Archive | May, 2013

Why is pronunciation teaching so bad?

26 May

You wouldn’t tell your students that ‘I like eating’ is a good example of the present continuous. So why would you tell them that they can make the /i:/ sound by widening their lips?

In this 5 minute video post, I argue that all teachers and teacher trainers should make more of an effort with pronunciation.


Classroom Management with Young Learners – 5 common mistakes

26 May


ImageAs someone who’s mainly been teaching young learners over my entire career, I’ve had a lot of experience with classroom management.  When I started, as a fresh CELTA graduate thrown ruthlessly into a kindergarten class, I was clueless.  From collegues and managers, I got tonnes of advice, but much of it was really quite bad.

Not until I did the CELTA Young Learners extension did I learn anything at all about classroom management.  Even then, it took three more years of careful practice before I felt comfortable in my ability to get the classroom I wanted.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that I made, and that I’ve seen people make, (and some of which I have been advised to do!), with classroom management.


1) A Negative Approach

‘If you don’t shut up, you are all losing your break’, ‘Do what I say or I’ll call your parents’

If you start a battle by trying to stamp your authority on them, its a battle that only you can lose.  If they don’t want to do what you want them to do, then they won’t.

Instead, start with the premise that all young learners really want is positive attention. Something as simple as ‘well done’ can make them feel great.  Say ‘well done Roberta for sitting so quietly’ when others aren’t doing so. Tell them that if they work hard, they can play a fun game later or relax a bit. Tell them their English is improving after they try hard.

2) Not using names


Don’t talk to to all of them.   Talking to everybody is like talking to no one. Use names.

3) Relying on gimmicks


“Well done everyone – the rocket is going forwards!!!”

There’s nothing wrong with ‘classroom management systems’ like this (I sometimes use them, especially with kindergarteners), but in themselves they aren’t going to get students to behave long term.  Use them, but don’t rely on them: their effect wears off.

Teens may also see them as patronizing, which might tell them that you lack respect for them.

4) Not being strict enough

If you aren’t strict, it isn’t fair on the students who are behaving well. Students who are sitting quietly listening to you will expect you to do something about the two students at the back who start talking over you.  If you don’t do something, they will quickly lose their respect and wonder why they bothered behaving well at all.

It’s also about consistency. If you let them talk over you once, then from then on, whether they can talk over you or not will not be clear to them. 

If this doesn’t come naturally to you, it can help to have clear classroom rules written on the board, and to refer the students back to these rules when they break them (‘Daniel, what’s the first rule?’).  Make sure that rules are positively worded, though (‘Speak English in Class’, not ‘Don’t speak Italian).

5) Trying to win them over by being their ‘friend’

Using silly voices, cracking silly jokes, doing silly little actions to make them laugh: all sure fire ways to create long term discipline problems.

Think of the teachers you respected and behaved for at school – were they like this? No, they probably weren’t!

You should be firm, stern and professional, at least until you have them in the routine of behaving well.  In the long term, you can loosen up, but first work on building respect.  If you are worried about feedback forms, don’t be.  When it comes to who students ‘like’ as a teacher, respect always trumps.



Student Centered Feedback – Some Techniques!

1 May

Just a quick blog post.  Last week I went to a talk by Jim Scrivenor at St. Giles, one of the things talked about was makingstudent-centered feedback more useful. Too often, says Jim, teachers simply elicit the answer ‘rubberstamp’ (“good”, “well done”) and move on. I agree, and one negative comment from my last observation was that I could think of more ways to make feedback more student centered. Jim gave a variety of techniques, but this week I’ve been experimenting a bit myself too. My aim has been to get more discussion about why answers are right or wrong with less teacher intervention.

Here are three things I’ve tried. The first two, I thought of myself (I’m not saying I’m the first one to think of them, of course!), the thrid is something I learned before:

Technique One: DIY Feedback

Activity types: Primarily longer reading or listening texts

Procedure: I told students they had a strict time limit of 6 minutes.  As a class, they had to agree between them what all of the answers were and then get one student to write them on the board. I was not to intervene.  I told them that if they got one wrong, they couldn’t go home! (a joke, obviously). 

Result: For an FCE listening, this worked very well. They all discussed what was said and used some good language of negotiation which we went through afterwards (feedback on the feedback!).  I have a small class (6 students), bigger classes may need splitting up somehow.

Technique Two: Your turn!feedback-heads1

Activity types: Listening (could be adapted for reading)

Procedure: I cut the tapescript up and gave each pair of students one part of it (but myself the first part), each part was the answer to one – two questions. In pairs they found the right answer for their questions. Then, I did feedback for the first question, eliciting answers and asking for reasons before telling them whether it is right or wrong.  Then the first pair become the ‘teachers’ and do feedback for the second and third questions, using the same kind of techniques.

Result: Tonnes of fun.  They had a whale of a time, mainly because they decided it would be funny to imitate both my manner and my middle class English accent whilst doing the feedback. Very amusing, if not a little embarrassing (there were some startlingly accurate impressions).  It also produced some interesting discussion.  I’ll use this again.

Technique Three: Master Copy

Activity types: All

Procedure: I learned this on my CELTYL a few years ago, but had forgotten it. Basically, you put them in groups of three or four, then choose one person in each group and mark only their work (tick right/wrong). Then the three use the marked piece to check their own answers, and find the right answer to any that were marked wrong. Give a little time at the end to clear up anything they are still uncertain about (or do this whilst monitoring, if possible).

Result:  Good for variety, the only disadvantage was that some wrong answers went undiscussed. Still, I’ll use it occasionally for some variety!


Does anyone else have any other interesting ideas for feedback that they use?