martes, 14 de abril de 2015

The teacher´s command of language and other assorted but related topics

In the introduction to this Language Debate session at IATEFL 2015 in Manchester this week (follow link below to watch it online), Michael Carrier said, “One of the issues we haven´t quite solved is teachers´ language proficiency.” The sentence reminded me of the results of a recent test given to teachers of English in Peru by Euroidiomas on behalf of the MINEDU and in preparation for a training scheme carried out last and this year: about 70% of testees landed on the A1-A2 level, that is, they were diagnosed as fit to pass KET and PET (data presented at last week´s Foro Internacional Educación y Bilingüismo en el Perú). Is this an acceptable, or at the very least satisfactory, level to teach English? The answers will vary depending from what standpoint you look at the issue, and that is shown in the said debate. What surprised me was the data Michael Carrier brought about levels of teachers in other countries in the world. While working for Cambridge University giving consultancy to governments and ministries of education, he has come to learn that that there about 12 to 15 million teachers of English in the world. 90-95%, roughly, are non-native speakers of the English language: only 5-10% are native speakers! He also mentioned that when testing teachers´ levels, the majority were in the A2 level, much the same as what the Euroidiomas testing exercise found out. The conclusion here is that the problem of language command is not exclusive to our country; however, that should not make us happy, but, on the contrary, force us to work harder to find solutions.
The debate also tackled other topics, such as the concept of the teacher-learner; one that I have heard many times to justify the fact that some teachers who can´t thread two sentences (correctly) together are still in front of a group of learners. The teacher-learner may be looked at from two points of view: first, as a teacher who is learning his subject, English, while on the job (because s/he can´t speak it reasonably well yet –what is reasonable is also under debate); and second, the teacher-learner who is learning professionally, that is, s/he is developing skills to improve his/her teaching.
The debate is highly interesting and I invite you to watch it by visiting the link below.

Cesar Klauer

lunes, 12 de mayo de 2014

KENO adptations for language learning

KENO is a kind of lottery game in which numbers are drawn from a blower and announced aloud for players to cross them out on their cards. It looks a lot like BINGO, only without the letters on top. You may have seen the games of KENO played at casinos all over the world or sold in toy and game shops. In this article, we are going to use the concept: drawn out numbers (language items in our case) that have to be crossed out on cards until one player has a full card.
The game can be used for any language item we want to tackle, be it the presentation new language, the revision of vocabulary and/ or grammar structures or any other aim the teacher may have in mind.
For this specific example, we are going to prepare a KENO game to review past tenses of irregular verbs.

Preparation of materials

Decide how many verbs you are going to review this time.
Prepare cards or pieces of paper with 15 slots; 3 columns and 5 lines. In each slot write past tenses from the list of verbs at random. Make as many as students you have in your class.
Prepare 15 pieces of paper with the base forms of the verbs on your list and fold them so as to be drawn from a box or bag.


Distribute one KENO card per student and ask them to have a pen or pencil at hand.
Explain that you will draw verbs from the box or bag and that they have to find the past tense on their cards. If they have it, they should write the base form next to the past. If they don´t have it, they do nothing. After drawing the verbs from the box/ bag, the teacher must stick them on the board in the order they appear for the students to refer to them and for the revision of winning cards at the end.
The winner of the game is the student who completes the full card correctly. At that moment, the student must shout out “KENO!” and all the other students stop the game until the winning card has been checked.


Using the verbs stuck on the board, the teacher calls the verbs and the winner must answer by giving the past tense. If there is no mistake, then you got a winner.

Advantages of the game

The KENO game looks simple but it has more to it than the naked eye can see. To begin with, students will be exposed to the pronunciation of verbs which they will have to identify and turn into their past form in order to find the match on their cards. Not only that, but they will have to write it correctly on their cards to have a winning entry. Even those students who do not have a match for the verb in turn, will review the verb because it will be stuck on the board and checked at the end of the game.


The verb game given above is a very easy and straightforward application of KENO but you can use the concept to review other language forms: to review collocations, draw one part of the combination and let students find the other part and write it either before or after the word they have on their card. In order to study questions and answers, draw questions and have students find the correct answers on their cards, and write them; or vice versa, draw answers and have students find the questions on their cards.

In any case, the students will be exposed to specific language items in a ludic form which will attract them and help them learn while having fun.

lunes, 28 de abril de 2014

Learning to use prepositions of time with a fun actitivity

Have you noticed your students have a hard time using prepositions of time correctly? Here is an activity idea that can be used as both an introduction to a lesson on prepositions of time and as a revision. What´s more, the very procedure of the activity can be easily adapted to other topics such as prepositions of place or regular verbs past form pronunciation.
The first thing you do is make a list of time expressions that use the most common prepositions: in, on and at. I usually include a list of expressions that do not use any preposition. You will end up with lists like these:
IN : the morning, the afternoon, the evening; 1977, March, etc.
ON: 28th July, weekends (US usage), Monday, Monday 22nd December, etc.
AT: the weekend (UK usage), night, the turn of the century, 6.00 o´clock, etc.
No Prep.: yesterday, yesterday morning, this morning, today, tomorrow, etc.

My lists usually have about 15 expressions in each category. Obviously, you will repeat some “similar” expressions, like “on Monday” but also “on Friday.” This is good practice because it will provide examples of “on + day of the week.”
Once you have your lists, cut out pieces of paper or card of ¼ A4 page. I use paper of different colours to bring a little bit of fun and “life” to the activity, but be careful not to use the same colour for one category so students are not given hints. Then, write the expressions on the cards, one at a time, without the prepositions, like this:
the morning
6.00 o´clock

Make a deck of cards and shuffle them. Now you will need some “blutack” or similar and you are ready.
In class, divide the board into four spaces and write on top: IN, ON, AT, NO PREP. When I have a large class, say about 24, I also use the walls but instead of writing on the wall, I stick up a card. Next, distribute the cards, more than one each hopefully, to the students together with a piece of “blutack”. Ask them to stand up and stick the time expressions they got under the corresponding preposition. These will bring about some minutes of noisy activity while the students decide where to put their cards. Since they had gotten cards with expressions that belong in different prepositions they will cross paths with each other and laugh and smile and have a good time, they may even correct each other on the way and/ or ask their classmates for help when in doubt. All this is great, let it happen and encourage it if possible.
When they have finished and are sitting back in their places, go through the cards and put a cross next to the ones that are wrong. Then, ask for volunteers to change the marked cards to their correct place. Encourage students to come up even if the marked cards are not theirs. If there are still some incorrectly placed cards, repeat the cross marking until all the cards are in the correct area.
Now you may ask your students to look at the expressions on the board and come up with rules. They must deduce that IN goes with months, etc. provided you have given enough examples for them to notice. Afterwards you may want to do another type of exercise to reinforce/ use the expressions.
You may also adapt the same procedure for expressions of place, do vs make, pronunciation of regular past tenses, and any other grammar or vocabulary topic you want.
The advantages of this activity include the fact that it gives kinesthetic/ tactile students a chance to move about. It also provides an opportunity for visual learners to pick up concepts, they will see the rules “appear” in front of them on the board –you may use colours as suggested but also forms for the cards, etc.  The rules are not given straightforward to the students but they will deduce them as the activity evolves. This makes it more memorable.
The activity provides variety and a moment of apparent relaxation as the students walk about and maybe joke with each other. When the teacher marks the incorrect cards, they are asked to rethink their grammar/ vocabulary and try their hand at another possible solution to the language problem. This is an example of the trial and error process present in language acquisition and one skill that every good language learner must develop.

In short, the activity lends itself useful and fun, easy to set up and valuable. Why not try it out and see what happens?

lunes, 14 de abril de 2014

"Hot slips", a non-invasive correction technique

Whenever our students are working in pairs or groups, we always notice their mistakes. Then we are faced with the dilemma: Should I correct now or not? The advice is to delay the correction, it is best not to interrupt because we shouldn´t cut a student´s stream of language. And it makes sense. Imagine yourself interrupting with a correction every time the student has made a mistake, it may be too often and may become boring, annoying, and demotivating.
Some years ago, I read an article that suggested a simple technique called “Hot slips”. It consists in noting down mistakes on pieces of paper that the teacher would give to the students after they have finished their activity. In this way, the corrections are personalized and non-intrusive. I tried the technique and it worked fine; however, I found it could be improved. For example, what kind of mistakes should the teacher note down? When exactly should the slips be given: right after the student´s intervention, at the end of the class, while other students are talking? I then modified it a little bit and this is what came up.
1.       Prepare slips of paper to note down mistakes. I am now using a notepad that lets me rip off pages easily.
2.       Decide what kind of mistakes you are going to concentrate on: Grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, or more than one category. In any case, define an area in the piece of paper to note down the type of mistake. Also, and I suggest this is done too, try and note down good sentences, uses of grammar and/ or vocabulary that exemplify advancement in the student´s performance.
3.       Keep another normal sized piece of paper. This is not to be given to the students. You will note down the most common mistakes here so that you can show them to your students at the end of the activity and/ or plan remedial work based on this information.
4.       Stay with one group/ pair for as long as necessary to get information.
5.       When the activity is finished, pick some mistakes from your own notes and do some remedial work. It is important not to mention who made the mistakes but treat them in general.
6.       Alternatively or additionally, plan remedial work based on the information you collected during the activity.
The advantages of the modified Hot Slips technique add to the two mentioned before, personalization and non-intrusiveness, the element of closure. The activity has an output when the teacher shows the students their mistakes.  The fact that good examples of language use are included in the teacher´s notes, gives the activity a motivating edge: Not everything is criticism.
When giving corrections on the board, I usually prefer an inductive method. I write an example sentence or more with the identified mistakes in them and ask the students to point out what is wrong and why. I also write pairs of sentences which are different only because one has the mistake I am concentrating on and the other doesn´t.
For example:
I have 20 years old. VS I am 20 years old.
The students didn´t went to class.  VS  The students didn´t go to class.

The modified version of Hot Slips has proved to be really effective in error correction and, what is more important, extremely useful for me as a teacher. The best is to try it out and see how it works for you, and even think of some modifications to suit your needs and situation.

lunes, 7 de abril de 2014

Yet another post-it notes activity

A cloze text is an activity where several words have been deleted from a reading text. The hard-core cloze requires the deletion of every nth word, regardless of what part of speech it is. That is, you delete every 8th word in the text, or every 10th, etc. A variation, very useful for directing the focus of the lesson, is to delete only verbs, or nouns or adjectives, etc. Also, the teacher may decide to delete any words s/he thinks relevant. The students then have to provide the missing word(s) according to context and grammar.
A challenging way to tackle a reading text is to copy it and create a cloze exercise. You may, if the text is too long, choose to create a cloze for the first paragraph(s) of the reading as an introduction.
In any case, the suggestion in this article has to do with a creative way to get students to do the cloze exercise using post-it notes.
Preparation: Apart from the cloze-text, prepare post-it notes with one answer in each. Produce two or three sets of answers and include three to five “distractors”, that is, words that do not belong in the text, for each set.
Procedure: Once your students have worked out the missing words in the text, get them to form pairs or groups of three to check each other´s answers. While they are at it, stick the post-it notes on the walls. When the students have finished checking their answers, ask them to stand up and look for the missing words in their texts among the post-it notes on the walls. They must work as teams in order to collect the right answers. They must not have their texts at hand while searching for the answers, but they can go back to their seats to consult their texts. You may want to give a time limit for this activity so as to make it more competitive and fun or just let them work at their own pace. This will depend on your class style and other factors you know better than anybody.
Check answers: Once the answers collection has finished, check answers with the whole class, and if you like, assign points to the teams for correct answers. Remember to ask for reasons why they gave such and such answer.
The activity may be adapted by copying the text on a large piece of paper, such as a flipchart or series of flipcharts that you will stick on the board. In this variation, the students will work individually: they fetch post-it notes from the walls and go to the enlarged text and place words in their corresponding space.

Reflection: As a final stage, it is advisable for this type of exercise to get students to work in their teams and reflect on how they arrived at the answers they had and why they were right or wrong. This stage will promote metacognition, which means, they will analyse how they know what they know and understand the process of producing language.

miércoles, 26 de marzo de 2014

How to use post-it notes in a reading lesson

We are all familiar with those yellow pieces of paper with the sticky back used to remind us of important information. They are really useful in everyday tasks but they can also come in handy when trying to introduce variety and fun to our reading lesson.
This activity can be adapted to any text, weather it has true/ false questions already incorporated or not.
Materials: some two or three post-it notes per student and a reading text.
Preparation: Copy from the textbook and/ or write your own TRUE/ FALSE sentences for the reading text you are using in class. Write one sentence in each post-it note. Depending on the length of the text and the number of students in your class, you will have to repeat some sentences, or write two similar sentences but with a slight difference to get students thinking. Then, stick them on the walls around the class.
Procedure: After the students have worked with the texts, form pairs and tell them to stand up and collect as many post-it notes as they can. One student must collect TRUE statements and the other FALSE ones.  As soon as each student has decided if the statement in his post-it note is true or false he must mark it T or F. When all the post-it notes have been collected, they should get together and confirm if they have collected the statements in the post-it notes correctly. They should re-read the passage. During the collection of the post-it notes, the students cannot have their books and/ or texts with them, they must use their memory. However, they can go back to their seats to consult the text. They may not talk to other people to get help. If you want to make it competitive, you can assign points for good answers and declare a winner at the end of the task. When checking answers all together, ask for support to their true/ false answers.
The same procedure may be adapted for other types of reading tasks. For example, instead of true/ false statements, the post-it notes may carry questions to which the students must find an answer to in the text. Alternatively, the post-it notes may form a “chain” of events as described in the text. The students must collect them and put them in order.

The activity is basically a true/ false task; however, the fact that the students have to stand up and walk and remember information make the activity fun and a bit more demanding than just circling Ts or Fs in the course book. The element of competitiveness will also add more fun to the activity. If by any chance you are unable to use post-it notes, cards and even pieces of paper may be used and stuck on the walls using blu-tack or cello tape.

martes, 29 de octubre de 2013

Literaure in the EFL classroom

In the photo: The author of this post and the participants in the workshop "Teaching English Using Literature" with their copies of "American Themes" and "My Town".

Last Saturday 26th October, I was invited to give a short talk about the use of Literature in the teaching of English. This happened at the Universidad del Pacífico Teachers´ Congress. During the talk we discussed some possible ways in which Literature, specially literary writing techniques, can help students develop a better sense of the way language works. We also had the great opportunity of introducing the new Department of State publication “American Themes”, which we gave out to the participants together with “My Town”, a selection of texts by writers on American cities, thanks to the Regional English Language Office led by David Fay in Lima.
Using literature to teach/ learn English is an attractive alternative. In the first place, Literature is independent from any methodology. Teachers can insert literary works at any time in their curriculum and they can make the piece fit their teaching topics, vocabulary and grammar. Secondly, Literature becomes a tool for students to develop their language skills further from the textbook. What is more, Literature provides authentic, valuable and rich contexts for personal enrichment and growth thanks to its suggestive power and universality, variety and interest.
Apart from the obvious and natural place of Literature as a source of reading material, we teachers can use it as a springboard for other connected activities such as debates on the different “readings” a text may have for diverse readers. Also, we can adapt some innovative literary techniques to help our students develop their writing skills. Although the objective will not be to produce literary works, our students will have the opportunity to explore the language and have fun with it.
One such technique is called “Erasure”. The writer uses a published text, such a newspaper article, and a felt tip pen. Then, s/he erases parts of the text and keeps others s/he likes. The resulting piece is a new text which, even though it is using words from an existing one, has a message that the author has given to it. The technique is used by writers belonging to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Movement, a group of poets who experiment with Chance Operations, techniques that try to give randomness a place in the production of literary works.
Another technique we presented was giving the text a limit in the number of words. We introduced the participants to Drabbles, a short narrative form of producing flash fiction, where the text has to have exactly one hundred words. The advantage for us teachers is that the fact that there is a limit in the number of words, will force students to edit and rethink about new and creative ways to say what they want to say in order to enforce the 100-word rule.
More information and examples of the techniques in use can be found on the following websites: