More realistic lesson aims

One of the strongest criticism of PPP is that it never achieves typical lesson aims like “Students will be able to produce Future Continuous and use it in communication”. Or at least it seems like a strong criticism until you realize that no other approach can achieve that either in a single lesson and if they are more successful it is often simply by setting the bar lower. That’s a technique that I think we can all use, so here are some more realistic goals that you can set for your lessons, PPP or not:

“My aim for this lesson is:

  • Not getting any complaints
  • Students not being more confused about this language point than when they came into the classroom
  • At least not get any blank faces when I have to completely reteach this language point in three weeks’ time
  • Students vaguely remembering this language point when they learn it all over again in the next level class
  • Dodging any questions which I can’t answer
  • Getting through without racist comments by anyone
  • Students being motivated to learn the language by my lie that it’s useful for TOEIC
  • No one realizing how useless this lesson’s language point is
  • Not forgetting to do more than one of the stages on my lesson plan
  • Not allowing students to distract me into ranting about something or talking about my holidays again
  • Doing at least 40% of the things that I’ve planned
  • Finding all the problems with this lesson so that I can use it with a more important class next week
  • Proving that this lesson was never going to work
  • Not yawning
  • Not sighing
  • Not losing the will to live
  • Not letching at any students
  • Collecting at least two amusing student errors
  • Not getting any pen on my shirt or face
  • Not spitting on anyone when I’m demonstrating pronunciation or getting particularly passionate in my error correction
  • Not reminding anyone of Basil Fawlty or Mr Bean
  • Getting fewer than 10 yawns or patronizing looks
  • Not giving away too much personal information
  • Not using exactly the same stories to illustrate language points as in previous classes
  • Not using exactly the same example sentences to illustrate the grammar as in previous classes
  • Not having to explain the activities more than four times
  • Still having enough energy left to teach my other lessons without snapping at anyone or nodding off
  • Still having enough energy left to get through this month’s sex with my partner tonight without snapping at anyone or nodding off
Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | Tagged | Leave a comment

Collins Academic Skills: Presenting and Group Work review

Another MET one. This time the reviews editor added words that suggested I’d still recommend the Group Work title, which is a rather “generous” reading of what I wrote…

Group Work by Graham Burton: ISBN 978 000 750714 6

Presenting by Patrick McMahon: ISBN 978 000 750713 9

“Presenting – Deliver presentations with confidence” and “Group Work – Work together for academic success” are in the new Collins Academic Skills series. As their subtitles suggest, they are much more like books of advice for people who have to give presentations and do group work in their own language than they are like traditional language-based EFL books. In fact, Presenting’s blurb’s only mention of language is “MP3 CD with model language and presentation techniques”.

Having realized this, my questions about the books were on their balance between language and advice, comparisons with advice online (mainly free but designed for native English speakers), grading and suitability of the language and advice for the target audience, and in what situations they were most suitable. As “Presenting” provides clearer answers, this review mainly concentrates on that book before moving onto Group Work.

“Presenting” has 12 chapters that can be divided into an overview, those dealing with specific kinds of academic presentations (“Seminars and tutorials” and “Poster presentation”), and those giving tips on more typical PowerPoint presentations (“Planning and structuring formal presentations”, “Using your voice”, etc). There are then appendices, a glossary, audio scripts, and an answer key. The appendices give eight pages of useful phrases, a general guide to citations, and a simple outline for how to organize presentation notes.

Each unit starts with aims and a self-evaluation quiz where students circle “agree”, “disagree” or “not sure” in answer to statements like “I know words and phrases to use when referring to visual aids” and “I know about the kinds of problems that can occur when using visual aids and how to overcome them”.

The unit then has short sections with advice on aspects of the topic, e.g. “The importance of body language”, “Choosing between sitting and standing”, “Finding the right ‘home position’”, etc in Unit 7. Most of these have one or two “Exercises”. Some of these are language exercises, some are to make sentences with good advice or analyse which good tips are being used, some are noticing exercises based on the CD, and others ask students to practise things out loud. There are a good variety of exercise types, but the difficulty can vary quite a lot, from identifying the function of “Are there any questions?” to guessing meanings of metaphorical gestures. This was also somewhat true of the language points covered, with quite advanced points such as cleft sentences, plus some almost unteachable points like intonation patterns.

The units also have highlighted “Tips” and “Glossary” entries scattered through them, e.g. “Do not be afraid to pause during your presentation,…”  and “The pace of something is the speed at which it happens” in Unit 5.

I generally agreed with the tips given and thought they were appropriate for those likely to use the book. My favourites included leaving the audience with an interesting thought, thinking about position of presenters who are not speaking, adding notes as hidden extras on PowerPoint and printing it out to speak from, practising with a long mirror to check your whole body language, practising over music to improve volume, thinking about a ‘home position’ to return to after moving, practising looking up from notes at least once every five seconds, using personal pronouns to engage people, creating blank slides so the audience can listen without distraction, putting questions rather than information on slides, covering parts of slides with blocks of colour to highlight what is left, and undertaking other English challenges to prepare mentally to give a presentation.

Although I’d agree with all the planning stages given in the book, I’d suggest mind maps to aid brainstorming, organisation and editing, and doing that before narrowing the focus of the topic down. I’d also recommend more concrete aims than remembering information, if possible changing people’s minds or actions.

I’m not sure if I agree on using prompt cards (which could get mixed up), learning general word stress patterns, thinking about words per minute, working on weak forms and joining words together (completely unnatural and distracting when rehearsed) or thinking about breathing or possible nerves.

There also could have been something specific on hooking an audience and using questions where people raise hands in response.

There were too many tips for anyone to take in, but this tends to happen with a book on one topic with more tips than language. Fewer highlighted “Tips” and more connected text might have helped, and there could have been a quiz/ questionnaire at the beginning to guide students to the most useful things for them.

The advice was generally written with suitably graded language. Although there are over 100 explanations of words used in the text, students are likely to meet most in other advice on presentations such as pre-sessional courses. The definitions were not the best. It is perhaps inevitable that a Collins book would use COBUILD definitions, but they really missed a chance to add something extra by using the exact same definitions in the glossary sections through the book and at the back.

The “Useful phrases” in the text and appendix are generally slightly higher in language level than the advice and definitions, including some quite advanced phrases like “In a sense”, “I’m just curious if”, “Just out of interest”, “Just thinking about your previous point”, and “Prices hit rock bottom”. Useful phrases which I had never thought of included “Could you expand on”, “One thing you might not know about… is”, “We’ll see some graphs about that later”, “We’ll come back to this table later”, “But take a closer look at” and “This has implications for”.

In general, the book is accessible to and useful for students above mid-Intermediate level, meaning the majority of students who have managed to enter a foreign university that this book is aimed at. Students who have a lower level or will give presentations only in their own country might benefit more from a shorter book, looking up advice on the internet and/ or advice in L1.

Given the talky style and the fact that an answer key is included, this book is not suitable to set as homework for a whole class. It is also completely unsuitable for use in lessons, where I would use much more brainstorming and elicitation, for example getting students to draw their own conclusions on what makes a good presentation from examples of suitable and unsuitable language. However, there is plenty of good advice and language that teachers could adapt, and it is well worth getting to know this book as a possible extra resource to recommend to students who need (more) specific practice of this point. For them, the book is accessible, varied and attractive enough to work through a good proportion of and learn some very good advice and some useful language from. There were also a couple of things that I will adapt for my classes, including using the CD.

“Group Work” is very similar, this time covering “Why do group work?”, “Preparing for group work”, “Planning your group assignment”, “Working collaboratively”, etc. The appearance and structure of each unit and most of the things at the back of the book are the same as “Presenting”, but instead of a CD there are transcripts of interviews with students and lecturers about group work and an example group presentation.

My conclusions are also similar, but with “Group Work” I’d concentrate more on the caveats. This is mainly because of the topic of group work, as it is more difficult for students to imagine the situation being described, practise the language, prepare for the next time they are really in that situation, etc than it is with presentations. Unfortunately, this situation is made worse by the strange decision to have no CD with the “Group Work” book, where it would have been even more vital, perhaps with exercises like “Listen and quickly respond to what your group work partner says”. It also seems that the author of this title had more in mind the possibility of a whole class having this book, because it seems difficult for a single student to take the advice given into real group work if the other members aren’t aware of that advice. For example, it would seem incredibly rude to use the “Ground rule reminder” telling people to “please remember the following ground rules” if they weren’t using the same book – and if only one person is bringing these ideas to the group from the book that would, ironically, be guaranteed to upset the group dynamics.

As with “Presenting”, the format only really suits students doing extra work on their own weaknesses and isn’t really suitable to serve as a textbook or workbook. Nonetheless, for the pre-sessional courses and first year undergraduate students in English-speaking countries that the books are designed for, teachers could get useful advice and language for their classes plus something they could recommend to struggling students. I’ll also be having another look before the next academic year starts to make my university classes here in Japan more useful for any group work in English that they might have to do in the future.

Posted in English for Academic Purposes | Leave a comment

New possessives activities page

Hoping to write an article or two on teaching this soon, but in the meantime have come up with 11 links for possessive S and possessive adjectives:

Possessive forms games/ worksheets

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50 Steps to Improving your Academic Writing (Garnet) review

As usual, as published in Modern English Teacher magazine. And as usual, the published version probably seems at least more positive than I was in this original version…

There is no lack of well-respected ESL academic writing books on the market, including many others from the same publisher as this title, Garnet Publishing. This course, however, is the first that I have seen that is specifically and only designed for self-study by students. Its overall structure is also unusual, with 50 short four-page “Steps” that all answer a question that forms the chapter’s title such as “How do I write a good abstract?” and “Should I use ‘I’ in my writing?” These are arranged into ten larger sections of five Steps each called “Units”, such as “Unit G: Using functional language in your writing”.

Each Step starts with a quotation and is then divided into Reflection, Contextualization, Analysis, Activation, Personalization and Extension, always in that order. For example, Step 36 “How can I stop repeating the same language?” starts with students trying to work out the difference between lists of near-synonyms like “slender” and “skinny” in Reflection, before doing something similar with seeming synonyms for “research” that like “It was an extremely successful piece of study”, this time with all examples given in context. The questions raised in these two sections are at least partly answered in Analysis, where students read a text explaining why avoiding repetition is important, the problems that can occur when doing so, and ways of learning how to do so.  In Activation they rewrite a five-line text to avoid repetition, which they can check with the answer key at the back of the book. In Personalization they are asked to reconsider their use of an electronic dictionary, check if they really understand the words that they have used in a recent essay, and try to identify and find synonyms for words that they overuse. The Extension section then guides them to related parts of the book.

Many of the Steps are questions that no one has ever asked such as “Why is proofreading important?”, “How can I avoid using vague and unnecessary words?” and “How can I show cause and effect?”, and there is a danger that some of the higher level students using this book (described as suitable for “Upper Intermediate to native speaker”) might for that reason find them off-putting. However, the format does seem to have helped the writer focus the advice and exercises on exactly the kinds of things that my students do need to concentrate on, although that could also be due to the obvious experience of the author with this kind of teaching. The back of the book is also packed with useful stuff like passive forms of verbs which are common in academic English, common affixes in academic English, and examples of good titles, paragraphs, introductions and conclusions in different academic areas. I’ll certainly be keeping this book handy as I try to switch to a more needs-based way of teaching academic writing this year and so have to prepare lessons on their various weaknesses in the few days between receiving their homework and teaching the next class. I’d also recommend it to almost any EAP teacher, however much or little their experience, as a source of a list of points you could teach, useful advice to pass onto students, models that you or students can refer to, hints on which things are most important to include in a course, things that could be corrected and discussed, and links to useful websites.

The more important question is obviously how much I would recommend it to my students as a self-study resource that they can use on their own, as is its stated purposes. To start with, I certainly couldn’t recommend it to someone with IELTS 5.0 as it suggests on the back cover. This is partly due to language used in the book, with the first two pages of Step 26 “How can I write a good sentence?” including expressions like “a common myth”, “no specific or required length”, “problems can arise”, “its core principles”, “precede” and “are composed of”, none of which are explained. There are then the five expressions which are explained in the glossary, including “syntax” and “coordinating conjunction”. It is almost impossible to explain the concepts without those grammar expressions and students will need that kind of academic vocabulary in their academic studies sooner or later, but I have students who already have IELTS 6.5 who would have to struggle so much with their dictionary to understand the advice that they’d probably lose sight of the fact that they are getting actual advice on their academic writing rather than doing an academic reading task. This is made worse by the continual use of texts on the topic as models to talk about the topic, e.g. finding different kinds of sentences (complex-compound etc) in a text that tells you what those types of sentence mean. This always seems like a good idea given limits of time and space on the page, but I’ve almost entirely abandoned this approach in class due to the confusion it can cause, so I can only imagine the mental struggle would be worse for students studying at their desks or on the train on their own. Also, although the answers to most of the questions raised in the Reflection and Contextualization sections come up in the Analysis texts, my students, particularly the lower level ones, would be much happier also having the answers in the apparently “detailed answer key”, one which actually only has answers to the Activation sections – and even those could do with more explanation of why the answers are correct and some other possible answers wouldn’t be.

Given the oddness of some of the questions that make for the titles of the Steps such as “How can I make my writing more emphatic?” and that the book is organized in logical sections rather than in order of how important the points are for most students, it is also difficult for students to structure their own way of working their way through the book. There is no needs analysis-style section at the front of the book to help with this, and generally the one and a half page introduction doesn’t really give students enough guidance on how to make the most of the materials, including almost no guidance on how to use the very useful resources at the back of the book.

For the reasons given above, I’d have difficulty recommending this book as a purely self-study resource to anyone under genuinely Advanced level, which is a shame because obviously I most often want to offer extra practice to my lower level students. As the publishers have taken the brave step of not pretending that the book is suitable for both class and self-study use that so many publishers try on nowadays, it’s a pity that they couldn’t also have been more realistic about the levels it is for.

However, as in my own courses I have to write all my own materials and am often stuck for any homework or suggestions for extra practice apart from actual essay writing, I am considering introducing this title as a kind of workbook for my academic writing classes next year to help me set homework, recommend extra work for students who have particular needs, and give students a way of analyzing their own needs and so being able to tell me what they want to study in class.

If you were making recommendation to someone who for some reason couldn’t take academic writing classes, it would also be very useful. For example, a student already studying an MA in an English speaking country and getting more content-based feedback on their essays from their professors would certainly get a lot out of being able to refer to this book and do the reflection and activities that it suggests. Although it is “primarily intended for students who are new to or inexperienced in academic writing”, I’d also recommend it to my postgraduate students who are already thinking of getting published in English and so are starting to write actual papers rather than just essays to hand into their professors.

Posted in ELT publishing, English for Academic Purposes | 4 Comments

Worksheets to tie Xmas in with your syllabus

Ones on my Xmas and New Year materials page for present tenses, past tenses, future tenses, It is/ They are, action and state verbs, adverbs of frequency, first conditional, modals, imperatives, numbers, describing foods, trends and the language of negotiations, probably the most successful of which is:

Xmas party negotiations

and the newest and possibly also the oddest one is:

Xmas and New Year trends

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | Leave a comment

The TEFL Blame Game

A recent typically involving discussion on ELT Jam turned about halfway through into a version of my new favourite comedy podcast The Blame Game. Instead of questions like “Who do you blame for Jeremy Paxman?”, the TEFL version had questions like “Who can we blame for the conditions of our ‘profession’?”

Here is who I would most blame, in approximate order, with explanations below.

  1. Governments
  2. Organisations which are put in charge of educational standards such as The British Council in the UK
  3. Teachers’ organisations (IATEFL, TESOL, etc)
  4. The most well-established TEFL certification providers (mainly meaning Cambridge and Trinity)
  5. The British Council, International House, Bell and other chains which traditionally had good educational reputations
  6. Universities
  7. Big local publishers who (also) produce EFL materials
  8. Big international ELT publishers
  9. People who choose to go into the classroom with no or minimal teaching qualifications or training
  10. Less well-known and/ or well-respected four-week face-to-face TEFL course providers.
  11. Purely online TEFL course providers
  12. Business HR departments
  13. Large very commercial chains of schools like EF and Wall Street
  14. EFL exam boards like Cambridge English, IELTS and ETS (of TOEIC and TOEFL fame)
  15. TEFL bloggers
  16. Recruiters
  17. Students (or their parents)

Explanations:

1. Governments –Because immigration rules that mean a degree in Physics is more important than a teaching qualification (of any kind) for getting a visa to teach basically show that most governments have no interest in how much their citizens actually learn as long as no one complains.

2. Organisations which are put in charge of educational standards such as The British Council in the UK – For thinking they can improve educational standards without improving teachers’ job conditions, or that such a thing would be desirable even if it was possible

3. Teachers’ organisations (IATEFL, TESOL, etc) – For not putting (more) effort into pushing governments etc into really improving standards

4. The most well-established TEFL certification providers (mainly meaning Cambridge and Trinity) – For treating their teaching qualifications as cash cows and putting basically no effort into showing governments, school boards, potential trainees, students etc the value of teacher training.

5. The British Council, International House, Bell and other chains which traditionally had good educational reputations – For showing less and less confidence in the idea of quality teachers teaching well being another way to make money, or at least not being willing to offer good enough conditions to make that work

6. Universities – For being responsible for probably the biggest drop in teaching standards and conditions, including in some cases using teachers from the very worst language school chains and outsourcing companies to teach their students

7. Big local publishers who (also) produce EFL materials – For making the international publishers look like the kind of non-profit educational groups that some of them used to be with their complete pushing of quantity over quality

8. Big international ELT publishers – For just following marketing rather than trying to lead the market (as all good companies do), including when what the marketing department tells them people want goes completely against what they know to be true about teaching and learning

9. People who choose to go into the classroom with no or minimal teaching qualifications or training – Some people might put them lower in this list, but I think there is no excuse for claiming to be a teacher with zero training, even if it is “just” a TEFL teacher

10. Less well-known and/ or well-respected four-week face-to-face TEFL course providers. – For devaluing four-week courses with their lies about CELTA, lies about their own courses, lies about accreditation, etc and their obviously dodgy marketing – rather ironically most of all laying the seeds of their own destruction by making online courses look no worse

11. Purely online TEFL course providers – For all the same things as the dodgier face to face courses, but I blame them less because they came later and if someone chooses to believe that a few online questionnaires and 60 quid makes you qualified to teach, they pretty much deserve what they get

12. Business HR departments – For just treating English as a quick, easy and cheap way of ticking off the “employees trained” box, with little serious attempt to ensure that is actually true

13. Large very commercial chains of schools like EF and Wall Street – Less blame than the traditionally more respectable schools, because after all what can you expect…

14. EFL exam boards like Cambridge English, IELTS and ETS (of TOEIC and TOEFL fame) – Lower than teacher training organisations despite their possibly bigger effect on the industry, because I believe being commercial is more understandable in this case

15. TEFL bloggers – For putting too much emphasis on activities rather than activism (myself included)

16. Recruiters and outsourcing companies – Like estate agents, you can hardly expect anything but lies from recruiters, so I’d more blame anyone for believing them or using them

17. Students (or their parents) – In the same way that you can hardly blame car drivers for ending up with faulty airbags, I don’t think you can put much responsibility on students to be canny shoppers if no one is trying to make them so.

Have I missed anyone or got anyone’s responsibility level totally wrong?

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | 21 Comments

34 EFL finding things in common games (TEFLtastic classics part 25)

with 10 photocopiable worksheet versions.

I seem to have completely forgotten about this activity for a couple of years, perhaps because it’s just so simple, but it’s recently become my favourite again. Students use the language point of the day to find things which are true for both/ all of the people in their group. It works with just about any language.

Possible uses

Tenses

- Past Simple (“We both had breakfast this morning” etc, maybe with given verbs and/ or past times)

- Present Perfect (“We’ve all been to Europe”, “We’ve eaten rice today” etc, maybe with given past participles and/ or times)

- Present Simple

- Adverbs of frequency

- Present Continuous (maybe with given present participles)

- Past Continuous (maybe with given present participles and/ or times)

- Any future tenses, including a mix of them

- Unreal past with “We both wish…”

- Tense review

- Time expressions review (past, present and/ or future)

Conditionals

- Zero conditional (“If the weather forecast predicts rain, we always take an umbrella” etc, perhaps with suggested half-sentences)

- First conditional (“We will both get angry if the trains are delayed again tonight” etc, probably with suggested half-sentences)

- Second conditional (“We’d both move to Hawaii if we won the lottery” etc)

- Third and mixed conditionals (“We would both be richer if we’d studied harder at university” etc, with probably lots of help needed coming up with ideas)

Other grammar

- Countable and uncountable nouns (“We both drink quite a lot of water” etc, perhaps with given quantifiers)

- There is/ There are (“There is a computer in both of our bedrooms” etc)

- Verb patterns (“Our parents make us do household chores”, “We are both looking forward to watching TV tonight” etc, probably with suggested verbs)

- Words with dependent prepositions (“We’re both interested in sports” etc)

- Sentences with “be” (“We are Japanese”, “We are 9″ etc)

- Prepositions of position (“Both of our bedrooms are on the second floor”, “Both of us have tables next to our beds” etc)

Functional language

- Can/ Can’t

- Likes and dislikes

- “Have” or “have got” for possessions or appearance

Vocabulary

- Collocations with common verbs like “take”

- Phrasal verbs

- Personality words (“We’re both fairly ambitious”, maybe with given adverbs like “very”)

- Adverbs of manner (“We all walk quickly”, etc)

- Quantifiers

- Clothes (“We both have two coats”, “We are all wearing black socks”, etc)

- Technology vocabulary

- Work and/ or education vocabulary

- Free time activities vocabulary

- Feelings vocabulary (“We both feel sad when we see the news” etc)

- Household vocabulary

And many others must be possible. If there isn’t enough to say about themselves, you can also encourage them to compare their familes, friends, etc. If there are likely to be too many similar simple sentences, only give points for sentences no other groups of students have come up with, or at least give bonus points for that kind of originality.

Worksheet versions

Present Simple and Continuous things in common game - NEW

Business Present Perfect things in common game – NEW

Future tenses things in common game

Past, present and future things in common game

Things in common tense review

Third conditional things in common game

Dependent prepositions things in common game

Technology and quantifiers things in common game

Education and work things in common game

Technology find things in common

Article with more details on setting up the game etc

Things in common on TEFL.net

More classic super-adaptable games via the “TEFLtastic classics” tag below.

Posted in Grammar games, TEFL games | Tagged | 1 Comment

Do students really need “natural” English?

Like “progressive”, “job creators”, “hard working families” and “pro-choice”, it is very hard to argue with something “natural”. Use other terms, though, (“left winger”, “capitalist”, “middle class” and “pro-abortion”) and you get something that plenty of people still agree with but others might have an issue with. Ditto with “natural” in English teaching book titles etc.

“Not natural” seems to usually mean “perfectly understandable, but not what a native English speaker would say” making “natural” something like “more like a British or American person”. That’s still relevant given the continuing influence of those countries’ arts, media etc on the language, but hardly the priority for the majority of our students who find understanding and being understood the main issue.

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Personalised corpora for your students

Perhaps the biggest problem with corpora is the fact that none of them are more than an approximation of the English that individual students will come across and/ or need. In fact, as I said in my last post, I think in many cases it is such a big problem that it leads to results that are worse than teachers and materials writers just taking an intelligent guess at what language to base classroom materials on. This post seeks to show one way in which both of those ends of that materials development spectrum could come together, improving both along the way.

The basic idea is to base materials and classes on the English that students are themselves most likely to come across. For most people outside English-speaking countries, I believe that these are probably the most useful sources and kinds of language:

  1. English words used in their language (abbreviations that they might not the full version of, other meanings of words which only have one meaning in their language, recent borrowings into their language that they might not have come across yet, business and other jargon, etc)
  2. Other uses of English words exclusive to their own country (in pop music, film titles, names of pop groups, station and train announcements, advertising slogans, names of shopping centres and apartment blocks, etc)
  3. Names of people and things based on English words (family names like “Bush” or “Thatcher”, company names, place names, product names, song titles, pop group names, film titles, etc)
  4. English language things from other countries which are particularly popular (songs from Frozen, Xmas songs, speeches by Obama, etc)
  5. Things that are often covered in English language textbooks, classes and self-study materials (Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, “This is a pen”, “I’mfinethankyouandyou”, theme song of a local EFL TV programme for kids, etc)
  6. Local English-language news sources (local English language newspapers, English language TV or radio news by providers from their countries, etc)

All rather different from the kind of corpus based entirely on native speaker uses in, say, The Language of Business Meetings, I think you’ll agree.

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | 3 Comments

On balance, have corpora had a good or bad influence on teaching materials?

What could possibly be wrong with loads of data on how language is used by native and (increasingly) non-native speakers? Well, nothing – if a bit of common sense/ a pinch of salt is added before it gets to the classroom. Sadly, that is too often not the case.

For example, someone who has been teaching IELTS or FCE for a couple of years could easily come up with better materials than those based on the official Cambridge corpora of typical student errors, only about 10% of which is relevant to my students and teachable. I’d also go with about 10% for how much of “spoken grammar” is of use to people who don’t live in English speaking countries or have a British or American boss.

Academic Vocabulary in Use is a much better model, but it still has about as much useless stuff for my students as the other, less scientifically put together, books in the In Use series. And although I’m as guilty of overusing it as anyone, the Academic Word List is an incredibly blunt tool that was responsible for most of the things that were wrong in a Garnet academic vocabulary book I reviewed.

On the plus side, corpora have given us evidence to back up spending less time on nearly pointless grammar points like Past Perfect and backshifting in Reported Speech, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had already come to that conclusion from my own “personal data set”. 

So, my conclusion is “So far, more bad than good”. A practical suggestion for how it could be done better coming up in my next post.

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | 4 Comments