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Introduction to Week 4

What do people mean when they talk about ‘language’? What do you hope to learn this week?
Hello, everybody. Welcome to week four. And I’m going to begin this week by talking about Amal and what she’s been doing in the clip week you looked at last week. Yeah. At the end. So the question is, what is happening in the lesson and something like that. Can’t remember exactly the questions. But in the clip that we showed, Amal is– first of all, she asks the students to find the phrasal verbs in the text and to match the phrasal verbs with the meaning. And one of the questions was, why did we ask her to do that? And the answer is to encourage the students to work out for themselves the meaning of the words in context.
Remember last week we were talking about context and how important it is for reading? It’s also important for grammar. So she was getting them to work out the meaning from the context and then she took the words and another question was related to what she was writing on the board, so she put the phrasal verbs into three columns– separable, non-separable, and so on– phrasal verbs. And the students, they gave her the words from the text and she put them on the board. So she was showing how they can be formed. She was focusing really on clarifying the grammar. And we’re going to talk a lot more, aren’t we, about context this week. We are.
And grammar as well– And grammar– And even phrasal verbs– So when we get to the end of the week, we’ll have a lot more to say about that. Now let’s go on to the questions. And we have some interesting questions this week. Somebody asked a question about what do you do if you have got a class of complete beginners. Now I don’t think you ever have a class of complete beginners, but let’s say you’ve got a class of complete beginners– Yeah. It’s rare actually nowadays, I think, quite rare to have– But let’s say you have, so how are you going to start my training?
So we’re assuming that this is a class of beginners where you don’t speak– actually, one of the questions was, where you don’t speak their language and they don’t speak yours and where– or a class where you have adults and they all speak different languages. And the answer, the short answer really, is you do the same thing a lot, but in different ways. But I think that the main thing really that I’d like to– the message I’d like to send is that it’s really important to retain a communicative focus, especially with beginners. So the first point French class I ever had, I was taught, this is a table. This is a chair. This is a man. This is a book.
So how often in your life do you say, this is a table? It’s blooming obvious it’s a table because you can see it. So it’s not language that I can take away and use straight away. So in my classes, very first class, the question is, what do you teach? Lesson one, day one. My name is Marie Therese. What’s your name? Get to say your name. Get them to say each other’s names. Get them to– So first you would get– say the sentence, get them all to repeat it.
Then you would do a bit of pair work with them, get them to do pair work with each other, get them to walk about and introduce themselves to other people in the room. So you would do that a lot. So when I say the same thing a lot, you would spend a long time on that. And then you would build that conversation. So how are you? I’m fine. So this is dialogue that they can take away out of classroom. Also you’d do very basic vocabulary. You told me before about nothing is ever brand new. Nobody is ever a beginner.
Also for example, I’m teaching some learners who have Arabic as a first language, and I found quite quickly– we were doing food vocabulary– and there were words that were kind of more of less the same. Like I said lemon. It was like, oh, same in Arabic. Same in Arabic. Exactly. And the other ones were– oh, tomato. Tomato is very similar in Arabic, and sugar. Sugar. So you start with kind of basic– Rules, I think, building on situations that arise in the class. So for example, a learner has forgotten their pen and so it’s, you know– Can I borrow it? Well, they won’t say, can I borrow, but you can them teach them. Can you give me a pen, please?
And then a little dialogue. Can you give– everybody saying together. Drilling. Drilling is very important in this. Very, very important. Drilling is repetition. Can you give me a pen, please? Here you are. Thank you. But them converting– exactly. And then convert that straight into practise activity so they have to do it in pairs and then they have to get up and do it a whole group. And so then– and then they have to do it again. Maybe they listen to somebody doing the same conversation and writings then. And writing things down. One of the questions is which skills do you start first? And the answer actually is, you do them all together.
So maybe first they listen to you, then they repeat. So they listen and then they speak. But then you write it on the board. So they read it and then they write it down. So we’ve got all four skills going on all at the same time. It is exhausting, actually, teaching beginners, I’ve found– but absolutely the most rewarding, because you can go from today you know speak no English whatsoever to a month where you can have a really basic conversation. Well, especially if English is spoken in the environment. Exactly.
So that actually leads on quite nicely to integrating skills, because some people said, ask lots of questions about which skill do you do first and how much time do you spend on each skill. And I’m a great believer in integrating skills. Me too. Me too. And if we go back to last week, that article you gave me, that wonderful article– Oh, about the wedding. About people missing football. Yeah, do you know that people were going to be having their mobile phones in the middle of– it was a fantastic article about it. But that would really lead into a really good discussion about, you’re at a wedding. The World Cup Match, your country is playing. It’s three o’clock.
You’ve got your mobile phone in your pocket. Would you use your mobile phone? Why and why not? And also you could get language work out of that we well, so maybe there will be indirect speech maybe, if there was some quotes in the article, turn this into he said that he had to do the– All sorts of things– Speech or whatever. So reading, writing, listening, speaking, trying to do a bit of each. Well, question now from a teacher who said, how do you build your confidence as a teacher if you’re lacking in confidence? Now certainly when I began teaching, I didn’t have much confidence. It’s scary.
So what you do is you plan really well to give yourself that kind of security blanket, if you like. I’ve got a plan. I know what I’m doing next. But the most important thing, Marie Therese is– I think the most important thing is get to know your students. Get to know your students straightaway and try to do activities which involve them getting to know each other, because if your students trust you and your students know that you have their best interests at heart, then the teaching becomes very, very much easier. And also it means that you’re able to target your lessons at them. You’re able to make lessons that suit their interests and suit their needs.
So do a Needs Analysis Questionnaire. There are loads of them online. Find out which skills they feel they’re not very good. Really show an interest and care about them. I think that’s the best solution really. And then the next question is on how you deal with large classes. It was about feedback really, this question. Wasn’t it? About having large classes and whether or not how you give feedback to every person in a large class in speaking activity. That is physically impossible. It is. So what– over time, you can make sure that you have moved from group to group. So say you’ve got a class of 50 and they’re in groups of four.
You’re not going to be able to get to groups– every group. But you can look at certain groups, and two or three groups each time, and then the next class, make sure you focus on the others. But with large classes, one of the things that I think people were concerned about was how you organise this as well. And one of the things you can do is obviously pair work. But with a very large class, you can do a Think Pair Share activity. So if you give people something– maybe it could be a language problem to work on. So work on it as a pair. But I’ve also heard of Think Pair Square.
So if you work as a pair and then you work as a form, form a square, so you can actually involve all the cards in that. So you do it on your own, you do it in pairs, and then you do it in a group of four. And coming back to the thing about feedback where the person that asked the question said, if they’re all doing a speaking activity, you can’t give feedback to all of them. Maybe this is detrimental to come, that they’ll be learning each other’s mistakes and that they’ll be speaking and getting no feedback. But it’s fine. It’s really fine. You can never give students too much practise.
I think as well you can do things like, let’s say you’re teaching a grammar point and grammar is our focus this week, language– you know, grammar and vocabulary. You could maybe do an exit poll from the class. You could say is there something that you don’t understand, you write it on a piece of paper and you have like, a box. And then after it, you can kind of have a little– and then you’ve got kind of feedback. You know, have lots of questions about the present perfect, so obviously a lot of people didn’t understand it, so you can revise it next lesson.
And just popped into my head as well, the business of speaking and feedback, is why not do peer evaluation. So you give students a checklist and while they’re doing the activity, listen to each other and they check– so did they use good past tenses? Were they easy to understand? And they do peer evaluation and peer feedback. And group people so you’ve got stronger learners supporting the less competent ones in the class. Finally– I feel like we’re running out of time. I feel like we’re running out of time. There was too much to say this week. So we have suggestions to motivate and engage the shy students. You’ve sort of covered that elsewhere, haven’t you?
You don’t ask the shy student the most challenging question. Or a question you know they don’t know. You try to find a question they know the answer to. Give them a role in a role-play which is kind of not the major part in the role-play. I’ll give them a job. If it’s a group activity, give them the job of taking down notes to summarise what everybody says so that they don’t have to say it themselves. So I think that really is all we’ve got time for. So I think that we’ll leave you to get on with the week. And we look forward to seeing you on Friday.
And we look forward to talking to you about what you said about grammar and vocabulary. So it’s been a really rich week, I think. It is. It’s the hard one. And we love grammar and vocabulary. Absolutely. We’ll see you on Friday. Bye, bye.

Once again, we start the week by answering last week’s questions about Amal’s lesson, and Monica and Marie Therese also answer your questions from Week 3.

There’s a lot involved in teaching language, isn’t there? What do teachers need to know about language? This week we’ll talk about what people mean when they talk about ‘language’ and teaching ‘language’ and we’ll explore the things teachers need to know about language in order to be able to teach it effectively.

Once again we are going to hear from learners and teachers about the challenges learners face when they are learning about the English language. We’ll look at how teachers help learners to overcome some of the challenges of learning about language.

There will be more quizzes and discussions and lots of other activities. As before, we look forward to seeing your contributions to our tasks and reading the comments and ideas you share with us this week.


Use the comment section now to say what you think people mean when they talk about ‘language’ – we’ll talk about this in the next step. Say also what you hope you’ll learn this week.

As you work through the week, you can mark each step as complete by clicking the round, pink button at the bottom of each page.

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Exploring the World of English Language Teaching

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