Top 5 Teaching Ideas from the LanguagEd Day

… in two words: LanguagEd Day!

It was a lot of work but now that I have had some time to recover from it all, I can look back on it and say it was really all worth it.

The day was filled with loads of learning, some nice coffee breaks, e-meeting lovely people and furiously scribbling down ideas that I know are going to make my teaching better.

Did you miss it? If you did and you want to catch up over the holidays, it’s no problem: we have put all the video recordings and slides together so you can enjoy them as a mini-course in lesson planning!

You can sign up whenever you like and enjoy 100+ teaching ideas. The course includes 8 videos from the LanguagEd Day, 8 sets of slides and, as bonus content, 2 videos of the Q&A events we ran in October.

But what were my 5 favourite ideas? It was hard to pick since more than 100 were shared during the day, but I’m going to try.

Here they are in video form…

… and for those of you who like reading (can relate!), here they are in written form:

  1. Using the coursebook to promote creativity
  2. Gap-fills for bottom-up listening
  3. Using emergent language for focus on form (“you said/you could say”)
  4. Task repetition and visualisation
  5. Performance vs. learning

If you’re keen to learn more, read on for the details and the very slides that were used during the day.

1. Using the coursebook to promote creativity, Sandy Millin

ELT writer and former International House Director of Study Sandy Millin shared and gathered from the audience a huge number of ideas to exploit the coursebook quickly and easily.

She took one single page from a very widely used coursebook, English File Intermediate. The page had a dialogue on it and she used it to show how many different ways you can use it.

She shared how we can use the coursebook for memorisation, pronunciation, adding challenge, changing interaction and promoting creativity:

The words “coursebook” and “creativity” don’t normally go hand in hand, right? But Sandy shared activities that do promote creativity, like taking the wrong answer in an exercise and creating a context where it would be right, or replacing key words in a dialogue with “banana” (or any other silly word) to see if your partner can give other ideas or remember the original words.

Sandy was a proper volcano of ideas – she shared so many not only in her presentation but also during her Q&A… can you believe she came up with a board game off the top of her head? Watch her video recording to learn more.

2. Gap-fills for bottom-up listening, Chiara Bruzzano

I know this is a little like tooting my own horn, but many of you know by now that listening comprehension is the love of my academic/teaching life. I’m close to a decade of research on it and I love sharing what I’ve learned in my journey.

I talked about what students from Italian schools say about listening in English (i.e. the topic of my research) and how listening activities may not help students learn how to listen.

Then, I shared how we can make listening activities better. One way is to have some alternative kinds of gap-fills. You know how in gap-fills, students normally have to identify content words, like key verbs, nouns or adjectives? Well, to mix it up and help them develop their bottom-up listening (i.e. ability to recognise sounds, syllables and words), why not focus on grammar words instead (e.g. “I’m”, “you’re”, “and”)? These words are super frequent in language but often pronounced in a reduced form, which makes them hard to understand. Another idea is to give students choices of similar sounding words (e.g. “ways, waze, lazy”), which again forces them to listen very carefully for the sounds.

If you’re wondering what else I talked about, it was mostly listening games to motivate students and then I gave a tutorial in which I showed how to use three free but powerful websites: YouGlish, TubeQuizard and LyricsTraining.

Based on the feedback, I think the tutorial was the bit that people liked the most (so, again, thanks guys for your words of appreciation!)

3. Using emergent language for focus on form, Rachel Tsateri

What can I say about Rachel’s talk? It was insightful, organised, creative. She went through a whole lesson plan and explained why she did what she did (which is exactly what concorso applicants have been doing). If you’re looking for a practical example of how to write a lesson plan and justify each step in relation to frameworks, theories and students’ needs, this is definitely a must watch!

My favourite activity? The use of emergent language (i.e. the language produced spontaneously by students) to “fill in the gap” between their language and the target language:

As the students speak, Rachel makes notes of what they said, puts examples of these on the board and then offers alternatives that are closer to the target language. In this example, she was teaching modals for speculation (e.g. ‘she must be your mom – she looks just like you!’): she took what the students said, like “he’s your husband” and offered a better alternative that incorporated the modals she was teaching, i.e. “he must be your husband”. This activity promotes grammatical accuracy because it helps students notice the gap between their production and the target language production – the idea of “focus on form” in TBLT.

Rachel shared her whole eclectic method for teaching grammar. If you’re looking for a flexible method you can use to teach grammar or plan a lesson with a grammar element, Rachel’s is the talk to watch.

4. Task repetition and visualisation, Sarah Priestley

An idea that was discussed from various perspectives during the LanguagEd Day was that of task repetition. Task repetition means repeating a task at different times or in different ways: for example you may first do an activity in pairs, then individually. Task repetition has long been known to help second language acquisition – see what Scott Thornbury has to say about this, for instance.

Sarah discussed this in the context of helping lower level students and managing mixed ability classes in speaking activities. Mixed ability classes are not only, like Sarah said, pretty much all classes; they are also the reality of most school-based learning, particularly in Italy.

One activity that I loved from Sarah’s talk was the Venn Diagram:

Here, two students don’t just do a speaking activity in which they say what they are/aren’t going to do at the weekend: they build a Venn Diagram to show which activities they have in common with their partner. They then repeat the same task with another partner. This helps them visualise their learning, use a tool that they know from maths, make their learning more tangible and consolidate the vocab/grammar by doing the task twice.

5. Performance vs. learning, André Hedlund

Our cognitive scientist in charge André Hedlund closed the day with his talk on aims, assessment and outcomes, a topic that I know is close to the heart of many who are doing or have done the concorso.

André shared what I think is a very important truth:

So how do we assess what sticks with us? André suggested doing it through “visible thinking routines”, i.e. activities that make thinking visible, so we can access what our students are really learning. You will find loads of examples of visible thinking routines on the Project Zero website at Harvard University.

So, what is your favourite activity? Let us know in the comments! 💬

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