Bringing out the inner voice

19 05 2014

Saturday May 1th 2014 saw me presenting a spanking new talk at MAC2014 – the annual Macmillan conference in Montevideo, hosted by the Anglo institute.  It’s the third time I’ve talked at the Macmillan Montevideo conference and it was great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.



The talk has been a long time in the making since it was inspired by Jeremy Harmer’s talk at the 2010 International House DoS Conference – ‘Speak the speech, I pray thee’, which discussed improving students’ fluency by helping them to think and prepare inside their heads first.  It was an inspiring talk, but a little short on practical ways to get the students actually doing this in the classroom.  So I set about trying to motivate and inspire my students to think much more in the class, alongside their development of the other four skills. It’s taken me a few years to put what I’ve done into a talk, since it’s very much a case of small steps and slowly, slowly catchy thinking student.  As the Macmillan conference was focused on developing Life Skills, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to make myself write the talk and bring together my ideas on the topic.

#2014MAC Life Skills tree

#2014MAC Life Skills tree

The results are here, in the form of the slides for the talk in PDF:

Bringing Out The Inner Voice

and a video of them too:

as well as the video I used at the end as a way of having the students reflect on the ideas we discussed during the talk and think about how they could create more thinking space, structure and sensitivity into a lesson using this video.  Unfortunately during the talk the sound was dodgy, so the great lyrics couldn’t be heard beyond the front row (and apologies to the audience that I had to resort to singing some of them myself!

I also hope to put a lesson together myself using this text as a launching ad, so look out for that here too!

Next up is the example text-based guided discovery lesson I used.  You can read more about Guided Discovery and this lesson here if you’re interested.


And then here are some lesson ideas to use at the beginning of your efforts to inspire your students to think in English:

Thinking in English

A reading based on a text about why to try and think in English when learning the language, with a worksheet that has built in space and structure for thinking.

The Week in English

Encourage your students to do some thinking for homework and then discuss what they’ve done in class – the flipped classroom turns your students flipping (if they talk to themselves 🙂 ).

Anecdote feedback sheet An example of how the students can reflect on each others’ work and tech each other a little more about anecdoting.


In full flow at #2014MAC

A call for help after Facebook frenzy

5 08 2011

Something very strange happened in my Advanced One class this evening.  We’d discussed last class how they knew they needed to practice writing (I managed to stop myself correcting them to develop) but that they didn’t like the writing tasks in the next unit of the book.  So I’d decided to be cool and trendy teacher (they’re 14/15 year olds) and suggest setting up a blog.

However, I also decided to be a student-centred, Dogme-style teacher (I know, I know, we went to the computer room) and let them actually set up the blog during the class.  The plan was to choose a name and what categories we’d aim for and then head to the computer room, set it up, discuss which theme to use and I’d set them a homework task of writing their profiles for the About page.

But when I mentioned this option to them, something strange happened.  They nigh on demanded that instead of a blog we open a Facebook group.   My immediate reaction was to say no, but I couldn’t think of any particualr reason why not (apart from a rather worrying nagging voice in the back of my head singing ‘security, security, security’ at me while I tried to dissuade them from continuing).  What followed was a coherent and cohseive debate on their part of the advantages of Facebook groups over blogs, I meekly conceded, but insisted they sat back down and we planned the launch properly (they had stood up as if by instinct as soon as I mentioned the words ‘computer room’).

They came up with the most boring name in the world, insisted the group was closed so none of their friends could laugh at their English (I doubt they have any friends whose English is better than theirs) and then positively begged me to post homework tasks so that they could complete them as notes on Facebook.

And off we went to the computer room…what followed was half an hour of incredible interaction, 95% of which was in English and about 40/60 split between writing and speaking.  The interaction between the four of us (I know, very small class, not empirically acceptable) while we sat at the computers was some of the best conversation I’ve witnessed in one of my classes.

One of the girls was overgrouped and so couldn’t join our group and noone could find her groups to ungroup her to allow her to join us in our group – there was language of suggestion, demonstrations of frustration, explanations, demonstrations, justifications for various odd groups she’d joined, all carefully monitored by yours truly.  Chucking in the odd technical Facebook / computer word and reformulating some of their functional language, they quickly took on new phrases and made them their own.

The other girl set up the group, named the group and invited us all and the absent ones to the group, when something really cool happened.  One of the boys who hadn’t turned up to class accepted her invitation to the group.  He even then did the task I set them – to write a quick intro to themselves.  And I merrily reacted to the content of their posts and included correct versions of their language in my responses.  And was even able to get the lad who’d not come to do the homework for next class.   I found out about their favourite music, the sports they play and that they’re all addicted to Facebook, all useful info to use to tailor texts and tasks to their likes.

Having used up my homework task in the class, I even managed to come up with another one on the spot for them to do at home, simply recommend a website in English and give three reasons why we as a class would like it.  Hopefully that will stoke their enthusiasm til next time.  My problem, and where you come in is, what do I do next time?  I mean, what do we do next time?  I can’t let them spend all their classes on Facebook, but have I lost them from the classroom?  Maybe I can use it as a reward at the end of classes if they’ve worked well and kept it in English?  Or just use it as a homework tool from now on?  They seemed so enthusiastic about the group ‘this is cool’, ‘I’m having fun’ (even the lad who was absent seemed to feel he was missing out) that I really don’t want to poor cold water on their fires by going the wrong way next time out.  Help!

What I need is advice, suggestions, ideas and help, any help, please.  Does anyone tend a Facebook group with their classes?  How do you use it?  What do you get the students to do on it?  How often do you use it?  What’s the balance between class and home time?  How do you go about improving their language while they use it?  Today has engendered such feelings of success (where’s @Harmerj and his flip when you need him) but also a plethora of questions.  Can you help me with the answers?