object)?’ repeated throughout and placed in a meaningful context by simple illustrations with moveable flaps. What a shame that we don’t use it anymore! (another problem with the ‘all-in-one’ coursebooks that include their own stories with the previous unit’s target language crowbarred in). Spot wouldn’t be suitable for the age group I work with now but there are still other picture books with similarly repeated language that could be used. I’d love to use The Gruffalo for descriptions or The Incredible Book Eating Boy for habits and routines but there just aren’t enough hours in the syllabus!

    So, in short, yes – there is a place for grammar in the young learner classroom. That does not mean there’s a place for 100% grammar lessons but, given a meaningful context and the chance to experiment with the structure(s), kids can benefit from some explicit instruction to complement all the stuff they somehow pick up!

    For any one working with kids, I recommend looking at either (or both!) of the following books, which have great chapters summing up grammar and vocabulary much better than I ever could:

    Cameron, L. (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
    Pinter, A. (2006). Teaching Young Language Learners. Oxford: OUP

    You should also read the G for Grammar entry from Carol Read's ABC of Teaching Children blog, which contains a lot of insightful comment.

    Thursday, 4 November 2010

    Getting into kids’ culture

    Last night’s late session in ELTchat was about the importance of teaching culture (you can find the transcript here if you missed it) and, as ever, the chat was insightful, thought-provoking and fast!

    When I first came to Turkey to teach adults (seems so long ago now!), it quickly became apparent that culture, cultural differences and cultural perceptions would play a significant part in my classes. Comparing and contrasting life in Turkey with other countries was always a great source for discussion and I loved learning about the diverse nature of this country from the students as they told me about their hometowns, local culture and customs.

    However, this all changed when I started to teach kids. Maybe it was partly because I’d been here for a couple of years by that point but I found that primary school learners were not so keen on telling me about their country or hometowns or learning about mine. The ‘culture’ I came across with young learners was all a product of globalisation as the kids were keenest of all to tell me about their favourite pop stars, TV shows, computer games and football players, mainly international too. Take for example my recent favourites lesson: when asking about favourite pop stars, not one Turkish star was mentioned and it was the same for TV shows and films.

    One piece of Hannah Montana merchandise that might be worth getting!
    Image by zen

    And so I find ‘western’ culture now dominates my lessons as discussion inevitably turns to Hannah Montana, Ben 10, WWE Smackdown and the latest DS games, all of which I am now (unfortunately) a kind of expert on. (Well, to be honest, I don’t mind the video games part so much as I am something of an addict myself and new classes are always surprised and delighted to learn I play Wii games with my son!) I guess it all comes back to adapting to and incorporating our students’ culture. In the past, that meant learning about all sorts of aspects of Turkish life. These days, it means keeping up with pop culture for kids! I firmly believe that this is a key to establishing positive connections with our classes. There’s no point in talking about something they have no interest in or are unable to relate to.

    Plus, every so often, the globalised well-marketed ‘culture’ that my kids subscribe to throws up a surprise. In one class when I was asking about their favourite music I was surprised by their answers: Metallica, Queen, Aerosmith, Van Halen… (bear in mind they are only 10 years old!) How did they discover such behemoths of classic rock? Guitar Hero of course!

    And to finish, a Final Rip-off as I steal an idea from a recent post on Richard Whiteside’s blog and include a Monty Python video: “One of these days, you’ll realise there’s more to life than culture!” A classic role reversal.

    Wednesday, 3 November 2010

    Speaking class activity–‘Our favourite things’ survey

    Following on from my interview for SimpleK12’s 2 Minute EdTech talk about using Wordle, I thought I’d use this post to describe a speaking lesson I did last week and this week, which made use of word clouds.

    As part of one of my split speaking classes, I decided to have the students do a survey. We started off the lesson with a chat about some of their favourite things: sports, food, colours, school subjects, music etc. One thing I focused on straightaway was getting the kids to go beyond the basic “My favourite colour is red” sentence by asking them “Why?”. That stumped them a little at first as they have done ‘favourite’ as a lesson so many times before but never gone into any detail beyond the basic structures of the question and answer. I helped them out with some ideas so they could say things like “Blue is my favourite colour because it’s the colour of the sky” and “Formula 1 is my favourite sport because it’s exciting and fast”. I then got more information out of them with questions  like “What blue things do you own?” and “Do you watch every F1 race on TV?”. We ended up with lots of useful vocabulary and phrases on the board to turn the initial question from being just a question to being the start of a conversation.

    I then asked the students to draw up a chart with 4 columns in their notebooks and enough rows to write the names of everybody in the class (in the first column). I told them to choose 3 different words to complete the question “What’s your favourite….?” (one at the top of each remaining column). They then had to go round the class asking about each other’s favourite things and recording the answers. Although the activity and the language was basic, they loved the energy of getting up and moving around (something they don’t get to do in class very often). It was loud but fun and I was able to hear phrases flying round like “It’s my favourite because…..” and “Of course I can ice-skate. I go to the rink every weekend.” The interesting thing is, in the past when doing the survey with just the regular review of the questions, the kids generally slip into Turkish to ask and answer. However, with a more detailed initial look at the language and how to go beyond just a simple answer, they used English more!

    At the end of the lesson, I had just enough time to show the kids Wordle and how to make word clouds. I asked them if they could type the results of their surveys into the website at home and either email me the links or print them and bring them into the class the next week. This is what one kid sent me:

    favourite food

    Favourite sports

    Favourite school subjects

    Great stuff, even if English didn’t show up prominently in the favourite school subjects cloud! They loved the way the most popular answers were displayed largest and this week, we’ve been using the word clouds as the central features of a wall display. We just stuck the printed image in the centre of a piece of card and added extra information all around it, just as I had elicited and expanded on at the start of the survey lesson. The displays are on-going as the kids add to them whenever they want to, whether with more information, pictures, drawings or anything else! I just love the way it brings the lesson round full circle back to the beginning!

    Tuesday, 2 November 2010

    My 2 Minute EdTech Talk

    I like to keep myself busy and today I’m happy to announce another appearance as a ‘guest’ on a blog. This time, I was interviewed for SimpleK12’s 2 Minute EdTech Talk series, sharing some of my ideas for using Wordle in the classroom. Here’s the link:

    6 ways to use Wordle in the classroom (video)

    It was great to have the chance to share my ideas with a different audience and I also enjoyed my first experience of using Wetoku, a great tool for recording split-screen webcam interviews.

    A big thank you to Kimberly Warner for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this series and for doing the interview as well as guiding me through the process so well. Sorry though that I turned it into a 5 Minute EdTech Talk! Smile with tongue out

    IHeartEdTEch logo

    You can find out more about the 2 Minute EdTech talk series and SimpleK12 through these links:

    I Heart EdTech – SimpleK12’s blog

    Talk back to the EdTech pros – a summary of all the interviews in the series with a chance to ask further questions of the ‘pros’ including myself!

    SimpleK12’s Wetoku Channel – you can find all of the recorded interviews here.

    On Twitter: @SimpleK12, @SimpleCEO & @EdTechUNcon

    Monday, 1 November 2010

    Permission (finally!) granted–now, my PD wiki project needs YOU!

    “When I say I’ll get something done, I get it done.” That’s the attitude I went to work with today and, as promised in yesterday’s post about on-going professional development, I at long last got official approval to move full-steam ahead with my “Teachers’ Network” wiki.

    It’s already been in existence for a while (you can view it at but only with a few example pages for the purpose of showing the school directors what could be done with it but now we can finally start to add content on a regular basis and expand our pool of knowledge. A promising start as a fellow teacher immediately created a page entitled “Board marker Lesson Ideas” based on an unexpected ‘unplugged’ moment he had today. If it continues like this, we’ll be chucking out our coursebooks in no time!

    So, exciting times! I really think this can be a great way to bring some of my colleagues into the world of online PLNs and learning communities, engage in a constructive exchange of ideas and introduce some of the great, freely available web 2.0 resources out there.

    Want You

    Of course, I want this wiki to be a collaborative effort. While it’s my idea, the whole purpose of it is for different teachers working in my school to add pages, generate discussion and create content meaningful to our context. However, I also think some ‘voices from outside’ would be useful to offer some fresh perspective. And that’s where YOU come in my dear PLN. I’m looking for educators from around the world to help out in the following ways:

    1. Interviews – I’d love to pick your brains about issues related to language teaching, working with kids, technology in the classroom and other educational issues. This could be done either as a text interview (e.g. Marisa Pavan’s recent interview with Barbara Sakamoto), a podcast-style audio interview or a video interview with Wekotu (see these great channels by SimpleK12 and Shelly Terrell for cool examples).
    2. Guest posts – after the wiki has been active for a while and I’ve introduced the blogging as a professional development tool, I intend to set up a blog to complement the wiki. The idea is teachers could contribute more personal accounts of teaching experiences and beliefs than they perhaps could in the wiki but again, I feel the inclusion of alternative perspectives would be of great benefit. So, guest posters from my PLN would be more than welcome!

    I realise it’s a big ask and I can’t offer much in return other than my eternal gratitude and the promise to return the favour if you ever need/want me to. If you are interested in helping out, drop me a line either through a comment below, a DM on Twitter or an email. Thanks in advance and I hope to get some of my teaching buddies blogging and tweeting with us soon!