Saturday, July 26, 2014

                     Induction Week
I started working at Sheffield University on the pre sessional English for Academic Purposes course last Monday, and time has flown without me realising it. There were no lessons this week. This week was all about teacher training and getting informed about how the English Language Center runs their EAP course.  It actually got me thinking about how important training sessions are and how useful these induction weeks are. So, my take on inductions in general and this week's induction in particular.
One Week of EAP input
Having taught English for academic purposes before and having attended 3 different EAP induction trainings, I strongly believe that a week long induction is necessary. Inductions that are shorter are not enough because the information can be so overwhelming that it is impossible for things to sink in in less than a week!
What goes on during the induction?
Well, you learn about lots of things during induction week. You learn about teaching techniques, you become familiar with what you will be teaching, you look at the materials thoroughly, you get Q & A sessions, you attend various workshops with an EAP focus, you learn about the campus, different technologies, assessment criteria and lots more.
And anything else?
There is also the social aspect. You meet the people you are going to be closely working with. You meet your director of studies before the teaching begins (before you start bombarding the poor lad with myriads of questions about how to do this or that! Notice how I am already using lad?!?!). Meeting the people you are going to be working with in a more relaxed setting is great because no one is stressed. Your conversations are  not just about who taught what and when, students and so on. There is a lot of teacher talk going on, but it is the good kind (teachers talking to other teachers about.....other stuff : P).
What I particularly liked about this EAP induction.
The English Language Center of Sheffield University divided the teachers in two groups. there was a group for teachers who had taught EAP before, and a group for those new to the EAPsphere.
Well, instead of being introduced to EAP related issues or reviewing things I already knew, I got a chance to be a bit more reflective and shared my experience with other tutors who had  EAP experience.  It was actually a bit like a swap shop/ a think tank.
Anything else I like about induction week?
As a teacher who lives abroad, I also got a chance to acclimatise myself a bit better before getting into a classroom.
Icing on the cake?
One of the teacher trainers was Jennifer Spencer, one of the authors of EAP Essentials.
So, this was a good week. I learnt a lot and enjoyed it even more. Am I stressed? Yeap. A bit. But it is productive stress. The good one.
Till next time...........

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Teaching grammar

                 Teaching grammar like math
Picture taken from Media4Math website. Link here

I have always loved teaching grammar, I am in my element when it comes to grammar. On the other hand, as a student, I had an aptitude for math and although I did not choose to specialise in it, I have found a way to approach and present grammar structures/rules as if they were a math problem. It is my belief that, especially when you first learn a language, it is a good idea to know some general rules behind a structure or simply what goes with what.Now, fellow teacher, if you are rolling your eyes with the whole rules notion, please bear with me, will you? This post is not about whether grammar is or is not governed by rules nor is it about whether we should teach rules or not. It is just about a mathematical approach to presenting and teaching grammar. So, let's take one step at a time.

                                                   The grammar lesson

Provide context
Never, eva start your grammar lesson by giving them a grammar rule.  Provide context for whatever structure you are teaching. Say you want to teach comparative, show them a spot the difference picture. If you want to teach the conditionals, play a song with if clauses in it etc. etc.

Discovery methods
So, now you have provided the context, get your learners to use the information they have to form the rules. Scaffold and help when necessary but do not tell them the grammar, don't give them the rules (yet). Help them discover the rules.

Time for math
Now you have provided context and your learners have used discovery methods to figure out how the structure is formed. Great! This is when I bring in some math into the equation. I find that for many structures it is often the case of this+this=that and now before I move on I need to clarify a few points:
  • Of course, where there is a rule there is always an exception!
  • My mathematical approach cannot apply to every single grammatical phenomenon.
  • As a learner, I always liked learning things through tables, so it is only natural to teach the way I learnt because it is easier for me, as a teacher to explain things.
  • This post is not a post about how these phenomena are formed. I have used simple explanations of these particular grammatical structures. Of course, there are loads of stuff that are missing from my board examples : ) I am sticking to basics (grammar for let's say, intermediate level students).

         +/=/} symbols+tables= grammar(?)

You may now ask, "When do you use the mathematical approach?"  Very often. " Ummmm, ok! For what?"

  • Conditionals (the traditional 1st, 2nd, 3rd)

  • Wishes/if only

  • Inversion (some types)

  • Adjective Order

  • Passive Voice

This is what my board and my notes look like when I am presenting 'rules'. Of course presenting the 'rules' does not mean that they will actually learn the language. It may though give them an understanding of some grammatical phenomena. Does this presentation work with all learners? Nope. Some like it, others don't. So, then I start drawing or use another way to present grammar.

[(context + discovery methods) = introduction of a new point + my math presentation = grammar] + practice and production = new language
or something like that..... Remember, at the end of the day, I teach English not math : ) Coming up.... teaching syntax like math! Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section.
This post has been shortlisted for this month's Teaching English via British Council blog award. If you like it, go here and press 'like' on my post. Thanks for reading : D

You can download everything, here.
Adjective Order.docx

Till next time............

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Study Groups

Study groups: How, When and Why?
We all  include group work in class, but what about study groups after class? I was first introduced to the idea of study groups when I taught a presessional English for academic purposes course a few years ago. I now consider them a prerequisite for my students' progress, especially in EAP courses, but before I move on let's take a step back.

What is a study group?
Well, as you know or can probably guess, it is a group (of students) that studies/does tasks together usually as part of their homework. Although my experience of study groups is in an EAP context, I have used them with my other learners as well, so I firmly believe that they can be introduced to ANY group of learners, no matter why they are learning English.

How do I set up the groups?
Well, in my EAP classes, each group was formed based on where they lived (I wanted students staying at the same hall of residence to be able to work together) and their English level (I try to form mixed ability groups). I also put students of different nationalities in each group so as to deter the use of the same L1 In any other context you can group your learners based on their fluency and level. Also, make sure you designate roles. Someone will be head of the group, someone will report on the progress of their work etc. Make sure everyone is going to be doing something. Also, from time to time switch roles. You could also introduce the paper clip contribution procedure to ensure everyone has done something as part of their study group task. So, if each student has 5 paper clips, then that is how many contributions they must at least make to the group.

A twist: I tell my students to record themselves when they are in their study groups. But.....Why?
Well, back in the days when I first got my students into study groups, I asked them about it The discussion went like this:

Joanna: "So, how was it? Did you enjoy studying together?"
Students: " Yes, It was great. We really enjoyed it!"
Joanna: " Did it help you learn? Was it easier to do things with the help of your classmates?"
Students: " Of course, Joanna!!"
Joanna: "......Were you talking in English?"
Students: ...........
and then came the..."OK, so now I want you to record yourselves while doing your group homework, and....... you need to use English when in your study groups!"

The next day they all came in with big smiles on their faces and all volunteered to share their recordings.  "Here, Joanna!! Listen to us, we are talking in English!!" After that, I did not have to ask for recordings, they just brought them to me and when I forgot to ask for the PROOF they reminded me : )
So, recordings ensure that EVERYONE is using English and give my students the opportunity to listen to themselves and how they did as a group and as individuals in this group.

When do I use them?
Ideas for study group tasks
Well, the sky is your limit of course. Here are some suggestions for tasks:

  • Any kind of project or infographic
  • A research project
  • A poster presentation
  • A peer feedback activity where one student looks at the other's writing/research paper and offers advice
  • A group play, poem song
  • Reading a text and doing the exercises together
  • many more.....
Why I like study groups:
  • Students work together and learn from each other. Such groups help team building and promote cooperation.
  • Everybody has to contribute which gives a sense of achievement to all learners.
  • They have more opportunities to use English outside the classroom.
So, that's all folks! Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.

Till next time.....

                                         Picture taken from: