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:

miércoles, 19 de junio de 2013

The Kentucky Fried Chronicles part 1

 The Study of the United States Institute –SUSI for short – on Contemporary American Literature is hosted by the University of Louisville, Kentucky, which happens to be hometown of KFC and of one of the most amazing athletes of all time: Muhamad Ali.

I was lucky to have been chosen to be part of the group of sixteen scholars from all over the world who will be based in Louisville for the following six weeks. Upon arrival, I learned that Peru was one of the three countries that were participating in the institute for the first time, Namibia and Burma are also first timers. The other countries represented here are Boznia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Indonesia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, China, Romania, Russia, Syria, Tunisia and Zambia.


On Friday, we were gathered for the first time at the international Center; but things did not take off so quickly, it might have been the KFC we were served (for the first and only time, we were told) or it may have been the long trip. The thing is, right now we all feel as if we had known each other for ages: the jokes go in and out but, most importantly, the respect for each other as individuals and for our cultures is always the first consideration and the bond that has made us a solid group.


Tom Bryers, the director of the institute and famous in Spain as the Tomate Vengador, has been so far giving us introductory sessions on the concepts we need to be able to deal with to begin to try interpretations of the literary works we have to read and to connect those works to the culture of the United States expressed in its way of life, architecture, society, etc.

One of the most surprising things that has happened so far is the proclamation of the sixteen scholars in the SUSI Scholarship as Honorary Citizens of Louisville. We had the opening dinner on Monday night and during the speeches that are typically given on these occasions, Tom Bryers announced that the representative of the Mayor of the City had come to present us with a diploma. We were called, one by one, and got it from the Mayor´s representative. A complete surprise and an honor we all expect to be up to.


The days go by as we get on track with the works of poetry and narrative we will study, “deconstruct” some may say, in a city that is a nice place to be, hot at times, rainy at others, but with a quiet air that makes it a perfect place to study and develop a view of the American society through its literature.


viernes, 1 de febrero de 2013

Something to say about: collocations

A very important area of learning a language is the correct use of vocabulary in the right contexts, specially the combinations that form fixed phrases, that is: collocations. To a native of Spanish, some word combinations sound right but for the native English folk they don´t. And literal translations don´t help much!!! Take for example the Spanish phrase “tomar el pelo”. We know the corresponding phrase is “pull someone ´s leg”, but if you want to translate it word by word, the result is at least confusing if not really bluffing.
The point is, vocabulary is a hard cookie, and we teachers need to inform ourselves before we “teach” something misleading like “take vacations”. Happily, and conveniently enough for us, the Internet has very good resources we could call “virtual donkey killers” (just kidding, the phrase is an invention). Among them, we can find dictionaries and thesaurus. However, the tool I have found extremely useful to clear any doubts (like the one on “take vacations”) is the Collocations Dictionary. Here you can enter a word and in return the dictionary will give you the possible word combinations, or collocations.
Have a field trip using the dictionary…and learning more.

viernes, 25 de enero de 2013

Free online resources for teachers

This summer I decided to give a touch of technology to my class, but without spending money. I knew and have used Moodle , probably the most popular educational platform, so I performed a simple search that tipped me to the site where you can host a class for free, provided it is open to everybody. I requested and was granted permission to create a course.
So far, the experience has had its ups and downs. On the lighter side, I can tell you Moodle is a great tool. You can upload any kind of material: text, video, audio, photo, pdf, word, excel, ppt, Hot Potatoes, links, YouTube, you name it! Then, the functionalities it offers are improving all the time. Right now, you can create online quizzes where you can determine the timing of the test, the kind of feedback you give, and then the score goes directly to the Grade Book so your students (and you, with the downloadable grade book facility) can have the record of grades at hand. There are other tools available for the curious teacher who wants to spend some time exploring the platform.
On the other hand, the time you spend on creating a course might be a problem. Specially if you are not familiar with the tool: you have to learn the ropes first! Then, you have to really become a pain in the neck with your students to get them to use the tool. Happily I have achieved this, but there still some who are waiting to the last moment to come an say: Sorry, teacher, I didn´t know. You know what I mean!
Another tool I am using (again really) is Markin4. This free programme lets you mark written texts by inserting notes and commentaries into it. Then you save the corrected work in a browser compatible file and send it to your student so s/he can see the feedback. You can ask your students to write a composition, send it to you on the email and when you got it, you copy/ paste it onto the Markin4window and viola! You are marking the text online.
I hope you find these tools as useful and exciting as I have. I assure you will be fascinated!