Dec 30, 2012

Traditional end-of-year news quiz 2012

Photo by Sandy Millin via eltpics
A bit less heavy on political news this year and featuring more sports, showbiz and gossip items, here is my traditional annual news quiz. As in the previous years, it is available in two levels: upper-intermediate/advanced and lower intermediate, and comes complete with 7-page teachers notes (scroll all the way down). The notes contain ideas on how to use the quiz in class and, no less importantly, how to explore the language. Check back in the first days of the New Year for vocabulary review activities (update - click here)

Dec 19, 2012

Top 12 of 2012

and tips for new bloggers

Photo by aclil2climb via eltpics
This post is written in response to Adam Simpson's blogchallenge, which, he admits himself, is an act of "shameless self-promotion". And this is a man who urged us not to vote for him when he was recently  nominated for annual Edublog Awards and who was also the winner of last year's TeachingEnglish blogathon! Anyhow, here is my Top 12 of 2012.

Nov 24, 2012

The Principles of Principled Eclecticism according to Chia Suan Chong

A summary of the closing plenary (Mis)-Applied Linguistics at the TESOL France colloquium on 18 November 2012

Chia explaining 'stealth pair work'
Chia Suan Chong started her plenary at the 31st annual TESOL France colloquium by warning us there would be 65 slides in her PowerPoint and introducing the concept of stealth pair work – speaking quietly, in a muted voice with a person sitting next to you. Considering the fact the audience consisted of about 200 ELT teachers, this wasn't an easy task. I had been really looking forward to this talk, so I was prepared to shut up for 60 minutes. I had expected Chia to debunk ELT myths and show how certain findings of applied linguistics research have been misapplied in ELT. Instead, the talk went in a different direction as Chia took us on a journey through the history of ELT.

Oct 28, 2012

Explaining the difference between (near-) synonyms

I have recently received an email from a colleague, an EFL teacher in Israel, about how her students find it difficult differentiating between near-synonyms. I repost here my reply alongside the original email with the author's kind permission.

Hi Leo, I wonder whether you can help me. Do you know any place on the web where I can compare the meanings of near synonyms? I've used the concordance type sites which give me lots of collocations, but that isn't what I want. It doesn't help my pupils to give them 10 collocations for each word (e.g. regular, usual, routine) some of which are identical. I need to be able to put my finger on a general rule(s) like, one is for people and the other is for abstract ideas (I know this example is irrelevant to those particular words) Thanks for any help you can provide. Renee Wahl

Oct 21, 2012

Every Breath You Take

A classic collocation gap-fill activity

I don't why I haven't posted this earlier because this is my favourite song when it comes to introducing for the first time the idea of collocations to students and teachers alike. It is full of verb-noun collocations ranging from very common (take a step, play a game) to less frequent (stake a claim). Note that common collocations often involve delexicalised verbs (take, make etc) with wide collocational fields while less common ones usually involve more semantically charged words (stake) which collocate with a limited number of words (claim).

Sep 17, 2012

Summer teaching (had me a blast)

Photo by Cleo Phas

August till about mid-October is the time of the year when I enjoy a bit of a lull at work and all my usual students (I teach small groups) are on holiday. It’s also the time of the year when I get approached by some really peculiar one-on-one students. For example, this year’s summer assortment includes the following characters:

Aug 19, 2012

Does digital mean better?

What should I do with these?
Photo by Tzvi Meller
I’ve always envied people who can whip up a blog post straight after returning from – or sometimes while still at - a conference. Although I didn’t write any IATEFL 2012 reflections there was one session that particularly resonated with me: Andrew Walkley’s Technology and principles in language learning. He talked about how trying to bring technology to our digitally native learners many teachers have lost the focus on language. He listed five things that he found particularly worrying about unprincipled integration of technology into ELT:

Jul 19, 2012

Highlighting lexical chunks with Diigo

Image by photosteve101 on Flickr

Diigo is a social bookmarking tool which allows you to save and access all your bookmarks online. But it's not only a great app for keeping your links in one place; its highlighting function can be used in class for drawing students attention to and keeping track of lexical chunks in online articles, texts and web pages.

You will need to be in a connected classroom (computer, projector, access to the Internet). After your students have read the article for meaning - and possibly discussed it - ask them to underline lexical chunks, collocations and other useful bits of language. Then display the text on the board and highlight the chunks with the whole class on the board using the Highlight function on Diigo:

Jun 23, 2012

Two axes of word relationships

Let's start with a warmer...

Which of these tasks or exercises do you normally see in coursebooks?
  1. Look at the highlighted verbs in the text and match them with the following synonyms: investigate, find, catch, escape
  2. Match the adjectives with their opposites, e.g. tall / short
  3. Underline in the text all the expressions with OF
  4. Group the words according to categories, e.g. vehicles: car, motorcycle; musical instruments: guitar, piano etc
  5. Underline all the adverbs in the text. Now underline the verbs they go with.
  6. Rick says "the journey was long and tiring". What other adjectives can be used to describe journeys?
  7. Which is the odd word out? gaze - smile - stare - look
You probably answered 1, 2, 4 and 7 and to a lesser extent 3, 5 and 6 

Now read on to find out why...

May 12, 2012

One word leads to ... or you've been primed!

Introducing students to the idea of lexical priming and a web tool called Netspeak

Photo by Tzvi Meller
In my previous post from the For the classroom category I shared a lesson idea which I developed for Honesty Day celebrated on 30 April (click here to see it). Apart from the song and discussion activities, students also read three articles from the Breaking News English website. To lead in to the articles I cut up the three headlines and asked my students to unjumble them, i.e. put the words in the right order. With hindsight I realised that I'd set up my students to fail as one of the headlines read:

May 8, 2012

In response to Hugh Dellar’s Dissing Dogme : In defence of… TBL

In the second installment of his thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable “Dissing Dogme” series (see here), Hugh Dellar addresses the touchy topic of language input in Dogme but this time Task-Based Learning (TBL) is also thrown in the mix. Why has TBL come under attack?

Apr 29, 2012

Honesty Day

April 30th is celebrated in the USA and some other countries as Honesty Day. To mark this day, Billy Joel's classic ballad was an obvious choice for my upper-intermediate students but then I also decided to develop some activities around it.

The activity outlined below is suitable for both teen and adult learners at Upper-Intermediate (B2) level and up

Apr 21, 2012

If I were a boy

This activity based on Beyonce's song is suitable for older teens and adults at pre-intermediate level and up. The lesson plan is based on the listening activity template I blogged about earlier (click here). An Interactive WhiteBoard (IWB) is desirable but not essential.

IWB techniques

Two IWB techniques are used here: in the pre- and post-listening stages of the lesson.

Mar 20, 2012

Before you listen, here are some words you may not know

Pre-listening activities: what to focus on?

At last year's IATEFL conference in Brighton I was at a presentation on teaching listening where I got into a bit of an argument with the speaker. I don't know if it was my nerves before my own, first presentation at IATEFL but my behaviour wasn't the best and I've regretted ever since. The whole situation was rather ridiculous. Even more ridiculous was the fact that in principle I agreed with the presenter who argued that there is little benefit in pre-teaching vocabulary before listening activities - I wouldn't agree though with his claim the word "prowl", one my favourite words in English, is useless :)

There is an interesting piece of research to substantiate the speaker's argument, which he surprisingly did not mention. Chang and Read (2006) administered a listening comprehension test to160 students who were divided into four groups and received a different kind of support:

Feb 27, 2012

Sloppy Brits or uptight Americans?

Who is sloppier when it comes to grammar or should we all just get over it?

A recent discussion on a teachers’forum has made me wonder amusingly and bemusedly again about correctness, prescriptive grammar rules and how English teachers just LOVE grammar and arguing about it - I wish lexis would prompt such heated debates, for example what verb should go with knowledge: gain or acquire? or some such.

Among the comments about pointlessness of teaching grammar to students -  why bother if native speakers make mistakes - the one that stuck with me was an amusing remark made by my friend, colleague and former co-mentor Adele who often comes by this blog (Adele, are you reading?). She wrote:

[…] It took me a while after marrying a Brit, to get used to
the poor grammar prevalent in the UK even among many educated people.
Interesting thought… Recently I was coordinating Jeremy Harmer’s visit to Israel. As part of his programme, he was scheduled to appear as a keynote speaker at theannual study day organised by the Forum for College English Department Heads with his talk in which he (mildly) criticizes Dogme. The talk originally entitled:

Teaching Unplugged Beats Acquisition? What to Teach to Who, with What and Why

Feb 5, 2012

What is your favourite chunk?

Blog visitors poll

Leoxicon is about to clock up ten thousand visitors and I thought I should do something to celebrate this achievement. At first I thought I'd revamp the look of my blog but you need time for that and there is not much you can do on Blogger until they improve their Dynamic Views templates. Then I thought since this blog is all about collocations and lexical chunks I should add a nice little widget somewhere on the right displaying a new chunk every day. But my internet search for "a phrase of the day" or "an expression of the day" widget drew a blank. It's funny that despite all the evidence and research, whether cognitive or psycholinguistic, pointing to the phrasal nature of the lexicon, i.e. words are remembered, stored and retrieved in chunks, all the EFL teaching materials are still preoccupied with words, words, single words. The integration of web technologies doesn't seem to have helped either. Having said that, I've stumbled upon two interesting websites:

Phrase Mix posts a new colloquial phrase every day and Tweet Speak English  - every week or so. Both come with audio and accompanying activities but unfortunately not all the content is available for non-members.

Since my search for a lexical gadget has proved futile, I decided to open it up to you, my readers, and ask you to post your favourite chunks. But first of all, what's the difference between a collocation and a chunk?

Jan 27, 2012

Teaching vocabulary out of context: conclusions

This follows on my earlier post Teaching vocabulary out of context: is it worth the time?

About a month ago I blogged about my mini action research on decontextualised vocabulary learning. The post  generated some discussion with some people arguing that there was nothing decontexualised about it - you can read the original post and the comments here. The main finding was that on the post-test there was no difference between the items which were learnt out of context and the items presented in class in context. So is decontextualised vocabulary teaching a justified strategy?

Jan 16, 2012

Spent but enriched

In this activity, students play an online digital game (in pairs or alone at home) and then focus on the lexis related to money.