Realising Reading

4 03 2012

Realising Reading - Macmillan Montevideo 2012

Realising Reading – Handout from Macmillan Montevideo 2012

Here are the slides from my talk ‘Realising Reading’ which I gave for the first time at the Macmillan Conference in Montevideo on February 29th 2012.  The talk is about how we can keep reading real for our students at the same time as getting them to realise what they’re reading, thinking about it critically and noticing the language in the texts.

Look forward to hearing what you think about it.  Enjoy!





No Man’s Land – Finding the Middle Ground in the Dogme Debate

16 02 2012

No Man’s Land – Slides from Montevideo 29/2/12

Macmillan Montevideo

On Wednesday 29/2/12 I had another go at No Man’s Land at the Macmillan Montevideo Conference 2011 held at the Anglo.  It was interesting to see how the talk changed as a result of  having a different dialogue with a different audience – Montevideo was much less impressed with Dogme than Buenos Aires was and quite a few members of the audience were brave enough to call themselves Textbook Traditionalists at the beginning of the talk, although we all ended up as Dog-maurauders at the end.  The talk was also shorter, so I focused more on the ten key principles and had also summarised 10 key Dogme-rauder principles which the audience were happy to accept and take away to consider.  Let us know how you get on!

Many thanks to Nicolas from Macmillan for organising the day, my impressive fellow speakers Aldo Rodriguez, Phil Hanham and Gustavo Gonzalez and, of course, the anglo for hosting the event – although it was the great audience that made the day such a success.

Pro-T Buenos Aires

Here are the slides from the talk at Pro-T 2012 on Thursday 16th February 2012.

No Man’s Land

Many thanks to everyone who came to the talk on Thursday and to @lcamio and the Pro-T team for inviting me and organising everything so smoothly.  I really enjoyed the talk and discovering much more about the principles of Dogme ELT through the process of researching, planning and writing the talk and sharing it with you on Thursday.  It was exciting (and empowering) to put the decision about whether or not to ‘convert’ myself into a Dogme-gician in your hands, and participating in that Dialogic Co-construction of knowledge to see what emerged was an enlightening process.  I hope the talk has helped some of you to look at your classrooms from a slightly different angle and gives you some ideas about how to ensure our students are at the centre of everything we do.

If you feel you are a Dogme-gician, it would be great to hear how you have managed to incorporate your Dogme teaching style into the confines of the educational context where you work.

Dogme-gician's believe in all the magic of Dogme.

If you’re a Dogme-rauder, it would be great to hear which principles of Dogme you have particularly pillaged and which ‘emergent’ tasks and activities you have used successfully or are going to try out.

Dogme-rauders have a soft spot for the 10 key Dogme principles, but prefer to loot and pillage the best of all methods

And if you’re a Textbook Traditionalist, then it would be great to hear the reasons why.

Textbook traditionalists start their planning from the next page of the course book and feed their students grammar mcnuggets

The ones that came up during the talk were pressure from above (Principals getting in the way of principles?) and the necessity to prepare students for exams.

The first problem is going to take time and persistence in order to convince principals, parents and even ministries of education, that the syllabus can be covered and students can learn English and prepare themselves for exams without having to faithfully follow a course book step by step.

And exam classes can easily prepare through a less materials dominated approach.  Students choose the texts they want to work with (be they authentic, course book, test book or whatever).  Students can construct test activities for each other from these texts, empowering them to discover much more about the tests and the strategies needed to complete them successfully.   Students can decide which tasks to work on when, depending on mood, trending current affairs topics, previous classes, perceived weaknesses.   Students can design the course syllabus, selecting the test materials to use, the balance of test types to focus on, writing proposals at the beginning of the course, progress summaries during the course, reviews of the course as it progresses and reports on their progress towards the end of the course.  Obviously, the students will choose to use Practice Test materials during the course (I imagine), but this is all part of being a good Dogme-rauder – letting students choose, allowing the syllabus (as well as the langauge) emerge through a dialogue involving the whole class.

Al, Vicky and Susan enjoying the talk – laughing in the face of Dogme?

I seem to have burst into song – lyrics a-merging!

Looking forward to hearing where you stand and I was relieved to find out I can continue to be a Dogme-rauder at the end of the talk!





A Taxonomy of Authentic Reading Tasks

3 12 2011

I would love to develop a list of useful classroom texts (I mean texts that learners would find engaging / motivating / beneficial to read inside the language classroom) and think of authentic but also classroom friendly ways of reading / processing / ‘attacking’ them.   BTW, unlike most of his readers, I’m not a fan of Scott Thornbury’s text-attack terminology, since if there’s anything in this world that should be kept apart from the brutalities of war and suffering, then reading be it.

So, simply put, here goes.  A list of readable texts and authentic tasks that can be used with them in the classroom.  Please do help add to the list of texts or tasks or comment on those already proffered – I’m going to need a lot of help to make this list even half decent…

Updating this post for the first time with some extra ideas for gist tasks and generic text ideas.  I think this may be the way to go rather than producing specific examples of texts, although I might come up with a few once I start teaching / watching teachers again in January.

Gist reading

General Gist tasks

Read the first paragraph, shall we bother continuing?

Read the title of a text – what do you think it is about?  Continue reading all of it until it’s no longer relevant to you as a reader.

You’re on a long plane ride and this text is in the in-flight magazine.  Would you read it?

Is the title engaging?  Keep reading the text until you find the title is no longer engaging.

Genre Specific Gist Tasks

Read the report of a football match – which team does the author prefer?

Read the report of a football match you’ve seen – do you agree with the author’s representation of the game?

Read the review of a pop concert – would you like to have gone and seen it?

Read the review of a restaurant – would you take your partner / kids / parents / siblings / a first date / best friend there?

Read a recipe – could you make this dish?

Read a recipe – would your  partner / kids / parents / siblings / a first date / best friend like this dish?

Read a discursive essay – is the author for or against?

Read a discursive essay – do you agree with the author’s overall opinion?

Detailed Reading

General Detailed Tasks

This text is about something you’re interested in.  What does it add to your knowledge of the subject?

This text was written yesterday/today.  How does it change your knowledge of the content?

Do you believe everything in this text is true?

Underline all of the facts in this text.  Cirlce the author’s unsubstantiated opinions.

Which points do you agree with the author about?  which do you disagree with?  Why?

Genre Specific Detailed Tasks

Read the report of a football match you’ve seen – do you agree with the author’s opinion of each controversial incident?

Read the review of a pop concert – note some / five things that make you wish you’d been there.

Read the review of a pop concert – note things described that support your opinion of the band.

Read a recipe – what will you need to buy in order to make it?  What parts of the process will you find most difficult?  What things haven’t you done before?

Read a discursive essay – which arguments do you find convincing?

Read a discursive essay – which opinions expressed would you argue with?

Read the review of a restaurant – in how many ways is your favourite restaurant better?

Scan reading

Classifieds Page – Find a xmas present for your teacher

Classifieds page – Find a new job for your teacher / classmates / family

Classifieds page – You have 200 000 pounds. Find three houses to go and look at this weekend.

Choose a restaurant for your teacher to visit tonight with their partner / visiting parents / visiting sibling / best friend from school they haven’t seen for five years / a first date from your country

Find the best film for you / your teacher to see this weekend





Comment on Scott Thornbury’s blog post ‘G is for Gist’

30 11 2011
mcneilmahon (02:57:04) :

Hi all,
Fascinating reading throughout and I find particular resonance in Wily, Simon and Rob’s posts.

The related question that I’ve been meaning to explore recently and haven’t got around to yet, which is part of Patrick’s question, is whether training our CELTA trainees or asking our own students ourselves to approach texts through gist and then detailed tasks (as I do everyday at the moment) is a valid way of teaching reading.

I have long advocated authentic tasks as being more important and relevant than ‘authentic’ texts, but would like to question further how authentic gist tasks are/can be and ditto detailed reading tasks. Shouldn’t we be encouraging our trainees and students to be approaching texts in the way we do in our L1s? And how practical is this within the confines of a course book driven syllabus or a pre-service training course.

Reading the first paragraph of a course book article to decide whether or not we want to read the whole thing would be an authentic gist task (but what do we do when the answer is no?). But reading an article and choosing which is the best title for it wouldn’t be.

The problem with authenticity seems to be the lack of text quantity and therefore choice in course books, which surely leads to the need for more student-selected texts – i.e. they do the gist reading before they come to class, through choosing texts they want to read as a class and deciding what to do with them. This just leaves the other students in the class with an authentic task to do to engage with that text once it’s been selected. But it also creates many problems for training courses such as CELTA. Can anyone help me with my conundrum?

30112011

Scott Thornbury (08:36:55) :

Hi Neil, don’t start me on coursebooks (!) but one reason why skimming and scanning tasks are so favoured may be that the texts in textbooks are NOT self-selected, and hence the only way to make them accessible and/or palatable is to treat them in a fairly superficial manner. And, after all, since many coursebook texts are superficial in terms of their content, the most logical approach to them might be that of the reader of the inflight magazine (to which coursebook texts bear an uncanny resemblance), i.e. the most cursory skim and flick.

As for your final question – maybe I’ll leave that one to the many pre-service trainers more experienced than I am who read this blog.





Ways of Varying Feedback

22 11 2011

Ways of Varying Feedback

This is a handout that I originally used as part of my Feedback Fiesta talks, which then got distilled into the fourteen ways of varying feedback which are in the new version of Feedback Fiesta for 2011:

1.T reads out passage and stops before answers for SS to give answer.
2.SS nominate each other to answer.
3.T reads text with answers, SS listen with books closed. SS then open books and check answers with P, asking T about ones can’t remember or not sure of.
4.T only checks answers to ‘difficult’ questions.
5.SS check answers in pairs and if have different answers ask T/SS check with answers on board.
6.T gives SS answers with the homework. Ss do homework, check it themselves and bring questions to class.
7.T gives each SS one correct answer and SS mill to check all.
8.T chooses SS to write answer on board.
9.T calls out Q numbers randomly and SS race to board to write correct answers.
10.T gives half answers to one half of class and half to other, SS swap answers across class in shouting dictation.
11.T gives answers to one SS who corrects homework and then passes on to next SS. If someone hasn’t seen answers by end of class they have to ask another SS for homework.
12.T nominates SS to play T and get feedback from rest of class in any way they like.
13.T emails answers to SS between classes for them to self correct. SS email T with Qs before next class.
14.SS have laminated A4 sheet on which to write answer. T calls out Q and each group holds up answer on sheet.
These all come in useful when giving feedback on language or receptive skills tasks.  Do you have any other variations you use that you can add to the list?




Very Professionally Developing

4 11 2011

Click here for slides IHBsAsProfessionallyDeveloping

I was asked to give a workshop today for the teachers at International House Recoleta and Belgrano based on the talk I did at the ABS Conference for Coordinators back in August.  Since I was confident they are already doing lots of the development ideas I addressed in the original talk, I wanted to attempt to make it a more personal and specific experience by adding in more interactive tasks and giving them summaries of the different tools on a plate, so to speak.

I enjoyed the journey they took me on and a lot of interesting ideas came out of it.  Hopefully some of them will go on to discover Suggestopedia in an experimental practice lesson or do some Action Research to improve their FCE learners listening skills.  Or at the very least they’ll come and comment on my blog.

Enjoy the slides and the handouts and I hope they help you to decide where to take your own Continuous Professional Develoment next.

Click here for the handouts  Professionally Developing





Professionally Developing

26 08 2011

Here are the slides from the workshop I’ve just given at the ABS Conference for Coordinators and Directors of Studies in Buenos Aires.  It’s an overview of different things teachers can do, or coordinators can encourage their teachers to do, in order to continue to develop either individually or as a school, incrementally or taking giant steps, face2face or online.

Enjoy the ideas and please share your favourite ways of continuing your professional development and let us know how you get on with putting some of these ideas into practice.

And a special thanks to all those who tweeted us from home and abroad during the session!








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