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Teaching Tips 189

140 Words
Motivated classrooms
Reading aloud


140 Words

We've had quite a few writing Tips in the past & some of them discuss using word limits to help students to make their writing more succinct & to make the writing task more manageable. Two of the Tips include Haikus:
& Cinquains:

The Guardian newspaper recently invited well-known writers to come up with a 140 word story, from Twitter - a tweet. Below are a selection that seem to take a wide interpretation of the story genre. You could ask students to write 140 word stories as an introduction to a theme, as a link between stages or as a way of rounding off a theme - many things.

Fastwriting is another way to sink students into a theme. Give them 2-3 minutes to write their knowledge & opinions about an area you are going to look at - be strict with the time limit you set - keep it short. They shouldn't worry about grammar or spelling problems - just write & don't stop! Tell them that no-one is going to look at it & when they come to a word they don't known they can leave a blank or write in the word in their own language.

This is sometimes known as 'fastwriting'. This is writing for fluency. If you want to go back afterwards, they could look up the words they had difficulties with but I tend to use it just for brainstorming. The more you use it the more spontaneous writing practice they get & the easier it is to then integrate other writing activities into the lesson. Writing becomes another essential ingredient. Try it & see.

Also see the Tip 'Keeping to the limit' which looks at mini-sagas & a 50 word limit.


Geoff Dyer

I know I said that if I lived to 100 I'd not regret what happened last night. But I woke up this morning and a century had passed. Sorry.

James Meek

He said he was leaving her. "But I love you," she said. "I know," he said. "Thanks. It's what gave me the strength to love somebody else."

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you'd found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

David Lodge

"Your money or your life!" "I'm sorry, my dear, but you know it would kill me to lose my money," said the partially deaf miser to his wife.

Sophie Hannah

I had land, money. For each rejected novel I built one house. Ben had to drown because he bought Plot 15. My 15th book? The victim drowned.

Jeffrey Archer

"It's a miracle he survived," said the doctor. "It was God's will," said Mrs Schicklgruber. "What will you call him?" "Adolf," she replied.

Patrick Neate

ur profile pic: happy – smiling & smoking. ur last post: "home!" ur hrt gave out @35. ur profile undeleted 6 months on. ur epitaph: "home!"

Hari Kunzru

I'm here w/ disk. Where ru? Mall too crowded to see. I don't feel safe. What do you mean you didn't send any text? Those aren't your guys?

SJ Watson

She thanks me for the drink, but says we're not suited. I'm a little "intense". So what? I followed her home. She hasn't seen anything yet.

Simon Armitage

Blaise Pascal didn't tweet and neither did Mark Twain. When it came to writing something short & sweet neither Blaise nor Mark had the time.

Charlie Higson

Jack was sad in the orphanage til he befriended a talking rat who showed him a hoard of gold under the floor. Then the rat bit him & he died.

Rachel Johnson

Rose went to Eve's house but she wasn't there. But Eve's father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.

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Motivated classrooms

Last week the Guardian published a series of photographs of classrooms around the world by Julian Germain. Accompanying each photo is a comment on the shot. Do check them out at:

So what's your classroom like? Are you lucky enough to have a spacious, comfortable room with modern facilities? Lucky you if you have but most of us are not so lucky with even basic things like heating & comfort problems to cope with.

Limitations in the actual classroom can affect the students' motivation but we have recognise these drawbacks & exploit the areas that we can to maintain & increase motivation.

In the past Tip 'The Motivation Shuffle' we looked at types of motivation - intrinsic, extrinsic, instrumental & integrative.

'The Motivation Shuffle - part 2' looked more specifically at ideas to help promote motivation - here it is again:

A student's motivation can change as the course progresses & we have to try to pick up on it. An enthusiastic, motivated group at the beginning of a course can lose momentum as individuals feel the strain for one reason or another. If we keep this in mind & continually try to promote motivation then we can preempt these drops. Here are a few practical ways to really help with motivation in the classroom.

  • Interest -
    1. make your lessons interesting by choosing interesting & relevant texts. If the text in the coursebook is not going to grab your students, look for another or make your own. Make speaking activities interesting by providing a communicative purpose, a reason & outcome for the activity.
    2. Personalise the language & topics you are looking at. The more interest, the more depth there is & the more memorable it all becomes.
    3. Show an interest in the students as people, treating them as people before students. A bit obvious but something that can be lost in the race through the coursebook.
  • Fun & challenge - balance the lessons out with fun & challenge. Learning has to be enjoyable if progress is to be made. See the Tip 'Arouse, confront, dare, stimulate, provoke... ' for ideas on challenge.
  • Clarity - in all aspects, explaining what you are going to cover at the beginning of the lesson & review what you have covered at the end of the lesson. Set realistic aims & make your classroom management efficient.
  • Explain why & how - elicit or explain why you are asking your students to do the activities. If they are going to read a text quickly to get the gist, do they know why you are giving them 45 seconds to do this? If you are asking them to guess meaning from context, talk to them about strategies for doing this efficiently. This clearly helps with developing autonomy & independence.
  • Decide together - this refers to you & the students discussing what is to be covered & directions to take. You are the expert & they are the ones doing the learning. Combine the two for harmony & again promote independence.
  • Provide space - this can be through the points above & through things like going at the students' pace . See the Tip 'Space' for ideas on this:
  • Support - put yourself in your students' shoes & help them to feel comfortable & in control of the process through the above points.

An on-going activity that you could try is a motivation graph. Each student makes a graph in their notebook with the weeks marked on one axis & 1-100% motivation on the other axis. Set aside a time each week or so for them to mark on the graph where they feel their motivation is for that time. They could then compare with a partner, discussing the reasons for the placement. A general discussion could then open up - maybe a general change has taken place, the weather changing, something in the news etc that has affected everyone. One of the students might want to disclose about something that has happened to her that week. An interesting thread running through the course that helps you stay on top of how the students are feeling about their learning. Careful you don't overdo it though.

One of our important roles is that of the motivator & although there are other areas that can help with motivating learners, if you bear these fundamental points in mind in your lesson planning & in the actual lesson, you'll be sure to be providing interesting, motivating experiences for all.

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reading aloud

Reading aloud

Do you sometimes get your students to read texts aloud before exploiting the text? Students love it, they like to hear the sound of their own voices in a foreign language & it is a chance to work on pronunciation & voice in general.

At the same time you have to be aware that by reading aloud you are not really helping them with their extensive reading skills, the attention is not on the gist but on the individual words & they will be reading in detail as they go along, or not reading at all but concentrating on individual words & their pronunciation. Sometimes you ask them at the end what it was about & they have to read it again to themselves to discover the meaning. And also the intonation for reading aloud is different than for natural speech.

So how do you make reading aloud fun & useful? Here are a few ideas:

- Choose texts that might be read aloud to another person; short newspaper articles, letters, poems, short plays, nothing too long anyway.

- Choose interesting texts. The more interesting they find them, the more motivated they will be to carry out the task.

- Give some planning time - see the Tip 'Thought Groups' - - for a brief introduction to tone units. The students can analyse the text, dividing it up into thought groups - where the pauses & main stresses are - & then look at the way in which it is said. And for plays & poems, the movements that accompany the text.

- You could give rolecards that would tell them how to say it. e.g. read the article aloud to a friend as if the main character of the article is a friend of yours. Read the poem in a loud happy voice. Good for the shy students.

- With the younger learner this changes a bit as usually the last thing they want to do is listen to each other. You could get them to read to you individually while the others are occupied on a task. The very young learner group cannot realistically be expected to get on with a task individually so here you might get them all to read chorally together. Again, encourage them to be dramatic & have fun with the reading.

- Also check out the Tip 'Shadow Reading' - - which looks at reading aloud from a different angle.

- It's not just texts that they can read aloud, it's common to ask them to read aloud instructions, rubrics & answers to tasks & then check all are OK.

Not everything in the classroom can, or should necessarily be 'communicative'. The classroom is a place for rehearsal, to practise & prepare, & so as long as we recognise this & make effective use of the time, as well as recognising the limitations of the activity, why not get our students to read aloud now & again?

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