How-to presentations for EFL classes. A lesson plan (part 1)

If there’s one thing that can be said about presentations it’s that few people like doing one, but everybody loves having done one. In the EFL classrrom they’re highly motivating moments for students to work on organizing their discourse, polish their language, face their fears and, with the help of self-recording, listen to and reflect on their own performance and opportunities for improvement.

All reasons why I regularly ask my students to do presentations in my class. While there are many kinds, How-to presentations are among the most structured and straightforward to plan and perform. In this post I’ll describe how to set up how-to presentations in your class.

This activity cycle runs for 2½ homework-classwork sessions:

  1. Homework: listening activity with model text
  2. Class: model text plus presentation scaffolding
  3. Homework: write and practice presentation
  4. Class: deliver presentation
  5. Homework: reflection on presentation

1. Homework: listening activity with model text (pre-task)

Before I even announce that we’re going to do presentations, I usually get students primed with an at-home listening activity based on a YouTube video called ― wait for it ― How to get a beautiful girl to approach you, from the Tripp Advice channel (and, in case it needs to be said, linking does not equal endorsement).

I first stumbled across the video when it came up in a YouTube search for How-to videos. I’ve used it (and continue to do so) because the presenter has made it:

  • Short
  • Clearly delivered ― intermediate students should have little problem with it
  • Perfectly structured
  • Freely available

It additionally generates classroom discussion on gender roles, stereotypes, societal rules/expectations, modern love, and whether women do really notice a guy’s shoes. Frankly, it ain’t the sort of thing you’ll get in your average coursebook. In short, it’s a model text.

Below is a shortened version of the activity ― the full activity (which I share with my students via Google Docs) includes some pre-teaching of key vocabulary and some work on verb patterns with get (this authentic text uses get a full 10 times in 3:38 seconds ― the kind of repetition course book writers labor to stuff into theirs. But I digress.) What follows, however, are the parts particularly relevant to presentations.

In part 2 of this article, I’ll talk about how I model a How-to presentation and help students construct theirs.

How to get a beautiful girl to approach you

Guys, why do all the hard work? With this video you can learn how to get girls to approach you. Girls, what do you think? Is this advice brilliant or total bull?

Before listening: How would you approach a person you find attractive? How could you make them approach you instead?

1. Listen once and take notes:

  • Tip 1:
  • Tip 2:
  • Tip 3:
  • What else he’s offering

2. Listen again for more details. Do you agree with his advice?

3. Do the language focus exercises

Language Focus:

Giving a presentation/sales pitch

Whatever you think of Mr. Tripp and his advice, it is a well-constructed presentation (and a sales pitch ― he wants you to check out his other products). Look at the excerpts from the presentations below and connect them with the function of each. The first has been done for you. (Answers are below)

  1. Wouldn’t it be great to have a girl finally approach you for once instead of doing all the work and having to muster up the courage to go over and talk to her?
  2. Well, today I’m going show you three steps to get a girl to come over and approach you whether you’re at a bar or out during the day.
  3. And wait for step number 3, where I’ll tell you the most effective way to get her to come over to you.
  4. Let me tell you a quick story
  5. Step number 1: Dress up sexy
  6. The more open that you look, the more open that she’ll feel to start a conversation with you.
  7. So remember: put on some stylish clothing, start with your shoes. Open up your body language and force eye contact with the girl. Then wave her over and give her your killer smile.
  8. So go ahead, click the link, get that series, get it immediately.
  9. Thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you on the next video.
  • A. tell a story to connect with audience and create interest 4
  • B. give a call to action (in other words, tell the audience what to do next)
  • C. ask a rhetorical question to get audience thinking
  • D. give a brief summary before going into detail so you know what to expect
  • E. use sequencing language (first, second, etc.) to give a clear structure to the talk
  • F. emphasize positive the results of following his advice
  • G. provide a “hook” to keep audience listening until the end
  • H. thank the audience
  • I. summarize the info that’s just been presented

Answers: 1C, 2D, 3G, 4A, 5E, 6F, 7I, 8B, 9H

How to use the internet to improve your listening skills

Are your students struggling with authentic listening activities?

Below is a brief guide I wrote to help my EFL students overcome both confidence issues and poor strategic choices when doing independent listening at home (the full story of which can be found here).

In addition to coaching them on how to choose what to listen to, the point was to make the structure of standard-issue listening activities visible to them so that they could make it part of a self-guided listening routine.

For the record, this is not a replacement for doing regular listening work in the classroom, whether it’s activities you’ve created, canned coursebook texts or ad-hoc micro-dictations. But this guide gives students one more tool for developing independence and autonomy in their learning.

Since I first created it, I’ve used it with a number of groups from lower intermediate to advanced level. Sometimes I’ve read through it in class, point by point. Other times I’ve just handed it out and had the students read through it (and apply it) at home. But in any case I regularly have students bring in the results of their independent listening to share and guide discussion in class.

Feel free to use it or adapt it as you like for your classrooms!

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

How to use the internet to improve your listening skills

Do you get nervous at the thought of listening online? You shouldn’t! When you listen to anything online, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Be selective

First, be selective about what you listen to. You’re going to spend 10-20 minutes on this, so don’t just force yourself to listen to the first thing you find. Being selective means you should prioritize:

  • Brevity ― a 2-3 minute selection will probably be more doable than a 10 minute selection because you’ll be able to go back and re-listen to it.
  • Difficulty ― choose something that’s a good challenge, but not impossible.
  • Interest ― a topic you’re really interested in will usually motivate you to try to understand more. (Also, you might already know something about the topic, which will help.)

Don’t stress about catching every word

Next, don’t stress about not understanding every word. Remember, in real life, when you listen to the radio in the car or at home, you probably don’t pay attention to or hear every word. You hear some important points and then later reconstruct a memory of what you heard. Also, remember that a lot of things like pop music and talk radio can be difficult for even native speakers to understand, because it’s fast, the sound quality may not be good, people don’t always speak/sing clearly or the speaker’s accent might be unfamiliar.

Have a plan

Finally, have a plan for when you listen. It’s important to listen more than once and think about different things each time. My listening plan would look something like this:

 

Listening Plan

  1. Before you listen, look at the title and (possible) summary. Think about the following questions:
    • What do you know about the topic?
    • Have you heard anything about it in the news?
    • What do you think they’re going to talk about?
  1. Listen once:
    • Who? What? How? Where? When? Why?
    • Briefly summarize (out loud or in writing) what you heard/understood. Realizing what you understood/didn’t understand should help you focus on what to listen for next.
  1. Listen twice for more detail about the previous questions.
  2. Listen three times:

Write down some key vocabulary. I’d try to put key vocabulary in 2 categories:

  • Key topic-related vocabulary (if the topic is “Scientists discover water on Mars”, topic-related vocabulary like: spaceship, astronaut, space probe, atmosphere, etc.)
  • Other interesting/important/unknown words you hear. It can be words you know, or words you don’t know.

 

Mars/space vocabulary Other
spaceship

astronaut

space probe

atmosphere

find out

seek out

investigate

 

(If there’s a script, listen a fourth time with the script. Check your vocabulary list against the text and add to it.)

  1. After listening:

Say or write a brief summary of what you heard, using the key vocabulary you wrote down. Look up any unfamiliar words. Then, go and listen to something else on the same topic ― you might find a lot of similar vocabulary, and maybe even find you understand more!

Conclusion

At first, it may seem like a lot of steps, but the better and better you get, the fewer steps you’ll actually have to do. The goal in the end is to automatize the whole process so you listen consciously and effectively but without the stress. Follow these tips and you’ll be healthier, happier, more confident and have stronger listening skills.

First lesson routines: get beyond getting to know you and start building class culture

What is your first class or first lesson for? Getting to know you? Or just getting through the first page of the coursebook? In Planning Lessons and Courses, Tessa Woodward says that first lessons are an opportunity for:

  • Name learning
  • Building a sense of community
  • Understanding student expectations
  • Assessing level

While I agree, I would add three things:

    1. Materials distribution: Decidedly unsexy, but if you’ve got admin duties like passing out coursebooks you’ve got to schedule time for it.
    2. Grammatical or lexical improvement: it might sound obvious, but I have previously been guilty of forgetting that students should both learn and practice new language on Day 1, of forgetting that when students think “What did I learn today?” they’ll be thinking in terms of discrete grammar items (and not in terms of community-building).
    3. Establishing class culture

Number 3, I think, might need some explaining. What is class culture? To paraphrase a great definition from a different context (by Jason Fried, founder of program management app Basecamp), [class] culture is the by-product of consistent behavior. In other words, from how you teach, to what you teach, to how you interact with students and expect them to interact with each other, your class culture will be the result of what you do everyday. Whether your classes are conversation-driven or lockstep by-the-(course)book, whether you’re up scribbling at the whiteboard or hovering over their busily working pairs, whether you’re assigning day one homework or giving them the night off, your first lesson routine should exemplify the principles you teach by. Day one is never a one-off.

And in order to be true to the kind of culture I want to help foster in the classroom, some years ago I decided the best way to start any class is engage with my students, with nothing more than a pen and paper.

My first day routine goes something like this:

PART 1

Take the focus off you with a mingle activity

I really don’t like the me-centric, time-killing forced conversations you go through when waiting for the class to arrive and settle in. So once the proverbial bell rings (or the real one, if you’ve got one), I switch the dynamic, no matter how many students are still missing.

Get up and find three things in common with each of the other people in the class. The following things do not count:

  • anything with the words Italy/Italian
  • evident physical similarities
  • where you live or went to school

Why? I teach mostly monolingual Italians, mostly who come from the provincial city in which I work (which means they mostly go to the same schools). And evident physical similarities ― we both wear glasses, we’re both wearing jeans ― are just too obvious. I want them to dig a little deeper.

“Find X things in common” is great because it forces them to ask questions, and lots of them. And any mingle activity is great because it gives you lots of opportunity to hear them talk, and note down good/improvable language. And as the late arrivals filter in, you can shove them into the mix.

Stop the activity at an appropriate time. While they’re still on their feet, tell them they’re going to have to tell the class what they have in common with other people. And they’re going to have to name names. So give them one last chance to double check names with the people they talked to. Have them sit down. You might want to give them some whole-class feedback about positive/problematic structure, lexis, etc., particularly if you think it will be important in sharing what they have in common. Or you might want to put it on the back burner until later.

Ask everyone to share what they have in common with one other person, introducing that person by name. And tell them to pay attention, because there’ll be a quiz. As the chain of contributions advances, you should repeat the names as much as possible, both for yourself and for the sake of the students.

Finally, quiz them: Who studies Engineering? Who also speaks German? Who went to France for holiday? etc.

PART 2

All about me: getting to know the teacher

Now I give them the chance to do what they’ve been dying to, which is find out something about me, the foreigner.

Now, it’s your turn. You can ask me anything you want. Personal, professional, whatever.

There’s usually a moment of silence as everyone (or at least the most courageous) starts mentally scrambling for what to ask. Then I add:

Ok, I’ll give you some help. You’ll have some time to think of the questions you want to ask, and write down the questions. And you can do it in groups.

Put the students into small groups. You’ll want to have at least two.

Write 5 (or 7, or 10 ― in inverse proportion to the number of groups) questions you want to ask me. But your group is your team. The goal is to ask me the original questions. You get a point for each original question you ask. If they other team thinks of the same question, you don’t get a point.

Why? Because, just like my list of too-obvious similarities, this point-per-original-question system eliminates the usual small-talk list of questions. It will give them some often juicier things to remember about you. And it may reveal a lot about their personalities and preoccupations (I’ve had students ask me things like “How many girlfriends have you had?”)

I will, however, give them another chance at the end to ask me anything that we didn’t talk about during the game (where I’m from, etc.).

When they’ve got their list of questions, I say:

You’re going to ask me your questions. But I’ll only answer “grammatically correct” questions (more on this admittedly problematic term in a future post). Double-check to make sure your questions are grammatically correct.

Give them a few minutes to check their questions again (without asking you for help). As they finish checking, ask each group for a team name. I usually suggest silly American-pro-sports-type names like the Jaguars or the Tigers, but they can choose whatever they want.

Let the teams take turns to ask questions, and after you answer them, award one point per original question. Tell groups to shout out if a group reads a question that they’ve also written (in which case no point is awarded).

Dealing with grammatical incorrectness

The best way to deal with a grammatically incorrect questions is simply don’t hear it: play deaf. What? Sorry? What? Students quickly realize they’ve got to reformulate. Give them a number of chances, then help nudge them in the right direction. Then, after you finally “hear” the question and answer it, ask them to repeat the original (as-written) question again and explain the problem.

Getting beyond accuracy

Some other things I “correct” for are appropriacy, register, intonation and idiomaticity. For example, I make it clear that questions like With whom did you go on holiday? are accurate, but sound strangely formal in spoken English. I also make a point about the inappropriacy of the age question (they always ask). Admittedly, if I’m encouraging students to ask me about my past girlfriends on a first meeting, they might as well as me how old I am, too. But does any adult, in any culture, really ask “How old are you?” ― or volunteer that information ― the first time they meet someone?

You can board the problems in shorthand (pres. perf vs. past simple, preposition position in questions, final -s, etc.). When someone makes a similar mistake, help nudge them toward a better question by referring back to the original group who made and explained the mistake ― and let them re-explain it ― or point to the board to show them the problem.

And by boarding such a list, you’re taking the first steps toward creating the kind of grammatical syllabus that addresses their specific needs, not those simply generalized in a course book list.

Follow up

Once you’ve tallied up the points and declared a winner (even though the focus is clearly on the process, and not winning points, it’s still important to keep up the pretense of the game all the way to the end) the first thing I like to do is see what they remember. I say:

Now, with your partners, quickly write down everything you remember about me.

I like including a step like this in any teacher-class or student-class interaction (like presentations) because it allows them to communicatively and communally (re)construct what they’ve learned. And gives those who may not have been paying attention a chance back in.

You can quickly check a few facts, based on their questions (What did I say my most embarrassing moment was?) or let them quiz the other groups.

Turning on each other

Now tell them they’re going to ask each other the questions they’d written for you. Give them a minute to edit their question list ― if any deal with you explicitly as a foreigner, or based on some specific knowledge ― and rewrite those that would inappropriate for their classmates. You can model and then elicit some changed questions.

Monitor and get whole-class feedback, asking each student to share the two or three most interesting things they learned about their partner.

PART 3

Writing: my personal profile

The next step is to get students to write a personal profile. I’ve written my own example as a model. Below is the B2 edition, at Cambridge-First-appropriate 140-190 words. I’ve also got other exam-appropriate editions for other levels. Before giving it to them, I ask:

When would you write a personal profile? (e.g. specific social media contexts)

What info would you include in a personal profile to share with your classmates? (e.g. name, date of birth, reason for taking the class etc.) Board their answers.

Then I hand out my profile:

personal-profile-text-image

I tell students to quickly scan for the information thought they might find. What was included? What wasn’t? Then I ask them to check if I’d answered any of the questions from the getting to know me game.

Writing the student profile

The next step is for students to write their own profiles ― whether in class or at home. To get them prepared for the activity, make sure to highlight:

  • Organization ― paragraphs, headings, title
  • Content ― I want background and course goals, but the specifics are up to them
  • Word count, if relevant

Next steps

What do they do with the profile? I text like this is meant to be read by others, so the worst option for you would be to collect them and comment on them in private. Instead, I’d recommend:

  • Live carrousel: Students tape their completed texts to the wall. The class circulates and reads. I like to have students comment on other texts in some way to generate more discussion. You can have students put their initials next to things they have in common with the writer, or put their initials + a question mark about something they want to ask. When all the texts have been read, the writer takes down his or her profile and then finds the people who’ve written their initials to discuss commonalities or answer questions. As the teacher, you can underline examples of good and problematic language (you didn’t pick up while monitoring the writing phase) to be discussed in group feedback. But don’t forget to put your initials to commonalities first (sometimes it’s easy to forget that the profile was written for a real purpose ― to introduce the writer to you as a reader ― and that you’re more than just a red pen!)
  • Virtual carrousel: Increasingly, I use Google Docs to share class work, and any similar cloud-based document sharing app will do. Essentially, the idea is to have students post their profiles on a shared document, and to leave comments as above. Profile writers can respond in the comments.

Conclusion

As of this writing, that’s my day one routine. Like all great routines, it focuses on the big blocks and leaves lots of room for improvisation where it counts, like getting feedback and working with emergent language (but make sure you plan for the worst, as well). And it, along with my day one reading homework, serves to set expectations for the kind of contributions I expect from the students, and what they can expect from me. And crucially, it’s not a one-off or something to get out of the way, but the foundation for the consistent class culture I hope to establish.

Now, over to you: what’s your day one routine?

 

References:

Woodward, Terssa. Planning Lessons and Courses. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

A real-life shopping game

One of the novelties for me of teaching in London again is that English is everywhere. I’ve been exploring ways to make the most of this, and today I came up with this shopping game. This was partly because I needed some shopping and I thought I’d get my students to do it for me!

Instructions

In the classroom I explained that they would be split into three groups, given £10 and a shopping list. They would have half an hour to go around Borough market and buy the things I wanted. They had to ask for some information, like whether the eggs were free-range, if the apples were English. They had to ask to taste some cheese and choose a nice one for me. The winner would be the team who got all the things on the list and brought me back the most change, so they also had to ask how much things cost.

I also showed them the route we would take on Google maps and an approximate travel time.

Since the instructions were pretty complicated I got them to repeat them in pairs so I could check that they’d understood. Then I put a mini quiz on the board:

  1. How long will you have?
  2. How much money will you have?
  3. How do you win the game?
  4. How will we get there?
  5. Which bridge will we walk over?

Language and rehearsal

They had a look at their lists and we went through the meaning and pronunciation of the vocabulary.

I then gave them some language they might hear (Next please!,  Are you waiting? ) and elicited what they would need to say (Could I have some…?). They rehearsed the dialogues in their groups. Then off we went.

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Happy campers and a happy teacher. The pineapple was really good, and the English cheese was amazing! Carlos, Ana and Thais’s team (the Sharks) won. They gave me £2 change. 🙂

An Olympic Crossword part 2

In my previous post I explained how I got the students to create a crossword for their peers about the Winter Olympics. They completed them in today’s lesson and here are the finished versions.

DSC_0021DSC_0022

 

As you can see, the mistakes in the questions and answers have been corrected. This was done by the students with very little prompting from me.

You may be wondering what the language value is of this exercise, and (quite rightly) thinking that ‘luge’ and ‘bobsleigh’ aren’t exactly useful words. I think what they got out of it linguistically was:

a) the use of the +ing form of the verb for activities

b) using relative clauses without studying tedious ‘rules’. At least for speakers of languages with Latin roots, the structures are pretty much common sense and don’t need a lot of teaching. They were able to correct ‘a person *which‘ when I pointed it out.

c) some useful vocabulary that can be used figuratively such as hurdle (as in a problem or obstacle), sweep (as in swept away)

d) the use of the passive (which they corrected without my help)

e) some lexical chunks in the questions such as third place, make a descent, sweep the floor, hold the Olympics, get closer to (something), a piece of music

f) the difference between city and country.

 

But it’s not perfect!

Having said all that, two of the students complained about doing it, saying it was boring and they weren’t interested in the Winter Olympics. Fair enough! I gave them some grammar exercises to do instead and they were quite happy after that.

 

Your feedback

What do you think? Useful/not useful?

Would you use it with your students?

 

Learner-centred teaching from A1: An Olympic Crossword

Crossword A1Hurdles

Since we’re in the midst of the Olympics, yesterday one of my colleagues handed me a crossword with names of Olympic sports and other associated vocab. She’d used it as a filler, but I thought I’d extend it and make a whole lesson out of it.

How? Well I started with a miming game. This entailed hurdling two chairs and nearly doing myself an injury, but gave everyone the giggles and broke the ice for the two new girls who’d joined us today. The students then took turns. Carlos’s ‘equestrian’ was particularly  interesting! In this way, and with the help of Google images, I elicited most of the vocab they’d need to do the crossword, which they then merrily got on with.

I then explained that they were going to make their own crossword about the winter Olympics. At this point there was vociferous protestation from one student ‘Teacher I’m A1 not B1. It’s too difficult!’….and: ‘We’re from Brazil! We not know winter Olympics!’. But I stubbornly soldiered on with my plan. I happen to believe that students are capable of a lot more than they (and we) give them credit for (as I discussed in my IATEFL talk at Birmingham).

I wrote the stages on the board:

  1. Find out about the Winter Olympics.  (using their mobile phones)
  2. Write the questions. Use the crossword we did as a model.
  3. Design your crossword using the grid. Colour the squares at the end of the words. Don’t forget to write the numbers for the questions.

The product

DSC_0020

By the way, for the grid simply Google’crossword grid’.

As you can see, it generated some pretty impressive lexis for A1 learners. One of the girls exhaled a loud ‘phew!’ when they’d finished. It IS hard for them, but achievable if you give the right support. With activities like this, in contrast to using a book or a photocopy, the students do most of the work and are actively engaged with the language, which of course (we hope) makes it more memorable.

The next step is that they swap their crosswords and complete a puzzle created by their classmates. That’s today’s lesson...

 

 

 

Promoting learner autonomy from day one: individual selection of reading texts in the ELT classroom (Part 2)

In part 1 of this article I explained how you can start of encouraging learner autonomy in the classroom from the first day’s homework assignment.

It’s part of a four-step procedure in which students can independently select, read and prepare texts for homework (step 1) and do a carrousel activity (step 2) to share what they’d read and learned.

Now I’m going to describe steps 3 and 4, including how to lead a follow-up discussion and help students overcome difficulties they may have had sourcing authentic texts.

3. Teacher-led discussion and task-analysis (day 2, part 2)

Once you’ve wrapped up the carousel, it’s now time to focus on discussion of the task itself. This is the kind of meta-analysis that also helps encourage autonomy, as you’re asking students to make judgments about their own learning processes and study techniques, as well as classroom activity.

When monitoring the carousel or the small-group discussion that followed, you may notice that some students confess to having had difficulty with the task, some even coming to class saying, “Here’s my text! But I barely understood anything!” I regularly observe that a few students:

  • Can’t discern whether their text is fact or opinion
  • Choose texts written in non-proficient English
  • Don’t self-select for difficulty (usually choosing impossibly difficult texts)

The result can be frustrating for some students. But as a teacher trying to encourage learner autonomy I want these difficulties and frustrations to come out immediately, and not further on down the course.

It’s a teaching moment, and we can start a discussion about what’s difficult about sourcing authentic texts (including topic unfamiliarity, grammatical and lexical complexity, density, relative lack of other clues, text length) which leads to discussing important criteria in text selection: motivation (choosing texts interest them enough to overcome some of the difficulties inherent in authentic texts) and self-grading (choosing texts that represent a linguistically manageable challenge). You can also board and discuss the sources students used (the specific online newspapers, academic journals, blogs, etc.) and discuss the pros and cons of using each one.

Remember, these are all things they consider (however unconsciously) when surfing the internet in L1. You just need to make it clear that they should apply transfer the same skills to L2 reading.

Tweaks and interventions

  • Write a guide: After discussing and boarding ideas about the challenges of authentic texts, have groups write a guide for the class with tips for next time (e.g. Choose a 1-2 page text. Choose a L2 text on a familiar topic.). They can write their guide in the form of a magazine article, letter or simply bullet points. Next time you assign a similar homework task, ask them to pull out their guide, follow their own instructions and see if it works ― or what they would revise.

 

4. Whole class single-text intensive reading (optional)

For homework (or, if you teach 4-hour blocks like I used to in Istanbul, in class), you can bring the class back to focus collectively on a single text. This will reassure those who struggled with the text they found or with the unrestricted nature of the task.

Have the class vote on the text they found the most interesting (it can be one they heard about from the “source” ― i.e. the original presenter ― or from a small group member in the wrap-up discussion) and assign it for homework.

You can assign the original reader a different task, like creating comprehension questions (to be sent by email to the others) or identifying and creating a quiz on the key grammar and vocabulary for the following week. If you’ve got a grammar syllabus, find some key grammar point contained in the text and jump to that section of the coursebook or grammar reference (if you don’t want to do it on the spot, tell the students you’ll assign a grammar point within 48 hours and email them the homework).

 

Conclusion: Where to go from there

By starting with an activity like this, you’re not just paying lip service to learner autonomy, you’re actually putting it into practice. And more importantly, you’re laying the foundations for an in-class culture of learner autonomy that will (I believe) help contribute to a richer learning experience for both your students and you.

In future articles, I’ll explore more activities and procedures for encouraging learner autonomy in the ELT classroom.
In the meantime, how do you promote a culture of learner autonomy in your classroom?