Thursday, April 26, 2007

Daily Points in Class

By Frank Holes, Jr

Starting your class on the right foot each day is very important to both you and the students. There are certain expectations you will have, be they required materials (texts, folders, gym clothes), basic supplies (pencils/paper), or behaviors (on time, in seats, working on opening activities). You are going to want these expectations met every day.

We designed a simple set of 5 rules to start out every class. These are easy to remember and easy to keep track of. Several of our teachers use a variation of the 5 rules to start their classes, and you may feel free to adapt these to your class. These are the rules I use in English class:

Rule 1: Students must be in their seats when class begins. In some schools, classes begin (and are dismissed) by a bell. Some classes begin at a specific time. Still other classes are started by a
particular signal from the teacher.

Rule 2: Students must have a writing instrument. Again, different teachers have different expectations, be it pencil or pen or whatever. For me, it doesn't matter as long as it s dark enough to read. I only balk at silver, gold, white, or any other light or fluorescent color (hot pink or yellow for example).

Rule 3: Students must have their folder out on their desk. Each of our classes requires students to keep important papers, notes, and other course artifacts. Some teachers allow students to keep these, and others provide a location in the room for folders.

Rule 4: Students must have all required materials for class that day. To reduce the number of times students ask me about what they need for the day's class, I will either write the materials list on the board or put it on the class announcements on our TV (watch for the article on creating a class cable TV network our upcoming March issue).

Rule 5: Students must be working on the class warm up activity. In English class, students write out Daily Oral Language (DOL) sentences, practicing proofreading skills. On the edge of each day's entry are the numbers 1 through 5, making it easy to grade. All you have to do is circle the appropriate number.

Again, we give each student a daily grade of points (1-5). Some teachers have only four rules and one rule is worth 2 points. You can change up and set your own rules and create an easy to grade set of points to fit your own classroom.

After a few weeks of practice, the checking of daily points becomes a student job. One student from each group (the RECORDER) gets the weekly responsibility to check the students' daily points and circle the proper number. The teacher is freed up for other activities, and you only need to spot check through the room. This way I can record the daily points only once every two weeks and they are already tallied up for me.

Find Frank Holes, Jr.'s website at:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Making students the 'boss'

By Tony Lee

I started with a freshman oral class for the first time this semester and they certainly are different.

First thing I told them was since they are paying my salary, they are my boss. A couple of them have taken their responsibility as my boss very seriously and yesterday came to tell me what I was doing wrong.

First I was talking too much. I was their first Australian and yes I had talked for most of the first 2 hour lesson telling them all about Australia and myself. Second lesson they talked the whole time -- on a progressive story so I could gauge their ability. Speaking -- pretty good. Understanding me or each other - quite bad. So pep talk on active listening etc.

The interesting thing is at a brainstorm session they picked exactly the two top 'wants' as Eve's class - they should speak all the time and I should teach them culture. The one about correcting them immediately was already in place as I had warned them that those who were worried about losing face should leave it (face) back in their dorm.

Now the trick is going to be how to satisfy two almost completely mutually exclusive activities. My easy solution was to tell them they can't have their cake and eat it too and those who wanted more info on western culture would have to come to our apartment and look at my books, maps and photos and ask me questions.

They wanted things to debate so "who is responsibility for learning" will be more productive than some I had considered.

Using improv drama in the EFL classroom

By Marc Anthony - Taiwan

I was a drama teacher before I ever entered the language field, and I found that many of the activities I used in drama classes were also quite useful in language classes.

In more advanced classes, I particularly enjoyed introducing improvisation with all its possibilities to my learners. Improvisation is a kind of performance where the "actors" perform without a script, perhaps only with an opening line, a situation, or character roles. It works best in advanced language classes as it requires a great deal of fluidity to be successful.

It should be noted that I use improvisation in the classroom as a learning tool. Some of my learners are familiar with the British and American TV show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", which has skilled comedians performing improvisational sketches. I tell my learners that they do not have to be funny or clever, as the purpose of improv is to accomplish a communicative goal. What is required is careful listening and thoughtful responses.

There are many improv activities. I cannot list them here. Some of the sketches done on on the aforementioned TV show work well. Here is a link to a good list of some others:

The role of the teacher

By Janet Kaback - Newark Public Schools, USA

In the past, the role of the teacher was the keeper of knowledge who was considered all-knowing, who would deign to deposit some of this knowledge into the minds of his/her students. This role fit in well with society after the Industrial Revolution. The vast majority of students did not pursue higher education and were trained to work in factories where they were responsible for a certain job. The industries needed laborers, not thinkers.

However, in today's world, the ability to acquire and utilize knowledge and to apply it in various situations is the goal of the modern societies. The global economy, international travel, and the internet, shrink the world's differences as we move to develop a fast-paced, technological society. No longer do the advanced countries seek to produce quantities of laborers, rather, we need the technological knowledge and the ability to think and problem-solve that schools must now produce.

Therefore, the role of the teacher needs to change in order to produce students who are able to think, plan, and act on their knowledge. As one teacher said, "Students have to learn to discriminate between useful knowledge and less useful knowledge and decide on their own language learning priorities."

Advanced societies must change the way the schools teach to produce the citizens who will understand how to act, and how to activate in the 21st century. This includes teaching students how to seek out their own knowledge and how to discriminate between useful and extraneous information in the pursuit of a goal. It does not only come into play with language learning, but must be considered within all disciplines. Just holding a diploma with the knowledge that one was supposed to acquire doesn't cut it in today's world...using that knowledge in the correct manner and form to surge ahead in the changing world is what is needed.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Randomizing Class Choices: Breaking Up the Monotony

By Frank Holes, Jr.

Much has been said and written lately about providing students with choices. I'm all for any methods which will improve student involvement in class, giving them ownership in their learning. There are many ways to give students choices, options, or just to provide random results and change up the monotony. This article will discuss how to use random results in typical class situations.

One technique I use is drawing from a hat (or mug, box, basket, or other container). You can choose anything to put in the hat, and decide if you or the students will do the drawing. You can draw, or let your students pick. I try to keep the 'hat' above the chooser's head so there is no possible way to cheat on the draw.

In the hat I like to use different colored poker chips: white, red, and blue. We will use these for many applications, or at least any that involve three different outcomes. When grading freewrites, for example, drawing a blue chip means I take an immediate grade on the assignment.

A white chip means "thank you for writing today", but we aren't going to grade it, just file the writing into your folder. A red chip indicates I'll collect the papers, read over them, grade them, and select a few to write comments upon. By drawing a chip, the students don't know if the assignment will be graded or not, so they must do their best. However, for the teacher, the students are writing more but you don't have to grade every paper!

We will also use the chips for minor homework assignments. Same idea - white is a no grade, blue goes immediately to the grade book. But on red chips, I'll allow a minute or two to fix mistakes before I collect them. It depends on the situation. It's that simple. And the students never know if the assignment will be graded or not, so they have to do their best just in case. Another technique is to use strips of paper in a coffee mug for completely random choices. This is great for games like charades where students draw random words, topics, or choices. This could be used to randomly discuss class topics or answer questions.

I like to use this for choosing project topics. Put slips of paper numbered 1 through however many students are in the class. Fold the slips and then have students draw their own place in the waiting line. Whoever has the slip #1 gets first choice of topics, #2 chooses second, and so forth. No one can claim a biased order of selection! This is great for research paper topics, where you don't want students choosing the same topics. We will also use small slips of colored paper to form random groups of students. If I want four different groups, figure how many students you want in each group and tear that many small slips of colored construction paper. Do this for each group, using different colors. I find this is a good use for scraps of paper left over after an art project (the thick paper holds up better). Then go around the room and let the students 'choose' their group. Collect the slips back after recording the groups & names so you can re-use the slips again.

You could use all sorts of everyday items to get random choices. Flip a coin in a two-choice situation. A die or pair of dice can give you even more choices. You could even use a deck of playing cards.

To randomly call upon students, we utilize note cards filled out with student names and personal information. At the beginning of the year, students write their name, parents' contact info, text book numbers, hobbies/interests, and other information on a regular 3 x 5 index card. I then collect these and pull them out, shuffle, and select a random card (with the student's name on it.) Voila! Random selection
of students.

And if you want to ensure you call upon everyone equally, just don't shuffle the cards, and place the used card at the back of he deck. You can cycle through the card deck over and over, ensuring you're calling upon every student equally.

Cards, dice, coins, poker chips and simple slips of paper can be easily used to make random selections in class. We'd love to hear any other 'random acts' ideas and techniques you may have. We'll add them to this article and post them on our website with credit to you!

Find Frank Holes, Jr.'s website at:

iCALL guiding student vocabulary progress

By Steve Kaufmann, Canada

In my experience, it is possible, using computers to take advantage of the motivational power of free reading with the benefits of a methodical and deliberate study of vocabulary. With the computer we can offer to the learner a great variety of reading content, (or allow the learner to search the web), and then to count (and indicate to the learner) the number of words in each content item that are unknown.

It is possible to show the number of times the new words the learner is trying to learn appear in different content items. It is even possible to rank these content items by greatest(least) number of unknown words and/or recently learned words and allow the learner to choose what to study in order to maximize interest, familiarity, and minimize difficulty, thereby increasing vocabulary learning efficiency. A learner will do best if he or she choses what to read and listen to.

It is possible to
- rank recently learned words by frequency of appearance in the learner's corpus or a larger corpus and thereby guide the learner as to the possible importance of new words, allowing the learner to prioritize the new words to focus on at any given time.
- show which content items have the greatest number of these priority new words.
- collect all sentences in either the learner's corpus or a larger corpus that contain these new words and allow the learner to drill down to the relevant context.
- create a variety of lists containing the words the learner is trying to learn, for review, flash cards and other forms of study.

These lists can be referred to by learner when writing or speaking. All of this activity can be tracked and measured.

In other words the computer makes it possible to combine the benefits of free reading on the one hand and deliberate vocabulary study on the other hand. These are not two opposite paths but they need to be combined. The learner is motivated both by his/her interest in reading on certain subjects and by seeing measurable progress towards a learned words goal. I think it is outdated to see these two approaches as in contradiction. Their merits need to be combined for greater synergy.

Find Steve Kaufmann's blog at:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Getting students talking...and talking

By Tomasz Pilch, Poland

In large classes (and here in Poland they never exceed 30) I would manipulate the material so that it would have the form of students interviewing students about information that afterwards they will be asked to report to the class.

As a result, during the first part of the assignement there is such a noise (because there are up to 15 pairs of students talking to each other at the same time) that even shy students do not feel embarassed by the situation and find it quite easy (I gather) to speak.

Afterwards, if the task permits, I ask two students from different groups to report on what they have learnt from their interlocutors and then one student to try to tell us what in the views/opinions presented before was similar and what different from what his/her interlocutor said. This way you have students use direct speech and then reported speech, plus gathering information, reporting it and making contrastive comparison - during conversation classes it works well, much better than teacher to students exchange, which usually ends up with teacher monopolising the class time.

I also ask students to prepare questions (or whatever the task requires) and then choose the person to answer/respond, then the latter takes over and asks question to a student of his/her choice (thus they never know who will be asked and therefore pay attention).