Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One last thank you

With the addition of Zoli's presentation (see below) I think this blog is now complete.
Thanks one last time for all the fun we had in Belgrade I hope to be back again soon.
In the meantime don't forget my main blog oupcz.blogspot.com will be regularly updated with thoughts, ideas and handouts from sessions I do in the Czech Republic and beyond and of course there is the OUP Global blog which you can find here http://www.networkedblogs.com/blog/oup_elt_global_blog or you can join the teacher's club with all the resources you need here http://elt.oup.com/teachersclub/?cc=gb&selLanguage=en&mode=hub


A message from Zoltan

Dear friends

Please follow this link to download the PDF handouts from my workshops in Belgrade last week - hope you will find them useful.

Hope I will see you again some time soon!

Best wishes,



By the way the page appears in Hungarian, click on 'Letöltés' and your browser should ask you if you want to download or open the documents.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Peter's Handouts

Hi all,
Please find handouts from Peter's plenary and notes on using dialogues here

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thank You

I would like to thank all of you who came to the Winter Seminar this week.
I don't think I have ever worked with such a motivated and enthusiastic group of teachers in my life. So thank you.
I hope you like the blog and you find everything you need.
Feel free to leave comments or ideas or feedback here in the comments sections.
I would like also to thank Vera Scekic the Oxford University Press Area Manager for Serbia and everyone at the English Book.
Thanks and enjoy the blog.

Homework - 21st Century William Tell

if you felt like doing the homework please leave your ideas here in the comments sections :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Serbian Reading and Listening Problems

I came up with my ten problems thanks to the help of my twitter and facebook friends. And these are the ones that you came up with that were not part of my ten.

Confidence using the latin script when reading
Listening is underdeveloped - students don't know how to listen in their own language.
Tiredness can affect concentration.
Fear of getting things wrong can put students off. Comprehension type tasks can make this worse as they feel like 'tests'.
The level is sometimes too difficult for the students.
lack of self confidence.

Thank you all for your input. This will help me in Romania at the end of the month.

Top Down and Bottom Up Processing

I know a few of you were unsure about these terms but I am sure you are already encouraging this in your classrooms.
This article is an interesting read about the two processes

To read it you might want to take a top-down approach, reflect on the definition I gave and some of the ideas we discussed to activate your background knowledge.
Also you will need to piece the words together to get the meaning so you will need bottom up processing. :-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Useful Links

The mind map I used in the reading session was created here:


I mentioned to one group about a safe facebook type site you can set up and use in class.

here is the link.


Don't forget all the resources you can find on the OUP website


Also you can find lots of information about OUP activities on the OUP facebook page

and on the OUP global blog


I mentioned my own handout on Technology without Technology here is the link


Alternative Gist questions - critical thinking

To encourage students to cast a critical eye over the text and not just accept it as fact we could do a skim reading using some / one of the following questions.

Who is the author?

What was their motivation to write this?

Do you feel the facts are accurate? Why or why not?

Is the author or reporter giving equal attention to all sides of the issue?

How does this piece make you feel personally?

Do you agree or disagree with the author?

Do you believe the ‘facts’ in this article?

How would others (from other countries, cultures, political groups, etc.) feel about it?

Simple tips

Don't be afraid to break listening and reading texts down into shorter segments. Students do have a short attention span - don't fight it... accept it and adapt. :-)

Show you are interested in the text as well, even if you have heard the tape 100 times still oooh and ahh in all the right places.

Use pairwork after reading and listening exercises before class feedback. Give students a chance to check with their friends if they have the same answers. This will make them more confident when giving you the answers. It is what we do in real life; when we read or listen to something we often chat about it to our nearest and dearest.

Can you find a way to get your students up and active either before or during a reading activity?A little bit of movement helps to get oxygen to the brain and that increases attention span. Or can you open a window and have a blast of fresh air?

Listening Ideas

Under construction

Using Pictures
Pictures can be used to:
pre-teach the vocabulary
predict the content of the listening text - students tell the story by looking at the pictures then listen to see if they were correct. (they could even do this in their own language.)
during or before the listening put the pictures in the correct order.
21st Century
Take old stories and ask your students to bring them up to date.
Ask guiding questions like - where was it set? who are the people? what modern technology is used? etc etc.

Facebook updates
If the reading has characters assign a character to each student or to groups of students. Throughout the listening stop the CD and ask students to write a facebook status update for their character.
Then play some more and repeat.
Alternatively just use Facebook status updates once at the end.
Alternatively prepare some facebook status updates for the characters yourself. Play the listening and the students have to guess which character said which one.
After the listening read lines from the text with mistakes. Ask the students to shout oops if they hear a mistake. They then correct it and earn a point for their team.
As an alternative the students can choose to either correct or ask someone from another team to correct the sentence.

Question Predictions
Give the students the questions and ask them to predict the answers before they listen. This encourages the students to read the questions then they will know what they are listening for.

Using the tapescript.
The tapescript can be used to mark the sentence stress, intonation, weak forms or words joining together. This heightens students' awareness of these features and help them to recognise them.

Write your own questions
Tell the students what you are going to listen to. Ask them to write their own questions about the subject. Then they listen and see if their questions are answered. Try doing this with the pictures as well to help.

Say stop
Allow the class to stop the recording during the listening if they feel a bit lost or confused. Get them to compare their notes in pairs first and then continue.

brainstorm synonyms and antonyms
Ask them to read the questions and underline the key words. The ask them to think of other ways of saying the key words so that when they listen they will be prepared for rephrashing etc.

Reading Ideas

Mind maps
Use mind maps to brainstorm information before the reading activity or to help introduce cultural information. Then when students read ask them to complete the mind maps. It shows greater understanding of the text than comprehension question questions alone so moving from simple comprehension to gaining knowledge.

Who’s the author?
Put the some pictures of people on the whiteboard, ask the students to read the text and decide who wrote it . Get them to give reasons and discuss their answers. This is getting them to start to negotiate meaning in a text, to think of the author and their reasons for writing.

Isolate some key facts from the text. Get students to find the facts in the text and be able to talk about why they are important, in their own words. You can do this as a race to help motivate the students.

Understanding gapped text.
Give the students a text with gaps in it. Set a gist task, tell them to ignore the gaps. Students read and find the answer to the gist question. This shows them that they can cope with a text even if they do not understand every word. Explain that words they don't know are just like gaps.

Working out meaning from context
Ask students to work out what should go in the gaps. As I did reward points for closeness and good guesses. Remember that this is all about developing learning strategies and is not a test so keep it fun and take the pressure off.

Completing the sentences
Put 5 the same sentence on the board 5 times but at the end of the clause put a different conjunction. Ask the students to complete the sentences using information from the text but respecting the meaning of the conjunction.

Selected Photos

your solutions to the problems part 3

They don't get it when there is cultural info in the text...because they generally focus on form and literal meaning.
- ask question s about the text before and after the reading.
- use pre-reading to turn students’ attention to cultural spots.
- don’t be afraid to give students hints, it is not a test.
- activities to compare customs and cultures, find pictures about cultures.
- ask them to research the cultural info themselves.
- present fun or amusing cultural facts

It’s so difficult to pay attention to a voice coming out of a box in the corner of the room, you can see them looking out of the window.
- pause the listening regularly and ask questions
- use pair or group work to have them discuss what they heard.
- if students are not motivated they won’t listen. find more captivating texts.
- put a poster on the window with the word listen

Students fail to register discourse markers. so rely on keywords which can skew meaning
- introduce the discourse markers, ask them to give examples and come to conclusions themselves.
- point out the discourse markers in the texts.
- take the Discourse markers out, do a gist read and then put the discourse markers back in and do it again, does it make a difference in understanding.
- or get students to guess what the discourse markers are.
- get them to put the text in the correct order.
- tell them not to be sad, there is more to life than getting the answers right.

your solutions to the problems part 2

In tests the wording of each item can cause problems: weaker students tend to focus on the exact words they see in the question, and are confused when they don't find them.
- train your students how to deal with different reading or listening tasks, I strongly advise a lot of exam practice before the exam.
- encourage them to read more in order to expand their understanding abilities and self- confidence.
- the teacher should help them to feel clever by sometimes setting slightly easier tasks.

This sound bite generation… anything longer than a couple of paragraphs and they lose interest
- avoid using long and boring texts, adjust topics to students age and interests.
- divide texts into smaller parts
- give them a choice of what they read listen to in class.
- divide class time into small bits / chunks that are easier to digest.
- motivate them to make some predictions about the end of the stories.
- engage or involve the students in the learning process.

I don’t have a lot of time in class, so I skip the listening or find it easier to read the text to the students
- give the students texts to read on their own.
- exchange their opinions on the text
- remember listening and reading can give students a wealth of expose to

your solutions to the problems part 1

Students often try to understand every single word, or try to translate the text into their own language

- the teacher should give more reading exercises on scanning and skimming.

- try to deal with unknown vocabulary before the reading or listening.

- work on their self-confidence.

- advise them to understand the text in general. Advise them not to get stuck on the first word they don’t know.

- ask them to write headlines for each paragraph.

- play a listening twice. Tell the students not to worry if they don’t understand every word of it.

- have a poster or picture which represents the situation that the text speaks of.

- ask the students to underline the keywords in the text. Then ask them to retell the text using the keywords.

- remind the students to focus on the general meaning not on the meaning of specific words.

-encourage students to guess meaning from the context.

Student don't always read the instructions carefully and so don't understand what they are listening for

- check the instructions by asking questions.

- get them to check with a partner what they have to do.

- give an example of what you want the students to do.

- give all the necessary background information and pre-teach key words if necessary.

- clarify and check instructions repeat if necessary.

- do an example the help of a volunteer.

They get lost so easily, try to understand every word or complain the speakers are going too quickly.

- give them some keywords or something to prepare them. Play it more than once if necessary.

- play the text part by part, remind them that they might not need to understand every word.

- advise the students to try to get a general idea of the text.

- split the text up and do some comprehension activity in between them.

- do some pre-listening and keywords activities before hand – repetition could give a good result too.

Students equate reading with misery, school and tests, they don’t even read in their own language.

- arouse students attention by finding texts with catchy titles or shorter texts

- choose topics they are interested in.

- allow students to choose the texts.

- direct students to the internet or books to find more information about the reading.

Reading and Listening problems

These are the problems that my colleagues came up with from around the globe.

Feel free to write solutions in the comment section below.
  • Students often try to understand every single word, or try to translate the text into their own language
  • Students don't always read the instructions carefully and so don't understand what they are listening for
  • They get lost so easily, try to understand every word or complain the speakers are going to quickly.
  • Students equate reading with misery, school and tests, they don’t even read in their own language
  • In tests the wording of each item can cause problems: weaker students tend to focus on the exact words they see in the question, and are confused when they don't find them.
  • This sound bite generation… anything longer than a couple of paragraphs and they lose interest
  • I don’t have a lot of time in class, so I skip the listening or find it easier to read the text to the students
  • They don't get it when there is cultural info in the text...because they generally focus on form and literal meaning.
  • It’s so difficult to pay attention to a voice coming out of a box in the corner of the room, you can see them looking out of the window.
  • Students fail to register discourse markers. so rely on keywords which can skew meaning

Reading and Listening -before during and after

The conclusions from my two sessions on reading and listening said before, during and after.
I feel that maybe I said it too often in the end but I think it is essential when setting up reading and listening texts we thing about:
before: how do we create interest and make students want to read and listen?
during: how do we keep students 'busy' while reading and listening. how do we keep their attention?
after: how do we make the reading / listening feel worthwhile? Can the students use the information in the reading / listening to form their own ideas or respond to the text?

I think if we consider these things in planning then we are doing our best to make the lessons interesting for the students.

Words of the Day

A couple of words from the session that people asked me what they meant. Here's the OALD definitions.

sound bite - http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/sound+bite

Day one - terms and definitions

These were the terms and definitions we looked at and a couple more too for good measure.

Top down processing – bringing your own knowledge and expectations to a text to help get meaning.
Bottom up processing – using the words and structure to decipher meaning.
Editing – reading and analysis what you have written or spoken in order to improve the message.
Circumlocution – the ability to talk around the subject if you don’t have the ability to say exactly what you mean.
Skimming – reading a text without understanding every word to try to get the general meaning or gist.
Scanning – looking at text for key information, the way one might read a pizza menu.
Summarising – reporting what you have read or heard to others in either written form on spoken form.
Negotiating meaning – being able to ask questions to find out what the speaker or writer means, and being able to ask questions to ensure the listener, reader has understood.
Structuring – knowing about the structure of different genres of writing or spoken text.

Stress and rhythm – a listening and speaking skills, hearing, understanding and producing the punctuation of spoken text.

Plenary Critical Thinking

How do we think?

Critical thinking is the ability to critically analyse information rather than accept information unconditionally. That is, not to accept information we receive as fact but to question what we hear, to evaluate against what we know and then to use that information to draw our own conclusions.

Let’s think about the way we think, look at these true or false questions.

 Cows are grass eating animals

 Jagodina is the capital of Serbia

 Vocabulary is more important than grammar when teaching English

 Shows like X-factor are good for society

 My grandfather married my mother

The first two sentences we can answer easily and quickly, why? It is because they are universally accepted facts and if we were to question them, then we could find evidence from credible sources that would back up the facts. Those sources might be our own eyes or a biology text book etc.

It is worth remembering that credible sources can sometimes let us down. Anyone who has seen the BBC TV show QI will testify that a whole range of widely held truths have been proved to be untrue or only partially true.

Extreme critical thinkers (often known as conspiracy theorists) will not believe anything until they have seen concrete evidence but most of us accept these universal truths without needing to see proof.

Sentences three and four are beliefs. There is no right or wrong true or false answer for these. Scientists, grammarians, pedagogues or psychologist can put forward arguments and counter-arguments, can produce evidence that ‘proves’ their assertions but others might find evidence to refute their claims.

This for me is where we need to apply critical thought. When we read articles in newspapers, see documentaries on television or read books we often think that what we are reading is fact. After all they appear to be credible sources.(It must be true it was on the BBC.) But we should recognise that the creator has an agenda, and that they are using their facts to create an argument that fits their agenda.

The final sentence shows how sometimes we need to think differently. For all intents and purposes the answer should be false. But it is in fact true. The reason being is that my grandfather married hundreds of women in his role as a vicar and my mother was just one of them. So it also follows that my grandfather married my father too!

Thus sometimes we need to look at things and then look at them differently to find the answer.

Why do we need to encourage Critical Thinking in our lessons?

Students are exposed to so much information these days that they need to be trained to move beyond the first two levels of blooms taxonomy, remembering and understanding, to the other levels like analysing and evaluating. Asking themselves questions and negotiating meaning with the author / speaker. So we want them to form their own opinion and express themselves effectively and also to develop skills that will enable students to evaluate information against what they know and then to use that information to draw their own conclusions.

Two questions that arise from this; why do students need to be trained to think critically and why is it our job to do it?

Educational approaches in many countries require students to memorise and then regurgitate facts, there is very little evaluation or interpretation of what they have learnt. This means that student are ill-prepared for the challenges of further education .

It could be argued that this is not our jobs, we are English teachers and not teaching further education study skills, but I would argue that by encouraging more analysis, more questioning, more evaluation, we are improving their English language skills.

Of course students might have barriers to this approach. The most common barriers are:

• Cultural or personal barriers. – a common example of this is that the student believe something because their teacher told them. In some cultures it may seem rude or impertinent to question a figure of authority.

• Mistaking information for understanding – students might think they understand because they have been taught the facts but might fall down on questions like why or how?

• Lack of methods, strategies, practice or encouragement – students may never have been asked to read between the lines, to look for flaws in an argument etc. so might not know how to do it or might be reluctant to do it.

This means that when you ask students for opinions or to speculate they might say things like:

• My teacher said it, so it must be true.

• I know it is but I don’t know why

• But what’s the right answer?

• What do you think teacher?

• I don’t know! (meaning - I can’t be bothered to think about it so I will say I don’t know, or I am worried my view will be controversial so will not say anything.)

• Is this going to be on the test?