Conversation questions

How many of you out there teach speaking?  In this day and age, skills tend to be combined as a result of the so-called ‘integrated skills’ movement. Although supporters of this methodology believe that it reflects real life, I find that courses do not provide enough practice for students in the relevant skills. What I’m saying, is that students need focused practice for a substantial amount of time in the four skills. In my context, students do not get sufficient opportunities to speak, so I try hard to ensure that students speaking per lesson ratio is as high as possible.

I often summarise whole chapters into one A4 worksheet. which then acts as the main point from which I then teach. I typically also prepare my own conversation questions so that students can use these to talk about the content of the chapter. I usually have about 30 questions per chapter.

We now have plenty of pair work going on in the classroom which is a relief. Students have given me positive feedback and are being cajoled into practicing their speaking more.

What do you think? Are we all prone to go with the flow? Have we lost our creativity?

By the way, I’d like to share something I recently found on the net. It’s a speaking question bank. Here’s the link: http://iteslj.org/questions/

Enjoy.

 

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What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?

When we think of testing, we often think of TOEFL or IELTS. These high stakes exams, with their potential to help make or break futures, are what many think of as the typical exam.

In classes across the world, teachers emulate these exams by using the same question types e.g. multiple choice questions (MCQs).

Often, testing, assessment or evaluation is reduced to a quiz of some kind. Students get a mark, and that’s the end of the story.

At the same time, people in the testing industry, who are mainly involved with the big examination bodies, cannot understand why teachers cannot grasp the ideas of validity and reliability.

I think that unless ‘testing people’ are not teaching themselves, they will never be able to understand class dynamics, and thus why there is such a gap or disconnect between those with testing knowledge, and people who want to assess in the classroom. But is it really up to people who are testers? What about teachers? What’s their take on this? Are they worried? Are they also unhappy about testing in their contexts?

In the Middle East, there is a tendency to reduce the role of teachers to just receiving centrally written quizzes and tests. In reality this reflects the lack of confidence in teacher testing ability.

There are a lot of issues.

I think we need to simplify things and create a take-off point, from which teachers can move forward in terms of their testing knowledge. Let’s keep the testing and assessment jargon to one side.

What I’m proposing, is that we start off with a simple question. The question being. “What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?”

Once we have the answer to this, we can then take the discussion further. I have my own answers, but if you are a teacher, who teaches a language, what in your view is the purpose of a test?

Once you have an idea of this, it’ll open doors, and hopefully result in an innovative movement in testing, although it’ll be a tough job to convince those who see testing as merely a score producing exercise. But the point is, that we need to look at the classroom as a different context, and study it’s dynamics. The classroom is a learning environment. The role of testing has to be seen as something that contributes to this. Unless we start looking at testing in this sense, it is difficult to see how large numbers of teachers will see tests as anything beyond the merely producing a score.

Lastly, we mustn’t forget our most important stakeholder, the student. After all, they are the ones directly affected by all of this.

Until next time..

A New Year one month too late?

Hi,

Whereas many people around the world are celebrating the beginning of the new year i.e. 2012 (Gregorian) many people around the world are more used to the Lunar or Hijri calendar. Today, on the 1st of January 2012 (Gregorian), the Hijri (Lunar) calendar date is the 7th of Safar, 1433. This is the second month of the year. The Hijri calendar also has 12 months. In case you are wondering why there seems to be a 600 plus year difference in the calendars, this is simple – both calendars have ‘spiritual’ origins. The Gregorian has origins in Christian tradition whereas the Hijri calendar has origins in Islamic tradition.

Here’s a 1 minute song to help people remember the months of the Hijri calendar. Have a good year ahead!! You could use this topic to create a listening, speaking, reading or writing activity.

Are book publishers killing teacher creativity and student learning potential?

Okay, so how many of you teaching English are using a text from a major
publisher? And how many of you seriously think that you, let alone your students are particularly enjoying the topics under the microscope? I mean, how does someone sitting in a dusty office in the middle of no-where decide what our students are going to learn and talk about. A few years back, I was teaching the topic of spanking to a group of Saudi students. Of course, this had nothing to do with their life experience, and the topic went down like a lead balloon! It
didn’t make for much interesting conversation.

 The other day, I started a discussion with my students about the latest smart phones. I mentioned the iphone, Samsung Galaxy, the HTC desire, the latest Blackberry Bold and a few other ‘in-phones’.

The students ‘pounced’ on the chance to talk about their phones memory size, whether Android beat IOS, and the various functionalities of the phones concerned. It goes without saying, that many of us are also ‘into’ these kinds of ‘in-things’. It was an opportunity to justify positions for choosing particular phones, and of course the resulting argumentation resulted in a lot of ‘talk’ – which of course was the desired outcome.

I find without reservation that most book publishers are way behind on interesting content. At times it feels like we’re stuck within a straight jacket that just does not give us the freedom to be creative. You have to focus on the content so that students perform well on the ‘achievement exam’.

The discussion on smart phones, fitted into the broad categories of technology, communication, computers etc. etc. Themes which are sometimes separated or combined as main topics within books.

My proposal is that within a teaching context, a collection of main ideas or topics should be decided by the teachers, and then teachers left to build whatever content they want around it – subject to the proficiency level of their students. Yes, build the content ourselves. We’re teachers, we’re meant to be
creative!

Collect the content that’s interesting to both sides (teacher and student) and start learning using more interesting content.

Okay, now I can hear many of you saying that if you have ten teachers, producing or acquiring their own content, doing their own thing, in their own class we’re going to end up with a bit of a ‘biryani’ or should I say ‘mix-up’.

If we take the example of travelling, whether you discuss the Bahamas, having a good time at a beach front, a trip to Tokyo or even Dhaka in Bangladesh, the
vocabulary used is going to be quite similar. The lexis students use will be very close.

All content areas have similar core vocabulary. No matter what you talk, read, write or listen about, the same words will be repeated across the classes, again and again.

The main topic or area acts as the starting point for creating content. The specifics of the content are in the teachers and students hands.

To summarise, teachers should have the freedom to choose whatever content they deem appropriate, look for content that is relevant and useful for students, taking into account student experience in their lives, and importantly items which are interesting and current.

Do you eat with your hands?


Hi! Although many of us may eat with a knife, a spoon or a fork, there are a lot of people who eat using their hands.  

Before you start thinking that it is rather disgusting licking your fingers after the end of a meal, research indicates that licking fingers helps the digestive process because it results in the release of appropriate fluids to help break down the food further.  I usually eat with utensils such as a knife and fork, and sometimes use my hands when eating pizza.

However, when in the mood, I’ll eat rice with my hands. Usually at home but even sometimes at weddings in Saudi Arabia. When in the UK (England) and in a public place, I revert to knife and fork. To be honest though, there is nothing like getting your hands dirty with some rice and lentils.  

How do people eat in your culture? Please add a comment below.

Discover Your *Top 10* True Core Values – We want to hear from you

An excellent video in which the person speaks very clearly about a particular topic. As your English develops, you need to be able to speak about more complex subjects using more complex and advanced vocabulary. Importantly, it’s not the accent that matters, it’s the clarity which you need to aim for. And for those who are watching out of curiosity, what you say, counts too.

Task?: Write down your core values below. Come on, show us you understand the video, and write about it. We want to hear from you ‘the people’!