Activity Corner: Fourth Week Survey

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One of my departments has all of its teachers do a really, really smart thing.

About a third of the way into the semester, teachers hand out an anonymous survey to their students. The results are for the teachers’ eyes only, for the sole purpose of getting the lay of the land and seeing if any changes can be made to improve the semester.

The types of questions the department suggests:

  • Do students feel they can succeed in this course? What support do they need?
  • How is class time going? How could the teacher make it more effective?
  • How is homework going? How are the assignments, directions, and deadlines?
  • How are major assignments going? Are students prepared in class to complete them? What could be improved?
  • Are students getting feedback? Is it understandable? Is it helpful? How could it be improved?

Remember to ask for specifics and for suggestions. They might not all be workable, but at very least they help you see the students’ point of view. Point out that general statements like “this class is too hard” are not useful, especially coming from anonymous sources, because you have no idea what is too hard about it.

Now, with a survey like this comes the fear of negative feedback. What if everyone hates my class? And since this is during the semester, you’d still have to work with a group of people who may have told you you’re not doing as well as you thought.

My advice is: handle it. You’re an ESOL teacher – you’ve handled awkward in the past, and you can handle awkward this semester, too. It’s just not that big a deal.

And the rewards are significant: free professional development, very possibly a topic to present on at the next local ESOL conference, and most importantly, the potential to make a comeback and teach an epic class that really reaches your students.

Even if your department doesn’t nudge you in this direction, give it a try! Don’t wait till next semester to make positive changes!

 

Photo CreditAshley Van Haeften on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Fourth Week Survey, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Student Feedback: Stress-O-Meter

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

 

Stress matters, whether you call it stress, pressure, anxiety, or the affective filter.

How stressed your students are will definitely impact their attendance, participation, and their performance on assignments.

Do you know how your students are doing in this regard? How do you know – are you guessing? Or are you finding out too late, during an outburst in class?

Try this: create a very simple online form (I like using Google Forms) that you can send out to all your students on a regular basis – at least weekly. Ask no more than three questions, targeting their stress levels.

Stress Report Sample

 

What would this data show you about your course, your assignment instructions, your deadlines, and your students’ lives outside of your course?

What might it mean to a student who’s overwhelmed in his personal life, to be able to click that first 5 and know that he’ll get a kind word from you in class?

How would you change these questions to suit your own classroom?

Activity Corner: Information Gap

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

13981256424_9658f31715Information Gap is a classic type of flexible communicative activity. It’s a close cousin of the Jigsaw Reading, in which students provide each other with information.

The teacher does not have the answers. Instead, the students are divided into two groups that each have answers for the other. The students communicate to give and receive the information they need.

Example:

Here is a simple information gap activity example. Each student is given a slip of paper with one of these sentences.

Group A: Ann is traveling to Brazil on a _______. It leaves at 3:10 Tuesday afternoon.

Group B: Ann is traveling to Brazil on a boat. It leaves at _______ Tuesday afternoon.

Students partner up across groups. They are not supposed to look at each other’s papers.

Group A would ask a question to fill in their blank. For example, “How is Ann getting to Brazil?” Group B would do the same, asking something like, “What time is the boat departing?”

That’s it!

Procedure

  1. Decide what you want your students to practice. See below for some suggestions.
  2. Choose or create your materials. Note that materials can be reading passages, lists, maps, nutrition labels, and so on. The more material, the longer the activity can be.
  3. Prepare the information for Group A and Group B. The more blanks, the more time the students will need. This can be as low-tech as using white-out. It’s very handy to number each blank. Different colored paper can also be handy to prevent confusion.
  4. In class, prepare students for the content and language to be used in the information gap task.
  5. Explain the activity: each group is missing some information and they need to talk to each other to fill in the blanks. They will work with a partner who is missing different information.
  6. Be sure to emphasize on what the purpose is. For example, if you primarily want them to practice forming and asking questions, be clear about this so they don’t gloss over their helping verbs and intonation.
  7. Form partnerships however you see fit. Make sure each partnership has one student with the Group A paper, and the other has the Group B paper.
  8. As the students begin, circulate to observe, provide help, etc.
  9. Check answers. This can be done as a class, in pairs of partnerships, with all the Group As and all the Group Bs… Depending on your objectives, you might also choose to have students model how they asked for the information.

Content Possibilities:

  • reading any level of informational text in any subject
  • in academic writing class, could be sample paragraphs or essays
  • conversation/intonation practice – the content is just a vehicle for communicating verbally
  • spelling out loud – content just a vehicle for spelling words out loud
  • skimming and scanning
  • map reading and/or prepositions of place
  • forming questions
  • vocabulary practice
  • introducing the syllabus or other “boring” policy information

Variations:

  • Regular grammar exercises – the students check each other’s work. Group A does the odds and Group B does the evens. Each group is provided with the answer key for the other group. I recommend checking answers verbally – so much of our grammar practice skews toward written instead of spoken!
  • Multilevel classes – Group A could be the lower level and Group B be the higher level. Group B would have more blanks. Group A could practice spelling them out loud if they didn’t know the word.
  • Metacognition – students guess the information in the blank first. (You’ll want to at least triple-space these ones.) This could be especially useful with content in an ESP class.
  • Editing practice – create an info-gap of level-appropriate writing that needed editing, but leave a gap instead. Students can write in their answer. You can then provide the original and Ss can discuss their different answers and compare them to the original. (You might want to provide suggested answers as well, especially at lower levels.)

This is a super flexible type of activity – I hope you’ll give it a try!

Photo Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Information Gap, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Throwback Draft: Life With Limited English

[I have a modest collection of unpublished drafts in various states of completion from at least five years ago, and I thought I’d publish some from time to time.]

427338446_4b1e18bef7From conversation time in Level 2:

“I’m sad… because… I want to discuss…. with neighbors… but…. can not.”

“My daughter, she sees the children playing outside, and she want to go with them.  But I don’t let her. Because I can’t speak to them.  I don’t have English.”

Worth remembering as teachers and as neighbors, I think.

 

Photo Credit: Nisha A on Flickr

You’re reading Throwback Draft: Life with Limited English, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Journal: Love Apples?

Students: 13

One thing that went well:  Jared did a voice recording for me yesterday.  He really did call me yesterday evening to tell me that his bike pedal broke off mid-commute and that he needed a ride home.  The recording he made for me was the message he would’ve left had I not been able to pick up the phone right when he called.  The class seemed impressed that it was really him and about a real situation.  And we all kind of got a kick out of it.

One thing to improve:  I talk too much.

One surprise:  Our long reading was about tomatoes.  (Apparently, in French they used to be called “love apples.”  So the title of our reading about tomatoes was “Love Apples.”  It was weird.)  It was surprisingly engaging.  The pre-reading questions, which are so often lame, actually led to some really interesting conversations and a debate as to whether tomatoes were fruits or vegetables.  Then, once the reading explained the biological definition of “fruit” (it contains the seeds), we had a great time thinking up surprising examples, for example, peppers and cucumbers.  I guess I would’ve thought the article about tomatoes would be mind-numbing, but it wasn’t at all!

Journal: Jigsaws and Shovels

Students: 19

One thing that went well:  Unlike yesterday, today I remembered to bring the DVD with the listening exercises on it!

Ok, that’s cheating.  

One real thing that went well:  We ended with sort of a truncated jigsaw reading.  I think the big success was the reading itself – it was really interesting! It was a magazine-style quiz with ten different scenarios.  Each scenario highlighted norms in different countries and cultures, and the questions were either, “What should you do?” or “What was your mistake?”  I gave each group two questions from the quiz, and they read them and discussed their answers.

Since we were short on time, I didn’t mix up the groups as I normally would in a jigsaw.  Instead of mixing up the groups for phase two, I had a volunteer from each group read one question to the whole group and give their suggested answer.  Then, I told everyone if the book agreed or not.  We also related it back to US culture.  This saved a lot of time (we were running a bit short), and it was also a great, high-energy way to end class.

One thing to be improved:  With grammar, sometimes I feel like I’m digging us into a hole rather than clarifying anything.  Today was one of those days.  We didn’t do too much – I cut it a bit short when I felt the shovel in my hands.  I hope to start to dig us out tomorrow.  Aside from making sure my points are clear, I need to do my best to steer them away from obsessing over exceptions and weird overlaps (i.e. “Have you eaten dinner?” vs. “Did you eat dinner?”).

One surprise:  We’re studying Present Perfect.  We also watched a DVD dialogue  in which one character said to another, “I never forget a face.”  A student asked why this wasn’t in Present Perfect: “I have never forgotten a face.”  She even backed it up: it emphasizes the past up to the present, and it’s about an experience (or rather, the lack thereof).  I thought it was a brilliant connection!  We talked about it being a normal phrase, and why it’s in Present tense, and the slightly strange tone it would take in Present Perfect.  But still, really great insight.

Journal: AmTrak… right?

Just a quick anecdote from Monday:

We were studying different options of public transportation.  The students brainstormed everything from cars to planes to walking to taking the bus to riding a horse.

short train by Bright Meadow on Flickr.com
Train, photo by Bright Meadow on Flickr.com

We all live between Baltimore and DC, so we have an alarming number of train options: the light rail, the metro, the MARC train, and AmTrak. 

They’re all trains, but they’re all different.  The light rail serves Baltimore and its suburbs.  The metro serves DC and its suburbs.  The MARC train serves the corrodior between DC and Baltimore… but only on weekdays.  AmTrak serves major cities nationally, but it’s much more expensive than the other options.

They seemed really interested in AmTrak and asked a lot of questions. 

Where does it go?  Does it go to Canada?  Is it the terrorists?

What?

After September 11th.  Terrorists.  AmTrak.  Envelope.

I was slow to catch on.  I was wondering if there was some sort of train attack I didn’t remember.  Can you tell what they meant, readers?

One of the students finally looked it up on his iPod.  No, is antracks.

Ah.  Anthrax.  Got it.  No, AmTrak is different.