Saturday, 25 June 2011

The annual LATE conference

Dace Miska, the consultant of OUP in Latvia is giving her presentation in 2010

Summer is the time when teachers in many countries have their professional conferences. Latvia is no exception. August is the month when LATE (Latvian Association of Teachers of English) is organizing its annual conference. This year it will be the 19th event in LATE history. For its scale it cannot compete with the major conferences in Europe or other parts of the world but it is the central event in the professional development of English teachers here.

During the previous conferences such speakers as Adrian Underhill (Macmillan), Robert Dean (Pearson Longman), Martin Parrot (Cambridge), Peter Grundy (IATEFL) and many others have shared their knowledge and expertise in educational matters. The best and most experienced Latvian educators always complement the list of the renowned foreign speakers.

This is a unique possibility for the teachers to get updates on what is new in the teaching world, learn about the trends in education, hear about new approaches, methods and tools that can be applied in teaching, and of course meet each other and share their own experiences and get answers to bothering issues.

This year the conference is taking place on 25 - 26 August in Riga.

For more information visit LATE website. And - everyone is welcome!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Spice up your lessons with educational jigsaw puzzles

There are many good ways how to enliven your lessons with attractive elements, for instance, using jigsaw puzzles. These puzzles can be created and played online. Not only younger students but also older ones might enjoy a fun activity with serious learning content which is supplied by the teacher.

The Jigsaw Planet website lets you create a puzzle using an image of your choice and save it for playing it online privately or publicly. The puzzles are embeddable as you can see in the example below. You will need Java to make it work.

Teaching about social media

I used a picture with different logos of social sites to discuss the topic of social media at the lesson. When the students have done the puzzle, you can ask them which sites they recognize, which sites they are using and which ones are completely new to them. Then go on talking about the less known sites and social media phenomenon in general.

You can embed the whole puzzle on your website or your Moodle site but I am not doing it here not to slow down the traffic.
Click on the puzzle or the title to go to the website and play it online.

previewSocial Media

As the next step ask your students to do the second puzzle where I have used the definition of social media turned into an image which is used to create a puzzle. This puzzle is more difficult because the students have to read and try to put the words and sentences together.

previewDefinition of Social Media

When the students have done the second puzzle, you can read and discuss the definition of social media and proceed with your teaching or homework as you find necessary.

You can successfully apply the flipped classroom principle to this activity asking your students to do the puzzles at home and come to the lesson ready for discussions and reviews.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Flowers from my students who have just finished school

I just came back from the graduation ceremony which is a traditional event in schools here. The official part consists of the headmaster's, mayor's, teachers', parents', benefactors' speeches and handing out of the documents, awards and gifts to the school leaving students. They in return give flowers to the teachers.

This is one of the not-so-frequent touching and heart-warming moments. I captured the beauty of my flowers in pictures. The collage is made with Photovisi.

Off to the dance party now - the second part of the event!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

State exams - where have we teachers failed our students?

Students in Latvia are taking the school leaving exams in June and I have been marking the student speaking exam recorded on CDs (which is the procedure for the centralized state exams here). I have a stack of CDs with recorded answers of anonymous students from different parts of Latvia whose speaking skill I have to evaluate.

Task 1 is Interview - the student has to answer the questions on a certain topic read by the teacher.
Task 2 is Role Play - the student has to interact with the interviewer following the script on the exam paper.
Task 3 is Monologue - the student has to give a summary of an extract from an article and his own opinion about the theme.

It might be a coincidence that the students whose exams I have been marking come from the "weak" schools where the majority of learners have poor knowledge and learning skills in general. However, considering the hundreds of answers I have heard, the conclusion is depressing.

Student answers to the questions conspicuously bring out our failure to give them understanding and knowledge of the issues that are part of our daily life and the society we live in. The questions where many students lack the scarcest knowledge all center round technologies, social networks, online activities.

We teach what we know ourselves. We cannot teach what we do not know.

Can teachers discuss social networking with their students if they have not made the acquaintance of the virtual world and learned about the trends in online environment? Our students are there, they just do not know everything has a name and everything has a purpose.
Technologies can be explained, taught and used. If you tell your students that what they do online every day for hours is social networking, they will no doubt understand it and probably remember because they learn easily what they like.

There is a great website Social Networking dealing with the topics a teacher should know about social networks, addiction to online sites, cyber-bullying etc. It gives a down-to-earth explanation about what is social networking. Teachers can turn the text into a reading or discussion task and they won't need more than a couple of lessons before their students have learned the basics of the subject.
More sites have been given in the handout.

I have made a table with a few exam questions and typical student answers which fall short of understanding of the topic. There are some suggestions for the teachers about how to give their students some knowledge about social networking and online activities. 

Download the document here.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Help your students with pronunciation

Very often students who are learning English as a foreign language need help with pronunciation. Those who have a perfect memory and natural language acquisition gift, may remember the sounding of a word from the teacher or a recording.
However, those who have to hear the pronunciation many times before they remember it, need additional help.

The best assistant in helping students with pronunciation of the words is the website howjsay which is an indispensable resource for checking the sounding of English. There are currently 145,328 entries in the dictionary. It also offers apps for iPhone and iPod Touch.

Another useful site is Forvo which contains 969,698 words and 1,017,619 pronunciations in 268 languages. At present it has 77,234 recorded English words. Many words are recorded by more than one speaker.

A fantastic help for checking the pronunciation of names is the website HearNames which has a long list of  names of different nationalities and regions. I tested it with the Irish name Siobhan which I find incredibly tricky, and of course the site had it! I had to hear it six times to make sure I wouldn't forget it.

Teachers can make use of the marvellous phonemic chart published on the Teaching English website. The students can hear sounds by clicking on the symbols. Perfect at the beginners stage!

If you need to transcribe a short passage, here is the site which will do it for you PhoTransEdit. You only have to type or paste the text in the box and click Transcribe. You can even choose between the British or American variant of the pronunciation.
I am quoting the website: "Text2Phonetics is a PhoTransEdit Online application that transcribes small English texts into broad phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)."

Finally, I'd like to mention two great sites which offer IPA phonetic symbols for writing the pronunciation online - Type IPA phonetic symbols and Script Typewriter 1.3. Use them when you need to show the pronunciation of a word on the screen or teach IPA symbols.