Oh, no! Not the orang utan again! ;-)

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Thank goodness the holiday period’s over and, hopefully, some form of normality returns to this CAE group, although I have already been warned of some disruptions due to exams commitment, plus, not forgetting, the carnival’s around the corner! Never a dull moment!

Only one absentee today and we have a new student! He’d actually come last week – I didn’t blog about that class. Only two were present then. In the first hour we chatted and I explained my methods and the Wiki, and then we moved the class to a cafeteria, where we spent the next three hours in conversation! It was a good morning 😉

When we’d rearranged the tables and they’d settled down, I beamed a slide up which says this:

  • Interview Alejandro
    • past
    • present
    • future
  • Discuss: has anything memorable happened to you during this recent holiday period?
  • Discuss: what are your personal goals for 2013?

They started speaking to each other while I took a back seat, but occasionally chipped in to encourage more activity and to throw in questions which demand  third-person answers.

I also took the opportunity to ask for their opinion regarding their own progress since they began the course. The feedback was very positive, and almost unanimously they said that their speaking skills have improved inasmuch as they are more self-confident and are less worried about making errors.

Following that, I showed them two related videos on formal and informal letter writing.

For the first video, these were the questions they needed to answer:

  • What problems can arise if you are too formal in an informal email?
  • What problems can arise if you are too informal in a formal letter?
  • What do you write in the very beginning of a formal/an informal letter?

For the second, the task I set them was:

  • Try to remember some useful words or phrases from both formal and informal writing.
  • How do you end the letters?

They then did some controlled practice exercises from their exam coursebook, followed by a letter-writing activity. I gave them the choice of doing it at home or in class, and, unsurprisingly, the majority preferred to do it in class because, as with the other group, they don’t do many of their home assignments.

They did this quite fast while I went around suggesting corrections and improvements.

Taking notes while watching video by Chiew Pang

Taking notes while watching video by Chiew Pang. Copyright 2013

When we completed this stage, I wanted to lighten the mood a little, so I showed them the now-famous orang utan image. We talked about this for a while. Then, I set another writing task, but not circular writing this time. I asked them to dream up a dialogue between the man (well, all right, me) and the orang utan.

This was quite fun. When they finished, they read each other’s output, and had a few laughs.

My thoughts:

I was very pleased to have six students today, probably the first time I had six since the first day! If Santi had come, there would have been seven! The four hours went by quite quickly, and I think it did for them, too, as I didn’t notice any fidgeting at all; in fact, they were all still seated at 14:05, and I had to say, well, that’s the end of the class! Haha.

Or perhaps, they were all too exhausted to move!

Seriously, though, it felt like it was a productive class. There wasn’t much verbal error correction – a sign of better output? – but, yes, I was constantly dishing out suggestions and rectification during the written practice. I hope that it’s been of use to them.

Correction, correction and correction

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If you’d read the previous post, you’d know that we’d been dealing with the topic of holidays, and also that I’d thought that lesson was somewhat low-key. To introduce a little “fun” and to deal with pronunciation issues I’d noticed in the previous lesson, the first thing I did was to beam this slide up.

Deciphering phonetic transcription on Dogme Diaries

Deciphering phonetic transcription by Chiew Pang

The words were laid out in two columns, and I split the class into two teams of boys and girls. I’d introduced them to the phonetic script from the first day, but, of course, I didn’t expect them to remember much. Besides, there have been new students since that first day. Still, that didn’t perturb me unduly. Some teachers are hesitant in using the script in class, but I personally believe it is useful. I don’t expect them to learn the script off by heart – I myself am not an expert – but it’s valuable that they recognise the sounds they represent so that when they look words up in the dictionary, they will be able to pronounce them.

Surprisingly, both teams did extremely well. The boys, claiming that their list was trickier, were hesitant in a few of the words, especially “adventurous”. They looked as though they enjoyed the activity. I also made sure they pronounced the words well, and that they knew the number of syllables each had.

That done, I proceeded to beam up 3 different slides on a series of common errors they often make in their writing. I encouraged them to keep a list of these and to check all their essays against it before submitting their work.

Correcting common errors in the classroom

Common errors by Chiew Pang

They then moved on to a guided discovery of past tenses (past simple vs continuous and used to): they saw them in usage, established the rules, and did some controlled practice.

The last time I did the orang utan circular writing activity, they enjoyed it very much, so I decided to do it again for their free practice session. This time I adapted the one I used for the CAE group; instead of starting it off with “On a dark and stormy night”, they wrote “For the first time, X was…”

As usual, while they write, I went around monitoring and correcting. Judging from their feedback, they, again, enjoyed this.

“I liked to do the last exercise. I think it´s good to improve your creativity and to have ideas when you do a writing.”

“I liked the writing game, because it’s a good way for improving our writing skills and for spending a nice time at the same moment.”

My thoughts

It was a livelier lesson, and I think quite productive. I’ve been wanting to group their common errors together for quite some time and was glad to have finally done it. I’m hoping that by seeing them side by side, they will take my advice and start a list so that I don’t have to be highlighting the same errors over and over again!

I’ve taken to do more writing in class as they don’t always do their home assignments, and I find they get more out of on-the-spot, as opposed to delayed, help.

What about you? Do you do writing in class often? Do you have frequent error-correction sessions?

Holiday PACS

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Today’s lesson was, in essence, quite simple. The aim was to improve oral fluency and accuracy on the topic of holidays. It seemed quite a logical progression from the orang-utan circular writing activity of the previous lesson. I beamed up these photos of mine (except for the backpackers, taken from Wiki Commons).

The instructions were on the slide, so I didn’t really need to say much except to tell them to work in pairs.

Holidays

Holidays by Chiew Pang

When that trailed off, I did a PACS with them on these four sentences:

  • You do more things on a camping than on a beach holiday. (Correct!)
  • All time you are moving –> You are moving all the time or You are constantly moving/on the move.
  • Some persons are more adventurous –> Some people are more adventurous.
  • I always have beach holiday on the summer –> I always have a beach holiday in the summer.

For each sentence, I asked them if they were correct and told them to make the necessary corrections.

Some pronunciation work was also needed:

  • history
  • island
  • culture

And I highlighted the fossilised error of many Spanish students: depend of instead of depend on. I wrote depend ___ and, of course, they knew which preposition should go in the gap, but when they speak, they never remember!

In the next stage, they changed partners, and asked their new partner about their first partner’s answers. For example, first session: Ss 1 & 2; 3 & 4. Second session: 1 & 3; 2 & 4. Ss 1 & 3 would ask about Ss 2 & 4’s answers.

This brought about another PACS:

  • He prefer doing a camping holiday –> He prefers going on a camping holiday.
  • What’s the most enjoy holiday for him? –> most enjoyable. Or: what/which kind/type of holiday does he enjoy the most?
  • He say me that you can see a lot of places –> He told me…

For pronunciation, I had to work on “least”.

We then did a listening activity from the coursebook (Cambridge English Complete First Certificate), which, for a change, was quite decent. I find that dialogues of native speakers were OK, but that of foreign speakers are an embarrassment as it is obvious that they were faked.

I was pleasantly surprised that they did their listening rather well, which means, in the future, I could concentrate more on speaking and writing, their main weaknesses.

We wrapped the lesson up with a guided discovery of the differences between travel, journey, trip and way, followed by some controlled practice.

My reflection

This class isn’t very vibrant at best – the most active student having left because he couldn’t continue due to work pressure – so the lesson felt somewhat subdued, some might even consider it boring. However, there was a lot of pairwork speaking and I’d managed to get in a fair bit of correction work, which I was pleased about. One of my personal aims is to continue to improve on monitoring strategies, so I was happy with that today.

The coursebook actually had images, but I decided to use my own to make them “dogmetically” personal. I didn’t have any pictures of myself, or anyone else, on backpack, so I must keep an eye open for that! My worn-out backpack is stowed away in the basement somewhere. The images had helped to build a certain rapport from the beginning as they could identify some of them as places they had been to. That helped the conversation flow.

Circular writing with an orang-utan, with a slight twist

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In the previous lesson with this FCE group, I noticed some problems with past simple -ed endings, so I began today’s class with a quick revision of a few examples. The ending /d/ and /t/ sounds are always more difficult to get right, so I concentrated on these. I told them that the difference might not be very important when speaking, but not knowing the right pronunciation may affect their understanding of the word, especially when they are linked to the next, e.g. worked out is more likely to be pronounced /wɜːktaʊt/ rather than /wɜːkt/ /aʊt/.

They then, in pairs, discussed playing video games before attempting a challenging listening exercise. This led to a guided discovery of the rules of comparatives and superlatives of adjectives and adverbs.

After this, I beamed up an image of Me and Julia, the orang-utan and had them speculating the events leading up to this ominous meeting.

Me and Julia, the orang-utan

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

After a few minutes of this, I asked them to create a story in their mind about the image and write it down on their notebook. However, instead of doing the circular writing activity like the way I did with the CAE group (I wrote about  it here), I set a timer. After every two minutes, I asked them to stop writing, even if they were on mid-sentence, and to pass their notebook to the person on their right.

While they write, I went around, monitoring and correcting. There were four students today. When they got their own notebook back, just as I did with the CAE group, I told them to add another sentence. They were then told to finish it at home, make any necessary corrections and post it on their Wiki.

Getting creative

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Post-lesson, I asked them for their feedback on this activity and here are a couple of thoughts (the other two hadn’t got round to posting theirs):

  • Yes, I enjoyed this activity. I think it’s useful to have more creativity when you do writing exercises of others. You need to think of new words or expressions to complete the story.
  • Yes, I liked the activity. I agree with Sara, it’s very useful!

And here’s an example of an uncorrected story:

<< Chiew had always wanted to travel to the jungle so, one summer he decided to buy a ticket to Indonesia. It was a little crazy but he felt young and he looking for adventures.

After a long trip, Chiew arrived at the jungle. He was alone, he only had one small bag and one banana to eat.

When the night was coming, he saw a violent orangutan, and he gave the banana to her, because he thought that the orangutan was hungry. He was very frightened. He decided to spent the night in the middle of the jungle, to observe the orangutan’s behaviour. He was very exited.

Next morning, he woke up and, by surprise, there were a lot of orangutan around him. He was very afraid but he realised that orangutans were very calm and they only wanted to see him. It was an unforgettable experience. >>

Mmm… I like it!

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Thanks for reading and special thanks to those who have taken the time and trouble to comment. Hope to see you again soon!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Wonky glutton testing tenses, producing circular writing, and getting angry

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Today, we eased into the lesson by talking about their Christmas (the Spanish have their family get-together over dinner on 24th, called “Noche Buena” (Good Night). Normally, a lot of the speaking activities are done among themselves, but, this time, I decided to participate and act as the ‘host’, so to speak. Out of this came structures such as the passive construction of get/have something done

  • I had to have my car fixed on Christmas Eve because the exhaust pipe just fell off

and lexis such as

  • wonky
  • greed (n), greedy (adj)
  • glutton (the person), gluttony (the habit)
  • rehearse (v), rehearsal (n)
  • exhaust pipe.

As the conversation started to die a natural death, I asked them to remind me of what we’d been doing the past couple of lessons, and this was basically adjectives and tenses.

Tenses, shown graphically

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Since there were five today, I went around the table, going 1-2-3…; I had 12 sentences, which meant the first two students would have 3 numbers, which was quite all right since the first two sentences would be the most basic. I told them to remember their numbers, ICQd them, and beamed the above graphics.

First, I explained that the dots were meant to represent points in time, the double-headed arrows represent something happening during that period and the arcs show that the two points are somehow connected. I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but the important thing for me is for them to understand the concept of each tense shown. I must confess the idea of the graphics isn’t entirely my own; I adapted them from Useful Charts.

The idea was for me to beam up a sentence one at a time, and the student whose number corresponds to that on the WB, comes up and mark the number of the sentence on the chart. Note also that I meant this chart to be used to “test” rather than to “teach”. They’d previously worked on the past tenses, but not the future tenses; I threw in a couple of them anyway. Most of you will know that the practical usage of English tenses (especially the future) is not straightforward, and this chart paints a broad picture, but, at the same time, I consider it to be useful. These were the sentences:

  1. I have breakfast every morning.
  2. I ate breakfast at 7am this morning.
  3. I will have lunch later.
  4. I am studying.
  5. I was studying when you rang me.
  6. I will be studying again in the evening.
  7. I’ve just had breakfast.
  8. I’d already had breakfast when you brought the “churros”.
  9. I will have already eaten by the time you come home.
  10. I’d been studying for four hours when you rang me.
  11. I’ve been studying all morning.
  12. I’ll have been studying for three hours by the time you go out.

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. They did it perfectly, coincided with my own answers except for one, which was interchangeable, anyway. To make sure, I CCQd them on some of the sentences, and all their answers were spot on. Examples:

  • Referring to #8: if you brought the “churros” at dot no. 2, which dot can represent your having breakfast?
  • Referring to #9: which happened earlier – your coming home or my having eaten?
  • Referring to #12: if you’re going out at midnight, what time will I start studying?
Testing student on tenses, graphically

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Having fun with tenses, graphically

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

For the free practice stage, I used a circular writing activity inspired by Nik Peachey, a valued member of most of our PLN. You can read about it here. Nik, if you’re reading this, the published date there can’t be right! 😉

I had them write a sentence each, the stories circulated until they had their own story back. At this point, I had them write a last line, and stopped the activity. This sort of gave them a chance to bring the story back to their own vision of it. Here’s an uncorrected example.

<<The non-sense story

“It was a dark and stormy night and Daniel was watching a famous horror film in his living room. His mother had been shopping all day and she hadn’t got home yet. When, suddenly, he received an unexpected phone call that rang twice. Deep in his heart he knew that something terrible was going to happen. Daniel came out his house and discovered that somebody had stolen his new car. It was a Ferrari! He was praying all the time, waiting for good news, but instead of good news he received the worst in his whole life.
His brother had stolen his car and he had escape with Daniel’s girlfriend. He needed an explanation to understand why that happened, so he decided to phone Carol, his girlfriend. Nobody answered and he started to get impatient. Life went on and he never had news about them. That’s why this sensitive, kind, friendly and happy man became to a helpless, stubborn and sad one.”>>

While they were writing, I monitored and corrected individually. When I stopped the activity, they all read the stories again, we talked about it and I asked which they liked the best.

At this point, there was just about enough time to squeeze in a listening activity. One of the students had requested some listenings with difficult/different accents. I decided to try this one on them. It was a BBC recording of a group of bakers from Lancashire discussing expressions they used when they got angry. Before this, we discussed what made them angry, what expressions they’d use, etc.

As I’d expected, they found it extremely challenging, but here are some of the lexis which came out of it.

  • annoyed
  • angry
  • mad – hopping mad
  • losing it
  • put out
  • cheesed off
  • livid
  • cross
  • blew me (my) top

I told them I use ‘fed up’ and ‘(f….ing) pissed off’ a lot.

On that note, we ended the lesson… with New Year greetings so no-one went home angry!

TBL on writing a formal/informal email

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Today’s class felt somewhat subdued. Perhaps it’s just me, or perhaps it’s the after-effects of all the food and drink over the past two days or so. For the Spanish, it’s just the beginning. The festivities carry on until Epiphany, when the three wise men bring their gifts for everyone…

We began with a little chit-chat to see who did what over the past two days. I explained a comment I made on an error in the Wiki and re-drilled some words we did in the last lesson to practise the sound /tʃə/ for ‘ture’ as in ‘literature’ or ‘culture’, adding in mature /məˈtjʊə/ and asking which the odd one out was.

They followed that up by continuing an examiner-candidate role-play on questions about friends and family which they started in the previous lesson. A little PACS session followed.

We then looked at a couple of emails. They skimmed through them and answered some questions before I showed them the first part of a video on writing formal and informal letters/emails, setting them these questions as the observing task:

  • What problems can arise if you are too formal in an informal email?
  • What problems can arise if you are too informal in a formal letter?
  • What do you write in the very beginning of a formal/an informal letter?
Video listening task

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

They did the tasks quite well. The second video was a little longer and they had these as their tasks:

  • Try to remember some useful words or phrases from both formal and informal writing.
  • How do you end the letters?

Again, they responded very well. At this point, there were only 15 minutes of class left, but it was enough for them to get started on responding to an email from a friend, and I went around making suggestions and corrections.

Subdued but useful? The first feedback from a student seems to suggest so. I’m hoping the rest of them think the same.

 

Guided discovery of the passive voice

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One of the reasons why I don’t like Christmas is that it causes havoc to my schedules and my classes. Only three students turned up today! I seriously contemplated abandoning my plan to lead them on a guided discovery of the passive voice, but then I thought, what guarantee do I have that I’ll have a fuller class the next time? So, I decided to go ahead with it.

The subject of the passives came up several times the past week, and I decided to embark on this journey when they came across the phrasal verb taken in (as in to deceive somebody) and used it in the active form when they’d tried to construct sentences.

Guided discovery Passive Voice Guided discovery of passive voice

  • Lead-in: I started the class with a group work activity: find out from each other if you have read or watched any news lately and if so, what has stayed on your mind?
  • I got them to report back to me, and inevitably, like I’d expected, the Newtown tragedy was the topic that stood out.

 

PS: I’ve noticed that some animations appear misaligned. I can assure you they look all right on my computer although I must admit that I had issues with them on the school’s computer, too, and had to make slight changes on the spot. So, I suspect it depends on the version of PowerPoint.

  • Present language: I beamed up a series of 3 images, all taken from the BBC website, and invited speculations on what the story could be about. Then I displayed the (passive) sentence above it, without paying too much attention to the form.
  • I turned the projector off, gave them a worksheet and asked them to fill in the gaps of these sentences:
  1. The US premiere of ________________________________ has been called off in the wake of last week’s shootings in a Connecticut school.

They have _______________ the US premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s western Django Unchained in the wake of last week’s shootings in a Connecticut school.

  1. A ________ carrying the casket of six-year-old Jack Pinto enters the Newtown Village Cemetery.

The casket of six-year-old Jack Pinto is being _________ by a hearse.

  1. Two _____________________ have called for changes to firearm laws, as the _______________ of the 26 victims of Newtown school shootings were buried.

Changes to firearm laws have been _____________ by two pro-gun US senators, as they _________ the first victims of the 26 victims of Newtown school shootings.

  • If you observe carefully, the sentences come in pairs and the missing part of one sentence is found in the other.
  • I beamed up the answers, got them to compare against theirs.

 

  • Checking meaning: I showed them this sentence:

They have called off the US premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s western Django Unchained

and asked them what the subject, the verb and the object were and if it was an active or a passive sentence. I followed up by this sentence

The US premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s western Django Unchained has been called off

and repeated the questions. And added: how do we know that it’s a passive sentence?

  • They then analysed three sentences on their own (see embedded worksheet).

 

  • Deduce rules: They were asked to try to complete a set of rules by themselves (exercise 3 on the worksheet), but we did the first one together as a demonstration.

 

  • Controlled practice: A short exercise where they had to fill in the appropriate form of the verb in both active and passive sentences.

 

  • Pronunciation: We worked on word and sentence stress, paying special attention to weak forms.

 

  • Controlled practice: They converted active sentences to passive and vice versa.

 

  • Free practice: I must admit that I didn’t do this part. They were supposed to prepare a quiz, but since there were only three of them, I didn’t think it was beneficial enough.

Feedback:

I thought the lesson went quite well. The passive voice wasn’t completely new to them, but for the most part, they had forgotten about it. This lesson served to refresh their memory. Their post-lesson feedback was positive. They thought it a good idea to us to do lessons like this from time to time.

How is exam prep class different from non-exam classes?

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Two weeks ago, we started a small FCE group; 2 hours/lesson, 3 times a week. I hadn’t had a chance to reflect on their lessons before, on paper (or shall I say ‘screen’?), anyway, so it’s about time I rectify that.

I often ask myself, “How different should an exam prep class differ from an “ordinary” language-learning, non-exam focused class?” How do other teachers approach exam classes? Do they just practise and practise from coursebooks and on handouts after handouts?

I am not sure if my approach is normal or unorthodox; I am not sure if it’s worse or better than others. All I’m sure of is that my focus is always more on language learning than on exam preparation because, in my humble opinion, in improving their use and understanding of the language, they will be better prepared for their exam. After all, shouldn’t exams really be a test on how well the candidate can defend themselves in the language?

With that in mind, my priority is always the learner. The focus is always on the learner, and my aim is to marry what they want with what they think they need and with what I think is good for them. For the majority of learners in an L2 environment, what they need most is oral fluency – and I’m talking about mature learners here – because it is the one thing they can’t do by themselves. Grammar, listening, reading and writing – all these can be done at home. The priority in class has always been maximum student speaking time. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I neglect their near-future goal, which is to pass the exam. My modus operandi for the CAE and this FCE groups has been to focus on oral fluency and accuracy in class and to use Wiki for offline tuition. It means more work for me, without extra pay, but payment is if these students become successful learners.

The Wiki is shaping up nicely, after the initial toe-dipping start. This is how it looks right now.

FCE Wiki

Of course, maximising speaking times doesn’t mean neglecting aspects of the exam; we do bits and pieces in exam mode and we’ve even started using a coursebook, but wherever I can, materials and topics are student-centred.

As regular readers among you are aware, I’m fond of asking students for their opinions after each lesson and this is done in Lesson reflection in their Wiki. I’d like to share some of their comments from these past two weeks here. (I’m working on their incorrect language ;-))

  1. What did you like about today’s class?
  • “I liked the class in general, because we spoke a lot and it wasn’t boring.”
  • “The class was very enjoyable and we talked a lot.”
  • “I liked so much because was dynamic and funny.”
  • “I like the dynamic of the class, we never stop. I dislike that I feel like I have a long way in front of me me to improve my English, but it’s just the second class, we’re still working. :)”
  • “I like very much, but in my opinion, we spent a lot of time to correct the homework maybe it’s better put the solutions in the website and everyone correct his answers, it’s an idea.”

My answer to this comment: Yes, quite possibly. That was why, if you remember, I asked the class regarding this. With any luck, the other student will come tomorrow. We can discuss this again, and I will go along with the decision of the majority.

  • “I like the class because It’s very interactive and funny.”

2. What do you think about the pace of the class? Is it too slow, too fast or just right?

  • “I think it’s just right.”
  • “I like the timing that we follow, I felt that time went very fast, maybe we can go a little bit faster, we can say stop if we feel vertigo.”
  • “I think that the pace is perfect, when the class end seems that only has passed 30 min.”
  • “I think that for a moment the pace of class is better.”

3. If you had the same class again, what would you like the teacher or yourself to do different?

  • “If we had the same class again I wouldn’t change anything, I think that we are improving our speech, we make some mistakes but we still learning. For the next lessons would be nice to refresh some verb tenses and some prepositions like on, in, at, of or for.”
  • “I would change nothing because I think it’s important to improvise our speaking and this is one thing that it’s difficult for me. These kind of class is good for me.”
  • “I think that the class was perfect. We practised speaking, listening and also we wrote some questions.”
  • “I have the same opinion, the classes are very interesting and complete.”

4. What did you think of the activities which we did from the book? Were they useful? Or would you prefer to have done them yourselves at home?

  • “I think some activities we can do in class because we do them quick, but others… for example reading, it’s necessary to do it in our houses.”
  • “I am agree with Sara, I think that some activities is better at home than class because you need more concentration. For example, reading… But for me grammar and vocabulary is better in class than at home.”
  • “I think that are useful because we have to prepare the exam but maybe is better to refresh some things before doing the exercises.”
  • “I think that the activities are useful.”

As you can imagine, I’ve been extremely pleased with their feedback, which is generally very positive. As to be expected, the initial classes generated a more enthusiastic response partly because they were probably not used to my approach. As they become used to it, the novelty effect diminishes, and my task is to maintain their motivation at a reasonably high level.

Do you teach exam preparation classes? How do you approach them? Are you happy and are your students happy? Is there a lot of learning going on?

Let’s crack on! Parts One & Two

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PART ONE

My mind ought to have been like this:

Flower pots by Chiew Pang on Dogme Diaries

“In and Out” Image by Chiew Pang; available for request to licence

but, instead, it was more like this:

Empty by Chiew Pang

“Empty” Image by Chiew Pang; available for request to licence

Yes, if I’d been observed, it probably would have been marked as a bad lesson. Was it that bad? Yes, I think so. But, why? Let me reflect a little on it while waiting for the feedback from the students themselves.

I didn’t feel in control with the materials, or at least the organisation of it. The plans were written down, sure, but I kind of felt out-of-sync, like my spirit wasn’t in tune with my body… An easy excuse would be for me to say that the uncertainty of who and how many will be turning up for the class affects me more than it ought to. Yes, it does; with small groups, it makes it more complicated to arrange PW activities, but, no, it’s not a valid excuse.

A manifestation of this body-spirit-out-of-tune was when I started a video, and it turned out that I’d already done it in the last lesson. This doesn’t normally happen to me, so that threw me off somewhat. How could I have missed this?

Some of you would probably think, ‘Oh, that’s quite normal.’ Yes, it’s no big deal, but it shouldn’t have happened. However, the main reason for my thinking it wasn’t a good lesson was my sensation that I didn’t feel in control. I felt like I was rectifying situations all the time, like I was constantly thinking how to make what I was doing better… No, all that ought to have been done in the planning stage, not the execution stage!

In a nutshell, the whole 4-hour lesson of today should probably have been completed in less than half of that time. Meaning: not productive enough!

Please step into the classroom…

Those of you who have been reading these past posts will be aware that I’ve been using Google Docs with this group. Google Docs is great, but it has its (I think of them as a singular entity, hence the singular treatment) shortcomings. So for the past few weeks, I’d been thinking of ways to improve this. Several times in the past, I’d thought of using Wiki Spaces, but there never was sufficient reason to warrant a deeper investigation, but this group has given me enough motivation and the gentle push from Kathy in her comments in And then there were four was enough to send me in that direction again. Thanks, Kath!

So, I created our Wiki Space, and spent the week tinkering around with it. I got the group using it; therefore, we started today’s lesson comparing it with Google Docs and discussing how we could improve on it. Wiki Space is free, and is more user-friendly than Docs, but there are things I wish were easier. Features we take for granted, such as changing fonts, are not as simple as they could be and the tables feature is quite primitive. Here is an image of what our space currently looks like:

Dogme Diaries Wiki Spaces

It’s generally agreed that this is far easier to navigate than the Docs, and looks much better, too. They also prefer me to carry on correcting their written assignments as I’d done in the Docs, i.e. via ‘comments’. The practice exercises will be corrected directly on the page.

Having discussed our Wiki space, we carried on with our analysis of the speaking exam. This was where I goofed – I’d already shown them Part 2 last week, so we proceeded to some activities. I’d asked them to shoot some photos. We looked at these, and they tried to speculate on what these could be. I also showed one of my own.

https://i0.wp.com/farm8.staticflickr.com/7147/6461784499_754dd0679e_z.jpg

We looked at some speculative language (I think, perhaps, it could be, it’s definitely, etc), some adjectives of feelings (confused, weary, determined, etc) and then looked at more pictures where they tried to speculate what the people in the photos were doing, how they were feeling, etc.) There were some pronunciation issues with the adjectives, so I did some drilling with them.

We proceeded to watch a video on Part 3 of the speaking exam and analysed the performance of the candidates, the task, and the language needed for this stage. They received a handout of useful language, where they needed to classify under the correct headings of stating an opinion, expressing disagreement, interrupting, etc.

They looked at some pictures, and did a mock test on these. They switched partners (not much possibility here, considering the size of the group), did the same activity, but with a different set of pictures. They analysed each other’s language.

I asked them to redo all these three activities as homework, but as written assignments.

We looked at another video of a different pair of candidates doing the same part (3) of the speaking exam. Again, we analysed this, and discussed what they consider difficult, what strategies are useful, dos and don’ts, etc.

This, basically wraps up the lesson. Believe it or not, we actually stayed behind for a further 15 minutes at the end of the class! I’m not sure how to take this… I can look at it negatively and say ‘I told you, this lesson could have been done in half the time. They didn’t feel they’d learned enough and were hungry for some solid information.”

Or, I can look at it positively and say, ‘Well, they stayed behind, so that means they weren’t tired or bored, even after four hours!’ 🙂

PART TWO

And, after all that, if you’re still reading… I’d forgotten to write about the inspiration for the title of this post! This has become a long post and I don’t like writing long posts as I feel people don’t have the time to plough through them! I’ll take the risk this once.

Paula mentioned at one point, when we were discussing about the lexis page in the wiki, and phrasal verbs, that she’d learned a new one: crack on. I said I’d never heard that one. I said I’d use ‘cracking’ as in ‘Let’s get cracking’ but not ‘crack on’, mentioning that these probably came from the expression ‘to crack the whip’. But, apparently, it’s in a Sherlock Holmes (not sure if it was a book or the film) and it’s in the dictionaries. Shite.

So, I reached out to my PLN:

Part 1Tweets on Crack on Part 2Tweets on Crack On Part 3

Well, there you go! Thanks to my fabulous PLN for participating. I’ve got to crack on -would like to complete another post, a poem, and prepare for a new FCE group starting tomorrow, if all goes according to plan!

Questions for you readers:

  1. Do you tend to look at yourself more critically than others would?
  2. Do you use ‘crack on”?

Would love to hear from you!