Category Archives: ELT

“I’m investigating things that begin with the letter M”

The Mad Hattter (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

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There are some things which always seem to happen in the same way. In the context of ELT we can clearly think of typical examples in terms of how some lessons are structured. That is, it’s common for a lesson on the topic of food to be related to the grammar point on imperatives. Can you guess the rest of the context? I’m sure you’ve done it already. Yes, a recipe with activities such as putting it in order, filling in the blanks with ingredients and completing with imperative verbs, among others. That’s quite predictable, right?

As a teacher, I’m not that much into predictable things and most probably you aren’t either. The chances are that if we get bored with some tasks so will our students. So, what if we find the way of giving those activities a twist so as to make them more engaging for them? While I was teaching my 3rd grade students they suggested bringing their own ingredients and following some of the recipes from the course book in class, which I thought was a very good opportunity to make use of the language in an authentic context and for a real purpose.

By now I guess you must be thinking: “where’s the new twist?” Well, here it comes: a kind of MasterChef Junior workshop but with a different aim which is not to compete but to work collaboratively to put the steps of a basic recipe in order and then follow them altogether, as participants of the show.

Children love watching the reality show so it would be a plus if we could recreate the setting so that they feel part of that TV cookery show. By that I mean: designing badges with the name of the show and their own names, making sure students bring their own aprons or toques (chef’s hat), sticking posters or signs on the walls with the name of the show, and also having all the ingredients and kitchen utensils at hand. Don’t forget to take the mobile phone or (video) cameras, too. That will allow you to take pictures or film the process so that they later watch what they have done altogether.

Since this activity was prepared for 3rd grade students and we don’t have an oven or a cooker at the academy, the recipes are of very basic food: a giant sandwich, a banana split dessert, a choco-cake that requires no baking -nothing too complicated.

So, how do we put these ideas into action? Here are some tips:

  • Decorate the classroom with MasterChef logos and stick a poster on the wall with the logo and the name of all the students. If you have a whiteboard and a projector, then you can prepare the sign on the computer and show it on the board during the workshop.
  • Give students their toques and participant badges.
  • Make sure you have a desk where all the ingredients are placed. On that table, there you should also put two envelopes: one with a recipe of how to prepare a snack and the other with a recipe of a dessert.
  • The students will have to read the title of the recipe and the ingredients they need. They will go to the desk where the ingredients are and take them another desk.
  • The envelopes also have the steps of the recipes on different pieces of paper which indicate which step it is. Each of the students has to pick one piece of paper and then they have to put them in order.
  • After that, they will start following the recipe by performing each of the tasks in the order the pieces of paper specify.
  • Once they have finished with the snack, they will do the same with the dessert envelope.
  • To set the atmosphere, use phrases taken from the show, such as: “Is everyone ready?” so that the students can answer: “Yes, teacher/chef!!”. They simply love this part. It gets their adrenaline going!

So, going back to the intertextuality in the title: I investigated a thing beginning with the letter “M” in class, namely MasterChef Junior, and it worked!  You are welcome to try this activity and then let me know how it goes. Good luck 😉

You can find the recipies and instructions and related MasterChef Junior Workshop materials for this lesson here.

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Filed under ELT, ELT activities for children, Materials design

Designing my own material: Have I gone mad?

Designing materials

How good are you at designing your own teaching material? Are you always on the lookout for new ideas or resources that you can later modify and turn them into feasible lesson plans?

I am one of those, in fact. That is, every time I’m watching a movie or a TV series, reading authentic materials I got on my last holidays or even when someone posts a picture with a text in English I cannot help thinking about how to exploit them in my lessons with my students. To illustrate this at work, here’s my latest example.

I was just browsing through my facebook newsfeed when all of sudden I came across this video about two of the most important universities in the UK Oxford vs. Cambridge

The moment I started watching it, I realized I would be using it in my lessons since the content is educational and it is presented in a very innovative and catching way. As you may have seen if you watched the video, it is a point by point description of relevant facts to show which university has achieved the highest number of things or the most successful ones throughout their existence, only to arrive to the conclusion that both are equally important and there is no such thing as a winner.

I spent some time thinking of possible activities to be used with this video until I came up with one which was the following one:

Title: The War of the Titans

Possible objectives? Well, lots of them:

  • To introduce CLIL to my lessons
  • To make students work in pairs on a CLIL project
  • To combine learning English with fun activities
  • To make students work with technological resources (Power Point docs, video making programs, screen capture softwares, projectors)
  • To involve students with their own learning by engaging them in research to find relevant content (and of their own choice) to make their own videos.

Here’s a detailed student’s worksheet:The War of the Titans_Students’ worksheets

Note that this activity was intended to be done with intermediate and upper-intermediate students to give them more freedom about what to say. However, I bet you can adapt it to lower levels as well since the difficulty here lies on how well they manage to use the resources involved. The technological resources used are: mobile phones, tablets, laptops, search engines, PowerPoint, aTube Catcher (for screen capture) and a projector.

Other factors to consider

It’s worth mentioning that if your students are not tech-savvy or if they don’t have mobiles or any other of the resources mentioned before then you should consider using this activity in a more traditional way. One alternative would be to make them look for useful information and just distribute it as a pair so that each member of the pair reads his/her part. You would be working with content all the same and it would still be a game.

So, if while talking to other colleagues about materials design they seem to suggest that you are mad because you waste time creating your own material when there are so many ready-to-use resources, then you can come up with what I call a witticism,

Hatter, “Have I gone mad?”

Alice, “I’m afraid so; you’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are.”

Alice in Wonderland. Watch it, here.
Source: Film: Alice in Wonderland, 2010. Directed by Tim Burton and written by Linda Woolverton

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Filed under ELT, ELT activities for teenagers, Materials design, Teaching with technology

A stroke of luck?

down_the_rabbit_hole_by_tempestmaker-d30d21j

(Picture: “Down the rabbit hole”  by TempestMaker

Don’t you find it strange how the unconscious works?

Every August just after the winter holidays, I’ve been experiencing this burning desire to explore what it is like to live, study or work in a foreign country. As a teacher and translator there came a point in my professional life when I started thinking that in my local context there were no further opportunities for me to make progress in my career. I decided that it was high time I did something about it.

This annual August habit -which was beginning to make me feel uneasy- was in fact the trigger for my tireless search: all Erasmus scholarships in my field, some local Argentinian scholarships as well, and many more I had applied for.

Year after year the same thing happened to me, but the application process was as far as I was able to get. But wait, I’m missing something here. Once, after waiting for 4 months to get a reply from one of the scholarships I had applied for I got this email which almost gave me a heart attack when I read the first line: “You have been selected for a place on the Erasmus Mundus XXX”.  I almost faint the moment I read this on my phone but since I was so anxious I guess I put off the fainting event so as to keep on reading the rest of the message, which went on like this: “We are happy to make you an offer of admission to the XXX programme. Unfortunately, there are few EU scholarships available this year and you are not on the short-list. However, other funding possibilities may be found on the (XXX) website”.  In order not to suffer so much and to keep my self-esteem high
I thought of this event as a milestone which made me realize I had broken my own record. At least I had been admitted to those three European universities which made up the consortium of the programme I had chosen, which was not a minor thing (I kept repeating this to myself). Anyway, I decided to send a “mature” reply to that email stating that unfortunately I had to “decline” the offer due to “non-sufficient funds” (I don’t remember which euphemism I used so as not to be too rude… to myself, in fact!).

Anyway, it was not until this summer when I came across this post on the Oxford University Press Facebook site when my luck (?) began to change. The Headway series written by Liz and John Soars were opening a competition for teachers who used the series. I didn’t hesitate to take part in it and I worked for two weeks on my video and PowerPoint® presentation to submit them in due time. And after waiting for 3 months I got an email… again! This time, the subject line was: “Headway scholarship. Winner!.” The email went on like this: “Congratulations – you are a winner of this year’s Headway Scholarship competition! On behalf of Liz Soars and the Headway Scholarship Foundation, we are delighted to tell you that you have been awarded one of the Headway Scholarships for 2015 which means that you are entitled to a place on the 2-week English Language Teachers’ Summer Seminar at Exeter College in Oxford. Now I couldn’t believe my eyes. It actually said I was entitled to a place -a proper scholarship I would say! And I was one of the (lucky?) ones, together with 5 more teachers from Europe and Asia.

So there I went, off to Oxford for 2 weeks on a Teachers’ Summer Seminar where I would meet colleagues from over 30 countries to share our experiences and to learn from the best tutors, those whose names we’ve been reading on the covers of the coursebooks we use. I know, I know…Lucky (?) me!

So I wonder, when it comes to scholarships or even anything we want to happen to us: is it really luck what is at play? Or is it actually us going to their encounter and making things happen?

“There’s no use in trying,” Alice said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.
“When I was your age, I always dit it for half an hour a day.
Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

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Filed under EFL teacher, ELT, Professional development, Teacher training