Shakespeare Lives!

Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard for the last year, you’ll have noticed that Shakespeare has been having a bit of a moment …

The Bard’s 400 year anniversary celebrations have been great news for fans of theatre and literature. They’ve also been good news for English teachers: it’s never been easier to source good quality (and often free) resources for teaching Shakespeare.

In my next blog post, I’ll be looking at some of the best Shakespeare related resources. In the meantime, here’s a video of my recent plenary session at the recent 2016 ETAS Professional Development Day, in which I attempt to answer the question: “What’s Shakespeare got to do with 21st century language teaching?”.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Getting to the bottom of ELT blogging

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How to keep regular?

 

I know. Another post where I write about writing. Well, blog about blogging to be precise. I had planned to move on from the introspection of recent posts, but my number one reader and encourager @CliveSir requested I write a post about blogging. How could I refuse?

One small thing, before we get started. Could language get an evolutionary wiggle on and find a new word to describe the act of “blogging”? I’ve always had a problem with it. Something about its onomatopoeic quality makes me think of toilet matters, which is why I can hardly restrain a shudder when someone says “I feel a blog coming on”, “just blogged” or worst of all “freshly blogged”.

Anyway. Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Why blog?

I’ve been pondering this for the last few days. Of course, loads of commonly given reasons spring to mind: you’d like to share your ideas with other teachers, you want to log successful lessons for your own future use, you hope to develop as a professional, you wish to reach out to others in the ELT community. All of these reasons can be boiled down to one main driving force for bloggers: you want your work to be read. And you want your work to be read by as many people as possible.

There’s no use pretending that this isn’t the case. I saw you having a sneaky wee peak at your stats when you thought no one was looking!

Of course, I don’t really know why you blog (do feel free to tell me in the comments though). I blog for a number of reasons. There is a discipline and freedom inherent in blogging: the discipline comes from having to sit down and write a weekly post, and I am, of course, free to write whatever I like.

I’ve found some nice work openings through blogging too: another good reason to keep the posts coming.

So the next question logically follows on from this, and it is:

How do I get people reading?

There’s a marvellous post from Ben Naismith on this subject, which is definitely worth a read if you haven’t already come across it (useful advice in the comments too).

In this post, Ben sets out a list of points for aspiring bloggers to follow, e.g.: having an attention grabbing title, creating interest with multi-media, and appealing to authority. (Ben’s advice comes from insights he has gleaned from ELT bosses  Rachael Roberts, Hugh DellarScott Thornbury and Jeremy Harmer.)

So far, so good. Yet, of all the points Ben makes, the one I most emphatically agree with is that there can (and should be) exceptions to these rules. Slavish adherence to a formula will only result in a kind of “blogging by numbers” and an outpouring of formulaic posts.

While I think Ben provides a range of generic conventions to be aware of, exceptions to these rules (if posts are well written, interesting and informative) will always be both charming and welcome.

People will visit your blog if you have a sexy title. They will visit your blog if an eye catching photograph grabs their attention. But will they read it? This is when you have to be wary of the aforementioned stats. They record visits, but they do not tell you whether or not people have actually read your words.

Top tips

  • Keep posts short. (I struggle with this, I really do). But reading long posts online can be sore on the old eyes. Edit ruthlessly.
  • No one will read you if they don’t know you. Get out there. Comment on the posts of others. Do some of the dreaded self-promotion.

 

What to blog about?

My first blog was aimed very much at teachers and was, first and foremost, a teaching diary although it did include some lesson ideas too. I moved blog a couple of years ago, mainly because I thought WordPress blogs looked smarter. I felt that making a fresh start would be quicker than clearing up my old hopelessly cluttered and directionless scrap book style blog.

So, I started again. My first post looked at ways of teaching the Independence referendum (admittedly this was probably not going to be all that much interest to teachers outside Scotland). Unsurprisingly perhaps, the first few posts had all the clout of a fart in an abattoir.

Since moving on to focus on matters pertaining to resource design and writing, I’ve seen a lot more blog traffic. It also seems as if readers haven’t been scared off by slightly more personal posts either: my last account of how I got into ELT writing has been my most popular yet.

Top tips

  • Keep a blogging note book with you at all times. That way, you’ll be ready to jot down ideas when inspiration strikes.
  • Experiment. Review a course book or an app. Interview a teacher or writer you admire. Respond to something another blogger has written.
  • Got a strong opinion about something? Don’t keep it to yourself. I think it was Geoff Jordan who wrote a post about how the world of ELT blogging was altogether too safe and polite. While I think Geoff went too far in the other direction, I think there is definitely room for a little more controversy in the ELT blogosphere.

 

How do I keep myself regular?

In the first flush of blogging euphoria you might feel tempted to trot out a blog post every couple of days. Don’t. Write the posts by all means, but squirrel them away for future use. There will be lean times ahead, and having a “here’s one I prepared earlier” post to publish when you are in the middle of a house move, meeting a deadline or having a nervous breakdown can be a sweet and wonderful thing. Of course, this rule doesn’t apply if the post written is a topical hot potato. In that case, it’s much better out than in.

Top tips

  • Set time aside for blogging: an hour or so every week. Don’t rush it.
  • Keep active. Actively engaging with the ELT world will ensure you always have something to say. Going to a webinar, attending a conference, reading blogs and books by other ELT writers should keep things moving.

Rather self-consciously now, (in light of my previous comment about blogging by numbers) I’m going to end this post with a question. Do any of you lovely bloggers out there have any other good insights or personal stories about blogging?

I really would love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Getting into ELT writing: how I did it.

At conferences and on work trips away, teachers often ask me how I “broke into” materials writing. I usually only have time to give them the skimpier version of my story: I met an ELT agent, he found me work, the end. Although meeting my agent was my one huge lucky break, it’s fair to say the story doesn’t begin and end there.

You can find “how to get into ELT writing” advice aplenty on the Internet (skip to the end of this rather long winded post if you want to check out some good links) but I suppose every ELT material writer has a different take on how they came to be doing what they’re doing. I’m telling you my tale firstly because you might find it useful and secondly because writing about writing is, at the moment, a more attractive prospect than actually doing the writing work I have sitting beside me.

So here goes.

Past simpleton

It was 2012. I had fewer forehead wrinkles, and had almost completed the DELTA. I was wondering what use I could make of all the fresh knowledge and new ideas which were swirling around in my head. The last section of the course materials  mentioned ELT writing  as a possible career path for newly minted DELTEES to pursue. I liked the sound of it and decided to give it a go.

I visited publishers’ websites and fired off enthusiastic emails to all of them, asking if they needed a materials reviewer (I’d heard this was a good way to get your foot in the materials writing door). I have yet to receive a reply from any of them.

Next, I decided to enter the onestopenglish lesson share competition with  a lesson I’d just taught. To my delight, it won. I waited a decent interval of time (a month, I think) and submitted another one (it won again).

After this, I joined IATEFL. I couldn’t afford to go to the conference in Glasgow that year, but watched all the recordings on the website. As I wistfully gazed at the list of far-flung, exotic sounding employers who would be visiting the IATEFL recruitment fair, my eyes fell on two advertisements. One was from a new ELT agent, looking to hear from aspiring writers. The other was from a well-known publisher, also wanting to source new writing talent.

I got in touch with the new ELT agent (Nick Robinson, who is now well known for being the co-founder and CEO of eltjam and flovoco). We met via Skype shortly afterwards and had a chat. Nick then sent me a brief and asked me to write a sample, which I did. After a tense week or so of waiting, Nick contacted me to say he liked my work, and would be happy to represent me. I was thrilled, although Nick had made it clear that his representation alone would not guarantee work – publishers would require me to submit writing samples for each job.

Meanwhile, the well-known publishers I mentioned earlier had got in touch saying they liked the lesson idea I’d sent them. I was given a detailed brief and asked to write another sample. After submitting that, they invited me to attend a writers’ workshop. Post workshop, I’d be asked to submit a unit for a student’s book. If my unit made the grade, I’d be one of the authors on a brand new new course, travelling the world to promote it. It all sounded unbelievably glamorous and exciting!

Sadly, although I learned an incredible amount from the workshop, my unit didn’t make it. This was down to naivety and professional immaturity on my part. Did I really think that an interminable listening task from a gritty drama set in a Scottish women’s prison would delight and enthral international language learners? The feedback, however, which described my work as “quirky and a bit depressing” would prove invaluable and provide me with two lasting musts- to -avoid. Today I still meticulously check my work for signs of quirkiness or depression inducing qualities.

I was devastated that I’d thrown such a good chance away. However, I’d almost forgotten my agent, who came back to me in my darkest hour with an offer of work: writing Teacher’s notes,  tests and photocopiables for Pearson. Then came the nerve wracking bit – I had to write yet another sample. To say I took my time over this would be a complete understatement. I polished it till it shone. My hard work didn’t go unnoticed: the feedback I received commented on “the high quality” of my submission. I was offered the job. Phew.

My first proper writing job and pay cheque were in the bag and other jobs followed on their heels: some big, some small. For each job, I had to write a sample. I received many rejections (and still do, believe me!). Nick found me lots of openings, but even so, I still actively looked for work myself. I landed a couple of jobs by subscribing to the esol research forum and following up advertisements (British Council resource writing vacancies were advertised there, for example).

One more thing about the early days. I worked very hard: blogging, writing articles for newsletters and magazines and sharing lesson ideas online. When I travelled to give talks at conferences, I paid my own way. All this unpaid work led my husband to joke that I was “really putting the free into freelance”. It was a very busy and far from financially lucrative time, but I saw it as a kind of apprenticeship, and it turned out to be well worth it.

Present continuous

I’m still writing and constantly learning as I go. I don’t work for free any more and when I fly to conferences it is with all expenses paid. I feel confidence in negotiating a decent fee, terms and conditions now.

ELT writing is changing and developing all the time, and I’m aware I need to keep on top of this if I am to continue to thrive. I’ve had to adapt to writing for digital: quite a feat for someone who studiously avoids self service checkouts at the supermarket (I never get through my transaction without an alarm being sounded and a whole team of staff being deployed to sort things out).

Becoming an established ELT writer has also given me the confidence to write for other genres. Five years ago, I dreamt of “being a writer”, but never did anything all that serious about it. Now I regularly write for the local press, and I’m working on a screen play too.

Future perfect?

Who knows? As a freelance writer, you’re never quite sure what lies ahead. I have some projects in the pipeline for this year, but next year (and all the years after that) is anyone’s guess.

Top Tips and links

  • Join MaWSIG (The IATEFL special interest group for anyone with an interest in materials writing).
  • Register on the elt teacher 2 writer data base, and have a look at their courses (very good value for money and written by experts)
  • Have you just taught a blinder of a lesson? Write it down and share it as widely as you can.
  • Follow publishers on social media and keep your eyes well and truly peeled for opportunities. They are out there, believe me.
  • Offer to write articles for IATEFL’s Voices, IATEFL Sig newsletters or publications such as English Teaching Professional. This will help you establish a presence in the ELT world.
  • Learn from rejection – but don’t get hung up on it. Focus on what you’ve achieved so far and keep trying. It can be a long process.
  • Got any more good tips or links? Please share in the comments!
Posted in resource writing | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Self-promotion for wallflowers

Looking back on the last couple of posts I’ve written, I see a theme developing. I’ve been considering different aspects of my work: namely presenting and writing. These moments of reflection have been useful for me: so much so that I’ve decided to conclude this mini-series with one aspect of my work which I really struggle with. Let’s hope that I will derive some therapeutic benefit from the exercise!

The wallflower of this post’s title is, of course, myself.

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I’d rather be tucked inside my shell.

 

In the 24/7 party which is social media, I’m not even in the kitchen. I’m in the toilet, powdering my nose for the zillionth time, and wondering when I can decently say my farewells.

“Why bother with social media at all then?” you may ask. Well, why do wallflowers go to real life parties? Why do we even bother stepping over our front doorsteps in the morning?

I suppose we go because we know, deep down, that it’s for our own good. We may be wallflowers, but we still need social contact. We don’t want to miss out on news and interactions and opportunities. Sometimes we rely on our more sociable friends to drag us along in their wake, telling us that we’ll be missing out if we don’t make a “bit of an effort”.

So we grit our teeth and we jump in to the melee.

I stuck my first toe into social media back in 2012, when I started keeping a teaching blog. I wasn’t expecting anyone to read it except my Mum, but I liked the practice of jotting down lesson reflections in a space which seemed more permanent than a scrap of paper. As time went on, I did wish that a few more readers would pop by, but I had no idea how I could make this happen.

Shortly afterwards, I took my first steps into ELT material writing with the help of my agent, who gave me the gentle shove I needed to start using Twitter and LinkedIn. I dutifully signed up: I was serious about ELT writing, and I realised that if I wanted anyone to know about my work, I’d need to declare my existence. Living in Shetland, I realised I was more cut off than most from meet-ups and face to face contact: I’d have to raise my voice above a whisper if I was to have any hope of being heard.

“I’m rubbish at this Twitter thing”, I complained one day. “What’s the point in writing anything? I don’t even have any followers!” (It hadn’t yet dawned on me that I would actually need to follow some people first.)

Well, fast forward three years, and I’m still hanging on in there. Despite my best efforts, I don’t feel completely at home. I’m a quiet and sporadic tweeter, sometimes going for days without so much as checking my feed.

However, I’ve enjoyed some lovely interactions with other teachers, met some wonderful people (some of whom I’ve gone on to meet face to face at conferences) and even managed to attract offers of work through my blog. So, fellow wallflowers who would be writers, however hard it may seem, do persist with your twittering, your linkeding or even your facebooking.

What have I learned over the years? Like many people, my strong wallflower tendencies are balanced by the steely voice of my inner pragmatist, who knows that it’s simply not practical to spend life hiding in the toilet.

Let me present you with some of my typical wallflower whinges and some pragmatic responses.

Wallflower me: “I don’t have anything interesting to say”.

In my early days of navigating Twitter, I often came across advice advising me to “be original and interesting”.

But what if I’m having the psychic equivalent of a bad hair day and feel that I could more easily eat my own face than think of an interesting or original thing to say?

The pragmatist within says: If you don’t feel like saying anything, that’s fine. It’s okay to be the strong silent type sometimes. If you want to show your followers you’re still alive, then share that interesting article you read over breakfast this morning. Or find something interesting someone else has said and retweet it. It’s probably best if you can add your own evaluative comment on it, but if even that seems too much, then settle for a simple retweet.

Wallflower me: “Thomas Hardy didn’t have to tweet about it every time he wrote a poem.”

The pragmatist within says: You’re not Thomas Hardy. Get over yourself.

Wallflower me: “I hate blowing my own trumpet. It seems so dickish.”

The pragmatist within says: You’re darn right. Blowing your own trumpet is dickish, and should be avoided at all costs. It’s the trumpet solos on social media which can make it such a depressing place at times. Here’s the rub though: you need to promote your work – that’s why you’re here in the first place!

This is what you need to do. Look out for people who are social media naturals: those who are right in the middle of the party, surfing the crowd. People who have lots of followers, get loads of retweets and have plenty of interactions. Try to suss out what they’re doing right. Are they blowing their own trumpets? I bet they’re not. Chances are they’re answering other people’s requests for help, sharing useful resources, links and articles, making the odd witticism, bigging up other people (not themselves) and being all round good guys. Try to emulate some of this (while making sure you keep your own voice and style: nobody likes a copy cat) and you’ll be moving in the right direction.

If you’re a wallflower by nature, you might never scale these giddy heights of social media popularity. But listening to the pragmatist within might just get you out of the toilet and into the party.

 

 

Posted in resource writing, Social media | 5 Comments

A day in the life

A while ago, I read A day in the life of a freelance teacher trainer, which got me thinking about what a typical day in my own working life looked like.

I’ve been a freelance ELT writer since 2013. As my writing workload has increased I’ve gradually reduced my teaching hours, and I now write considerably more than I teach. The bulk of it is ELT writing, but I supplement my income with reporting for the local press, facilitating local arts workshops and delivering talks and workshops at home and abroad.

Reflecting on “a day in the life”, I smiled fondly at my expectations of what the freelance writing life would be like before I embarked on it. Considering the gap between dreams and reality, I thought it might be useful for aspiring writers to see the reality of my working day. *

Morning

My eight year old son looks at me askance, as I pull my duffle coat on. “Why are you still wearing your pyjamas?” he asks. “Because I can.” I tell him. “And if you stick in and work hard at school, one day you might be able to stay at home in your pyjamas all day”. He brightens considerably at this prospect and we walk into the morning blizzard.

My son doesn’t really need to be accompanied to school (it’s a short walk through some playing fields) but he is still young enough to enjoy the company of his old Mum, and I like to start the day with a walk. The day he expresses a preference to walk alone, I will walk in a different direction: possibly around the coastal path near my house.

I may work from home, but in my opinion it’s still important to walk to work: to create the distance between the place I eat and sleep and the place I work.

This minute I get home from the “school run”, I get down to work. For me, this is the best and most productive part of the day. A million household tasks jostle for my attention, but I have become adept at blotting them out (some might say it’s my greatest talent). I do, however, put a load of washing on. The hum of the washing machine provides my background noise – I can’t work with music on, unfortunately.

This morning I’m writing tests to accompany a course I wrote for my Chinese publisher. The work is straightforward yet enjoyable, and I like the challenge of creating engaging reading and listening texts which contain the structures and language the students have learned.

I keep my most challenging work for the morning session, as I know that this is when I work most accurately and productively. This golden time increases during the light Shetland spring and summer when I can spring out of bed at 6am and storm through an hour or so of work before my family get up. These extra summer hours make up for my relative inertia during the long, dark Shetland winter (from which we are just beginning to surface as I write this).

I work for around three hours, only stopping now and then to refill an enormous mug with tea. I stop typing when I realise my fingers are numb and I can’t feel my feet anymore. Time to get dressed, do some stretches, wash some dishes (hand warming purposes) and raid the fridge.

Afternoon

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A head clearing walk

Writing is totally different to doing any other work. I tend to work well in intensive bursts of no more than three hours. Then I am drained of all energy and need a long break, preferably outdoors.

 

It took me some time to realise that I was not being lazy by taking a lengthy break in the middle of the day. This is what I need to do. I also learned (the hard way) that sitting hunched over a laptop for hours on end was not going to do the quality of my work or the alignment of my spine any favours.

I go for a long walk. So I don’t feel like too much of a skiver, I make it a “thinking walk”, taking with me a mental list of things I need to consider. These vary from day to day, but could include questions like: What kind of activity would best teach this language point? How could I approach this theme in a fresh angle? What is my next blog post going to be about? What am I going to teach tonight? I walk fast and I think hard. Sometimes, I manage to come up with answers. Sometimes I get distracted by a face in a cloud or by patterns made by the wintry light shining on the sea…

Then I come home and work at my computer for another couple of hours. Depending on how imminent my deadlines are, I might continue my morning project. Ideally, I might dip into something else to give myself some variety. I will probably use this part of the day to have a quick sift through my inbox too, dealing with anything high priority as I do so.

A major feature of working as a freelance writer is the uncertainty of the future. I may be swamped by work this month, but be worrying about the thin looking month to follow. So if I have any time on my hands at all, then I like to spend it actively seeking work: contacting publishers, submitting proposals, updating my CV, and following up interesting looking opportunities.

If I have a Skype meeting with an editor, I will usually try to schedule this for the afternoon too so that it doesn’t cut into the intensive writing I do in the morning. I’ve also usually had a shower and brushed my hair by this stage in the day.

At around 3.30pm my two children burst in the door, full of chatter and energy, and so I down tools for several hours. For me, one of the best things about this work is being able to be home for the children after school. Although it can sometimes be frustrating having an enforced break in the middle of the day, it’s healthy too, having to get up and take my mind off things.

Evening

Another problem with being a freelancer is that you’re never really “off”. I am often working in the evening, whether teaching a night class, checking emails, writing a blog post or planning work for the following day. Tonight, however, my work is altogether more exciting: I’m rehearsing my talk and packing my bags for my forthcoming trip to Lithuania where I’ll be talking about Shakespeare in contemporary education.

The truly great thing about being a freelancer? There is no typical day (although this day is fairly representative of many of the days I work from home). The frowsy haired pyjama wearing blue fingered writer of today will next week be the power dressing, sleekly coiffed conference presenter.

Freelancing probably isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind uncertainty, working alone for long stretches of time, and if you are self motivated enough to be your own boss, then there are much worse ways to spend your working life. On balance, I’d recommend it.

* I’m fully aware that every writer will differ in their approach to work.

 

Posted in conferences, lesson ideas, resource writing, TEaching writing | Tagged | 4 Comments

The “je ne sais quoi” of ELT presentations

I’ve done it. I’ve taken what is, in my opinion, one of the naffest phrases in the English language and made it the title of my latest blog post. I may be wrong, but I don’t think French people ever use “je ne sais quoi” in  this way, do they?

Ah, yes – where was I? The “je ne sais quoi” of ELT presentations.

I couldn’t have happened across Mike Griffin’s recent blog post What elt conference attendees want at a better time.

Trawling through my favourite blogs is often a pleasant (if slightly dangerous) displacement activity for me. I can lose myself in the ELT blogosphere for hours at a time: strangely enough, the heavier my workload is, the greater the lure of my favourite blogs becomes.

Anyway, on this particular occasion, I happened upon a blog post which was totally relevant to the task I was trying to achieve (preparing two seminars, a lecture and an “inspirational speech” for a forthcoming trip to Vilnius in Lithuania later on this month), as Mike had helpfully collated responses to the question: “What makes for a quality presentation?”

The answers make fascinating reading. Here is feedback collected from the horses’ mouths – what a gift for the conference presenter.

Many of the conference attendees wishes seemed fairly straightforward to grant. “Encouraging (but not forcing participation)” seemed like a simple target to aim for when planning and delivering a session. “Relevance and preparation” also seemed like an achievable goal.

Other items on the conference attendees’ wish list seemed more elusive. “Confidence”. “Solid presentation skills”. “Wit and humour- but not at the expense of the topic”.

Tricky, tricky. After all, how can we exude confidence when we don’t feel it? Can we force ourselves to be confident? How can we be “solid” when our knees are knocking together like castanets? How can we hope to make our audience laugh (with us rather than at us) when we feel like climbing into the nearest cupboard?

I suspect answers to these questions will vary considerably from individual to individual. What’s one woman’s confidence booster is another’s downfall, after all.

Reading Mike’s post made me reflect on what I’ve learned about presenting over the past few years as well as inspiring me in my preparation for forthcoming events. Here are a few things I’ve learned with regards to ticking the aforementioned elusive boxes of confidence, solidity and wit.

Solid presentation skills

  • At the writing stage, make sure your message is clear and you presentation is focused. Can you sum up the main message of your presentation in a sentence? No? Then it’s worth asking yourself if your presentation is sufficiently focused. Enlist the services of a critical friend.
  • Cut irrelevant bits ruthlessly.
  • Keep text on slides to an absolute minimum so you won’t be tempted to read from them. Because we all know this is the cardinal sin of presenting and no one does it anymore. Do they?
  • Have notes with you but try to keep them “noteish”. If you’ve practised as much as you should have done, you’ll hardly need them anyway.
  • Pause. Let what you’re saying sink in. People need time to process all the amazing things you’ve shared with them.

Confidence

  • Knowing what you are going to say inside out and back to front is crucial. Practise your talk, especially the opening chunk. Record your voice and play it back, checking for tone and emphasis. Once you’ve done that, stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself. Work on expression and gesture. Extreme? Perhaps. Worth it. Oh, yes.
  • Do you have any nervous tics? Know them and work around them. During my first few presentations, I was cursed with knees that literally knocked together in an embarrassing cartoon comedy fashion. I had to make sure I stood behind something, (i.e. a table) so that audiences didn’t get distracted. *
  • If you have friends/kind colleagues attending your talk, make sure you ask them to sit somewhere visible. If you start to feel wobbly, make eye contact with them. If they’re worth their salt, they’re sure to give you a reassuring smile and ask you an interesting yet answerable question at the end of your session. If you know no one, pick out the pleasant faces in the audience and return to them sporadically throughout your presentation. The miserable looking punter in the front row is probably suffering from trapped wind – his saturnine countenance does not reflect on the quality of your presentation. Best ignore him.
  • Get there early. I like to interact with participants as they arrive. If people are up for it, engage them in conversational niceties. Breaking the ice in this way will make you feel so much calmer.
  • Choose your clothes carefully. You should be able to bend over without showing your pants, stretch without revealing any flesh, stand in front of a window without your underwear shining through and stand sideways without everyone knowing how much you like beer. Don’t wear anything too comfortable: smart clothes will make you stand up straight and look more confident. Always dress a season’s worth colder than it really is (I read this advice in a Paul Theroux travel book and have always liked it).

Wit/humour

We all know that the star performers of ELT are the natural comedians. How can you include wit into your presentation without making it look forced and without detracting from your content?

  • My personal feeling (and do feel free to disagree, dear reader) is that you should not write stand-up comedian style jokes into your presentation. Write an erudite talk full of insight and learning. Then deliver it with passion. If a witticism occurs to you on the day, and you are feeling bold, then throw it to the floor.
  • The exception to this comes in the form of amusing anecdotes which are specifically related to what we are talking about. I’m sure we all have a favourite teaching story. Just make sure it doesn’t contain anything inappropriate for your audience. Take your time with it, and make sure any your punch line is delivered slowly and clearly.
  • Of course, humour can also be non-verbal. Visuals, gestures and facial expressions can all generate laughter.

I hope that the above reflections will provide helpful food for thought for those with conference talks to prepare. Good luck, and may your presentations have people shaking their heads in wonder at your “je ne sais quoi”.

*Happy ending. This doesn’t happen anymore.

 

 

 

Posted in conferences, presentations, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Listening Project

Where does the time go? Only thirty or so days ago, I was writing my list of New Year’s Resolutions, in which updating my blog regularly featured highly.

We’re now into February, and with all of my other resolutions irrevocably shattered, I thought I might just be able to salvage this one lonely promise from the wreckage. So here goes…

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The Listening Project

My upper-intermediate class of learners, when asked what they’d like to do more of in class, frequently request listening. I’ve tried to meet this need, and yet I am often left with the nagging feeling that many of the course book texts we use don’t quite cut it.

In case this is starting to sound like a course book bashing post, I should add that course book texts and activities are not the sole problem. Even as a teacher with almost twenty years of experience, I still find the listening skill one of the most difficult to teach. If I had a pound for every time I’d played a recording to my class, only to find that some learners understood every word first time while other learners had only a shaky grasp of the text multiple listens later, then I’d be a wealthy woman indeed.

I came across The Listening Project a few years ago and I used it to help me design some resources for an online language learning platform I was working on at the time. I’d actually forgotten all about it until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to use it with my upper intermediate students.

What is The Listening Project?

The Listening Project is the result of a partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC local and national radio stations, and the British Library. It’s a collection of intimate discussions recorded by people all over the UK, and aims to “capture the nation in conversation”. By visiting the site (and searching by theme) you can listen to conversations on a world of topics, for example:

Two friends discussing their memories of fleeing the Holocaust

A mother talking to her children about her funeral arrangements

A wife talking about the challenges of living with her husband (who has Tourette’s syndrome).

Why is it worth trying out in class?

  • You can listen to texts on a wide range of topics. For PARSNIPS fans, there’s plenty to chew on.
  • As the conversations are recorded all over the UK, you can expose your learners to a wide range of regional accents.
  • The conversations you’ll hear are totally natural and spontaneous. Amusingly, my learners got quite irritated with the false starts and repetitions so characteristic of spoken English!
  • Many of the topics lend themselves well to class discussions. As many of the conversations are topical, it is relatively easy to source texts for further reading/listening work.

What can I do with it?

  • As I am lucky enough to have a computer suite in my room, I asked learners to listen individually. This meant that they could work at their own pace, listening as many times as they needed to.
  • Ask learners to listen and transcribe an extract of the text. (You might find it useful to transcribe it yourself beforehand).
  • Split learners into groups and give them different texts to listen to. Ask learners to prepare comprehension texts for another group. Then get learners to swap texts and questions.
  • Ask learners to record their own conversations, following the guidelines on the site. Learners can then choose to submit their conversations to the BBC, or they can be used as a learner generated learning activity.
  • If you have time, choose a text and prepare activities in advance. This is time consuming, but worth it. Here’s an example of a lesson I designed (feel free to use it) on a conversation about an absent father.  Absent_Father_Listening_Project
  • Ask learners to choose conversations which interest them for subsequent lessons. I tend to veer towards the darker side of life in my textual choices. When my learners were given free reign they came up with altogether sunnier topics!

I’m sure there are many useful sites to practise listening. Do you know of anything similar?

 

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