This material was initially published in journal English, 5-6/2017. © All rights reserved.
ARE YOU STILL AFRAID OF ONLINE COURSES?
Have you ever in your life won anything? I've never! Actually I've never even tried. I've never believed that a meer person can get anything for free in our so economicaly oriented world.
But the first time in my life I was lucky. Being just an ordinary English Language teacher in a regional school in Russia I have won a real online course from the NILE, one of the most appriciated British institutes for teachers. Thanks to my favourite magazine English for EL teachers.
After visiting their website www.nile-elt.com I suggested that Classroom Activities, Interaction and Motivation coursewould be the most interesting and helpful for me. To my mind it's very important to create effective interaction between students, enlighten them with learning motivation and engage in proper classroom activities.
At the very beginning Johanna Stirling, designer of many courses, provided an orientation webinar to all new members of the courses. She actually showed us the NILE learning platform which has easy navigation bar and many unique collaborative activities for participants. For example there are Messaging System, Community Walls, Forums, Notes, Chatroom for syncrounous communication and others.
Could it be more obvious that I liked all of them?
For all members of any course the NILE Library and Glossary are available. To my mind they are absolutely treasure chests.
We were informed that our course will last for 8 weeks with a mid-course break for a week. In the end of the course participants are supposed to fulfil an assignment that leads them to a certificate. Moreover all activities for course members are estimated in time and show how much they may take.
First week is over
Obviously, the first week and the Unit 1 seemed quite difficult for me because paticipants were supposed to get to know not only the learning platform but also get acquainted with each other. Although for me it was such a pleasure to meet very experienced teachers from all over the world - Mexico, Italy, Algeria, Turkey. The tutor of our course Susi Pearson is from the UK and used to work all around the world for almost 26 years. Now she is a teacher-trainer at the NILE.
The first week was very motivating for me. Just imagine how difficult it could be to create your own metaphor to describe a lesson or a classroom activity! Definately it needs brainstorming in someway. "A good lesson is like a good meal – it should have a light starter, a meaty main course and finish with something sweet" is my favorite one. Another task was to make a list of the aims of different classroom activities. It made me think and formulate a lot.
The approach that is used as a basis of the course has changed my mind about online courses compleatly. In Russia people are used to another type of accepting information. I thought that participants would be given some materials to study and finally should pass a test or something. On the NILE online platform it's vice versa. Participants are given questions to generate ideas and search for the information. Surprising, isn't it?
At the end of Unit 1 we were gathered on our first online webinar that made us understood what a global classroom actually means. When we started the webinar in Russia it was already 10 p.m. while in Mexico it was only 2 o'clock. I was extreamly excited to see everyone I've met vertually the week earlier. We communicated for almost an hour and developed a list of ideas how the teaching context may affect the choice of activities we provide to our students. As it's said in Russia "Two heads are better than one".
To crown it all I should say that it was an incredible experience!
Unit 2 brings surprises
After the first such unspiring week all of the paticipants were extremely looking forward to working together even more.
Unit 2 came up with the topic "Good classroom activities for vocabilary recycling". We were taught to understand aims of different activities and create our own ones. One task was a collaborative one where we were supposed to find a partner communicating synchronously in a Chatroom.
Later we understood the importance of vocabulary reviewing thanks to Johanna Stirling's presentation on the subject. It was a total surprise for me that the first 24 hours are the most important to memorize new vocabulary. Such activities as Fill in the gaps, Odd One Out, Wordsearch, Personalisation, Story telling are very good for vocabulary recycling. Another good one and new for me was a Vocabox idea. As we say it in Russia "Evething genious is simple". A teacher needs to get a real box to collect cards with words of the target language.
Surely there are plenty of activities with Vocabox and a teacher can choose the most suitable for his or her teaching context. We came to a conclusion that any kind of deep processing activities like categorisation, comparison, analysis helps our students to memorise words more effectively. What is more, I liked the idea from my Italian coursemate Jacqeline to jot down new words in address books as they have things divided according to the fist letter.
To sum up, I would like to share a quote by Wilga Rivers (from Communicating Naturally in a Second Language, CUP, cited in Thornbury S, Teaching Vocabulary 2002; 144)
“Vocabulary cannot be taught. It can be presented, explained, included in all kinds of activities, and experienced in all manner of associations... but ultimately it is learned by the individual”
Unit 3 was about interaction
Time flies and the third week is over. It was dedicated to one of the most important issues of second language teaching: interaction and speaking activities.
What do we mean when we say interaction?
How often do your students interact?
What interaction patterns do you know?
What makes a good speaking activity?
What are criteria for it?
I have clear answers to these questions now. We were acquainted with so many good speaking activities in this unit that it's hard to choose the best one.
Needless to say, interaction is a key point in teaching English as a second language due to it's communicative nature. Moreover interaction builds confidence and practise for real life in a safe environmnt of a classroom where students can make mistakes and then try again.
Besides, students learn a lot from each other and have a peer feedback or cooperation in some activities that inspires them. Learners use and activate their knowledge and speaking skills, exchange ideas and learn to accept and respect other people's opinions.
Education becomes less teacher-centred and more students-centred, interaction develops higher-order thinking skills, critical thinking and communicative competence.
Haven't you promoted interaction in your classroom yet?
Meanwhile, there are some problems with students' interaction that could be prevented in advance: the instructions aren't clear, the activity isn't the right level of challenge, students are afraid to make mistakes, teacher needs to plan and monitor interaction carefully.
I would like to mention several interaction patterns we looked at in this Unit. They are whole class mingle and plenary, open and closed pairs, small/large group work. We use whole class mingle to conduct a servey, for students interviewing each other, "Find somebody who..." while we do whole class plenary to reflect on a lesson, to give instructions and gain feedback from our learners. We use pairwork to develop speaking and listing skills, to perform dialogues, while we need to organise groupwork carefully to teach students to collaborate, inspire real communication within groups, develop social/teamwork skills and give them a real sense of achievement.
Unit 4 motivates!
This unit was dedicated to the most important part of any education or even action, that is motivation. It is something that makes people do cirtain things, a psycological reason for their behavior. Motivation can be of two types-intrinsic and extrinsic.
The key question was what a teacher can do to motivate English language learners. After some discussion on the Forum we came to a list of issues that can add some motivation to our students. I find it necessary to outline some points here:
any activity needs clear aim and good instructions;
it should be relevant to the learners' level-not too difficul and not too easy;
it should be personalised somehow and give learners element of choice;
it should contain some mistery and guessing, e.g. information gap;
it should be more kinesthetic, competitive and interactive;
a teacher should develop a system of rewarding students- young learners always want to please a teacher, while adults are able to follow long-term goals having regular reward on each stage of their development.
The next issue in this Unit 4 was writing activities and how a teacher can make them more motivating. It is quite obvious that students don't like writing and moreover writing in a second language. How do you feel when you are asked to write some kind of a report or an article in English? You feel nervous but excited, don't you?
All course participants shared their ideas on motivating writing activities: start writing from the very beginning of EL education, use fun writing tasks-menus, posters, stories, get students writing collaboratively, e.g. circle writing, have a noticeboards to display examples of good work, use media to make writing more attractive to learners.
On top of that, we were introduced to several engaging writing activities like Collaborative story, Essay team writing, Snowball fight, Write or Die, Sentence Generator.
In addition we discussed international collaborative projects where students from different countries work on the same task and exchange products. Of course this may need lots of time and self-devotion of a teacher, but what could be more motivating?
Unit 5 and classroom management
The 5th Unit was very interesting in terms of classroom management and teacher's role. We took a closer look at the way giving instructions more effectively that is required to almost any activity. There are the most essential points:
Instructions must be clear, concise and simple;
They must include gestures, examples of action;
A teacher should ckeck the undestanding of given instructions via proper questions.
Have you ever thought over the instructions you usually give?
Later we were introduced with two brilliant activities like "Hotseat" and "Irregular walk". I bet, you've never heard about them. Could you guess aims of these activities from their names?
It was amazing to adapt them to specifics of my teaching context. For example, our tutor Susi helped me to adapt the Hotseat to young learners' classes with mime guessing. A teacher puts a word of an animal to the blackboard and kids show movements and sounds of it to the one student sitting on the hot seat back to the word. What a marvelous idea, isn't it?
The next step in the unit was to range different types of activities like warmers, fillers, stirrers and settlers. What a shame for me I've never even heard of them. But that is the reason I am here on the course to get more experience in EL teaching.
For sure every teacher needs warmers or as they also called ice breakers(starters). The aim to warm students up unites all these activities. Put a word "Cogratulations" on a blackboard and ask your learners to find as many words as possible based on these letters only. I liked "Ball pass" when students pass a ball from one to another and speak either about themselves or on a terget language topic.
Sometimes a teacher needs fillers to namely fill in for several minutes between the activities or before a class ends. For example, "Chinese whisper" or "Broken telephone" as it called in Russia. A teacher gives students a phrase or a sentence to whisper around the class to see how it changes at the end.
These and many other brilliant activities require no preparetion and no equipement but are extremly usuful when your class is going wrong or a colleague is ill and you've been asked to cover.
Stirrers are special type of activities that help teacher to activate learners while settlers are to cool them a little down. Though different students are stirred or settled by different activities.
Considering all the above, I must confess that I definately need to start my own collection of useful activities.
Unit 6: building and sharing a bank of activities
In this unit we took a look at the importance of building a big bank or repertiore of classroom activities. Also we discussed both paper and digital resources where a teacher can get new activities. Later we focused on grammar activities, we were ought to find and adapt some of them in order to satisfy cirtain grammar learning aims.
We also looked at some new ways of storing and organising classroom activities like Evernote, Scoop.It, Padlet.
Have you ever thought of any online sharing of activities?
During this week I had the oppotunity to download Evernote and try this app for storing the activities. I found it externely useful even for personal planning and collecting ideas. A teacher can create different Notebooks within this app and store activities as articles including webpages, any multimedia materials such as videos, music, audio-files, pictures. Any piece of Evernote matirials could be shared via e-mail.
I really liked this app because it is simple and helps me a lot almost every day.
However, there is one more useful technology I found nowadays especially for teachers. That is cloud technogy. Such platforms as Google.Drive, OneDrive Microsoft, Dropbox and others provide a huge storage space and many activities useful for teachers like testing forms to create qwizes, tests, questionnaires. What could be more helpful for a tescher?
To sum it up I would like to say that it's never too late to make your teaching easier and more interesting due to modern digital oppotunities. So I start today!
Unit 7: the last but not the least
It was the last content unit in this course and immediately I started to feel so sad because of the course end coming closer. It was dedicated to receptive skills based activities that are reading and listening.
Why do we give our learners reading and listening activties?
What are spicific reasons to use them?
Why do you think learners may find listening or reading activities difficult?
Try these questions and you will get more understanding of the subject.
A teacher must always know why he or she uses cirtain activities in order to set specific aims and later analyse if they work toward meeting those aims.
Sometimes we need to improve reading and listening skills of our learners; very often we help them to be good at gist or scan reading; from time to time we can introduce or revise particular language; occasionally we ask students to read for enjoyment; etc.
Needless to say that every time a teacher puts different aims and different tools work toward meeting them.
The last task of the Unit was to create your own listening or reading activity with a brief profile of the class and necessary explanations. Do I need to say that it was very very difficult?
I did my best and it was such exciting experience.
Unit 8 and farewell party
What a great course! Every participant admitted that it was a unique one. I will never forget the NILE platform with it's nice activities. I will definatelly miss our so close interaction, comments, webinars and precious cross-cultural exchange.
We made good friends with everyone on the course and promised to stay in touch with colleagues maybe for future collaborative projects.
Unit 8 came up with two important activities. The first one was to analyse my teaching context. The second one was to try pre-assignment task and recieve a feedback from the tutor.
At the end of Unit 8 there was our last webinar - so called Farewell Party. We even shared our virtual gifts with everyone. It was so touchy and sincere that I can't help smiling all the time.
Now I have four weeks to fulfill the Final Assignment that promises to become my real achievement.
In conclusion I would like to thank my favourite magazine English for providing such marvelous oppotunity to develop my teaching skills. Big thanks to the whole NILE team for such unfogettable experience!
by Anastasia Marina
English teacher from Ermish State School, Ryazan Region