Tag Archives: Tips

Controlled oral practice in ELT – what happened to drilling?

[This article was originally published as What happened to drilling? in the BELTA Bulletin in October 2014. It’s available on-line for BELTA members here. It’s reprinted here with the permission of the editor.]

As communicative language teachers we are told that drilling is bad. We’re told it is pointless, uncommunicative and deprived of any meaning. It also makes our classes teacher–centred.

Before you jump on the bandwagon and continue the rant, I’d like you to pause for a moment and ask yourself whether drilling really has to be so horribly boring and uncommunicative as we are repeatedly told. I hope to show you with this article that, no – drilling doesn’t have to be boring. It can actually be fun, meaningful, effective and rewarding for the students.

In this article I’m going to first look at eight common criticisms of drilling and controlled oral practice (COP) and show why they are not all together accurate. Then I’ll describe a couple of COP activities which you can use in class, and offer some final tips on using COP.

Let’s then look at the criticisms.

  1. Criticism: Too much emphasis put on accuracy, hindering the development of real communication skills. Rebuttal: It is true that these exercises focus on accuracy. CLT does not. And this is why a little bit of COP can do your students a lot of good. By no means should COP become the main focus of all your lessons. It’s only part of the diet, like broccoli. And even though we might not like the taste, we still eat it every now and then, because we know it’s good for us. The same rule applies to COP.
  2. Criticism: Only useful when practising language students have just encountered. Rebuttal: Usually COP is seen as a prelude to the real icing on the cake, that is, the free speaking activity. But why not use it as a quick revision to address fossilised errors, or give students quick extra practice in something they are struggling with?
  3. Criticism: COP is only applicable and valid when teaching lower levels. Rebuttal: Why should that be? COP can and should be used at any level. It helps students automatise the language they might already know but still struggle to use confidently and naturally, or eradicate fossilised errors.
  4. Criticism: COP does not promote learner autonomy and is teacher–centred. Rebuttal: That would be true if your class were to consist entirely of COP. If done judiciously, it is actually empowering since students will get more comfortable with the language, and are more likely to use it later on in more communicative activities. And it does not need to be teacher–centred. Put them in pairs. Put one student in charge of the drill. There are a number of options which allow you to disappear.
  5. Criticism: Usually only word or sentence–based, decontextualised and very restrictive. Rebuttal: Whenever possible, use real–life situations. Set the context and make it meaningful. Try to implement natural features of the spoken discourse into your drill. Use drills which allow for more than one answer, and which are more flexible.
  6. Criticism: It goes against some styles of teaching, especially the role of the teacher as a facilitator. Rebuttal: Give it a go. Once you and your students get comfortable with it, COP can become an important part of your facilitative approach. Just don’t overdo it. Too much of anything is never good. But if done correctly, COP can be really enjoyable for the students. It can also nicely change the focus and pace of the class.
  7. Criticism: Being able to repeat in a parrot like fashion does not mean the student will remember or be able to use the language in real conversation. Rebuttal: That might be true. But then if they don’t repeat the language a few times in a safe and controlled environment, will they be more or less likely to use it in a real conversation? Probably less. Plus, what they are trying to memorise and automatise, are not the examples they are drilling, but the language patterns embedded in them. COP can also help with avoidance.
  8. Criticism: The course book writers ignore it, and so should I! Rebuttal: Since the advent of CLT, drilling has been heavily put down, and course book writers responded by ignoring COP in their materials. It’s like switching from only eating meat to being a vegan.

Having dealt with some of the most common criticisms, let’s look at examples of COP.

Photo by Rob! under Creative Commons from: http://www.doshort.com/4POr
Photo by Rob! under Creative Commons from: http://www.doshort.com/4POr

Substitution Drills:

This is probably the COP I’ve used most often myself, as it’s readily applicable for almost any language point. The basic idea is that the learners repeat the modelled grammar using the new information given, e.g. “I’ve been reading for two hours”.

T: midday

S: I’ve been reading since midday.

T: she

S: She’s been reading for two hours.

Make sure the examples lead to meaningful and probable sentences. Once you and your students get comfortable with this drill, consider some of the below variations, which aim to increase the cognitive difficulty and make the COP more natural and meaningful.

Multiple Substitution Drills:

Instead of substituting one item, students substitute two. So with the example from above:

T: he/drinking

S: He’s been drinking since midday.

Progressive Drills:

The difference between this one and the classic substitution drill is that you don’t come back to the original sentence, but continue from the last. If you do it as a whole class, it causes other students to listen carefully to what the previous student has said as they’ll have to pick up from there.

T: play football

S1: He’s been playing football since midday.

T: two hours

S2: He’s been playing football for two hours.

Open ended Drills:

Students repeat the modelled language, or finish a sentence, making it logical or true for themselves. The idea is they have to manipulate not only the grammar, but more importantly fill in the content in a very short time, which cognitively is of course much more challenging then a classic substitution drill. At the same time, it is arguably more natural. For example, to practice “in order to/so that” for purpose:

T: Why do birds have wings?

S: In order to fly./So that they can fly (or anything else that makes sense)

True/False drills:

Students manipulate the content of the sentence to make it true or false for them. They are more challenging cognitively and require the learners to process the language at a slightly deeper level. They are also more meaningful than classic substitution drills. For example, to practice “used to”

T: play football

S1: I used to play football as a child

S2 I didn’t use to play football as a child.

Mumble/Silent drills:

The teacher models the TL and the students repeat it quietly. It’s less intimidating then doing it out loud, and the students can be told to repeat the same phrase a few times under their breath, which gives them more practice and increases their confidence (I also assign it to my students as a ongoing HW, i.e. speak to yourself quietly or in your mind and repeat the language you have problems with.

Back–chaining:

A sentence is built from the end by adding short (between eight and ten syllables), natural chunks of language. Each chunk is modelled by the teacher and repeated by the students.

  1. the test
  2. for the test
  3. for the test
  4. should have
  5. should have studied
  6. I should have studied
  7. I should have studied for the test.

As Chris Ozog suggests in his article (see references below), we should focus on natural chunks of language, i.e. it would have been odd to drill have studied as a chunk. He also points out that back-chaining “also serves to promote noticing of features of connected speech” and “may help the students recognise fluently delivered English better”.

Jazz Chants:

They involve repetition of short, multi-word phrases at a consistent rhythm. They were popularised by Carolyn Graham, and here you can see video of her demonstrating how to create your own jazz chant.

Photo under Creative Commons from: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2008/07/22/cartoon-tuesday-drilling-deeper/
Photo under Creative Commons from: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2008/07/22/cartoon-tuesday-drilling-deeper/

To sum up, any good COP should fulfil one or all of the below aims:

    • to establish new habits and minimise or get rid of the bad ones, some of which might be deeply ingrained (e.g. fossilisation, avoidance)
    • boost learners confidence with language by practising it at reasonably natural speed
    • to increase spontaneity, i.e. to facilitate making the quantum leap from having to think about it very hard, to simply saying it correctly without thinking (Wilson, M.)

You might consider making these aims clear to your class. Students often want to know why they are doing what they are doing. And if they understand that the purpose of the activity is to improve their speaking, they are much more likely to give it a go, despite some initial reluctance.

Read up and continue drilling:

“Learning to teach listening: students’ and teachers’ perceptions” summary of Chiara Bruzzano’s talk

This is the second summary from the TESOL Italy 2016 talks that I saw. The first one was Henry Widdowson’s plenary ‘ELF and TESOL: a change of subject?’, and you can read it here.

Chiara’s talk starts off with a short video. Two people are having breakfast and chatting away. A third one arrives and joins the chat.

The language sounds vaguely familiar, but doesn’t seem to be making much sense. In fact, Chiara tells us after we’ve watched it that it’s made up of different lines from different song lyrics jumbled together.

And this is exactly how English might sound to our students’ ears. Difficult to understand. Confusing. The likely outcome is that they’ll feel frustrated. And perhaps this is one of the reasons why teaching listening is important. But not the only one, of course. Some other that Chiara lists are:

  • Low English proficiency of students in Italy
  • English is becoming more and more important in everyday life
  • It’s the Cinderella skill
  • Students’ perceptions need to be taken into account for curriculum development
  • Most of the time listening is tested rather than taught in class

The two most common theories which inform how we teach listening are bottom-up and top-down processing. However, rather than choosing between one or the other, it is important we adopt a more integrated approach; that is, helping our learners develop and use both top-down and bottom-up skills.

The rest of the talk is informed by a research Chiara carried out. The sample was made up of 121 Italian students of English aged 16 to 19 and 5 Italian English teachers. To gather data she used questionnaires, interviews with teachers and classroom observations.

The research focused on the appreciation of students for listening activities, the materials and sources used in the classroom, the importance of the skill and the students’ difficulties.

The two main findings that Chiara drew on to provide her practical suggestions were a general good level of appreciation of the students for listening skills and the problems that they highlighted. Most of them referred to perception and parsing problems as being prominent, and their teachers seemed to show a good level of awareness regarding this.

So, it seems that in this particular study students are motivated, enjoy listening and see it as important. The question is then, how can we capitalise on these positive perceptions to improve students’ listening?

First, we should stop just testing listening, and focus on teaching it. I wrote more about this in this post.

As far as bottom-up skills go, we can for example focus on connected speech, weak forms or variations in pronunciation of individual sounds.

IMG_20151113_102926

Some ways in which we can attempt to help students improve top down skills are:

  • Inferring missing information
  • Continue listening despite difficulties
  • Predicting unfinished utterances.
  • Taking notes of content words.
  • Paying attention to discourse markers, visuals, body language.

In the next part of the talk we were provided with a very useful list of listening Dos and Don’ts.

DOs

dos

DON’Ts

donts

Then, we had to put them into practice to assess the listening activity you can see below. What do you think is wrong with it and how could it be improved?

Untitled

Some things that were wrong with it can be seen on this slide:

wrong

Finally, there are several ways in which we can try to make our listening lessons more interesting, and more focused on teaching rather than testing listening, which Chiara called listening with a twist:

  • Use a wordcloud as a prelistening: www.worditout.com
  • Students watch part of a TV series as an extensive listening and imagine how they would have acted in the situations shown
  • Instead of questions, students can be given a drawing, a map or a table to fill
  • Play chunks of language and ask students to identify how many words they can hear, and then which words
  • Let the students choose their favourite songs or video clips to listen to in class

You can find more tips for teaching listening in some of the previous posts from this blog as well as in the listening section here:

  1. Let’s bring back the TAPES
  2. Teaching listening: tweaking the CELTA approach
  3. Planning a listening lesson: 15 tips
  4. Teaching listening: example lesson plan and reflection
  5. The real deal – authentic materials or authentic tasks?

256331_3965102298242_285721285_o (1) [1661836]Chiara is an English teacher and translator based in Milan. She has taught English as a second language in England, Spain and Italy. She has a BA in Interpreting and Translation (University of Bologna) and an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies (Aston University, Birmingham). Her main interests in the TESOL field are pronunciation, comparative grammar, the teaching of listening skills and communicative language teaching applied to business contexts.

Language learning tips

LOGO FINALIn this The TEFL Show podcast we give several tips for learning languages more effectively. We’ve both learned various languages over the years, discovering along the way that it is much easier, faster and more enjoyable than you might think, as long as you follow a few basic rules.

What has your language learning experience been like? Have you found any of the tips we discussed useful? Do you have any others? Let us know what you think by commenting below and rating the podcast on iTunes here. And if you’re interested in learning languages, check out this section of the blog.

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

Learning languages more effectively.

I prepared a ppt presentation for this lesson, which you can download here.

Level:

  • Intermediate and above, but could be adopted to lower levels too.

Time:

  • Between 1.5 and 2 hours

Aims:

  • students will learn and discuss tips about learning languages more effectively

Lesson Plan

Activity #1: Lead-in

What are your language learning habits like? Look at the statements below. Do they apply to you? Why (not)?

  • I watch films and TV in English.
  • I’m worried that people don’t understand me when I speak English, so I prefer to stay quiet.
  • I read a lot in English. Mostly news on the Internet, but sometimes books too.
  • I never study English in my free time.
  • I record new words, look them up in a dictionary and keep a record of them in my notebook.
  • I use on-line software and apps for learning English.
  • I talk a lot in English in my free time.
  • I’m afraid to make mistakes when I speak or write.
  • I listen for new expressions and imitate fluent speakers.

Which of the above are good and which are bad learning habits? Why? Are you a good language learner?

Activity #2: Speaking

What qualities  do good language learners have in common? Discuss with your partner.

Now look at the 4 letters below. They are the first letters of four qualities that all good language learners have. Can you guess what they are?

M

O

R

E

perserverance

Activity #3: Speaking

Below are the 4 qualities of MORE effective language learners. Discuss with your partner what you think they might mean.

Motivated      opportunities

Opportunistic

Reflective       experiment

Experimental

Activity #4 Reading for gist: Read this article and check whether your ideas about the MORE qualities were correct. Then discuss with your partner: Are you a MORE learner? Which ideas could you use to become a better learner?

(Teacher’s note: please note that the students should only read the part where the MORE qualities are described. Alternatively, you could cut up the article and give one quality to each student which they later describe to each other in groups of 4. Or bluetack each quality around the room and do it as a buzz group discussion)

Activity #5: Listening

You’re going to watch a psychologist Chris Lonsdale talk about his experience learning a language. follow the instructions below.

  1. Watch the first part (2 -2:50)of the video. What did Chris decide to do? Where did he go? Did he succeed?
  2. Talk to your partner. How can adults learn a language quickly and effectively? Continue watching the video (2:50 – 3:40) to check.
  3. Discuss with your partner: What is your reaction to Chris’ conclusion? Is it possible to learn a language in 6 months?
  4. Continue watching (3:40 – 5:45). What WRONG beliefs from the past does Chris mention? Why does he mention them?
  5. Discuss with your partner: What are the 7 actions for rapid (fast) language acquisition (learning) will Chris talk about? Now watch the last part of the video (12:14 – 18:06) and check your predictions.
  6. With a partner choose 3 actions which you can apply to your language learning from next week.

Activity #6 Learning new vocabulary

Discuss with your partner:

  • How many new words/phrases have you learned this week?
  • Where do you normally come across new words/phrases?
  • What do you do when you find a new word/phrase?
  • Where and how do you write them down?
  • Is it better to write down single words or whole phrases? Why?
  • Do you think you’re vocabulary learning habits are effective? Why (not)? How could you improve them?

Look at the list of DOs and DONT’s for learning vocabulary. Write down any ideas which you could apply to your own learning. Have you ever made any of the mistakes from the DONT’s list?

Bez tytułu

(Teacher’s note: at this stage I usually introduce Memrise to the class. You can read more about it in this and this post. I also emphasise to them the importance of writing down chunks rather than individual words.)

Activity #7 – Practice

Read the text below. It was taken from this article. Identify minimum 3 new chunks (2-4 word phrases) and write them down in your notebook using the tips from the previous slide:

Mistakes are great! Without them, you will stay in your comfort language zone forever. We adults tend to be incredibly worried about being 100% right all the time. Forget about it. Especially at the beginning. Play with the language. Experiment. And slip up. That’s fine. Nobody’s going to laugh, get annoyed or poke fun at you. Believe me. Native speakers will be delighted that you’re trying to learn their language (especially if the language is as obscure as Polish, for instance). Focus on getting the meaning across first. But, get somebody to correct you once you feel comfortable with it. And DO pay attention to the correct version. Otherwise you might be forever repeating the basic mistakes.

(Teacher’s note: when monitoring, ensure they are actually writing down chunks, rather than individual words. Point out that the words that come before and after the unknown word are important and should also be written down. More advanced students could expand the chunks by adding other words that collocate using Ozdic.)

Look at the sample answers. Did you write down similar chunks?

  • Stay in your comfort zone – not to take risks ex. My dad hates taking risks. He always stays in his comfort zone.
  • Slip up – make a mistake, informal, ex. I often slip up ON spelling.
  • Be delighted that – very happy, ex. I’m delighted (that) you’re all here.
  • Focus on – concentrate on, ex. I found it difficult to focus on work yesterday.
  • Get the meaning across – be understood, communicate ex. I make mistakes when I speak French, but I find it easy to get the meaning across.

Activity #8 Homework/Follow up

  1. Log in to Memrise at www.memrise.com Find a new course and learn 5 new words. For Academic English, I recommend this course and for IELTS this one. Download the app and practise on your phone. Set a daily goal, e.g. 6 thousand points.
  2. Read one of the articles and watch one of the videos listed below. Write down at least 3 interesting things you’d like to tell your class about next time. Write down 3 new phrases in your notebook.

Articles:

Videos:

More free lesson plans can be found here. You can read other posts about learning languages here.

Timelines in EFL – some tips

As you might have read in this post, two weeks ago I gave my first ever webinar. It was on different ways of concept checking. While preparing for it, I drew quite a few timelines and realised that I’d almost forgotten how to do this properly. Below is the first timeline that I drew.

Ive been living in Holland black

It’s fairly typical. We’ve all seen similar ones, and probably been guilty of drawing  a few too.

It’s also really boring! While it clarifies the target language, it makes you yawn right away.

So how can we improve it?

Tip #1 – add colours

Ive been living in Holland colours

Tip #2 – add symbols and use them consistently

I was watching football when

The symbols I usually use:

  • box to denote longer actions
  • ‘X’ to denote points in time
  • ‘—–‘ to denote actions that might continue in the future (see picture 1)
  • ‘?’ to denote we’re not sure when exactly an action happened (e.g. I’ve been to Spain 3 times)

Tip #3 – add pictures

I was watching football_pictures

If you’re as bad at drawing as I am, then the pictures will make your students laugh. And when you’re doing grammar, a bit of comic relief is just what the doctor ordered. You can also get the students to draw the pictures for you.

Tip #4 – add arrows

Ill buy pizza for lunch

Arrows are good for showing relationships between different events or points in time. For example, with this use of ‘will’ it is important for students to realise that the decision was made now (in contrast to ‘going to’, which if used for future intentions, suggests that the decision was made in the past).

Let’s practise:

Now it’s time to put it all into practice. Try drawing timelines for these two sentences:

  1. At 8pm on Monday I’ll be playing football .
  2. He realised he’d been drinking since Friday.

You can see my suggested timelines by clicking on the links below:

  1. Suggested answer – future continuous.
  2. Suggested answer – past perfect continuous.

Final suggestions:

  • use real-life examples AND
  • make the sentences meaningful and the language probable
  • OR use examples that might be amusing
  • get the students to draw timelines and put them up in the classroom as posters
  • draw blank timelines and get students to guess which action is which (this is what I would have done for the timeline in photo under Tip 2)
  • ask students for feedback to improve the quality of your timelines

If you have any comments or suggestions, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you whether you found these tips useful, and how you tend to use and draw timelines in the class.

Don’t forget to follow the blog to receive all the latest posts by email.

You might also like:

  1. Do you understand? – 7 ways of concept checking
  2. Checking understanding – practice
  3. Clarifying meaning
  4. Recycling vocabulary