Thursday, April 24, 2014

Summary of the April 2014 BC TEAL Okanagan Meet and Greet / Lesson Swap

Last night was the BC TEAL Okanagan Meet and Greet / Lesson Swap, and it was a huge success.  It was a great opportunity for local teachers to sit around in a big circle and share some of our favourite teaching activities and learning tasks.  It was also a great opportunity to meet some more English as an Additional Language (EAL) teachers in the local area and build some face-to-face community.  Kudos to our BC TEAL regional representative, Jeanie, for putting the event together, and much thanks to BC TEAL for supporting us here in the Okanagan Valley!

Here is a summary of some of the teacher ideas that were shared last night.  If I’ve missed anyone out, please accept my apologies!  Also, if we’ve borrowed these ideas from anyone else, please accept our gratitude.  I’ve summarized about 18 activities below, but many more ideas were shared.  What I loved was the generative nature of the meeting.  As people were sharing their ideas, other ideas kept popping up, and by sharing, our ideas grew to fit all kinds of teaching situations.  Also, I tried my best to summarize everyone’s activities.  Any mistakes or omissions are my own fault J.  Anyway, as you can see, it was a very fruitful evening!


Password:  The class is divided into two groups, and two chairs are put in front of the room.  Then, one person from each team comes up the front and sits on the chairs with their backs to the whiteboards.  A vocabulary word is written up on the board, and then the each team has to give the person at the front clues so they can guess what word is up on the board.  Hilarity ensues!


Add the adjective or adverb:  Create a short story with just three or four sentences without any adjectives or adverbs.  At each noun, stop and have the class brainstorm as many adjectives as possible.  Put the choices up on the board.  Then, read the story again and stop at each verb and have the class brainstorm as many adverbs as possible.  Put the choices up on the board.  Once all the possible adjectives and adverbs have been exhausted, have groups rewrite the sentences with their choices of adjectives and adverbs added in.  Great for practicing collocations!


Liar Liar:  Give each student three pieces of paper on which they have to write three unique things about themselves.  Then, bring three students to the front of the class and have them put their papers in a pile.  The teacher picks out one paper and reads it aloud.  The students at the front all have to act as if what the teacher read aloud is true for them, but it will only be true for one person.  The class has to ask questions to figure out who is telling the truth.  Points can be awarded.  Great for getting the class to know each other at the beginning of a term.


Vocabulary Review:  This is a really active activity for the teacher.  A topic is chose, such as body parts, and the student then have to brainstorm as many body parts as possible for the different areas of the body (head, torso, organs, etc.)  As groups guess a body part, the teacher writes that body part up on the appropriate area of the board.  As groups run out of ideas, they drop out of the game.  The last group still generating ideas wins!


Video Clip Idea:  I have a Headache ESL:  This catchy song can be used with students to learn some of the expressions and vocabulary that go along with having a headache.  The class can practice singing along, and then writing their own songs on the same theme. 

Participant (oops, forgot who shared this – sorry!):

Verb Tennis:  Create flashcards with the present tense on one side and the past tense on the other.  In pairs, students show the cards to each other, and they have to either shout out the present tense or the past tense.  Each correct answer gets a point. 


Communicating with the Instructor:  Students collaborate in groups to think of ways to communicate with their instructor, for example via email, through face book, during office hours, twitter, etc.  For this discussion, a function can be added, such as:  Tell me more about that, can you expand on this idea, etc.  Great for building awareness of register and how to write an email to a teacher. 


Vocabulary Envelope Filler:  Keep a big envelope of vocabulary words connected to the current topic in the classroom on the wall.  If there are five minutes left at the end of a class, students can grab words from the envelop to write sentences, make skits, do frayer models, fit the word into conversation, etc.  It’s a great filler, and a good way of incorporating recycling of vocabulary into day to day teaching.

Participant (oops, forgot who shared this – sorry!):

Muddiest point:  If there are five minutes left at the end of class, this makes a great closer.  Students work together in groups to decide on what the hardest, most confusing part of the day’s less was.  They then share the muddiest point of the day’s lesson with the class, and students try to clarify for each other.  The teacher facilitates the discussion, but doesn’t clarify. 


Getting to Know You:  Students are given cards with a topic on one side and numbers on the other side.  Students then have to find their classmates with the same numbers on the backs of their cards, and discuss the talking points on the front of the cards.  This is a great way to mix the class up, and break the ice with people they don’t normally sit with.


Blindfolded Drawing:  Divide the class into groups.  The groups all come up to the board, and one person from each group is then blindfolded.  The groups are given something to draw (for example, draw a house, or draw the teacher), and then the groups have to give directions to their blindfolded members to draw the topic on the board as best they can.  After a certain time limit, there is a big reveal and the class votes on the best picture.  Laura said she found this activity on Dave’s ESL CafĂ©. 


Fruit Basket:  The teacher sets up a circle of chairs with enough chairs for each student except for one.  That one student has to stand in the middle of the circle.  Beforehand, the teacher has prepared a basket with statement strips.  These sentences can say things like “everyone wearing green socks”.  When the class hears that, everyone wearing green socks has to get up and change chairs.  Eventually, there will be a new person in the middle, and that person will read out the statement strips.  A variation of this game is called “just like me.”  In this variation, the person in the middle has to say something about her or himself and people who have the same thing in common have to get up and change chairs.  Lots of scrambling and lots of fun. 


Roll the Dice:  This can be a great review activity.  There is a large game board up at the front of the class.  This could be a simple one drawn up on the board with a start, a finish, and squares in between.  Students are divided up into groups, and they are each given a mini-white board.  The teacher reads out a question, and the groups answer the question using the mini-white boards.  If a group gets the answer correct, they can roll a dice and then move that many spots on the game board.  The first group to get to the end of the game board wins. 


Wise Sayings:  In this activity, the teacher shares a proverb or a wise saying with the students, such as “A teacher can open a door, but students have to decide to walk through.”  Then students come up with their own wise sayings and write them down along with their names on a piece of paper.  Once everyone has a wise saying, they can share their wise sayings with each other, explaining what they mean and why they chose them.  The teacher can collect these wise sayings.  Later, the teacher can bring out the wise sayings and quiz the class on who said what.

Participant (oops – I forgot who shared this.  Sorry!):

Draw Me:  Students take time to interview each other, but instead of writing down the answers to their interview questions, students draw each other as best they can.  When the interviews are over, the teacher gathers up the portraits and puts them up in the room like an art gallery.  Students can guess who is who in each of the pictures.


Radio Plays:  The students can break into groups to write and record a radio play such as Casablanca or about Super Heroes.  The radio plays should have both narration and dialogue. 


Making a natural product:  Students gather the ingredients and follow a recipe to make an all natural herbal ointment, such as a tick repellent.  This gets students working together to create something in English.  It’s a good example of Task-based language teaching.  This is great for students who are camping or hiking. 

Eddie (an extra one):

No No No Yes:  Poker chips are distributed to all of the students (for example each student receives six poker chips).  Students then mingle in the classroom having conversations with each other.  However, they are not allowed to say the words “no” or “yes” or any variations of those words.  For example, “yeah” and “nah” are not allowed.  If a conversational partner says “yes” or “no” they have to give a poker chip away to the person they are speaking to.  The person with the most poker chips at the end wins.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BC TEAL Okanagan Meet and Greet / Lesson Swap: My Vocabulary Activity to Share

Tonight is the BC TEAL Okanagan Meet and Greet / Lesson Swap.  The event is taking place at the Kelowna Public Library in the South Meeting Room at 6:30 pm (Wednesday April 23, 2014). 

I thought I would post the vocabulary activity that I’m going to share with the group.  Here it is:

Two Minute Vocabulary Memorization Activity


I first encountered a version of this activity in one of Dr. David Watt’s graduate level TESL classes at the University of Calgary when I was doing my master’s degree.  I liked it so much, I’ve been doing it ever since!


The following activity is designed to raise lexical awareness for new terms, provide formative information for the teacher on what vocabulary students are familiar with, explore varying memorization techniques employed by learners, help students have a meta-awareness of their own memorization styles, prime students for future encounters with the target vocabulary, and activate background knowledge for the day’s lesson. 


1.      Create a PowerPoint slide with 12 to 24 key vocabulary words that fit with the day’s lesson.  See sample below. 
2.      Prepare the students by informing them that they are going to see a PowerPoint slide with key words for the day’s lesson.  Tell the students the topic of the day.  Do not tell students how many words are on the slide.  Tell them that they will have two minutes to memorize as many words as possible.  However, they are not allowed to write anything down or speak out loud.  They can only use their brain power to memorize as many words as possible in two minutes.  Tell students to be prepared to write down as many words as they can remember once the two minutes are over.
3.      Once students are silent and they know not to write anything down (there should be no pencils or pens in students’ hands), show the PowerPoint slide with the key vocabulary words for two minutes.
4.      Take down the slide after two minutes.  Working alone, have students write down as many words as they remember in two more minutes. 
5.      Once students seem to have written down all of the words they can possibly remember on their own, ask the students how many words they remembered.
6.      Now, have students work with a partner to expand their list of remembered words.  If a student’s partner has a word that they don’t have, they should add that word to their list.  Give students about another two minutes.  Ask students how many words they now have on their lists after working in pairs. 
7.      Once the pairs of students seem to have written down all of the words they possibly could remember together, ask them to create groups of four with another pair of students.  Groups of four should try to expand their lists of words.  If the other pair of students has a word that they do not have, they should add that word to their lists.  Give students about another two minutes.  Ask students how many words they have on their lists now after working in groups of four.  Find out if any of the groups were able to write down all of the words that were shown in the PowerPoint slide. 


1.      Ask students to share how they memorized the words from the PowerPoint slide.  Make a list on the board of the different memorization styles.  Ask the class which they think would be most effective or least effective and why.  Ask the class what conclusions can be drawn from the different memorization techniques employed by different students. 
2.      Remind students that all of the words on the PowerPoint slide are connected with the day’s lesson.  Ask students to predict the content of the day’s lesson.  Ask students what the topic of the day will be. 
3.      Discuss unknown words with the students.  Have students choose five words from the list to be explained by you, or have students work in groups to see if they can collectively define unknown words.  Put a time limit on this activity. 


Here are some sample slides I have created for this activity.  I used these slides with my EDUC 459: ESL in Secondary Education course.  Although most of my students were teacher education students from English speaking backgrounds, it was still a great warmer for the day’s seminar. 

Click Here for the Sample Slides

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Advice for choosing the best definition when encountering unknown words in a reading passage.

Oxford University Press has just posted a short video of me answering a question about helping students understand words in a reading passage:

Here is the video:

Here is an approximate transcript of the video:

Hello viewers.  My name is Scott Roy Douglas, from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus, and I’m the co-author of Q: Skills for Success Reading and Writing 5.  Li-Lan Huang on Facebook asks:

My students sometimes get stuck in a reading passage because they don’t know which meaning of a word to choose. How can I help them?

This is a really great question, and I’ve seen it myself where students suddenly stop in the middle of a reading because they have encountered an unknown word.  Often, my students’ first instinct is to reach for their dictionaries, but even then, when a word has multiple meanings, it can cause more confusion.  In the meantime, students have lost track of what they were reading and where they were in the reading passage, and they have forgotten what they have already read.  As you can see, this is a recipe for reading disaster.  Generally, I recommend my students do the following when they encounter an unknown word while they are reading. 

First, students should ask themselves if the word is vital for understanding the passage.  If not, they should just skip the word and keep reading so as to not lose track of the general idea.  However, if the word is vital for understanding the passage, they should then ask themselves if they can understand the meaning from context.  By reading a little further ahead or by looking back just a bit, can they work out what the author is trying to say?  If the answer is yes, they can mark the new vocabulary word for later reference, and they should just keep going.  They can go back and confirm their guesses after they have read the entire passage.  However, if they can’t understand the meaning from context, they should still keep going after underlining or highlighting the word.  The important thing is to get an overall understanding of the general idea of the reading passage.  Once students have completed reading the entire passage, they can then look up the unknown word in the dictionary.  This will help them decide which definition is best if there is more than one definition for that word.  You see, they can workout which definition fits best with the general idea of the reading passage as well as the immediate context before and after the unknown word. 

I think by pushing through to the end, and looking up a word after finishing the whole text in order to have a general idea of what the author is trying to communicate will help students decide which definition is the best definition for a word when there is more than one definition.

Thanks so much for watching this video.  Have fun with your students!

It was a lot of fun putting this little video together.  Thanks to OUP for asking me to contribute!