Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pencil Talk

In my classes I tend to take a few lessons to focus on writing.  Just as young children learn to speak fluently, they also need to learn how to write fluently. Writing in English is quite rewarding for the students as it is a visual representation of their language skill (Cameron, 2001 in Linse, 2005). It is therefore important for us as teachers to take our time in helping our students write as well as possible. 
In our classroom we employ the process-writing approach, which can be adapted to both Elementary and Middle school levels. This approach involves a step-by-step build up to the final written piece (Linse, 2005). We talk about what we will write by brainstorming and collecting ideas, and work towards our direct objectives .
Step 1: Pre-writing
Pre-writing or warm-up activities are essential for all students as they provide encouragement and build up the students’ confidence ahead of the main task (Linse, 2005). During pre-writing activities the students are able to share thoughts and ideas, as well as expand their vocabulary. For instance, a short conversation about the topic can be enough to collect thoughts and ideas. We can facilitate by asking simple questions related to the topic. One of my favorite pre-writing techniques is the use of mind-maps. Mind-maps are a good, creative foundation for writing since all thoughts and ideas are consolidated, and students can easily transfer those thoughts and ideas into their main writing piece. Mind-maps have proven to be effective at both Elementary and Middle school levels.

Step 2: Write
For the main writing process you can use different approaches based on your students’ language ability.
Controlled writing or guided activities help students practice the language, and build up their concentration and confidence in the target language (Linse, 2005). It is also a good way to ease low-level students into writing practice.
Guided writing practice can be in the form of a fill-in-the-blanks activity where the students are provided with a word bank to help them complete their writing piece. For ESL students it is also a good idea to include pictures in your word bank as many of the students are still learning to read and will therefore be able to build associations based on the pictures provided (Wright, 1989).
In a few of my information-gap-fill worksheets, I also included a simple checklist, with multiple-choice options. In this activity, students were provided with a range of options and they chose the appropriate word to fit their story. Once they had completed their checklist they filled in the gaps on a paragraph based on our topic.
Free writing covers a much wider range of activities, such as, poems, book reviews, letters, invitation cards, and short stories. These activities give the students an opportunity to creatively express their thoughts and ideas (Linse, 2005). However, writing freely can be difficulty for ESL students. For this reason I like to include a sample of what the students work should look like as it gives them a basic idea on the common goal that we set for the class. Our main aim is to get students to write complete sentences using proper grammar and punctuation. For the lower level writing practice we include a few articles, and subject words, just to facilitate their writing practice. For higher level students we use key questions as a reference. With this approach, we have seen a great improvement in all our students, at both levels.
Once students have completed their first draft, you can work with him/her to revise and edit their written piece. This will give you the opportunity to correct grammatical errors and ensure that the student's ideas have a logical flow. At my school, we like to get our students involved in the editing process. This method has helped our students improve their writing while helping their classmates.

Step 3: Publishing
The final piece should be re-written in a presentable form so that it can later be displayed or shared. We provide special paper for our students to write their final piece because we always display their work around our classroom, it also creates a sense of pride for the students.
Dos and Don’ts on writing
· Concentrate on content. It is important for us to help our students produce work with substance.
· Spend time on pre-writing activities. Talking and planning ahead of writing is just as important as the final product. Get the students into the habit of planning and organizing their thoughts and ideas first, this solid foundation will be beneficial to their language progression.
· Walk around while students are writing and offer suggestions to help them improve their work.

· It is not good to announce the subject you intend on teaching out of the blue. You want to ease the students into the topic. This is where the pre-writing activities play a major role. My co-teacher and I tend to get a little animated when we start a new topic. We do a little role-play, which includes key phrases and vocabulary from the new topic. We then ask the students to describe what they just heard and then proceed to present the lesson, and finally introduce the topic we wish for them to write about.
· Avoid setting work that is beyond your students’ language capability. I suggest spending some time observing your students, make notes on their strengths and weaknesses; this will help you when you planning your lessons and ultimately ensure that you meet the needs of all your students.
The tips and ideas presents above can be adapted for any grade level. I encourage you to observe your students and assess their abilities before planning your lessons. Teaching English as a Second Language requires patience and flexibility, in order for your lessons to be effective.
Linse. C. T (2005) Practical English Language Teaching: Young Learners, McGraw-Hill: New York
Scott. W. A & Ytreberg. L. H (1990) Teaching English to Children, Longman: New York
Slattery. M & Willis. J (2001) English for Primary Teachers - A handbook of activities and classroom language, Oxford University Press: UK
Wright. A (1989) Pictures for Language Learning Cambridge University Press: Glasgow 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Toilet Paper Crafts

Since I started teaching in Korea I have unleashed a creative side in me I never knew I had.  I've become creative with thinking up fun games and lessons but best of all I have become a bit of a pro at recycling toilet paper rolls.  My first tp roll inspired craft were these cute little owls.

Toilet paper roll owls

We used:

  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Origami paper (150 x 150 mm)
  • Plain white paper
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Scissors

  • We glued a sheet or origami paper around the toilet paper roll and tucked in the excess paper.
  • Next we pressed in the top of the roll (like the picture suggests) and ended up with two pointy ears.
  • On a separate sheet of paper we drew two tear drops, these served as wings for our owls.  We glued the round ends to the side of our rolls with the pointy bits sticking out.  You and your students can decided on the direction of the wings.
  • Using the white paper, we drew circles for eyes, cut them out and glued it to our birds.
  • Finally, we cut out a little triangle to make a nose and stuck it in between the eyes.
 I allowed the students to get creative and decorate their owls however they wanted to. We had such a blast making them that it we decided to do more crafts using toilet paper rolls which I will share in another post.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mind-Mapping Me

This year,  I was relocated to an Elementary School due to financial reasons within the education office.  I previously taught at a Middle School for four years so this change mean't having to learn how to connect with younger ESL learners.

It's always a good idea to use the first lesson at any new school as an introductory lesson.  This will give the students the opportunity to learn about you.  You can talk about your likes, dislikes as well as where you come from.  I put together a detailed PowerPoint presentation with pictures of hobbies, interests and my country to educate the kids about "Miss Candy"  (that's my name at school).  To make the lesson a bit more interactive, I asked the students to guess what each picture represented.  This engaged the students and held their attention for the entire lesson.

After School Class
Part of my responsibilities at the new school is to conduct an after school class.  I have complete control over this class which means that I get to select the lesson topic and chose the direction in which I want the lesson to head in.  I meet with the students three times a week so I have to have a different lesson prepared for each class.  The after school classes lasts 50 minutes (10 minutes longer than regular classes) which means that my content needs to be super fun or I will lose the kids at minute one. I currently have 5 students in my after school class which is perfect for giving individual attention to each student.
Map about me

For my introductory lesson with my after school class I got the students to create mind maps about
themselves.  I supplied the students with poster paper and a template of an apple.  We wrote our names in the centre of the apple and used that as the core of our maps.  I got the students to write little sentences about different things they like, their hobbies, family and friends.  The kids also  got a little creative and drew little pictures to illustrate their points.

The objective of the lesson was to learn about each each other but it also gave the students an opportunity to practice writing in the target language.  This activity will also be great for the first day of class at the start of a new school year.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reading Power Tower

Over the summer vacation we are required to host "summer camps".  It's a real camp because we're not outdoors, there's not tent or camp fire, no toasted marshmallows...I could go on, but, I think you get the point. They are just vacation classes!   Summer in Korea is hot and humid.   It's not fun being outside let alone being in the classroom.  I spent weeks preparing for these vacation classes because I wanted the activities to be exciting but not too "strenuous" so that the kids would not become more hot and bothered.  I trolled the internet for ideas and came across an activity called the math power tower on Pinterest.  Now, I'm no mathematician so I decided to do a spin off and focus on reading.

In the original post the brilliant teacher got her students to provide the solution to various math problems which were printed on paper cups. Once they had given the correct answer they would stack the cups in order to build a tower.

For my class I used the same idea but in place of math problems I pasted tongue twisters to the paper cups.  I stored the cups in empty Pringles cans so when each student came to the front he had to pop a cup out, read the tongue twister and contribute to the construction of the tower. The Pringles cans were covered with a sign that said "reading power tower". We used about 50 cups for this activity and were able to build three towers.

Some tongue twisters were trickier than others which made for some good laughs but the students had a blast.
Reading power towers

Novel study

Reading is not always fun when you're young but our parents and teachers try their best to encourage to read as much as possible.  I remember my dad nagging me to read all the time so that I could expand my vocabulary and be able to construct good sentences.  I was excited when my co-workers decided to start a reading class at our school, I was more excited that they gave me complete control.  Last year I taught the students a few short stories and fables which were well received. This year we decided to teach the students short novels.  The books that we chose were "Charlie and the Chocolate factory" for our the first graders (7th grade) and "Charlotte's Web" for the second and third graders (8th & 9th grade).  My excitement soon turned into stress when it dawned on me that I had roughly 15 weeks to teach these books to second language students.  But, I accepted the challenged and spent all my free time researching effective strategies for teaching. I coupled the information I found with my six steps for lesson planing and came up with different lessons each week.  I did experience a few hiccups every now and then but I had overall success.

So here's what I did...

Lead-in and elicitation
The lead-in activity is an opportunity for the students to identify the topic using previous knowledge. The pictures, videos or flashcards used will help students create stronger associations. Next, I will ask students to predict and guess what they think the story is about. In a controlled manner I will get them to shout out answers, this will get them excited to read and find out if their predictions were correct.
 For example, during my introductory lesson on Charlie and the Charlie factory I showed the class the trailer from the movie which was actually a lazy move on my part but it seemed to have produced the results I was hoping for. Whereas, for Charlotte's Web I took an entirely different approach.  Since this book was targeted at higher level students I decided to teach an entire lesson on animals...So in effect my lead-in lasted almost 30 minutes; however, seeing as this was my introductory lesson it wasn't altogether bad. 

My class is 45 minutes so I don't have enough time to go through an entire chapter in class.  I also wanted to give the students the opportunity to read independently so I needed to condense my text.  For each lesson I made a summary of the focus chapter which we read together.  Students were instructed to just skim through the short synopsis of the story to get a general idea and not to look for specific details. Afterwards we had  a brief discussion on what they read before moving onto the next task.  At this point of the lesson it's a good idea to discuss new vocabulary and key phrases relevant to the overall understanding of the text.

Controlled practice
For this task the students were giving an activity to test their understanding of the text. each class had a different activity so that the kids were constantly engaged and didn't get too bored by the same book.For example, during our lesson before mid-terms I put the students into groups and they were required to create a mind-map in which they had to fill in specific details such as location, time, people involved etc. I instructed each group to read the synopsis carefully at least 2 times and work as a team to fill in the information.  This task required students to read for detailed information.  During this activity I walked to each group and offered assistance

Freer practice
For the final task, students worked individually and answered comprehension questions.  The questions were related to the text however did not contain the exact words; therefore, students were required to exercise their thinking. This task will work as a strategy of interpretation because students will have to look for clues within the question and draw conclusions. 

After students have read the summary and filled in relevant information into their charts I did a quick review to check their understanding and to explain certain parts of the text that may have caused confusion. We looked at each category specified in the chart and had a brief discussion on each. We also checked the answers to the final task and discussed the students initial predictions on the story. 

Follow-up or homework
As mentioned above, due to time restrictions we were unable to read an entire chapter in class, hence the use of short summaries. As a follow-up activity and for homework students were required to read the full chapter by themselves and to jot down words or phrases they found difficult.  During the start of our next lesson we reviewed the past chapter and covered new vocabulary. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A word or two

My summer vacation has sadly come to an end.  Time always flies when you're relaxing but seems to stand still once you step out the door to go to work.  With the end of our summer vacation comes the stress of having to plan new lessons for the new semester.  My friend, Sandra and I were bouncing ideas off each other for cool ice-breakers and class fillers and she came up with the most brilliant idea.  It's a fusion of scrabble and jenga.  I think this game actually exists but our version is a little different.

For our version of the game I printed out scrabble tiles and glues them to the jenga blocks.  It's a lot of work but seeing the excitement in the kids eyes when you say "we're playing jenga" makes it all worth it.
An afternoon of cutting and pasting

High level of concentration
Sample word
I played this game during my summer classes.  I split the class into teams and got a member from each team to come up and make a three letter word by strategically moving jenga blocks.  Teams were then awarded points which are calculated by adding the the points written on the scrabble tiles.  I didn't tell my students how the scoring worked but when they figured it out, it challenged them to make better words.  We had a lot of fun with it, the wobbly desk in my classroom added to the intensity.  

I hope you and your students can have as much fun.
Happy teaching!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Lesson Planning 101

Every week I have the task of coming up with an exciting lesson.  I have found that understanding the needs of my students ahead of mine are the most important aspect to take into consideration when planning any lesson. As teachers it is vital for us to identify the type of learners we have (i.e. visual, auditory, kinesthetic) before planning a lesson as it makes work a little easier.  I'm currently teaching at an all boys middle school and I've found that majority of my students are visual learners; however, I try to fit in activities that also appeal to my auditory and kinesthetic (tactical) learners so that they don't fall behind.

The next step is to pick a topic that will appeal to everyone in class (teacher included).  For the purpose of this post I have chosen "Animals".  It's one my favourite topics as it can be taught to any grade in numerous ways.

Now that I have a topic and I know what type of learners I have I will start planning each step of the lesson taking time into consideration.  My classes in Korea are 45 minutes long so I will need to have enough prepared to fill that time without becoming repetitive or redundant.

OK! Let the planning begin!

Step One:  Lead-in ( 3minutes)
This is where you will introduce your topic to the class.  Audio visual aids such as a music video is an excellent lead-in tool.  The lead-in should be 5 minutes or less as it is just a warm-up. For example: **Old McDonald had a farm**, could be a  fun lead-in for a lesson on animals.
After listening to the song/watching the video you can ask the students to guess the topic, it gives them a little thrill when they make the correct guess.

Step Two: Elicitation (5 minutes)
Here, you want to find out how much your students know about the topic.  A good way to elicit information from the students is show them a prop such as flashcards or a PowerPoint presentation.  Each image or prop will get the students talking. For example in a lesson on animals you will show the students images of different animals to check if they can identify the animal.  You can take it a step further with higher level students and check if the kids know the names of the offspring and to make things more exciting, you can talk about the sounds animals make.

NB:  Using funny looking images creates a lighter atmosphere in the classroom as it draws the student in and builds greater engagement.

 Step Three:  Presentation (7 minutes)
In this step you will be presenting the main topic.  So if you chose the theme of animals you have a sub-topic such as animal homes.  During your presentation you will talk about this.  PowerPoints; Flashcards or Charts are great for presentations.

Step Four:  Controlled Practice (10 minutes)
At this point you would want the kids to put into practice everything they have studied.  The best way to test their knowledge on the day's lesson is through a work sheet.  Another great tool is doing a role-play.  Most often your topic will dictate the type of practice most suited for the lesson.

Step Five: Freer Practice (15 minutes)
Once again you will be testing the students knowledge on the lesson just taught however with this step you can be more flexible.  Games are great for this as it creates a "freer" learning environment.  It's both entertaining and educational. With this set you can do more that one activity depending on your time.

Step Six: Review   (5 minutes)
Towards the end of the lesson it's good to do a quick review to tie up the lesson. Review could be a short worksheet like a word search which they can complete in class or something longer if you wish to give the students homework for the day.

Pictures courtesy of Google Images