Teaching Ideas

Hidden Treasure in Concrete

The chilled wind blew the rubbish around in the overgrown grass in front of the rundown flats like jewels in a kaleidoscope. Finding beauty in gritty inner-city neighbourhoods is a skill that is required to last in a job like this.

As a country girl at heart, I tend to loathe endless concrete slabs and dilapidated buildings, not to mention crowded streets and the piercing sound of sirens. In such places, I used to seek out any green tree or flower pushing through the cracks as a refuge and sign of God’s grace amidst the ugliness of man’s sin intensified in a city scene.

Yet over the years, the Lord has graciously taught me that his most beautiful creation is the very thing that can seem to detract from the purity of nature—people. The pinnacle of his creation, people possess a likeness to God that even the most breathtaking sunset lacks. It’s not always easy to see, but with the eyes of Christ, the many people who fill the houses and streets of an urban neighbourhood are the true source of beauty to be discovered.

Two such treasures waited for us in the top floor flat of the rundown building that lay in front of us. The latch for the front door clicked and McKayla and I made our way up the concrete stairs to the beaming smile of Nadiya and her coy two-year-old daughter Ema.

The graceful way Nadiya welcomed us into her humble home, and seemed to float in and out of the room in her draped loose clothing as she served us homemade treats and coffee, made me think that she could have been a Sudanese princess in the home she left behind. Since I’d known her, she’d lived with her husband who worked long hours, and her two young daughters, in a one-bedroom flat that had such bad mould that she’d developed severez asthma, which caused a complication in her last pregnancy.

Yet as we sat and chatted, we discovered that her home in Sudan was more like a mansion, and I began to imagine what kind of woman must be trapped inside the body of this African immigrant who struggled to communicate her thoughts in English and spent most of her days confined within the mouldy walls of a drab flat looking after her toddler.

As McKayla and I left Nadiya’s flat that day, we were the blessed ones. Although our friend was profuse in her thanks for our company and insisted we visit again soon, we got the privilege of taking a glimpse into the wonder of God’s marvelous creation in a human being who was made in the image of her Maker. Please pray that Nadiya can see something of Christ’s beauty in us, and that we can communicate his love for her despite the language barrier.

The other week I joked with Nadiya that the Friendship Centre is like a second home for Ema, because she is there with her mother pretty much every day it is open. She said with all earnestness that it’s her second home too. Praise the Lord for that. May the Lord bring even more people to the Centre who feel like it is home, and may he create a spiritual hunger in them that they might want to know more about the love they find there.

Sharing the gospel while caring for needs

The brokenness in people’s lives can shock and numb us. Whilst there are many people whose problems we can help resolve, there are many more whose lives go from one trial to another. The gospel of Christ compels us to love as Christ loved: helping the lady who’s trying to escape her family and the man who’s trying to reconcile with his; attending a tribunal or a hospital bed; teaching English and practising Urdu; and listening patiently as accusations or assumptions are thrown around, or as mental health makes understanding them almost impossible. But we are also seeking to hold out the gospel as words of life and the hope of heaven to lost souls – controversial in our multi-faith society. Leading them toward Christ requires sensitivity and courage. Above all, we need to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, lest over-caution or over-confidence gets in the way.

The Warmth of Friendship

It was not often they had a chance to converse beyond day-to-day life since their children were usually in the picture (nine in total!). But as the journey inched on they talked about a whole range of things, including what the Church is, the role of faith in their upbringings, and the persecution the French friend had suffered for being part of a misunderstood minority.

Upon finally arriving at their destination, the two friends walked into a little church building tucked neatly away between rows of terraced student housing. Twinkle lights hung loosely from the ceiling and the smell of fragrant pine filled the air….. Ladies bustled about with hot chocolate in hand, having a chinwag here and there and getting ready for the main event. Soon everyone sat down to begin the process of constructing their wintery wreaths—a little fir here, some berries there. The two friends continued to chat as they designed their masterpieces, and afterwards the native French speaker happened to find herself in conversation with a lady from the church who also spoke French, much to both of their delight!

The car journey home was swifter than the way there, but just as evident how curious the friends were to find out about the different worlds from which they came. The French friend confessed she knew little about Christianity, and she wanted to find out more through her English friend.

Do you remember the French-Moroccan friend I mentioned in the last letter, whose house we ate crepes at whist sharing about what Abraham’s sacrifice means to us? She is the French lady in this story! A credit to her courage, she was the only lady wearing a hijab at our church’s wreath making event, and it’s very likely she’s never been in a room full of Christians before.

Whilst she’s not yet in the position of sitting down with an open Bible in her own language wanting to me to explain the ins and outs of Christianity, she has an openness that I’ve yet to encounter in most of my friends here in Small Heath. And yet I’m aware our friendship is just beginning, and it’s so easy for friendships like these to get snuffed out by busyness.

Please pray that the Lord would gently lead our friendship and give me the wisdom to share what needs to be shared at the right time. Also, she has asked me to organise a homeschool trip to a church for her family and Muslim friends. Please pray for this to come together and for it be a great witness for Christ!

What next?

What next? This question is often in our minds as we seek God’s direction in developing friendships. We visited two families to deliver Eid cards. At the first, amazingly we met a Christian friend who had met this lady earlier in the week in the city centre and just ‘happened’ to be at the house when we arrived. Our card quoted from John 1:29 and also said, “May you enjoy your celebration of God’s provision for Ibrahim, you and the whole world.” Too strong? Too weak? Led by the Spirit or the flesh? The next house we visited hadn’t celebrated, but rather mourned for a relative who had died. We listened and prayed. What next?

This week I visited a Bangladeshi family who were coming to terms with a failed move back to Europe. It was a “chance” visit as I had cycled past the guy only to swing back around to chat for a few minutes before my class. He invited me back for food, which they shared with me. We spoke a lot about God’s plan in the midst of trials. We discussed the meaning of Eid al-Adha and I tried to share the significance of Jesus’ substitution as the Lamb of God dying in our place. They said “Amin” to my prayer for them. But, what next?

I had two men come to the English class and again we shared about the Eid and what Ibrahim’s sacrifice means to both Muslims and Christians. I learned how they donate money to buy a Palestinian family an animal to sacrifice and how one of them misses doing that sacrifice now that he’s in the UK. Honestly, I didn’t think they were that interested in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. They wanted to go to Cannon Hill Park with me next week, but seemed reluctant to really delve into what distinguishes our two faiths. I wonder, what’s next?

Today, I talked to a long-standing visitor to the Friendship Centre and explained how God is teaching me to trust Him more. She has no issues with 90% of what Christians discuss about their spiritual lives, but the 10% she’d be uncomfortable with just happens to be Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of the church and the rock whose words are life and truth. What next with her?

When I got home from a local community event, I recognised a guy walking by our house with his son. We know him from the football club, and he had had to walk home from somewhere quite far away. I offered him a lift, but he said he just wanted some water for his boy. I got them water and as I drove them home, he told me he had just prayed, “God send someone to give us water,” and thought about asking an Asian brother. But Allah had sent a “man of God” (what he called me) instead – “Bismullah” (all praise to God). I said the Scriptures say, “God knows what you need before you ask Him.” We talked about marriage, and I said that Jess and I were working our way through a course. “You’ve got me signed up,” he said. We’ve talked about faith before and shared about why we fast and other things. The Lord so clearly put him in my path, but still I’m unsure what should happen next.

We don’t know the next steps, but we do seek to be Spirit-led, available and bold. The gospel of Christ is the hope of the nations, and we are here in order to share it. But we need wisdom from above in how and when we share it.

The Prodigal Son

He was young and seemed self-assured. There was no real need for the help he had asked for, but he craved a listening ear and a place where he could get some moral support in ringing the council to sort some financial issues. I listened, at times frustrated by the lengthy and confusing explanation he was giving and why the job centre had passed him off to us anyway; at times sensing there were other issues under the surface. Anxiety, depression, drug addiction, bad influences, three young children, a dying father. Some of these I could relate to. Others I could only give my sympathy and pray inwardly for something to share.

I’m not sure how much progress we made with the financial issue. That’s always frustrating, but as we talked, I felt the Lord directing my attention to a Scripture to share. I was able to read Isaiah 26:3 to him, offer to pray for him and answer his question about who we are at the Friendship Centre. He started to share about some helpful therapy he had done at a church, though no one talked about faith there. He asked what the different Christian sects believed, but there was an interruption. And as I prayed, he expressed the value of coming back to God. “You take one step toward God, and he comes running to you,” is how he put it. “That’s funny,” I said, “Jesus told a parable just like that!” So I shared with him the story of the prodigal son, and I pray that he will take a step toward God this Easter.

Story Corner: The Dead Battery

Since moving to Small Heath, our 7 seater has been been a source of bonding between Tim and our Pakistani neighbour who drives taxis for a living. He’s discussed car issues and local garages at length with Tim (whom he calls Uncle Tom), accompanied him on a couple of occasions to take our habitual smoker to be looked at, and has even given us a spare wheel and attempted to change our flat tyre by torch light.

This time, our neighbour (whom we recently discovered has a different name from the one we’ve been calling him all year) happened to be standing outside when our car battery was flat as we were trying to set off with the kids, which is usually a spectacle in itself, but this time turned into a show for the whole street to watch.

First, he and Tim tried to push the car back out of the drive with me at the wheel with the children strapped in. Despite their best efforts, the car wouldn’t budge once they hit an incline at the edge of the pavement. He nodded his head at me and with a cheeky twinkle in his eye, said, “Jess, you ate too much when you were in America.” Taking the joke as a sign of friendship and a clever tactic to save face, I suggested maybe I try pushing and Tim could steer.

We demoted Judah and Abigail from passengers to bystanders, but left Elisabeth in her car seat since she was blissfully sleeping through the whole ordeal. With a big heave we pushed the car back a good few feet. I was tempted to make some triumphant comment about anything being easy by comparison to giving birth, but didn’t want to ruin my victory by pushing cultural barriers too far.

By this point, our Yemeni neighbour from across the street, whose family we’ve only occasionally smiled at across the busy road, had come over to see if he could offer his assistance. He was friendly and unflustered, but I couldn’t help but wonder what he made of my involvement in the process given that I could hardly picture his fully veiled wife out pushing a car with the men (although as a mum of six, I’m sure she could beat me at it!).

As the guys set out to push the car the last distance needed to get it into proximity to our neighbour’s car to connect the jumper leads, I worried about the car being rolled into the busy road with Eli still in the back. So I did what any protective mother would do…I walked into the middle of the road and stopped traffic. The drivers looked a bit skeptical at first, but it worked.

It wasn’t long before our neighbour was calling my name to get my attention, and waving me to come out of the street since they’d gotten the car where it needed to be. Within minutes, our car came to life again, we thanked our two kindly neighbours, and were on our way.

A couple of months later, we’ve had to replace it after all (selling that was a whole different story) and hope to have one less stress factor in life. But stress factors are often what build friendships, as long as we’re prepared to be humbled.

Some Other Activities

Activity #1: Gap-fill Correction (Using an Image Editor)

Technology: Use Preview to edit images

Context: Beginning Level EAL

​Purpose: Ss will infer and discuss the meaning of a sign.

Scaffolding/Instruction: The sign with the partially erased words “food” and “drink”. Students should first look at the pictures and then work together to complete the words, before discussing what the sign might mean.

Evaluating: Students connecting pictures to vocabulary and correctly spelling common words.

 

Activity #2: Slideshow of a day by the sea

Technology: Powerpoint

Context: Elementary Level EAL

Purpose:

Scaffolding: Students can see the three pictures and accompanying gap-fill sentences. Based on these they have to suggest possible words to go in each gap. They should also ask questions based on these pictures.

Evaluation: Students have grasped the basic sentence meaning and can use appropriate vocabulary aided by the structure of the sentence.

 

Activity #3: Fun Activities in My Home Country (Using iPhoto)

Technology: Windows Live Movie Maker

Context: Intermediate EAL

Purpose: Modal verbs and creating captions

Scaffolding: Students are given the topic “taking a photo of a baby” and the character “my son”. They must predict what he is doing. After showing the first picture and pausing, students can write their own caption. This continues through the other pictures in addition to the prediction of each next picture.

Evaluation: Students’ captions can be given in feedback and then voted on for which sounds the best/funniest.

Link: See email attachment. The security on WordPress prevented me from adding this.

 

Activity #4: Where am I? Listening for general information.

Technology: Audacity – cupoftea file

Context: Beginning Level EAL

​Purpose: Listening for the context and inferring an activity

Scaffolding/Instruction: Ss will identify keywords and background noise to say what is happening. Will start with students naming the different rooms in the house and then describing what happens in some of them (making sure kitchen is one of them). Ss will practice the phrase, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

Evaluating: Ss produce the required vocabulary and a transferrable phrase with multiple objects.

 

Activity #5: Judah’s day at Grandma and Grandpa’s

Technology: Shadow puppet

Context: Elementary Level EAL

Purpose: Listening for gist and recalling key information.

Scaffolding: Ss watch the video about my son before giving generally class feedback. After introducing some key vocabulary, ss listen again and pin the vocabulary to the certain pictures (i.e. What is next to Judah in bed?).

Evaluation: Finally ss write about his day using the range of vocabulary that has been elicited.

 

Activity #6: A short authentic situation at the breakfast table

Technology: Audacity – Morning2

Context: Intermediate EAL

Purpose: Putting together a scenario from an authentic context with a lot of background interference.

Scaffolding: Ss listen to the audio twice and then discuss together what is going on and where and who is involved. They then have to create a short dialogue based on any of the language they have heard (and largely their imagination).

Evaluation: Ss can hear distinctions between adults and children, men and women.

 

Activity #7 Exploring the pedagogy for teaching grammar with digital technology

Class description: The class consists of adult EAP students preparing studying on a pre-sessional course at a British university. They are from a range of countries including East Asian and Middle Eastern. The class aims to teach students how to develop complex noun phrases by changing the sentence structure.

Pedagogical principles (taken from Reyes, 2012 and Liang, 2011): Students need to be able to identify and produce the target language. This calls for meaningful input and sufficient opportunities for output production. The primary focus is on conveying meaning. Appropriate use and accurate form will be worked on as students gain more confidence. Aside from the transformation of verbs into nouns within complex phrases, grammar errors will not be highlighted. Drilling won’t work well in the extended phrases being considered.

Furthermore, a mixture of inductive and deductive learning will be utilised. The former through use of technology will help students grasp what is taking place. The latter to explain and model a pattern that can be replicated.

In such a class, it is important to be clear on the desired outcome. Students should be able to apply this grammar in their own work, though initially through the scaffolding of working with existing sentences. A variation of the 5-step plan suggested by Reyes will be used. That is: 1) Warm-up 2) Presentation 3) Practice 4) Evaluation 5) Application.

Expected grammar knowledge will be: word families (especially verb to noun transformation) and the function of noun phrases. Added to this will be the metalinguistic knowledge that meaning-laden nouns are preferrable to their corresponding verbs in EAP. Students who struggle in their grammar ability may not get past the stage of controlled output. Nevertheless the performance aim is for all students to be in the position to create more complex sentences in their assigned work.

Activity #8 Technology Strategies for Noun Phrase Lesson

Students would use mobile dictionaries to complete a table of verb to noun transformations (acquire – acquisition) and add their own.

Students would use corpora to search for the use of verbs or nouns in noun phrases (e.g. searching for “distributed” or “distribution of”). Alternatively, students could search for “in which” or “, and this”.

Students would adapt a paragraph (that had been reverted to verb use) to use of nouns in noun phrases in a word processor.

Activity #9 Teaching Strategy

Students are required to adapt this text (minus the mark-up except as needed for scaffolding) in a word processor: Water supplies can be contaminated, and this can lead to serious disease outbreaks weeks after the cyclone. Heavy rain in hilly or mountainous areas is also responsible for landslides or mud flows as floodwater in stream and river channels mix with excess sediment brought down slopes. Famine can also result when crops are destroyed and saline intrudes, and that can kill more people that the actual cyclone event.

1. Find the two places a change could be made.

2. Locate the main verb/s in each phrase and replace with its related noun.

3. Re-organise the sentences until they flow well (words to be added if ss cannot manage are of, of, and in.

Activity #10 Teaching an intermediate level vocabulary class

I would like to make use of an online corpus such as COCA. My students would ideally be adults with access to the internet on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. My pedagogical principles would be very similar to those stated in my last response. However, this task would be much more inductive rather than having an explicit teaching point.

Collocations Lesson

Aim:

Students would gain more familiarity with a corpus and and build their knowledge of collocations.

Strategies:

1) Begin by introducing the concept of collocations with a simple game in which they are matched (i.e. take – picture).

2) Next show students how to use COCA to find collocates for a verb. Demonstrate with the verb forget.

3) Using the data and focussing on the top 8 entries, ss must work together to put the collocates together in a context as best they can (e.g. I never forget a promise.). Ss can check how close their predictions were by clicking on each of the collocates in turn.

4) Ss choose their own verb to search for collocates and report findings to the class or create a few questions with a gap for that collocate. The teacher can use this to create a further activity.

Finding Collocations with COCA

Students are first directed to the COCA website:

Then they are shown how to do a collocation search:

COCA_Search.jpg

Finally, they are shown how to view the entries and what the number means:

COCA_Results.jpg

#2 The first strategy I’d like to propose is the use of listening in order to build paraphrasing and especially summarising skills. I would use one of the news websites (though stories could work). Students would listen and take brief notes and then re-work them to write a brief news article. These could even be combined into a student newspaper.

The second strategy would involve the use of video to improve students’ focus while listening. This is a very simple activity, but could be aided by use of subtitles or a script. Students watch a short clip (e.g. 5mins) once through, and following this, they watch again with subtitles attempting to produce the language as they hear it said. It could be done without subtitles so it is purely a listening activity, and ultimately students should be able to produce some of it (especially a memorable scene) from memory.

The third strategy would be for beginner students. Rather than attempt to have comprehension questions, students will identify key vocabulary as they hear it. This could be done with realia (for example a conversation about shopping or in a shop could have a number of the key items) or with pictures. For either one, students can put them in the order they hear them said.

#3 I’d like to flesh out my third strategy above. This class has a mixture of absolute beginners and false beginners from a variety of countries. They are teenagers in a British public school. The aim of the activity is to enhance awareness of key vocabulary for shopping. There are many possible audios that could be used – for example, from a course book. First the topic must be introduced by means of a picture of someone shopping. Write the word “shopping” on the board and students can brainstorm related vocabulary. Next, students should listen once to the audio for gist. After it is clear to everyone where the conversation is taking place and what it is about, students should listen again and select realia as they hear it mentioned. The next time they listen, they are given a shopping bag, and have to put into it the items that were found in the shop.

 

#2 The first strategy to help improve speaking involves the use of mobiles to record an interview. I like the idea of students being given a topic to find out more about by asking experts (e.g. interviewing a chef or hairdresser). They could use Videolicious to combine this interview with photos and music in order to present to their class about their topic. Activities could be based around these videos in order that students are not passively watching, but required to engage and remember.

The second strategy is the use of oral journals as suggested by Chernen (2009). This is seen to help students avoid L1 interference, practice critical reflection and oral-aural expression, build confidence and rapport, and draw attention to errors. A big issue is that it is time-consuming and has some technical challenges. Students should record for between 1 and 2 minutes. The teacher should listen and making brief notes before recording an oral response. I wonder if students could have individual chats with their teacher (through mobiles) and the chain of recordings could be easily posted here. Email is another alternative. Vocaroo may work.

The third strategy comes from Lynch (2009) with his speaking log. Students simply record themselves before completing a log of their errors and queries. Next to these a fellow-student and then the teacher can listen and write their own comments or respond to the queries. I would recommend one of the podcast websites such as https://culips.com/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. or http://listenaminute.com/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. to get ideas for what they can talk about. Students could read from a script if they are primarily wanting help with pronunciation.

#3 The interviewing activity would involve intermediate or higher learners. Its objectives are to help students gain confidence in a semi-formal context; to gain and demonstrate an understanding of a topic; and to inform the wider class. The activity goes as follows:

  • Give students instructions on the interviewing task and provide a model. Next assign students a topic to interview someone on – students can help generate topics and choose if they have a good one.
  • Check each students’ questions before they undertake the interview and help them to re-state questions and ask questions for elaboration.
  • With approval for their interviewee choice, students use mobiles to record their interview, before editing in Videolicious  (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.to create visuals to accompany it. (Students could even come up with their own questions for it or the teacher can provide stock questions for every student who is listening to answer.)
  • As students play videos to their class, other students complete notes or exercises as they watch.

Below is a rough assessment criteria (if the teacher wishes to assess it):

Video/audio interview project

Assessment criteria

Every student starts with 100%. Set percentages will be deducted for any criteria not met.

Submission on time (before deadline) (5% to be deducted for every day the project is late)

Length of audio (no less than 1 minute shorter, and no more than 5 minutes longer, than the instruction said) (10%)

Quality of questions (grammar & appropriacy) (5%)

Interaction with the speaker and the topic (did you react appropriately to the speaker’s comments, or did you just ask your questions without being part of the conversation?) (5%)

Completing the task (this should be an interview with a native speaker, not a roleplay or scripted conversation) (5%)

Following the instructions (have you asked questions to one person? Did you prepare?)) (5%)

 

Activity #12

I envisage this activity being for the same group of students I described above. The objectives are:

  • To use multiple technologies to access knowledge related to a text
  • To increase vocabulary, reading, and pronunciation skills

The procedures are:

  • Give students a text to read (sufficiently above their level but not by too much)
  • Tell students to prepare three new words from the text to introduce to the class (including pronunciation and meaning); to find three Wikipedia articles that relate to the topic; and to have a WeChat with another student in class about what they read in order to understand sufficient to tell the class what the partner’s text was about.

Activity #13

My students are in a pre-sessional course for 6 weeks in a local university. They come from all countries, but particularly East Asia and the Middle East and are adult learners hoping to be deemed fit to study on a BA programme. Therefore, the focus is on developing academic skills. Looking at the handout on teaching second language writing, I would aim to use the expressivist approach in order that students would become more fluent in output through journal writing; more attentive to detail through multiple drafting; and more open to criticism through peer review. The cognitivist approach would provide structure to these three areas with composing, editing, and responding respectively. Tying into composing, I would have students listen to a song and then describe a scene that song featured. Tying into editing, students would re-write a controversial sentence along with reasons supporting their changes. Tying into peer review, I would use the error coding scheme in the grammar presentation for students to apply in correcting each other’s work.

Activity #13

Website: The Electric Typewriter

Aside from my reservation that most of these reading or writing websites contain a fair number of inappropriate texts, I think there is potential for students to benefit from some effective samples of writing. The Electric Typewriter has links to essays and articles – a resource for the teacher to draw on to model good writing and a

Resources: http://www.1-language.com (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

The website features worksheets that students can use to write their own essays on the myriad of topics available. Many are challenging questions and some may fit in well with a “values-driven” class. I would have students write, before using a rubric to edit their work – the content, organisation, and finally technical accuracy.

App: Pages

This app is described as the most beautiful word processor available for mobile technology. The basic version is free and allows varied text formatting and adding pictures. I would use the collaboration element in particular in order for groups of students to put together a short article, poster, or advertisement. They could edited between them from multiple devices.

 

 

Facebook Activity

Activity aim: to develop skills for interacting critically with peers

Activity procedure: Students in class will need Facebook so they will be pre-warned in order to have it ready for class. A few private groups will be used to create dialogues between the students. A sample of a good discussion on a hot potato topic will be displayed and paper copies given for students to analyse. Students need to identify key features of healthy disagreement including: hedging, discourse features, passive language, and expressing an opinion. Feedback will allow for at least a few of these to be written up on the whiteboard for reference.

Next students should login to Facebook and click into their assigned group. Seating is not an issue since there doesn’t need to be any oral communication. They should respond to an agree/disagree question at the beginning of the thread. Each reponse needs to take into account the initial question while also responding to the previous post with a relevant paragraph. All responses should be around 100 words. After these discussions have concluded, the teacher (who can view all these discussion groups) will evaluate the discussions at a later point in time and give feedback.

Using Word in EFL

Microsoft Word is used all over the world and is well-established as the leading word processing software, but many within English language teaching have failed to realise its potential. I would like to suggest a number of brief uses for it, many of which are found within the “Review” tab.

  1. Teach students to use spelling and grammar check beneficially. Show them that it can be over-used, but the basic function allows them to pick up on common errors.
  2. Related to this last point is the reading grade that Word assigns to a piece of text based on word length and number of words in sentences. Students can use this to evaluate their own written work or texts they are reading on the internet.
  3. Translation ScreenTip enables students to hover the pointer over a word to get a direct dictionary translation into their language. Clicking on “Translate” allows a sentence or whole text to be translated depending on its level of complexity.
  4. Thesaurus can be used in a similar way, but a more useful way to search for synonyms is to right-click on a word the student has repeated and go across to “synonyms” on the drop-down. It may also provide an antonym, but if nothing appears at all, the word may need to be reduced to its base form (by deleting the plural or 3rd person “s” for instance).
  5. For collaboration purposes, peer review, or teacher marking, the comments option can be very useful. It allows changes to be seen, tracked, and accepted or rejected.
  6. Students can be given tasks to do on their computers such as jumbled sentences, paragraphs, or even whole texts. Double-clicking on a word selects that word; triple-clicking on a paragraph selects it; and CTRL+single-click enables the selection of a single sentence.

Using Word has a lot of potential for the language teacher or student, but since it is a rather complicated program, clearly written instructions and guided practice will need to be used. Can you add to the six ideas/features listed above? Or could you suggest a good activity that could incorporate one?

Country Presentation

A typical assignment students in school receive is to present on their home country using Powerpoint. The typical results can range from the brilliant to the cringeworthy, but more often than not, this is down to an inadequate process of preparation. Some common errors include: too much text, time wasted on visuals, and insufficient speaking practice. I recently had to prepare some beginner to intermediate-level students for an exam in which they must deliver a four-minute presentation on their country, before answering audience questions. Aside from linguistic limitations, the students were technologically ignorant. Here’s how I helped them.

  1. Give students a country project planner with a breakdown of key information to include (e.g. geography, people, and culture) and space to write their ideas next to each potential slide. Help students think about what could be included and where their own ideas might fit.
  2. Have students begin by retrieving information from one or more of the following websites: www.ducksters.com/geography, simple.wikipedia.org, www.factmonster.com/country, and www.kids-world-travel-guide.com. They can also use bing or google for images.
  3. Ensure that students record their information and photos in a document first. This cuts out the concern with layout and design. It also postpones the hassle of creating slides.
  4. Both steps two and three should be modelled by the teacher, providing a computer linked to a projector can be used. (The country of the weakest student can be used as a model, so that various content can be used.) Each section of the list can be shown and then students can copy what they see. Sight problems may be a hindrance here, but the teacher can monitor progress.
  5. Any quick students have the freedom to add more content each step of the way, especially while the teacher shows computer functions such as copy+paste to others.
  6. After all the content has been collated, again model to the students how to open Powerpoint, add slides (preferably with title and text), and transfer their content from a document to individual slides.
  7. Give those who are faster in the last task the support to enable visual enhancements such as changing the theme, font, and picture properties.

Having followed these steps with a class recently, I can confirm its validity. It helped avoid the common errors I mentioned and left students with far less text than if they had created it by themselves. Furthermore, some would have failed to create anything by themselves without assistance. Instead they began to enthusiastically explain to me the different pictures in detail, which I assured them was exactly what would make their presentation more of a success. It’s worth noting that this process took three hours to complete, and we have yet to practice the actual presentations.