Monday, 2 June 2014

Facing The Summer

This blog has two distinct parts – firstly, how the busy UK summer period will affect me as a manager and then, secondly, thinking about different activities I have found useful as a teacher. Starting with the manager bit….

Life is about to get complicated! Here at Anglolang we are heading towards what will be a very busy summer period, with groups arriving from all over Europe and beyond, with a planned stay of anything from 1 week to 11 months! It will be my first summer as Academic Director in the UK and I am not sure what to expect, although I do know it will be somewhat different to my previous DoS experience in Madrid. This lead me to consider what I do expect and what the differences will be.

In the UK, English teaching is a lot more seasonal than it is in Europe. The vast majority of students tend to come to the UK during their holidays. In Spain, students go to class during their lunchtime or in the evening after their day’s work. However, they generally continue their studies for a nine or ten month period and then take a holiday during their holiday time! These differences lead to different learning expectations and different motivations.

 July and August are going to be very busy for us (and therefore for me!). There will be hundreds of students and a hugely increased number of teachers. There will be more classes, more social activities and the need for higher precision planning. I am expecting a summer which will be similar to the Septembers I used to spend in Madrid planning for the next academic year.

I have a long list of things to think about which includes, in no particular order (although the last point probably wins!):

ü  How to make sure that there are enough teachers who are qualified to teach the different groups/students we have (teenagers, teachers, business people, long term exam students, short term ‘holiday’ students, students wanting private classes, students wanting group classes)

ü  How to make sure that I am available to deal with the ‘day-to-day’: to talk to students, talk to teachers,  answer questions, provide exam support and generally be ‘visible’, given that we will have so many more students and teachers in the building

ü  How to not get bogged down with the day-to-day but to still have space in my head to plan, cogitate and keep up with the world of EFL.

ü  How to carry on blogging while doing all of the above!

ü  And, on a personal (and very important) level, how to get home with the necessary enthusiasm for 3 very small children who will be desperate to tell me what they have been doing during their holidays.

It definitely sounds like September in Madrid, with the added complication that the first time is always the most difficult. There are lots of unknowns or things that just don’t occur to you until you have done it once already! Wish me luck!

Now to part 2….
Many teachers reading this blog will be teaching on summer courses, be it on month-long intensive or two-week holiday stints, be it in an academy, a university or on a summer camp. Below I have included a selection of activities that I have used during the summer months (and indeed all-year-round as well). I hope they are useful.

1.   Mnemonics
Get students to write poems using the letters of a word. The word Summer, for example, might produce a poem like this:

Sunny days
Under a beach umbrella.
My family
Madrid in the sun
Eating ice cream
Reading my favourite book

You could give the students a number of different words to choose from (beach, holiday, going away etc). You could also change the rules so that the different lines of the poem didn’t have to BEGIN with the letters in the original word but simply CONTAIN these letters. For example:

          Sunny Days]
Sitting under my umbrella etc

  1. Adapt established games
The Price is Right is a show which, I think, exists in most countries. Contestants have to guess the price of various items they are shown in order to gain prizes. Why not adapt the idea to your classroom? So, if you are teaching international students in the UK, you can ask them to guess the price of various ‘local’ items (10 bananas from the local supermarket, a 3 course meal in the nearest pub). If the students are studying in their own country, how about the cost of a return flight to London/Edinburgh/Sydney etc or a day for a family of 4 to a well-known UK theme park? Teachers can easily find the price information online. Students can then research the cost of other items/packages, write descriptions and ask their classmates to guess the correct price.

Other popular games can be adapted in the same way:
Guess Who
 If you don’t have the original game, you just need 10 – 15 photographs of faces. You can easily get these from the internet. Students ask ‘Is it a man/woman?’ ’Has he got blue eyes/long hair?’etc in order to guess who you are thinking of. You could put a limit on the number of questions to make things more competitive.

Trivial Pursuit – Get students to write their own questions in teams before playing.

In this game, students have to work out who the murderer is, where the murder was committed and with what.

You need 18 cards in total (6 cards per category). Ask the students for suggestions and write one suggestion on each card (so the murderer might be the teacher, the doctor etc; the place might be the garden, the living room, the supermarket etc; the weapon might be a knife, a gun, a bowl, an icicle etc). 

Students should note down all the suggestions in their notebook so that they can cross out possibilities during the game.

Randomly choose one word from each category and put them into a sealed envelope. This is your ‘solution’.

Divide the remaining cards between the students. If you don’t have a board, the first student could simply make an accusation: ‘I suggest it was the teacher in the garden with the icicle’. If the person on the student’s left, has one of these cards, (s)he shows it to the student who crosses it off the list of possibilities. If not, play moves around to the next student on the left until a card has been shown.  Then the next student makes their accusation.

Play continues until someone has worked out the solution in the sealed envelope.

3.   A bag of stuff
This is an old favourite of mine. Basically, you need a bag (non see-through) into which you put a selection of random items. Students have 30 seconds to feel the bag and guess what is in it!

This is a great activity for reviewing adjectives (It is big/small/round/long), materials (it is made of plastic/metal/wool) and, for higher levels, modal verbs (it could/might/may/must/can’t be a ..). Good fun!

4.    Fold-over stories
I’m sure everyone is familiar with these stories – I love them because they include all the skills and can also focus on language practice.

Firstly, brainstorm with students the typical components of a horror story (although you could use any kind of story): people (vampires, witches) places (haunted house, maze), weapons (axes, knives) & sounds (creaky door, footsteps).

Next, give them the first line of their story (which the students write at the top of a blank piece of paper): It was a dark and stormy night. The student writes the next line, folds over the first line and passes the paper to the student on their left. Students continue the story, adding the next line and folding over the paper to hide the previous line, until they receive the paper they started with.

In small groups (3 or 4 students), the students read all the stories they have and choose the best story (together). They now improve it – make it more logical, work on linking the ideas/making the plot better, add more description, correct any grammar mistakes. Once they have done this, they think about how they could adapt it for a radio play: what sound effects they would need, what kind of voice they would use, how to make it sound ‘scary’. Students could then record the story using their mobile phones.

5.   Project work
Students could plan a 4-day tour around their town/city (or round the area of the UK that they are studying in). You could give the students different categories (places to visit, things to eat/drink), don’t forget to.. etc) that they could research on the internet/ by interviewing people. They would then choose their method of presentation, which could range from classroom posters to an information booklet to a class magazine to a video (made using their phones) to a presentation.

You could also ask students to take photos using their mobile phone – 10 activities to do in the town/city on a rainy day, 10 typical things local people eat, 1 beautiful place, 10 things you need to pack etc. This could be competitive if you divide the students into groups. It would also help with vocabulary development.

Those are some of the activities I have used over the summer (and in fact throughout the year as well!). I hope you find them useful.  It would be great to hear of other activities that people have enjoyed using.

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