Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Exploiting graded readers with a simple board game

Browsing reader to add vocabulary to game board
I think the most battered & dog-eared photocopiable resource I have on the shelf here at Luna is Heinemann Children's Games by Maria Toth - back in the day teacher's resource books were few and far between (and expensive!)

Mining text for words
Recently I wanted to find a 'new' way to exploit the reading books our children are very engaged with. Or were. Once we have 'finished' one, we seldom have the time to go back and wander through the stories again. The series we like (OUP Story Tree) does a very good job of recycling language, but I wanted to do a bit more. This is how.

The game grid is 8 x 7. Each locus/circle on the grid is connected horizontally & vertically by a line, which is the direction of travel players are allowed. In each circle contains a word. Two players take turns to throw a dice, and move their marker around the board. Each move, they circle the word on the board with a colour pencil (ie 2 different colours for the two players) and write the word down on another peice of paper/notebook. The other player cannot pass through a circle which is not their colour. The aim is to collect words to make a sentence.

Making the game - a race itself
Simple - but not so simple as you might think! Students are not just copying...Let me explain the mechanics.

The teacher's oldest friend tippex = blank board. Ask each student in the class to choose a different book. This is an ideal exercise for end of series or term, and once the students know what to do, could be easy homework. Students are asked to leaf through their reader, and pick out words to put onto their board - anywhere they like. NB To make the game 'work', you will need to make sure there a couple of words repeated in there eg 'a', 'the', 'to'...otherwise one player will bag the key word(s) and the other player is snookered!

Playing the game
Apart from the above proviso, let students rip into their readers. Some will want to add the 'hard' words, others their favourites. Whatever! Try to avoid duplicates. Do this in pencil, just in case you need to tweek in a couple of words to facillitate actual sentences. For example, singular and plural nouns make a nice variety. One of my students decided to use only the shortest words (it, is, a, yes, no). OK...but the other students refused to play his game. Peer review is a teachers' secret weapon :)

As each student has used a different book, you will have a quick stock of games. Write the name of the book on the board - and photocopy them. Push the boat out & laminate if you want to save for those rainy days when half the class doesn't turn up!

Initially, students will play and collect random words. Sooner or later, the penny will drop that they will need a strategy. Subliminally, this means students will want to be keenly aware of collocates eg I've got "went", but I can't make a sentence with it unless I also have "to". One of my teens started muttering grammar words to herself ("shugo, shugo. Ah, dai-meishi") - she was hunting for a subject and settled for a pronoun. Cool!

Game board - end of play
As students build a list from the board, they may need a nudge to get started cobbling together sentences - some will feel they need to reconstruct a sentence from their story, for example. Once an example or two are scribbled down, students will see how, where & what they can substitute to make new sentences with the same (limited) vocabulary they have acquired - and see what else they want to grab. Word order awareness? adjective + noun combinations? verb + adverb?  third person 's' on verbs or not? Without an agenda, this sweetlygives an alert teacher micro-teaching moments.

The winner might be the first student to create a whole sentence...but why not milk the exercise for all it's worth? Give a point for each word in a sentence. Bigger scores for embellishment! These were examples from a recent game (source vocab = Orange Story Tree "The Outing"):
My scribbles
  • A crocodile went to the school.
  • Children went to the school.
  • Children went to the crocodile.
  • A crocodile went to the toilet angrily.
  • Silly children buy a crocodile.
  • A silly crocodile went to the museum.
By the end of a game/lesson, students will have re-read their reader once, if not several times (can't remember what words mean, go back & find them in context), and written them down at least three times. They will have deconstructed the text & rebuilt with meaning - I'm not steeped in theory but that is a lot of grammatical & lexical processing going on (voluntarilly - I've got to win!)

Let's read some more!
Try this at home/in your reading class. Can't claim ownership of the idea (back to Maria Toth). My students have loved this (and viewed it is a game ie not proper class)...and begged to do again.

Hmm. Have to read more books then, won't we!

Cambridge Advanced (CAE) - What is it good for?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Professional Development in Tokyo

When I was asked to present at today's ECAP Conference in Tokyo, back in March, I agreed but was in two minds. On the one hand, I've always known what I would like to do with an opportunity like this (not drone on about Cambridge ESOL's storied history for starters) but on the other, I really don't like standing up in front of an expectant crowd of my peers. I get nervous (very) and have lost sleep this last week in particular.

May 27th has been hovering on my mental horizon for weeks. Presentation! Why did I wake up the other night at 3am? Brain said "rip it up & start again". I made notes until sunrise then had a most unproductive morning!

I must thank my friend & fellow school owner Peter Schinkle in Sapporo for the videos of his young learners talking about their experiences taking Cambridge YLE. As regular readers will know, Starters/Movers/Flyers cannot be beaten, in my opinion, when it comes to assessment of children using English.

I also owe my mate & trusted Upper Main Suite examiner Luke a pint or three. His video submission was too long for me to eventually use (my timings slipped badly 'on stage'). I was really annoyed about my lapse because I was very keen indeed to share with my audience perspectives from the chalkface. I am hoping Luke will let me share his opinions here.

All the talking in the world cannot show how good the Cambridge ESOL exams are. With luck, my little turn will have shown an interested audience something they did not know before; my intention was to let them peep through the curtains and see a hint of what could be used at their own schools/colleges & in their own classrooms/professional development.

Thanks Tomomi at Cambridge University Press for your generous invitation, & John for sorting me out. I know I was C.ESOL Japan's "last pick" but thanks all the same. And thanks to my audience for agreeing to "need to know".

[And thank you Yukari. It is her birthday today and I am AWOL.]

Talking spheres

We had a golden excuse to talk about circles in class; earlier this morning we had all witnessed an eclipse! Now, these don't come around too often - especially this "annular" or "Ring of Fire" variety.

I asked our very young learners about it and they got very excited - and I asked them if they'd like to draw what they saw on the board. They were very keen to. The picture shows our artistic impressions 🌙

Another talking point, spherically, was our tomato project. High hopes last week, but not a lot of fruition in the last seven days! Patience, little ones, patience!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Quizlet - some new sets to learn with

We continue to add flashcards sets to Quizlet and thought you might like to see some recent uploads; these are all related to some of the graded readers our students are reading. This set is all level one, in the OUP Bookworm series. There are 400 Headwords, and the actual books average about 40 pages/6,000 words.

We love the flexibility learners can use these materials. As straight forward flashcards, you can slide through the words until you are confident that you can remember the words definitions. You can hear the words and definitions pronounced. You can even download each set & use on your smart phone.

In learning mode, you are asked to type in the correct word to match the definition; you are gently corrected if your entry was incorrect, and it remembers which ones you are having trouble with, and recycles these.
My favourite with young learners is the spelling challenge, where you hear the word pronounced &have to type in the word - great phonics reinforcement, which we can do with books open (on the table) or really closed!

There is a test mode, which works as a quiz in various formats, which you can re-arrange eg multiple choice, true/false etc. Students, for some reason, don't usually like this one!

Class favourite is 'scatter', where you match the definition with the vocabulary; this is particulary nice when we have images to play with. The tough challenge is space race, as you see the image or definition whistle across the screen & you have to beat the clock to type in the word. Can you beat some of high scores?

A new function is the multiplayer challenge - and it is hard! A minimum of three players compete to make sentences of the key words. Definitely one for the adults I think!

What do you think of Quizlet? Why not have a go (you can sign up/in through Facebook) - it's free and it's fun! Find us as  Please join the group(s) and leave us your comments. Happy learning!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Examining CAE - thoughts and materials

I had the pleasure of examining some candidates for C.A.E. (Cambridge Advanced) on Sunday, down in Tokyo at our regular venue King's Road in Akasaka. As usual, the examination was under very good control with Chie in charge.

CAE is a tough day for candidates - four sitting/writing papers without much chance to recharge brains in between. It really is very intense, and hats off to all candidates who are brave enough to try. Obviously, our candidates in Tokyo were not alone - the same exam was held worldwide. What I enjoyed about our session was the broad mix of nationalities besides Japanese (Peruvian, Brazilian, Russian) which reminded me just how important it is for my learners to make sure they can make themselves understood outside my classroom...pretty pointless if I am the only person that understand them!

If you are considering taking CAE, then when not have a rummage in this Livebinder, which I am adding to as/when I find relevant material (bookmark it & by all means leave comments).

  • Next CAE exam session will be December 2 with Luna, likely in Tokyo and Nagoya. Contact us if you are interested (details not up on our website yet - shortly!)

See tomorrow - Greece falls of the edge?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

What do you do when a YLE blows a gasket?

 Had one of those classes today where it all went wrong - for the same child each time.

Can you take your books out please? Tantrum and calling mummy names because the homework book was not in the bag. Not off to am auspicious start.

Quick photocopy, pride semi-restored. Let's practice - join the picture with the word. Kaboom! No pencil in bag - dummy spat out again to general consternation of classmates and generous offers to lend (declined, head banging on table - please stop?)

Moving along. Practicising touch/hold/feed & look at...around the room. Touch the crocodile. OK. (Not a real one, by the way). Feed the fish. OK...hold your friend - guess who left out? On and on. This behaviour is not new, and has been worse - what are your sanctions? Generally, the promise to frog march downstairs and be embarrassed explaining to all the mums is enough. But hard to do when resitance position is spread-eagled on the floor! Fortunately, the rest of the class were unfazed, and enjoyed the extra hurdle as we ran too/from the board in a spelling race. I was hoping missing out on fun would be incentive enough to re-join.

My philosophy (if you can call a hunch that) has been to ignore misbehaviour - or at least not make a big deal out of it, if it is not disrupting the class/is not likely to become endemic. Some things need stopping - chattering about granny's birthday on Sunday, or tipping back on chairs for example. Nose-picking? Tricky - a glare seems to work. Rather, big up the good workers/quick finishers/neat ouput and make use of the "Oh no, I'm going to be last" syndrome. Move along, nothing to see here...Except, of course, when finishing last is A REALLY BIG DEAL & lead to more carpet damage. Hmm.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Green fingers

Our little mummy & kids class had a very nice surprise this morning...not only are the tomato plants not dead (they were seriously drooping last week after being neglected for the whole of Golden Week) but they were flourishing. Just how much?

Well, this much! We measured them against ourselves, and they came up to our noses! As a little project for the next few weeks we started a table to keep track of how much more they will grow (we will have to stand on each other's shoulders or on a box!), how many flowers they will have, and eventually, how many tomatoes we can harvest.

We will also have to decide what to do with our crop - I really like tomatoes with mozarella & ham as an Italian kind of salad, sprinkled with Balsamic vinegar.

Any other suggestions?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Weekend workshops at Luna

Dogme...Does that mean no furniture?
 For a long time I have felt that my returnee students in particular need to get out a bit more. Because of scheduling - club activities being the default roadblock to a sensible lifestyle in Japan - and the unique backgrounds, learning styles, life experiences & language abilities of said learners, we generally have one-to ones.

To this end, we have started to offer "workshops" once a month, with the intention that we have a bit of a mingle, and get stuck into fun, communicative & co-operative tasks. No books, in this case no chairs or even table - change the environment & re-jig the style of interaction. The intention is that these days are as much student lead as possible; sure, we need an idea or theme for the workshops, and a broad plan of action, but we want to students to occupy the speaking ground and get on with stuff in English.

Working it out together
This is important; often the best English-speakers in school become reticent as they get older; quite often being used in class to produce model answers or first answerer can get wearisome. So, teacher's role in these special events is to chivvy and cajole, nudge and shepherd things along gently. Outcome? It will be nice to get somewhere, but for the now, the journey itself is going to be more interesting and having a real reason for making use of English.

I also hope these gigs will show our returnees that there are other very able speakers around, and that they are not abnormal...but neither that they are the best; there is some competition around :)

The next weekend workshops are:
  • For kindergarten ages - May 26: Numbers & animals
  • Primary school ages   - May 26: short vowel sounds
Reservations required: friends (ie non-Luna students welcome - fees apply)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Trittery trip, trottery trot, trampety tramp - of goats & YLE

Yes , if you don't like nasty trolls!
 Is the story of the Three Billy Goats scary?

How do trolls think? Like this!

Is there a happy ending?

You decide :)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

So long, Toru. (Come back, Toru!)

Wednesdays are not quite the same anymore. Since 2005, this has been "my boys" class. And now Toru can't come anymore :(

This is a disaster (for me)! He is the sensible one, the one that remembers his homework, remembers what day it is, remembers what we learned last week. He is not the one that pesters me for a game every 5 minutes, nor the one who has a go at me every time Arsenal get a good result. He is not the one who gets here & falls asleep on the sofa. He is not the one who managed to throw his reading books away during the holiday!

Toru is Toru. The example. The paragon of normal, good kid with a good attitude. Never complains, never sulks, never wrecks the classroom playing football when I'm not looking...

And as the weeks pass now, I know all the great learning that went in is slowly being diluted with Katana pronunciation, mega-lumps of unweildy grammar & inert vocabulary. Come back Toru, I'll save you!