Monday, December 21, 2009

Last class for 2009, but everything did not seem so fine.

Well, I realize now that I need to double-check my lesson plan and materials because today, my students were supposed to have a review quiz. Let me go back to Friday evening when I was preparing. I usually do the same thing in both classes because the textbook is the same and the students are different so there is no risk of repetition. Friday I made sure everything was ready, all materials copied etc, but failed to print and make copies of the quiz. I guess the reason for this was that unlike most weeks, I did not have any extra copies of Friday's quiz (the date of course is different, but at least it reminds me to make Monday's), so as they say, 'Out of sight, out of mind'. Well, Monday I arrive and I am heading to class when I realize that I don't have a quiz for them. However, I think that I in fact did not have a test for Monday because the week after the midterm test, there was no quiz, and I confuse this date with today, so I thought that this was the week after the midterm test for Monday's class when it was not (I hope you're with me so far). Due to lack of time, I decide not to have a test and give them an early Xmas present. However, during class, I checked my folders while the students were working on a task, and I noticed that there actually was a quiz, and that I had completely forgotten about it and then confused that with thinking something else. Honestly, I was going to check before class, but I decided not to because there was no time, and I thought there was no test and that I would have to make one! I am now slapping my forehead and shouting 'Doh!' as in the likes of Homer Simpson. Perhaps another reason for this confusion besides not having the copy with the others is the fact that Friday's class is about one week ahead, so while we did unit 9 today, Friday's class has finished that and the next one and will be doing the third one after the break, so maybe it was only time before this happened, but in any case, it was probably not having the copy that did it. Fortunately, this was the first time, and it will be the last time because from now on, I will check my folders and make sure that everything is in order because every week cannot be Xmas.

As for today's class, other than that slight bump in the road, it went well. Again, I followed Friday's plan starting with the textbook before the pronunciation. Today's topic was apologizing. I also wrote the questions for the listening comprehension on the board again - something that I will do from now on for reasons stated in previous posts. Once we finished that we moved on to the listening part of last week's pronunciation - linking sounds 1. Finally, we did the second linking sounds worksheet, and from my observations, most of them could figure out where the linking sounds were. I also went around checking their answers like in Friday's class before having them go up to the board to write the answers. We practiced the pronunciation, especially the last sentence 'Did you drop Paul off at the airport?' because it has so many linking sounds, and I wished them a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and let them go.

Since this will be last post for 2009, I will now take the time to wish all of you out there a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and all the best for 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Would you be so kind as to tell me if I am suffering from spontaneous combustion? Thank you.

Today I continued the pattern of textbook followed by pronunciation practice. We started immediately with the review, and then I dictated them questions for the dialogue. However, this time I wrote the questions on the board. I did this so that everyone would be able to get the questions because before when I would ask them orally, some would speak very softly, so it was obvious that not everyone could hear it. I also explained the meaning of block just in case not everyone understood what it meant. After listening to the dialogue about three times, I asked individual students for their answers and wrote them on the board as well. After that, we practiced the conversation as a group.

Next, we continued with task 2, a fill-in-the-blank dictation exercise. I played this about two times, and then asked them individually for the answers, writing them on the board, too. I then did something a little spontaneous, despite what I wrote yesterday, but it worked fairly well. I wrote five requests on the board and asked them to put the requests in order from least polite to most polite. The only problem with this was that two of the sentences were very close in politeness, so next time I should make sure that all sentences can be easily placed in order. Again, as this was spontaneous, I did not have adequate time to consider which requests I was writing. Here are the requests I wrote:

Open the door.
Can you open the door?
Would you mind opening the door?
Could you open the door, please?

Would you be so kind as to open the door, please?

The requests in bold are the ones that posed me the problem because I think they are quite similar in regards to politeness. However, with the added please, 'Could you open the door?' would probably be considered more polite, although it is more direct than 'Would you mind...?'. As you can see, I should have excluded one of these had I wanted to make it a clear distinction.

By this time, I noticed that we did not have enough time to do task three, so I gave them the conversation construction worksheets. I gave them about 7 minutes to practice before I called up a few pairs to present; this time I called up four pairs due to time constraints.

Finally, I handed out the pronunciation worksheets and explained the task using an example on the board. I gave them five minutes to work on it with a partner and then started asking students to go up and write the answers on the board. However, unlike yesterday, I walked around choosing students and helped them with the answers before having them go up to the board. This way I could save a little time. After all the answers were on the board, I had them repeat each sentence after me; for some of the sentences I wrote a sort of pronunciation key on the board. For example, for 'called her', I wrote, 'calder'.

I think today's class went well, although I need to be more careful with doing things on the fly. Honestly, I am not sure why I don't think of those activities when I'm planning; they seem to come to me just at that time. Like yesterday's class though, I still haven't decided if I will continue this book next year or not. With the exception of the listening, most of what I use is my own materials or adapted materials from the book. However, having the Japanese explanation may be advantageous in that those students who actually review or prepare at home can have some support that an all English textbook does not provide. In any case, as long as I don't go off the lesson plan - although considering that it is based on the book; we are still using it, just expanding on it, so it's not that bad - I think I will have enough time to do both the book and the pronunciation, so I think I will continue this pattern from now on.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I shoulda asktim abou disappearin sounz.

Today I did what I said I would do - change the order of the lesson, first doing the book then the pronunciation. I think it worked well, but I now know that no matter what order I choose, I have to manage my time better because we were unable to finish the pronunciation. This was due to being spontaneous, and I am completely aware of this because after finishing the listening comprehension in the chapter, I had them work through the conversation with a partner looking for linking sounds, a sort of review, and then I had them write the linking sounds on the board. If I had my time back I should have left that until the end of the class when we were completely finished what was planned, and if there was enough time to do such an activity. I do think it was a good activity, but misplaced resulting in not being able to complete the pronunciation component. However, if I had used fewer sentences, maybe 10 instead of 12, or if I had not added the second part asking them to find the linking sounds after finding the disappearing sounds, which was today's focus, we may have been able to finish in the time we had, but in the end it was because I was spontaneous.

Honestly, this brings up something that I may not have said, but it seems that in this particular class, I am never satisfied with my teaching or how the class goes. I cannot put my finger on it, but something just doesn't feel right. Perhaps it's the textbook, I'm not sure, but each week is almost the same - I leave with a sense of dissatisfaction, not a deep sense mind you, but I always feel I could have done better or if I had only done that or if I had only taken less time to do that; it's as if I feel inexperienced in this class despite using a fairly easy-to-use textbook, which leads me to think that perhaps the textbook is causing this, or maybe it's due to lack of preparation, but I prepare for this class, going through the chapter for that week making sure I know what each task is about, choosing the order in which I do them etc, but when I enter the class it's as if that preparation disappears or goes away just at that particular time. I wonder if any teachers out there have experienced this sort of thing or even going through a similar ordeal now. I would be interested in hearing from you.

Anyway, today's chapter focused on invitations and making plans. I started the class with a review of last week, then moved on to dictating questions for the listening comprehension. Once we finished I had them look for linking sounds as mentioned above. After that, I had them practice and remember a short conversation with a partner. Next, I did something new, something planned, not spontaneous though - a pair work activity provided in the book. Each partner had a schedule and they had to ask each other questions about the plans in the schedule to find six differences between them. I gave them five minutes to do this before checking their answers (Actually, I think maybe one of my problems is time limits. Maybe I should try being stricter when it comes to time limits next time because now that I think about it, I tell them that they have a certain amount of time, but I don't always enforce it, which may be one of the reasons behind why I feel the way I so often do in this class. Another thing I need to do is specify the goals because recently I have noticed that I do so orally, but I should be writing them on the board to make them clear for everyone. Hopefully, these little things will help improve my sense of satisfaction with this course). By the time we finished this, I knew we did not have much time for the pronunciation, but I thought that if I gave them less time to work on it, 5 minutes as opposed to 10, but perhaps 10 minutes would have been too long anyway, we would have enough time to go over the answers, which in fact we did, only we did not have enough time to do part B, that being looking for linking sounds. However, I told them we would review this next class, so I will be able to do this at that time and besides, after a two-week break, a good review of disappearing and linking sounds will be in order.

What do you mean good sir by this word you use constantly autonomy?

Well, I had my last reading class for the year today. I was surprised to see some many students absent. I am not sure why they were absent, maybe it was because of going home, but honestly, isn't it still early to be heading home for the holidays, especially when most will go home only for New Year's? A mystery indeed, my good Watson.

Anyway, today's lesson followed the same pattern, except this time I did not have them come up to get the handouts, but instead I had several students hand them out. I did this because I thought it may give them a little more time to work because when they come up for the handouts, there is usually a long line and people have to wait resulting in a waste of precious time. I told them that once they got their papers, they could start, which most of them did; some had to be 'encouraged' to start.

Today's class consisted of an exercise on adverbs of frequency, a review of the articles 'a' and 'the', this time with a Japanese explanation, a reading activity, a sentence correction activity, and finally a writing activity, this week's theme being 'hobby'. This week was also the last class for the students being able to jump right into the writing part. In our next class, they will have to brainstorm first before writing. I haven't looked at the article work yet, but I hope that the explanation was clear enough to help them understand better the usage of the articles. I also simplified the sentence correction worksheet in that I provided two sentences one correct and one incorrect and asked them to choose the correct sentence. I thought that maybe seeing them both would make picking out the mistakes easier. I guess what I tried to do today was make it challenging, but at the same time, not overwhelming, and also more conducive to finishing on time, and they all did; actually, I think even the last to finish finished early.

One thing though that I have to reinforce next time is the quasi-rule of telling me when they are finished before they leave because I had to remind them of that again today. It's obvious why I want them to tell me because if they didn't I would have chaos with students leaving and me not knowing if they have submitted everything or not. It's also a way to let me say goodbye to them as well, something which I think is important. Other than that, I think this class style is going well, but one thing I just remembered, I need to make sure to ask them if they have any questions regarding the material before they leave. I think that if I don't, I run a serious risk of having students leave with the potential of not fulling understanding what they have done. However, what we are doing is not so difficult, ie the adverbs, and I am looking at their paragraphs to check them before submission, but it's better to ask than not because to assume that all students understand completely the grammar handouts, because that is really what I am thinking about, even with a Japanese explanation is foolish, and actually to think of it careless. There I said it. What I need to do then next time is ask them when they are submitting their work if they have any questions or if they are OK with the work to check if they are in fact clear on what they've done, and if they're not, to help them with any problems they may have.

How many words can you spell with TOEIC?

Yesterday was surprisingly busy, so that's why I am only getting around to yesterday's TOEIC class notes today.

I started the class off with something new - a pair work vocabulary review exercise. I asked the students to take out the word list that they made last class and to exchange it with their partner. I then told them to ask questions such as 'How do you say (word) in English or Japanese?' and 'What part of speech is (word)?' I gave them about 5 minutes to do this, and while they were doing so, I walked around observing. It seems, unfortunately, that many did not review since last class because many of the students could not remember the words they had written down last week, so what I did for next class was I told them to complete the word list for the chapter we did yesterday, which I will get to in a moment, and show it to me after the break. I also reminded them not to forget to bring the lists as some students had done so. I decided to do this activity from now on because they need vocabulary for the test, and whether they don't want to or not, they need to review the vocabulary. Actually, that sentence made me think of looking into purchasing some books on vocabulary especially those written by Paul Nation. Although I could definitely get some useful information from them, I think that in the end, if students don't review at home through things such as lists, cards, notebooks or reading, any theory pretty well goes out the window. Wouldn't you agree? Nevertheless, I think I will try this next year as well and perhaps even in some of my other classes because most of my students will probably end up taking the TOEIC test at some point, so it may well be worth starting early.

Moving on to the chapter, we looked at another chapter on Part 7. This time we focused on the inference questions and how to better answer them using information learned from other more easier questions. As I mentioned before, vocabulary questions and specific information (positive) questions are the easiest to answer, and doing those first can help you with the harder ones such as the inference questions. This chapter also focused on using key information to help with such questions. As expected, this part of the test is definitely the most challenging for students and this is also where vocabulary is vital. Unfortunately, we did not have much time after completing the unit to adequately start the vocabulary list, but I told them to work on it at home and show it to me in the new year.

I still haven't decided what I am going to do about the textbook next year, but I am leaning towards changing it because despite the useful tactics, which I could easily give them myself, the book seems to be difficult for many, which may be due to the fact it's all in English. Of course, if everyone reviewed and/or prepared in advance, it may not be so difficult. In the end though, the book is just too long even following the advice the book gives for such a class. One book I am considering is by Cengage; it's a series separated by different scores, the most advanced being 730, but the one I would be trying is 650 if I remember correctly. I have received the sample, but have not really looked at it, so that is something I should try to do soon. This book is shorter than the one I am using now, and there is some Japanese support which may help students more in the long run. No matter what book I choose to use though, I will definitely be focusing on vocabulary from now on.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes putting your pants on backwards can be rewarding.

Today I tried what I said I would do last week – change the order of how I did the lesson. Well, I think it worked well. I first started with the conversation, then key expressions followed by a fill-in-the-blank-dictation question in the chapter. Next, I had them do a sentence pair work dictation activity before I had them make a conversation. Once we had this completed, I handed out the linking sounds worksheet, but due to having to pass back their tests, and the fact we only had 10 minutes left, I decided to leave the second part of the pronunciation – the listening component – to next class, thus further providing evidence against trying to do too much pronunciation work in one class. Of course, if I hadn’t passed back their work and tests, and if I had started earlier – it took me a couple of minutes to set up my computer, again proving that I need to be there a little before 9 – I probably would have had enough time to do the listening. However, I will do it next week, and it will be a sort of review for them, so it’s not that terrible.

I think that doing the class this way will work much better because the main focus is on conversation and since they bought the book, focusing on that should technically be my first priority. Furthermore, doing the pronunciation first can be risky in that I tend to take too much time on it. I also think that working through the textbook first when students still have more energy, and then the pronunciation may be better because they need more energy to concentrate on the conversation and the grammar involved in the expressions being learned whereas with the pronunciation, it takes less effort as the activity usually only involves highlighting pronunciation. Furthermore, since we have less time to work on it as it towards the end of the class, there is a little more pressure to work through the task at a faster pace. Therefore, students have less time to dillydally and get off track as they may do if we had more time. Also, as the activity is mainly to familiarize the student with the pronunciation, this length of time is optimal as it now becomes a supplementary exercise to the conversation practice and not the primary focus. I will now try this in my Thursday class and see how it goes, but so far the results have been quite promising.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What you have, sir, is a textbook case of coalescent assimilation.

Well, today I changed the order of the lesson plan. Actually, I was kind of forced to, but in the end it worked out well, I think. What happened was that I thought I had copied the pronunciation section for this class, but when I was gathering my things to go to class, I realized that I didn't. On top of that, I had forgotten my photocopying card, so what I did was start the class with the review and then start the next chapter instead of the pronunciation. I did this because I knew that photocopying the pronunciation handout after the review test in order to maintain the order of the lesson would take time away from the class, and since I had planned to have them do another conversation construction activity, I decided that it would be best to photocopy the handout then.

After collecting the review quiz, I told them that we would be starting the book first, and to keep them closed because I was going to dictate some questions. I also told them at this point that we would be focusing on apologies in this class. After dictating the questions, I let them listen to the CD 3 times, and then I asked them for their answers. Next, I gave them the worksheet with the expressions for apologizing and responding to an apology and asked them to separate them in the table provided. I was going to have them come up to the board to write the answers, but I decided not to because it would take too much time, so I asked for their answers orally. After that, I had them do a listening task in the book. Then I had them go back to the beginning of the chapter where there were some key expressions and had them repeat after me before assigning the conversation construction activity. While they were practicing, I went to photocopy the pronunciation worksheet (I gave them about 10 minutes to practice and memorize the conversation, so I had enough time to do this). After I came back, I walked around to observe and make sure there were no questions, and then I asked several pairs to present their conversation in front of the class. Finally, we looked at the pronunciation worksheet. I did this differently from yesterday mainly because of how yesterday went, but also because I did not have a lot time. I did have them though come up to the board, and I did have them repeat before and after assimilation, but this was mainly as a group and not individually. I also did not go around asking students to repeat after me as I had done yesterday. I think this way the activity worked much better.

I think that considering this class style worked much better, I will try this on Monday and then on Thursday, and see how it goes. Also, I will try to have them review linked sounds more from now on, using the dialogues in the textbook because I think that only once a week is not enough and the more practice they can get, the better.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Can you link it?

Well today, after we finished the review test, we looked at the second installment of linking sounds, which focused on elongated articulation, and a nice sounding term coalescent assimilation. In case you don't know what this is - I had to look it up myself - it's a type of reciprocal assimilation. In a nutshell, two sounds make a third new sound. This type of assimilation often happens when you have a final alveolar consonant like /s/ or /z/ followed by initial palatal /y/. For example, 'Is that your book' sounds like 'Is tha chour book'. I really find this fascinating, and also consider it important for students, especially those who like watching movies or TV shows, or listening to music in English. Understanding these processes can help a student improve their listening comprehension. Of course, once a week is not enough, but at least being familiar with the subject is still better than not encountering at all, right?

For this activity, I first had them find the links in each sentence. I then went through the two separate groups, first the coalescent assimilation, then the elongated articulation. For the first group, I had them write the answers on the board, for example 'that your' and then I had them pronounce only the first word before pronouncing the entire phrase illustrating the change in sound. Once we went through all the phrases, I had them practice the sentences as a whole. I then did a very similar thing with the elongated articulation, but I realize now that I should have used a piece of paper - as I heard a student say towards the end of the activity - because for this group, I had them write the answers on the board, 'can't tell' for example, and then I had them pronounce can't, and I wanted them to notice the puff of air when they fully articulate the 't' sound before practicing the whole phrase to show them that the 't' in 'can't' is no longer pronounced strongly, but is connected to the initial alveolar stop /t/ of the juxtaposed word, hence the elongation, but many students could not feel the air on their hands, or perhaps they did not really understand what I wanted them to do, so it did not work as planned. Next time, I will try the paper, or perhaps I should avoid that part completely, and perhaps have them repeat after me, then using the board, show them how the final alveolar stop melts into the initial alveolar stop (I should mention here that there are different sounds that can be elongated, but for lack of time, I will use only this one). In any case, I think this task will need some further consideration.

After we did this, I dictated some true or false questions based on the dialogue, which in turn, we listened to. Once we corrected that, I had them do the exchange, whereby they had to practice and memorize a short conversation. I again gave them about 10 minutes and then called on several groups to present.

Overall I think today's class was OK, not great, but OK. I think the hand thing, which was sort of spontaneous, was not clear, but that can happen when you try to do something on the fly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't, it's important not to let it get to you, and move on. I also think that I again took too long with the pronunciation, and perhaps it might be better to leave it at the end. However, I think doing the pronunciation is still better at the beginning; I just have to be careful to watch the time. For example, for the sentences, i should give them five minutes maximum because it is only reading and underlining parts of sentences. Then take five minutes to have them come up to write the answers, and then another five minutes to practice. I think perhaps it might not be so much a question of taking too much time, but maybe I am trying to do too much at once. I just realized that if you have two groups and each group of sentences takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete, there's your 30 minutes gone right there. Perhaps I need to consider fewer examples and spread out the concepts, so that I can have more time to work on the book, something that I feel that I am really not focusing on. Each chapter has about 8 pages, but I only ever get around to finishing the first two. Not a very good record is it? Next class, I will make less time for the pronunciation, and try to do more of the textbook. Perhaps, doing the listening comprehension (the questions I make for the dialogue), then asking them to find the linked sounds in the text might be a good start. Then I could try the listening task in the book before having them do the exchange. I will see how that goes next week. Something else I might want to consider though is going with a more listening/pronunciation focused textbook. Of course, the current textbook could just be too easy for them, as this is not impossible, so perhaps a harder level may be more appropriate. Maybe it's just not interesting for them; I think I have mentioned this before. Perhaps it might be worthwhile looking for something better, what I mean is, something that may be closer to their interests. I just got the idea that having them use movies or TV dramas for listening comprehension, especially ones with subtitles may be something to look into. The more I think about it, the more I think that it might be better to use a different textbook, or maybe no textbook at all. However, for the time being, considering I do have this textbook, and I should use it since they bought it, I will try the above plan next week and see if things improve.

A trip to autonomy

Today was the second class where I had them work on their own, choosing the order in which they did the tasks. Today’s class included a worksheet on the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’, a reading exercise, another sentence correction task and their second paragraph with the theme of ‘favorite trip’. I think overall it seems that the students are doing well with this style of class, but it will take a little more observation to really see how they are doing. It might also be necessary to talk to some of them individually to see how they are doing. I think though that the paragraph and the reading are two things that are well-suited to such a class because both activities do not really require the full teaching support that say a grammar item may require. Of course, if I were teaching a reading skill, then yes, I would have to work more closely with the students, but the main reason behind such reading activity is to give them some practice in reading English that possibly many don’t do outside of class.

The sentence corrections as well, do not demand full teacher contact as I have noticed that most students when given the answer key automatically understand where the errors were made, and even some exclaim this fact with an ‘Oh, yeah!’, something which makes me happy to hear.

I think the only activity that needed my attention was the grammar activity on the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’. Now, with the exception of one student asking me to explain this difference, no one else came up to me to ask for such help. Perhaps they already understood, or perhaps they did not think they could ask me. In the latter case, I will definitely tell the students that if they have any questions, they can ask me because I am there to help them. I could also provide a little more support by including a short explanation on the worksheet for such grammar activities. However, I don’t think that this would be necessary for all grammar points, for example simple present tense or adverbs, but for something such as this, I think I should have explained it before having them start or as I mentioned above, provide a concise explanation. In any case, I realize now that today’s grammar needs to be modified, especially if I decide to use again in such a class in the future.

I feel that this post is more of a defense for choosing to go with this style, but I have to say that until last week, the class has been teacher-focused in that I have clearly explained how to write a paragraph from topic to concluding sentence and have given them practice in using sequence words and in other grammar points, so they do have the tools to work on their own. I definitely would not start this type of class from the beginning unless I had a very clearly explained textbook that students could use on their own, but even then, I think that this type of class should be introduced at a later time once students have become accustomed to writing and reading some English. Perhaps I should even consider slowly integrating this style into the class and not starting it so suddenly so to speak because I am sure some teachers would consider what I did to be just that, and I would have to agree with you somewhat. However, what we are doing in class has not changed; I have just given them the freedom to choose what to do and how long to do it. Perhaps in that case, it is not such a problem. I just have to make sure that there is always enough explanation for the students and that students know that they can ask me questions if they need to.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I started the class by asking individual students about the question types for review. I then had them do exercise 3. Before we started though, I had several students read aloud the tactics for part 7. After correcting the exercise, I handed back their answer sheets, and gave them 12 minutes to complete the mini-test. I gave them an extra couple of minutes since many were not finished, and then we corrected it together. I first asked them which question they should start with explaining that some questions are easier to answer depending on type and furthermore, answering easier questions first can give them extra help for the harder ones and thus give them extra time. Once the mini-test had been corrected, I gave them a vocabulary notebook worksheet and asked them to fill it in with any words they did not know. I decided to do this today because students need vocabulary to do well on the test, and having them do such a list in class at least gives them something to work with outside of class. Even if they don't review vocabulary at home, at least this also gives them a chance to do so.

At 10h15 I asked the students if they had finished unit 7 quiz, but since many hadn't, I told them to continue working on vocabulary or for those who had not yet finished, to do either vocabulary or quiz 7. I told them that next week we would be looking at unit 14, which also focuses on part 7 of the test, something they need practice more.

Something I am considering doing next year if possible, is having this class in the TOEIC center, a new online center for practicing the TOEIC that will be up and running in April. With such a center, students could work on the test at their own pace, and I could be there to give advice or support if needed. The only obstacle is that there will only be 16 computers, and this semester I have more than 20, so unless I can get permission to cut the class down to 16, I may have to reconsider this option. Another thing I could do is focus on the reading section particularly part 7. It might be challenging to find a variety of part 7 type questions, but I could focus each class on one question having them do vocabulary practice afterward or I could use a TOEIC vocabulary book and make lists based on that to give them, and have quizzes each week. I should not forget either that I will be receiving some samples of other TOEIC texts, so there might be something I could use there. I guess I still have a lot of bugs to work out, but I guess that is to be expected considering this is my first time teaching such a class.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thank you Friday! You shouldn't have.

Today we started right away with the pronunciation – linking sounds. I followed the same plan as Thursday's class.

Once we finished we began unit 7. I dictated first some questions for a listening, and then I had them practice in pairs. Next, I had them repeat some key expressions in the book after me while asking some students where the linking sounds were. After that, I gave them five minutes to practice and memorize a conversation. I only gave them 5 minutes because the conversation was only short. After their time was up, I called upon several pairs to present.

After we finished, I decided to go with the pairwork dictee activity, instead of doing task 2 and 3 in the book, task 2 was a dictation and task 3 was a matching exercise. As they completed the task, I told them to look for linked sounds, and finally had students come up to the board again writing out the words with the linking sound.

Today was only the first part of what is normally called connected speech. I will also look at deletion and coalescent assimilation or blending of sounds. After I finish these, I will move on to intonation to end the semester.

Although I have not decided about whether to change books or not in my general English course, I think I will not be using this textbook next year. I do like the Japanese support and the themes are useful, perhaps not so interesting, but I won’t know that until I ask my students, but I’ve had to make a lot of extra materials to go with the book, and the conversations are too short, and there really should be more listening. Of course, this is my opinion, and since I prefer listening, I tend to dislike a book lacking in such activities. Honestly, I was thinking of going with the textbook I am currently using in my general English class in this class next year; what I am considering is going with book 1 and 2 for the communication classes both semesters and books 3 and 4 in the general English class each semester because the class is intended for second years and up. However, as I have already discussed earlier, the topics aren’t so relevant at times, and it does lack the conversation strategies, although I could add them myself, but if I have to do that it leads me back to the question – Should I really use a book if I am going to make the activities myself and end up only using a small percentage of it? Of course the answer I am getting is leaning to no. On the bright side, I am happy to be thinking of this now and not in February because the earlier I start, the more time I have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each book, and thus be able to better choose a textbook that will work well for my class.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hey, wa tchit man! Tha t'sa linkin soun dyou go tthere.

Tonight we started with pronunciation practice. This class's focus was on linking sounds, especially between consonants and vowels. I first had them in pairs find the linked sounds, then had them write the answers on the board. I then had them practice the linked sounds with me several times, first sounds only then sentence. Next, we did a listening and I called for individual answers. I finally asked them for the rule, which I received almost immediately.

Next, I dictated questions and had them listen to the CD. After, I had them practice the conversation with books closed, then in pairs with books open. Then I had them change partners for the exchange activity (I modified this activity and made it a role playing one where students have to remember and present the dialogue.).

Once we finished presenting, there was not enough time to move on, so I passed back their tests.

I was having second thoughts recently about this book, but I think there is plenty in each chapter for the students, maybe too much, but if I cut the pronunciation, we should have more than enough time to do more of the book. However, I think if I organize the pronunciation activities better so that they take less time, I may be able to get more of the book done. The only setback about the book, though, is I am skeptical as to how relative it is to the students. I am really about making it personal, and some of the topics are not so relevant (directions, shopping), but perhaps it may be a good idea to alter those chapters and make them more relevant and interesting to the students. I guess I still have some things to consider.

Learner Autonomy? Well, sort of.

Today was the start of the more autonomous classes. Until today, I would select the order and I would control how much time would be spent, when to start, when to finish etc. However, today, I had them come up and get all the worksheets for the class. I then told them that they could choose the order of the activities and how long to work on them, but that they had to show me what they did, and that they had to finish everything before the end of class.

Today’s class was the start of the paragraph writing, too. I had taught the different parts of the paragraph and brainstorming, so they should have all the tools to write a paragraph. Today’s theme was ‘My Saturday’, but I noticed that for some reason some students had chosen other themes. However, I did not ask them to start over, but instead, told them to do the theme another class. Honestly, perhaps it may be a good idea to let them choose the theme to work on, too. I also explained that they had to write a first draft, check it and then show it to me before going on to write the final draft. I think though that this may need clarifying because many students seemed not to check it for I could see no markings on some papers.

In the end, I think the class went well. Some students took the full class to finish, but those who finished early, I let go. I think the main reason why some students took a long time is that they need to organize their time more, something perhaps that I could discuss in the next class. From now until the final class, I will conduct the class in this manner, having them write a paragraph each week, and for the last three classes, a paragraph based on something in which they are interested. How I intend to do this is by giving them a list of ideas based on the survey I conducted in the beginning of the semester, and students will be able to choose three topics that interest them the most and write about that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Long time no blog.

Hello everyone! It’s been about a week since I last posted, but I have a good reason for that, or should I say several! First, as I mentioned in my last post, the rest of the week I had tests, so nothing really to comment on there. Then last Monday was a holiday. Tuesday I had work, but no scheduled classes, and from Wednesday to Saturday I had to be away for personal reasons, so there you have it! Fortunately, things are now back to normal, and I can restart this blog, although I have to say that it might be best to combine both Monday’s and Friday’s communication classes because I rarely change the lesson plan unless something really doesn’t work in one class. Anyway perhaps for now, I will continue as is, so here we go.

As usual, we started with the review quiz (they were scheduled to have a test today, but had to be rescheduled). After the review quiz was finished and taken in, I handed back their homework and then handed out the sentence stress handout. I then had them choose different partners because they tend to sit with the same person all the time, and I think it is important to have them meet other students. I gave them enough time to work on it in pairs, and while they were working, I wrote the questions on the board. I then had individual students come up and write in the stress. I was quite happy to see that for the most part, students knew what was stressed and what wasn’t. Next, I had them in pairs read and repeat after one another. I sat with one student because there was an odd number. After that, I had them take out the handout from last class, and I wrote a table on the board with the words stressed and unstressed. I then wrote different parts of speech on the board and asked them what parts are usually stressed and which aren’t. Again I was happy to notice that students caught on to the question right away, and most could finish in the time allotted. I then called on individual students to tell me whether or not a specific part was stressed or not.

Once we had finished the sentence stress, I told them about next class’s topic – connected speech. Then we started unit 6 in the textbook. First, I dictated six questions for a listening comprehension activity and then we practiced the conversation first together and then in pairs, again I worked with a student. Finally, I had them do a sentence unscramble activity to give them some example questions to ask, as this chapter’s focus was on asking questions to show interest.

I thought today that maybe in the future if I continue to use this book or if I continue the pronunciation tasks, I should make complete units, so that one week is pronunciation and the other a chapter in the book, or it may be better to reduce the number of sentences for the practice. I think the pronunciation although only once a week is still valuable to the students, but at the same time, not using or hardly using the textbook does not seem good either, so perhaps the reduction method may be the best way. Of course, it really depends on whether I will use the book next year or not and even if I will use a book in my classes, something which I will have to decide soon I think.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Come on TOEIC, mock me!

Today I gave them the choice of finishing part 7 first or doing the mock test, and they chose the mock test. Since the test is longer than one class, I divided it up into the listening and reading section. The listening takes 45 minutes to complete and the reading 75. Once the test finished, I had them correct their answers, and then convert their raw scores to the scaled scores to see how well they did. I then collected them for my own reference, and will give them back next week. I collected them mainly to see or at least get an idea of what students found difficult. This will help me decide how to continue with the textbook, ie whether to focus on listening or to continue as I have, listening then reading. Finally, I let them go as there was not enough time to do Unit 7’s mini-test and correct it. Next week, we will do the reading part and the following week, we will finish part 7 and continue with the book.

One thing I noticed is that there really should be a break after a certain point. I mean 45 minutes and then 75 minutes is a really long time to be sitting in one place listening to and reading English. I can imagine that even for a native speaker this can be trying. Maybe a break every 20 minutes could help.

I will also mention here that this week there won't be as many posts because many of my classes will have a midterm test, so there won't be anything to discuss really. As for the SAC class and Friday's advanced TOEIC class, I have decided not to continue posting because each class is almost the same. However, if something changes, or I do have something to comment about regarding those classes, I will make a post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What is a synonym for rejoinder anyway?

We started the review quiz around 9:10, and after collecting it we began the sentence stress. I wrote on the board that stressed words carry important information, and I told the students to write this down. I then asked for a volunteer to come up and write in the stress. I then illustrated a sentence without stress with a robotic voice. After, I gave them the worksheet and told them to work in pairs. After several minutes I read the sentences aloud, and then asked students to come up to write in the stress. I then had them repeat after me one last time. I also told them about the unstressed 'and'.

Next, I introduced the rejoinder expressions by having a volunteer come up and read a sentence to which I said nothing the first time and then with a rejoinder the next. I told them that it was important to use these expressions in order to show the speaker you are listening and interested. After this, I did the listening comprehension and then practiced the conversation as a group.

Next, we practiced the rejoinder expressions in the book. I also demonstrated that facial features were important when using these expressions as with the wrong facial expression the sentiment can be completely negated. I then gave them a crossword puzzle to practice the expressions before having them construct their own dialogue. For this activity I gave them a handout with a pre-fabricated dialogue where they could change certain words and expressions. I also told them to use their imagination if they wanted. I gave them 10 minutes to do this and to remember it, and then I had some pairs present.

I think I will definitely continue the dialogue construction practice in class because it seems to be going well so far. Something I would probably do differently next time is instead of the crossword which really just practices students’ memory of the expressions, maybe an activity where they would have to choose the correct expression for the situation would be more appropriate. Even a simple fill-in-the-blank exercise could suffice for this, but I think that students could benefit from this pre-task activity despite the fact that the dialogue construction activity already has the expressions provided. Perhaps then, it may be an idea to have them build one dialogue with my support and then ask them maybe with a different partner, to build another one without the aid. That way they would have to use the expressions learned in class and thus such a pre-task activity would help them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Constructing Creative Competence

We started with review, which did not take very long, and then we moved on to sentence stress. I gave them enough time to finish before reading the questions aloud for them. I then had several students come up and write in the stress. I then did something different – I wrote different grammar groups on the board, noun, verb etc and asked them to look at both handouts this week's and last week's and try to figure out which words were stressed and which were not. This was a little difficult for some, but I think this was mainly due to the question. Perhaps it may have been better if I provided the question as a handout. However, there were some who understood and when I asked for the answers there were no problems. As for the verbs though, I did not go into modal verbs because that could have been confusing, so I just listed the verbs afterward telling them that they were exceptions and that usually they are not usually stressed.

This activity took a lot of time, and honestly with some extension activities, I could see it as a potential class. I really think that next year in my Oral Communication class, I will make it more pronunciation focused. I am sure that there are books available, and I could add my own materials, or even if I have enough, I could make it myself.

Once the sentence stress activity was finished, I told them that next class, we would focus on connected speech. Then I dictated questions for the listening comprehension as usual, and after checking the answers, had them first practice with the CD, then in pairs. Next, I handed out the question activity – a reordering exercise that helped them acquire some ideas for follow-up questions, which was the main focus of this unit. Unfortunately, due to the pronunciation component, I had to stop here in order to discuss the test next week.

One thing that I have decided to do in my communication classes is try to do more activities like the one in unit 4, if I remember correctly, a dialogue construction activity. However, unlike the book, I will give them some examples to choose, but also the option to freely try other ideas to make it more interesting for them. I have already made up such activities for both Monday’s and Friday’s classes and will try them next time. Of course, that will also mean that I will have to try to cut down on the amount of time for the pronunciation practice because I will try to get the students to remember the conversation they have made before presenting it, which can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to complete, since I will probably give them 10 minutes to practice and remember with their partner before calling on pairs to present. If, however, I feel that this is too much time, I will reduce it, but really, 10 minutes to create, practice and remember a dialogue, even a short one, can be time consuming for some.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tired of being stressed, are we? How about some intonation then?

We started with review. The students did not have as much difficulty with this review quiz as they had last week. I collected it, and then handed out the sentence stress handout. I told them this time to use the same size dots for the stressed words to simply it for them. I thought that using different size dots may be more confusing and since I just wanted to focus on the stress, I thought it would be better to go with something simpler after all. I gave them enough time to work on it in pairs and then I read the questions aloud. I also told them to think about what the important words were. I then had them come up again to the board to write in the stress. Finally, I had them repeat after me before having them repeat after one another in pairs. I told them that next class we would focus on blending sounds.

Next, I dictated many questions, the most so far, and I played the CD twice. I then had them repeat after me instead of the CD.

After that, I gave them a crossword to practice some vocabulary necessary for shopping. This activity was more for fun than for actual educational purposes because although the students had some difficulty, the vocabulary itself was not so difficult for them. By the time we finished this activity, we did not have enough time to go further in the book, so I stopped there and told them what to review for the test next week.

I think overall this class went well, but I think that the pronunciation activity may be taking too much of the class time. However, next class we will be looking at blended sounds (I have to look up what it’s actually called because I am fairly sure there is a name for it), and I don’t think this will take as long as the sentence stress. I will also have to refigure the pronunciation component of the course because I had been considering continuing the sentence stress for one or two classes more and then moving on to intonation, but I think the way I am going is that I will look at blended sounds and maybe focus on that for one or two classes and then maybe look at contrastive stress, and finally, focus the rest of the semester on intonation. Honestly, now that I think about it, this semester’s pronunciation component has been greatly influenced by Cambridge University Press’s Teaching Pronunciation. I just realized that the order in which I am introducing things is quite similar to how it is outlined in that book, but simplified of course. It’s interesting, but I think I really find sentence stress and intonation well, interesting. I think it may be because it is still quite challenging for me, but more than other EFL subjects, I think I could spend hours practicing and thinking about this and not get tired of it.

There's a storm brewing in my brain!

I started off with review. This took them a little longer to finish because there was a little more writing involved. Once finished I had students hand out the first sequence word activity, and I explained how these words are useful when writing. I then gave them some time to complete the first activity, a fill in the blank exercise, and after, I asked several students to give me their answers. I then asked students what the topic sentence and concluding sentence was for each paragraph. This activity seemed to be easy for them, but really it was only meant as a warm-up because the next exercise was much more challenging – first, they had to put the sentences in the correct order, then, using the sequence words, they had to rewrite the sentences in the form of a paragraph. I did not give them a time limit, but I walked around observing them and once it seemed that the majority had finished, I gave them the answer key. I then wrote the sequence words on the board explaining that we usually don't mix second and third with next and then.

After that, I handed out the brainstorming activity and asked someone from last semester to tell me what brainstorming meant. I then told them that it was very important to write down as many ideas as possible for a topic before writing. Next, I gave them 10 minutes to write down ideas for three topics, topics that we will work on in the next few weeks. Once the time was up, I collected the brainstorming handouts in order to make sure they would have them for the next class. Finally, I talked about the midterm test telling them what they should focus on, and then let them go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can I audit TOEIC's accounts?

We started as usual with their homework, quizzes 5 and 6. I think if I go with this book in the future, I may only assign one unit per week. I am also thinking now that one unit a class may be enough. I could try something like the following: Start off correcting work, repetition drills for pronunciation, then move on to the unit in question, its mini-quiz and finally vocabulary study, a sort of self-study component. I think the final component may especially be useful because for many of the students in this class, vocabulary seems to be the biggest challenge for them, and so would be vital to focus on this as much as possible. Another thing, too, that I should look into is a smaller version of the book. What I mean is that some publishers will provide a split version of a particular textbook. The book I am using now has 28 units and considering I am only at unit 7, there is definitely no way of finishing the whole book, despite my ambitious attempt at doing two units per class, something which I now know is quite much for the students. I think therefore that a split version (14 units) would be more logical for a 15-week course. That reminds me – I still have to confirm whether or not I will be teaching this class in the spring because if I am I should start thinking about the class and what I will do in it. Of course, I should not forget this semester either for I am only half way through it!

After finishing each quiz, I had them repeat the vocabulary after me for pronunciation practice. I also told them again to circle any words they don’t know and to look them up later. We then continued with unit 6’s mini-test before moving on to unit 7. In this unit, which focuses on part 7 of the TOEIC, we looked at the typical question types found therein and which ones to start with. The four types ranked easiest to hardest are 1) specific information (positive), 2) vocabulary, 3) main idea/inference and 4) specific information (negative). In this unit we learned how to distinguish which questions are type 1 and then we looked at the questions and answers more closely to pick out the key words to aid in finding the answer. We got about halfway, up to the tactic about looking for key words, when our time ran out, which goes back to what I said earlier about doing one unit per class. Next time, we will complete unit 7 and look at their homework, quiz 7, which is found in the back. Also, we will have our first mock test, the listening part only though, because there is not enough time to do all 7 parts in one class. I intend to do the listening part and have them correct it in class; I probably won’t ask them for the answers like usual but rather give them the answer key along with the transcripts. Then we will move on to unit 7 for the remainder of the class and the following week, I will give them the reading part.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How's your memory?

I had a lot of work today, so by the time I passed everything out, it was close to 9h15. Once I passed back their work, I had them do the review test. I told them to be careful of spelling because some of the words I put on the test were a little easy to misspell. After they had finished, I asked several students how to say different Japanese dishes in English. I also explained the difference between deep-fried and fried, as this can sometimes be confusing as a result of first language interference. In Japanese, for example, the word ‘furai’ is often used to mean ‘deep-fry’, so some students will say ‘fry’ as a result. Next, I moved on to the three-syllable word stress patterns. I did not give them examples but used hand gestures to illustrate the two patterns we were focusing on today. As in Friday's class, I practiced the stress patterns with a listening activity, and similarly, the students seemed to have no problems with the stress. After the listening, I had them repeat after me.

Next, we moved on to the textbook. I dictated the questions before having them listen for the answers. I then had them repeat the vocabulary after me, and then had them in pairs practice the question, 'How do you say (Japanese) in English?' I told them to do this as quickly as possible. Once finished, we moved on to the final task, a dialogue construction task. I told them to choose one of the patterns provided and remember the conversation. I gave them 10 minutes to memorize the dialogue and then I asked some of them to present in front of the class. I did not ask everyone, but I noted those whom I asked and next time, I will choose different students. I should mention that although I had asked them to choose one of the patterns, some pairs chose to use their own ideas or to mix the ideas in the book, things which I really appreciated. Finally, as there was some time left over, I had them do a listening and a dictation activity, a sort of cool down activity to follow the dialogue practice.

After today, I am thinking that having them do more activities such as the one we did today where they had to make and remember a conversation might not be a bad idea to continue. Although the textbook does not always provide this activity, it may nevertheless be something which I could try to make each week and have them do. I think it would not only give them some conversation practice, but it may also help them remember the expressions or the conversation strategies a little more. In the end, I think that if the textbook only had longer listening and perhaps more of these conversation tasks, I might appreciate it more.

AWL or a textbook? Which way to go?

I am still debating whether or not I should continue writing this class’s blog because every week it is almost the same thing. We start with their homework, move on to the vocabulary and finally with the time left over, we work on the textbook. The only thing we did differently today, and something which I will probably continue to do, was pronunciation practice. After we finished one page of corrections, I had them repeat each sentence after me, pointing out the stressed words and intonation of each sentence. Honestly, I would like to try this out in my other TOEIC class, and perhaps all classes, but the biggest challenge is class size. My Friday class has only 6 students, so it is a little easier to do, and observing them is no problem either. Furthermore, if I want to hear them individually, there are few enough students that this is possible. Imagine trying to do that with 30 or 40 students – I don’t think so.

However, one concern I am having with this class is that I think I should focus a little more on the book. Of course vocabulary is important, but since I got them to buy the book, I feel that not using it is a waste of money. That said though, this is the advanced class, so they have taken the test at least once, and I think most of them have taken it more than that, so perhaps giving them test practice as what the book does may be redundant because they already know pretty much how the test works. What they may need more after all is in fact vocabulary. I am thinking more and more now that next year, I may not use a textbook in this course. I will, however, give them mock tests because I think practicing the whole test is important as it can show me what they need to focus on. Actually, (sorry for my rambling) I may need a textbook after all because part five can be practiced with the AWL, but part 7 especially really needs focused practice, something that may be easier done with a textbook. Am I back to square one then? Hmm…maybe.

Is that right? Wow! How awful!

I had intended to do Friday’s blogs over the weekend, but for some mysterious reason my Internet decided to stop working this weekend, so here I am, Monday posting the blogs.

As usual, I started with the review test. It took a little longer for them all to finish because this time I made it a little longer; the tests so far have been quite short, and I am thinking that making them a little longer might be better because it will give them a chance to review more of the material.

Next, I began sentence stress. As I was considering after the general English class, I decided not to use the different size dots for the stress, but simply a big dot for stressed words, and I gave them the option of using a small dot for the unstressed ones. Also, like in Thursday’s class, this activity took some time (around 25 minutes from introduction to completion and practice). Similarly, the students did not have so much trouble with the stress, but I will continue to focus on sentence stress nevertheless because I think only one time is really not enough, especially if that is the only time they look at such a subject.

Today’s unit focused on rejoinders, expressions used to show interest, to react to what the speaker is saying. I did not use the word rejoinders, as many students would not know what this was, and besides, the textbook I am using explains it in Japanese, one of the reasons why I chose this particular book. We started the unit with comprehension questions that I dictated. I then had them repeat the conversation after the CD. We then practiced the expressions as a group (I also talked about facial expression and how it was important to match the rejoinder to the appropriate facial expression for effect.) before continuing with the next activity, a crossword puzzle based on the expressions (Unfortunately, I cannot provide a copy of the activity due to an error that results with paint when I try to copy and paste it.). For this activity, I had them close their books, naturally.

After correcting the vocabulary, we did a listening activity in the book that asked the students to put a check where they heard the rejoinders. I then asked them to listen again and write them down. Finally, I had the students practice the conversation with a partner, taking turns to be the one who used the rejoinders. By the time we finished this, there was not enough time to move on, so I let them go.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I am so sentence stressed! Aren't you?

Tonight’s class was able to start right away thanks to my students helping me with the desk arrangement. After passing back their work, we did the review quiz, which I think this time turned out to be harder than usual. It was a reordering exercise, and perhaps I had too many sentences for them. However, if they had reviewed, I am sure that they would not have had any problems with the activity.

Once I collected the quizzes, I started the sentence stress. I wrote a sentence on the board and had one student come up and write in the stress. I then had them repeat the sentence after me. I then gave them a worksheet with 10 sentences and told them to write in the stress telling them to be careful of syllables. I also told them to use different size dots because although there can be several words in a sentence that are stressed, usually one will be a little more stressed than the other(s) because it will be the most important part of that sentence. I gave them about 10 minutes or so, and walked around observing, giving advice where necessary. I then wrote the sentences on the board and had students come up to write the answers. Actually, upon writing this and after careful consideration, I am not sure if having them use different size dots for the stress was the best idea. Furthermore, when I asked the student to come up and write in the stress at the beginning, I am thinking more and more now that I should have had him use the same size dots because in the end, I simply wanted to focus on those words which were stressed, and adding this extra element - although I did find it in Cambridge University Press’s Teaching Pronunciation, which probably lead me to trying it - may have unnecessarily complicated things. I think it may have been better therefore to have them understand first which words were stressed and perhaps at a later time introduce such extra information. That said, it seemed that overall, most students did not have much trouble with understanding where the stress went even though they may not have been able to explain exactly why. I did, however, explicitly mention afterward that certain words are unstressed, but I did not go into any deep explanation, which may have been for the best, for as they say - if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

The sentence stress activity took quite a bit of time, but I consider it important for students so I am not so worried about that. Once we finished, I told them that we would practice this again next week, and then moved on to the textbook. With books closed, I dictated the questions, this time we did a true or false exercise, and I played the CD twice. Next, I had them repeat after the CD with their books open. I also highlighted a couple of parts of the dialogue especially those showing confusion. I had the students repeat after me as a group and then individually; I mentioned that facial expression was also important for saying these expressions and I wanted to see if they could do it.

Finally, we did something a little different – we played a vocabulary game. I put them into groups of four, and asked them to choose a leader. I then asked them to do rock, paper, scissors to see who would go first, but actually, I know now that the English version of this game does not work well with such a task, although the Japanese version works very well – perhaps there is a way to do it in English, but I do not know the way. Once we had decided who would go first, I had them pick a number from 1 to 15, each number corresponding to a clue about a place, a store actually. I then told them the clue and they had to decide what the place was. If they got it right, I gave them the total points of the number they chose. I think this game worked well, but it may have been more exciting if I had one person stand up from each group and have them raise their hand or something to be able to answer first. What I actually did was give each group a chance to pick a number, so that was fair for all, but the other way may been more enjoyable for the class. By the time we finished the game, the class was over. Honestly, I would have liked to have had them do the exchange because we did do listening with the conversation and some conversation practice each week is important, but we did start the sentence stress and as last semester, the sentence stress tasks tend to take time especially at the beginning.

Do you know your TS's, SD's and CS's?

Today there were many students absent; I am assuming the flu, but I am not sure. As always, I started by passing back their work. I also asked those in the back to move to the front. After passing back their work, I gave them the review test. I noticed from glancing at the review tests that some students were finding the parts of the paragraph difficult, but hopefully today's lesson helped clarify that. Of course, now that we have looked at the parts of the paragraph, we will start next class with some free writing exercises, so that will also give those students still having problems with the paragraph structure further practice.

The test took about 10 minutes and after collecting, I explained once more the parts of the paragraph this time introducing the concluding sentence. I then had them do an activity where they had to choose the best concluding sentence for each paragraph. Afterward, I asked students what the topic sentence was. I then gave them the next activity which reviewed all of the parts; they had to write out the topic sentence, the supporting details and finally the concluding sentence. Once finished, I asked several students to read me their answers. Although there seemed to be some students who had problems with the paragraph on the review test, there were no problems with this exercise, so what may have happened is that they needed to be reminded of the paragraph and once they were, it quickly came back to them.

By the time we finished these two activities, there was not enough time for the reading and the conjunction activity, so I gave them a choice, and they chose conjunctions. They had to rewrite sentences using the conjunction ‘so’ and ‘because’. Before they began I explicitly told them that ‘so’ requires a comma, but ‘because’ does not. I also told them that these conjunctions are written in the lower case. Once they were all finished, I asked several students to read out their answers. I then wrote on the board the usage of so and because and had them write it down. Finally, I let them go a little earlier because there was not enough time to do the reading.

I have to say that since I started giving them the choice, I have always found it interesting that they never choose the reading. I can only speculate as to why they do this, but every time the majority, and it is really the majority, not a slight margin, chooses the other activity. Of course, this does not mean that they can avoid the reading forever because next class, I intend to do this activity, and since they chose not to do it this week, I will probably not give them the choice the next class because reading is important for this class – it not only helps them to practice skimming and scanning techniques, but it also can help them with vocabulary building. However, for the latter purpose, it might be a good idea to give them an activity to help them practice the vocabulary because many of them may not review the reading later, and so the chance for vocabulary building is lost.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why aren't there words like TOEICy or TOEICness?

Today, we finished unit 5 and unit 6 of the book. Both of these units corresponded to parts five and six of the TOEIC test, part 5 being the fill in the blank at the sentence level type and part 6 being the same thing, but at the text level. These units focused on using clues in the question to decide the part of speech and then the correct verb form. Part five also included the 2-pass method, which refers to time management. Test-takers are recommended to answer the easy questions first, and then go back after to answer the harder ones. They are also recommended not to spend more than 30 seconds on a question and to answer all questions, even if it is only guessing the answer. I can understand this and even support this tactic because if you leave out an answer, you will have no chance of getting the extra point if you so happen to be correct. Also, answering incorrectly does not affect your score, so what is the harm in trying?

I started unit 5 by reminding them of the tips focused on in the chapter. I then had them work in pairs on a question that asked them to choose which part of speech was being asked for. After I got their answers individually, I had them go on and answer the questions choosing the best answer from the list provided. Next, I gave them back their answer sheets and had them do the mini-test. I told them to try to use the 2-pass method and gave them a maximum of six minutes to complete the questions. Afterward, we went back through the questions, and I had them repeat some of the harder words after me. I also told them to circle those words that they found difficult so that they could come back later and review.

We then moved on to unit 6. I did not go into too much detail about verb choice because I thought they would have no problem, but it turned out that this was harder for them than expected. Next time, if I use this book, I should probably go through the examples, explaining the difference between them. I should mention here that there were eight questions – the first four were based on present simple or present continuous and the other four were on the past simple or past continuous. Also, two of these questions I thought could have either the simple or continuous tense although the answer key did not suggest this. I think that I may have to come up with my own ideas so that we can avoid this confusion, or simply skip over those problematic questions. The second task, however, was not as difficult and we were able to finish quickly. I decided to stop here and not go on because we only had ten minutes. Instead, I asked them to go back through units 5 and 6 and write down any new words that they had encountered that day. I also took the opportunity to reiterate the importance of vocabulary for the test and that they should review as much as possible. Finally, I set the quizzes for homework and let them go.

I think that in the future, and possibly during this semester, I might give them a handout that they can use to note down their vocabulary words because some use a notebook and others scrap paper, but perhaps an actual worksheet might be more encouraging in the sense that it may feel more like a real activity. Also, writing on scrap paper can be dangerous because it is easily misplaced or discarded. It may be interesting to try something like this: give them the worksheet this week and have them fill it out with words they don’t know. Then the following week give them a new worksheet and collect the old one. I could then use the data from the old worksheet to make up a review test to give them the following week. Of course, this may be time consuming because I would have to search all the lists and compile a vocabulary list for the quiz, but it may be a good way to help them review vocabulary. However, if I have the lists at home, they won’t be able to prepare for it, so that idea may not be so good after all. Perhaps then it may be better to use the vocabulary from the quizzes that they have been doing because if anything, it would give them another chance to review, something which is important for such a test.