Lesson resource: Night of the Living Dead

night-of-the-living-dead-group

I know that Halloween is over a month past. Anyway, I was thinking about authentic, non-copyright texts and I remembered that Night of the Living Dead has never had copyright on it due to a mistake in the original film release. You can download it from The Internet Archive along with subtitles (and if you open the subtitles with a text editor like Notepad or Notepad++, you get yourself a handy script with time codes, although without speaker information).

To save a bit of time, here are some notes I took while I was watching:

10:00 (roughly) Imperatives.

20:00 (roughly) Narratives (Ben tells Barbra what happened, Barbra tells Ben).

36:30 pictorial cues to the next lot of possessions (good for eliciting knowledge of vocab and checking with listening in a minute’s time)

37:25 “I found a gun and some bullets out there. And these. This place… we have a gun and bullets, food and a radio. Sooner or later someone’s bound to get us out.”

40:25 Mr Cooper and Tom enter.

40:45 How long have you been down there?
Conditionals if, when, in case, rhetorical questions, modality will/won’t/can’t/better off. Good for negotiations and making concessions.

48:41 Simple present statements about present state with wasn’t about to mixed in.

50:00 “Does anyone up there know why we’re being attacked?”
“The radio said…” Reporting.

57:40 “The cause… It could be…” /ɪ kʊ biː/

59:40 Locations, possessive for condition.

1:02:40 Possessives. “You can…” for commands.

1:05:00 elision of /d/ in “more and more”

1:05:40 “Where’s that big smile for me?” /weərzat/

1:15:00 “There’s supposed to be a broadcast at 3.”

17:50 “Kill the brain and kill the ghoul.”

1:18:50 Report of killing ghouls. Could be good for a summary.

1:31:20 “We only need a few men to check out the house.”

I hope this is of use to someone. I will probably use it myself at some point, and if noting else, it serves as at least a mental note.

Bottoms up! Decoding in listening

Last post I wrote about the priority of making materials pretty as opposed to suitable for purpose and why it leads to a lack of bottom-up skills teaching. I was also asked very nicely for a part 2 on bottom-up activities. Unless otherwise stated this is just what I do or have done. You know what will probably work with your students.

Microlistening

Edit your text, simply. What items do you have in the text that learners will probably find problematic? Copy your mp3 file, edit it (using Audacity or Ocen Audio; I prefer Ocen Audio) so the item is in isolation, add a second or two of silence each side and copy the audio and paste it a couple of times. You should have a file with the same word/chunk/tone unit/whatever three times. Do the same with any other items you want to focus on. This sounds time consuming, but it only takes about ten minutes or so when you get used to it.

Prototypes

Well, apparently we carry auditory prototypes of lexis about in our memories. While we don’t expect to hear the actual prototype, we have wider tolerance the more variations we hear.

Are you embarrassed by ridiculous voices? Well, I have no shame. I will utterly mug it up in the classroom, pronouncing target lexis in bizarre, but still generally decodable, pronunciation affectation. Overly high pitch, lisping, stammering, changing vowel quality. With my mouth hidden so as to avoid being lip read. Something I plan to use in some classrooms with internet access is Youglish. You could also use a subtitle downloader, video downloader and Grep if you have coding skills or a ton of time.

Dictogloss

The oldie but goodie. Use a short text or read a short text, twice or so. Have learners identify the stressed word in each tone unit and take notes. Learners then regrammar the text based on what they heard and grammar knowledge.

You can vary this by asking learners to also note the words prior to and following the stressed word. This is useful for function word awareness, especially with the weak form of ‘can’ /kən/.

Cut ups

Another activity for identifying target items and working with preceding/following items is to cut up and reorder a text *as a group*. I do this with a class I teach through songs. It is a success in having learners think about what they hear following a line of song. It has also worked with short dialogues with a lot of backchannelling that would not be easily sequenced by discourse adjacency awareness (appropriate response awareness) alone.

The line

Hada Litim told me about an activity where the teacher draws a line on the board, and then learners listen, placing stressed words above the line and unstressed words below. I shall steal this at my earliest opportunity.

Listening bingo

There is a great post somewhere, I think, on listening bingo on Richard Cauldwell’s site. Unfortunately, I can’t find it. He suggests writing some word or phrase pairs, actual and likely error, in order of appearance in the text and have learners identify which they hear. It’s good for connected speech and words out of dictionary citation form.

If you have other ideas of activities, feel free to share in the comments!

TBL ELT Task Idea #2

I took my second idea from the LinoIt TBL ELT Board, a lesson planned especially for this class and using a listening task as the presentation of language (Task 1).

  
I was banking on three students attending but in the end only one student came and he was 20 minutes late.

We used the entire task sequence but I looked at listening to reduced forms in connected speech by using a prepared gapped transcript (my just-in-case activity).

Was it the best lesson ever? No. It was with a student who is often late and has erratic attendance so I just don’t know his needs as well as those of the rest of the class. Did it go OK? Yes. I think I need to look at conditionals briefly for a bit of consolidation but really do more with reporting speech naturally.

Coursebooks: the Thick and the Thin End of the Wedge

I have used some rubbish books in my time as a teacher. I have not used many great ones but I have used some half decent ones, the caveat being that those books were targeted at specific business skills or selected skills that learners needed (based on a pre-course needs analysis).

Anyhow, I have found myself dragged into coursebook debates a few times on Twitter and I am going to refrain from entering any more of them for one year after this post unless they end up being useful for my Master’s degree studies.

There are some excellent critiques of coursebooks: Geoffrey Jordan (1, 1.5, 2) and Rosemere Bard give well-reasoned takedowns (1, 2). The only defences I’ve seen for textbooks that seem to hold any weight are from Twitter people Anne Hendler and Tim Hampson, that teachers are worked too hard to plan several different lessons and select materials so having something to take in to class is a godsend, although the defences were nuanced and acknowledged that the materials were not perfect. The defences I’ve seen from materials writers are less rigid.

Mike S. Boyle posted a defence that focussed on the general sales pitch of coursebooks.

I’m going to look at these six points now.

1. You are a busy, overworked teacher and you don’t have time to prepare.

Possibly this could pass muster. However, the amount of time taken to mine a textbook text for useful language could be done with the newspaper or another authentic text on the way to work or within a few minutes. And by text I mean audio or video as an option there, too. You could also put the onus on students to bring in something they’d like to look at or set them homework to find out about a topic that interests them and report their findings (and/or further questions) to you. It’s going to generate some discussion at least, and if it is coming from the learners it is going to generate language about a topic or situation they want to talk about.

2. You are new to teaching, your school has given you little or no training, and you need obvious structure and guidance.

You had no training? Not even a ‘Teach Yourself TEFL’ book from the library before you boarded a flight? Well, perhaps the coursebook will appeal to you for the first couple of weeks until you bore yourself senseless with the same topics raising their head over and over again. And you’ll be repeating those lessons until your students get to the next level, which will lead you to supplementary materials and realia so you don’t have to look at the book again. If you are lucky enough to have a good book at a crap school that doesn’t care about its teachers then excellent, use it. However, if your school cares little about your training, they’re unlikely to care about your materials, are they?

3. Your class is huge and your students are either required to be there or do not seem to have clear goals for studying English.

If your class is huge, a book is of no consequence. The resources you have are the resources you have. Are you really guiding a class of fifty, sixty or seventy in lockstep through the present perfect? Or do you have several groups of four or thirty-odd pairs having a meaningful conversation about a topic that is likely to interest them and then talking to others in the class?

4. Your students are traumatized from junior high and high school English and are terrified of speaking and making mistakes.

This is unrelated to the book. You can help shy students prepare with offline planning of tasks by writing down what they want to say, asking partners for help and then have them negotiate meaning in a conversation. Yes, Language Classroom Anxiety is a real phenomenon, but having a grammar syllabus on the table is going to help nobody shake the anxiety, no matter how friendly and zappy the illustrations may be.

5. Your students have had a lot of prior exposure to English (though it may not have stuck) so you know you may need to jump in and out of the book a lot, skip over some things, and supplement other areas with extra stuff which you will need to find in a resource pack because you have no time.

If you need to skip over some things, students will start to wonder why they have had to pay between US$20 to $50 for a book that they haven’t covered everything from. Do you skip novel chapters? No, you do not, and a coursebook is a different thing but students want value for money and if they have bought a book they will want to cover it completely, whether it benefits their language development or not. This appears to be setting up some teachers for a fall.

6. At some point in the nearish future, your students are going to have to pass a life-altering high-stakes exam that covers a very specific set of skills, question types, language items, etc.

Yes, they may. Are they being tested on grammar? Then a grammar book is useful. Vocabulary? A vocabulary book. Everything? Then you need to focus on developing their use of language, which a structural syllabus fails to address due to it not taking into account what is learnable by the learners according to their interlanguage state. If they have the chance to learn language through communication and negotiated meaning, allowing them to test internal hypotheses, they are going to internalise the language much more easily than attempting to learn rote the example grammar in the language focus.

Hugh Dellar does acknowledge that a basis of structural grammar is of limited use and that cultural imperialism through the back door is an issue but he does not make a solid argument for the presence of the book in the classroom. I’ve read some well-argued stuff from Hugh regarding the Lexical Approach (which seems like it is an approach desperate to be tacked on to a methodology but this is not the time for that) but his argument doesn’t say anything this time apart from that he is trying something new (yes, he is).

So, now on to my own views.

Books are foisted onto teachers and learners. Generally. Not always, but generally. They are then assumed to be the syllabus for the class.

They strongly favour a PPP approach, and the presentation of grammar in a sequence, often with the presence of review units, frequently a collection of multiple-choice questions.

The listening and reading ‘tasks’ are often multiple-choice insults to intelligence at worst or shooting fish in a barrel at best. If there is an open question it is OK, but this helps to give lie to the status of the teacher or coursebook author dictating the questions that ought to be asked about a text. There are also tons and tons of display questions, which are rarely used in life other than as passive-aggressive rhetoric.

The listening is too often too stupid in that it is ludicrously slow, and completely unlike authentic listening.

There’s little discourse awareness given to learners, with fillers being thrown in occasionally but normally nothing about adjacency pairs or conversation management, the absence of the latter helping to nullify Boyle’s arguments for the book as a crutch for inexperienced or untrained teachers.

Lexically, in many of the structural syllabus coursebooks, there are sets and they are frequently unchallenging due to them being so familiar in students’ lexical landscapes an/or loanwords, so what is the point unless you are looking to separate the front and back cover to justify the price.

Phonemic awareness is given short shrift and even then, learners are given no guidance about what they need to do with their mouths to achieve these sounds (again, what does the fabled inexperienced teacher do here other than talk rubbish about it or hope for the best with magic and accident?). There are no sagittal diagrams or even explanations that diphthongs glide from one position to another so the mouth needs to move when you make this sound.

I think I have covered most of my gripes but if I have missed anything, do let me know by the 7th. Good night.

Teaching or Testing Listening?

Dear Me probably in even 2010,

You get a CD in the back of your shiny book. The shiny book that has a picture of a loudspeaker to show you the track number. You ask the preset questions underneath and you play the CD and there are the lovely voices of the polite English-speaking people, all waiting to speak enthusiastically, one at a time with a handy grammar point in their throats. They are all lovely people who speak in a standard (prestige) variety with as much of their regional accent scrubbed away as possible.

Then you wonder why your students ‘cannot listen’.

Did you teach them how to listen, or did you only check their (lack of) comprehension again?

Nobody taught me how to teach listening. I doubt that the in-house trainers that trained me ever received anything other than a quick mention to ‘make sure you do some listening‘ when they were trained as teachers.

Students learn to listen by metaphorically being thrown in at the deep end. Unfortunately, like swimming, it only works the first time for a few people. Nobody learns to decode at phoneme or syllable level. Sometimes there might be word-level listening but it’s magic and accident. ‘Listen for the word “useless”. What is it used to describe?’

If we want to give students listening practice, all well and good, but don’t call it teaching. Call it listening to the CD, which could be done at home. Teach some connected speech and have students listen for examples of it. Teach some intonation patterns and have students listen for speaker attitude and intention or even how many items they are listing.

You could even ditch the stupid CD, find something online that has real conversations about something the students are interested in (such as a podcast about video games or a YouTube video about a country they want to go to) and play that instead, having them listen for words stressed in the tone units and make sense of it that way.

But don’t press play and tell the students that you’re teaching listening.

Sincerely,

You

Lots of the key ideas here are not mine. Probably most of them come from:
Field, J (2012) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.
Prince, Peter (2013) ‘Listening, remembering, writing: Exploring the dictogloss task’. Language Teaching Research: 17(4) 486–500. London: Sage. Retrieved 9 October 2014.

Other #youngerteacherself posts at Joanna Malefaki’s blog.

Various: Status Update

The action research I started is in full swing and the independent study that students were asked to undertake was done by around 80% students in both the sample classes, although some students changed their independent study methods from video to songs and nobody read at all.

I did the listening with my false beginner class today and they really enjoyed it although they found it difficult.

I participated in my second ever #KELTchat on Twitter and it was very informative, especially for my university classes.

Other than that, Twitter was on fire this morning due to my previous moaning arguing moaning about how rubbish bland coursebooks don’t meet student needs but teachers are forced into using them anyway.

I have bad news in that a language school I just started working for is being bought. The new owner seems nice but I do feel uneasy in my work. Conversely, I had an interview with another agency that teaches a lot of IELTS courses. I await that with bated breath, as I do my MA TESOL and Applied Linguistics application.