PPP – practice, practice, practice

This blog post is based on a lesson a trainee teacher taught in my B1 class a few weeks ago. Her lesson revolved around a YouTube video, in which a teenager is presenting her favourite TV shows. The goal of the lesson was to enable students to talk about their own favourite TV shows using the language modelled in the video. It unfolded through a PPP (presentation, practice, production) sequence. Such a sequence, however, goes much too quickly from presentation to production, when it is applied to a single lesson. In reality, language structures have to be practiced a lot more thoroughly before they can be produced freely. You have to put a stress on the second of the three Ps in order not to sacrifice learning for progression. Therefore I tried to outline a series of practice and recycling activities that would make sure that the new language items would “stick”.

So, first, here is a simplified version of the first P – the presentation:

Pre-listening task

Write down the titles of popular TV shows on pieces of paper and spread these around the classroom. Leave a few of the pieces blank.

Now, have your students stroll around the room. When they find a title they like, they stop there and start talking with the others about the show. If students don’t find one they like, they can take one of the blank pieces of paper and write the title of a show they like on it.

Listening tasks

Write the following tasks on the board:

1. Listen to the video. Try to understand as much as possible.

2. Which one of the shows mentioned would you like to watch most?

Share the reasons for your choice with your neighbour.

3. Listen again. Collect important chunks of language and organize them along the categories listed below.

4. Compare your results with those of your neighbour.

Of course, it would also be possible to flip the listening part and have the students do it at home.

Now, to the most important part – practicing the language that was presented in the first part of the lesson.

stage one (getting to know the chunks)

– grammaticality judgment tests and metalinguistic tasks such as “Why is X used here and Y there?” or “If you can say X, can you also say Y?”

– Let the students form sentences using the chunks.

stage two (reconstructing the original text)

– Do a cloze test using a partial transcript of the video.

– “Organize the chunks from the list in the order, in which they were mentioned.”

– “Reconstruct the original text with the help of the chunks.”

stage three (create your own text)

– “Write a recommendation for YOUR own favourite show.”

– “Reduce the text to a few key chunks and use them to record a podcast. Upload the podcast to our audioboom channel.

stage four (at home)

– “Study the chunks on Quizlet.”

stage five (a few lessons later)
– “Listen to some of the podcasts and write down the chunks you hear on small index cards.”

– “Use the cards to scaffold a short talk to your neighbour about your favourite film (discarding the ones used).”

stage six (after a few weeks’ time)

– Get back to the lesson with a dictogloss activity.

[ENGLISH] listening comprehension woes

The compulsory listening comprehension tests we have in our country are a daunting task for many of my students – not least because they are so completely different from real life situations. The tasks are stripped from almost any kind of helpful context, always ask only for specific details (instead of more general information), and require multitasking (writing and listening at the same time) at a frightening pace. Worst of all – the students have to switch constantly between languages as they have to answer in German while listening to an English text.

I have already written about the problems I have with listening comprehension tasks that require a great deal of multitasking in an earlier blog post. However, despite my pedagogical reservations I have to deal with these tests and I have to prepare my students for them the best I can.

For me, the secret weapon in dealing with those tests is the important skill of identifying context and creating the right expectations. This is crucial, so the students’ brains can relate to what they hear.

Therefore, I ask my students to not only read the questions before listening but also actually try to answer them before listening – Will the answer be a name? a number? Can they already answer the question (or part of it) just by applying some common sense? – This way the brain will find it easier to relate to the text instead of just processing indistinct bits of sound.

To demonstrate the magic of context and expectations I show my students this video, in which a couple talks in a sort of indiligible mock English. Despite this they are be able to understand a lot because of context clues and your expectations.

[ENGLISH] Legitimize Vocab Revision

My students often moan about tedious vocab revision. Despite ingenious online tools that help them revise (Quizlet), it still seems a boring chore to them.

One part of the solution to me seems to show them their own progress, to make their learning visible.  So, I have my students measure their vocab size at the beginning and the end of the term.

A great service for that endeavour is testyourvocab.com. The site offers a simple way of testing your vocabulary size. To measure how many words you know they present you with two sets of words – the first with a handful of words to determine the general vocabulary level, the second with a larger but narrower selection of words. You simply tick the ones you know and then they calculate your vocabulary size based on these samples. To get a more precise result I recommend doing it 3 times and just calculating the average.

In my experience making learning visible is a very strong means of motivation especially for teens. If they can see their progress they are more likely to follow you through the hard – and sometimes tedious – work that needs to be done in order to accomplish something at school.