Friday, January 23, 2015

A Low Intermediate Role Playing Activity + Pronunciation Rubric

This activity uses role-playing cards (Big Town English card sets ) to get students to use certain grammatical structures (yes/no and wh- question forms + short answers) and a pronunciation rubric that focuses on clarity, accuracy, intonation, and fluency when speaking during a role play.

The activity worked well for a low-intermediate class, but could also be adapted for higher level English language learners. The rubric is attached as a Word document so that you can alter the descriptors to suit your needs.

Instructor needs to create separate role play cards using the card sets linked above, or he/she can have students create their own characters. Students choose a role play card and study their character. They practice playing roles during part of one class session. They ask and answer questions (i.e., the context was that they were at a party and getting to know people; they had to speak with at least six different people in the class and find out about their jobs, hobbies, favorites, and so on). The following week, students were given the attached rubrics and the target features were briefly reviewed. Students were asked to record themselves with one of the instructor's two digital recorders or to use their own iPhone as a recording device during the role playing conversation. If students used their iPhone, they sent the recording to the instructor's e-mail for assessment. Students recorded themselves in casual conversation in English for 2.5 to 3 minutes. Question prompts were written on the whiteboard to ensure that students asked and answered a range of yes/no and information questions. Each student was given his/her score with the rubrics and comments about individual weaknesses and strengths.

Reading or Literature Circles

Because of previous success at Reading Circles, I am going to institute them this semester in my ESOL Reading and Writing class (which also includes a fair amount of grammar instruction). I will report back here in the summer about the experience.

In the past, in a small IEP (Intensive English Language Program), I was very pleased with the results of this activity. It is nothing revolutionary although it does require carefully choosen reading material. Given class time limits. it is important to give a reading to students, with the understanding that they read it in advance. They are also assigned various roles to play in the circle (e.g., discussion leader, summarizer, wordmaster, passage finder, and connector). For the discussions to be productive and enlightening, students need to be prepared to play their roles.

The largest class I've done a literature circle with is one that had 15 high-intermediate students. They were divided into three reading circles of five students, with each student playing a different role. If you have numbers that cannot be divided into groups of five, you can have extra wordmasters, connectors, or passage finders, or you can form a smaller circle with the participants playing two roles each. If you have less than ten students, you can eliminate one or two of the roles (e.g., summarizer). For the first 10 - 15 minutes of a 1.5 hour session, discussion leaders pair up to draft some general questions to put to their respective groups. All the other role players can pair up for the first quarter hour, too.

Afterwards, the pairs or groups split up to play their roles in separate circles. The outcome has been very positive. Students function independently in circles, allowing the teacher to 'observe' and informally assess the students' ability to use the language of meetings (i.e., agree/disagree, clarify, ask for more information, and so on) and 'elevated' vocabulary.

Below are some links to sites I have used for this activity, including role-playing organizers and some language of meetings. I have also attached a few reading recommendations for high-intermediate to advanced-level ESOL students.

This is a new resource for me, but the worksheets are well designed with a self-assessment area at the bottom for students to rate their own participation. Because my class is not a literature class, I use magazine articles, short stories, and excerpts for reading material. There are many short story links that I will encourage my students to explore on their own this semester. This one looked very good. You can find other links at this site. Finally, it is important to know your class if you decide to do a circle activity regularly. See my notes below. You might also like to revisit my post on Reading Circles for Cambridge Advanced English test preparation.

NB: A literature or reading circle only works well/effectively with a class of motivated students. Students who just want to sit and listen to others speak and do not read in advance will be unable to contribute to the activity. Also, students who have strong aural skills but are weak at reading (but don't like to do homework) may be able to pick up on the general topic of a reading and divert a discussion away from specific analysis of the reading. These students are detractors for the well-prepared students and should be pulled from the table as soon as it becomes apparent to the instructor that they have not prepared. They should lose points for lack of participation in that activity.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Adorkable and Hangry?

As an English teacher - and one who teaches to non-native speakers of English, I am often struck by words that are seemingly "invented" by speakers every year.  I often wonder whether these words sometimes crop up as slips of the tongue. For example, years ago, I remember meeting and talking with a very distinguished French professor in social science (Professor Bruno Latour) while he was at UCSD.  I was very nervous and excited to meet him, so as I was describing my observations at a symposium on chimpanzees, instead of saying "chimpanzee symposium," I said "chimposium." As soon as I said the word, he laughed and thought it was quite clever. In fact, the new word was what came out of my mouth as a result of being nervous and speaking quickly. I've used the word subsequently, of course, and it's possible that the term might have spread in our community of anthropologists, primatologists, and sociologists of science to refer to subsequent gatherings of chimpanzee experts. In fact, I found the word was invented and used more recently here with a slightly different meaning..

There is a TED talk that discusses neologisms such as adorkable and hangry (the title of this article) and how they become "real" words. The topic was especially intriguing to me because of my own memorable innovation (it's possible that many others have made that same slip of the tongue, however).  Because of that phenomenon, I can easily imagine words like "adorkable" (an adorable dork?) and "hangry" (simultaneous feeling of being hungry and angry) slipping out of someone's mouth while trying to describe their feelings of being both hungry and angry. I can also imagine listeners' approval and recognition of an imaginative new word and of it spreading from that one listener and speaker to his or her community and beyond. Ann Curzan doesn't address the "invention" of words such as "adorkable" and "hangry," but because of my own experience, I believe that sometimes new words or usages of words come into being as productions of some natural wiring in the brain that produces these combination words. In fact, an article about slips of the tongue and Freudian slips delves into this phenomenon and how these expressions can easily get picked up by an internet-wired community of speakers. I never tire of learning about language.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Was that a choice or a yes/no question?

Sometimes students have great difficulty understanding the importance of intonation when speaking. When a question has an "or" in the middle of it between two nouns, is the speaker asking you to choose between the two nouns, or is the speaker simply asking a yes/no question?

By changing the intonation of these two questions, a native speaker can differentiate between these two types of question. Can you say the questions below using two different intonations so that the meanings are different? 

Do you want to go to a movie or watch TV? (Choice)
Do you want to go to a movie or watch TV? (Yes/No)

In the choice question, the answer should be either "a movie" or "TV." However, in the Yes/No question above, the response should be "yes" or "no." Listen to the following videos to get an idea of what a choice question sounds like and how it is different from a "yes/no" question in intonation. The most important concept to keep in mind is the rising and falling intonation.

In a choice question, the voice goes up on the first choice and falls on the second choice as illustrated below.
                                 Q:  Do you want to go to a movie ⤴ or watch TV ⤵ ?
                                 A:  I'd like to watch a movie.

However, in a yes/no question, the voice goes up at the end of the question.
                                 Q:  Do you want to go to a movie or watch TV ⤴ ? 
                                  A: Yes. Let's do something relaxing.

If you have problems understanding the difference between the two types of question, listen to the examples and practice. Then practice some more. You should also record yourself using a device like Try to approximate the pronunciation of the people in the videos. Have fun!