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Old 06-11-2008, 05:47 PM
Woody Woody is offline
 
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Default Conversation Help

Hello.

I teach conversation classes in Mexico, and I am the only native English speaker in town. There are a handful of people who speak English where I'm at, but none speak with a natural tongue.

I teach three classes: basic, intermediate, and advanced. Each class lasts three hours - with a 15 minute break. I didn't create the class structure, as I personally think three hours is quite a big chunk of time. My students are anywhere from 13 to 50. The groups are 6 - 11 people, each.

Currently, I try to listen to news stories and discuss them, according to the students' levels - this includes working on pronunciation. With the basic level, I play more games than with the other levels, though.

I'm looking to improve how I conduct class, though. I often struggle for material to fill a three hour chunk of time. And, if anything, I want to improve because I want to help my students to the best of my ability. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Also, part of the culture where I am at is the mentality of, "Eh, I'll get there when I get there." It's frustrating that my students arrive to class 15, 20, 30 minutes late. Some are legitimate excuses (like work), but most just kind of coast along to their appointments. Any suggestions on how to take care of this?

Gracias.
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  #2  
Old 06-13-2008, 02:30 PM
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Default 3 hours of conversation class

Hey Woody,

Your situation has the great advantage that you have the freedom to choose what you want to do. The key to a three hour class, which can be very long indeed if you have a low level class, is to break it up with many shorter activities so nothing drags too much. Also, the teacher needs to schedule so that he or she is not the center of attention the entire time.

Before we can brainstorm some ideas, what is your materials situation like? Do you have books, a supply of magazines with pictures (Eng or Sp), audio cds or cassettes, computers, art supplies, poster boards, access to photocopier.....?

Also, what is the education level of your students and why do most want to learn to speak English?
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Old 06-16-2008, 02:24 AM
Woody Woody is offline
 
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Well, I have access to audio cd's and dvd's, too. But I showed one to my class the other day, and it turns out that several of them had already seen it. So I'm not a big fan of that because I don't want to repeat something they've already done.

There is only one computer at the school I'm at. And yes, all the other stuff I have access to, too.

Here is an example of what I'm doing for my basic class tomorrow: 1. We always give the class a rundown of what we did in the past week. Usually this amounts to only a few sentences, such as "I went to a party, and I hung out with my boyfriend." So this week (I tried it with the class last week and it worked well - at first the students were hesitant, though) I am requiring that the students to the left and right of the person talking have to ask a question about what happened during the week. And people can't repeat the questions. It really gets people talking, and if you accidentally skip a person, they'll remind you, "Hey! I was supposed to ask a question. What's the deal?" Okay, I added the "What's the deal?" part, but you get the point.
2. Last week we started listening to the news story about the lady who tried to sell her baby on eBay. We're calling it eBaby. So we're going to listen to it one more time, and then we're going to complete the worksheet with the fill in the blanks and review it. After that, I'm going to divide the class into three groups and give them the news story, but it will be out of order and they will have to put it back together, kind of like a puzzle. But, they can't use their other paper, because that would make it too easy. The group who gets the closest, wins.
3. Next, I'm going to do a "story scavenger hunt." I read the questions about the story aloud - because it's a conversation class. Then, the students have to find the answers in the story. The group to answer first and correctly gets a point. I did this with the intermediate class last week, and they went for blood!!! I have resisted competitive games up to this point, because I thought they would be trite, but man, the students love them!
4. Next, the students have to fulfill their obligation to practicing a tongue twister I gave the last week. Then we're going to have team races to see who can recite variations of it the quickest. For example, I give the two teams the two words - i.e. think these - and they have to pass it along, like telephone. At the end, we see who gets it correct. I also have to recite a tongue twister in Spanish, because they thought it only fair for me to have to do one if they have to. "Tres tristes tigres..."
5. Then, we are going to tell a story. I'm going to tell them about Griots, and the importance of passing history through word of mouth in the past. Then, I'm going to write, "Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How" on the board. I will ask the students to give me each of the aforementioned. Then we will go around the class and make up a story about whatever has been given. Fingers crossed it will be fun.
6. Lastly, if there is time, we will play a great game, Werewolf. It's kind of a reward game that gets the to talk and suspect about who are the two werewolves in class. It's not a conversation game per say - even though we play it in English. Rather, it's more of a reward and way to leave with smiles.

That's what I'll be doing. Some of it I've gotten from other sources. But others, I've completely made up myself.

Surprisingly, my basic class is probably my favorite, because they try and have fun. My intermediate is the class that's most difficult - they show up at half past whenever they feel like it (if at all!), and it's just really frustrating to prepare something for three hours where you require a larger group. I mean, if I have just three people... It's really difficult to talk for three hours, ya know?
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Old 06-16-2008, 02:03 PM
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Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
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Default Welcome to the club

Dear Woody,

I am going to try to give you some suggestions to improve your class in a future post. For now, I just want to assure you that I think that every noncredit ESL/EFL teacher has students who “arrive to class 15, 20, 30 minutes late” — if not later, and many (most?) do not have “legitimate excuses (like work).” I certainly do, and I’d be very surprised if anybody wrote in to say, “No, not me. All, or virtually all, of my students are on time.” It sucks, but I think it’s the nature of the beast.

Again, I’ll try to write something more constructive soon.

Take care,
Sam Simian
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  #5  
Old 06-16-2008, 03:12 PM
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Default 3 hour conversation classes

What I have done when I had lengthy classes was to have some kind of repetitive schedule so that every class we had a pattern. This helped to bring structure and I didn’t feel so scattered trying to fill the time. We might follow the same pattern for the first 8 weeks, and then switch to a new pattern for the next 8 weeks. Just for a rough example, if I had a 3 hour class that met twice a week, I might have the first hour every Monday and Wednesday be movie hour. On Monday, the second hour would be conversation game time. On Wednesday, the second hour would be academic lecture listening, note-taking and oral reformulation time. On Monday and Wednesday, the third hour would be group presentation preparation/ presentation time. Having blocks helps me plan the classes better and see continuity from one week to the next.

I have some DVD ideas for you. Don’t worry if they have seen a movie before because they are going to watch it in a new way. It takes some prep on your part, but you will get a lot of mileage out of a single DVD, and anyway, from what you write, sounds you are used to an awful lot of prep! One hour of class might equal a total of 15 minutes of DVD viewing time broken into small segments. To prep, I spend 3-4 hours starting and stopping a DVD and writing exercises/activities. But then I have 8-10 hours of lessons that can be re-used with future classes.

I’ve used “Erin Brokovitch” (Julia Roberts) and “Family Man” (Nicholas Cage) most recently with Intermediate/Hi intermediate students, and here are some of things we did:

Watch a 2-5 minute clip, then

- students turn to each other to retell what happened using provided vocabulary.

- in pairs, students first fill in the blanks of a dialogue they just heard, and then practice reading it together. Make a mini-lesson with some grammar, vocab or idioms.

- (this is best after students have watched 15- 20 minutes of the film) Either brainstorm adjectives that describe the personality, life and appearance of the main characters, or from a large bank of adjectives, students sort them into categories according to character. Students report their answers in full sentences with explanations- John is worried because….. Mary is ambitious. She……

- taking a short and useful dialogue for 2 or 3 people from the movie, students read and practice it numerous times. The focus is on natural speech and non-reading. Students perform for class with appropriate body language. (Dialogue needs to be short and very important, it should be something the students could conceivably use: in a store, at work, asking questions, functions like inviting, apologizing, complaining, etc.)

- class discussions on elements of the movie (What would you do in this situation? What is the difference between the job interview we just saw, and job interviews in your country? How is this married couple the same and how are they different to married couples in your country?, etc.) Sometimes this works best if students get a set of questions to discuss in a group of 3, then come together as a whole class to share the highlights.

- stop at a pivotal point and ask students what they think will happen next.

- turn off the sound and have students make up the dialogue. OR turn off the sound during some non-speaking action, and ask students to take turns narrating what is happening at the moment- as if describing the movie to a blind viewer.

- in a movie with good conflict, or with nicely flawed characters, hold an informal mock trial. Ask students to debate who is right / wrong in a situation.


- when the movie is over, link it to a creative project. With Erin Brokovitch, for example, students worked in pairs to create presentations about environmental issues that concern them. Or in pairs, create a dialogue between 2 friends where one friend is asking about movies and the other is recommending the movie just seen- and why.


I initially bought the Erin Brokovitch exercises from this company, but they were too hard for my students. http://www.english-behind-the-scenes...ite2/index.php So I took the ideas of the exercises and created my own, adding more once I got the hang of it. There are so many things you can do depending on the topic of your movie.

I don't know if you have grades in your class, but if you don't, you might want to consider using them- even if they are only within the walls of your room. Grades or attendance team points have a miraculous way of improving promptness and attendance!

I hope this helps a little with ideas for class. More later!
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  #6  
Old 06-21-2008, 01:33 AM
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Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
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Default That’s a good thing

Dear Woody,

First off, I think that Maria has done a wonderful job of summarizing some of the things that can be done with videos. I often use videos, but I sometimes get in kind of a rut (that is, I often use them for the same thing), so I rather like the fact that she listed a whole range of activities. I, also, liked what you described — a nice variety of activities that sound as though they’d be both fun and efficacious.

This site has some things that you might find helpful.
This thread is a list of some online resources:
http://azargrammar.com/teacherTalk/f...hread.php?t=27
I, also, think that you can use many of the “Expansion Activities” from the “Classroom Materials” forum as conversation activities. And unless you have some program director who is breathing down your neck, or conversation class students who are ready to defect, I think that it would be fine if using these activities sometimes required some grammatical explanation. Likewise, many of the activities in Suzanne Woodward’s Fun with Grammar would work well.
http://azargrammar.com/materials/index.html

Using Google, if you search for
esl “lesson plan”
there’s a whole treasure-trove of free stuff that you can “steal.” This might be obvious, but the thing that isn’t necessarily obvious is the fact that there’s something artificial about dividing English into supposedly discrete skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar. Within reason, you can adapt many activities that were designed for other skills to activities for conversation because the divisions themselves are artificial.

Finally, I’m going to, essentially, just copy and paste the references to Scott Thornbury that I included in my post for Frances because — whether you agree or disagree with him — I think that his thoughts might change the way that ESL/EFL teachers think, and, as Martha Stewart might say, that’s a good thing.
http://www.pearsonlongman.com/young_.../accuracy.html
http://www.macmillanenglish.com/meth...-Thornbury.htm
http://www.onestopenglish.com/section.asp?catid=59600
http://www.eltworld.net/howto/2008/0...tion-to-dogme/

Sincerely,
Sam Simian

Last edited by Sam Simian; 06-21-2008 at 05:14 AM.
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  #7  
Old 06-23-2008, 04:27 PM
Woody Woody is offline
 
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Thank you for the help. I will try and implement some of these ideas in my future classes.
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Old 06-24-2008, 05:05 PM
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Maria Maria is offline
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Default conversation

Hope you'll let us know what you do with your class. Conversation classes can be a real challenge for many of us!
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Old 06-25-2008, 06:24 PM
Woody Woody is offline
 
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Well, one thing I've been using, is a combo of your suggestion, Maria, and Sam's. We've been listening to news stories from Breaking News English. They're not too long and are fairly easy to understand.

Usually, I will follow a little bit of the lesson plan already provided, but I find that the same 'ol same 'ol gets a little boring, so I stray a little bit. But I find the headline prediction great. Basically, we listen to the story, and then I give them a transcript to read along the next time around.

It introduces them to new vocab, and it's a great way to get them to talk about interesting topics. For example, last week we talked about the lady who tried to sell her kid on eBay. And this week, I noticed another story about eBay, the man selling his entire life on eBay. So it's kind of neat that it's connected, and a recurring theme.

Always, always, always, at the beginning of each class, I have everyone tell what they did the previous week. This is because each level only meets once a week. With my advanced class, I have no problem creating a discuss. There is one lady who loves to talk and is able to keep others talking without my intervention (this is mostly good... sometimes she does talk a little too much, though... haha). With my other classes, I require that the person to the left and right of the person talking ask questions about what the person did.

As a reward, I try to plan something a little fun at the end of the class. Something a lot less taxing.

Three things that are a little frustrating:
1. Talking, talking, talking... but not in English. This is very counterproductive, as I often have to repeat things and other students who want to learn, suffer. I only have this problem with my beginning students.

2. Once again, tardiness. I thought about experimenting with something... I thought about locking the door and telling the students who are late that they have to wait until we're finished with the current activity... simply because they wouldn't know what's going on and they wouldn't enjoy themselves anyway. So they need to just wait a few minutes. I thought maybe it might work, because it'd be like reversing the waiting... Usually I have to wait, but now they have to way. Maybe it's a silly idea.

3. Complainers. I spend much time with complainers... trying to get them to talk, when all they want to do is whine. They always say in a whiny voice, "I don't waaaant to." or "I caaaaan't." I don't understand why the show up if they don't want to participate. I don't know how to correct this, other than skip over them in activities in order to create that tension that will hopefully make them want to participate because they see everyone else having fun... and hopefully they'll notice that I have stopped putting so much effort into them. I have done this a little in the past and it has drawn some students back in. But I don't know if overall it would be a good thing.

So feel free to give me feedback on my "methods." I don't believe in yelling and demanding they change their ways... that stuff doesn't work. I believe in creating a different type of tension that causes students to change their behavior that makes them feel as though they are the ones who initiated the change. I hope that makes sense.
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Old 06-25-2008, 09:31 PM
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Maria Maria is offline
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Default Tardiness and Complaining

Hey Woody,

It certainly must be a challenge with the age range of 13-50 in one class! I couldn't even imagine a class conversation topic. So despite some difficulties, congratulations to you for managing as well as you do.

I wanted to write a few things based on your last post before I forgot them:

Regarding tardiness- First of all, you're talking about Hispanic/Latino culture in their native space- there's no way that being on time is a priority. Second, since you mentioned you are the only native speaker in town, I gather it's a small town and lacks the urban mentality of rushing and getting things done. Residents haven't been strongly influenced by corporate work and time-is-money culture- am I right? I know with my Hisp/Lat students in the US, we often have to talk about the differences between US and northern European monochronic vs. Latin American polychronic concepts of time and how that can affect teacher-student relationships. My advice? Give up. Unless you can come up with something so engaging that they will trip over themselves to get there "on time", just let it go. Don't lock them out. That would probably be seen as rudeness and would cause them to lose face. However, don't review what they miss, don't try to fill people in. If they can't participate, they need to sit quietly until they can. If you have handed out papers, put them on the back table so they are responsible for picking up their own papers when they come in.

Regarding complainers: In a class of somewhat annoying teens I had once time, I used to ask "Who wants to participate in this?" for nearly every activity. Those who didn't raise their hands were given a reading assignment and asked to sit in one part of the class so they didn't disturb the others. Now I'm thinking to make it less punitive and to deal better with adult feelings, how would it be if you made index cards that said "YEs" on one side and "NO" on the other. Each student would have one. For every activity, ask students to turn the card over on their desk showing if they want to participate or not. That will alleviate the "Do I call on them or let them stew?" issue- I know exactly what you mean by that!

I still think your students need some outside motivation. Clearly a group of them are not motivated by the urgent need to learn English. Rewards? Grades? Personal 1:1 assessment? Points leading to something? Peer pressure of combined points by putting them in teams?
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