Posted in Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution – Part 1 of 3

My next 3 posts are part of a set. Read individually, this one and the next may appear unrelated to TEFL teaching. The final post should make things clearer.

Let’s start with a quote:

Words mean more than what is set out on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.

Maya Angelou.

June 11 1988

The concert to celebrate the 70th birthday of imprisoned South African Nelson Mandela was in full swing. 70,ooo people were inside Wembley Stadium in North London and hundreds of millions were watching on TVs all over the world.

The next act to go on stage was Stevie Wonder, the legend of American soul music. The crowd were expectant; Stevie had started his career around the same time as The Beatles and was one of the most enduring stars of the rock era. His music had changed in the 80s though – and not for the better many would say –  too synthesised, too much technology.

Minutes before he was due to go on stage, Stevie realised that the hard disc containing all the pre-recorded music for his set was missing. Bursting into tears, he told the organisers that he couldn’t play.

An up-and-coming singer songwriter was pushed on stage before she had time to refuse. It must have seemed as if half the world was watching her, one lone black woman with a guitar. She strummed her first chord and started to sing……

Tracey Chapman became a huge star in that very moment. her debut album sold 10 million copies worldwide and it is said that her performance inspired the whole “unplugged” movement.

What does all this have to do with TEFL? Read the next blog to find out.

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Posted in Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

7 Deadly Sins of TEFL: Teaching the coursebook not the learners

It was Friday, I had to cover a class at the last minute but had nothing prepared. I walked into class with a coursebook under my arm and asked the students which unit they were on.

A collective groan filled the room. I though for a few seconds, hoping inspiration would strike.

“OK, close the books.

A few tentative smiles appeared on faces.

I circled the class; dividing the students into Student A and Student B.

“Ok, student A, you are me, the Director of Studies at a language school. Student B, you are students.”

“Student As, your student won’t buy the coursebook. Convince them to buy it.

Student Bs, you don’t want to buy the course book. Explain why you don’t want to buy it.

Directors, you have 3 minutes to think of reasons why you should buy it. Students, you have 3 minutes to think of reasons why you shouldn’t.”

sleeping woman

5 minutes later all of the students were lost in their roles. The classroom was filled with lively chatter and laughter. One voice broke through the general din.

Kaori was a quiet Japanese lady in her early 40s. Polite to a fault, she wasn’t a fluent speaker. She was far too concerned not to offend and to use correct grammar at all times, this meant her conversation was generally stilted. This time though, she was in the zone improvising as a student determined not to buy the book.

I hate coursebooks but almost all English teachers use them, Why? Because it is easy work for them. But they are so boring. You must to read about Madonna. Why do I want to read about Madonna? Or listen to two stupid English people who have too much money and go around the world in a yacht. What does that have to do with my life? Then, we have to talk about these people with a partner. Why? I don’t know them. I don’t like them. I want to talk about me and my life in Japan or my life in London. It’s crazy. I want to speak English for my work and to communicate with people from other countries. The books make learning English boring and useless.

By this point, all the other students had stopped talking. They were staring open-mouthed listening to the quietest student in the class ranting about her hatred for coursebooks. When she finished, a few of them applauded!

For the remainder of the lesson, we drew up a list of benefits and disadvantages of using coursebooks in class from the student’s perspective and the latter column was substantially longer than the former. We ended the class with an open discussion about coursebooks.

The students identified the following key points:

  • Gap-fill exercises in the coursebook can be done at home and don’t need to be done in the classroom.
  • Long reading texts with a British or American focus are often used to set the context or introduce new language.  We don’t know and often aren’t interested in these things. We should talk about things which interest us!
  • Why do we have to read grammar explanations from the book? I can do this at home.
  • We should do much more speaking practise and correction in class. This is what I expect from a teacher because I can do everything else at home with a book or online.

It turns out that the teacher I was covering for was the kind of teacher who walked into class, asked the students to turn to p47, do the exercises and then he would check the answers before moving onto the next exercise in the book.

money rope

As we say in English, teaching from the coursebook way is money for old rope – an easy way of making money. I’m not bashing teachers who use coursebooks – there are good economic and pedagogical reasons why they are a useful resource in the language classroom. But that is all they are, one of the many resources we can use to create stimulating lessons in the classroom but we need to adapt them to meet our learners’ needs.

Think about how to use them effectively to maximise classroom learning opportunities.

 Your students are the best resource in class, not the coursebooks.

Let me know what you think. Is there ever a case for systematically following coursebooks in class? How do your students react when you move away from the coursebook?

Posted in All about TEFL (Courses and Finding work)

What to ask at a TEFL interview

You sit back, take a deep breath and relax. The person sitting opposite you has asked all of their questions and you have acquitted yourself pretty well. Your interview for a TEFL job has been a success.

Your interviewer thinks you are motivated, enthusiastic, creative, professional, responsible, dedicated. You give yourself a mental pat on the back and have the urge to make that ironic, self-congratulatory gesture when you close your palm, breath on the top digits of your fingers and rub them on your chest .

The interviewer turns to you again, peers over the top of their glasses and smiles:

So, is there anything you’d like to ask me?

You think for a moment, an image of a cold beer pops into your mind. In a few minutes, you could be sitting in the sun feeling proud about your performance in the interview, how you didn’t bat an eyelid when confronted with the question about the best way to teach the Past Continuous. All you have to do is say: “No questions actually, I think we’ve covered everything”. Hearing these words, the interviewer will shake your hand and offer you work, starting on Monday.

WARNING – NOT ALL LANGUAGE ACADEMIES HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART AND YOUR ELATION AT BEING OFFERED WORK WILL SOON TURN INTO DISGRUNTLEMENT UNLESS YOU CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING:

What, if any, type of contract are you being offered?

How much and how often will you get paid? Gross? Net? Holiday pay? Sickness? Cancellation by students?

Where and when are the classes taking place? At the academy? On-site? At student’s homes? Will you get travel costs?

Do the students have a coursebook? If not, are there materials available at the school? Are you expected to create your own lessons?

Is there a photocopier at the academy? Reference materials? Board markers? Internet access?

How many students are in each class? Have they been level-tested? Age?

Does the school provide teacher training? Observations? Teaching mentors?

If you feel that the interviewer is being evasive, think twice before accepting a position at the academy. There are some unscrupulous employers in the TEFL industry and asking simple questions like the ones above should help you make an informed choice about whether you want to accept the job or not.

Posted in Games and activities, Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

Be a Benevolent Dictator in the TEFL class

Why write things on the board for the students to write in their notebooks when you can dictate them to the students?

Dictation gives your students a clear model of pronunciation and allows them to practise their listening and writing skills.

Here’s an example:

Imagine you have a few topic questions you want your students to discuss.

You could write them on the board yourself or let them read the questions on the handout or in the coursebook, but if I were you, I would……

DICTATE THEM

The teacher’s words are in italics. Note the use of imperatives to instruct the learners.

“Close your books”

“Write down what I say”

“When the hell… are you bunch of fools… actually going to learn English?”

“I’ll repeat. When the hell are you bunch of fools actually going to learn English?”

(Pause while they write down what they have just heard)

“Now, discuss what you have written with your partner. Don’t show what you have written.

(Make exaggerated gesture hiding your notebook from your partner).

(Let them discuss what they have written, spelling out words out to each other if necessary)

“OK, one more time. When the hell are you bunch of fools actually going to learn English?”

(Let them make any final changes)

You have 2 options here:

Option 1

“Paco (there is one in every class here in Spain) Tell me what I said.”

Option 2

“Paco, write the question on the board.”

“Everybody, is Paco correct?”

(If Paco is correct, proceed to the next step. If he isn’t, see if the other students can produce the correct sentence)

“Everybody, repeat after me. When the hell are you bunch of fools actually going to learn English?”

(Students repeat in a choral drill)

Paco, say the sentence. Juan, your turn, Carmen, Patricia. (Ask each student or several students to do individual drilling)

Now, in your pairs, discuss the question. You have 5 minutes.

Now, you might feel a bit uncomfortable dictating at first – and I wouldn’t recommend trying it out with the question used in the example above –  but, in my opinion, it’s a very student-centred teaching strategy which allows you to identify and deal with any grammar, lexical or pronunciation issues.

  1. Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for recycling lexis or grammar structures: if they are familiar with the language, why board it?
  2. Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for introducing new language: English is often cited as being a non-phonetic language but many words actually have a strong sound and letter relationship and students can benefit from predicting spelling patterns. And if the sound / spelling relationship is weak, dictating a word, letting students attempt to spell it, and then giving them the correct form may prove to be a vivid strategy for retention.
  3. Finally, dictation helps students develop their note-taking ability. A useful skill to have in meetings, conferences, lectures etc.

Try being a benevolent dictator for a while. Do it sitting down, standing up, walking around the room (although I would draw the line at goose stepping like a Nazi).

Let me know how it goes.