Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Dogme ELT Play in 2 Acts

Could this be my first step into Dogme ELT? – ACT 1

General English - Thursday

So Thursday is now officially over. Today we looked at hopes and intentions. First, I gave them a review quiz, which took the students some time to finish on account of its length – the students had to put 20 sentences in order to make the dialogue that we did last week. Once finished though, I did something quite different - I told them to put their books away. I then had them choose a color marker, but I did not allow two students sitting together to have the same color. Once everyone had markers, I told them to find a partner with the same color. After everyone had done this, I wrote hopes and intentions on the board and introduced the topic. I then asked them to think of ways to talk about such things, ie the future. Immediately, many students started asking one another what they had to do, meaning that they did not exactly get it, or rather I did not explain it well enough, so I wrote an example on the board; I chose ‘will’ first because I thought that it would make things clear for them, but also I expected that they would write this one first, and I really wanted them to think of other expressions. I gave them between 5 and 10 minutes to think of different expressions, but really I should have only given them 5 (I think I will be a timer for next year because this will make keeping time much simpler) because the more time students have the more they will speak in Japanese although students were speaking Japanese from the beginning, something that we all have experienced and struggled with I’m sure.

Intermission 1

Actually, if there are any blogs or articles on getting students to use English more – I don’t expect students to speak 100% of the time in class, although there may be some teachers who can get their students to do this, and if there are, I would love to hear from them – I would greatly appreciate any links to such sites. Anyway, let’s get back to the story.

Intermission 2

Actually though, one more thing I have to mention, and I would love to hear from other teachers about this, but I am considering making it mandatory to bring supplies such as notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers and especially dictionaries and that if students fail to bring these things, I am thinking of docking points or some other kind of punishment. I know, I don’t like the punishment word either, but each semester I tell students in the beginning to bring these things, but still I see students come to class without such things, and some students even seem proud to have nothing, and it always makes me wonder, ‘What are you intending to do here if you don’t have the necessities?’ because even with Dogme ELT, such things are necessary, am I right? I suppose I could remind students each week, but I am not sure if that would really work. Of course, it’s not everyone, fortunately, but I can’t help feel that there are more students like this than there should be.

Could this be my first step into Dogme ELT? – ACT 2

While they were writing, I walked around observing what students wrote, helping them when necessary. For example, some students had written ‘I wish’, so I explained that we don’t use this for future hopes and intentions. After their time was up, I had students come up to the board and write down the different expressions. Some of them were the following:

I’m planning to…
I’m going to…
I’d like to…
I hope to…
I want to…
I desire to…
My dream is to…

I then gave them another 10 minutes, although I think they had more than that (again, I need to buy a timer) to write down their hopes, intentions, and dreams for the spring break, for next year and for five years later. Some students could not think of such things at first, but after some support they were able to. One student was struggling to come up with ideas, but I told the student that one’s hopes, dreams and intentions didn’t always have to be big, but even the little ones were important, and the student immediately started writing many things. Finally, I had each student come up to the front of class to present what they would like to do for each time period. Again some of the hopes and intentions were on a small scale, such as learning how to cook a certain dish, and others were on a much larger one, for example one student wanted to stop war. Once everyone had finished, I praised them for their ideas, and I repeated what I had told the student earlier about the importance of all dreams and hopes, big and small, because they were their dreams and hopes. I was then going to finish with a short dialogue that focused on hopes and intentions when one of my students asked me what my hopes and dreams were, a question that I greatly appreciated because it showed the student being active. Here is what I said more or less:

I would like to learn Italian. Honestly, I don’t know why, but I love the way it sounds. However, between Japanese and French and other things, I am not sure if I have the time, but it would be nice to know even a few words. My dream is to be a musician. Yes, I’ve said it. A long time ago I played for 200 people, some of whom cried when they heard my song (I am not joking), and ever since, I’ve wanted, and still do, to become a musician. However, my immediate goal is to read more and learn more about teaching so that I can become a better teacher.

By the time we finished, there was not enough time for the dialogue, so I talked about their test and then let them go.


One thing that I did not do was to note their mistakes. I think I did not do this because I wanted to focus on their ideas, and also it was the last class, but I think in the future, I would take in their posters, write out their sentences on a handout and the following week have them look at their sentences to see if they could find their mistakes, and then correct them together. Another thing I should have done was to ask them explicitly to try and use the new expressions because not many of them did so far as I could tell. Many used ‘want to’, ‘will’, ‘going to’ and ‘would like to’, but I think they already knew these, so unfortunately we missed a good opportunity to practice the new expressions. Of course, there were the time limits, too, which should have been enforced better. I probably should have been clearer about their posters telling them explicitly just to write the phrases because many just read their sentences straight from their posters. Another thing that perhaps could have been interesting was to have the students write an example for each expression as a way to practice the expressions before they presented. I’m also thinking that maybe I should have done the listening task first as it would have given them a better context for hopes and intentions. I’m sure there are many other things I could say, if I thought about it long enough, but I still have some work that I must finish for tomorrow, so I will have to stop here. I think in the end though, that this lesson went fairly well, and I think the students enjoyed it, which is important, but that there are some bugs to be worked out, but as with most new things, that is to be expected.


What will the autonomous learner think of next?

Last Thursday Reading and Writing Class and How to Get Students to Ask Questions

Well, today was the last reading and writing class for the year, well not really the last because we have a test next week, but I never really count test day as a class. The activities for the lesson included a final worksheet on the indefinite and definite articles, a reading exercise, a sentence correction activity, a worksheet on ‘be going to’ and a writing task which asked the students to talk about what they would do during the break. After they students received their package and started working, I walked around telling them that if they had any questions, they could ask me; only one student did though. Of course I could add the adverb unfortunately, but the fact that one student asked me a question would be enough to end the previous sentence with fortunately, I think. Also, at the end, two students asked me about the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’ and when it is needed. Now, this was written in Japanese on the handout, but as I’ve come to realize, perhaps a more direct approach to teaching the articles may be in order. However, that said, I think that students should try to ask more questions, even if it is after class. If I continue this lesson style next year, I will try a modified version of Karenne’s advice (again, thanks Karenne!) of having students ask me questions. However, as the students choose the order in which they do the activities, it may be difficult to ask students after each activity for questions if they don’t understand, especially if you have almost 40 students, so what might be a good idea in this class would be to have students email me, or write questions down and submit them before leaving (an idea that stemmed from Karenne’s advice). Perhaps in this way, students may feel more comfortable asking me things.

Was this really learner autonomy?

I am asking myself this question because it is a valid one, and perhaps some or maybe all of you are thinking that just giving the students a choice in what order to do the activities does not really constitute learner autonomy, and after conducting such a lesson for a year, I would probably agree with you. However, if we consider this as the first step to fostering learner autonomy, then maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Of course, I now have to ask myself, ‘Ok, if this was the first step, then what next?’ to which I do have some ideas, such as giving students complete freedom in what they write about or having students choose what they would like to focus on/review next class and prepare that for them. However, these ideas still seem to be teacher focused to me, the latter more so than the former I should say, as they all come from me and not from the students. The more I think about it, though, perhaps what is really needed is a compromise between complete autonomy and complete teacher control. I know that it is important for students to take control of their learning in order to become fully autonomous learners, but I also know that not all students are interested in such control, let’s be honest, so maybe giving them the choice, with the guidance of the teacher, of course, of what to focus on based on materials provided by the teacher may be an idea to try, and by encouraging students to make opportunities for learning such as going to a library/SAC, going on-line etc, might just be the next step needed for fostering more learner autonomy in this class.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Would you like to come over for some Dogme ELT? Maybe you could ask me about disappearing sounds after?

Monday Foreign Communication

Today's lesson followed Friday's plan. We started with review, and then I dictated some questions. After looking at their answers we practiced the conversation and then the key expressions together. Next, we did task 2, a fill-in-the-blank task, which I had them practice in pairs afterward. Once finished, we did the conversation construction activity. After that, we moved on to Part B of disappearing sounds, which asked them to find the linking sounds. While they were working I wrote the sentences on the board and then had them come up to write in the answers, again making sure beforehand that their answers were OK. I finally had the students repeat after me first slowly with all sounds present and unlinked and then more quickly including all disappearing and linking sounds.

A hint of Dogmeism at the end of the tunnel

I think I had my first Dogme idea in class today (I should mention that I may have had ideas in the past, but at that time I had not known what Dogme ELT was, or wasn’t really thinking about it.). Today’s unit focused on inviting, making excuses, reasons for not going and finally making plans. I was going through the unit when it occurred to me that perhaps instead of having the students go through the expressions in the book, maybe I should have them first think of ways to invite someone, and make excuses for not being able to go. Now, I am not exactly sure where I was in the unit, but unfortunately, I did not try this out, and I think the main reason was that it was not part of the lesson, it would have been spontaneous, and since I had certain things to get done, I did not want to jeopardize that. I know that I may have missed a good opportunity to try something new here, but on the bright side, I think I may have something to try in the future, especially if I go with this book again, and if I am worried that such an activity may take up too much class time, I can always assign some of the book for homework. What do you think? Was this a Dogme moment?

After class

As I was cleaning the board, one of my students asked me a great question. One of the examples that was a tag question, went as follows:

John and Mary are coming, aren’t they?

Now, in class I did not mention that the ‘g’ could disappear, I am not sure why, but maybe it had slipped my mind, although since today was the sixth time to use this handout because this activity took two classes to finish, and I used it in three classes, I am really not sure how it could have slipped my mind, or why no one had mentioned it until now, but anyway, she asked me if in fact the ‘g’ could disappear, which I answered yes, but added that it was less common than say the ‘d’ disappearing from the word ‘and’. However, I am thinking that I probably should not have said that because perhaps the disappearing ‘g’ is in fact just as common as the other disappearing sounds, although personally, I would probably omit the ‘d’ from ‘and’ or the ‘t’ from ‘right’ for example more often than I would omit the ‘g’ from ‘talking’ or ‘studying’. Anyway, I am getting away from the point I am trying to make, but what I am trying to say is that I wish my students would come out more and ask questions during class and not wait until the end of class, although I do appreciate questions at any time because it shows me that they are interested, curious and active in their learning. I know it must be hard when there are 30 or 40 people in the class, but it would be nice to be asked questions more often. Unfortunately, from my experience, most students tend not to do so, and despite me asking them explicitly to ask questions when they don’t know or understand something, they hesitate. I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced such a class, but how have you dealt with this?

Leavin' so soon? But we just started learning about linking and disappearing sounds.

Friday Foreign Communication

I am only getting around to posting Friday’s class because I was quite busy on Friday. This was our last class for the semester, as the next class will be the final exam. As usual, we started with a review test, and then we looked at unit 15, the last unit in the book, which focused on the end of an evening when it’s time to go. I dictated some questions, and after answering them, I had them repeat after the CD. We then practiced several expressions in the textbook covering the basics on how to end an evening, how to keep a guest longer and how to finally say goodbye. I first had them repeat after me, and then I had them read and repeat after each other. By the time we finished we only had about 30 minutes left, so I had them do task 4 in the textbook which was a conversation construction task similar to the ones I had been making. I gave them about 7 minutes to practice and remember the conversation, but as the time was almost up, I noticed that some students were still having difficulty remembering the dialogue, so I gave them a couple extra minutes before having several pairs present. Finally, as we did not have enough time to look at the pronunciation activity – contrastive stress – I gave them the outline of the test.


Thinking back to the contrastive stress worksheet, it made me reconsider what I had been doing this semester with regarding to pronunciation teaching. I have come to believe that what is really important for them is not so much word stress or contrastive stress, but rather linking and disappearing sounds because they are more pertinent for listening comprehension in that they are ubiquitous in all utterances whereas something such as contrastive stress is not. I also think that having only one class a week is not enough really to help students understand the rules because they are in fact rules and once you know them or at least are fully aware of them, I think listening to English can become easier for some students. Of course there are still things such as slang and vocabulary which need to be dealt with, but perhaps if a student can grasp such topics as linking and disappearing sounds, he or she may be able to catch these words better, and thus further their understanding. I think therefore that next year, I may focus more of my lessons on those two aspects of listening comprehension. I could focus on these things in class, and then assign listening homework, or have the students find something they like, and ask them to try to highlight those links and disappearing sounds for next class. It may be an idea that just might work.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do Canadians really say 'aboot' for 'about'? And other general stuff.

Thursday General English

Today's lesson followed the same format I've been using recently, namely review of last week, followed by comprehension questions on a dialogue, a pair work conversation task and finally pronunciation practice.

The unit's theme was Life Stories, ie learning how to talk about one's life, however, I think if I were a teacher trainer, I would have failed myself because I did not get the students to talk about themselves and despite the other chapters being somewhat distant from the students, eg restaurant talk and shopping, talking about one's life up to now could have been interesting, and at the same time easy for them to do because they would have known most of the vocabulary necessary considering it's about their hometowns, schools etc. Obviously, they would not have been able to practice all the vocabulary considering the book looks at one's life from birth to death, with things such as marriage and children, but they could have talked about where they were born, what their hometown was like, what they think of the place they live now etc. I am not sure why I only thought of it now, perhaps I was too focused on the usual lesson plan to think of including something like that. Although I haven’t decided on whether or not to change books next year, if I do continue using this one, I will definitely include that activity, although I will probably have them ask each other questions and perhaps present their partner at the end because if not, the students may revert to Japanese thus rendering such an opportunity less effective for speaking practice.

Contrastive Stress

The pronunciation today was contrastive stress. I think everyone knows what this is, but just in case, and hey, it gives me a chance to try to explain it in my own words, simply put, it’s the stress we use to signal the contrast between elements in an utterance or a dialogue, so for example,

A: Is this my pen?
B: No, it’s MY pen.

The extra stress, or prominence as it is called falls on MY in order to highlight the fact that it is not your pen but mine, the two items in opposition.

The task was quite straightforward – students had to underline the word that received the most stress in the responses to various statements and questions. After having them write the answers on the board, I had different pairs practice aloud the short dialogue, and then we practiced together. I also had them use hand gestures to help them understand the ‘extra’ stress that the contrasting word gets.

I have a question ‘aboot’ the listening

Since the pronunciation did not take so long, we had time to do the listening in the book before the class ended. However, I was surprised by what a heard – Canadian English, but it felt forced, especially on the word ‘about’, which sounded like ‘aboot’. Now, I am Canadian, but I really have to ask you all, and especially the Canadians out there, do we really say, ‘aboot’? Is it common because personally I have only heard it in comedy and never when talking with other Canadians. Of course, I have never been to British Columbia, and I haven’t spent much time in Quebec or Ontario or the other provinces for that matter, mainly stayed on the East Coast of Canada, something I hope to remedy in the future, but are there Canadians who say ‘Let’s talk aboot your life’?

One final note

I decided to add this here because I only thought of it now. It’s interesting that students don’t ask questions although I ask them to especially when they don’t know something. I’m referring to the comprehension questions. I made up nine questions and I dictated them quite quickly to illustrate the disappearing sounds and linking sounds that I have been teaching. I also did this in the hope that students would ask for clarification, which some do, but for some reason, for the following question, no one asked,

Who is Pedro?

The answer was George’s best friend, but when I asked the student whom I had asked for the answer to spell it, she couldn’t. I then asked the whole class, but no one seemed to know, so I had them as a class to work it out, which in itself was a great activity, but why didn’t they ask me to spell Pedro, when they asked me to spell George? It really makes me wonder, but I can’t for the life of me think as to why they didn’t.

What would you do if you won 10 billion yen?

Thursday Reading and Writing Class

Today’s lesson consisted of a reading activity, two worksheets on the conditional, a writing task using the conditional, and another sentence correction. Following last week’s model, I prepared packages and placed them on desks, asking students to sit where they saw a package. If I continue this style of lesson in the future, I will definitely have packages because it is a great time-saving device, and I really can’t say why I didn’t think of it sooner. I also tried something different which I think worked well, too – I asked students explicitly to submit work as they finished instead of waiting until the end to submit everyone at once. I chose to do this for two reasons, the first being that it freed up space on their desks, which may or may not interfere with their work, but hey, a clean desk is better, isn’t? The second reason was that towards the end I am usually looking at students’ paragraphs, so I can’t always see what’s going on, so this was a way to ensure that students did not copy from someone, although I am fairly sure no one has done it yet; let’s just consider it a preventative measure if you will, because you can never know.

The Conditional

Today’s conditional writing task asked the question, ‘What would you do if you won a billion yen?’ I got a lot of great answers such as, ‘I would save it’, or ‘I would give it to charity’, but there were some answers that I really liked such as ‘I would buy an island’, or ‘I would buy a castle’, and there was even one answer that said, ‘I would waste it’, if I remember correctly. The reason why I like these answers is not that they’re different, unique, but that those students used their imagination and broke away from such answers such as buying clothes, a house etc. Actually, I just got an idea - it may be interesting, if I have time of course, to look through the paragraphs counting the things that they said they would do and post them as a sort of top ten list of things my students would do if they won 10 billion yen. Actually, what would YOU do if you won 10 billion yen (about $109 million US, 78 million euros, $115 million CAN)? I think I would probably donate some of it, but a recording studio with lots of instruments in a nice, old castle with a well-stocked wine cellar on an island does have a nice ring to it. Anyway, getting back to the subject, the paragraphs were fairly well written, although many students thought that using would in the first sentence meant that they could just use the simple present in the remainder of the paragraph. Now that I think about it though, this could be interference from their L1, Japanese, because they don’t express the conditional with modals as we do, and often in Japanese, it would be, directly translated, ‘If…, I want to…’, which is what some of my students wrote. However, since I have the students show me their rough draft before they go on to write the final draft, I was able to point this out to them through explicit feedback. I may not have mentioned this, but for the other activities, although some will have explanations written, I only discuss the writing task with them. Of course, if students have questions about a certain task, they can ask me, but unfortunately most do not, which kind of makes me think that perhaps they hesitate asking me for some reason, despite me telling them that they could at any time ask me questions. Hmmm, maybe I should be more explicit next time.

Textbook Dilemma

As for the textbook decision, I have found a textbook that I like, but I am wondering if I really should go with it next year considering that I spent my first year building up a repertoire of materials. Actually, that reminds me, I was talking about this with my wife the other day that I tend to change books or lessons between semesters quite often. I am not sure why though. I guess the main reason is that I didn’t like the textbook for various reasons, but even the textbook is not that bad, and I’ve all these activities and materials, I still think of changing it for the next time, and often go back to the start. Interestingly enough, I also tend not to use the materials I’ve made from one semester to another, although there have been times when I have, for example with my reading and writing class, but even now, as I wrote above, I am thinking of using a book that will probably make it difficult to use those materials, or maybe it won’t? I suppose I could just modify them and that shouldn’t be difficult, now should it? Maybe I have made up my mind after all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last stop for TOEIC Town! All aboard! + Reply to Darren's Comment about Dogme ELT

Wednesday TOEIC

Today we had our final class since the last two will be use for TOEIC mock tests. We looked at unit 28, the final unit on Part 7, which focused on forms/charts/tables/emails-a slightly different double passage question type, and probably the hardest for students. The tips were skimming the questions and choosing which passage to look at to find the answer. The chapter also focused on the different parts of the charts/forms/emails/tables in order to help students understand better where to look.

We started the class with the weekly vocabulary review. However, this time I gave them some individual study time to prepare before putting them into pairs. I think this worked better, but since it seems that many are not taking the time to work on the lists outside of class, I think quizzes or homework would be a solution; as I explained in a previous post, next year I will not base their mark solely on their test scores, but make participation a prominent part.

After we finished, we corrected Unit 21 Quiz, which was homework, but again I noticed that some had not finished, so once again, next time, I will ask them to submit the homework, if I give them such work to do. I may also ask students to help me with corrections as it may also help them review more.

Next, we began unit 28 and we went through the unit as we normally do, so I will not really explain the lesson in detail. We just did task 1 and task 2 which focused on the answering skills for the type of question mentioned above, and then they did the mini-quiz. After correcting the mini-quiz, I set Unit 28 Quiz for homework as well as vocabulary lists for next week. I did this because the listening part of the mock test will not take the full class, so before or after we finish, we can do some final review before the reading part of the mock test the final class.


I have pretty much decided that I will change the format of the lesson starting with the textbook, which for reasons explained previously - those being the length and difficulty - I will not use it again. As stated above, I am probably going to include homework that will have to be submitted and perhaps vocabulary quizzes to encourage students to study a little more. However, I have recently been considering two other things that could help students with regards to the TOEIC – the AWL and computers.

How might I use the AWL and computers in a TOEIC class you ask?

First of all, the AWL can be used for TOEIC, but it can also help with tests such as IELTS or TOEFL, which for those students who would like to go abroad, they would be required. Now, I haven’t searched extensively, but I have found one site that has online practice of the AWL, which I could have students use. There are quite a few exercises on this site, so I could let the students choose which activities that they would like to do, and let them work through the lists at their own pace. As for the actual words, I could have them make an online blog, or have them join facebook (I would have them join MIXI, but I cannot register as I don’t have a cell phone! I wonder how many of you were saying, ‘What? No cell phone? How is that possible? :)), and have the students post new words perhaps with its information or even have them try to write or find examples. Of course, I would have to look into how to do something like that because I have no experience with administrating a group like that, but perhaps it would be worth a try. As for listening practice, I could upload files for them to listen to (they would need headphones, of course, but I think most would), or have links to sites such as VOA, but of course, depending on the site, I would have to make up activities for them to use and that would limit their choice in what to listen to. This brings up the question of the textbook, but if I still wanted to use a textbook, I could have part of the class for that and then give them the rest of the class to work on their own.

Assessment/Evaluation Considerations

As for assessment, well I would have to think about this more, but perhaps I could still have quizzes, or I could give them a quota to meet each week, for example, you have to listen to so many recordings, or you have to show me that you studied so many words, that sort of thing. Of course, if I go this route, I will have some things to check out, and I’m sure that some things may not run smoothly in the beginning, but maybe it’s worth a shot.

Dogme and Renaming People

Since I was writing this post, I thought that I might as well respond to Darren, previously Daniel in my mind. I’m sorry about that; I have no idea why I was calling you Daniel, even referring to you as Daniel to my wife, but rest assured, I will not do it again.

I think you’re absolutely right about how Dogme like most new ways of thinking takes time to get used to, and how from my own experiences and preferences, it may be intimidating, and probably scary to try Dogme, especially since my classes tend to be big ones (25 to 40+) students. However, it is reassuring to hear someone else using such a method in a similar environment, and as you and Karenne have said, if I remember correctly, it doesn’t have to be the class, but it can be incorporated into it, so in that way it probably wouldn’t be as intimidating. That said though, it would be great to say Dogme in action with a large group, as I tend to be a visual learner, and as they say nowadays, ‘A webinar is worth a thousand on-line articles or is that twitters, or maybe its blogs?’. Anyway, I think many others out there, too, would appreciate such a demonstration to see how it can work. One last question though, Darren, before I go and buy or borrow the book (Yes, I’ve decided to go for it), since I assume you have tried Dogme ELT in your classes, and assuming many, but not all of your students are similar to mine in that they tend to use Japanese a lot and can be quiet, how do they react to Dogme ELT?


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two questions about Dogme that kind of dog me.

Today, I watched Daniel’s interview with Scott Thornbury, which I thought was great, by the way, but it brought up some more questions, especially regarding materials and assessment.


I know that one aspect of Dogme from what I’ve read so far is the provision of materials by students. However, from my own experience students tend not to do what you ask them to do or perhaps they forget, but I remember one time a few years ago, I had asked students to bring their favorite possession to talk about for the next class. Unfortunately, only a handful of students out of a class around 25 or so brought something, which of course resulted in students presenting things such as an eraser, or other school supplies, if my memory serves me well; I could be wrong though as I said this was a few years back. I think some students did use an article of clothing which was OK, but it would have been nice if they had brought something that they chose after careful consideration. I was also probably hoping that if they had brought something they would have prepared some of the English that they would need, although from what I gather, Dogme seems to focus on spontaneous English. Again, I could be wrong. The question then is what can a teacher do in order to be confident that when asked, students bring the necessary materials? Should I dock points if they come unprepared? But is that the best solution? Perhaps, everyone has already experienced the above situation and perhaps it can never be avoided especially in large classrooms, so maybe I shouldn’t lose any sleep over it.


The second concern involves assessment. My main sources of assessment and evaluation come from quizzes, midterm and final exams, attendance, participation and in-class activities usually in the form of worksheets that I collect to mark. Sometimes I also have presentations. Now, I remember in Daniel’s interview that Scott first replied ‘None’ to his question about what kind of testing should be used, but then went on to mention different testing methods, integrative, holistic, skills and how that it was difficult to do, but not impossible, with such tests as the Cambridge proficiency test being available. As I am always curious about how other teachers assess/evaluate their students, I started to think, ‘Well, how would one really evaluate/assess students in such a class?’ Can tests still be incorporated in such a method such as Dogme ELT, or would class-by-class evaluations based on presentations and participation be used, or would portfolios be possible? I would assume that the evaluation would be somewhat subjective, but it would be interesting to hear about other teachers’ evaluation schemes. I’m starting to think that I should buy Scott’s book, Teaching Unplugged, but with all the reading I have to do, especially now that I am in grad school, I am not sure if I would have the time, and besides, what better way to learn about such a method than discussing it with one’s peers, right?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Would you be so kind as to not be so polite when you talk me, dear?

Monday – Foreign Communication Class

Today was my first Monday class of 2010, and I think it went well. As I have already mentioned before, Monday’s and Friday’s classes follow the same pattern except that Monday’s class is about two weeks behind. So today, we started with a review quiz of unit 9 on apologizing. This took a little while longer than expected, but this may have been due to the fact that for the fill-in-the-blank exercise, I did not give them a clue (I usually give them the first letter). The second question was a sentence reordering type, which was also a little harder than usual because some questions had two sentences rather than just the one.

After collecting the tests, I dictated the questions for unit 11, a unit on polite English and requests. As usual, I put the questions and answers on the board for everyone to see. Next, I wrote four requests, well one could be called a command, on the board and asked them which one would be the most polite and which one would be the least polite. Here are the requests/command:

Can you open the door?
Would you be so kind as to open the door, please?
Could you open the door?
Open the door.

I then asked them to look at the utterances and tell me what differences they could find. The answer I was looking for was length, as it is common in English to lengthen a request to make it more polite. However, I accepted two other responses regarding the lack of a question mark, and the difference in modal verbs because they, too, are necessary for politeness.

The next activity was from the book – it was a fill-in-the-blank dictation task. There were four questions, and the students seemed to have no problem with this activity except for the last question whose answer was ‘I’m wondering if you could…’ which I had to play a third time because many students could not catch it. I have to say though that despite the book having ‘I’m wondering if…’ I feel that this is somewhat strange, and that personally, I would say ‘I was wondering if…’ However, this may just be a case of idiolect. Which one would you use?

After we had corrected this task, I handed out the conversation construction worksheets and gave them 6 minutes to practice and remember the conversation that they had to make. This brings up a question that I have been thinking about and should really research – How much time would you say a student needs to remember 3 or 4 fairly short lines of a conversation? I would think that between 5 to 10 minutes would be enough, but let me know what you think.

Once we finished the presentations, I handed out the worksheet on disappearing sounds. I told them that knowing about these sounds would be helpful when listening to English because I think we can all agree that English has many such sounds. First, I wrote an example on the board:

I can’t come tonight.

I then circled the two final t’s of can't and tonight, and had them repeat after me first slowly, pronouncing all sounds clearly, and then quickly reducing the t’s. I gave them enough time to work on with a partner, about 5 or so minutes, and then I went around the room checking their answers before having them go up to the board to write them. After that, I had them again repeat each sentence/question twice, first slowly and clearly and then quickly with the disappearing sounds.

Dogme ELT Video

I would like to mention that Part 7 A and B have been re-uploaded to youtube (thank you Nicole!), so I have embedded them into my previous blog on that subject.

Thank you!

I would finally like to thank everyone for their comments/links and for becoming a follower. I know I have responded to the comments individually, but I thought I’d give another shout out to you all.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Dogme EL-what-T?

Today I had no classes due to the entrance exam preparation, so I wasn't intending to post, but I was checking my blogs when I noticed a comment from Karenne (thank you!) on my post from yesterday in which I was talking about whether or not to go with a textbook. She said that she doesn't like textbooks and that she practices Dogme ELT. Now, I had never heard of Dogme ELT, so I did some research on the subject and thought that maybe I could post what I found so that others like me who don't know exactly what Dogme ELT is can learn for themselves.

What is Dogme ELT?

Simply put, it is the practice of teaching without depending on books, technology etc and only using what is at hand in the classroom. It is also a style of teaching that is learner-focused in that the lessons evolve from the students' contributions.

Is it for me?

I'm not sure. While the ideas of breaking free from such teaching tools
as computers and course books and focusing the lesson on the learner are quite appealing, I am not sure if this would be a method that would work for me because despite my qualms about textbooks, they do have their advantages, and when I don't use a textbook my style of teaching usually consists of various worksheets and handouts, so I am not sure if I would be ready to abandon them completely. However, I am sure that one could incorporate such a method into one's style to mix it up a little and give variety to the course and in this way, it may be an interesting addition to one's repertoire, especially in a speaking class. I would be very interested to hear teachers' experiences with using Dogme ELT and how it worked for them, especially those teachers teaching a homogeneous group of learners, as I get the feeling that Dogme ELT would be better suited to a more heterogeneous group, but I could be wrong.

Further Information

I found a video, a 'webinar' actually, offered by a site called English Central, discussing a book written by
Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings entitled "Teaching Unplugged" about Dogme ELT which also gives some example activities. Interestingly, I had to do some hunting to find the different parts of the webinar, but unfortunately, part 7 seems to have disappeared from the Internet, so if anyone knows where I could find it, let me know so I can post it here.

Thank You

I would also like to thank Karenne for becoming my first follower ever. I greatly appreciate it, and also thanks for the information on blog publishing!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

I need a vacation to recover from the vacation I took to recover from my vacation.

Well, this post will probably be shorter than usual because first of all we followed the recent pattern of book followed by pronunciation and second, today's class went fairly smoothly, perhaps ideally may even be a word I could use to describe it. We started with the review test, and then I dictated eight questions about the dialogue. As I asked students to repeat the questions, I wrote them on the board so everyone could see them in case they weren't sure. After getting the answers and writing those on the board, too, I had them repeat once after the CD with books open, and then with books closed, the latter being harder, which was to be expected. Next, I had them do the exchange; I gave them between 5 to 7 minutes to practice and memorize the dialogue before having them present. I did do something different though - I chose which dialogue each pair would do because often you have most groups choosing the same dialogue, and it's always a good idea to have different patterns. After their time was up, I had several groups present, some doing better than others with regards to memorizing the lines, which I can and cannot understand because the conversations are short giving each partner about 3 lines to remember, but then again, short-term memory can easily vary, but perhaps the main reason is lack of concentration in trying to remember the lines. After finishing the presentations, I told them that we would do the pronunciation next because I wasn't sure if we would have time to do both that and the listening in the textbook. I told them that if we had time we would come back to the book. As in Friday's class, I simply reviewed the handout from before the break, well actually, we hadn't finished part B of the handout, so it was necessary to complete that, but we also reviewed part A because it had been a couple of weeks since we last looked at it, and by the time we finished, it was time to go. I think today's lesson went surprisingly smoothly, but it was probably due to the fact that I did not stray from the content, and I made sure I had time to complete what I had planned.

As for the textbook situation, I still haven't decided whether or not I will continue using this book next year. I'm really can't make up my mind because, honestly, the themes are not so interesting, or even relevant at times, and since there are only 12 units, you can't really skip them, right? Also, you can't really modify the units, or well, maybe I could, but then it leaves me wondering if I really need to use a textbook, especially if I am going to modify the unit or add my own units to replace those that aren't so interesting. I should mention here though, that I will get the students' opinions at the end of the course and see what they thought of it, but when I say that the book is not interesting, it really is my opinion that I am expressing, so as long as the students are interested, there should be no problem, right? But then again, if the teacher finds something boring, it may affect the way he or she teaches that particular lesson, am I wrong? However, I do find the dialogues, the listening activities and the exchanges good for the students, and considering the time it would take to make such materials, the textbook is good in that sense. Another problem I have been having with the book is that I am only doing a quarter and sometimes less than that each week. This is mainly due to the pronunciation practice I include in the lesson, so in the future it may be an idea to eliminate the pronunciation and focus more on the textbook, but I think the pronunciation is quite important for students especially for listening to music etc and honestly, repeating such activities in several of my classes is not a bad idea because the more you practice the more you should retain, right? I think I'm rambling because looking back at this paragraph, my thoughts are going all over the place, but this is what I feel when I think about the textbook - it has good points and bad points, and despite its bad points the potential for this book to be a better than usual textbook is there. Now, it is interesting that while I was writing that sentence, I was thinking the opposite, and actually thinking that perhaps a book that focuses more on conversation strategies may be better as the chances of students actually using such strategies are higher in an EFL setting than going shopping or eating out or giving directions. Wouldn't you agree? I guess I had a lot to say after all, and it also seems that the book debate is still far from over.

And remember kids, every Thursday is Autonomy Day!

Today was my first reading/writing class of 2010. I tried something a little different with regards to the handouts and I think it worked out well. Until now, I would have them come up and collect the different sheets, but today I put them all together in a package and put them on desks and told students to sit where they saw a package. I think this worked much better because students did not have to take time waiting to get the sheets, and sometimes someone might not collect all the sheets etc, so I will continue this next class as well. I also told them that once they were finished they could leave so many students started right away.

For today's writing assignment I had them write about what they did during the winter break. This time they had to start from the beginning and brainstorm ideas before writing unlike before when all they had to do was write the first draft because we had taken an earlier class to brainstorm ideas for the themes that had to write about. I had to explain though that they needed to start with step 1 because I observed several students starting step 2 without brainstorming. However, this does bring up a point - is brainstorming really effective when writing a short paragraph of 5 to 8 lines? Perhaps if I were writing an essay, I might brainstorm beforehand, but for such a short text, is it really necessary?

The grammar activities for today focused on prepositions for time (on, in, at) and the past tense, especially the irregular verbs. The former task was a sentence correction, while the latter was a fill-in-the-blank.

I also gave them another review task for the indefinite and definite articles because students were still making mistakes with them. Honestly, when I was making this task the other day, I started thinking that maybe in the future I might make such an activity a temporary part of the class. What I mean by that is that maybe I will have, say, five review worksheets on the difference between the articles, and over the course of the semester hand them out. In this way students may come to have a better understanding of their usage than if we only did it one time and moved on. This would also be useful for other grammar points that students often have problems with.

The next activity pretty much comes from the above idea - the sentence correction task. This semester especially, I have been giving them a task each week in the hope that they may start to notice certain common mistakes. The tasks are usually based on mistakes I find in their writing samples, but sometimes I make it up myself. Of course, their understanding or noticing of these misktakes really depends on whether or not they actually look at the work when handed back. Perhaps in the future it may be a good idea to take a few minutes to explain or at least ask some students to read the answers so that everyone will have had the chance to take a look at their work again. However, this would be an explicit focus in which case students may not fully take in the information whereas if they noticed on their own, the chances of retaining the knowledge would be greater.

The last activity for the day was another reading task. I won't really explain this as it is pretty much straightforward.

I think overall today's lesson went well, although towards the end some students became a little noisy because many were finishing at the same time. Also, since I asked them to show me their first drafts, they had to wait in line, which easily leads students to talk with those next to them. However, some students stayed despite being finished and talked to their friends, so as not to disrupt other students who were still working, I asked them to leave. Other than that time the students quietly worked away.

This week I have been talking about changing textbooks and this class is no exception, except that I am thinking of using a book again instead of my own materials. I have found one that looks good, but as with all textbooks, you never know what they are really like until you use them in class. I also know that I have been trying to give students as much freedom as possible - although that freedom is really only limited to choice in order of doing the tasks, so one could easily ask whether or not I am really helping students build autonomy - so using a textbook would potentially put control squarely back on me. Of course, I could have students choose the order of the units, but it would be challenging to actually give them choice within each chapter. Furthermore, I have taken two semesters to make my own materials, and although things are not always perfect, going with a textbook would mean not being able to use those materials which I took a lot of time to work on. However, depending on how long it would take to do a chapter, I could easily incorporate some of my materials, especially the reading and sentence correction tasks. I think I will need some more time to consider what to do for this class, but if I do decide to go with a textbook, I will have to order them soon because books tend to take a long time to arrive.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hip hip vocabulary! Hip hip vocabulary!

Today was our first class back from the break. We started with a vocabulary review, but unfortunately many, if not most of the students had not finished, so I had to rearrange those who were with those who weren't so that everyone could get some practice. I wish students would take vocabulary learning more seriously, but alas they do not, even after explaining to them almost each week the importance of vocabulary for such a test such as the TOEIC. I told them today to register for the test because they have to take it, but I am worried that some will be cramming for it, which is not such a good idea.

After we finished the review, we looked at their homework, again many were not finished or so it seemed. I first had them repeat the words after me before correcting the homework.

Next, we started unit 21, another chapter focusing on Part 7 of the test. This time we looked at the 'NOT' questions, the hardest type on the test. The strategy for these is to leave them to last and do the other easier questions first so that you can get some information to help answer these questions. After looking at this strategy in some detail, we did the mini-test. Finally, I gave them the rest of the class to study vocabulary from the unit that they did not know. I told them to review the lists for next week, but I am not so confident they will. I also assigned Unit 21 Quiz for next week. Next class will also be the last class and we will focus on Part 7 one more time; the last two classes will be for the mock test.

I think I've made my decision regarding the textbook – I am going to try another. I feel that this textbook is too long for 15 classes, and it may be better to have a little more Japanese support. I think though that it will be a good idea to keep teaching the test strategies found in the text, so it may be challenging to incorporate such ideas in the text that I am looking at because it is structured in a much different way. For example, there are no strategies at all, and each chapter is not just one part as the current book; actually, the chapters are not divided into parts at all, but each chapter may have a listening and reading part and the rest is made up of vocabulary and other activities. However, there is a little more Japanese and it is structured so that one can finish in a semester. Another thing I will do, which will also be challenging, is to give them tests and make them part of their score because this semester I have been going with a marking scheme that is based on their actual test scores, which means that even if I assign homework, many are not doing it perhaps because they feel that it is not part of the grade. Maybe then, having homework and quizzes part of the mark should encourage students to actually do the work. The only setback is that to give them such quizzes I would have to make the tests when really, the students should be learning words that they do not know, not words that I give them; something that I will have to work out if I choose to go this way.

Friday, January 8, 2010

First class back and already a long weekend.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2010!

I had my first class for the new year today, and I think things went well despite the students looking a little tired, but who can blame them? I started the class off by wishing them all a Happy New Year before giving them a short review quiz. I then introduced the topic of the day - Inviting and Making Plans after which I dictated four questions for the dialogue in the book. As usual, I wrote the questions and answers on the board to allow everyone to write them down. Next, I had them repeat after the CD. After that, we did Task 2, a fill-in-the-blank dictation activity. After we finished, I told them to practice with a partner. There was an odd number of students, so I sat with one of them to even it out. I don't always do this because it obviously impedes me from observing the students, but at the same time, it allows all students to have an equal amount of time practicing because if you were to put three students together for a dialogue for two, there's a chance, especially if you give them a time limit, that they will not finish. By the time we finished this activity, I noticed that our time was running out, so instead of doing the second part of Task 2 which was answering questions on the dialogue that had just practiced, I handed out the conversation construction worksheets and gave them five minutes to get ready. Actually, I gave them more than that, but I find that 10 minutes is too long, but it also seems now that even 5 minutes is not short enough to prohibit students from speaking in Japanese about unrelated topics and with different partners! When I do notice that, I ask them if they are ready which helps them get back to work. I also tend to choose those pairs who aren't working on task to present, but I just don't spring it on them; I usually hint at the fact that they will probably be on the list to present, and sometimes even first. However, I should also add that not everyone gets distracted and that most, from my own observations, tend to stay on task, or maybe they're just good at hiding it!

The remainder of the class, we reviewed disappearing and linking sounds. I did this because first, we did not have time in the last class to finish both parts of this worksheet, and second two weeks had passed since we last did it, so some much needed review was in order. I had also planned to look at contrastive stress, but by the time we finished the review, we did not have enough time, so I told them we would do that next class (I will talk about this at that time). This of course means that I might have to make something extra for Monday's class if we are able to finish the disappearing sounds handout in our next class. However, since our first class for the new year will be January 18, perhaps I should review the linking sounds that they did before the break. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I was just going to post this when I had a thought. Obviously, I will have to think about this further, but it may be an idea to split the chapter into halves instead of doing one chapter a week. I think some teachers already do this, and honestly, I used to do exactly that when I was teaching at a language school. Of course, at such schools you may have students for a long time, so this was the main reason for doing it, but it may be worth considering, especially since I am not just using the textbook, but using the pronunciation activities as well, and as I have said before, sometimes I'm not able to finish everything completely, and there have been times when I'm sure I've had to rush it, when I was hoping to spend more time on the topic at hand. Perhaps if I reorganize my lesson plans, I may be able to do certain topics in more detail, although the setback is that I will not be able to do as many topics, but one could argue that not all topics are necessary. Hmmm...I guess I have one more thing to consider then, don't I?