Thursday, September 18, 2014

One to one lessons

My one to one lesson procedure
I have been teaching one to one sessions for a very long time now and I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the steps of my one to one lessons.
Step 1
Greet the learner and start the chit chat.
I like asking my learner questions about his/her daily life, what he/she did yesterday, what he/she ate and so on. I like asking content questions. I have been a witness to lessons where the learner says " Oh, I lost my bag yesterday" and the tutor's response is " Oh! OK..... so let's talk about the 2nd conditional..." That's a no no for me. Don't just ask him/her how his/her day was for the sake of asking. When you ask a question, ask it... I mean ask, ask. Follow up with another question. I always have mini conversations.
Picture credits: Iconarchive

Icing on the cake: These mini conversations are a great way to check their grammar needs, what kind of vocabulary they are lacking, what they are interested in and they get to speak. They also get a chance to ask me a question or two, so my learners get to know me better. It is a win-win.
Want more? This summer I asked my EAP students what they think makes a teacher interesting (post here) and they told me that the teacher must tell them stories. They like hearing about their teacher's life.

Step 2
The aims of the lesson
I tell my learner what we will be doing today (lesson aims). I talk about the grammar/vocabulary we will be using in today's session. I also tell them what they will be able to do by the end of the lesson (outcome).
Step 3
The lesson
Step 4
I make lesson notes during the lesson. I write down the mistakes my learner made and talk about them. Don't get me wrong, of course, I give immediate feedback but I like taking notes of some of the lexis or grammar my student struggled with. I then give my student the paper and we go over everyhing together. So immediate feedback + a feedback sheet with little mistakes/comments.
Step 5
I get feedback. I ask my student what he/she liked about the lesson and what he/she didn't like. I ask for any suggestions or if my student wants to go over something in the next lesson. Getting feedback from the learner is really important especially when you are having one to one lessons cause:
1. You have to keep the learner happy with the quality of your teaching.
2. Your learner chose you as a teacher but if he/she is not happy then adios... the learner will go elsewhere.
3. This is how you, the teacher improves. So, ok, you may think you are a super duper teacher (and maybe you are) but it is essential that you hear it from your learner as well. Teaching is about being flexible. If your learner is not responding well to the way you are teaching something, his/ her feedback will help you develop.
Step 6 
I end my lesson with a bit of information about the next lesson, just to whet my student's appetite for learning (or at least that is my intention). Then it is time to say bye bye and then go home.

 Feel free to comment in the comments section. Thanks for reading : )

Till next time......

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Good times, bad times.....

Here for the good and the BAD times
This blog post seems more like a diary entry cause it has to do with how I feel at the moment. I should be studying for my EAP specialism but I can't. What's wrong? Well, fellow teacher, it is great when you share a moment of success with your students, isn't it? Your beginner students learn how to read their first sentence on their own, the weak student does well in a test and smiles, your students pass their language proficiency exams and they cannot stop grinning, but what happens when your learner feels he/she has failed? Very often learners feel that passing a test equals success and not passing a language test means failure.

I do not know about you guys but I find it extremely difficult to:
1. Deliver bad test results to students.
2. Offer soothing words or advice that will alleviate/ minimise any bad feelings my learners have. Don't get me wrong, I do tell them that it is not the end of the world and other nice words but.......

Two students with the same look on their face
Students study. That is what they do for a living, so when the end product is not what they expect, they often feel a sense of failure.
Last week one of my Chinese students on an EAP course I was teaching, did not meet the language requirements set by her department. She was crying. She came to improve her English and try to get into a UK university, but, although she tried, she didn't get in. She looked at me and asked me,
" Why? What am I going to do now?"
I said to her, "Your English has improved. Don't you feel that?"
" Yes, but it wasn't enough. I tried and it wasn't enough" she said.
" You will try again! You have improved....."
"Yes, but what if I fail again?"
Yes, what if she fails to meet the requirements again? I, the teacher, cannot guarantee that she will acquire, learn and use everything I teach her and do well in her test. Then there are things that are totally out of my control. She may just even have a bad day on the day of the test. What can I say to my student that will make her feel better? What words can I say?
This week one of my teenage students found out she did not pass her B2 exam for the 2nd time. She was so sad. I tried to make her feel better by telling her that she did much better than last time. I told her that she was really close to passing this time. I told her about all the things she accomplished this year and how much both her speaking and writing had improved but it wasn't enough. She stayed silent. When I said, " You should sit for the exam again" she said,  "What if I fail again? I can't fail again".
What can I say to this student? What will make her feel better?
I can only hope that both my students see how well they have been doing and find the strength to try again. Tests are hard. Some people do not pass them, so it is necessary to try again.
 I do not really think that anything I say will make these students feel better. The only thing I can actually do is be there when they need me. Pick 'em up, guide them and help them with what they think is success. Passing the test.

Final thoughts
In some cultures/educational backgrounds/situations language acquistion is associated with passing a test. Unfortunately.

Till next time.......

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fun tasks and the 1st conditional
A bit about conditionals
In student grammar books, conditionals are usually divided into zero, first, second, third and mixed conditionals. This post is part of a series of posts related to conditionals. Today, I am going to write about fun activities you can use with your learners when teaching what is known as the 1st conditional.

1st conditional
But first, what do I mean by first conditional? My focus is on the form that appears in most ntermediate/ upper intermediate grammar books. Here is the form:

If clause                                                              ,                                            main clause
If + s. present/present continuous (or present perfect)   ,  imperative/ modals/ s. future.


       Main clause                                                   if clause
 Imperative/modals/s. future    +  if + simple present/present continuous (or present perfect).

                           E.g. If you use these ideas, your students will have fun.

* Unless + simple present (affirmative form) can also be used (in the if clause instead of if + not).

In my opinion, the conditional is a structure that allows the teacher to use different activities which can guarantee a fun grammar lesson for the students. Below are some ideas for tasks you can use with your learners.

                   Fun 1st conditional task ideas

  • Things to see in London + using a London Tube map:

Tell your students that they are in London. Get your learners to make a plan of where they will go, give them the London tube map and a brochure of the 'must see' tourist attractions in London. Your students must make different plans and talk about which lines they should use and what time they should leave. They should use the first conditional in order to make the different plans.

          E.g. If we leave X at 8, we will arrive at 10 at Y.
          If we take the red line, we need to get off at Y. If we get off at Y, we will           then......

  • Video Condition:

The teacher shows part of a video and then stops it and asks the students to guess what will happen next. The students must use the 1st conditional. Video ideas: You can use Sliding Doors (Gwyneth Paltrow movie) which is about what happens if she gets on the tube and what happens when she misses the tube. Another movie idea is 500 days of Summer which has a split screen moment where the hero plays in  his head a scenario of what will happen when he goes to his ex-girlfriend's party (expectation vs reality).

  • Election game:

This is a game (idea found on Teflnet/Smore) where your students have to imagine they  are running for president. Each student gives a speech about what he/she will do if he/she gets elected. You can then ask your learners to actually vote and see who gets elected as president : )

        E.g. If I am elected president, I will give every citizen a free lap top.
Screen shot taken from here

  • Consequence chain:

A consequence chain is like writing a chain story but the learners must use the 1st conditional and write about consequences (for more about this go here). How do you set this up? Well, get your students to sit in rows. One student from each end of the room must write a first conditional sentence. Then hand it to the student next to him/her. That student uses the previous student's main clause to form an if clause and then adds his/her own main clause and so on.

                  Student A: If you go out, you will meet someone.
             Next student: If you meet someone, you will go on a date.

You can also have a consequence chain talk about global warming where students talk about the consequence of climate change. So for example, if the temperature rises, the ice bergs will melt. If the ice melts, ...... (This idea came from a colleague. Thanks Sue Annan).

  • Drill marathon:

The teacher gives an if clause and the students have to write as many main clauses as they can. The teacher gives a time limit. The student who has found the most correct options is the winner.

  • Songs:

Here is a list of songs that can be used when teaching the 1st conditional. How can you use the songs? Well, many ways. You can give them the lyrics but first delete some of the words, and before they listen to the song ask them to fill in the missing lyrics with what they think should go there (pre-listening task).You can also get them to fill in the gaps whilst listening to the song. Another thing you  can do is give them the lyrics all jumbled up and ask them to put the lyrics in the right order.
Titles of songs:
If you are happy and you know it....
If you leave me now (Chicago)
If you are not mine (David Bedingfield)
If I lose myself tonight (One Republic)
If the feeling is gone (Kyla)

Screen shot taken from here

You can download everything here:
Fun tasks and the 1st conditional.docx

Of course, there are many other fun activities teachers can use to help their learners with the 1st conditional. I have mentioned just a few. Feel free to leave some more ideas in the comments section below. I will follow up with a post about the 2nd and the 3rd conditional in the following weeks.

 Till next time....... 

Helpful links and some thanks:
 I would also like to thank Sue Annan and Sandy Millin who gave me some ideas for this post : ).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The wonderful world of feedback and correcting: focusing on the writing skill.
I have been correcting and marking loads of essays these days and every time I find myself using different types of feedback, so that gave me the idea for this post. So, let's have a look at different types of feedback and ways to correct.
Teacher's feedback/correction
  • Error code:
Many teachers use an error code when checking students' writing. You collect your students' texts and instead of correcting the mistakes, you use symbols/abbreviations which correspond to language features, you use an error code. So, for example SP. stands for spelling and WW. stands for wrong word. You can make the error code yourself or use something you have found in a book. Either way, you need to make sure that your students are familiar with the error code and know what each initial or abbreviation means.
Error code with a twist: instead of using abbreviations, you can use a highlighter pen. In this case, each colour correspond to a type of error. This may be more suitable for children.

Teaching Tip: Are you sure that your learners know what each symbol means? You may have told them over and over again, but you will still get a student saying, ''I didn't correct the essay cause I didn't know what S/V stood for'' . No need to worry. I have a suggestion for that! Why not try an error code terminology checker task? What is a terminology checker? Well, you write down the key abbreviations in bubbles and project them, your students then have to match the abbreviation with the definition or tell you what means what.

  • Correcting mistakes:
Well, this type of correction method has probably been used by most teachers. I guess you have corrected your students' mistakes by drawing a line over the mistake and giving the correct sentence/version. I do this from time to time, but only when I think my learners do not have the knowledge to correct it themselves.
Teaching tip: Instead of just correcting their errors why not challenge your students a bit? Once you have corrected their mistakes, you could make little exercises/tasks which are connected to their errors just to help them practice with the structures/phenomena they are struggling with (I have written a post about feedback Q & A. Check it out here).
  • Comment bubbles/Dialogue with your student:
When correcting your learner's text it is a good idea to ask questions related to some of the information you find in the text, especially comments related to the content. Something may require more analysis, so you can make a comment bubble and ask, ''What do you mean?'' or you may want to make a comment on something that you find interesting and say, ''Great idea!'' or ''I totally agree''. The comments you write are totally up to you. Once you hand back the texts, your learners can reply to the questions you ask and then you have a short dialogue.

  • Oral feedback:
If you are really tech savvy or if you want to be a bit more fancy, you can send your learners oral feedback or share a YouTube video. The sky is your limit fellow teacher. I have used vocaroo. You go to the website, record yourself speaking and then send your feedback to the learner. One of the benefits here is that the feedback is saved and cannot be lost or eaten by the dog!


  • Ticking a checklist:
You can make a checklist and put ticks in the appropriate boxes depending on whether the student has fulfilled the requirements of the writing task or not. This type of feedback is more effective when the feedback has to do with development of ideas or specific structures/ language points. So, if for example, you have told your students to write a story, you can make a story genre features checklist and tick the features that are evident in your student's story.

          The wording of the teacher's feedback

Telling your student everything that has gone wrong in their writing may turn out to be a boomerang. Be constructive and positive. Put a smile on their faces : ). I prefer wording my feedback comments in the following two ways:

  • Sandwich feedback:

Sandwich feedback is when you give a positive comment, then talk about something your learner did not do well or needs to work on, and then you write another positive comment.

  • You did this/you didn't do this/you need to:

Just like the sandwich feedback, in this case start with something positive. Then, mention what your learner didn't do, and conclude with suggestions on the actions that need to be taken.

Student generated feedback/correction
  • Peer feedback:
Peer feedback is a good way to get everybody involved in the feedback/correction process. In this case, one student reads another student's work and tries to offer feedback or make corrections. You can ask your students to use the error code, correct based on a checklist or  look for something in particular like checking for plagiarism for example. The good thing about this type of feedback is that students often respond well to corrections that come from a classmate. It also makes them more active in relation to the whole correction process.
Teaching tip: Have you ever used a reading circle during a peer feedback session? I often get my EAP students to sit in groups of four. I tell them to look at the introduction of their classmates' essay, for example, and check to see if there is a thesis statement, a map, author's voice etc. I also tell them to look for anything that is missing or is not easily understood. I set a time limit (let's say five minutes) and when the time is up, they have to give the introduction to the next student in the group. This goes on for a few times. Then, each student gets their essay back, but now it has a lot of comments for them to work on. Of course, during a reading circle, you, the teacher, have to monitor and stick to the time limits you set, otherwise you will have some students with piles of paper next to them, and others with nothing to check.
  • Self- Correction: 
I often tell my students to take five or ten minutes at the beginning of a lesson, before they hand in their writing homework, to check their texts and try to see if they can find any mistakes. While they are checking, I monitor and offer any help when asked for it. It is very important to get students to read their texts before they hand them in because very often they give you the first draft of something without even checking it!
  • Using writing assessment criteria:
Instead of you marking your students' work based on writing assessment criteria, why not get them to look at their work and assess it based on the writing assessment criteria? These type of activities are remarkable when working with advanced learners. It gets your students to reflect on their texts and see what needs work on. I have used criteria sheets in my exam classes and my EAP classes. I strongly recommend you try this with your learners. I would not recommend it for lower level students though because they may have language barrier issues. 
Teaching Tip: When you first introduce writing assessment criteria to your learners, it is a good idea to use a sample. Give them a text that has been assessed based on writing criteria but do not give them the final grades. Ask them to assess it and then show them the grades/highlighted criteria. Once they familiarise themselves with the process, they will be able to apply it to their own work.

Screenshot of Ielts writing band descriptions taken from here:

Error/Feedback Log
It is a good idea to get your learners to check the types of mistakes they make and see if there are errors that occur over and over again. If there are errors that reoccur:
1.Your learner will realise that he/she needs to address it.
2. You, the teacher, can include tasks, lessons that will help your learners with structures and language they are struggling with.

There are many ways to check your students' writing. I like to mix and match depending on the learners. I do think though that it is essential to get students to be more active regarding the correcting of their texts.
You can download everything here:
Example of an error code

* In this document (colour code section) the computer automatically corrected my spelling mistake so it says your instead of yor (which was the spelling mistake).

Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section.

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