Saturday, December 31, 2005

Vocabulary Level Tests

These vocab level tests would be useful for student goal setting in self-access. I wonder whether similar tests for more specialized vocabulary, for a specific discipline like economics or a type of newspaper article, like articles on freedom of speech and defamation, let's say, might help with student goal setting as well. It's really nice to see the ideas from Nation's book online like this and ready to use with students.

To test it out, I absentmindedly, without concentrating much, did the Version A 10,000 vocabulary test and just slipped by with 83%. My point here is that these tests are difficult and require concentration even by heavy reading native speakers. I might have students actually study the words in the test before I had them do the test and recycle the words with further tests that covered different senses of the word and homonyms. One of these days, I'm going to write tests like this for the Burmese language.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Compleat Lexical Tutor

This site is "a vast range of resources for both teaching and learning vocabulary and grammar." There are so many useful resources that only reading this extensive review can really do the site justice.

I just want to point out that much of the site supports the ideas in my favorite book, Nation's Learning vocabulary in another language (2001, Cambridge University Press). I'll investigate the mind-boggling functionality of this site and how it relates to teaching English with newspapers in future posts to this blog.

Defamation in the news

Defamation is a topic that is appearing over and over again in Thai newspapers nowadays, so it's nice to see a lesson plan someone has come up with in Great Britain on this topic.

The worksheet is divided into three clear sections (called "stages"). It would be nice, if each section clearly indicated what it was about with a heading.

Section one defines defamation, but the actual definition is probably a lot more complex than the one given here. It was in the Thai article I wrote a lesson for recently, at least.

"Cases" would be the best title for stage two. Students read and discuss cases and debate whether they constitute defamation or not. More realistic cases or at least more complex and realistic facts taken from real cases would be nice here.

Stage three involves re-inserting paragraphs that have been taken out of a newspaper article on defamation, a good silent self-access activity. This activity might be easier to do for the student if the article was cut into pieces that could be arranged into different sequences, so the student could check which made better sense. It is certainly impossible to do even for me in the given PDF file. I could see this being a good drag and drop activity online with Javascript too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

(Yet Another English Teaching Acronym)

Finally found where they hide all the information on English language teaching in Wikipedia. Apparently, the acronyms I already know (ESL, TESOL) are not enough and we need more acronyms to amaze and bewilder our colleagues with. There's a long list at the bottom of the page.

English as an Additional Language (EAL), I guess, is not the same as ENAL (English as Not an Additional Language). Maybe we're all EEL's (English as an Expat Language) because we speak slower and use less vocab.

Many relevant entries are filed more reasonably under language acquisition, but there's some obvious advertising that they don't let into this category like the Pimsleur language learning system or accelerated language learning, see discussion, but to be fair to Pimsleur, Nation cites Pimsleur's "Forgetting Curve" in his classic book on teaching vocabulary (See review and also see Waring's Basic Principles and Practice in Vocabulary Instruction).

Jigsaw reading of newspapers

What is "jigsaw reading" really? It seems to be more of a general principle that can be applied to the teaching of reading, than merely jumbling and reordering texts (the definition given by this crib sheet). I looked in vain for a general definition. Let me hazard some possible definitions: 1) the verbal sharing of newspaper texts, 2) information gap speaking activities where each partner has a related piece of news that they have to paraphrase and share with the other partner. They have to ask the other student questions because: "any one student only has only a portion of the information needed to complete a task."

The general principle of jigsaw reading could make reading long newspaper articles manageable by cutting them into pieces assigned to individual students or groups of students.

A short British Council article suggests a pair of students explain articles on related theme to each other or two halves of one article.

The longer detailed article at Iteslj linked to above really takes a lot of concentration and acting out to understand but really helps you understand how to use this kind of activity with a class.

Here's a good example of the jigsaw principle used in a broad sort of way with with L1 students, each L1 speaker explaining an issue to the other students after they watch a film about animal rights.

Teaching reading:
Important points
in easy to remember form

Here's the perfect little crib sheet on reading to help you prepare reading lessons. Looks like it was originally notes to study for a master's class in TESOL.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Javascript for language elearning

These little snippets of Javascript code for common language teaching tasks on the internet have been around forever. They include: true-false, multiple choice, matching, feature of category identification, short answer, self-evaluation, cloze, editing, sentence generation, hypertext, memory-spelling, and timed reading. Here's an interesting paper on a French vocabulary tutor with lots of Javascript code snippets.

Internet automatic dictionary lookup

This is a great Chinese newspaper site.

Definitions of words pop-up when you move the mouse over the text.
Why can't we do this in English? Do we have a good enough public domain internet dictonary? Select the "About" link to read the description of the software which includes an online vocabulary learning program for students. The Chinese dictionary is open source and can be actively improved and added to by students.

Online Glossing is a program that can be used online to add mouse-over vocabulary definitions to a web page.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Second language elearning

I found a good IBT (Internet-Based TOEFL) sample test that could be used as a model for writing newspaper comprehension questions.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

BBC Business News
Lesson Plan

The British Broadcasting Corporation has been in the English language teaching business for a long time, so you'd expect high quality lesson plans from them.

I learned a lot from a Business lesson plan that I found on their site. The table format used to present the lesson makes it easy to get the big picture of how to teach the lesson. Column headings include: 1) the part of lesson, 2) activity, 3) approx time in minutes, 4) teacher (what the teacher does), and 5) boardwork.

This lesson plan exudes an overall feeling of reasonableness and bite-sized-ness (sorry). At five paragraphs the size of the article should be manageable for most students. The twelve words and phrases that the lesson's activity and definitions focus on seem to be just the right number.

The strategy of reading in two passes is a good general strategy for reading news articles. News articles always seem to be a little too long for teaching second language learners in the classroom. First, skim reading to find out how many different brands are mentioned in the text (page 7). The brand names mentioned can be checked off from the list that students generated during the the warm-up, brainstorming section of the lesson. Next, students read for a second time, this time more intensively for answers to true-false questions (Worksheet A). After this there is a direct vocabulary instruction activity, matching words and phrases with definitions (Worksheet B).

The supplementary activities include filling in two semantic maps (Worksheet C). A mini-project suggestion is given at the end, namely having students design their own advertisement (page 9). Some teachers (like myself) feel the need to integrate and tie everything together at the end (even if this would probably take more time than the lesson itself). This will make these more project-oriented teachers happy.

Here is the full list of BBC lessons.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Journalism Handbook

Here's a useful manual of basic journalism and newswriting available for free download in English and several Southeast Asian languages. It was published in 2001 by the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation (IMMF).

Thai Transliteration

Teachers working in Thailand no longer need to bother themselves
with how to spell the names of Thai places or people. They can use this automatic computer transliterator.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Adapting American NIE lesson plans to the needs of Asian students

There's a lot of useful and interesting information for Asian business people and business students here.

This New York Times lesson plan sets a great example, but 1) it is not for second language students, and 2) the article is very, very long, so the lesson plan needs to be adapted a bit for Asian audiences.

The format used to describe lessons could save a lot of time in daily lesson preparation. The headings used include: grades, subjects, overview, suggested time allowance, objectives, resource/materials, activities/procedures, further questions for discussion, evaluation/assessment, vocabulary, extension activities, interdisciplinary connections, and academic content standards.

Some simplification might be useful here. There are too many sections. What a teacher typically wants are rough guidelines to improvise within. Many sections have useless information. Is mentioning the need for pencils or pens in a "resources/materials" section really necessary? The "evaluation/assessment" section doesn't provide any useful information either.

Maybe multi-leveled lesson plans with the basic ideas on top and details hidden below for possible future study if time permits might be more effective. "Information hiding" is an idea borrowed from computer programming where it is used to manage complexity.

The warm-up involves classifying products by market segment. This is a great extensible idea that could be applied to different markets in future lessons. Why do the authors avoid useful marketing terminology like "market segments"?

The strategy of dividing the article into sections and assigning each section to a group (activities/procedures, section 3) is even more necessary for second language learners who really need to be helped with the extreme length of the article.

The discussion questions are great, but it would be clearer if they they were simply listed under a section number heading. The very concrete calculations in each "research task" are a great way of applying the ideas and making the abstract ideas in the article concrete.

This kind of American "Newspapers In English" (NIE) type of site provides lesson plans for younger learners in K-12 schools. The ideas in high school lesson plans can often be adapted for adult or university student audiences in Asia.

Overall, there's a lot to learn here for teachers in Asia preparing newspaper-based lessons for older second language learners.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

www.Breaking News

"" is a website that focuses on using newspapers to teach English. The link above is a typical lesson. It is actually a large collection of tasks that you can selectively build a lesson from. There are so many you probably wouldn't want to use them all.

The tasks are categorized as warm-up, before, while, and after reading-listening, listening, discussion,speaking, and homework. Answers are also included. I found this site from a British Council link so the site must maintain a high level of quality in the material they provide.

One limitation is that the newspaper text that is the focus of the lesson is a very small extract from a larger news article. This subtracts a little from the text's authenticity and doesn't allow students to dig very deep into the issues. On the other hand, this strategy of a small amount of text with many activities could lead to repeated exposure of the student to words in different contexts which is a good strategy for vocabulary acquisition.

The tasks section has 1,921 words and the article only has 195 words, so there is almost ten times as much task as there is reading. Some teachers might want more reading and less task.

The "Warm-Up Section" section seems too long. It also probably assumes more background knowledge than a student will have about Arab gulf states. The focus on finding what students consider interesting is nice and could help the teacher motivate students and make the lesson more enjoyable. Some of the tasks might profitably be taken out of this specific lesson and put into a general guidelines for every lesson section.

In the "Before Reading/Listening" section the word and phrase matching is a nice way to give the student the sort of repeated exposure to vocabulary that will build the automatic recall they need for reading fluency. I find the true/false questions tedious and distracting. Again more reading, less task.

The gap-fill task in the "While Reading" section is a nice way to attack the article. Hopefully, they vary the format everyday, using various forms of dictation, comprehension question, information transfer, and gap-fill. Again fewer tasks, but more various and creative approaches to tasks would be desirable.

While "Discussion" and "Speaking" are potentially the most useful sections, the small newspaper text size is once more a problem. The text is so small that it can't really provide the answers to these questions. Some of the questions, like whether the student would like to visit or not, don't seem relevant to the article's content.

I really got a lot out of this site. The critcisms could equally be applied to my own material writing. In fact the reason for the critique is to improve my own writing. Despite the shortcomings this is overall an excellent site.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Familiarizing students with newspapers

The Japanese authors of two books on reading English language newspapers provide some useful classroom material. This webpage starts with an outline of points that students should know about newspaper. This is followed by a very extensive set of questions that can be used in the classroom to familiarize English language students with the reading of English language newspapers.