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BREAKING NEWS: Fiction in Action: Whodunit  has won the 2011 ELTons Cambridge ESOL International Award for Innovation!

Last November, Whodunit was awarded The Duke of Edinburgh's English-Speaking Union English Language Award 2010 in an awards ceremony held at Buckingham Palace. Congratulations Adam! Congratulations Marcos!

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Fiction in Action: Whodunit. The world's first ELT eText available through Creative Commons. Click on the cover to find out more.

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Thursday
Jul282011

Teaching Spotlight (2)

Earlier this month, I started to write about teaching the 'spotlights' in the Communication Spotlight series. The first 'spotlight' I looked at was the Spotlight on Listening. Today, I'm going to take a look at my favorite spotlight, the Spotlight on Memory. In feedback from students, one of their favorites too. Also it's the simplest of the 'spotlights,' something that greatly appeals to my minimalist streak. Look right above you. That's all there is to it. In the textbook, nothing but a pointer as to what to do; the activity itself just one of listening and recitation. Nothing in the text to refer to. In fact to introduce this activity, I usually have students put away their books entirely. 

So what is the Spotlight on Memory? Very simple really. Students listen to a short dialogue—perhaps three or four times—then try it out themselves. The dialogue itself essentially a slightly modified form of the adjacency pairs at the core of the dialogue in the longer listening that introduces each unit. So something like the following:

A: Have you seen the… What do you call it?

B: Uh-huh.

A: Long, green, like a pencil.

B: Asparagus?

In doing this simple activity, students are doing a number of things. First, they are very much focused on form, as they need the form to do the task.  Second, they are 'stretching' their short-term memories for English, a retentive skill necessary for any effective communication and something often not really looked at. Third, they are once again being implicitly reminded of the communication strategy that is the focus of the unit (more about that later). And doing this they are concentratedly focused on a variation of the adjacency pairs at the heart of the main listening—something that should be a student take-away from the unit.

As with the Spotlight on Listening, there are a number of different ways you can approach this activity. You can simply play the track on the CD the three or four (or however many) times it takes the students to get it. While doing this, you can mime out or shadow what the speakers are saying. Or you can dispense with the CD entirely and just act out the dialogue yourself. From here have the students practice the dialogue in pairs. To confirm student understanding of the dialogue, you can do it as a class recitation, perhaps breaking the components into smaller chunks, and then perform as a dialogue between the students as a group and the teacher. At this point too, you could board up the dialogue though I rarely find that necessary—most students have a pretty good grasp of it by now. Many of the dialogues also lend themselves well to substitution practice. In many cases (though not the one above which comes out of a unit in which the focus is on food), students can easily change the dialogue so it refers to something personal. 

All pretty simple, yeah? And lots of take-away value for the lower-level student.

Plus one of the things I really love about this 'spotlight' is how it bridges between the Spotlight on Listening and the Spotlight on Speaking. In the Spotlight on Listening, students are focused on form through listening and recognizing. The Spotlight on Memory in a way intensifies this activity in that now students are being asked to recognize form without any textual reference. This then bridges in to the focus of the Spotlight on Speaking (more on this in a later post), a section which explicitly introduces a speaking strategy from the main dialogue. Look at the dialogue above and you'll see contained within it the strategy for this unit: 'if you don't know a word or an expression, ask the listener for help.'

And that all this was born in a short conversation in an elevator, going from the ground floor to the 3rd floor.

Tuesday
Jul122011

Doing Stuff With Books Closed

I often like to use the textbook with it closed. Or perhaps more precisely, to springboard out from the textbook to boardwork-based group or class activities, something where the energy focus of the class is entirely on person-to-person communication. It's a nice break from what can be the monotony of a text plus I kinda feel that it's a nice reminder that much of the focus of anything we do with a text is ultimately to build towards this kind of communication.

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Saturday
Jul022011

Teaching Spotlight (1)

Each unit in the Communication Spotlight series contains a number of 'spotlights' designed to focus student attention on a single, discrete language point. One spotlight I particularly enjoy teaching is the Spotlight on Listening. This looks at a single feature of connected or natural speech and draws out examples of this feature from the main listening—in the example on the left, sentence stress. Usually in this section, the phonological point is introduced and then students are asked to identify it. In the case of this example, you first draw student attention to the stress pattern in the sample sentence 'What do you do?' You might then point out that it's the words that give meaning that are by and large stressed, that indeed often you can make sense of a sentence just by hearing the stressed words. e.g. 'What...do?' Students are next asked to listen to four sentences drawn from the main listening, identify what the pattern is (I usually play through this twice - the second listening gives students a chance to confirm the patterns), and then given a chance to practice the patterns. 

But there are other ways to approach this section—particularly if it's the second time to look at the feature as is true with this particular example.  The activity can be done as a predict and check. After taking students through the example, students apply their understanding of stress to the four sample sentences. Playing the CD allows them to check their understanding. Or it can be done as a kind of deep-ending activity. For instance, with the text closed, the teacher could reproduce the four sentences with both the correct and the incorrect sentence stress patterns and have students identify which patterns seem 'right.' This can lead into a (brief!) discussion of why these patterns are 'right,' and students can the open their books and do a confirmation listening.

In practicing saying the sentences, you can do a group recitation before having the students practice together in pairs. Here one option is to practice saying sentences with the stressed words only before going into the full sentences so students can again notice the relationship between stress and meaning. So for instance, 'What...do?' 'What do you do?' What...teach?' 'What do you teach?' and so on...

Perhaps you can see other ways to 'springboard' off this activity?

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