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Teaching Tips 2

Friendly listening
Promoting specific language work in freer oral activities

Friendly Listening
If you ask most stds learning English which areas they find most difficult they are likely to say listening, speaking & vocabulary. Listening tends to top the charts & rightly so. Generally speaking, apart from you talking, the stds tend to listen to cassettes or if they are lucky the odd video. The cassettes are very difficult as there are no paralinguistic or situational clues available i.e. you can't see the speakers, the setting & all the messages that body language convey.

Here are a few ideas to help 'lighten the load' for your stds & make it more success oriented & enjoyable:

1. Sink the stds into the theme - warm them up to the what they might hear e.g. if the text is about schools then you could brainstorm vocab connected to it & briefly chat about their school experiences. They'll be more relaxed & receptive to the listening activity.

2. Pre-teach crucial vocab - i.e. the vocab which is necessary for meaning & the tasks.

3. Give an extensive task - we always listen for a purpose - a couple of questions that require them to listen very generally to the text first time they listen.

4. Make the tasks challenging but manageable.

5. Let them compare their ideas in pairs each time before general class feedback.

6. Choose interesting texts for the stds.

7. Tell the stds which skills you are helping to develop with the tasks you are setting so that they know why they are doing them.

8. Keep telling them about 'prominence' - the stressed words - they don't have to understand everything.

9. Match the task to the text - think about what a native speaker would do when listening to the text & transfer that to the tasks you plan.

10. Get them used to a lot of listening.

11. Try to pitch the texts you use well - don't make them too difficult - it can be demoralising. Think about speed of delivery, cultural familiarity, background noise, accents of the speakers .

12. Take into account the stds on the day - are they tired, hot? etc. - & act accordingly.

13. Have the scripts at hand if you are worried they may find it too challenging - they can then listen & read at the same time.

14. Be sympathetic to their problems with listening.
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Do you timetable your lessons? It's easy to let the coursebook do it for you but that's not really taking full responsibility for the course you're providing - the coursebook writer didn't write the book for your particular group of stds. You need to see how your stds' needs are being met & how a balance & variety of skills & input are being kept.
Here's a timetabling procedure to start you off:

1.Draw up a grid - make a box for each lesson over the 2/3 week period.

2.Put in the fixed things like time in the library, computer room, language lab, tests, project work etc.

3.Think back to what you've done over the past two weeks.

4.Think about what your stds need re. language, skills & interests.

5.Look at what's coming up next in the coursebook.

6.Decide what might be useful & what to discard.

7.Decide if there's anything from the last two weeks/month that you can incorporate - recycling.

8.Fill in the skills work - the listening, speaking, writing & reading.

9.Fill in the 'input' - the language work - grammar, function & vocabulary.

10.Look at the balance & change things around.

11.Write 'Provisional' at the top of the page! Try to follow it but be flexible at the same time.

12.Give a copy to each std - they can then mentally prepare themselves before each lesson.

Apart from being a logical stage in the course planning, it saves a lot of time in the long run. All you have to do each day is plan the lesson, rather than run through the timetabling decisions every day.
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Promoting specific language use in freer oral activities
You've designed a freer oral activity but the stds don't come out with the language you wanted them to practise. They use language that they are comfortable with & not the newer language you introduced in the last lesson/week.
So what are your options? There are several things you could try:

A: Give them some planning time. Let them think for a couple of minutes about what they're going to say. This does make it more of a controlled activity but the classroom is a place for rehearsals. (1)

B: Tell them that after the activity you're going to choose a pair to re-do the activity in front of the class. This will make all of the stds pay much more attention to what they are saying - it puts a bit of healthy pressure on. (1)

C: Before the activity focus the stds directly on the language areas you want them to practise - by eliciting or telling. Why wait to see if they can come out with it - just tell them the aim of the activity - e.g. 'I'd like you to use 'going to' to talk about your plans - do you remember we looked at this in the last lesson'. This again will focus them a lot more than just leaving it to chance.

D: While they are doing the activity go round & handout slips of paper to the stds with the bits of language you want them to practise. Give different pieces of language to different stds - in this way you can deal with the different level stds in the group i.e.. Give the more able stds more complex items. You could even give them the paper before beginning with the instruction that they must use their piece of language at least two/three times in the activity.

Try them all & experiment.
(1) For more on these points check out articles by Pauline Foster & Martin Bygate in 'Challenge & Change in Language Teaching' - eds Willis & Willis (Heinemann)

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