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Teaching Tips 202


A FatalCough

Have you heard the story about Napoleon& the massacre of the unfortunate Turkish prisoners? Here it is:

Twelve hundred Turkish prisoners were mistakenly killed in 1799 by Napoleon after he ordered them set free. He complained about a coughing fit he was having, but his words, "Ma sacrée toux," (my confounded cough) were misunderstood. Instead his men thought he uttered "Massacrez tous" (kill them all), so they opened fire, killing every prisoner.

As his generals were used to his barbarism they automatically carried out the order, but maybe they should have asked for repetition & clarification for an utterance with such huge consequences.

If you go along to , you'll see that it is rubbish, but a good story to highlight the need for active listening & the need to teach our students strategies & language to check information & ask for clarification. This is language like; 'I didn't quite catch that', 'Could you repeat that again?', 'So what you're saying is...' etc...

So how do we teach them this? Some might say our students are capable of transferring their strategies & language from their mother tongue. Maybe, but they might not be effective communicators/listeners in their own language, & the conventions & language in their mother tongue might well be different in English.

Listening is clearly the way to go, with examples of these in texts we play from them on tapes, cds, mp3s & videos. Ask your students to 'notice' the ways that checking & clarification are happening - get them to say 'stop' or knock on their desk when they hear one of the exponents.
Then lift them off the tape, highlight the meaning, & form when appropriate, & drill them for pronunciation practice.

You are probably the major model that the students have so introduce them when you talk to the students. If you do this consistently, you'll soon see them taking some of them on board.

Then you need some practice activities. You could have specific activities to practise this language, & you could integrate it with speaking tasks as they crop up. Just before the task, elicit some of the exponents & tell them to incorporate them into their conversations. And in the feedback on the language afterwards, pick up on the use of these exponents to reinforce good use & to correct if needed.

One of the problems with listening in class is that there is sometimes no real need for the students to listen to each other, or, to put it another way, they are not interested in what others say to them. This has to do with what you ask your students to talk about. If they are talking about their daily routine in the morning or describing their bedrooms then the interest value is very low. But if they talk about their opinions on current affairs & interesting things that have happened to them or to others, then there is more possibility that they are actually going to be interested in each other. We all have a lot to learn from everybody & the classroom, if directed well, is an ideal place for this to take place.

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Providing space

In our teaching it is sometimes the case that we can be our own worst enemy by getting in the way of the students in the classroom. For example, while they are doing an oral fluency activity, we go up close to listen & correct. When they have finished copying down a language point, we get on to the practice activity. Just a couple of activities that have alternatives that might provide more 'space' for the students. Here are some different kinds of space that you can provide in the classroom.

1. Space to move around & feel comfortable - try to make the learning environment as comfortable as possible. Get rid of all the books & things you don't need from the desks. If you can move the desks, try out different organisations with different activities - vary it. Encourage the students to move to different parts of the room, or even outside the room, when they are doing a lengthy activity such as a reading task. Plan into the lesson an activity which requires the students to stand up, move about & mingle - a break in itself.

2. Space to think - give the students time to respond when you ask a question. See the Tip on 'Wait time'. If they are completing a task sheet, give them sufficient time to think things through.

3. Space to work at their own pace - within a group it can be frustrating for slower writers or weaker students to keep up with the others in the group. Slow the pace of the class & take everyone along with you together.

4. Space to reflect - give the students time to sit & reflect on the language you have just presented. Give them two minutes to look at their notes. At the end of a skills activity, let the students reflect on how they carried out the activity & the language of skills they used, sharing their ideas with each other.

5. Space to be themselves - if they have had a bad day then allow them to get it off their chests. Try not to call on students who have just arrived late to class - let them take their time to sink into the class.

6. Space to follow up interests - be flexible with your plan & allow students to take you off on tangents. Now & again this is a good thing & can provide welcome changes of scenery.

7. Space to express themselves - let them talk about the topic of the text you have just been looking at. Let them say what they want to say without constantly correcting them - there's a time & a place for correction.

By no means an exhaustive list but a few areas to think about.

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As I was saying...

There are basically two ways of developing the four skills; speaking,
listening, reading & writing. The first way is to give students practice
with the skill. The more they speak the better they become, the more
they read the same. But this is not enough & can be a very ineffective& slow process. The second, complimentary way, is to provide students with an awareness & practice of the sub-skills of each of the four skills. Your students will know what is involved, practice & gain confidence & fluency with the sub-skills & be able to develop each & importantly be able to transfer this knowledge outside of the classroom.

There's a lovely activity in 'Conversation' by Nolasco & Arthur (OUP), one of my favourite resource books, called 'As I Was Saying...' (no. 30) that shows a way to develop this awareness for the speaking skill. The students' briefs are; student A has to talk about some anecdote, student B has to interrupt as much as possible & student C has to write down all the instances of interrupting that s/he hears. Student A does not know what the other two are doing, & student B does not know what student C is doing. The pair talk for a while, student C makes notes & at the end C explains the notes s/he made & then a general class feedback takes place with the ways of interrupting being collated on the board.

You have shown the students how much they know about an area of the speaking skill & now you can go on to add in some more exponents on their lists & some more oral practice. It is a bit of 'test-teach-test', with the first 'test' highlighting the students' needs. A technique that can be used again & again when looking at the sub-skills of speaking (e.g. techniques for holding the floor, getting back to the point etc.)& listening (ways of asking for clarification, signalling that one is listening etc.).

The key to all of this is the awareness of what is involved - awareness is half the battle won.

To get hold of Conversation - R.Nolasco & L.Arthur (OUP)

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