Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Writing journal prompts to prompt journal writing

By Karen Stanley

Below are some journal prompts that I have adapted, stolen or created. I am particularly indebted to Ilona Leki's textbook, Academic Writing (St. Martin's Press). Of course, these were designed for multicultural classes in Charlotte, North Carolina, so some of them will need to be altered to fit students in China. (I also happen to have my students do email journals rather than hardcopy, as I am trying to get them comfortable with using email in English.)

EMail Journal: Possible Topics

1. Write about something you remember from your childhood.

2. Spend ten minutes writing a list of subjects that you are most interested in. Choose one of the subjects and write for at least ten minutes about it.

3. Think about what your parents were like when they were young. Do you know any stories about them from this time? How do you think they have changed?

4. Think of something or someone that is popular right now that you dislike: a kind of music, a way of dressing, a movie star, a tourist spot, an opinion. Then write about why you think it is popular. After that, write about your reasons for not liking it.

5. Think of something that is unpopular right now that you like. Explain the reasons for its unpopularity, and then write about your reasons for liking it.

6. Write about different aspects of your culture. What is something about your culture that you think it is difficult for foreigners to understand? What do you feel it is important for people to understand about your culture?

7. Write about things in American culture (or some other culture) that you find difficult to understand.

8. What kinds of stereotypes do people have about your culture? Do any of the stereotypes surprise you? Are any of the stereotypes close to reality?

9. Tell the story of the strangest/funniest/most embarrassing experience that you or someone else has had with English.

10. Think of advice that someone else gave you when you were a child that you still follow. Have you had any experiences that show why this was good advice? Do you have any advice to give someone else?

11. Think of places in your home country that are important to you. What are they? Describe them in a lot of detail. Try to include not just what you see, but what you feel, hear, and smell when you are there.

12. What is the most important place to you in this city? Describe this place in detail.

13. Where are you in your life now, and where do you want your life to go in the future? What qualities in your personality will help you get there? What faults could make it difficult to get there?

14. Is there something in your past that you would change if you could? Is there something you did that you wish you had done differently? Is there something you didn't do that you wish you had done?

15. What is a young child's school day like in your country? Should children be pushed to learn a lot when they are very young? Are there things that are important for a child to learn at school besides academic subjects (responsibility, team work, competitiveness, moral values)?

Livening up a boring oral English book

Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery, China

A teacher is required to use a boring oral English book and asks what could be done to make the classes more interesting:

Two words: role play.

My students have enjoyed creating their own dialogs based on a dialog I give them. I prepare a short dialog based on the vocabulary and grammar in the chapter. I write the dialog on the board, go over vocab and pronunciation, then let the students practice it in pairs. Next, I improvise a humorous variation, based on the original, playing both roles in different voices (this is where the teacher's willingness to look silly comes in).

I give the pairs of students about 10 minutes to create and practice their own variation of the dialog, while I wander the classroom assisting where help is needed. Finally, I call on a few pairs to present their variation to the class. An example of how this can be funny: One dialog involved someone comforting someone else who was sad. One pair of male students, clearly born comedians, varied it to something like this:

"What's the matter?"
"No one will marry me." (laughter)
"Why not?"
"I'm too old." (laughter)
"How old are you?"
"Forty." (laughter)
"It seems to me you are about twenty years old." (laughter)
"Will you marry me?" (laughter)
"Of course not." (laughter)
"Do you see? No one will marry me!" (lots of laughter)

Another way to role-play, which the students love, is to turn the classroom into a mock city. For example, with the chapter on shopping, I assigned some students to be shopkeepers in various kinds of shops (their goods were slips of paper on which they could write the English word for the product). Other students were shoppers. I distributed play money equally among everyone. The contest among the shopkeepers was to earn the most money. The contest among the shoppers was to get the most products for the least money.

I used another variation of this game for the chapter on travel/tourism. This time I provided no props. Some students were travel agents, others airport gate attendants, others tour guides in English-speaking countries, still others were tourists. The students had to buy tickets from the travel agents on one side of the room, find the correct gate at the airport (the middle of the classroom), then see the sights in whichever country (on the other side of the classroom), then get back on the plane, go back to the travel agency and buy tickets for another country. I was pleasantly surprised that the students' level of imagination allowed this activity to succeed.

Can proper names be improper?

By Karen Stanley

There does seem to be a lot of acceptance of non-traditional names in the US. But I used to worry about Vietnamese students who used their Vietnamese names when they were close to content words in English with off-color connotations - Dung, Phuk, etc.

If they had been children, it might have been a different story, but as far as I can see, as adults their names have simply been absorbed into the naming conventions of Charlotte, North Carolina. Along with Jesus, Milagros, Jose Fernando. Aissam, Marboub, Safah, Mouin, Eun Kyung, Sun, Jun-il. I currently have a Thai student - a very cheerful young man who uses a shortened form of his Thai name: Kitti. Another Thai student is Pook. It doesn't seem to be a problem.

Of course, my father (who grew up way back in the hills of Virginia) was Morris Burns Stanley, and he had brothers named Denver Pershing Stanley and Billie Bird Stanley. It is true that Uncle Billie went by William B., regardless of the name on his birth certificate. I've also heard that young American males named Randy got a few laughs but managed to survive life in the UK.

Quite a few students coming from China (but fewer than there used to be) have chosen English names; few students that I have from other parts of the world use anything but the names they were given by their parents at birth - or a version thereof.

In fact, from time to time I have known students to truly *resent* the fact that some Americans won't at least try to pronounce their real names. Of course, when I was a child, every time I got angry at my parents I would start erasing my given name from my books and writing in a name of my choice...So perhaps there is a kind of freedom in being able to choose your own name...

Why I won't change your name if it is Big Bird or Free Fellow

By Daniel T. Parker

I'm not going to take sides on the "English names" debate except to throw in a couple of observations as to why I have decided to keep my big western nose out of it, and why I sometimes will decide to put my nose in...

a) My overriding idea is that, as long as I'm teaching in a foreign country, my students' English names are like our user names on email lists; they're just handles and nothing more. If someone picked Shiney Sprout as their Hotmail or Yahoo! name, would I object? No. So I'm not going to correct "Esthur's" spelling or tell "Big Bird" or "Free Fellow" that these are not cool girls' names. I'm too busy trying to figure out why my 11-year-old son has chosen the name "Creeper33" for his email handle...

b) I also get the feeling that adopted names are symptomatic of static and dynamic culture. As foreign teachers, we're not part of our students' native culture, and we're often not part of their age-culture, either. When I was in China, my students phonetically translated my name into a Chinese phrase translated as "Iron Rake Climbs Mountains" and they thought it was cool; they were a little disappointed when I opted for Zhang Shi Zhe, their second choice. One (the afore-mentioned Big Bird) explained that it was, of course, a proper Chinese name, but "Iron Rake Climbs Mountains" just sort of sounded cool.... and the American Indian drops of blood scattered in my veins agreed with her.

c) Although I try to remember and use students' real names as quickly and often as possible, nicknames certainly serve their purpose by making a student memorable. Thus, this semester in Korea, I could call Free Fellow and Smile by their names much quicker than I could the Julies and Julias and Joannes and Joys.

d) However, if I find a student who is planning to go to America (which is probably much more likely, at least easier, here in Korea than in PRC) I may suggest a name alignment, as I did when Sopie (pronounced "Soapy") told me she wanted to do graduate work in the States. I simply told her that her name's proper spelling and pronunciation was Sophie or Sophia, and pointed out the image Americans would have in their mind if they were introduced to "Soapy".

But, other than that, I'm determined to stay out of it. But whenever I meet up with a fellow Western English teacher who wants to get involved in their students' English names, I stay out of that, too.

"Hello, my name is Shiney Sprout!" and on English names for Chinese students

By Pete Marchetto

A teacher recently remarked that he or she didn't enforce the changing of some of his or her students' more bizarre English names citing various examples of strangely named westerners and the sense that such enforcement would be somewhat draconian.

The fact is that I actually do enforce the changing of strange names with as much pressure as I can bring to bear without causing actual bodily harm. What seems to lead to students selecting strange names is less a desire to experiment or be eccentric than a misunderstanding of the nature of western names. This is akin to my having selected a Chinese name for myself that my students told me was unacceptable; a choice of two characters whose meanings I liked together rather than conforming to Chinese naming traditions.

In response to students' criticism of my choice I pointed out that China had its own history of strange names; most recently in the wake of the Communism when new names came to the fore that were considered patriotic or revolutionary. However, as I came later to realise, (my students too polite to point it out to me), it was one thing for the Chinese to change their pattern of naming in response to historical events; quite another for an Englishman to stroll into the country and presume to do likewise.

Similarly, while the odd westerner will indeed saddle their offspring with some ridiculous name, ('Utensil' being the strangest I have come across, an American couple liking the sound of the word and so inflicting it upon their innocent child), it's quite another for Chinese people to introduce themselves as 'Gun', 'Martian' or 'Edgar Allen Poe'. The strange name will be taken for what it generally is... ignorance of western traditions. My student Ivy - formerly known as Shiney Sprout - may have put a considerable amount of research into her previous incarnation but I'm pleased to think that I might have saved her some future embarrassment in insisting that her effort was wasted.

One thing I DO think is important is that the students have as much information as possible in choosing their names and so I have a now dog-eared list of several hundred acceptable male and female names with their meanings. The more information the students have in selecting their names - and, indeed, the more effort they put into doing so - the closer their attachment. Random on-the-spot naming is something I always try to avoid.

"So, what are you doing yesterday?" and on teaching opposite pairs

By Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery, China

A teacher has a problem, "We have two Hong Kong Chinese students staying with us in Australia. One of them consistently mixes up 'tomorrow' and 'yesterday'. So why do the Chinese have such trouble between two totally different words which apparently have specific Chinese counterparts?"

I would be careful about generalizing from a small research sample. It is probably not safe to say that all, or even most Chinese have serious trouble distinguishing tomorrow from yesterday in English. In almost three months in Beijing, with about 120 students, I've heard one student make this mistake once, and he immediately corrected himself.

But, to try and explain this student's error: tomorrow and yesterday are not totally different. They both refer to a day, immediately adjacent on the calendar to today. Their meaning is the same in every respect but one: past or future.

In my TEFL training courses, a professor told the class that mixing up opposites in the second language is a common error, especially when the opposites are taught at the same time, as in a list. So, if you learn the words for hot and cold in a second language at essentially the same time, it's very easy for them to get switched in your brain as to which means what. This may be what happened to your Chinese exchange student.

The way to be sure to avoid this problem when teaching a second language is to introduce only one word from the pair of opposites at first. Give plenty of examples, have the students become comfortable using it, and only then introduce its opposite.

My concern is if students can communicate

By George Rosecrans

The stark reality is that the Chinese know technical English grammar better than we do. It's been drilled into them. A Chinese colleague once observed that "We know grammar so well we can't speak."

For over fifty years the Chinese followed the Soviet model which was primarily memorize every grammatical rule no matter how arcane. Their examinations usually consisted of being presented a complex sentence and being asked to identify the grammatical structure in great detail, or they were given a set of grammatical rules and expected to compose a sentence around them.

The rest of their English education was to essentially memorize dictionaries. The problem was, and still remains, that even though armed with a complete understanding of grammar and a vocabulary exceeding twenty-thousand words, they still can't order a meal in a restaurant or engage in casual conversation.

I am not a grammarian. Although a published writer with a pretty decent list, I avoided the English department while in school. I was fortunate to test out of English Comp. All that aside, I believe one should seek out and split infinitives whenever and wherever possible. The purpose of language is to communicate. Grammar Nazis not withstanding, if one is able to communicate their message, needs or ideas, that is sufficient.

The L2 level needed by most folks is related to their needs and roles. The higher the role the higher the level required. Jin Zhemin's interpreter must speak at a higher level than a tourist trying to buy a coke in Disney World.

If one's L2 is good enough to meet their needs and maybe pass on a little culture that is sufficient. After who know show many years of study, most people will only be able to retain and actually use enough L2 to function at their normal level. Especially if they are not in an L2 setting everyday. Personally, I'm not concerned with my students ability to parse a sentence. My concern is that they be able to communicate as clearly and concisely as possible.

I am morally opposed to political and linguistic facism. Frankly, I don't care if one speaks with grammatical perfection. The reality is that most people don't. Listen to the common language user, be they English, (American, Australian, British, Irish, New Zealander, or Scot,) French, German or Chinese.

Most people rarely if ever speaking perfect grammatical English, especially at the emotional level where one's real command of the language is revealed. Still they manage to get their message across and get things done. Ultimately it is communicative competence that is important. Eloquence is always nice but not always required.

How eloquent and grammatical does one need to be to order a hamburger or, for my more closely Anglo rooted brethren and sistern, fish and chips.

Different dictionary approaches to words

By William Donnelly

Two kind of dictionary makers: prescriptive and descriptive.

Prescribers are users of helpful labels telling one what is appropriate in what situations. (Or,more likely, not appropriate.) This is very helpful to foreign speakers and writers.

Descriptive lexicographers work from written excerpts mainly, documenting contexts in which the word has recently occurred in print. And they include words that have a spoken life, too. They avoid judgmental labels. The irdictionaries are helpful with new words, or new meanings for older words.

Since people take the dictionary as authoritative, they are annoyed when they haves een it tabooed for a lifetime and it shows up as a word in the (descriptive) New Merriam Websters International. Say, for example, "disremember." Ear spellings, like "would of" occur in everyone's first drafts, but if we don't catch them, our editors will. So we are talking about talking. Should we waste emotion on "would of" in speech? Among Chinese learners maybe the problem is more like this.

We over-enunciate when we speak slowly. And when we say the particle "a" -- as in "a house", we do not pronounce it schwa (as in the first a sound in "again"), but instead teach our students that it should be pronounced like the "a" sound in "bane." But in real spoken English we never say "a [long a sound] house."Or, we may put the "t"sound in "often" -- which rarely occurs, at least in American speech. A word like "clothes" now pronounced "close" in American English (a pronunciation that is acknowledged by the Oxford Dictionary as coming into British English) is better elided. Have you ever wondered what a Chinese person was talking about when he said "clo-thes" voicing the "th" sound as the beginning of a separate syllable?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Developing a writing course on the run

By Katy Miller

I'm teaching writing to non-English majors (international business students) who are now second year, and taught a writing course to university teachers last semester. I developed the course on the run as I'd never taught writing before and did the course at short notice, and am still not sure if I'm "doing it right", but I'll share the things that I did and that worked well.

Most classes combine a bit of group discussion with writing. One thing that worked well was getting them to write a paragraph in class about "the most important thing in the world" (it could be any essay topic).

The students then swapped their paragraph with another student, who read it and wrote their comments. Then they swapped with a third person. When they received their own paper back, they considered the comments and expanded the thing into an essay as homework. I did that because at first the students were obsessed with getting grammar right, so they fretted over correct grammar while sometimes their writing was devoid of any real content. So I focussed on getting depth into their writing and getting them to see the ideas as being as important as the form.

I did a lot of creative writing too. Once I got them to close their eyes and imagine an island, and then write a descriptive passage detailing what they saw in their imagination. That worked - instead of getting "it is very beautiful" we got "there are giant orange flowers and rivers with black water" etc.

With story writing I got them to dream up a character, then got them into groups of 3 or 4. Each group shared their character and wrote a story together based on what would happen if their characters met.

For business writing I really focus on getting the students to think the process through before putting pen to paper; ie: cover letter for a resume. What kind of person would the employer be looking for? What sort of information can you give briefly in the cover letter about your skills, qualities, experience, etc. that they would be interested in?

So lots of the time I introduce the topic, they discuss or we discuss it as a whole class, then they write. I get them to aim for brevity and effectiveness. We do lots of brainstorming to start the process. We're going to do things like note-taking and editing later on, too. I'd also like to organise a web page to put some of their writing onto, because they're learning how to do webpages in another class and it would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

For the teachers I didn't set homework - they wrote in class time as they had so little time to do it. If we didn't finish a task in class time I got them to complete it as homework.

I'm tougher on my undergrads as a lot of them tend toward laziness. They have to keep a diary (not a lot of work - just three entries a week and they don't have to be long). I also have assignments they're working on consistently - at the moment they're just about ready to hand in the "stories of success" assignment where they had to interview a person they consider to be successful(they can interpret "success" any way they want) and write an article about how they became successful. Basically, I make it so they write a little most days if not every day.

Beware of homework assigments which are too general. I had real problems with plagiarism last semester, when I, perhaps stupidly, set a take-home exam. There were a few choices in the exam, and one or two topics were too general. So out of a class of 45 students, about 20 or 21 plagiarised - some out of a well-known textbook, some from newspapers, from a wide range of sources. I was pretty astonished by that!

I would maybe expect it from some undergrads, but not from so many university teachers. They simply didn't see what was wrong with it - the important thing was to "get the right answer", not to submit your own work, good or bad.

I was too surprised to be outraged, actually! You can combat that by making the topic a little weird so that it's too difficult to find material to copy. One of the options in my exam, which some students chose and did very well in, was "write a story incorporating a frog, an old newspaper, a storm at sea, and a pair of boxing gloves". That was fun and you can bet they weren't plagiarised. They liked that, too.

We had a successful lesson doing haikus and limericks. They thought that was fun. There, I just wanted them to get an appreciation of using language for beauty in the case of haiku, and fun in the case of limericks.

As a time-filler, they also like that game where you get the person in the front row to write half a sentence on a sheet of paper, then fold it over so the next person can't see it. The person behind him completes the sentence and begins a new one, then folds it over again, and gives it to the person behind. When everyone in the file has written a part, someone reads out the whole story - usually delightfully weird. Takes a while to explain but after the first time you can use it to warm up or to finish a gruelling lesson. It can be done in ten minutes depending on the size of the class. They did really enjoy that (me too).

You have to write on the board something like "first person should finish with "and", second person should start with a proper noun and finish with a verb, third person should start with an article and finish with an adjective, fourth start with a noun..." so it makes some semblance of sense.

Main things I try to stress then are: thinking about what to write before beginning (audience, structure, ideas); generating a concern for content; controlling the language in its written form rather than the language controlling them; achieving more depth and 3-dimensional-ness to the writing which tends to be very "flat" if the student is overly concerned with correct grammar; and writing as communication. I do talk about grammar when necessary - particularly tense which is a problem in writing.

A lot of my students enjoyed the classes and started producing some pretty good stuff - but there was one who wrote in the final exam "we haven't made any progress because you didn't understand what we needed to learn" which, he argued, was correct grammar and a broad vocabulary which can only be learned through repetition and memorisation. He argued that the basis of writing is words, of which they didn't know enough.

I disagree - I think the basis of writing is ideas, whether in your own language or another. I used to tell them "there's no such thing as practice" - if you're writing something, always write something "real". Ah well, you can't please everyone! The essay was well-written so I gave him agood grade. I look forward to reading other people's ideas and experiences of teaching writing. I actually prefer it to teaching speaking.

Balancing writing fluency and accuracy

By Jennifer Wallace - Anhui University of Technology, China

I spend a lot of time on brainstorming, collecting ideas, planning and organising ideas to form a whole - something they seemed to have had no training in at all. But it's something you have to teach native English speakers, as well - the organising and structure is usually their weakest area too.

Sometimes students will produce a lot of sterotyped, standard, 'Party line' ideas and responses on any topic, which I didn't discourage - I'm sure in their exams they'd get good marks for those sorts of things. But I also encouraged them to bring in their personal, individual ideas and experiences, which they get quite good at doing, often mixing the two very nicely. At times I gave titles and made them write plans and marked the plans and we then never wrote the compositions.

I only did compositions when they'd get to grips with the new experience of actually thinking and planning before writing. It was an uphill struggle for some, but they learnt well from each other, as well as me.

We did lots of whole class work on the blackboard, with me doing the final stage of pulling it all together, so each time they got to witness, by my thinking out loud, the sort of mental processes you go through.

I found it profitable to emphasise accuracy in grammar over adventurousness -- the idea of using as simple sentences as possible seemed novel, but it did improve the accuracy, producing greater intelligibility. Those who are genuinely able to manipulate more complex structures will use them anyway.

It was also a new idea to see this as an opportunity to work consciouslyabout displaying lexical knowledge - but using vocabulary appropriately. And it was a brand new idea to write and re-write! Every so often I corrected a composition in great detail, all and every error, returned it, and then demanded a perfect rewrite, grading according to the number of errors - zero errors for A, 2 errors gets a B, 3 or 4 errors gets a C. This was the first time they'd really got to grips with worrying about that degree of accuracy. Getting A was possible with nothing but care (I'd sorted out all the errors), and obviously rewarding!

Make writing more enjoyable

By Adeline Tham

I prefer to assign writing as homework. A series of cartoons or pictures can be a good trigger. Get them discussing what is happening in the picture, cover the vocabulary and then let them rip!

You could make the lessons more fun by using relay writing where you get one student(or group) to write a paragraph on a topic and then the next student or group to complete the next paragraph. (while correcting each other's writing) Another interesting activity is information gap. Students have one part of a story and have to dictate to each other the missing part.

Movies can be ok if you use them right, or else it could turn out to be passive aimless watching. Get them to watch specific shots in the movie, looking out for nuances and differences in culture or behaviour. Talk about social issues, love and relationships, then set the topic for them to write.

Tips for writing classes

By Molly Merson

Teaching writing is not one of my favorite things to do. Especially because of all the extra hours you get to put in correcting essays. But I've found some tricks that make it more fun for students and easier for me.

1. To instigate journal writing, put a quote on the board, something interesting that can apply to their lives. For me, today's quote was "Words once spoken can never be recalled." Have them chat for a bit with their partner or in groups about a time they said something to someone that they regret, and if that person were there now what would they say to him/her. I usually have them begin journal stuff in class and have 4 pages due a week. As they do something else, partner work maybe, I walk around and check that they've written in their journals. you have to be careful becaue sometimes they'll cheat, so read stuff but not too in depth.

2. Two fun exercises:

a. Take them outside in the garden right now and have them write about what their five senses experience, plus what thoughts they have. Explain that a good writer can sense everything going on around her. Later in the term when it gets colder take them back out and have them do the same. Then return their original essays and have them write a comparison/contrast essay from it.

b. Something I came up with when i was faced with a restless class: Students get into groups of four and bring a pen and paper and a piece of chalk with them. Go outside and have them find a "secret" place and write an X and a message for another group. Then have them write directions how to get to that place. Then they switch papers with another group and try to find the other group's secret message.

3. Movies: movies are great for spurring writing topics. I have shown the Muppet Movie and had them write about a journey they took to follow their dreams to an unknown place. I'm doing Edward Scissorhands next. The best is to give them lots of background info, like some movie reviews, vocab, quotes, simple plot questions, and "bigger questions". The bigger questions can be about the themes in the movie, and these can easily become writing topics. Try to use DVD's with English subtitles so they can understand everything.

As for writing in class, I definitely take the time to do that. It's best if they write something for homework and then bring it to class to exchange with their partner for corrections. Then they rewrite it before they give it to you. Believe me it saves a lot of headaches from poor grammar overload.

New words are good in the form of scrambles etc and then have them write something with these new words. Also reading something to the class and give them a few key words and have them reconstruct the passage adding some before and after stuff works well.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting students to use English outside the classroom

By Margaret Orleans - Meiji Gakuen Junior/Senior High School, Kitakyushu, Japan

Joe Tomei of Kumamoto Gakuen University (a private four-year school known for its barrier-free campus in Japan) provided a series of well-thought out projects he uses to force/encourage his students to use English with each other outside the classroom.

The work for each project takes up the final twenty to thirty minutes of four consecutive once-a-week ninety-minute sessions. The earlier part of each class period is used for teaching/reinforcing skills/language that will be useful in carrying out the project. (Feedback language, types of questions, etc. for survey project; discussion phrases, postcard writing, etc., for good country project, etc.) The fifth week's class is entirely consumed with oral reports on the projects. Each class having been divided into eight groups, one group is stationed in each corner of the room, while the remaining half of the class is randomly assigned as audience for each of the presenters. After a ten-minute presentation (given without notes but with a prepared poster), the audiences rotate and the groups present again.

After the fourth time through, the presenters and audience switch roles for the second half of the class.

The projects? His favorites over the years have come down to:

1. an interview (conducted in English, the students eventually realize, because it is much easier to ask the questions and get the answers in English than to translate all the questions and answers from Japanese afterwards) of students on the campus on any issue they wish

2. creating a flag, history, and economy for one of the eight fictional countries Joe has carved out of a world map

3. explaining and justifying their plan for spending $2 million on campus improvement

4. identifying problems with accessibility for any building on the campus and interviewing one of the handicapped students at the university.

5. a project that goes over very well in all-female classes is planning a wedding (including the writing of the vows)

The very nature of the projects, as well as the time necessary for completing them, necessitate the students meeting and working in English outside the classroom.

A Chinese teacher on foreign teachers in China

Hong Xiu Ping, Gateway Language Village, Zhuhai, China

I have often heard comments from Chinese teachers that foreigners do not know how to teach English. They are hired by many schools just for the face value. Even some Russians are teaching English in a private school in Shenzhen because they look western. Parents are paying top dollars sending their kids to this kind of school and they want western looking teachers to teach their kids. Asian looking teachers, whether native speakers or experienced Chinese teachers are often treated as second class teachers. This is not healthy but it happens often.

We have a very mixed team. We have Chinese teachers from China as well as from Hong Kong, USA. We also have a few teachers from India. One of the most popular teacher we have is from India. We use Chinese teachers to teach beginner students and we use native speakers to teach elementary and above. Yes, native speakers without qualifications and esl experiences are used as teaching assistants to act as conversation partners for students. Once they gain enough experience, they can be promoted to teacher positions.

As we only admit adults or youth above 16 years old, we normally do not need to deal with some ignorant and prejudiced parents who demand for western looking teachers with American accent or British accent. Students are not allowed to choose their teachers in our school. They are assigned to the class according to their level.

Personally, I believe native speakers are indispensable for language study. To be fluent and proficient, one needs to learn many things from native speakers, not just vocabulary and grammar. No matter how experienced they are, non native language teachers can not provide all the language elements the students need. A good native English teacher is one who can teach different level students, even the very beginner

Using student monitors

By Jennifer Wallace - Anhui University of Technology, China

I treat the monitor as the class manager/administrator, and expect them to work FOR me. I've only been teaching here a year but see great potential for using this person in the class! We also have a study monitor (university classes) who I appreciate having doing the running round chasing up people who're not handing in work on time. I think as ever, it would have been wonderful if someone could have pointed this out a year ago!

My native-speaker-more-experienced-colleague regularly takes his monitors out for meals to get feedback, and as the relationship's got established it's worked productively - both ways.

And in the UK student feedback on teacher performance is routinely included in the monitoring of courses - so it is not so different.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Chinese teacher on Chinese teachers

By Zhou Zheng Li, China

Regarding "Student Centred Learning", many people still argue whether this concept can really be applied to teaching large classes in China.

In the past, teachers lectured for the whole period with little time left for students to discuss or raise questions. Can it be called "indoctrination" in English? It's so-called "Teacher Centred Learning". The teacher teaches whatever he wants to teach, which can be justified as the teacher has a textbook to finish and some specific goals to achieve.

Compared with western students, Chinese students are more bookworms or memorizing machines than creative thinkers. Many educators contribute all this to improper teaching method.

To produce more creative thinkers, not just learning machines, they advocate teachers should adopt "Student Centred Learning" methods -- encourage student participation in class activities, even let students teach themselves. This method emphasizes that the students are performers and the teacher is, in some ways, a director, another a helper, or a listener, but seldom a lecturer. Some even go to the extreme to say that students are guests, "guests are god", teachers should serve them as actresses serve guests.

All this sounds reasonable. But in reality, all too often, those teachers or schools that adopt this teaching methodology will find they are in a Catch-22 situation: Students are wild and out of control in class; teachers can not finish their syllabus; most students will fail their examinations; parents are disappointed; teachers are frustrated.

I don't know why such a well-intended method should go wrong. Maybe China is different from western countries, culturally and historically. We cannot simply copy others.

One artist once said: Learn from me, you will prosper. Copy me, you will die. How true!

So many ways to use a song

By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

You don't always have to concentrate on music that you think the students will like. There will, in any case, be a spread of tastes in music across the class. What you need is a good reason for using the song and a hook of some kind that will drag the students along. This could be a tune, vocabulary, language or lyrics or task.

I've used pop, rock, blues, folk, punk, country, humour, doo-wap and other genres with a reasonable amount of success. I doubt that students would cover all these types of songs if left to their own devices but although they might not rush out and buy George Formby, Etta James or Bert Jansch CDs the songs work because they can see the language learning taking place, whether it's metaphors with Emmy Lou Harris, word play with the Everly Brothers or lyric prediction with the Five Satins.

So for me it's the task that is more important than the song, though the song may suggest the task. I really reccomend Alan Maley's Short and Sweet and Maley and Duff, Literature for a list of language learning activities for texts and examples of how to exploit and develop these activities. Maley uses written texts but you can do just the same with songs.

Here are Maley's 12 generalisable procedures with some very brief examples of how they can be applied to songs, though you should realise that there are many ways of interpreting each procedure and the examples shouldn't be looked on as limiting each procedure.

Many songs tell a story but condense it. Springsteen's Wreck on the Highway is an example. It's easy to add detail to the story and in this case you could get learners to comfort the dying man found after the car accident, an event slipped over in the song. They don't need to do it in lyric form.

Reduce a song to its bare bones. Pare it down to its message. If it's a story turn it into a two line newspaper report (yes, this is also media transfer - the procedures can overlap).

Rose Murpy's Busy Line can be turned into a telephone conversation. New York Mining Disaster into a news story, Chumbawamba's She's got all the Friends that Money can Buy into a bitchy conversation between friends.

Match songs with pictures using the themes to match. For lower levels one might use events in song and picture to match.

Select songs for language to be used in different situations. Rose Murphy's Busy Line vs Lou Reed's New York Telephone conversation for useful telephone chat.

Compare two versions of the same song, perhaps sung by a male and a female with small lyric changes. Compare Dylan's heroic John Wesley Harding with the real nasty little psychopathic J W Harding.

Listen to the song, give jumbled lyrics and ask them to put in order.

Retell the story. Tell Laura I love Her and Teen Angel work well for this. They can really ham it up and they love it. Leader of the Pack would work as well.

Any songs with depth can be used. Dylan, Bragg, Chumbawamba, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the list is endless. You could interpret less serious songs too, I guess.

Quarry words from the song to create a new text. write a parallel story on the same theme as the song.

Look carefully at the language of the song. Etta James Almost Persuaded: how does the almost in 'almost persuaded' differ from the almost in "almost sorry'? Change the adjectives for similar ones and see if the song changes meaning.

Make questionnaires on the theme of a song. Take Ivor Cutler's "our car can go fast on a hill" and get students to write another mock Children's reader:

Our car can go fast on a hill
With no brakes
And oil on the hub

It cannot stop
So it has a spill

Mum and Dad get a cut
See Bill bleed
Bleed, Bill bleed

Kate, do not cry.
If you do
Ann will be sad to see it
And Ted will fret.

Phil; run to the phone
For a nurse to make us well

I see nurse
Nurse, make us well
We are ill
From a spill
On the road

As we took a spill
Dad has a cut on his lip
It hit the wheel
As he drove fast

Mum cut her cheek
See how it shines

Bill is dead
He lost his blood in the crash

Kate, Ann and Ted are sad for Bill
He was their chum

Phil will walk us home
Along the pavement to our house
29 Redpond Avenue

...And then you could just sing along.

Chinese perspective on student-centered learning

By Annie Zhao, University of Bath, England

Student-centred learning has some difficulty making headways in China. First, it is about choices. The students are not enable to make choice about what they need to or want to learn.

Many Chinese teachers teach to textbooks because it is the “given” or mandated material to deliver. They have a course to run. Many teachers feel they don’t have time to stay for discussion or for an individual kid to express something clearly.

When the teacher asks a question, the time the kid is allowed to answer it is to say “yes” or “no” when they are preparing for examinations. However, foreign teachers seem to be allowed for more space for choices, as they are not accountable for examination scores directly, and they are supposed to bring in diversity.

Second, the class size and discipline are problematic to handle in group works and its evaluation. Student-centred teaching is more demanding to teachers. Whole-class transmission is the main experience many Chinese teachers have had. They need professional training for the skills to facilitate student-centred learning.

Teach culture to English students?

By Pete Marchetto

I've banged on about this many times in the past, but my suggestion is... don't.

It is very easy to get seduced here by the idea that teaching culture is somehow central to teaching international English, but given the fact that English IS international, teaching to one specific culture is self-defeating.

Frankly I am tired of students coming up to me and asking me, as an Englishman, for clarification on some minutia on the history of Liverpool. They are often stunned to realise the only thing I know from the beginning to the end of Liverpool is 'iverpoo' and yet, somehow, I manage not only to survive in my own land, but also to speak the language with reasonable fluency in spite of this yawning gap in my knowledge.

One of the few times I find myself teaching British culture is in the correction of some of the more incredible misconceptions put into students' heads by the local education system, not because I feel the students need the knowledge, but because I am sick and tired of listening to all the nonsense that I can only assume came from the research of someone using a pair of binoculars while hidden in a deep cave somewhere on the planet Mars.

The fact is that if you talk to most Chinese using English in the workplace, very few are dealing with native speakers as the majority of their clients, let alone specifically with any subculture such as that of Australia, the UK or the USA. Students have enough of their time wasted as it is without us adding to the burden.

All that said, I am a great believer in teaching cross-cultural communication where possible on a non-culturally specific basis.

Advice from a Chinese English teacher to a foreign English teacher in China

By Simon Wang

For most language teachers, the most frustrating experience is that you try so hard to get your students to speak in class yet they remain so (a)pathetic.

I am always amazed by the success of commercial tutorial schools in motivating their students. The same college students who were so passive in my classrooms got very energetic in the classroom of New Oriental and Crazy English. Maybe that explains why teachers there get higher pay?!

Nevertheless, I believe that it is not what you teach but how you teach it that makes a difference. And for expatriate teachers, it seems that we can probably put the exam issues aside and develop our own approaches to engage the students, for the FL departments seldom involved foreign teachers in the test-prep ordeal.

Here are a few things about teaching English majors I would like to share:

1) The Chinese curriculum for English majors is standardized and test-oriented. Try to promote diversity and individuality in your course.

2) Chinese students lack individual attention from their teachers because the student-faculty ratio is astoundingly high. So, if possible, eat lunches with your students and try to learn what they really need from you. I made the mistake that I tried to offer what I thought was best for my students but it turned out that they did not need it.

3) Career education: All English majors share a so-called "English-only course" in that the only thing they learn in their undergraduate program is English. It is possible that students from other departments can also speak English very well PLUS they have their own specialty. So one thing you can do is to help your students develop transferrable skills useful in many career settings and broaden their horizon beyond the four skills.

4) Part-time jobs for English majors: Traditionally, English majors take part-time jobs to help translate documents or interpret orally. Your course might help the students to explore alternative opportunities -- for example, helping foreigners to set up a corporation in China. Depending on your previous career, you can also share your own perspective with your students.

5) TIC and information gap: Remember the phrase "TIC -- This Is China?" Once some other teachers and I did a lecture on "Presenting China to foreigners in English". As a newcomer to China, you might encourage your students to talk about different aspects in China and you can also trade your perspectives on things with them. Please do NOT shy away from controversial issues such as governmental policy and political reforms. If you, as a foreign teacher, do not offer fresh ideas to Chinese students, who will?

6) Finally, people do not remember much. An American professor of mine told me, he only cared about what his students remembered ten years after taking his course. It all goes back to the old "give a fish or teach how to fish" cliche. Students can always practice their English in their dormitory if they see the need. As a foreign teacher, try to offer something local teachers cannot. And a good language teacher is always, first of all, a good teacher.

Reflections after going to China to do new-teacher training in a small city

By Amanda Bryson

I went with a non-profit group called the Via Serica Foundation. Our team consisted of nine Americans, including a native Mandarin speaker. I was the lead presenter and the only current professional teacher. Half of the other team members were experienced volunteer ESOL teachers. The others had no teaching experience, but came along as small group facilitators and language models.

Every day began with a one hour theory lecture followed by three hours of model language and cultural lessons focused on a particular topic. These model lessons focused on listening and speaking skills as these were the teachers' greatest linguistic needs. The lessons included skits, explanations, songs, lectures, demonstrations, poems, role-plays, games, movies, authentic language tasks, realia from America and a variety of other materials, activities and techniques. See the daily list of topics below.

After a lunch/siesta, we came back for a more advanced language lesson and then split into small groups by age taught (primary, junior middle and senior middle/university). The small group time included facilitated discussions about the morning lecture, the day's lessons and other related topics. During this time the teachers also worked on their small group presentations for the last day. Each subgroup of teachers was required to present a communicative English lesson targeted to their age group. Total time for each day was ten hours minus a two hour break in the afternoon. By the fourth day, though, we insisted on taking three hours off in the afternoon because the days were over 100 degrees F with no A/C. It really improved everyone's mood (and attention) to have extra time for a siesta.

We had an average of 55 teachers attending each day. For most of them, the seminar was a requirement. We had a broad range of proficiency so we often translated the morning lecture into Chinese. Some of the students were struggling to understand the basic English lessons while others were asking us to stop the morning translation because it was unnecessary for them. We compromised as best we could. By the end, most teachers reported a dramatic improvement in their oral and aural English proficiency.

When we arrived, we discovered that some teachers had taken the train for hundreds of kilometers from other towns and villages. We agreed to teach ten days straight with no weekend break so these teachers could travel home sooner.

Daily Topics (with a few activity examples in parenthesis)

Day 1, Monday
Lecture: Introduction, Overview, "What is Teaching?"
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Greetings/Getting to Know You (team members present skits using a variety of greetings) Grammar Focus: Forming Questions

Day 2, Tuesday
Lecture: SLA Theory and Research
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Where People Live (students use real brochures to plan a trip to Washington, DC) Grammar Focus: Adjectives

Day 3, Wednesday
Lecture: The Communicative Approach
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Travel and Transportation (with the movie "Sabrina") Grammar Focus: Prepositions

Day 4, Thursday
Lecture: Creating Immersion in the EFL Classroom Instructional/Cultural Topic: What People Do (Occupations) (with the "Who am I?" guessing game--an occupation taped to their back, they must ask yes/no questions to discover their occupation) Grammar Focus: Contractions

Day 5, Friday
Lecture: Student Motivation
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Marriage and Family (with a mock wedding) Grammar Focus: Articles

Day 6, Saturday
Lecture: Learning Strategies
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Leisure (with a real game of baseball in the schoolyard) Grammar Focus: Verbs

Day 7, Sunday
Cultural Topic: Religion in America
Panel Discussion Q&A (teachers asked anonymous questions on note cards about our lives in America) Afternoon Picnic with Teachers

Day 8, Monday
Lecture: Learning Styles
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Food and Dining (with a race to see who could correctly arrange a Western place setting) Grammar Focus: Imperatives

Day 9, Tuesday
Lecture: Teaching English (Five Language Skills) Instructional/Cultural Topic: Celebrations and Holidays (with a creative Thanksgiving dinner family role play--each teacher assigned to be a family member with a certain issue or personality quirk--very fun for everyone!) Grammar Focus: Future Tenses

Day 10, Wednesday
Teacher Presentations
Teacher Feedback
Graduation Ceremony

Days 11 & 12, Thursday and Friday
Retreat in the mountains with host school staff

If and when I do this type of program again, I will probably not agree to ten days. It is too long for the presenters and the teachers. Or perhaps I will insist on at least one day completely off. We tried to turn Sunday into a half-day-plus-picnic, but it still wasn't restful. I think six days of instruction with a seventh for graduation/celebration/party would be ideal. That would be long enough to experience the benefits of English immersion without running into exhaustion. Part of the problem was that we were expected to attend evening social functions with local officials and senior staff as well.

Also, I was a little skeptical about the contribution of the team members who had never taught English, but was pleasantly surprised by how much these folks were able to help in explaining cultural concepts, idioms and linguistic quirks. The teachers simply adored their small group facilitators and the non-teaching native speakers had enough energy to engage in real conversations (while I was a limp rag in the corner). I was very glad.

I now have plenty of time on my hands as I am still recovering from multiple digestive tract infections I brought back as souvenirs.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Extensive reading and "skipping"

By Stephen Krashen, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Southern California

I think skipping [words when reading] is a good way to increase one’s vocabulary.

1. The more you skip, the more you read, and the more you can acquire. Of course if you have to skip too many words and the text makes no sense without them, the text is too hard.

2. If you stop to notice, you won’t be focused on the meaning, and you won’t acquire much.

Once again, the acquisition/learning distinction is helpful. Acquisition is subconscious, while it is happening you don’t know it is happening, and once it has occurred you are not always aware of it. Readers get meanings and partial meanings of many words and they are not aware this is happening.

Learning is very concrete, when it happens we know it happens. But it is not very efficient.

Another problem: For people like us, professionals in language who are interested in language per se, it can be very satisfying and pleasurable. We like the feeling of learning a rule and we feel pleasure when we can actually use the rule. But normal people get their pleasures elsewhere.

"...the most engaging lessons were without a textbook!"

By Maria Spelleri, Manatee Community College, FL, USA

I know what I need to teach in a particular semester. If I am lucky, the textbook that was selected for the course (not by me) will cover many of those points and I will have a ready source of useful material for the student. But how can following page after page of a static book developed to appeal to the widest variety of learners adequately serve our ever-changing students and their various needs, interests, and learning styles?

For me, the text is but one classroom tool that serves our course objectives (hopefully). I choose from the text what I want, when I want it, to add to MY specified lesson plan.

I recently had a semester where we tried out a new series of books. They turned out to be very wrong for our students, and in my writing/grammar class, I didn't use the textbook at all for the complete second half of the course. I am currently using a reading text book that has a nice selection of college-content readings, but I am not fond of the accompanying exercises. No problem. I decide, through my lesson objective, how I want to use the readings and can ignore most of the activities in the book.

We simply cannot let publishers make the decision of how and when to present material to our students. Of course a text book with a lot of useful material is a godsend, but the instructor must determine how to best use it. And concerning lesson planning, this is where we can see its great importance. Maybe if we don't make lesson plans, we are letting a textbook make it for us.

I have observed many classes at many different levels. Without a doubt, the most engaging were those lessons without a textbook!

There was a certain part of teacher training that I valued highly. Every class we had to teach 20 minute mini-lessons without books or "ESL" materials to a group of ESL students who were taking the classes for free, knowing that student teachers were the instructors.

We could use pictures from magazines and catalogs, the board, things we made (a homemade game board, slips with roles described, etc.), realia objects like food and clothing items, and other little things. We could also use pages that we had created from scratch for dialogs, vocabulary practice, etc., but we didn't have computers so everything was printed or typed and that constraint limited the paper output!

I learned the importance of dice, a ball, chanting, singing, TPR, and situational role-plays. It is amazing how creative a teacher can become when denied textbooks and computer programs! For people teaching in locations where TESL materials are scarce, I suggest the following depending on the level of your class:

- begin a picture file from magazine and news photos
- now and then buy an English language newspaper and research activities to do with a newspaper (there are dozens)
- jazz up boring drill or recite type activities by throwing a ball around or clapping/marching, etc.
- invest in a teacher resource book that has ideas for oral practice like Klippel's Keep Talking or Ur's Grammar Practice Activities
- think role play and small group projects/tasks like creating an advertisement, planning a travel itinerary, etc.
- if you have a digital camera and one computer, great. If not, can you access a video camera and player? If not can you get hold of a cassette player that records? Are disposable cameras affordable? There are all sorts of projects that can be done and that students of all ages love to do if they can hear or see themselves and their classmates in media.

On conversation, turn-taking and culture

By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

Turn taking skills do vary from culture to culture (and from person to person and I'm willing to bet that similar turn taking behaviour is a factor in courtship etc.) as Northern and Southern Brits know well, and indeed Brits and Americans working together know this too (see Deborah Tannen for a simple guide).

But the differences, although important, are not huge. When I found Chinese learners didn't take turns I watched and saw that it seemed to be that on the one hand they didn't want to initiate and on the other hand they didn't respond much because the first speaker hadn't said anything that needed a real response. It was all display language, for the teacher to hear and judge. If an answer was needed it was generally something that all parties knew already so what was the urgency in saying it? These kids I was teaching had 12 - 15 years of learning that English was a language where you said and wrote things that everyone knew, in order to display your knowledge of English.

Some teachers have complained about lunatic language in English Corners in public parks.

"Hello, where do you come from?"

"I'm from USA/Germany/Mars."

"Oh, that is a very beautiful country ...."

Chinese were using English to practice their English, not to engage in communication.

So what to do about it?

It happens because of the way English is taught and it happens particularly in China because of fear of the outside (or fear of those in authority who might not like outside influences). We can alter our way of teaching English but since many teachers in China and elsewhere in Asia have yet to come to terms with communicative methodology and use it effectively i don't think you or I will persuade large numbers to jump yet a further step.

As regards the fears, well that too is well outside our control except for individual contacts.

If you have a free hand in the classroom you can do things.


Get students to talk about things they have never discussed before even in their L1. Davis and Rinvolucri suggest in Ways of Doing finding out how exactly you eat a pizza - where you bite first, how you cut it etc. and ways of eating particular items are ok, don't use too high levels of language and are non-threatening. I often use more personal things and things that people want to tell each other. The story of a personal scar or operation.

Get students to realise that when we speak and write we pass information on many levels as facts and as attitudes. And that the attitudes may be implicit in vocabulary choices not explicitly stated. Connotations and collocations are important but are not adequately taught over here.

Help students to realise the importance of wordplay. you find it in literature and advertising but we use it in everyday communication all the time. Human beings are playful animals and we like play. Teaching English as a tool ignores this and turns it from a language into something resembling COBOL. If they can manipulate English for fun and to add depth and meaning then motivation goes up and up.

On the value of TEFL training

By Jennifer Wallace - Anhui University of Technology, China

I'm 54, and a couple of years back, fed up with the admin job I was doing, decided to head back into TEFL - something I'd done for a few years about 15 years before. I had about 7 years' teaching experience altogether, all done back in the days when a degree was the only essential qualification, and as mine was BA plus MPhil in Linguistics, I never had trouble getting reasonable quality work. I wanted to come to China, and VSO (a UK based international development NGO) has a sizeable China programme. But to be accepted by VSO I had to be a qualified teacher. So I went off and did an intensive one month course to get the CELTA (Cambridge basic EFL qualification). I'm glad I did - for my sake.

The situation here's very different from my previous teaching experience - in the UK, Portugal and Spain. I'd taught all sorts of age groups, all levels, private and public sector, most nationalities. But the course (which was a good one) sent me off very up-to-date on current practice, and pointed me in the direction of what to follow up in terms of current new developments, and full of fresh practical ideas. As I've worked my way through this first year teaching in China, I've been very appreciative of all that. Even when my lessons have been crap, I've known I was trying to do something reasonable, and I've been able to learn from the disasters as I had a reasonably robust framework to look at that disaster in. It's also meant I've done some work which has been very successful.

I plan to stay here longer than the 2 year contract I have at present, so my doing training is in the context of a rough plan of at least a decade of TEFL work. I now think of doing more training in a few years' time. There's a higher level Cambridge qualification (DELTA) which interests me. There are things in this TEFL work in China I'm definitely very interested in. I've been given a complete timetable of oral English classes for English major freshman (college/university) for next semester and am planning both pronunciation work and conversation skills work for that. I've done a little of both this last year, enough to realise how valuable both could be, but how much more I need to plan to do both well.

For example, there was a point that I realised my students could hold forth, declamatory-style, reasonably well. But they had no conversation skills in English. I suppose I expected them to transfer Chinese conversation skills - listening, responding, turn-taking. They weren't, so I set to and systematically taught those three things. I made the rules explicit and the conversations are still slightly formal-sounding, but the overall effect has been good. For their exam these students discussed a randomly allocated (but prepared) topic in a randomly selected group - and they did it well. But I could see how much they're having to work at including others, picking up and making conversational links, driving a conversation forward. The best ones, though, were excellent conversations - something they couldn't do a semester ago.

Could I have taught this sort of thing without training? I'm obviously drawing as much as anything on my linguistics knowledge and interests. It's the same with the pronunciation. Unlike many people in TEFL, not only am I not afraid of phonemic alphabets, I enjoy getting students to start to get to grips with both phonetics and phonology, and am enjoying helping them make real improvements in their pronunciation, almost working in a speech therapy fashion, I think.

But I think the TEFL training and qualification has given me a clear sense of what's expected in this field nowadays - what good practice is. That framework's invaluable. I can see what particular interests and skills I have and how they can develop within that framework, and I think it's making me a much better teacher than I was before (and I don't think I was crap before).

On a purely selfish note, I'm also learning Chinese, and much I learnt on my TEFL course is helping me with my own language study!

Speaking test, frame & rubric

By Jennifer Wallace - Anhui University of Technology, China

This exam was for first year/freshmen college diploma and university degree course students (all English majors). In other words this is the first oral exam they've ever had. This pretty simple test was successful in that the poorest were able to respond appropriately, albeit in one word responses, and asking me almost one word questions, while the higher level students you could barely shut up! I recorded the exams, and did the marking afterwards. I've given my marking scale at the end of all this.

This follows the format used for the speaking test in the first level of Cambridge (UCLES) EFL examination: Key English Test (KET). It uses a very fixed script: this means every student gets the same - no extra help, no forgetting things, etc.

Each student is allowed between 5 and 8 minutes.

Part 1

The examiner interviews the student: the student responds to questions, including one extended response. Functions covered: giving factual information about yourself, explaining and giving reasons, talking about past experiences

Part 2

The examiner gives a topic for the student to ask questions about (which uses verbal prompts). The examiner answers the questions, as a genuine interlocutor. Functions covered: requesting information (This may include information on: likes / dislikes, habits, factual information)

Part 1

What’s your full name?
How do you spell that?
What’s today’s date?
What time is it? (I HAVE A CLOCK IN THE ROOM)
Where are you from in Anhui?
Did you go to middle school there? (Where did you go to middle school?)
At school, what subjects (ONE OF:) did you like best, were you good at, were the most difficult, didn‘t you like?

Any 3 of these questions:
What do you usually do at the weekends?
What did you do last weekend?
What are you going to do this weekend?
What do you do in your free time?
Why do you like ...?
How often do you play / listen / watch ... ?
Have you been to any other towns / places in China?
(Which towns have you visited?)
What did you think of ....... ?
(Did you like ... ?) (What did you / didn’t you like?)

1 of these topics:
Tell me something about your family.
Tell me something about (name of home town).
Tell me something about your hobbies.

Part 2

I’m going to give you a card.
Ask me some questions about ....
Use the words on the card to help you.
Ask me 4 questions.
I’ll answer your questions.
Do you understand - shall I repeat that?

What? How often? When? Expensive?

What? How often? When? Expensive?

Like? What type? Favourite? When ... listen?

What? Play? Watch? When?

That’s the end of your examination. - Thank you very much.


Grade A (100 - 90)
Deals effectively with all tasks. Able to communicate effectively. Interacts in an appropriate manner throughout. Meaning is conveyed despite limitations in linguistic resources and there is an adequate range of vocabulary and paraphrase strategies to deliver the intended message. Speech can generally be understood with ease. There are hesitations and attempts at long turns may lack coherence, but not such as to strain the listener.

Grade B (89 - 80)
Some of the features of A and some of the features of C.

Grade C (79 - 70)
Adequate achievement of tasks. Able to communicate appropriately most, but not all, of the time. Generally interacts in an appropriate manner. Breakdowns occur in communication resulting from inadequacies in the use of linguistic resources and paraphrase strategies. Speech is sometimes difficult to understand. Long hesitations sometimes demand undue patience of the listener. Utterances are often halting and disconnected with turns sometimes left undeveloped.

Grade D (69 - 60)
Some of the features of C and some of the features of E.

Grade E (59 and below)
Non-achievement of most tasks. Generally unable to communicate appropriately. Often interacts in an inappropriate manner. Gross inadequacies in the use of linguistic resources means message is often destroyed. Speech is often unintelligible. Utterances are often abandoned.

Advice to a new teacher

By George Rosecrans

Stick to something you are most familiar with because it will be easier to discuss and answer questions. Perhaps the most important thing is to keep them actively occupied. Perhaps a role playing exercise such as meeting unknown relatives at a family reunion in which you teach about immediate and extended families, and distant relatives and the nature of those relationships.

If you have photographs or posters emphasizing the major points of attraction, you might take them on a brief tour of your home town. If you don't have these materials, you might get from your local chamber of commerce, historical societies, libraries, etc. There are also a number of good TEFL sources on the internet. Many of these offer free subscriptions and access to their material. Others charge a small subscription fee.

A short discussion of your university, again with visual aids, would be of interest to Chinese students because many if not most dream of studying in the west and are very curious about student life. Chinese students have many misconceptions about the West just as we have misconceptions about China. While I dare not speak for the other teachers, I strongly most if not all of us found something quite different from our expectations.

If you have handouts, save them until you are finished with your lesson unless they are an integral part of the lesson in which case hand them out as needed. If you hand out all of your material before the lesson it will distract the class because they will focus on the material rather than you.

Remember to relax and be yourself. Appear confident even if you are scared out of your tree.

Student feelings about the Communicative Approach

By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

Ming-Shen Li's study is not wrong but only looks at one aspect of the problem. Students who are used to one way of teaching find it difficult to change. Grammar translation and the dissection and analysis of intensive reading can be comforting because they lead to more content based teaching. Grammar facts are quantifiable. Things can be memorised. Chinese students start intensive rote learning at a very early age and it is dunned into them that this is the way to learn. So this is the way they learn English and it is also the way they are taught English (generalisation but fair enough).

There was the same resistance to communicative methodology in the west in the 70's but not quite so strong as we were never quite so much into rote learning in our general education. Though one might look at the blind alley of audio-lingual pigeon drills and see how it held back EFL teaching in the USA. In general, Chinese students are comfortable with rote learning and traditional methods but it is not an effective way to learn a language and most students end up with a knowledge often language that they are unable to put to effective use except in passing the TOEFL test.

All sorts of reasons are advanced as to why Communicative methodology is not suitable out here. "We are Asians, our method is best for us". But of course the traditional method is not Chinese or Asian, it is, if anything, a rather old western import. There was no large scale language learning in China in the past. It was discouraged for cultural and political reasons.
In my own experience, my Chinese students enjoy learning a language rather than a set of rules.

I know this because of the anonymous feedback I get from the end of semester course questionnaires. So why didn't the subjects of Ming-Shen Li's survey like communicative teaching? Sorry, I know it sounds big headed, but if you want to teach communicatively you have to be good.

Anyone can wander in with a grammar book and a set of exercises with answers and keep the class busy, but communicative teaching is deceptively difficult. It has tended to be confused with conversation classes and there has been a feeling that any native speaker can teach communicative English. This has been detrimental to the teaching of English in China. Native speaker teachers have not been chosen well and have been constrained in what they can do.

Read Alan Maley in Valdes, Culture Bound. Look at the comments of Native Speaker Teachers on the NET scheme in Hong Kong. Look at the way Chinese Universities judge the qualifications of native speaker teachers.

Basically, teaching for communication and through communication, if done at all decently, is going to give better results than teaching about the language and teaching for straight jacket examinations. Stay communicative. Teach grammar for communication or whatever but the communicative tradition is so wide and eclectic that you have plenty of options.

It has been felt that it places too much emphasis on transmitting and receiving information but that was largely because the other aspects of communication - language play, word play etc. were ignored. They are still communication and can still figure in communicative teaching. Grammar too needs to be taught. You need it to communicate effectively. But teach it for communication, not for memorisation.

TV news speaking activity

By Katy Miller

In our oral English class we did "TV English news". Each group had twenty minutes to prepare a news item, with interviews and people acting out scenes in the background. They were really very open-ended - I just said "make a TV news item", and they were fantastic. One group did something on the environment, another did an item about the spring outing we were taking that weekend (belated), another group did one of the news items they'd read in the reading session, etc. I was the anchor woman.

It was great fun and I was impressed with the job they did. One group even made a microphone with the name of the TV station on it, out of a paper cup and a pencil. Another group had booms made from rolled-up paper. One group interviewed "people on the street" - went up to people from other groups and got their impressions. One of the most fun classes we've had so far. It's fun because the time limit is real: I told them the news would air at 9.30 because it's the 9.30 news, and then started announcing the news even though a couple of groups weren't quite ready. They improvised the rest.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Holiday detective

By Jeremy Taylor, Pau, France

Just a quick idea you may like to try out with your students. I recently spent two weeks cycling 1200km. When I returned to my home in France, I had a big pile of maps, receipts, timetables, little notes, postcards, brochures etc. I took them all to class and rather than tell my students about 'what I did on my holiday', I got my students to tell me what they think I did. It was wonderful to watch them with a large map, plotting my journey, using all sorts of language to discuss the possibilities. I kept a low profile, writing things on the whiteboard or slipping notes to students rather than stopping the flow. So next time you come back from holiday, don't throw away all those ticket stubs and timetables, take them to class!

Teaching with horoscopes

By Chris Winnen

Horoscopes are great way to improve and practice your English. They are available everywhere and it is a subject that almost everybody likes to talk about. Why not organize a regular weekly meeting with some fellow students where you can look at your stars together. Try to analyze the language that is used in horscopes. Once you understand how they work, you will never be short of someone to practice with.

Everyone likes to have his or her fortune told, and it is great way to apply all the new vocabulary that you learn. Of course, you do not have to read only the stars. Sometimes it is much more convenient to read palms or analyze handwriting. All the same language rules apply.

Remember that most verbs you come across in horoscopes will be in second person imperative form. When you come across a new verb, categorize it byhow many words it contains (one, two or three) and record it with at least two other example sentences in your vocabulary book. Try using the new verb in different situations. Try first person past, second person conditional and third person negative, then get a teacher to check that your sentences are correct. Look for new adjectives. There should be lots of these that describe your feelings and emotions. Note how these collocate with other words and keep a written record of them. If you see some very general sentences that could really be applicable to anybody, then make a note of those, too.

These kind of vague statements come in very useful when you are telling fortunes yourself. Here are a few of the kind of sentences that I am talking about.

1. Don't lend money to friends or family.
2. This is a good time to join a group or a club.
3. Dilemmas can be overcome with open, honest communication.
4. Be careful not to upset someone you love.
5. Be careful what you eat.
6. Don't be afraid to make new friends.
7. You are very attractive to the opposite sex at the moment.
8. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Using moral dilemmas in the classroom

By Pat

Here are two different discussion topics which I use. They generate a lot of conversation and the students really enjoy them, even when it makes them uncomfortable. It also provides some insight into the thought processes. There are some demographic diferences as well (age, marital status, gender, child). One interesting thing which I have noticed is that almost 95% of thewomen choose their husband last to save from the boat. Kind of sobering, specially when I am marrying a Chinese woman.

The train

You are walking along a set of railroad tracks and you hear a train whistle in the distance behind you. As you approach a river, you notice, to your horror, that the train bridge over the river has been destroyed. At the same time, you hear a cry for help from some one in the river who is drowning. It is your child, the only one you can have. You have time to EITHER save your child OR the train, which is carrying 250 people. Who do you save? Why?

The sinking boat

There is a boat in the middle of the ocean, which is sinking. In this boat is your mother, your father, your child, and your husband/wife. If the boat sinks, everyone in the boat will die. If you could only save one, whom would you save? Who would you save second? Third? Last? Why?

More moral dilemmas:

The following is a list of some moral dilemmas, mostly adapted from Moral Reasoning, by Victor Grassian (Prentice Hall, 1981, 1992), witha couple additions. The question to consider with all of these is why they are dilemmas. Some, however, may not seem to be dilemmas at all.

1. The Overcrowded Lifeboat

In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivorswere crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7.

As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved.

Some people opposed the captain's decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning.

Since the only possibility for rescue required great effort sof rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?

2. A Father's Agonizing Choice

You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don't he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don't have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?

3. Sophie's Choice [not in Grassian]

In the novel Sophie's Choice, by William Styron (Vintage Books, 1976 -- the 1982 movie starred Meryl Streep & Kevin Kline), a Polish woman, Sophie Zawistowska, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. On arrival, she is "honored" for not being a Jew by being allowed a choice: One of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one. In an agony of indecision, as both children are being taken away, she suddenly does choose. They can take her daughter, who is younger and smaller. Sophie hopes that her older and stronger son will be better able to survive, but she loses track of him and never does learn of his fate.

Did she do the right thing? Years later, haunted by the guilt ofhaving chosen between her children, Sophie commits suicide. Should she have felt guilty?

4. The Fat Man and the Impending Doom[with parts cut out in the 2nd edition]

A fat man leading a group of people out of a cave on a coast is stuck in the mouth of that cave. In a short time high tide will be upon them, and unless he is unstuck, they will all be drowned except the fat man, whose head is out of the cave. [But, fortunately, or unfortunately, someone has with him a stick of dynamite.] There seems no way to get the fat man loose without using [that] dynamite which will inevitably kill him; but if they do not use it everyone will drown. What should they do?

5. The Costly Underwater Tunnel

[compare: 112 men were killed during the construction of Hoover Damon the Nevada-Arizona border -- the first was a surveyor, J.G. Tierney, who drowned on December 20, 1922, and the last was his son, Patrick Tierney, who drowned on December 20, 1935 -- 13 years to theday after his father.]

An underwater tunnel is being constructed despite an almost certain loss of several lives. Presumably the expected loss is a calculated cost that society is prepared to pay for having the tunnel. At a critical moment when a fitting must be lowered into place, a workman is trapped in a section of the partly laid tunnel. If it is lowered, it will surely crush the trapped workman to death. Yet, if it is not and a time consuming rescue of the workman is attempted, the tunnel will have to be abandoned and the whole project begun anew. Two workmen have already died in the project as a result of anticipated and unavoidable conditions in the building of thetunnel. What should be done? Was it a mistake to begin the tunnel in the first place? But don't we take such risks all the time?

6. Jean Valjean's Conscience[with some comments]

In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, the hero, Jean Valjean, is an ex-convict, living illegally under an assumed name and wanted for a robbery he committed many years ago. [Actually, no -- he is only wanted for breaking parole.] Although he will be returned to the galleys -- probably [in fact, actually] for life -- if he is caught, he is a good man who does not deserve to be punished. He has established himself in a town, becoming mayor and a public benefactor. One day, Jean learns that another man, a vagabond, has been arrested for a minor crime and identified as Jean Valjean. Jean is first tempted to remain quiet, reasoning to himself that since he had nothing to do with the false identification of this hapless vagabond, he has no obligation to save him. Perhaps this man's false identification, Jean reflects, is "an act of Providence meant to save me." Upon reflection, however, Jean judges such reasoning "monstrous and hypocritical." He now feels certain that it is his duty to reveal his identity, regardless of the disastrous personal consequences. His resolve is disturbed, however, as he reflects on the irreparable harm his return to the galleys will mean to so many people who depend upon him for their livelihood --especially troubling in the case of a helpless woman and her small child to whom he feels a special obligation. He now reproaches himself for being too selfish, for thinking only of his own conscience and not of others.

The right thing to do, he now claims to himself, is to remain quiet, to continue making money and using it tohelp others. The vagabond, he comforts himself, is not a worthy person, anyway. Still unconvinced and tormented by the need to decide, Jean goes to the trial and confesses. Did he do the right thing?

7. A Callous Passerby

Roger Smith, a quite competent swimmer, is out for a leisurely stroll. During the course of his walk he passes by a deserted pier from which a teenage boy who apparently cannot swim has fallen into the water. The boy is screaming for help. Smith recognizes that there is absolutely no danger to himself if he jumps in to save the boy; he could easily succeed if he tried.

Nevertheless, he chooses to ignore the boy's cries. The water is cold and he is afraid of catching a cold -- he doesn't want to get his good clothes wet either. "Why should I inconvenience myself for this kid," Smith says to himself, and passes on. Does Smith have a moral obligation to save the boy? If so, should he have a legal obligation as well?

8. The Last Episode of Seinfeld [not in Grassian]

The cast of Seinfeld, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer, have a layover in a small New England town. They witness a robbery in broad daylight. The robber has his hand in his pocket, and the victim shouts that the man has a gun. As soon as the robber runs away, a policeman appears on the scene; but instead of pursuing the robber, he arrests Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer for having violated the new "Good Samaritan" law of the town.

Since the four of them spent the time of the robbery making fun of the victim, who was fat, their role in the matter doesn't look good, and at their trial everyone who has ever felt wronged by them in the course of the television series testifies against them. They are convicted.

Is this just? What were they supposed to do during the robbery? Should they have rushed the robber, just in case he didn't really have a gun?

9. A Poisonous Cup of Coffee

Tom, hating his wife and wanting her dead, puts poison in her coffee, thereby killing her. Joe also hates his wife and would like her dead. One day, Joe's wife accidentally puts poison in her coffee, thinking it's cream.

Joe has the antidote, but he does not give it to her. Knowing that he is the only one who can save her, he lets her die. Is Joe'sfailure to act as bad as Tom's action?

10. The Torture of the Mad Bomber[cf. Clint Eastwood's movie, Dirty Harry]

A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended.

Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture.

This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree? If you do, would it also be morally justifiable to torture the mad bomber's innocent wife if thatis the only way to make him talk? Why?

11. The Principle of Psychiatric Confidentiality[cf. the 1997 movie, Devil's Advocate, on lawyers]

You are a psychiatrist and your patient has just confided to you that he intends to kill a woman. You're inclined to dismiss the threat as idle, but you aren't sure. Should you report the threat to the police and the woman or should you remain silent as the principle of confidentiality between psychiatrist and patient demands? Should there be a law that compels you to report such threats?

12. The Partiality of Friendship

Jim has the responsibility of filling a position in his firm. His friend Paul has applied and is qualified, but someone else seems even more qualified. Jim wants to give the job to Paul, but he feels guilty, believing that he ought to be impartial. That's the essence of morality, he initially tells himself. This belief is, however, rejected, as Jim resolves that friendship has a moral importance that permits, and perhaps even requires, partiality in some circumstances. So he gives the job to Paul. Was he right?

13. The Value of a Promise [Compare with the role of David Cash in the murder of Sherrice Iverson by Jeremy Strohmeyer.]

A friend confides to you that he has committed a particular crime and you promise never to tell. Discovering that an innocent person has been accused of the crime, you plead with your friend to give himself up. He refuses and reminds you of your promise. What should you do? In general, under what conditions should promises be broken?

14. The Perjured President[not in Grassian]

A long time Governor of a Southern State is elected Presidentof the United States on a platform that includes strong support for laws against sexual harassment. After he is in office, it comes out that he may have used State Troopers, on duty to protect him as Governor, to pick up women for him. One of the women named in the national press stories as having been brought to the Governor for sex felt defamed because she had actually rebuffed his crude advances, even though he had said that he knew her boss -- she was a State employee.

She decides to clear her name by suing the now President for sexual harassment. The Supreme Court allows the suit to proceed against the sitting President. Because the sexual harassment lawshave been recently expanded, with the President's agreement, to allowtestimony about the history of sexual conduct of the accused harasser, the President is questioned under oath about rumors of an affair with a young White House intern. He strongly denies that any sexual relationship had ever taken place, and professes not to remember if he was even ever alone with the intern. Later, incontrovertible evidence is introduced -- the President's own semon on the intern's dress -- that establishes the existence of the rumored sexual relationship. The President then finally admits only to an ambiguous "improper relationship." So the question is: Is it hypocritical of the President and his supporters to continued to support the sexual harassment and perjury laws if they do not want him to be subject to the ordinary penalties for breaking them?

Learning English on a pillow and other views

By Linell Davis

Asking foreign teachers to give lectures on how to learn English is an excruciatingly common thing to do. If you have been asked to do this, it is a sign that the organizers of the talk are not very familiar with English learning or that they are simply following some conventional formula for choosing topics for a speech.

Frustrated by such conventionality, on one occasion I decided to give the talk but tried to make it as sexy as possible. I started out with an anecdote about a friend who told me that she had learned Spanish "on the pillow," that is she had fallen in love with and married a Spanish speaker. So the best way to learn English is to fall in love with an English speaker. Everything about that person becomes attractive to you and you have a high motivation to learn. No standardized tests, no grammar points, no classroom language, just intense and intimate communication.

My audience was laughing by this point. I went on to say that I do not actually recommend this method but think that English learners can take some inspiration from it. Try to make your English learning enjoyable, attractive. Use the language playfully in your daily life. For instance, make up English nicknames for your friends. Use English expressions for common daily activities. Let's go, you look sharp today, etc. etc. Compete with your friends to come up with clever expressions.

The next advice was to learn English like a baby. Think about how babies learn language. First, they listen a lot even when they do not understand. Are they upset that they do not know what others are saying?

No, they delight in the sound of the language and then they start imitating it. They do not worry about making mistakes. The adults around them do not correct them. They encourage them, finding their first efforts extraordinary. The adults do not insist on perfectly formed sentences; they are more than satisfied with effective communication like "baby eat." So, you should be like a baby. Use the little bits of language as you learn them and be pleased with yourself for it. Again, do it playfully.

Choose materials that you find attractive. If you are a basketball fan, read news articles on your favorite player or team. Don't approach a foreigner to say you want to practice your English. Instead go to the basketball court and shoot some hoops. You will learn vocabularly and experience English in actual use.

Anyway, my lecture went on in this way with more specific advice. It was a challenge to take that tired old topic and have some fun with it.