Nov 012020
 

I’m very interested in using virtual reality environments for teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes) or ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes). However, the problem is that it would take a lot of time, effort and cost to develop such course in a virtual world from scratch. This is one of the reasons, I believe, why even after so many years, there are still only a handful of language educators in virtual worlds.

My approach in the past, therefore, was to use existing places (in Second Life) to teach English, rather than buying land, learning to built and script, etc. This wasn’t and isn’t feasible for most teachers.

So, when I came across this video from Arizona State University on Linkedin a couple of weeks ago, I was really excited, not because of Hollywood, but because I think some of us educators might be able to piggyback on this kind of thing. For example, they want to use the world shown in the video to teach biology. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the language department could use the same world to teach EAP or ESAP. I assume that language departments around the world don’t have the budget to build immersive virtual environments such as this one just to teach an English for Biology, or Architecture, Medicine or History course. However, if a university can built virtual reality environments for certain subjects, we language teachers could use the same material or course content and create a language course and activities for that subject area. This would not only save money, time and effort, but it would help integrate the language learning with the international students’ subject courses and support them better.

As I also like project-based learning, I could imagine another type of collaboration between different departments and subject areas. Many universities now offer degrees in Virtual and Augmented Reality, and often students have to work on projects developing VR environments or apps as part of their portfolio for assessment. Some projects could be on building environments or apps for the language department. Or an interdisciplinary collaboration could bring VR development students together with EdTech and TESOL students (like I was) and have them work together on VR for language education projects – a win-win-win situation for the students from the two disciplines and the university.

(For more details about the ASU project, go here.)

Sep 272020
 

Every year, teachers on EAP pre-sessional courses are observed. As teaching took place online this summer, we were given two options:

  • being observed live
  • recording our session.

I decided to record my session.

Good reasons for recording

Time

The pre-sessional courses are very intensive and the online format being new, I wasn’t sure I’d have time to choose a lesson, write the lesson plan and send it to the observer in advance, which was a requirement for live observed lessons. Whereas, if we chose recording, it was possible to send the lesson plan together with the recording.

Possibility of tech failure

There’s always the possibility that the technology might fail. The internet connection might get interrupted, the platform might cause problems, the observer might have issues joining at their end…In the worst case, this would mean preparing another detailed lesson plan and spending another couple days worrying about it (see my next point).

Nerves 

This was my tenth year  of teaching a pre-sessional course, but although after each of my observed lessons I was told in the feedback that I looked calm and under control, I still feel nervous even after so many years. I’m a very confident teacher, but it simply feels unnatural to have another teacher sitting in the back of the classroom (or just being present in the live online session), observing and taking notes – no matter how nice they are.

Disruptiveness of observation

There’s a kind of intimacy and trust relationship between the students and the teacher. I’m very good at establishing trust and rapport in the classroom. However, when a third person – an outsider – comes in, the dynamics can change. If that person was participating in the lesson, it would be less awkward, and I do try to involve them just a little bit, but generally they’ll just be there in silence and focusing on their observation. In a live online session, they can be less intrusive by keeping their camera and microphone switched off. However, if they join the breakout rooms with just two to four students in each, it is even more disruptive than in the physical class.

Drawback of recorded sessions

If breakout rooms are used, the observer can move between the rooms in a live observed lesson. However, if the lesson is recorded, there isn’t much to watch/observe for the observer because only the main room is recorded and for most of the lesson, when everyone would be working in the breakout rooms, they would only see a black screen and hear nothing, at least this is how it was in MS Teams.

As I was using MS Teams and  breakout rooms  for the first time, I wanted to have feedback on how effectively I managed the class and the technology, including monitoring the groups, opening the shared Word docs each group was going to work on, etc… I had found a way that I thought was good, but I didn’t know how everyone else was doing it and whether there was a more effective or efficient way of managing the class, so feedback was important.

My solution

The tech team told me there was no way to record all the activity within MS Teams. So, I decided to record the main room as usual, and I asked students to record their breakout sessions (which one group did). This was just a backup solution. At the same time, to capture everything I was doing, I recorded my screen with Quicktime and send this to the observer.

The result

Recording the session in this way worked very well. I was much less worried and nervous before and during the ‘observed’ lesson because if anything had gone wrong with the technology or the lesson itself, I could have recorded another session; it also wasn’t disruptive because no third person joined our session. And most of all, the observer was able to see everything I did, and I received good feedback.

Dec 142019
 

Since United Nation Member States have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, a lot of work has gone into integrating these into school curricula, individual lessons, teacher training, etc.

Some of this work is also directly related to language teaching. Here’re some examples:

Book with lesson plans for each SDG

A book in the ‘Integrating…’ series by the British Council was published in 2017 with the title Integrating global issues in the creative English language classroom. Each chapter is devoted to one of the SDGs and includes lesson plans and activities around the particular SDG. As with the whole series, the book can be downloaded for free.

SDG and academic soft skills integrated EAP course kit

Develop EAP is a free course consisting of classroom material, slide sets, a VLE (Moodle) and assessment tools and can be used in university academic English courses, such as pre-sessionals. The content focuses on the SDGs and also teaches academic soft skills.It has won the 2017 ELTons Award for Innovation in Learner Resources. Read more about the course and download it.

Integrating SDGs and digital literacy skills

An interesting approach to integrating the SDGs into language learning and teacher training is taken by Owain Llewellyn, who created a website with training videos for teachers and lessons plans that both teach about the SDGs and digital literacies. It provides examples of how learners can improve their language skills and digital literacies skills while discussing SDGs and participating in hands-on activities to bring it all together. Owain explains the reason behind the website and the rationale for integrating these kills.

Individual lesson plans

Some teachers also share individual lesson plans that deal with the SDGs, for example a jigsaw listening activity by Jessica Mackay in which learners watch two different TEDtalks related to the SDGs, then share information and discuss the issues.

I am now also tagging my shared Sustainability Lessons and anything related to SDGs, such as this post, with ‘SDGs’ in general, or if they relate to specific ones: ‘SDG 3‘, SDG 6‘ , ‘SDG 11‘ etc.

Updates

I’ll update this blog post when I come across more lesson plans or resources related to the SDGs in language teaching. Please add anything you think should be listed here in the comments section, including your own lesson plans if you’ve shared them online.

Dec 082019
 
Bus stop waiting tube, Curitiba

Bus stop waiting tube, Curitiba

This (set of) lesson(s), or project, was originally developed for my English for City Planners class several years ago. I had visited Curitiba myself and was impressed, so I was hoping my students would like some of the sustainability ideas I was going to show them in the lesson and, ideally (idealistically?!), use some in their planning for our city. It was a face-to-face class, but because the participants were busy professionals, there’d always be some who missed lessons. As I was, at the same time, studying on my MA Educational Technology & TESOL course, I used the opportunity to build a website for this course for the Multimedia Design and Development module. It is called Sustainable Urban Planning! It is now, unfortunately, partly dysfunctional as some of the plugins I used for additional features, audio, quizzes, etc. haven’t been updated by their creators, and I don’t have the time to keep a website that is not being used up-to-date 🙁

The lesson plan below is adopted from this website for a general EAP class.


Lesson summary:

The lesson is planned around a video and a reading text with similar information about the same city — Curitiba. Students discuss qualities of a ‘best city’. They watch the video, compare and add ideas. Then they read a text and compare with their own ideas and those from the video and add any new ones. Finally, they write a text relating the information they have gathered to their own city/location, comparing the urban problems and solutions.

Duration: It’s a 90-minute lesson, but if extending it to a project or series of lessons is possible, there is extra material, which I will outline following the 90-minute lesson plan.

Context:

  • ESP students, in this case city planners in a city in Turkey (the full programme on the website);
  • International students on an EAP pre-sessional course at a UK university
  • EAP students in any preparatory programme.
  • ESAP students in in-sessional courses.

Localisation / Personalisation: The writing task makes it both personal and local.

Outcome:

  • Vocabulary: Learn/review and practice using vocabulary for sustainable urban planning / features or facilities in a city [extended version: presentation language; word  formation (word roots, prefixes and suffixes]
  • Listening for specific information an note-taking
  • Speaking skills: discussions at various stages [presentation skills in the extended version]
  • Reading skills: Reading for specific information
  • Academic skills: collecting, grouping and  synthesising relevant information
  • Writing: A short formal comparative text [a general English class, could write a less formal text, not from a perspective of a city planner, engineer, etc. but as a resident of a city].
  • Learning skills: Thinking about the rationale behind tasks and improving learning strategies/study skills. (These can be left out if you don’t want to focus on them in this lesson.)

Unexpected outcome (full version of the course): The city planners in my course were given the opportunity by the municipality they were working for to travel to another city. They had a list of places to choose from, but my students asked whether they could go to Curitiba, and they were granted their wish. Yay! They got in touch with the municipality of Curitiba, prepared their presentation about their city, visited Curitiba, talked with people from the municipality and city planners there, were shown around the city, and came back and reported in their department about it. The lead person was then given the opportunity to work on more international projects. I think this is the best outcome a teacher can hope for. Whether it had any impact on making our city more sustainable, I don’t know, but did lead to some sharing of information and ideas with both of the municipalities.

Materials:

  • Task worksheet: PDF for download here, but can be displayed instead of printed too (more environmentally friendly 😉 )
  • The video: City of Dreams (2006), on YouTube: How a Brazilian City Has Revolutionized Urban Planning, or watch on viewpure without distractions.
    (It’s from 2006, but the content is not outdated, I’d say. However, should it feel like that or disappear one day, I’m sure there’re similar videos and texts on Curitiba, or even other cities. I could also imagine that the video and text could be about different cities, as long as it is about tackling similar urbanisation issues.)
  • The text (source: Wikipedia): Download the PDF with images (4 pages) or PDF with plain text and word definitions (2 pages).

Stages

Task 1

Write ‘Best city in the world’ and/or ‘The city for the people’ on the board.And ‘qualities / features’

Ask: In your opinion, which qualities or ‘features’ would a city need to have to deserve the title “The City for People” or “Best City in the world”?
-> Compare with the teacher’s ideas. (Originally, I conducted an online poll amongst teachers and friends. You could use this or conduct your own pool with colleagues, friends and relatives.)

Can you group the qualities and features mentioned? What titles could you give these groups?

-> Compare with the teacher’s ideas.

Task 2

  • In a moment, you will watch a video about the city of Curitiba. Have you heard of Curitiba? Do you know where it is located? Find Curitiba on the map (Google Maps or any other map, perhaps a word map poster in your class).
  • Think about what you know about Brazil and Brazilian cities? Take notes if you want or talk about it with your partner if you are doing these tasks with someone.

Task 3

Before watching: The video is 15 minutes long and it is normal spoken English (not made for learners of English). Look at the task below. In order to do this task, will you need to listen in detail and understand everything?
Listening tip: For this task it will be enough to listen to keywords. The video images will also help you understand the context. Later, you will have a chance to look at some of the vocabulary from this video.

  • Watch the video and mark any of the qualities or features on your list from Task 1 if you hear them mentioned in the video:
    Which features have been mentioned? Have any other features been mentioned? If necessary, watch the video again.
  • Think about the following questions or talk about them with your partner. Take notes if you want:
    What is your first impression of Curitiba after watching the video? Would you like to visit this city? Would you want to live in such a city?
  • (Optional questions: Do you find it surprising that such a model sustainable city is located in a so-called developing country like Brazil? Why?/Why not?)

Task 4

  • The following words (see next page) are taken from the text that you are going to read. Think about 1) which of them you know the meaning of 2) which you are sure how to pronounce. You can work with a partner and discuss the words. Please, resist using the dictionary just for now ☺

(As EAP/ESP classes tend to be mixed ability and each student will come with a different level of knowledge and set of vocabulary they know, it is better not to pre-teach a list of vocabulary, but give them a task that makes them think about and discuss what they already know and what they’re not sure of or don’t know. This is more motivating and less tedious. Strategies for dealing with unknown words are introduced before the reading task.).

Before you move on, take a minute and think about why I might have asked you to do all the previous tasks before reading the text about Curitiba?
Reading tip: All of these pre-reading tasks activate your previous knowledge about the topic and the language and so prepare you for the text. This will help you understand the reading more easily than without any preparation.

 

Task 5

Reading tip: It might help you to focus your reading if you read the tasks first and know what information you will be looking for. — Also, look at the page layout, the title and the images. They all give you clues about the content of the text and can help you better understand it.

Reading tip: Try guessing the meaning of the words by looking at the text around it (=context) before looking it up and reading its definition. This will help you improve your reading comprehension skills and will make you a more autonomous user of English.

Vocabulary and pronunciation: When you are learning a new word, always also learn its pronunciation. This will help you understand it when you hear it and give you more confidence to use it when speaking. 

  • Read the Text.
  • Did this text provide you with more details or additional information to what you have learned from the video? You can add these to your list of qualities and features of Task 1.
  • In Task 1 , you grouped the qualities and features. Can you put the paragraphs from the text under those headings? Example: Traffic – paragraph 1, 2, (4), 5, 6, 9,14.
  • All of this sounds very good, doesn’t it? But is there anything that makes you think “Great, but …”? Write at least three Great, but… sentences or questions. Example: Great, but isn’t it expensive to maintain the parks? We will come back to this later.

Task 6

Curitiba has become a model sustainable city which is visited by many urban planning experts from other cities around the world who want to learn how Curitiba is solving its urbanisation problems.

Write a text comparing urbanisation problems and the measures taken in Curitiba with a city of your choice. Here are some questions that might help you:

  1. Are the developments and problems in both cities similar or different?
  2. Are the economies of the cities comparable?
  3. Are there cultural or other  differences that might make transferring solutions difficult or impossible?
  4. How could some of the projects be adapted to your city if not transferred as they are?

(Depending on the time, the writing can take place in the classroom and the teacher can monitor and offer help where needed. If possible, they should type it on their computers/tablets. Alternatively, students can handwrite and type it up later and copy to GoogleDocs if you have prepared one and share the link. GoogleDocs is great because everyone can see what others have written and add comments and feedback.)


Project extension

I’ll add these details and material soon:

  • More learning strategy tips.
  • Vocabulary and pronunciation review/practice and quiz
  • Vocabulary extension (word roots, prefixes and suffixes
  • Further videos on Curitiba to choose from individually depending on interest (traffic solutions, green areas, etc.) that expand on the information provided in the first video and texts, watch and collect information
  • Presentation language/preparation
  • Presentations

 

Dec 042019
 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been working through the course Language Teaching for the Planet by Owain Llewellyn. We are now in Part 3, the final part, of the course, which asks participants to write and share a lesson plan with an environmental topic, bringing together what we have learned/discussed in Part 1 and 2.. The two course moderators, Owain Llewellyn (and for this part also) Daniel Barber, and the other participants will provide feedback on these lessons plans.

My interest is mainly in EAP/ESP lessons, so I’ve developed this lesson on air quality. It’s not a fully planned out or publishable lesson, but more a rough idea and plan developed for the course. I wrote it with the principles for writing environment-based lessons in mind, which I outlined here.


Context

EAP preparation year students in Turkey, going to study to become engineers in different fields
Localisaton: Use the same material but with a different interactive map or air quality data, such as AirVisual, that is available if used with other nationalities or international students in the UK, or other English speaking or English-medium universities.

Syllabus fit / rationale

In the previous lesson(s), they will have leared about graphs/diagrams and had practice in reading and guided writing of descriptions of graphs/diagrams.

Methodology: project-based learning

As these can be rather ‘dry’ academic lessons, this set of project-based lessons is to motivate them by providing a timely, relevant topic, including a video and by making it more interactive and personal, giving them choices and hands-on practice in conducting some research and presenting the outcomes.

Project-based lessons make tasks often more meaningful and ‘serious’ in the sense that it’s not just task to work through in a lesson as a context for some language outcome, but something that goes beyond that and is related to real life and real outcomes. Projects are also much more learner-centred and learner-led.

NOTE: If a project-based set of lessons is not possible, the first lesson can be used with slight changes, leaving time for doing a simpler research with the interactive map and writing it up as homework (individually or in small groups). If this can be done in GoogleDocs, everyone can read all the texts.. If that is not possible, the texts can be handwritten and pinned on the class noticeboard. If presentation skills should be practised, learners could prepare them as homework and deliver them in the next lesson. A class noticeboard or school noticeboard could be used to pin slips of paper with students’ pledges.

Outcomes

At the end of the lesson(s)/project, students will have…

  • learned some vocabulary related to air quality / pollutants
  • learned/reviewed some structures to talk about causes and effects, solutions (modals)
  • Practised listening (video), speaking (discussion, presentation, video production), writing (poster) skills
  • learned/practised transferable skills such as collaboration, producing a short video or an academic poster (if chosen) and organising a conference
  • researched the air quality (change) in a chosen location over a period of time (throughout a day/week/month/year) and drawn a graph showing the differences.
  • thought about causes, effects of and possible solutions for air pollution  (thinking of their own fields of engineering)
  • written a short paragraph and created a poster with visuals OR created a video OR prepared and giving a short presentation describing their graph and reasons for the changes 
  • presented their findings in the way chosen to the other students and tutors at a ‘air quality conference’ which they have to plan and organise (one 90-minute lesson long).
  • made a pledge for at least one change they’re going to make in their own lives to contribute to better air quality.

Long-term outcome: who knows, this might inspire some learners to work in this field once they have finished their studies.

Materials

  • A video such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6rglsLy1Ys
    (It should include some of the vocabulary they need, some reasons for pollution and some potential solutions, and it shouldn’t be too long to keep learners focused and make the language input manageable for them.)
  • An interactive website to research air quality in Turkey that provides a map, icons to click for different cities and areas in cities, with detailed information on the level of various common pollutants, outdoor activities that can be done or are not recommended if risky due to air quality, graphs showing the chosen pollutants over a period of time. Specific dates and hours in a day can be selected to observe changes over a chosen period of time. http://www.havaizleme.gov.tr/ (see screenshots below)
  • Poster material (if available, digital tool to create and print an academic poster, if not poster paper, markers, etc.)
  • Students’ phones (optional)
  • A survey tool (e.g. http://surveymonkey.com) (optional)
    The internet
  • A wall for personal pledges (if available, this could be done on the internet (on the university’s Facebook group or using a digital noticeboard, such as Padlet).

Turkey map - havaizlemehavaizleme 2

havaizleme 4

Procedure

Lesson 1 – Introduction and preparation

Warmer

  • Introduce the topic by, for example, showing the symbols for the various pollutants (NO2, SO2, CO, O3, etc.) and asking students what they think these relate to or what our topic is.
  • If they mention the names (Ozone, etc.) of these fine, write them up and practice pronunciation. If not, give students a few minutes to find out using their mobile phones.

While

  • Write on the board or projected Word/GoogleDocs ‘Air quality’, then underneath ‘How good is the air quality where you live / come from?’
  • Brief discussion with partners/neighbours
  • Using a prepared survey tool with options (very good, good, OK, not so good, very bad), students send their answers using their phones. (Low-tech alternative: write the options on the board, students raise their hand)
  • Write: ‘Causes of air pollution’ (‘Reasons for…’) / ‘Effects of air pollution’
  • In groups, students discuss reasons. If time, regroup and report to that group and listen for other reasons
  • Class feedback: depending on tech, each group adds to the GoogleDoc, or one student writes what the others say on the displayed Word doc. / Low-tech: if enough boards, groups (or reps) come to the board and write their ideas.
  • Do some language and pron. work with these, possibly add some sentence structures (e.g. for cause and effect: is caused by / might be due to / etc.)
  • Write: ‘Possible solutions’
  • Repeat the steps of group discussion, feedback, language work.
  • Show video: students watch and compare with their own ideas for causes, effects and solutions’ (depending on level, how the info in the video is organised, etc.), they can be asked to focus on one, e.g. causes), then watch again and focus on effects, solutions.
    [depending on the class, situation, guidance needed, tech availability, etc., the watching can be as a whole class or on individual devices]
  • Students add new information to the GoogleDoc.
  • Class feedback and highlighting and practice of new language that has come up.
  • If time, introduce the interactive air quality map for Turkey. Ask: ‘How good or bad do you think is the air quality right now here?’ Have them guess, then show the map. Tell them they will do air quality research in the next lesson. If no time, do this in Lesson 2.

What next?

If a project is possible, follow this lesson up with Lessons 2-3 (4) below.

Lesson 2 (and 3) – Research and preparation of presentation

  • Do a quick review of the previous lesson.
  • Explain the research project to learners and show the options and time they have to present their research.
  • Put students into small groups of three (max four).
  • Explain also that they have to organise an ‘air quality conference’ attended by other classes (who are doing the same project) and some tutors (possibly also admin staff).
  • Students start their research, decide on how to present it and start preparing.
  • Teacher monitors and helps where necessary and/or provides resources where students can find help.

Lesson 3 (or 4) – Conference

  • All classes/groups set up their posters in one corner (or room), computers or tablets with their videos in another, present in another.
  • Classmates, tutors, possible admin members and other staff attend the conference, ask questions, etc.
  • Depending on level, interest, circumstances, this could end with a panel discussion.
  • There will be a wall (or a large noticeboard with a big title/writing ‘My pledge for better air quality’ where students and participants will post their pledges of how they’re going to make changes in their own lives to contribute to better air quality, using slips of paper and pinning them to the wall, or post-its (Low-tech option). If the internet is available, this could be  done more online with hashtags to share on the university’s social media platform(s), or alternatively using a digital noticeboard, depending on what the students come up with and what is available.

 

Nov 272019
 

This is an integrated-skills lesson originally created for an EAP class in 2011. It’s been used by me and other teachers with different classes at different schools and has always worked well.

Evaluation

Does it follow the principles I have listed here?

  • Focus on the ‘now’: Yes, it’s topical and has been so for many years. It’s an issue many people have.
  • Take a fresh perspective: I’d say so, because the environmental impact is mentioned in he second video but it’s not the main focus of the lesson, it’s more about which water is better.
  • Localise and Personalise: Yes, the students are asked about what they prefer in their real lives (not hypothetically); they are asked again at the end. They can also include their own opinions in the discussion of advantages and disadvantages of bottled and tab water. Also, as the students this lesson was originally used with were international students who had just arrived in the UK, they had to take the decision whether to use tab water or bottled water.
  • Focus on people: No, the focus is on the two types of water.
  • Positive and Empowering: Yes, on several levels. The first video is obviously very positive about bottled water. The second one, is negative about bottled water, but positive about tab water. Also, after watching the videos, discussing advantages and disadvantages, students are ’empowered’ in the sense that they are now better informed than before and know they have a choice.
  • What’s the language point: language related to water, listening for specific information
  • Make it interactive: Students interact with the videos, the tutor, with each other.
  • Integrated: Yes and no. Each Academic Listening Skills lesson is a stand-alone lesson, but although the topics and listening skills are different in each, they do have to be integrated logically between the previous and the following lesson. For example, they had practised listening and note-taking in the lesson before this, which is a skill they need in this one. They also had learned and practised the language for discussion advantages and disadvantages, stating one’s opinion, agreeing and disagreeing and giving reasons in the Academic Speaking Lesson(s) before this.
  • Integrated-skills: Yes, although the main focus is on practising extended listening and note-taking skills, students also practise seminar discussion (incl. providing evidence for their opinions), critical thinking skills and media literacy (evaluation information and sources critically).
  • Relevant: Yes, both the skills practised and the topic are/were relevant to my students (see above).
  • Go beyond the lesson: Yes, firstly, as stated above, this was a relevant topic and they learned about the advantages and disadvantages of bottled and tab water.
  • Lead to action: Yes, as seen above, this impacted on students’ behaviour/decisions outside class. Many stated at the end of the lesson that they had changed their opinion about which water is better, and said they would try tab water. The environmental impact was not discussed, but their change of behaviour means less plastic waste.
    Another type of action happened when I first taught this. We were lucky to have a student in class who had worked as a chemical analyst or similar at a water plant. After this lesson, he decided to change the topic for his academic presentation (which they all have to deliver at the end of the course). He had found a great topic he was interested in and knowledgeable about, and his class learned more about the safety and high quality of tab water in our location in his presentation.

The lesson

Materials: two online videos

  1. http://www.viewpure.com/LIeR6SoQ84A (viewpure removes the clutter and undesirable elements from YouTube videos)
  2. https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-bottled-water/

Technology: internet and projector
Low tech solution: learners could use their own devices / the lesson plan could be changed and learners asked to watch the videos in their own time before class, which would allow for more time to be used for the other activities.

Time: 90 minutes, can easily be extended to 2 x 90-minutes session – one for the listening focus, note-taking initial discussions and source evaluation, the next one for speaking skills (extended discussion and feedback or even presentations by groups in stage 6).

Stages

  1. After greeting the students, casually start a conversation about what students are drinking. Sts. usually have sth. to drink on their desks: Who has got water/tea/sth. else? To those who have water (briefly): Is is bottled or tap water?
  2. Say: Our topic today is water. Elicit: What do you know about bottled water? Do you prefer bottled or tap water? Why? Elicit some answers from a few sts. Do a quick class survey and count how many prefer bottled or tab water (this can be done with a polling/survey tool too if available, e.g. survey monkey).
  3. Students work in groups to discuss and make a list of advantages/benefits of bottled water. Elicit ideas from the groups and write them up on the board (or have a confident student do this). Alternatively, if the room setup allows it and there are enough boards, they could write directly on the board. If they are used to working with GoogleDocs, they could also write their ideas there, so that everyone could see everyone else’s ideas displayed.
  4. Students watch the video and listen for advantages, compare them with their list, tick off if they hear one from their list and add new ones they hear. They compare their lists with a neighbour. Elicit any new ones and write up on the board. Do some quick vocab/pronunciation work where necessary.
  5. Repeat stages 3 and 4, but this time students focus on disadvantages of bottled water and watch the second video.
  6. In groups, students discuss and decide which arguments they believe in and what their position is. They discuss which is better, bottled or tab water, providing evidence/reasons from the video (but can also add their own reasons).
  7. Whole class discussion/feedback: Has your opinion about bottled water/tap water changed compared to beginning of lesson? Elicit from some sts. or use the polling/survey tool again and compare whether the result has changed.
  8. Ask: Which information is more reliable? Why? (e.g. source of information, evidence provided, sponsor of video, etc.)
  9. Optional question:What do you think is my position/opinion? Why?
    If I had shown you the videos the other way round, do you think your opinion would have been influenced?
    If yes, what’s the conclusion/lesson to draw for your writing project or presentations (if it is an argumentation)?
  10. Provide students with the links to the videos if they want to watch/listen again. Point out that the Story of bottled water video has got a full transcript with annotations, which is particularly useful for business students.
    (Depending on the course aims, syllabus, flexibility and the needs of the learners, the transcript could be used for follow-up tasks or lesson.)

Note

As environmentalists, we might be tempted to push our students to what we think is right, in this case, this would very likely using bottled water for most of us. However, we have to remember that we want our learners to develop critical thinking skills and also to find their own voice, to think about different angles of an issue or come up with creative and different solutions. There might well be situations where bottled water makes sense. Our learners might also come from places where tab water is not drinkable/healthy and they might not have technology for water purification readily available.

Our role as teachers, as I see it, is not to provide learners with THE solution or THE right behaviour, but to provide them with materials and tasks and create a safe space where they have the opportunity to think through problems, discuss options and come up with their own answers. If we successfully do this, rather than push our on views and solutions on them, they will often surprise us with new insights  and we will come out of a lesson having developed our own thinking on the topic/issue.

Jul 012016
 

This is my main classroom this year. The seating arrangement has changed into a horse shoe at the front for whole class activities. The seats at the back are used for break-out sessions / group work. On the teacher’s desk, there is a computer and screen with camera, a visualiser, a podcast recording device (the round microphone behind the keyboard, and the small screen with which everything is controlled. In the room, there are 6(!) whiteboards, a projector and large screen. There’s also wifi (throughout the campus) so that students (and teachers) can use their own devices.

All students in my classes have smartphones and laptops, only one or two have a tablet. This hasn’t changed over the six years that I’ve been teaching on these pre-sessional courses.

IMG_2681 IMG_2680 IMG_2679 IMG_2678 IMG_2677

Jun 152015
 

Introduction

EAP pre-sessional courses focus mostly on academic skills and culture. Their is no grammar-based syllabus. Grammar is taught where and when it is needed. But what is this grammar? What do students who will be studying at a UK university need to know? If you asked the students, they wouldn’t mind reviewing ALL “the grammar”. That is what many are familiar with and what is somehow “tangible”. But it’s neither possible nor useful to do that. It’s not possible because there is no time. And it’s not very useful, because grammar practice or knowledge in isolation is not going to get them very far when they have to write academic essays, participate in seminar discussions, or present research findings. And often it is not that students don’t “know” grammar (such as the modal verbs), but they need to learn to use these in an academic context (e.g. modals for hedging). So, how do we decide which grammar points to teach or review in the limited time we have in a pre-sessional course?
Alison Ramage, an online colleague and friend of mine, who also teaches pre-sessional EAP courses, did some research on this for her MA dissertation. She has kindly accepted my invitation to write a blog post about this, which follows:


Teaching on a university pre-sessional can be both challenging and fun, that´s why we´re all here, doing it!  However with so much demanded in such little time, it can also be massively frustrating. With so many students coming from cultures that have completely different academic styles to us in the West, more time has to be spent on skills other than just being able to write clear, precise academic English. Thus, what we think of as traditional English language skills, such as grammar, are often given very scant attention. In the first pre-sessional I taught on, only two hours a week were allocated for grammar instruction and the topic was at the teachers´ discretion. Given such little time, who was I, or even how was I, to decide what grammar would be the most useful for my students in their university careers? It was this question that lead me, a couple of years later, to my MA question and a final dissertation entitled “A Taxonomy of Grammar Items to Support the Academic Writing of Arabic and Chinese L1 Students”

It´s not a title we´re ever going to see on the bestseller lists, but my intention was to create a list of the most useful grammar items that we can teach our Chinese and Arabic students. Items which have a high surrender value and which the students can see are immediately useful for their writing. Something that I hoped would be practically useful rather than theoretically interesting. My decision to focus on Chinese and Arabic students was not difficult; these two language groups not only form a considerable number of our students, if not the majority, but also they have similarities which make academic writing in English difficult for them. Obviously there are the issues of orthography and grammar, but there are also differences in academic rhetorical style which impact on the way these L1 groups use the English language.

To reach the answers to my research question I had to find the answers to several other questions first:

Firstly, through the literature:

  1. What grammatical items are typical of, and identify, written academic English?
  2. Which of these identified grammatical features of written academic English are likely to be especially problematic for Arabic and Chinese L1 learners of English to assimilate?Once this group of grammar items had been identified I undertook discourse analysis on texts from each language group to answer the third research question:
  3. How well, if at all, do students from these language groups show competence in using these grammar items?

By working through this process in a scholarly and rigorous way I hoped to provide information that is both theoretically sound and practically useful.

So, briefly, the answers:

1. The grammatical items which are typical of, and identify, written academic can be considered as follows:

  • Articles:  In particular the zero article for generalizations, uncountable nouns and plural countable nouns.
  • Verb tenses:  Although there is no clear conclusion about which particular verb tenses are the most important, research suggests that clear use of past and present simple, together with the present perfect are the most useful
  • Passive voice:  While still not as prevalent as the active voice in academic writing, its use is significantly greater than in other genres. Being a competent user of the passive voice will enable students greater flexibility and thus precision in their writing.
  • Nouns (nominalization):  A higher proportion of nouns in relation to verbs is a clear identifier of academic writing, and again, being able to use nouns and create compound nouns flexibly will enable students to deal with the high density of information that is often required in written academic English.
  • Modals:  “Hedging” which is a common feature of written academic English genres of writing is created by appropriate use of the modals of certainty.
  • Subordinate clauses:  In particular ‘wh’ clauses are common in English academic writing, both in subject and object positions as their complexity allows for the handling of greater quantities of information which is often required in written academic English.
  • be+copula”:  While this verb form has been identified as being over-used in higher levels of academic writing, creating a too simplistic text,  it is a basic structure for giving information in English.  Thus, it needs to be considered as something to be learned and used appropriately.

2. Those of the above which are likely to be especially problematic for Chinese and Arabic speakers:

  • Articles:  Of all the identified features of written academic English, these appeared most frequently in the literature and seemed to produce the most problems, even for students at a higher level.  Particular difficulty was noted with the zero article for general use which is that aspect of article use most closely identified with written academic English.
  • Subordinate clauses: Because of the totally differing ways of constructing this type of clause in both Arabic and Chinese, combined with its importance in academic writing, subordinate clauses do need to feature on the list for analysis.
  • Passives: Although there is some debate about how useful these are in written academic English, there is general agreement that being able to use the passive when required is a valuable linguistic skill for academic prose.  Both Chinese and Arabic deal with this type of construction in a different way from English, so this voice should also feature on the list for analysis.
  • Verb tenses.  While there is no doubt that verb tenses generally cause a great many  problems for all learners of English as well as for Chinese and Arabic L1 users, accurate use of the present and past simple are the most useful for written academic English
  • Modals for hedging. Although there is very little mention of this structure as being difficult for either language group because it features strongly as typical of written academic English, it will feature on the list for analysis.
  • Be+copula:  At lower language levels for both Chinese and Arabic L1s, this grammar feature was seen as being particularly problematic.  While evidence suggests an overuse among higher level users, it is still a grammar feature that needs to be mastered in order to communicate clearly in written academic English.
  • Nouns:  While a higher frequency of nouns and the use of compound nouns does form one of the major features of written academic English it has not been given as being a grammar feature of particular difficulty to Chinese and Arabic L1s.  That said, compound nouns are considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of English grammar.  For these reasons, noun use was not analyzed.

3. The question which drove this research project was ‘what are the most useful grammar items that can be taught to Arabic and Chinese learners of English to support them in their written academic English?’. Through an extensive review of the literature and practical quantitative discourse analysis a taxonomy of these items has now been identified and is given below in order of interest. The first may surprise you, it certainly surprised me when it came out in the discourse analysis.

  • Modals for hedging were used very rarely by the students yet this language form is a key feature in English academic writing. The lack of precision in expressing degree of certainty can “affect the impact of the argument, and how the academic competence of the writer is evaluated.”
  • A limited variety of verbs were used by many students; this came out of looking at the use of nouns by the students. Being dependent on a narrow range of items, in this case, verbs, indicates a lack of flexibility and precision with the language which can also affect how the academic competence of the writer is evaluated.
  • Subordinate clauses and passive structures were used but only by students who felt confident about producing them and then only infrequently.
  • The use of the zero article for generalizations, uncountable and plural countable nouns was, overall, not very accurate.  While this may not impact too much on the overall communicative competence, a higher accuracy rate would undoubtedly improve the quality of the texts.
  • Verb tenses and be+copula structures were generally produced at an adequate level of accuracy although there was room for improvement in the student texts.

The aim of my research was to provide something of pedagogical value to pre-sessional courses at universities where there are often considerable time pressures. Thus the taxonomy needs to have a high surrender value for the students and be manageable for the course planners. Thus, my recommendations are as follows:

  • Introduce the concept of hedging very early on in the course.  Students at this level should have a basic familiarity of the uses of ‘may’ and ‘might’ but may not be familiar with the convention of hedging in academic written English.
  • Include regular vocabulary input sessions to expand the students’ range of verbs.  These verbs can either be taken from an ‘academic word list’ appropriate to the course or from disciplines that the students will be studying in their faculties.
  • Passive structures and subordinate clauses should both have special input sessions focusing on their use in an academic context.  These should also be timetabled for early in the course so that the forms can be practiced and acquired by the end of the course.
  • Verb tenses and be+copula structures do not merit specific input sessions unless there is either time available on the course or the teacher notices these as particular weaknesses in the students’ first written assignments.

I very much hope that these few simple ideas will help you with planning your pre-sessional, if you would like to read, or skim through, the full dissertation please feel free to send me an email.


The Author

After careers in Publishing, Politics and the City, Alison Ramage Patterson started her TEFL career rather late in life in 2001 with a CELTA at IH London. After working in countries as diverse as Russia, Spain, Malaysia and Kazakhstan she completed her DELTA in 2009 followed by some years working in Saudi Arabia. During her time in Saudi Arabia she developed a specialism in EAP, with particular emphasis on writing. She has designed and facilitated EAP courses for the British Council in Jeddah. During this time she also taught on pre-sessionals in the UK. Now based in Menorca, Spain, she divides her time between materials writing, online teaching and language support, and face to face lessons.

 

May 082015
 

There’s is a very nice role-play activity which our coordinator shared with me in my first year teaching a pre-sessional summer EAP course and which I like to use with my students in the last speaking lesson of the course (unfortunately, I don’t remember the book it comes from).  It’s fun, but also very useful as the role-play situations are authentic: student and librarian, student and accommodation officer, student and head of department, etc. There are no scripts. For each role, there is a role description, which they have to read carefully. Then, the pairs can sit together and prepare their role-play deciding who says what.

However, I didn’t like how students wrote down the complete dialog and tried to memorise and act it out. The dialogues were hilarious and we all had a great time, students did use the language well and it was speaking practise. But it didn’t feel authentic and it didn’t really show how good students where when they had to reply spontaneously. So, I changed the preparation part a bit the following year: I didn’t tell the students who their partners would be! This way, they could prepare for their role, but they would have to listen carefully to what the other person was saying and they would have to react spontaneously. Ingenious! Or so I thought.

When I had given each student their role-play card making sure pairs were not sitting next to each other, I started monitoring and helping where necessary. But I noticed that something was going on; the students had all started using their smartphones. First, I thought they were looking up words in their dictionaries, but that wasn’t it. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they had found their partners and where preparing their role-plays! I felt like a fool! We all laughed about my failed attempt to set up the role-play with surprise partners 🙂 I asked them to switch off their phones, so a bit of the surprise element was there in the role-plays. It was a lot of fun, as usual, but they could also show their real speaking skills. So, I had saved the situation, but learned a lesson too.

This happened a couple of years ago. Although, I was aware of social media apps and was using some tools myself, and although I knew that students were sometimes messaging during class, it didn’t occur to me that they would use it as they did for this role-play task. For them, it was the most natural thing to do, though.

Why I wanted to share this story

– We often discuss which tools we use in class and which we don’t, or even whether we use technology in class at all or not, but there is also the students and the technology THEY use. We need to be at least aware of how they use their tools they bring to class, whether it’s their electronic dictionaries, or their smartphones and tablets.

– Even teachers who like to use technology and who train other teachers in using technology can make mistakes. But it’s hardly ever a disaster as long as one has good rapport with the students and talks about these things in class.

What I learned from this

Since then, I’ve always shown more interest in what kind of apps my students have on their phones and we talk about this at the beginning of the course. Since then, I also try to manage the use of smartphones in class better by, for example, telling them at different stages to put away their smartphones (even if they insists they need the dictionary!). Am I always successful? No! But I’ve come to terms with this. If I see how teachers or other professionals “multitask” or chat with others during conferences webinars, or meetings (including myself) and “claim” this helps them focus, I don’t think I need to manage my students’ use of technology one hundred percent.

 

Do you have a story to share about a “failed” attempt to manage your class due to technology? What happened? How did you react? How did your students react? What did you get out of it?

May 072015
 
Another pre-sessional EAP summer is approaching. Once the intensive course starts, there is hardly any time to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom. So, I want to look back a bit, in a couple of blog posts, at how and for what purpose I have integrated technology in the course in the previous years. But before doing that, I want to list what kind of technology or tools are available where I work and try to come up with criteria for using technology in pre-sessional EAP courses. Finally, I hope that these reflections will help me to look ahead and think about any area where I could or should do things differently this summer and decide whether technology can help with this.

Unpredictable availability of technology

What makes it sometimes a bit difficult to prepare to integrate certain technology  in pre-sessional courses is that we are not in the school or environment that we are familiar with. Even those of us who have taught at the same university for several years are assigned different buildings and classrooms, and they can all have a very different set of technology that is available. There can be classrooms with just a blackboard (yes, black, with a small “b”!). In many science buildings/classrooms, for example, they prefer the blackboard for certain things. If you are lucky, there will be both black and whiteboards, but no other technology, no access to wi-fi due to the location of the classroom.
Then, there are what I call the “standard” classrooms with a large whiteboard, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, integrated CD-player and loudspeakers, and broadband wi-fi for everyone.
At the highest end, you will have a large classroom with several whiteboards, possibly even blackboards, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, and broadband wi-fi for everyone, and a visualiser, plus thick curtains that you can shut automatically when showing something on the screen.
However, all students (and teachers) have access to quite a lot of technology outside the classroom: broadband wi-fi on campus, lots of computer clusters, scanners, printers, … and, of course, the technology they bring with them: smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops.
Here’s a simple list of some of the technology I’ve used in the pre-sessional courses:

HARDWARE

  • whiteboard
  • blackboard
  • IWB
  • computer
  • CD-player (mostly integrated in the computer)
  • projector + screen
  • loudspeakers
  • Wi-Fi
  • visualiser
  • computer clusters
  • smartphones (the students’)
  • iPad / tablet (mine or the students’)

SOFTWARE

  • MS Word (or other word processors)
  • presentation tools (PPT, prezi, keynote)
  • PDF viewer
  • internet
  • GoogleDocs
  • email
  • Blackboard
  • Turnitin
  • video and audio player on the computer
  • Youtube or other video sites
  • screencasting software (e.g. Jing)
  • electronic or online dictionaries
  • apps for the iPad (to view document, take notes, record audio)
  • apps or tools that my students use
As you see, nothing extraordinary really. So, this is not about the latest “toys” that you can wow your students withs. In fact, if there is one thing I would like teachers who might read this to take away is that this is not about wowing students at all. I would even say that the less they are aware of the technology the better. I don’t want to draw attention to the technology, I want them to be interested in the content, the language, the ideas, etc. If I can accomplish this by using technology fine, but if this can be accomplished in a different, non-tech way, that’s fine too. A simple example: After a couple of weeks, certain tasks become repetitive, or students simply get tired, which is absolutely understandable in a relatively long, intensive course. Sometimes, a simple change of setting helps them to focus again or to make the same task more interesting. For example, I tell them they can do a discussion or group work task outside if they want to, on a warm, dry day. Sometimes, we go to the library for tutorials, so when I talk with one student, the others can do research or continue writing their essay, or can give each other feedback on their writing.
At the same time, we use technology to do certain tasks: During the tutorial, we might look at a student’s writing on my iPad and talk through it. Students might be using the library computers to find books or articles for their essay. Other students might be using their laptops to write their essay. The technology is just there to do certain tasks, nothing extraordinary. So, this would be on criteria for me. I’ll list this and others in no particular order below.

Criteria for technology use in pre-sessional summer courses

  1. needs to me “normal” or normalised (aim is not to wow students but to help do something better or easier, not to distract them with the tech)
  2. no training needed (there is no time for training other than for a brief explanation; this is also connected to the first point)
  3. no sign up required (other than maybe for tools which I think they might continue using, but I really try to avoid this. There might also be a policy at some schools where teachers can’t simply ask students to create accounts or sign up to a website or tool without the school’s consent).
  4. used in a way or for tasks that are authentic (for example, they will use a Word processor and it’s comment or track changes function after the course when continuing with their studies,so it’s good for them to get used to this in the pre-sessional course as the objective of the course is not only to help them improve their academic English, but also ease them into the academic life at a UK university).
  5. help make a task easier (sending drafts by email and for me commenting in word processor is easier and more efficient than asking students to print out each draft and hand it to me, etc. However, I know teachers who prefer printed drafts, so this is my personal choice.
  6. accessible to all students
  7. available for all computer systems (which the students use)
  8. free (no fees for the students!)
  9. available on the university computers or accessible online, or my students have their own (if I want to use them in class)
What are your criteria? Why?