Dimmi Domanda is adapted from an idea I saw on The Language Gym (a great resource for this kind of thing!). Using DimmiDeck, or even scrap paper on which the students have written or drawn the relevant vocabulary, students practise question forms and short answers in a simple, fun and frantic card collecting game. Great for kids and teens!
As part of the preparation for taking my DELTA, I will be reviewing certain TEFL books in the hope of helping other teachers to sieve through the huge amount of literature on the market. These are not just recommended books, these are the ones I’ve been recommended that deserve to be seen as essential reading. All the books in this series have helped me in a significant way to better understand teaching English. I’m sure they can do the same for you!
Techniques and Principles in English Language Teaching – Diane Larsen-Freeman and Marti Anderson
This week I wanted to share another ‘classic’ TEFL book that crops up on countless reading lists. Techniques and Principles in ELT (TPELT from now on!) aims to give an overview all the influential teaching methods of the past hundred years or so in a concise, efficient volume.
What’s it about?
The book is essential a short, practical history of how we got here. When I say ‘here’, I’m referring to the current methods that we all use as teachers, i.e., the methods we learnt on CELTA or our original TEFL course.
The ‘communicative approach’ is a term banded around a lot, but really the way most modern language classes operate is by using a mix of various approaches rather than a stand-alone ‘method’. In this book you will get to read about those oft mocked methods such as ‘Grammar-Translation’, the ‘Audio-Lingual’ method and even ‘The Silent Way’.
Whilst it sounds a bit dry and heavy going, the book actually reads very logically. I was surprised to find that it is somewhat of a page-turner (as far as academic texts go) and the short, stand-alone chapters do a great job of breaking up the flow.
But those methods were all proved to be a bit crap weren’t they?
Well… yes and no.
The writers do a fantastic job of remaining completely neutral throughout their descriptions of the methods. They give you the theory behind it, how it works in practice and an example lesson observation. At the end of each chapter you get a short breakdown of the methodology used and are asked to question which parts you agree with or use in your own classrooms.
What was most surprising for me was that a lot of the methods we deride so freely today were actually created with the best intentions. Often they are also based on sound methodology that we still respect.
The main issue with most of them and the reason that we no longer subscribe to such methods (although many are still used in different parts of the world) is that they are mostly very restrictive. They follow their core belief almost obsessively and by rejecting other equally valid theories. This makes them ineffective for the majority of contexts and situations.
On the other hand, whilst alone they seem incredibly rigid and incompatible with what we know today, there is a lot to be learned from these old methods. It makes you question if the way we teach today will be looked upon in hindsight as dated and ineffective.
Who’s it for?
TPELT is for every teacher who wants to understand why we teach the way we do. Much like last week’s How Languages are Learned review, TPELT is essential for teachers who want to understand how we got here. If ‘How Languages are Learned’ shows us the theoretical studies that led us to the beliefs we have today, Techniques and Principles shows us the practical path we’ve taken.
So now, when a student asks you ‘what method do you use?’ and you have an opportunity to explain your approach, you’ll be in a real position to explain to them why you teach the way you do, why you use certain techniques and, most importantly why you don’t use use a ‘traditional method’.
A must read!
Disaster at the Art Gallery
A renowned artist has lent the art gallery 12 of his most famous portraits for a special exhibition. There’s only one problem – the exhibition starts in fifteen minutes and you still haven’t set up!
What’s it all about?
I’m a big fan of gallery readings. Focusing on language from a reading text is one of the most effective ways of highlighting new vocabulary and grammar. However, it is really ineffective if the students aren’t engaged in the text.
This is fine for a lot of topics where it’s easy to engage students, but what about those times when it just isn’t going to work?
For this activity I’ve used the example of ‘the passive voice’ as one of those somewhat dull grammar points that is nevertheless important to highlight. This activity, by making the ‘reading’ part of the lesson more of a game, effectively ‘tricks’ your students into noticing the grammar form without having to engage them immediately in a particular topic.
What’s more, there are two options for language study in the same activity – adjectives with -ed/-ing endings or the passive.
Take your pick and slip this fun activity seamlessly into your syllabus!
What You Need
1x Set of information cards for your chosen language focus
.. and some blu tack!
Cut up the different Picture Information cards from the PDF.
Optional – Remove one of the information cards. As a follow-up activity the students can identify the missing card (as there will be one picture without one) and write it together in the same style as the other descriptions.
Place the DimmiDeck characters from the PDF on walls around the room as the ‘art gallery’.
- Divide students into two or three small groups.
- Divide the information cards equally between the groups (ideally three or four per group).
- Explain that they must read their information cards and place them under the correct picture on the wall using blu tack.
- After all the cards have been placed (and assuming every picture has just one information card) students must read through and check the work of the other groups.
- Clarify the meaning of any new and emerging language.
Now focus on your chosen language point as you normally would. The students have now read the texts in order to complete the task and so you can now bring their attention to the language point. You can then continue with standard practice activity such as a gap fill followed by a production task.
There’s a lot of scope with this activity to adapt it for all levels and as an introduction to various vocabulary topics. Why not create your own Information Cards for the deck? Create 8-10 new cards each containing a word from a new vocab set, for example, clothing words, to focus on after the match up.
The examples given here are just that – examples! Create your own cards with your own short texts and give your students an alternative to traditional reading exercises.
I recently had the pleasure of buying my first course books aimed at young learners. I say pleasure, but actually finding materials that I found both engaging and well illustrated was a much larger struggle than I’d anticipated.
Long story short I eventually settled on ‘New Treetops’ (Oxford Press), a cute EFL course aimed at Italian primary students. It focuses on teaching grammar through four modules based around the seasons. Each one tells stories of some little elves and animals who live together in ‘treetops town’.
The book is nicely illustrated, comes with loads of extra activities and is gives just enough new language and grammar in each module without overloading the students. So far I’m impressed and it has made my 121 students so much more engaged.
It got me thinking about where I stand on materials creation. Treetops does follow the CEF and definitely has clear ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’ sections but, and this may just be because it’s aimed at kids, they are much less ‘in-your-face’ as in the more often used adult course books such as Cutting Edge or Headway.
I started to wonder – why are our adult course books always so blatant about their following of a grammar-based syllabus when it can be much more engaging to disguise language like this?
The Coursebook Dilemma
I’m a relatively recent graduate of CELTA so was frequently taught about the general love/hate attitude towards course books in our industry. In fact it was a crucial part of the syllabus. I do, however, find the problem quite perplexing.
On the one hand, the majority of teachers bemoan course book syllabuses as being too restrictive and uninspired, whilst on the other hand many of these same teachers continue to use them and are unable or unwilling to suggest alternatives – probably because this alternative may mean creating all our lessons from scratch!
Scott Thornbury’s talk at the end of the IATEFL conference last year talked about a similar thing. His words were along the lines of ‘we’ve been talking about moving away from a grammar-based syllabus for 30 years. We know the pitfalls of the grammar-based syllabus and we know the alternatives. So why are our course books still so rooted in the idea?’
Another teacher and blogger Peter Viney caused a stir last year with his post ‘The Dead Hand of The CEF’ which pointed the finger directly at the Common European Framework for this lack of creativity and desire to think outside the box. Again, many teachers agreed. So what now?
A Different Approach
I recently worked at one of the more modern school franchises in Italy called My English School. Their method utilises aspects of blended learning and positive psychology in SLA with a communicative focus. Their course breaks the CEFR into 13 individual levels where 80% of the lessons are based around a functional syllabus. This means they spend the majority of their lessons learning functional language (ordering a coffee, discussing recent events, describing your town) and the ‘grammar lessons’ are much shorter and spread less frequently throughout.
When grammar lessons do occur (five times per ‘level’) they are blended. The student completes a task online before the lesson. They practise the language during the lesson and do a final task online afterwards.
After every level there is a revision lesson reviewing all the grammar that they have covered and a final ‘test’. After passing this test the student can move onto the next level. If they fail, they simply repeat the lesson or lessons on which they need to focus while continuing their spoken practise with the multitude of functional language lessons through the week.
I have to say I liked the method and so did the students. It’s not perfect but it did show what can be achieved with a little creative thinking. I would love to see some research on it’s effectiveness over a longer term but generally it was just refreshing to see a different approach.
Now with DimmiDeck having reached it’s Kickstarter goal we’ve started to focus on the future. Downloadable materials and worksheets are absolutely part of this, but where do we start? Do we stick with grammar based activities? Should we look at functional language? Do we try a situational approach? Or do we take aspects of all three and create something totally new?
I guess over the next few months we will see. For now though, I can’t help wondering if there’s a good reason why course book writers are hesitant to change. The research is there. The information is out there for us all to find and we study it on just about every further development course we do.
So why are we still not doing it?
If you know of any course books or schools with an alternative and interesting syllabus structure please let us know in the comments!
DimmiDeck just got its first review!
A compact toolbox for the creative TEFLer.
“When I first saw DimmiDeck, I thought it must have been the work of one of the big publishers, because it looked so polished and ambitious. It’s actually the work of a particularly ingenious couple and it deserves a very serious look.”
You can read the rest of the review here. Also, if you use games as a resource in your language lessons frequently, why not follow the TEFLGamer blog?
The Correction Dilemma
Few of us would argue that correction is one of the most important things we can provide as language teachers. Taking someone’s own, often carefully crafted response or utterance and helping them to perfect it is something that students often only receive in the classroom. This makes it valuable, desired and ultimately expected by your students.
We’ve launched on Kickstarter!
We are now live on Kickstarter!
‘Early Birds’ get a 15% discount on the DimmiDeck – limited to the first 150 backers! We are also offering discounts on double decks, limited edition ‘large’ decks and bulk orders as well as Kickstarter Exclusive Cards (scroll down to see!)
One year in the making
For the past year we have been testing, tweaking and improving the DimmiDeck to reduce preparation time and make our language lessons more engaging and more fun.
We’re so happy with the 50 characters that made it into the final deck. 100s of activities, dozens of games and tonnes of vocabulary. Total engagement with minimal preparation. If you’re a language teacher, you’re going to love this deck of cards!
Not your average flashcard!
Each of the 50 DimmiDeck characters has 9 different vocabulary sets (plus some surprises…) built into each card. The same card can be used for teaching a dozen different words.
Don’t have any time to prepare? No problem, any card you choose will show one of the desired vocab topics. Got a little more time? Check out our ‘quick reference’ guide to varied vocabulary sets (plus a sneak peak at all the cards!)
We need your support!
Kickstarter is ‘all or nothing’. We either reach our goal and print a large run of DimmiDecks for language teachers all over the world, or we don’t.
Support us today and as well as being the first to get your DimmiDeck, you can look forward to free activities and lesson plans, future products that expand on new ideas and vocabulary topics, a community of language teachers sharing activities and advice for free and support from us here at DimmiDeck.
What are you waiting for? Check out our Kickstarter campaign, watch our video, try our free activity ideas, see our productions stills and, most importantly, order your DimmiDeck before the discount expires!
Thank you for your support!
Anthony and Alessandra
There’s much more to teaching than vocabulary and grammar. But secretly, we all like to think we know it all, don’t we? Most English speakers use these words incorrectly on a daily basis.
English teachers we challenge you – how many do you know? Post your scores below!
Thanks to the hundreds of you that entered the giveaway.
“Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 years in Hong Kong. Patrice has taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. Patrice now works as a teacherpreneur (www.teacherpreneur.ca) doing the things that she loves such as writing courses, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching and travelling at any time of the year to conduct short-term training around the world. Please visit (www.patricepalmer.ca) for free ESL teaching resources.”
Congratulations Patrice! We hope you enjoy the subscription.
Everyone else, stay tuned for future competitions and teaching-related giveaways!
Have a great week!
Happy new year!
We are currently taking a few days off while we prepare to return to Italy after the Christmas break, so there’ll be a smaller blog update this week. Christmas may be over for us in the UK, but in Italy there’s still one big event left to finish off the Christmas period – Epiphany.