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Combinations with Gerunds: Reducing Confusion, Increasing Accuracy
This week I decided to hold a spelling bee with my classes. I’ve always liked the idea of spelling bees – in fact, I just like the phrase ‘spelling bee’, although I have no idea what relevance a bee has to spelling. (Yes, I could google it. OK, so I did!)
Despite being 14-15 years old and having studied English for, on average, probably eight years, I thought it would be very unlikely that many (any?) of my Polish secondary school students would be able to pronounce all the letters of the English alphabet. Why? Because in the evenings I teach adults and in general they can’t either. There must be a point early on in the learning process in Poland where the students learn the alphabet, but whether they return to it or not seems to be a moot point.
Procedure for a 45 min. class:
- Register and question: ‘Who can write the English alphabet?’ SS (student/s) came to the board and wrote it – invariably incorrectly. We went through the errors. We said the alphabet together. SS generally sang it too (to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’). I highlighted problematic letters, e.g. the vowels A E I O U, and also G/J, Q, V, and so on. (10-15 mins)
- I wrote ten words on the board (20 for higher-level groups), checked and translated them, then asked the SS to practise spelling them – then there would be a quiz. SS were supposed to practise spelling the words in pairs or groups of three. Not all groups did this, so in those cases I fast-forwarded to the quiz. (5-10 mins)
- Quiz: SS sat in teams of 3-4. ROUND 1: I asked one SS from the first team to stand up and spell a word from the list, e.g. JOURNEY. If they got it right, their team got 1 point. If not, I asked the next team to spell the same word. If they got it right, they got 1 point, and I asked the following team to spell a different word. ROUND 2: When I had heard all the words spelled correctly (by a trial and error process of SS correcting their wrong answers by listening to others’ right answers), I erased the 10 words from the board and SS had to answer from memory. Of course, this proved harder, but it was possible for most SS thanks to the previous round. ROUND 3: Time-permitting we played a third round, where the words were my choice and SS had to answer from their knowledge. I chose fairly familiar words like ‘computer’, ‘window’, and ‘chair’ – things that were in the round around us. With three rounds the quiz could expand or contract to fit the remaining time and the ability of the SS. The quiz continued for as long as 25 minutes, with SS building up points. The players in the winning team got a good mark (6) as winners of the quiz.
- Compared to previous weeks (e.g. escaping from a desert(ed) island last week) this week’s concept was very simple: can you spell 10 words correctly? The answer was generally a resounding ‘No!’
- I ensured that the set of ten words in each group (easier and harder – see above) contained all the letters of the alphabet, so that each letter would get an airing. They were also fairly easy/familiar words, so not a lot of pre-teaching was required.
- In general I enjoyed being the quiz master. There was a lot of pleasure in the tension of waiting for a SS’s next letter, for example: ‘Spell QUEUE.’ ‘Q – U – E – ‘… would they get it right? I sensed other people enjoyed this too. We were willing them on to get it right. Unfortunately, most of the time, they did not.
- I quickly realised that this was more of a diagnostic lesson – a lesson where we established that there was a problem with matching the shape of letters to specific sounds. The errors were typical for Polish learners of English, and things that I have heard time and again during eleven years of teaching English in Poland: A, E, and I mixed up; c and s mixed up; short e (egg) instead of long ee; g and j mixed up; ‘ha’ instead of H; ‘key’ instead of K; missing Q, ‘air’ instead of R; and missing V or ‘fow’, like in Polish. No surprises, but I was shocked at the scale of the problem. During the first stage of the lesson – writing and saying the alphabet – I tried to use mnemonics, e.g. U sounds like ‘you’, Y sounds like ‘why’, Q sounds like ‘queue’, I = I (me), and so on. It was too little too late. We didn’t scratch the surface with learning the alphabet. It was just a diagnostic lesson – we found out that the need was there! I advised SS to learn it at home in their own time.
- In some groups over-competitive SS tried to ‘throw’ other competitors by suggesting the wrong letters. I let them do it to an extent because it made the student who was spelling focus and think all the harder.
- I created a PPT file to use to go through the alphabet with the SS. You can download it here: The English Alphabet (Powerpoint), but as time went on I realised that it was unnecessary and better to get SS to write the alphabet on the board and see their errors right from the beginning. Similarly, I made physical cards with the ten words on at two levels (see above), but it was quicker for me to simply write these words on the board. We had more time for the quiz, without trying to set up the projector and PPT and hand out the cards.
- Even fairly innocuous words like CHAIR posed serious problems for the SS in terms of spelling. In fact, listening to SS spell CHAIR was particularly painful because every letter posed a problem:
C – pronounced S
H – ‘What is it?’
A – pronounced I
I – pronounced E
R – pronounced ‘air’
- A few higher-level groups asked: ‘Why do we need to do this?’ ‘I want to see whether you know the alphabet.’ Some SS felt a bit sniffy, as if this was too easy and basic for their level. In the end I was proved right by most SS’s results in the quiz. I explained that it’s a basic skill and that they should know this at their level. I gave the example of filling in forms in the UK, since many of these SS may well be spending time working or studying there. ‘It’s so you don’t get the wrong name.’ One student, Dawid, protested: ‘But it’s normal name – Dawid.’ ‘OK. Can you spell it?’ ‘Yes. D-A-W-A-D.’
- Towards the beginning of one lesson the SS’s form tutor poked his head round the door to check that some SS had arrived. He quickly noticed that we were saying the alphabet, with the letters on the board. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked, slightly suspiciously. ‘We’re testing whether the students can pronounce the English alphabet.’ ‘And can they?’ ‘That’s what we’re going to find out.’ ‘Hmm,’ said the teacher, and left. I understand that learning the alphabet is most associated with children’s lessons, but experience told me that they would benefit from this ‘reminder’ – and I feel that most of them did. Later I found the teacher and mentioned the results: that almost none of the students could spell all of the words correctly with the alphabet. We talked about what could be done. The problem is that when you’re tied to the course book (as he is) pronouncing letters doesn’t come up again after the first few lessons at beginner level.
- The lesson time (45 mins) passed fairly quickly with this format. It was a nice simple lesson to run – without any technology or handouts (as in YATCB Method) – and it did feel like a change from doing the setup > preparation > presentation model of the previous few weeks. However, during the quiz I had to wonder whether it wasn’t a little bit, er, dull, compared with those previous lessons.
- I feel it was worth doing – to diagnose the problem – but the question now is how to build on it and ensure they learn to say the alphabet. Perhaps I can return to it during future lessons and do a five-minute quiz, rather than spending a whole lesson on it.
IELTS May 2018 Cue Card: A Friend Who Likes to Talk a Lot.
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Guest post by Jennifer Renart from Next Step English.
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When students ask me about how to improve their English, one of the things I always recommend is watching the news in English. And you can’t watch the news without running into some common political idioms. Do you know what a spin doctor is? How about a fishing expedition? Keep reading to learn 9 essential idioms about politics in American English, complete with FREE infographic!
Political Idiom 1: Strange Bedfellows
When we say that two people, organizations, etc. make strange bedfellows, we mean that they form an unusual or unexpected political alliance. A sort of political odd couple.
In the United States, the two main political parties are the Republicans and the Democrats. They are usually adversaries (= they usually oppose or compete with each other), so if a Republican and a Democrat worked together on an issue, we would say that they were strange bedfellows.
Example sentence: Did you hear that Randy Republican and Dorothy Democrat are working together on this new immigration bill? Talk about strange bedfellows!
Political Idiom 2: Lame Duck
This is a political idiom that you often hear after an election. A lame duck is a politician or a government that doesn’t have much real power because their period in office will end soon and their successor has already been elected. We most often use this idiom to talk about the US President, although it can apply to other politicians, too.
Presidential elections in the US take place in early November, but the newly elected president doesn’t start his term until January. The previous president is considered a lame duck from election day until the new president starts. Everyone knows they’re on their way out, so it’s difficult for them to get much accomplished.
Example sentence: He was hoping to accomplish more during his last days in office, but he’d overestimated how much he could get done as a lame duck.
Political Idiom 3: Spin Doctor
When you spin something, you present information in a particular way, especially one that makes your ideas seem good or your opponents’ ideas seem bad.
So, what’s a spin doctor?
A spin doctor is someone who spins for a living! A spin doctor is someone whose job it is to present information to the public about a politician, an organization, etc. in the way that seems the most positive.
All US presidents have spin doctors. In current American politics, Kellyanne Conway is often referred to as President Trump’s spin doctor.
Example sentence: I’m not interested in the soliloquizing of spin doctors. What are the facts? The plain facts?
(Soliloquize = (usually disapproving) to give a speech about your thoughts, as if you were a character in a play speaking directly to the audience, instead of engaging in a conversation.)
Political Idiom 4: Politically Correct
You probably know that PC can refer to your desktop computer, but did you know that it has a political meaning, too? PC is a short way of saying ‘politically correct’.
If speech or behaviour is politically correct, it makes a deliberate effort not to offend a particular group (or groups) of people.
Political correctness is a hotly debated issue in the United States. On the one hand, it’s obviously wrong to make fun of the disabled or use racial slurs. On the other hand, some people become so worried about being politically correct that they worry that filling their eyebrows might be cultural appropriation. And my sister’s friend actually told her that it was offensive for her to practice yoga because she has European ancestry, not Asian ancestry. (In case you’re wondering, my sister has not quit yoga.)
In the United States, we have people who hate political correctness so much that they behave in offensive ways on purpose. And we have people who are so politically correct that they’re just obnoxious. Luckily, most people live somewhere in the middle.
Is political correctness an issue in your country? Tell us in the comments below!
Political Idiom 5: October Surprise
This American political idiom specifically refers to elections. So, what is an October surprise?
An October surprise is any news event orchestrated or damaging information released in the month before an election, deliberately timed in the hopes of affecting the outcome of the election.
Example sentence: Things look good now, but we need to be prepared for an October surprise. Anything can happen in the final days before an election!
Political Idiom 6: Witch Hunt
These days, you can’t escape this political idiom in American news. It seems to be everywhere on Twitter and other social media!
So what is a witch hunt? A witch hunt is a politically motivated, often vindictive investigation that feeds on public fears.
This popular idiom comes from a dark period in European and American history when people believed that witches were the cause of bad things happening in society. People began accusing members of their communities of witchcraft, and many of those people were executed on the basis of irrational evidence.
This idiom became popular in American politics during the McCarthy Era, when hundreds of Americans were aggressively investigated for potentially being Communists.
Example sentence: No reasonable person could think this investigation was actually after truth or justice. It’s a total witch hunt.
Related: Are you hungry for more idioms? Check out our latest idioms here!
Political Idiom 7: (To Commit) Political Suicide
Committing political suicide means doing something unpopular that will likely lead to the end of your career as a politician.
Example sentence: I know you think these activists are idiots, but you can’t say that publicly. It’s political suicide!
Political Idiom 8: Fishing Expedition
When you go fishing, you dip your line into the water and hope that something bites. You might not catch a fish right away, but if you keep at it, you know that you’ll probably catch something eventually.
So, what is a fishing expedition? It’s a political and legal idiom that we use to describe an investigation carried out without any clearly defined plan or purpose, in the hope of discovering useful negative information about someone.
Example sentence: These document requests can’t possibly lead to the discovery of relevant information! You’re on a fishing expedition, and I think the judge will agree with me!
Political Idiom 9: Red Tape
I saved the best for last!
Have you ever been frustrated by endless paperwork when you need to do something with the government? Then you have been a victim of red tape!
Red tape refers to official rules that seem more complicated than necessary and prevent things from being done quickly.
This is something that I personally love to complain about. Curse you, red tape!
…which is why, of course, I love the girl described in Cake’s ‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket’! (Jump to 1:32.)
I want a girl who gets up early.
I want a girl who stays up late.
I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity,
Who uses a machete to cut through red tape!
Example sentence: You want us to start construction next week? Think again, buddy! We’ve got at least 6 months of red tape to get through first, and that’s if we’re lucky.
Political Idioms Infographic
I hope you enjoyed learning these popular political idioms. Here’s an infographic to help you remember them! Check out more great infographics for learning English here!
Jennifer founded Next Step English so she could help advanced English learners master the vocabulary that native speakers don’t expect them to know. Vocabulary that will make native speakers think, ‘Wow! You really know English!’
In her free time, she loves hiking, playing Bananagrams, and binge-watching British murder mysteries.
‘Happy learning, English nerds!’ 👊🤓
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