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

The Flipped Language Classroom: a case study

I’ve been pretty busy with my MA over the last few months, but have taken a sneaky couple of hours off essay writing to share this. 

In the not-so-distant past I was DoS in a private language school. I was asked to write a new set of syllabi, and the management team decided that these should follow the principles of the flipped classroom.

The students and the course package

Our students were mainly adult working people who were attending lessons in the evening. Courses were comprised of three elements: a group lesson for two hours once a week (60 hours an academic year); unlimited access to free group conversation with a fluent English speaker; and an online platform provided with the coursebook used in class.

Why change your syllabus?

These were our reasons, some of them will sound familiar:

  1. Our students expected to complete a whole CEFR level during in the short academic year which ran from October to May, while only coming to class once a week.
  2. EAQUALS accreditation requires that syllabi are mapped to the CEFR, our old syllabus was not.
  3. We had no scheme of work. If students missed lessons, it was difficult for the admin team to tell them what they needed to catch up on, ditto for late starters.
  4. Our old syllabi were heavily grammar or function focused. Skills were largely absent.
  5. End of module tests often assessed students on discrete language points that hadn’t been taught (because there was no scheme of work).
  6. Often the teachers didn’t have time to get to the practice part of the (usually PPP) lesson in the course book, or to use the teacher’s book activities. Being (in my opinion) the most useful and fun part of the lesson, and the only part that the students couldn’t do on their own, it was a mistake for them to be neglected.
  7. Students had commented that the group conversation element was not relevant to what they studied in class.

 

How we did it: getting rid of the grammar

As we were already offering a blended course, we decided to ‘flip’ the online platform content i.e. learners would use this to study and practise grammar points before coming to class.

I designed a scheme of work detailing the content of each lesson for each level. Explicit grammar presentation was removed completely. We instructed the teachers to refer students to the grammar reference part of their books and study it at home.

The productive practice (speaking) exercises for language systems in the course book became the main focus of each lesson, thus our syllabus became predominantly skills based. Teachers were encouraged to have students repeat tasks, and were given training on how to personalise and extend activities in different ways.

Although a scheme of work may sound prescriptive, we allowed for some flexibility to avoid the dreaded ‘teaching from the book’ syndrome and adapt lessons to students’ interests. In each module there was a Dogme-style lesson, when learners brought in their own texts. Another was simply ‘a YouTube video’. Teachers were given freedom in terms of content, but support with lesson planning and staging.

The group conversation element of their package was integrated with the syllabus, and used as practice for specific skills or language points, using the teacher’s book materials. Extensive reading was also encouraged by asking learners to borrow graded readers and discussing their reactions to the text.

 

Resistance- Teachers’ comments:

“It’s a lot. I think they’ll feel overwhelmed. I don’t think all of them will do their homework.”

 

“It’s very different from the education system they’re used to.”

 

“They might get used to it by module.”

 

“It’ll be a bumpy beginning.”

 

We had a pretty good idea that the teachers wouldn’t be happy about the changes. The biggest adjustment for them would be giving up their trusty PPP framework.  The students, too, would no doubt feel that a complete absence of grammar from the programme was too radical and destabilising. To counter this, the scheme of work included a ‘Grammar SOS’ session every 5 weeks. This was a 20 minute slot of lesson time dedicated to extra practice or clarification of grammar points. Students were asked to prepare questions for the teacher in advance of the lesson.

Flipping the grammar input also meant that things got tricky for the teachers if the students hadn’t studied at home. We encouraged them to soldier on with their lesson in this case, thus forcing the students (we hoped) to become more independent learners.

Assessment

The fact that the syllabus was (in part) a-posteriori, and not structural, meant that we could assess our students purely through skills. Unfortunately, this made marking (of the productive skills) more time consuming, and also more subjective. We had to produce our own set of assessment criteria and carry out standardisation, since the teachers would eventually be marking their students’ work.  

Outcomes

Implementing a flipped syllabus meant that there was much more onus on the learners to study independently. Some protested about this of course, but as we explained to them, this was the only way they would get the results they wanted in the time they had available (i.e by attending school only once a week).

After the predicted bumpy beginning, when we asked for student feedback it was 90% positive. Most students said that they didn’t mind studying the grammar at home, and that they understood and appreciated the methodology we were trying to deliver.

What do you think?

How would your students react if they had a flipped syllabus thrust upon them like this?

How would you react if you were told not to teach grammar?

Learning or acquiring? More thoughts from Greece.

image

In my valiant attempts to learn Greek, I’ve been reflecting on the role active study and technology can play in language learning.

My memorised sentence

I have an app…it sends me a Greek word every day with sample sentences and translations.  It’s the free version, so it’s pretty limited. I’ve been flicking through these words for a couple of years now, basically since my last Greek holiday, but have only managed to remember a single sentence, translated by the app as: 

‘The station is far from here.’

(Actually we would probably say ‘a long way’,  but that’s another article 🙂 )

In Greek: 

‘Ο σταθμός είναι μακριά από εδο’ (I think!)

Or with our alphabet:

‘O stathmos ine makria apo etho’

Apart from that, all the Greek I could remember was chunks of language that I’d actually used with real people on my first holiday here like: ‘Where’s the toilet?’, ‘How much it it?’, ‘A glass of white wine please’. This would seem to confirm Vygotsky’s theory that we learn socially, through connecting with other people. So if that’s the case, then is there any point in studying grammar rules and memorizing lists of vocabulary? Was Krashen’s acquisition theory on the nail?

Going back to my Greek sentence, what I’ve noticed is that it did give me a few tools to decipher more langugage. I guessed that:

  1. ‘O’ is a definite article (the), but probably this changes according to the gender of the noun, as in many languages?
  2. stathmos = station
  3. ine = verb ‘be’ – ‘it is’
  4. makria = far (the key word and translation of ‘far’ was ‘makrinos’ so maybe it changes according to some other factor?)
  5. apo = from?
  6. etho = here?

A quick check in the dictionary confirmed my translations. The sentence gave the language a context and (I guess) made it easier to remember.  So when I got off the plane and spoke to my first real Greek person (a taxi driver), and I told him where I wanted to go and I heard ‘ine makria’, I was pretty chuffed with myself that I knew what it meant, and of course knowing how to say ‘it is’ in any language is enormously useful. That said, it has to be taken into consideration that I’m a language teacher and deciphering and analysing language is what I do. Nevertheless, my experience would seem to suggest that theoretical linguistic knowledge and awareness can help our learners. 

Individual words

Listening to the bus drivers’ chat during my journey yesterday, I noticed that I could recognise some of the words from the app in their fluent speech.  I couldn’t necessarily translate them immediately though: ‘imerologio’ I knew was something to do with time- year? clock? (It was ‘calendar’). And when on the next bus the driver put a football match on the radio, helped by the context I heard the words for ‘head’ and ‘zero’, among others.  After that happened, as with the taxi driver, I felt that I would  be confident enough to use the language in conversation. It was as if it ‘clicked’ into place in my head. You could say that theoretical study of language is useful for receptive awareness, but this knowledge is transferred to the long term memory/speech (?) part of the brain only once you’ve had the language ‘confirmed in real life’ by a fluent speaker??

Another point of interest is how at this stage I am relying very heavily on translation, a fact which makes me feel rather shamefaced about how often I’ve said ‘Don‘t translate!’ to my poor students!