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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I am finally out of the woods!

Today's class went fairly well. It went much more smoothly than Friday's class. I think that may have been due to the fact that this was my second time, so I knew more of what to expect, ie I was prepared. It was not only that though, it was the flow, too. Things just felt in place and I felt that my transitions from one activity to the next were better than it had been in other classes in the past couple of weeks. Of course, I don’t feel sick anymore, although on Saturday I had a little bicycle accident, but nothing broken, so I think today I was in a more energetic mood, and to be honest, for a Monday morning class, I think they are also quite lively, which I think always helps.

We started with the review, which did not take too long, and then moved on to the word stress review. This time I had one member of each pair come up to check the answers, which I thought was more effective than doing it as a group. However, once everyone had come up we practiced the pronunciation as a group.

Once the word stress was completed, I dictated some questions to them. I changed one of the questions this time because last time I asked the question: Where are they? However, it was quite difficult to know the answer just by listening, so I went with something a little easier. I then asked individual students for their answers, and then had them repeat after the CD. I then asked them to practice the conversation with a partner for a couple of minutes before asking different pairs to come up to the front to present. I also mentioned to them to use their energy and to consider themselves actors and actresses to help them with pronunciation and intonation. I think this encouragement worked well because the pairs I chose did not just read from the book in a monotone manner, but they actually tried to read it in a more affective manner.

After that, I had them repeat after me some expressions that they can use if they don’t understand what someone says. I did not go into any deep explanation because many of the questions had been introduced in the first class as classroom English, so this was more of a review than anything for them.

Next, we did a short dictation activity in the book. There were three conversations and they had to listen and fill in the blanks. I then asked them to practice each conversation with their partner.

I then had two students hand out the vocabulary worksheet and before I had them start I had them repeat the words after me. This activity did not take them too long to finish, so while I was asking them for the answers, I would ask them questions such as ‘Do you like…?’ or ‘Do you often eat…?’ I probably should not have continued to do this so much because by the time we finished there was not a lot of time left for the final conversation practice. What I had planned was to have them memorize the conversation using what they liked and then choose some pairs to present, but this time I just got them to practice and I walked around asking certain pairs to present for me individually.

I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the TOEIC test.

I will continue making this post although it will be fairly short from now on because the class format does not vary that much. We usually go through the homework together, then the new list of vocabulary, followed by the textbook. I also encourage a lot of free talking due to the small number of students, but it usually just ends up me doing most of the talking. Perhaps in future classes, I will try to reduce the amount of teacher talk and focus a little more on the book. However, after this semester, I am debating whether I will continue to use a textbook or not because there are a lot of questions that I can use for the academic word list on-line, and if I can come up with some test-style questions on my own, it may not be necessary to ask students to buy a textbook, although finding TOEIC type questions is easier said than done. In the end though, I consider vocabulary to be the biggest thing and with such a small class, some speaking activities, even if it is only read an article and talk about it orally, may be good practice for them for the TOEIC.

Something I was just thinking about while writing this post is that I probably should do review tests or review homework because each work we are going through about 60 words, which is a huge amount for them. Giving them review every month may therefore be quite helpful for them.

Finally, and this sort of comes from a TOEIC video I watched a while back, it may be a good idea to have them repeat after me a lot, to help them with their pronunciation and also listening. Of course, if I decide to do this, I will have to make sure there is enough time each week for such a task, but I don’t think that it would be so hard to do. I guess I had more to write than I was expecting, and now I have some things to consider before next class.

To use a textbook, or not to use a textbook, that is the question.

This was the second last class of the week of illness and pain, but really by the time I had this class, I was feeling much better although I was still taking medicine for my cold.

I started off by passing back their work and explaining once again the absentee slip system. I then asked them to clear off their desks and I gave them the review quiz. Although in my general English class, I played a game, I was expecting everyone to show up in this class, which would make it challenging to conduct such a game, so I went with a listening instead. Before we started, I used hand gestures getting them to repeat after me, the two patterns in focus for that lesson. I then read the words only once and they had to circle the correct stress pattern. I then asked them individually to give me their answer using the gestures learned. Again, they seemed to have a good grasp of the stress patterns, so I told them that we would start sentence stress next class.

Next, I dictated questions and got them to read them back to me to check their understanding. I then played the CD twice and asked for their answers individually. After that, I had them repeat after the CD. Once that was finished I got them to practice the vocabulary on the next page with a partner using the question, ‘How do you say this in English?’ I gave them about 10 minutes, but most were finished earlier, so we moved on.

What I should have done next was task 5 asking them to memorize the dialogue and after have them present, but instead, I had them do tasks 2 to 4, the first two being a listening, and the last a writing exercise using adverbs. The writing exercise was used because after the listening, there really wasn’t enough time to look at the conversation practice task. I think the writing exercise was also too easy for them, and could have been used more as a question answer type activity. I think in Monday’s class therefore, I will try to make an activity with the vocabulary and then from there head on to the final task and only come back to the listening if there is time. I noticed and perhaps a little too late that the listening was quite short, both activities were completed in under 10 minutes, so I think it would be a good idea to leave them until the end because something I am noticing is that in this class, I am not really giving them enough speaking practice, even if it only controlled, it is still better than nothing.

I have to admit that I think the further you go on in this book, the more there is to do as this unit is a good example. Having a section on frequency adverbs and likes/dislikes is quite a bit for one unit, and now that I know that it is better to make up some supplementary activities (I did not do any for this week, but will try for the next) instead of following the book directly, something which perhaps the authors want you to do, you can easily have a couple of lessons there or perhaps rather, it might be a good idea to try to have two 40 minute sections, one focused on likes and dislikes and the other focusing on adverbs. I say this now because there is only one conversation per unit and for me it would be more ideal to have a model dialogue for each section that I were intending to focus on. It could simply be then a question of choice – perhaps the authors do not intend for you to do everything and that you can pick and choose what to do. Unfortunately, there is not much written in the teacher’s guide about this so I can only speculate. However, looking carefully at the textbook, it is probably meant to go through task after task, but as I stated previously, I will try to supplement the book because despite wanting the students to use the book since they bought it, it is also important to make it interesting for them as well, and some parts of the book are just not that invigorating, and furthermore, students tend to like pair work, and that is something else lacking in this text – well, there are pair work activities, don’t get me wrong, but I think that maybe a few more would have been better. Honestly, the more I write this, the more I can’t help feel that it would be better if I made a textbook, but I’ll leave that to another post.

So, where do you wanna go?

Due to my students’ aid in arranging the chairs, I was able to start the class on time. As with all classes that week, I started off by reminding them all about the absentee slip, and then passed back their work. Next, we did the review test, which did not take that long. I then introduced the two stress patterns that we would learn that day. However, this time I tried something different. I asked them to get into groups to play a game. I then placed chairs in rows of two in the middle of the room. I had them choose a leader and then the first person to start. I had this person stand facing the front with the chairs behind each person. I then explained that I would be saying words with either type 1 or type 2 stress pattern. I said I would give them five seconds to sit down on the chair corresponding to that stress pattern. The members of each team who got the right answer would receive a point. After playing for a while, I reduced the time to three seconds, and even had them close their eyes so as not to see what the others were doing. However, in the end, I realized that most all had a good grasp of word stress. The idea for the game was interesting and the students seemed to like it, but it was not as challenging as I had hoped since almost every time everyone got the correct pattern. Once we stopped the game, I had them help me put the desks back and then I gave them the list of words so that they could write in the patterns before moving on. I also said that next week (this week now) we would move on to sentence stress.

Next, we began the unit on places around town and in your neighborhood. I dictated several questions and then had them listen to the CD. Once finished, I decided to move on to the next page and the exchange activity. Here, I did something different as well because instead of asking them to simply practice the conversations, I asked them to memorize a conversation of their choice and afterward they would present it before the class. I gave them about 10 minutes to do this, but I probably could have given them less to make it more challenging.

I finished the class with a modified version of the speaking section. I increased the questions and adapted them to the students’ lives in the city. I had them work on the questions together and then asked them individually for answers.

I think that this class was one of the better ones so far this semester because I felt more confident in what I was doing, I felt prepared and also the students seemed to enjoy themselves and we did not completely focus on the book. I think that in the future classes, I should try to maintain this style of lesson and not worry so much if I cannot do most of the book.