Lip Sync Battles for Pron Practice

Fun vs enjoyable – what the dinstinction? Fun – it’s a laugh. Enjoyable – it’s educationally focused and a laugh (that idea via my DoS at International House Riga Ian Raby via a Diana England presentation at the 2017 IH AMT conference).

So holding a lip sync battle in an English lesson might on the surface sound like just simple fun: frivolity, a cocky indulgence by a karaoke-loving teacher who wants to enjoy the music and the performances while sparing their students the actual singing.

But I can assure you that it’s extremely enjoyable: as I’ve written about again and again, pronunciation should be trained physically using the four buttons (lip shape, tongue position, jaw and voice), and exaggerating the mouth movements without making a sound is an outstanding way to practise this. It also teaches students how gestures convey meaning, so they really need to understand the words they’re mouthing.

Here are a couple of my all-time favourite lip syncs, followed by a simple lesson plan to incorporate a lip sync battle into your classroom. Give it a go!

*If you think your reputation as a stiff-upper lipped, straight-backed professional is on the line every time you teach, ‘half in’ really isn’t an option here. Student-teacher attitudes are a mirror: go ‘all in’ and students might too. If you’re not too confident about it, why should the learners miss out on something because of your insecurities? Don’t dip you toe in the water; frog splash into the deep end. 

1. Watch a lip sync battle on YouTube – what’s important? (Will Ferrell – Drunk in Love is my all time fave, but I’m sure you can find a celebrity they know doing one). Answers to elicit – mouth shape + gesture of the meaning.

2. Choose a song or let your students choose one. Are they more Marilyn Manson or Britney Spears or a few of each? Example for modern pop fans – Roar, Katy Perry. Plenty of idiomatic phrases.

3. Depending on number of students and class time available, divide up the song e.g. a verse per pair. They practice with lyrics (on phones maybe – yes tech has a role to play in 21st Century education!), exaggerating mouth positions and gestures for meaning.

4. Clear a performance space, with chairs and tables back, and host it like the X Factor – basically big the whole thing up. Record if you can to watch back and analyse/judge/improve later.

5. Debrief. Why did we do that? What’s the link to ‘everyday’ English (unless you do karaoke every day, in which case it would be outstanding training)?. Answers to elicit – 1. Mouth shape is key to pronunciation. 2. Gesture is important in communication.

Give it a go and let me know how it went! Could you adapt the concept to different levels and ages? Leave a comment below or get in touch at james.egerton@tiscali.co.uk. Enjoy!

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10 Things I Learned at ILC IH Brno, Czech Republic

What you learn before and after a conference can have just as much value as what you pick up in the talks and workshops. Luckily for me, the before, during and after of ILC IH Brno’s 4 the Young Ones conference were all brimming with insights – Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, well beyond the six hours at the conference itself! Here’s a summary…

1. Enthusiasm + organisation = magic

Friday 20.30 At dinner, Ben Herbert (British Council, Prague) was talking about his high regard for Anette Igel as a teacher trainer (and a person, of course – it’s hard to separate the two). His comment of how she combines high levels of enthusiasm and organisation simultaneously struck a chord with me. I find that I have genuine enthusiasm to start something, but once I go about it, the more regimented I am until it’s finished; rarely do the two qualities co-exist. Something to work on!

2. Be more human

Saturday 07.45 Chatting with Gianni (IH Rome Manzoni) over breakfast before the conference, he was telling me about his presentation with Kylie entitled ‘Retrotastic: revamping, revitalising, revisiting old favourites’. The main thing I took was that getting students in a classroom just to sit them in front of a screen the whole time offers nothing that they can’t do at home. Sure, one of my core teaching values is providing real life activities in class, and integrating tech has a role to play, but human interaction in all its form is the true beauty in any lesson.

3. No carrot or stick – just listen and respect.

Saturday 13.00 In Ben’s excellent session on motivating teens, he talked about a wild-sounding class he once taught, where a lack of discipline was his first obstacle. He won them over by listening to their preferences, getting to know them as people rather than ‘naughty teens’, and incorporating their likes into his lessons (Edurio is an excellent tool of you´d like this data through an online survey.) “What about the stick?” I asked in the QandA. “There is no stick” said Ben. This was very insightful: each lesson is an ecosystem of human interaction, and mutual respect is earned gently, not by force. My own tendency is to be attracted to the challenge of a direct mano a mano with misbehaving learners. “Oooooh a confrontation”, the voice in my head says, limbering up like a boxer, let’s dance”; but this is probably more to do with my own ego rather than creating positive classroom dynamics (I’ve just started reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday – more on this another day I’m sure). Something else to work on!

4. Industrial model → agricultural model of education

Saturday 14.00 Another great session run by Kristyna (ILC IH Brno) focused on teaching multi-level classes to allow all learners to improve irrespective of current ability. She said her philosophy is inspired by Sir Ken Robinson’s 2010 TED Talk ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution!’, in which he talks about education being an organic process (agricultural model) rather than the mechanical process (industrial model) our traditional system is based on. Among many super tips was the idea of giving learners a choice of activities, rather than labelling them with a level. Some students might be comfortable out of their comfort zone (growth mindset), others know what they’re capable of, but telling a student explicitly that they are lower ability is, in the long-term, often a self-fulfilling prophecy; they become the label. Offering learners more choice was a concept brought back to Riga from the 2017 IH YL conference by our YL coordinator Sally, which has a number of psychological benefits such as ownership of learning and self-motivation (another of my main ELT interests).

5. Acting out idioms 

Saturday, 14.30 Like my session on word and sentence stress emphasised making pronunciation training physical, so too did Kristyna´s when looking at idiomatic phrases from Katy Perry´s song Roar. Like many good teacher training sessions, the key was putting ourselves in the learners’ shoes and trying it out ourselves. Getting into pairs and acting out a verse from the song brought the idioms’ meanings to life and was good, clean fun.

6. Attitude is everything

Saturday 20.00 I’m a mindset geek; I believe having a growth mindset, combined with strategy and grit, is key to improvement, whether it be as a teacher, student or piano player (anything!). Seeing Olya Pushchak (IH Lviv) at another IH conference was great, and that was before I knew how much commitment she put in just to get there. Lviv to Brno 16.00 Friday to 04.00 Saturday (slept on bus); Brno to Lviv 02.00 to 19.00 Sunday (slept on bus). Chatting to her about her motivation at dinner, she said something outstanding (I asked her to repeat it so I could write it down on my phone!):

“I don’t want my third year of teaching to be my first year for the third time”

Apply that drive to improve to any aspect of your life – job, hobby, relationship, life as a whole (personally, I don’t want my 29th year on Earth to be my 28th year for the second time). Imagine a staff room of Olyas! Hats off!

7. IH is an outstanding organisation to be a part of

All weekend, noted down Saturday 21.00 This is pretty much a copy and paste from my reflections on my last IH conference in Toruń, Poland in March: ‘Having worked in a private language academy in Spain for five years, I moved to IH Riga mainly because I wanted to be in the International House fold. I took a significant pay cut (taking into account salary-cost of living ratio) on the understanding that personal and professional development motivate me day-to-day like money never can. So events like yesterday  have fully justified the move’. Dave Cleary’s (DoS, ILC IH Brno) reminder of the IH philosophy of “excellence in teaching and teacher training” over dinner reminded me of this!

8. Peak-End Rule

Saturday, 21.15 This was another nugget from Dave, who I’ve learnt a lot from since we met in Toruń in March. The peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic saying that people judge their overall experience on how they felt at its ‘peak’ (i.e. most intense point) and its ending. We were largely discussing interview techniques from the points of view of both interviewer and interviewee, but the same applies to any experience – a trip, a film, a relationship (how it ends often overshadows all the peaks!) etc. etc.

9. Learners > professionalism

Sunday 14.30 I was reading the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG newsletter from April 2017 on the bus back to Prague (I know, the fun never ends!), and Nic Underhill’s article Professionalism and quality: a tour d’horizon from 1995 caught my eye (it was republished as part if his obituary as he sadly passed away last year). Although I’ve listed one of my core teaching values as being learner-centred, recently I’ve been wrestling with the concept of professionalism in ELT, and why more teachers don’t treat it as a ‘proper’ job rather than a working gap year (I’m not being pugnacious – I started with the latter before transitioning to the former). But Underhill (brother of Adrian, a huge influence on my teaching – imagine a seat at that family dinner table!), wrote this:

We are not at the end of Quality street. The danger is that like the debate over professionalism it becomes a sterile and perpetuating activity which is an end in itself rather than a means to an end: satisfying customers.

This resonated with me: it’s more valuable to focus on students’ experiences rather than obsessing over how respected the job is. But doesn’t professionalism automatically improve student experience? Not necessarily. I should shelve that ‘chicken and the egg’ debate, get off that never-ending merry-go-round and redirect energy on being a daily model of a professional who prioritises his students.

10. Outputs > Inputs

Sunday, 14.32 Although written back in 1995, Nic Underhill might have used something like Edurio today to get quantifiable data on students´ perceptions in order to improve on the improveables (more coming soon on our work with Edurio at IH Riga this year!)

The question is to focus on ways of measuring the quality of the outputs of our activity, rather than the inputs and the processes the inputs are subjected to…Institutions should be assessed on the systems they have in place for collecting data on student attainment and student satisfaction.

What does this mean? Well of course lesson observations have a place at the table, but another seat should be occupied by asking the learners directly, instead of just second-guessing what may be going right and wrong for them.

As always, any questions or comments please leave a reply below or get in touch with me at james.egerton@tiscali.co.uk.

Stress to Impress

Fresh from the 4 The Young Ones conference at ILC IH Brno in the Czech Republic today, here’s a summary of the talk I just gave (twice) on word and sentence stress. I didn’t just rustle this up in the lunch break in Brno – I wrote this last week so I’ll add any interesting insights from the QandA later on!

*I must insert an important point here* Most conferences are great because they give the presenters and attendees a warm glow of satisfaction at having added to their professional development. However, my main motivation in teacher training is not self-gratification, but that the new techniques, attitudes and information trickle down to those who really matter: the learners. I worked with 40 teachers today; if all of these apply the techniques we looked at to improve word and sentence stress to 100 learners, that’s 4,000 in total. That´s true impact. That’s why I urged the teachers not to keep this to themselves, and let me know how the techniques worked (or didn’t) in their teaching contexts.

Why this topic?

As Adrian Underhill’s brilliant course in July opened my eyes to (amongst many other things), pronunciation is the Cinderella of ELT, crowded out by its ‘ugly sisters’ grammar and vocabulary, a misunderstood physical skill trapped in a cognitive world. As he said, every encounter with language is a pron lesson, not just speaking:

  • Listening effectively requires understanding the pronunciation features.
  • Reading and writing require an inner voice to pronounce the words silently.
  • Grammar and vocabulary are spoken and heard, which means the pronunciation features alongside the written form.

So what are the pronunciation features I’m referring to? According to Jennifer Jenkins’ Lingua Franca Core, core features are necessary for intelligibility, whereas the non-cores take English users to the next level:

The first essentials (LFC core) The next level (LFC non-core)
Consonants – pet vs. peck.

Consonant clusters – strong, winter.

Vowel length – bins vs. beans.

Nuclear stress – Stressing different words for different meaning. What do YOU want to do tonight? vs What do you want to do TONIGHT?

Word stress

Stress timing

Schwa and weak forms

Connected speech features

Tone

Substitutions of ‘th’ – zh, s, f.

Of course the LFC core features are vital, but my experience with intermediate to advanced kids, teens and adults tells me that word and sentence stress are too often neglected, and often provide the last piece of the puzzle for learners to access higher levels of English intelligibility.

Word Stress

Word stress is often the gap between ‘knowing’ a word and being able to hear and say it, and this is a gap worth filling. Stress is caused by one or more of: volume, pitch, length, quality.

‘English language learners tend to ignore stress when they learn vocabulary. And failure to learn the stress of new words often leads to an inability to recognise those words in spoken form’ – J.B. Gilbert, 2008.

Pronunciation is a physical skill, so we should teach it physically and visually rather than cognitively (another lesson internalised after Adrian Underhill’s course). As my colleague Marina J here at IH Riga told me, “if you watch karate, can you become a champion?” :-).

There are rules, yes, but there are just as many exceptions. Anyway, as Adrian says, it’s a physical skill, so should be processed as such:

‘I don’t want learners to be sidetracked by cognitive rules with limited application…the best rule is to be alert, to notice what you are doing and what the language is doing, and to reflect’ – Adrian Underhill, 1994.

Classroom activities: 

1) Mark the stressed syllable when you write vocabulary on the board (with a dot, a line or a blob – anything that doesn’t look like an L1 accent!).

This is painfully basic, I know, but it’s just not common practice. “I don’t have time to teach word stress” really isn’t an excuse.

2) Number bingo with 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90.

13 or 30? 14 or 40? 15 or 50? The difference lies in the stress – on the second syllable for the teens, first syllable for the multiple of 10. If our job is to arm learners with useful English in their everyday lives, imagine a haggle at a market if you can’t distinguish between these numbers! You could play bingo with only these numbers to practice this – but only on a 3 by 3 grid, as there are only 14 possible options.

Bingo-grid

3) Stretch the stress

Rubber band per learner. Say a word and stretch the band with the stressed syllable. Experiment with stretching the wrong syllable (sometimes the word becomes unrecognisable) and have some fun with it! This helps people to have a visual prompt and ‘see’ the stress by giving the stress a physical movement – pronunciation practice as physical and visual, remember!rubber band

4) Standing stress

Arrange learners in chairs in lines of 3s and 4s. Give the 3s a list of 3 syllable words and and the 4s a list of 4 syllable words. Each learner says a syllable, and only the stressed syllable stands as he/she says it. Again, pronunciation as physical and visual, getting away from traditional call and repeat.

Standing-stress-words

Sentence Stress

Sentence stress if often missed out of coursebooks altogether, or reserved for higher levels such as the English File Advanced group I’ve been teaching. But it’s as fundamental to intelligibility as sounding out the A, B, C.

‘If stressed words determine how we say the intervening unstressed structure words, why then to course books start with the single phonemes and go on to ‘connected’ speech? Sentence stress would be a far easier guide to speaking.’ – Brita Haycraft (co-founder of International House).

So what gets stressed and what doesn’t?

1) STRESSED: Content words – verbs, nouns, adjectives, numerals, adverbs.

2) UNSTRESSED: Structure words – Make sentence gramatically correct – Pronouns, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs.

You can see this clearly in this voice recording I made on the GarageBand programme. Try to find the words – I’ve never been to Brno before.I've never been to Brno before. (1)

I’ve          NEV       er          BEEN         to                 BRRRNOOOO                                   before

In the classroomgive out sentences (you can include recent grammar points, perhaps) and have students find the stress, then practice saying the sentence with the stress in the right places. The instant change in intelligibility and speaking quality is quite astounding, actually.

Another important and neglected point about English is that as a stress-timed language (as opposed to syllable-timed), the stressed words in a sentence are said with approximately the same interval between each.

You can introduce this concept in the classroom by clapping, banging or stomping to create a steady rhythm (physical, visual): 1, 2, 3, 4. Then add the stressed words (these are all images of my voice using the GarageBand programme):

Sell. Car. Gone. France.

SELL                                 CAR                                      GONE                                     FRANCE

Then, keeping the rhythm, add some unstressed words between them:

Sell my car I've gone to France.

SELL         my                  CAR                I’ve           GONE          to             FRANCE

Then, still keeping the rhythm, add some more unstressed words:

Can you sell my old car cause I've gone to live in France.png

Can    you    SELL       my               old   CAR         cos    I’ve      GONE to  live    in         FRANCE

Nuclear stress

It’s also worth mentioning how we stress words to give sentences a certain emphasis, as this is also common in English and runs against the neutral sentence stress concept above.

In the classroom, give out sentences (below) or have learners come up with their own, giving different contexts to the sentence so different words are stressed accordingly.

Nuclear-stress

As always, any questions or comments, write below or get in touch at james.egerton@tiscali.co.uk.

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Not just a pretty picture: getting physical with the phonemic chart

Since spending two weeks of summer in Cambridge at a course run by the great Adrian Underhill on all things pronunciation, I’ve been working hard to incorporate his phonemic chart into regular pronunciation practice with my learners. It’s up on the wall in so many classrooms worldwide, but generally ignored.

If you’re one of the few who don’t have one, download one below and print it out – don’t miss out!

Phonemic chart pdf

Sandy Millin’s post last weekend on her first teaching jobs and what she thought the chart was when (pre-CELTA) teaching in Paraguay reminded me of this, and it pushed me to write this recap on the chart and what a brilliant tool it can be when properly understood and used:

I assumed it was just another pretty picture, like the other posters in the classroom. A couple of months later I found out it was actually Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart – Sandy Millin

So let’s take a tour around the phonemic chart and remind ourselves how much fun pronunciation practice can be when learning is physical, not just cognitive. This can be a revolutionary resource for pronunciation practice, sadly underused at present due to a lack of understanding and/or coursebook attention.

As Adrian said on the course, here are the 44 phonemes of English English; this is the first and last page of the textbook:

phonemic chart

Not sure of the sound each symbol represents? Check here.

Step 1 – Proprioception

The neurological ability of the body to sense movement and position – Collins Dictionary.

Using the phonemic chart effectively is all about being aware of the positions of four ‘pronunciation buttons’:

LIP SHAPE – Forward? Back? Wide? Round? Spread?

TONGUE – Up? Down? Curled? Pushed against teeth? Between teeth?

JAW – Open? Closed?

VOICE – Off? On (larynx vibration)?

four buttons2

The key to developing effective proprioception? Questions, questions, questions! What shape are your lips making? Can you feel where your tongue is? Is your jaw open or closed? Put a hand on your throat – is your voice on or off? Any error with a sound can be fixed not by overthinking it, but by experimenting with adjusting one or more of these four buttons until the desired sound is produced. Trial and error.

The Vowel Sounds

Tongue forward ———————————————-> back
vowels.jpg

Jaw closed

.

.

.

Jaw open

 

In Mouth Gym Part 2, back in spring, I wrote about how to train the mouth to produce the sounds based on tongue position. During the course with Adrian, we added several techniques:

  • Contrasts – i: u: i: u: i: u: i: u: Tongue forward and lips spread THEN tongue back and lips forward. Get you learners to feel it for themselves and tell you these differences.
  • Index finger on nose, thumb on bottom of jaw and feel how it opens from i: to e to æ.
  • Act! Have some fun! ə (shwa – everyone’s favourite!) – the idiot’s sound. Switch every button off and make a noise. It’s impossible to look intelligent when doing this. ɜ: – the long idiot’s sound. Can anyone look clever when making this sound?
  • ɒ – You have a satsuma in your mouth – make space (tongue back and down, lips forward)! Enough said.
  • Use the chart on the wall – point, get learners up to point. Gesture to show long and short sounds, clown around a bit. Make pronunciation practice dynamic and fun.

The Diphthongs

diphthongs

  • Made up of two sounds – a + ɪ = aɪ.
  • Point at sound 1 on the vowel section, then sound 2. Sound 1, sound 2, sound 1, sound 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1 2, 1 2 faster and faster until the two sounds blend perfectly and voila, a diphthong is born.

The Consonants

consonants2

  • The top two rows exist in pairs, with the positions of three buttons exactly the same: lips, jaw, tongue.
  • The difference? On the left, the voice is OFF; on the right, the voice is ON. Put your hand to your throat and feel the vibration when the voice is ON.

P BT D

CH DZ

K G

F V

TH TH

The TH is a tough sound to make for many Latvian and Russian speakers here in Riga, as it doesn’t exist in their language. Tip: find f by biting down on bottom lip, put tongue where bottom lip is and feel the TH.

S Z

SH

  • The bottom row of consonants? Miscellaneous! Focus on the four buttons and the sound will be made though.
  • Finding the r: Option 1. ð — z — ʒ — r (tongue going further and further back). Option 2. n — r (tip of the tongue moves down slightly to let some air through).

Other activity ideas

  1. Students have a copy of the chart and map out words or sentences for a partner by pointing at the sounds.
  2. Students pick a word and describe the physical movements happening to pronounce that word: My tongue starts behind my bottom teeth and my lips are spread to make the i:, the tongue stays where it is but the lips become a little rounder and the voice is on to make the z…(describing ‘easy’).
  3. Students mouth words to each other – this focuses on the importance of lip shape in certain sounds.

The Takeaways

  • The phonemic chart is a fantastic tool for training pronunciation, and is vastly underused.
  • Four buttons make any sound – jaw, tongue, lips, voice. Proprioception is key.
  • Pronunciation is a physical skill, so it should be taught physically.
  • DO – Use the chart to stress the physical differences in making the sounds.
  • DON’T – Get obsessed with the symbols. They are useful as a vehicle, but they aren’t the objective (forget CELTA and Delta woes scripting out pronunciations).
  • Have fun with the phonemic chart – point, gesture, challenge. Make learning sounds experiential and enjoyable (vs. call and repeat zzzzZZZZZ).
  • It can also be used to teach word stress and connected speech.

Do you use the phonemic chart in lessons? If so, how? Please leave a comment below!

Delta Conversations

Here’s a post I wrote for Sandy Millin’s Delta Conversations series, asking Delta ‘veterans’ to share how they organised taking the three modules – the what, where, how, why and who of the whole thing (there are many ways to skin the Delta cat – read others’ experiences here).

1. HOW DID YOU DO YOUR DELTA? HOW DID YOU ARRANGE THE MODULES? 

I hopped around a bit: 1-3-2.

I first heard about Delta when attending an informal meeting of teachers from several different academies in May 2014 in Albacete, Spain, with the aim of training each other for the Module 1 exam in Madrid that December. We dished out several books each to look at over summer and did a couple of seminars together that September, but once the full whirlwind of term came through again it was clear our regular meetings and study sessions just weren’t going to happen, and the group somewhat evaporated.

So down to just a colleague and me, we studied with a range of resources:

  • Delta Module 1 Quizlet deck for the terminology
  • Several excellent blogs – Sandy’s [thanks!] and Lizzie Pinard’s in particular.
  • Past papers and combing through the corresponding Examination Reports for improvements.

We took the Module 1 exam in December 2014. Following the exam, we sat down with the head of teacher training at IH Madrid to get more information on how to go about taking the remaining two Modules, and I completed the Module 3 essay between January and March 2015 as a distance learner with IH Madrid. This involved regular e-mail contact, including draft edits, and only one train trip up to the capital to borrow some books I needed and speak to my supervisor face-to-face. Finally, I did Module 2 at an intensive course at IH London in July and August 2015. It was a sustained attack on the brain for 6 weeks, but that’s how it had to be (see next question)!

2. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO DO IT THAT WAY?

In a word, practicalities.

Albacete is a small city, with the nearest Delta centre a couple of hours away in Madrid, so physically attending a course regularly just wasn’t compatible with the work schedule I had. Nor did I want to stop working full time to take the qualification, although I had to extend my summer break a little to squeeze in 6 weeks for the intensive Module 2. It was also important for me to get it done as soon as possible, as once I’ve started something I prefer to ride the wave of momentum until finishing, and 1-3-2 was the quickest route available.

3. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU GAINED FROM DOING THE DELTA?

Without overstating it, it was truly a fork in the road for me. Overall, the Delta marked the point that I stopped looking at being in ELT as a short-time teaching job (year to year then see how I feel each summer) and started considering it more as a career with the possibility to develop.

There was a short talk at the end of the Module 2 course in London on how we continue our professional development with a Delta certificate tucked under one arm, and I went about several of the mentioned possibilities (not all necessarily require Delta, though!):

  1. Academic management – I went back to Albacete to work as a Director of Studies for our small two-centre academy in 2015-16, then started applying for jobs in the new year with the Delta sitting on my CV, which opens a lot more doors. I got a job as Senior Teacher at International House Riga, and am just starting my second year here, this time as Assistant Director of Studies. Working at IH has in turn opened many more doors, but that’s a story for another day.
  2. Reflecting on and starting my own blog on ELT (Sandy’s blog was actually the example given)
    Post-Delta M2 advice
  3. Teacher training – This started in-house, and thanks to the Delta I got fast-tracked and have recently qualified as a IHCYLT [IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers] course tutor. I’d eventually like to become a CELTA trainer when the opportunity arises.
  4. Joining IATEFL and connecting with colleagues from around the world.

4. WHAT WERE THE DOWNSIDES OF THE METHOD YOU CHOSE?

It was hectic at times! Studying Module 1 alongside work was a relatively gentle introduction; doing Module 3 alongside work meant plenty of early mornings, late evenings and studying at weekends; Module 2 was the knockout punch just at a time of year when I needed a break.

5. WHAT WERE THE BENEFITS OF THE METHOD YOU CHOSE?

It was over in a total of 10 months. This meant that I didn’t have time to forget much, and the definitions and technicalities from Module 1 came in very handy for Modules 3 and 2. I was also able to earn and learn simultaneously (except for Module 2), so although my head took a pummelling, my bank account stayed in the black.

6. WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER PEOPLE DOING THE DELTA?

  • Research all the options. There are so many ways to do it, find the one that best fits you. [Delta conversations can help you by describing lots of different ways.]
  • Don’t expect it to be fun. It’s useful, challenging, interesting at times, but ‘fun’ isn’t an adjective I’d ever use.
  • Do it with others if possible. My colleague and I really helped each other out preparing for Module 1 – good to have someone to check things over with, do study sessions and provide a bit of healthy competition (she got a Merit, I just passed!)
  • Climb the mountain in sections. Plan ahead, sure, but focus on your next tasks. I saw many people get overwhelmed at the enormity of the task, which either resulted in meltdowns or worse, dropping out. ‘By the end of the day I will have…’ is more than enough, especially during any intensive courses.
  • Be organised. The previous point just won’t work if not.
  • Be resilient. The Module 1 exam might not go so well first time, your teaching techniques might be pulled apart in Module 2, your essay draft might need a complete reconstruction in Module 3. There are plenty of speed humps; the key is to keep going!

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If you have any further questions, feel free to get in touch below or at james.egerton@tiscali.co.uk.

 

8 Lessons from a Yoga Class

Seeing things through the eyes of a student is a great way to get fresh perspectives on teaching. Sure, a yoga class isn’t an English lesson, but there are enough parallels for some interesting insights to be drawn – a room with learners and a teacher; the sharing of certain abilities from teacher to learners and between learners (mastering the future perfect or the downward facing dog); varying abilities among the group.

I’ve previously written on reflections from a spin class I took this time last year, and this morning’s yoga class also got me musing about the crossovers to English classroom practices. Some things the instructor did well, some not so well, but everything was there to be learnt from. Often, it’s the simple things that make all the difference.

Here’s what I picked up on:

1) Smile!

Basic. Human. Interaction. We teachers are sometimes so focused on the technicalities of teaching that we forget to enjoy what we’re doing. Fundamentally, a lesson is an interaction between all the people involved; interaction is about emotions; and a simple smile every now and then does a lot for both teacher and learners (here are seven benefits, to start). Whenever the yoga teacher smiled this morning, I started to mirror her positivity, and that’s an attitude we’d like our learners to have too.

2) Check equipment before you begin

It’s painfully elementary, I know. But when she couldn’t work the CD player and we were delayed starting by a few minutes, it really gave a bad impression on the teacher’s preparation. It reminded me how bad it can look to learners when a bit of tech doesn’t work and we’re running around the school looking for a replacement during class time.

Just check tech 10 minutes before the lesson!

3) Background music

Yoga wouldn’t be yoga without the meditation music playing in the background. I might not recommend going heavy on the Indian flute and tanpura, but why not play a bit of classical music or something relaxing in the background during lessons to create a calm atmosphere? Too often, tension and stress create blockades to learning, and teaching is also about putting learners into the right frame of mind. A fellow teacher on my Delta Module 2 course swore by it, and it seemed to have a positive effect in her lessons that I observed.

Learning is mostly a mental process, so consider learner attitudes and thoughts alongside your teaching practices. 

4) Silence is (sometimes) golden!

Excessive teacher talk time (TTT) is a common feature in observation feedback, and when you’re on the receiving end, you can see how distracting it can be. The yoga instructor filled almost the entire hour with instructions, machine gunning the ears and leaving little space for the ‘inner workbench’ (Adrian Underhill’s term) to really process the information and in this case, work out the movements.

Take a breath between instructions; let the previous words sink in and mean something. When learners are working on something, leave their ears alone.

5) Modelling is often more effective than explaining 

This morning’s instructor did a mix of both, and I really noticed the former as much more effective in communicating the idea (yes, I can understand most gym class instructions in my rudimentary Russian). In lessons for example, demonstrating an example answer is often clearer than explaining it; with pronunciationshowing learners the mouth and tongue position is much more effective than explaining the sound (also, cuts down on TTT).

Show learners what to do.

6) Teach the individuals, not just the class

Some instructors go through their movements for the class of 10-20 people without any personal attention to any one individual. But the instructor this morning regularly went round checking on and correcting individual errors – stretching arms, lifting legs, twisting torsos. We shouldn’t be so hand on in lessons, but making sure that each person is treated as an individual and improving on each person’s weaknesses should be a priority; not just delivering the lesson to a group as if they were all clones.

Monitor closely and treat each learner as an individual.

 

7) We’re competing for head space

School, work, friends, family, food, hobbies, before class, after class, a thousand other things…a wandering mind is a distraction. I’m working on it, but I still notice how much my mind wanders during a yoga class, and our learners will have numerous other things to think about beyond the four walls of our classroom. Try incorporating a concentration activity in the beginning of the lesson, like students in pairs counting simultaneously from 60 to 1 and 1 to 60 and having to say the numbers at the same time (seen at a Chaz Pugliese workshop during the course I attended this summer).

Learners have to be mentally present for learning to take place. You can’t teach if they aren’t.

8) We’re competing with many alternatives

I enjoyed this morning’s yoga class – it was an excellent stretch after a morning run. But a few poor quality sessions in a row and I’d probably stop going and look for alternatives.

There are also several cheaper and more time-efficient alternatives to physically attending a classroom to learn English, most of them via the Internet and learning apps, so offering learners what they can’t get elsewhere is paramount to the survival of traditional classroom teaching (I’m referring to non-obligatory classes of course).

Even though tech is covering more and more of these bases too, I’m referring to things like tailored course content, personal treatment and the social aspect of being in a class. Acting on regular feedback using platforms like Edurio can ensure that your learners feel they are getting enough bang for their buck.

Never rest on your laurels! Adult students in particular will take their time and money elsewhere.

Any thoughts or comments, please get in touch!

What do you want? SMART Goal Setting to Start Term

Another lap of the track! Here we go again!

Starting back in an English class, and among the first question I’ll ask my students will be “what do you want to get from your time here?”

Do you want to improve your speaking to survive a trip abroad?

Do you want to prepare for a specific exam?

Do you want to improve your written English for business correspondence?

Do you want to improve listening skills to be able to understand films and TV series?

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Why?

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily – Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker.

Motivation isn’t usually a problem for learners at the start of term, fresh from a summer break, well rested, falling back into routine. But fast forward a few months and this spark often starts to dim, and numbers in adult classes tend to gradually drop.

Why? Well, picture a road trip. Setting off on a journey with no destination or even points of interest to stop at on the way may seem exciting at first, but people soon get tired of a lack of direction. From English Teacher

So as suggested in Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord’s excellent book From English Teacher to Learner Coach, clear goal setting is key to sustain motivation levels once the honeymoon period has worn off.

“What do you want?” “I want to learn English”. This is a pre-requisite, but it doesn’t count as an effective goal. Instead, we should encourage learners to set their own goals using SMART principles, revisit and adapt them at given intervals throughout the year, and most importantly: ensure that what learners are doing day to day is drawing them closer and closer to their stated goals.

What does SMART stand for?

Specific

  • Well defined.
  • Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project.

Measurable

  • How to know when you have achieved your goal.
  • How is it measured?

Agreed Upon

  • Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be (learner, classmate, teacher).
  • Important to take into account current level, attitude and other life commitments.

Realistic

  • Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time.
  • i+1 – the next step up on the ladder, one at a time. There’s nothing more demoralising than an unattainable goal.

Time-Based

  • Setting a time limit for achieving the goal, when it can be measured and then taken forward.
  • Too long, and the goal is too far away. If there is one big goal for the end of the academic year, split it into three more manageable chunks – one per term.

What might a SMART goal look like?

Adapted from From English Teacher to Learner Coach, with a few of my own ideas thrown in, this is an example from an intermediate student:

Specific – Telling stories with more accurate use of tenses – at least 90% accuracy.

Measurable – Records himself telling an anecdote today, then at weekly intervals after practice. Correct tenses can be presented as a % of the total.

Agreed – The teacher agrees that this is within reach, and it is a priority to be more easily understood.

Realistic – 100% precision in all the narrative tenses isn’t realistic…yet (see growth mindset for more on YET).

Time-bound – The target is to reach 90% correct in four weeks time. A new SMART goal can then be set, regarding either narrative tenses or any other aspect of his English level (but not all of them at once!)

SMART teacher, SMART learners

Of course, we can apply the SMART framework not only to our learners, but also to ourselves, with any aspect of professional development or hobbies and interests outside of teaching. It’s not just learners who can lose motivation in the hamster wheel of routine; teachers also need to see progress to maintain enthusiasm.

I should heed my own advice and put down SMART some goals for learning Russian in the coming term. My own learning started off enthusiastically and has given me plenty of fresh insights into learning a foreign language, as I wrote about in a previous blog. But as is usually the case with something new, I’ve plateaued over the last couple of months, and my Russian book has gone from living open on the table to gathering dust on a shelf over summer.

Doing this not only sets a good example for learners, but can also expose us first-hand to some of the challenges in using SMART goals.

“What do you want?” is a good first step. SMART goal setting can help us move forward from there.

Have a great (and SMART) academic year everyone!

Any questions or comments, please leave a message below or send me an e-mail. Thanks.