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  • People of various backgrounds and ages standing together holding paper speech bubbles
    • Teaching trends and techniques
    • Language teaching

    4 poor communication skills (and what to do about them)

    By Rachael Roberts

    How to help your students improve their general listening, speaking and understanding

    Do your students ever display poor communication skills?

    Most teachers will answer with a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, communication skills do not always come naturally to many people. Let’s look at some of the most common and egregious errors people make when speaking and listening to each other. I’ll also give you some valuable ways to help your students improve.

    1. They don’t even stop to breathe

    If you find one student doing a LOT of talking, it’s probably because no one else can get a word in edgeways. It can be tempting to assume that this is because the chatty student thinks their ideas are better than anyone else’s, but, in fact, it is often a sign of nerves.

    Look more carefully and see if they appear breathless or anxious. Whatever the reason, this kind of student may benefit from a more structured approach where students are given time to prepare what they are going to say, and everyone is expected to contribute equally. Or make it into a game where students have to make sure that they speak for 50% of the time each, as would be expected in an exam situation.

    2. They aren’t really paying attention to each other

    Whether your students are looking at their phones, staring out of the window or can’t wait to interrupt each other, poor listeners make poor communicators. Deal with this by always requiring the listener in any pair to do something specific. For example, tell them they will need to summarise what their partner said, or they have to think of three questions to ask their partner at the end.

    We usually have a reason to listen in real-life communication, so make sure you give them one. Otherwise, they may assume that only the teacher needs to pay attention when another student is talking.

    3. They ramble and it’s difficult to follow what they’re saying

    Students may ramble because they are unconfident about the target language. It’s fine for students to struggle a bit to communicate, but it’s sensible to set achievable tasks, or they may give up.

    It could also be that they would benefit from more rehearsal and practice. Being able to speak fluently ‘off the cuff’ is very challenging, particularly in front of an audience. Try giving students time to plan what they are going to say first. They shouldn’t be reading off the page, but writing it first can help with confidence and fluency.

    Repetition is also invaluable in building fluency. Try doing speaking tasks more than once, and see how the quality and quantity improves each time. You can ring the changes by swapping partners or changing the format from pairs to small groups, to the whole class.

    4. They don’t treat others’ feelings with respect

    This can show itself in different ways. Maybe your students just completely ignore the feelings the other person is demonstrating or telling them about. Or maybe they dismiss them in other ways, ‘Oh, exactly the same thing happened to me! I was just walking along…’

    You can model better ways to respond yourself. For example, “It sounds as if you feel quite angry about that?”, “That must have been really difficult.’

    This teaches students the kind of phrases they can use to validate, empathize and talk about emotions.

    If you can deal with these problems, your students will be well on the way to becoming master communicators.

  • A young person in front of a laptop with headphones
    • Language teaching

    Tips for effective online classroom management

    By Pearson Languages

    Online language learning and teaching brings with it a lot of things to think about. The following tips are designed to help you plan your primary-level online classes effectively and manage students in a digital environment.

    1. Keep energy levels high

    The school environment is an active and incredibly social space. It’s hard to replicate this online, potentially leading to boredom and frustration among your students. For this reason, you should take regular 'movement breaks' during the day to energize them. You can do the following quick sequence sitting or standing:

    • Stretch your arms above your head and reach for the sky. 
    • Count to ten. 
    • Drop your left arm to your side and bend to your left while stretching your right arm over your head. 
    • Count to fifteen. 
    • Come back to an upright position and stretch both arms above your head. 
    • Count to ten. 
    • Drop your right arm to your side and bend to your right while stretching your left arm over your head. 
    • Count to fifteen. 
    • Come back to an upright position and stretch both arms above your head. 
    • Count to ten. 
    • Lean forward until your fingertips touch the floor (only go as far as is comfortable for your body), then cross your arms and release your head so it hangs gently between your legs. 
    • Count to fifteen. 
    • Come back upright, shake your arms and legs, and get back to work!

    This excellent energy booster allows your students to revise parts of the body, commands and even make the link with other subjects.

    2. Encourage casual socialisation

    Small talk and gossip are fundamental parts of the regular school day. It’s essential to give students a few minutes to chat freely. It will help them feel relaxed and make your classes more comfortable.

    Let your students do this in whatever language they want and don’t get involved, just like at school. Alternatively, ask someone to share a YouTube video, song, Instagram, or TikTok post in a digital show and tell.

    3. Encourage the use of functional language

    After students have been chatting freely in their own language, take the opportunity to bring in functional language depending on the subject they were talking about in English. This will help get them ready for the lesson. Here are some ways to do this:

    • Singing - Play a song and get them to sing along. 
    • Role-play - When students talk about food, you could role-play in a restaurant or talk about likes and dislikes. 
    • Guessing games - Students must read the animals' descriptions and guess what they are. You can make up your own descriptions.

    4. Consider task and student density

    To optimize learning time, consider dividing your class into smaller groups and teaching each one individually for part of the timetabled class time. You may find that you get more done in 15 minutes with eight students than you would be able to get done in 60 minutes with 32 students.

    At the same time, you will be able to focus more easily on individual needs (you’ll be able to see all their video thumbnails on the same preview page). If it is not acceptable in your school to do this, divide the class so you’re not trying to teach everyone the same thing simultaneously.

    Having the whole class do a reading or writing activity is a lost opportunity to use this quiet time to give more focused support to smaller groups of learners, so think about setting a reading task for half the class, while you supervise a speaking activity with the other half, and then swap them over.

    Alternatively, set a writing activity for 1/3 of the students, a reading for 1/3 and a speaking activity for the remaining 1/3, and rotate the groups during the class.

    5. Manage your expectations

    Don’t expect to get the same amount of work done in an online class as in the classroom. Once you have waited for everyone to connect, get them to turn on their cameras, etc., you have less time to teach than you would usually have. Add this to the fact that it’s much more complex and time-consuming to give focused support to individual learners in a way that doesn’t interrupt everyone else.

    So, don’t plan the same task density in online classes as you would for face-to-face teaching. Explore flipping some of your activities, so your students arrive better prepared to get to work.

    It’s also much harder to engage students, measure their engagement and verify that they are staying on task online than in the physical classroom. In an online class, measuring engagement and reading reactions is harder. Always clearly explain the objectives and why you have decided on them. Regularly check to see if everyone understands and is able to work productively.

    When you’re all online, you can’t use visual clues to quickly judge whether anyone is having difficulties, like you can in the classroom. Ask direct questions to specific students rather than asking if everyone understands, or is OK. During and at the end of class, check and reinforce the achieved objectives.

  • A smiling little girl on a laptop with headphones on
    • Language teaching

    Tips for setting up an optimized online classroom

    By Pearson Languages

    Technology and the learning space

    How a physical classroom is organized, decorated and laid out impacts how your students feel, interact and learn. It’s just as important to think about how your virtual teaching space functions and what it looks like, as it will greatly affect your students’ learning experience.

    Classrooms are usually full of posters, examples of students’ work and other decorations. Just because you’re teaching online doesn’t mean your environment needs to look dull.

    Take some time to think about your virtual teaching space. Picture it in your head. What’s behind you? What’s on either side? Is there an echo? Is it light or dark? How far away are you from the camera?

    Online classroom setup dos and don’ts

    While teaching online isn’t always that different from teaching face-to-face, there are quite a few things you might not have considered before. Here are some of my top dos and don’ts to help:

    Lighting

    • Don’t sit in front of a window or other source of light; otherwise, your face will be in shadow and hard to see. If you have no option, close the curtains and use an artificial light source to illuminate your face.
    • Do reflect lighting off a wall or ceiling, so it hits your face indirectly. This creates a much more pleasing image. If possible, sit in front of any windows or to the side of them so that the light hits your face directly or from the side. If the room is naturally dark, reflect a couple of lamps off the wall in front of you or the ceiling.

    Audio

    • Do invest in a set of headphones with an inline microphone. Even cheap ones will make you easier to understand, and reduce environmental noise interference (traffic, your neighbor’s stereo, etc.).
    • Don’t teach in an empty classroom (if you can avoid it). They are a terrible place to teach online classes from because they suffer from echo, environmental noise, lighting and bandwidth problems.
    • If your teaching space has an echo, try placing pillows or cushions on either side of your screen. They help absorb echoes and make it easier for your students to hear you.

    Video

    • Sit far enough away from the camera so your students can see most of your upper body and arms. If you use a laptop, raise it up on an old shoebox or a couple of books, so that the camera isn’t pointing up your nose!
    • Do invest in the fastest internet connection you can afford (school administrators may want to consider offering subsidies so teachers can upgrade their connection speed). It is vital that you have enough internet bandwidth to stream good-quality audio and video and share materials with your students. Learn how to use your mobile phone data plan to create a wifi hotspot for your computer as a backup.

    Using technology with your students

    Here are some ways to get the most out of technology, build your student’s digital literacy skills and increase motivation:

    Space

    Students should connect from a private space where they are not interrupted by siblings, pets, housekeepers, or parents. The space should be well-lit and have a good Wi-Fi signal.

    Communication

    Just like you, they should use earphones with an inline microphone. Their webcams should be on, not just so you can see them, but so they can see each other. Encourage learners to have fun and personalize their space by changing their backgrounds or using filters.

    Distractions

    Parents and caregivers should be aware of the negative effect of noise and distractions on their children’s learning. It’s important that where possible, they avoid having business meetings in the same room their children are learning in. They should also ask other people in the house to respect the children’s right to enjoy a quiet, private, productive learning environment.

    Resources

    If you and your students are online using some form of computer, tablet, or mobile device to connect to class, make sure to use the resources available to you. Reinforce how to correctly use spell check when writing a document; for example, have your students use their cameras to take photos of their work to share or even their favorite toys.

    Flexibility

    Instead of trying (and often failing!) to get all your students to speak during the class, have them make videos or audio recordings for homework that they send to you or each other for feedback. Alternatively, experiment with breakout rooms, if using a platform that allows this.

    Preparation

    If you want to show a YouTube video during class, send the link to your students to watch for homework before class, or have them watch it during class on their own devices.

    Besides saving your internet bandwidth, they may even be inspired to click on one of the other recommended (usually related) videos alongside the one you want them to watch. It’ll be on their recently watched list if they want to go back and watch it again.

    Collaboration

    If you set group work that involves writing a text or designing a presentation, ask your students to collaborate with a shared Google Doc. You’ll be able to see what they’re doing in real-time and give them feedback. It works like you are walking around the classroom and looking over their shoulders.

    Feedback

    Explore the focused feedback tools your web conferencing platform offers, such as breakout rooms or an individual chat. But also, don’t forget to share relevant information and learning with the whole class. This helps them all benefit from your expertise, just like if they listen to you answering a classmate’s question in the classroom.

    If your students are at home, they can access materials and props they would never have at school. Think about how you could incorporate this into your teaching.

    Materials

    Finally, ensure that the materials you use are suitable for online learning. If you use a book, it should have a fully digital option and a platform available to your students with practice activities, videos, and audio recordings. You should avoid using static pages in favor of dynamic activities, or online documents that allow real-time collaboration.

    Involving parents and caregivers in your online teaching environment

    Create an online learning document for parents explaining how they can create a positive and productive learning environment for their children. Some families may experience significant difficulties and may be unable to implement everything. But it’s still important to explain to them how to optimize the experience if they can.
     

  • a woman stood in front of a noteboard, gesturing to it. The noteboard has different papers and graphs stuck to it.
    • Language teaching
    • Business and employability

    The importance of teachers professional development

    By Pearson Languages

    There’s the saying, “There are two types of teachers with 20 years of teaching experience: the first are those with 20 years of experience and the second are those with one year’s experience repeated 20 times.”

    Some believe most teachers want to be the first kind of teacher – constantly evolving throughout their careers – rather than repeating the same classes. Additionally, taking professional development courses can help us reach these new heights.

    Doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals regularly have to seek training opportunities. This enables them to keep up to date with the latest technologies, innovations and changes in the wider world. It could be argued that teachers are no different.

    Benefits of professional development training

    There are several benefits to continued professional training for teachers. For instance, there’s always something new to learn as developments are happening regularly in the world of ELT. Whether it’s innovations in ed-tech, new research into how we learn languages or a new pedagogy, certain courses can help bring you up to speed with these!

    Undertaking further training will help you to deepen your knowledge and widen your expertise. So rather than simply repeating the same method of teaching a grammar point over again, you’ll learn new approaches. In turn, you’ll be better equipped to find the tools that work to help your students reach their learning goals.

    Another great thing about professional development is that it can lead to career progression and promotion. There are a number of courses that you can take to develop not only skills for teaching, but other roles in the ELT industry.
    For example, you can train to become a director of studies, specialize in business or academic English, or enter ELT publishing or management. There are many options to explore through further education!

    New trends in English language teaching

    To be the best teachers we can be, it's important to be aware of new trends in the field of ELT. Some of the latest ones include:

    Hybrid learning

    Gaining popularity in recent years, hybrid learning is an approach to teaching. Specifically, it involves some students attending class in person, while others join the class virtually from home. This means that teachers must be prepared to simultaneously teach both students in person and online.

    Flipped classroom

    A flipped classroom means students are introduced to content at home. Often teachers introduce this via videos and then practice working through the new knowledge in class. This is the opposite of the more traditional method where they are given new content at school, and complete assignments independently at home.

    Bite-sized learning

    One method of teaching that has become more common is bite-sized learning. For example, breaking down information into smaller chunks instead of having learners listen to long, uninterrupted sessions, and this helps students absorb information and keeps them engaged.

    If you’re not already familiar with these, there are lots of professional development courses that teach you how to use them in your classroom.

    Formal qualifications in ELT

    So what courses can you take? Here are some of the most common courses you can take for English language teaching.

    • CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) - Cambridge’s Level 5 CELTA qualification is an internationally recognized ELT course. While this certificate focuses on teaching adults, language academies accept it for both adults and young learners.
    • Trinity CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) - Like the CELTA, the Trinity CertTESOL Level 5 course is designed for people with little or no English teaching experience.
    • Trinity CertPT (Certificate for Practising Teachers) - Trinity’s Level 6 CertPT is designed for teachers who have already been teaching for a minimum of six months. It aims to support teachers' further development and help them improve their teaching practice.
    • DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) - Cambridge’s DELTA provides professional development for teachers with at least one year’s experience. This level 7 qualification is also designed for those who want to progress into more senior roles such as head of English and teacher training.
    • Trinity DipTESOL (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) - Trinity’s DipTESOL is designed for teachers who have reached a stage in their career where they’d like to progress to a more senior level. Like the DELTA, it’s an internationally respected level 7 qualification for experienced TEFL teachers.
    • Master’s degree - Master’s studies in English Language Teaching, TESOL, or applied linguistics, are great options to reach a more senior level in your career. Most people take them to become a director of studies or reach a management position.
    • Specialized courses - If there’s an area of teaching that you’d like to specialize in, plenty of short courses cover a range of topics. These include teaching online, teaching with technology, teaching business English and teaching very young children. Check out LinkedIn Learning, Coursera or Udemy to see what they offer.

    If you’re unable to take a formal course, sharing ideas with colleagues is a great way to create professional development opportunities. You could exchange lesson plans and ask for feedback or input. There are plenty of podcasts, webinars and social media groups for teachers where you can find great tips and ideas from fellow teachers worldwide.

    Whichever route you decide, remember that learning is a lifelong journey – not only for your students but for yourself too! There are always new things to discover that will help you develop as a teacher.

  • A young child with a hat on climbing on a tree
    • Language teaching
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    From learners to explorers: How to develop an explorer mindset in language students

    By Jeanne Perrett

    What do you think of when you hear the term ‘explorer mindset’?

    Many people think that it’s about encouraging children to be interested in learning. To support them when they want to discover new thoughts and skills – and to find things out for themselves.

    But we can expand on those thoughts.

    Explorers who set off on expeditions have specific goals. They have to prepare physically, mentally and practically. They know where they want to go, even if they don’t know what they will find there. In the process, they stumble and fall and get back up again. And when they finally reach the place they were headed for, they see more opportunities and realize they would like to go even further.

    Young people who develop this mindset will always want to learn, discover and keep searching for bigger and better things.

    1. Prepare them for the journey

    Before setting off on any journey, it’s crucial to have access to the right tools. In our schools, we (usually) have all the books, technology and stationery we need. At home, on the other hand, students might only have the basics. Books and craft supplies might also be seen as messy and something to be tidied away.

    Therefore, in our classrooms, we should show our students that materials are always readily accessible. Learners should understand that while everything has its place, we still like to read, write, and make things.

    How to encourage reading, writing and creativity:

    • Show students what you are reading; the books you have in your bag or tablet.
    • Show them your notebooks and other written work.
    • Allow time for craft work in the middle of the lesson and leave time to clear up at the end.
    • Allocate a ‘messy space’ in the classroom where craft material can be used anytime. We often do this with kindergarten classes; consider continuing it for older students.

    2. Focus on the language learning destination

    Most of our students will be excited about starting their journey through the English language. Some will be naturally motivated or innately inclined to become fluent speakers, and others will need your encouragement.

    As a teacher, you are the primary role model for your students. Your most powerful tool is showing your own enthusiasm for learning through English. Show the children that you want to improve your own English.

    Thanks to the power of technology, children have become excellent explorers.

    We can now be genuinely surprised about the things they discover on YouTube, Twitch or TikTok – the phrases, ideas or even ‘life hacks’ they share with us in class. We can learn from them too. Real admiration is always more motivating than praise.

    How to encourage show and tell in the classroom:

    • Allow five minutes for the children to show or tell you new things they have discovered online or elsewhere. Make it a routine with a time limit.
    • Help the children find out about the skills their role models have by searching the internet or reading magazines. Seeing what others can do from small beginnings can inspire students to create their own goals.

    3. Acknowledge obstacles

    We tend to think of obstacles as something we have to conquer and get over. But we can’t always do that. Sometimes we have to stop, retrace our steps, rest, redefine our goals and start again.

    As teachers, we know that not achieving what we have set out to do can make us feel incompetent. The same goes for our students. If they can’t do their homework, they may not feel good about themselves and start to invent excuses. We need to set them small, manageable daily goals so that the students can find satisfaction in focused work with a finite outcome.

    If they do not achieve those goals, we can reset them in a different way – for example, a writing task could become a speaking task or vice versa. Seeing that we can approach a piece of work from different angles is a life skill for our children. We don’t have to give up; we have to do it differently.

    How to help individuals reach their full potential

    Give them a homework menu with different tasks done in different ways. This allows them to work to the best of their specific abilities.
    For example:

    Describe your bedroom. You can…

    • write about it 
    • talk about it
    • draw and label it
    • take a photo and label it

    4. Continue to explore

    It sometimes seems that the more we learn, the less we know. As we achieve certain goals, we realize that there are other goals beyond them. Viewed from afar, they might seem, like mountain ranges, impossible to reach. And it’s true. We can’t possibly learn everything. Just as we can accept obstacles as a natural part of life, we can accept limitations.

    Instead of feeling inadequate, we can focus on what we have learnt and gradually extend our knowledge and skills. This can be done at any level, and it is rewarding to look back and see how far we have come as explorers of the English language.

    Tips for extending students’ knowledge and skills

    • Create regular opportunities for the children to demonstrate new knowledge or skills. A bulletin board is a simple way of doing this; children could add a note or a drawing to a topic-based board and read it aloud or briefly explain why they think it is interesting.
    • Start or end a school term with simple revision activities and quizzes to help the students feel good about what they already know, however basic.
    • Point out the students' less obvious soft skills, such as punctuality, listening to others, or being organized. Reading and writing often dominate school lessons. This helps children realize that other aspects of their skill sets and behavior are recognized and valued.

    Encouraging children to develop an explorer mindset helps them feel a sense of satisfaction, that they are responsible for their own education. They are, and will continue to be, the leaders of their own learning expeditions.

  • A group of young people sat together smiling
    • Linguistics and culture
    • Language teaching

    How long does it take to learn English?

    By Pearson Languages

    “How long will it take me to learn English?” This is a question we often hear, especially with summer intensive courses just around the corner. Students all over the world want to know how much time and effort it will take them to master a new language.

    Teachers know the answer isn’t as simple as it seems. It depends on many things, such as; how different the second language is from their mother tongue, how old they are, whether they can speak other languages, how much time they will have to study outside the classroom, their motivation and ability to practice.

    The truth is, it takes A LOT of work to become proficient in a new language – and students need to be aware that they need to study independently if they want to progress rapidly.

    Explaining student responsibility

    Becoming truly proficient in a language can take many years. In a study carried out by Pearson they found that even for fast learners, it can take as much as 760 hours to enter the B2 CEFR level from <A1.

    Also, most year-round courses are around 100-120 hours per level, (not including homework). So the reality is that it should take approximately 1000 hours to go from A1 to C2.

    However, one of the biggest misconceptions students have is that there is a “fixed route” to language learning and that this is linear – and that time spent studying in class is all that’s required to make the progress they expect. This mistakenly puts the onus on the teacher, rather than the student, which means they may not take responsibility for their own learning.

    While most language learners need great course materials, instruction, correction, and mentorship from their teachers, it’s key that they are motivated to become independent learners. Progress and success comes down to regular practice, feedback and the confidence to make and learn from mistakes. Students must understand this from the outset – so make sure this is a conversation you have with your classes from the very first day.

    Understanding language goals

    It’s also extremely important to understand your students’ language learning goals right away. Some, for example, will want to learn a language for travel purposes and may be happy to reach an elementary or pre-intermediate level of English. Others will want to learn it for work or study purposes and will need to reach a more advanced level. By definition, “learning a new language” will be very different for those two groups of students – and this will affect how you design and deliver your course.

    Therefore, it’s key that you discuss individual learning objectives and then form a plan of how students will meet them. You should also explain that not everyone progresses at the same rate, but that is normal and should not be a cause for frustration.

    In private language schools (PLSs), which offer English for specific purposes (ESP), business English, CLIL, English for Academic Purposes, intensive summer classes, and a range of other courses, it’s even more important to do this well. Correctly managed expectations, well-selected materials, and tailored courses will keep students motivated and help the business thrive.

    Setting and meeting targets

    At an institutional level, schools, PLS’s and even government agencies also need to be aware of the pitfalls of rigid target setting.

    Not only can mishandled targets directly affect learner motivation when they are held back or moved up too quickly, but they also can force educators to “teach to the test”, rather than planning classes and designing courses that meet their students’ needs.

    On the other hand, standardized testing systems help place learners at the right level, set benchmarks and show student progression. Examinations also give students firm objectives to work towards.

    So, at the very least, management and governing authorities should consult with educators before setting broad targets.

    Handling feedback and adapting to individual needs

    Honesty is essential when talking to individual students about their progress (good or bad). It’s hard telling someone that they haven’t achieved the grades they need to move on to the next level, but it’s the right thing to do. Putting a person in a higher level to save their feelings only leads to frustration, demotivation, and self-doubt. Likewise, when a student has done well, praise is good, but you should still be honest about the areas in which they need to improve.

    This is what happens at a successful PLS in Japan who run 1000-hour year-round intensive courses. They get results because they consult their learners in order to understand their goals and focus their courses on developing key communicative skills for professionals. At the same time, they track motivation levels and adjust their courses to ensure the student’s progress is on track to meet their expectations. Of course, this is quite a unique setting, with a very intensive, highly personalized approach, and the school has the advantage of tailor-making courses.

    Using tools to help

    They also used the Global Scale of English (GSE) to help design their curriculum and use the ‘can do’ descriptors to set goals. They then selected Versant assessments (which are mapped to scoring against the GSE) to measure student progress on a monthly basis.

    Educators can emulate their approach. By using tools like these, as well as others, such as the GSE Teacher Toolkit, you can design syllabi, plan classes, place students at the right level and measure individual progress, helping you meet your institution’s targets while supporting your learners to achieve their goals.

    An additional benefit from using the GSE, is that this granular framework breaks down what needs to be learned within a CEFR level. Our courseware, Placement, Progress and high-stakes assessments, like PTE Academic, are already aligned to the GSE. To help accelerate the learner journey, our courseware now features three new levels – A2+, B1+ and B2+. By moving to eight-level courses, it ensures students are able to master the content at a more achievable rate.

  • An overhead shot of a three children with notepads, tablets and phones on the table being handled by them
    • Language teaching

    How to encourage your teenage students to become independent learners

    By Pearson Languages

    Learning is a lifelong activity regardless of age, position, or ambition. Many teachers embody this philosophy themselves – and would like nothing more than for their teenage students to develop strategies to become independent learners.

    But teachers often feel frustrated when their students rely on them too much or show a lack of motivation and focus in the classroom.

    Let’s look at how to start a project that holds your students’ attention. We’ll also go into how you can help your students practice and develop a range of English language skills at the same time.

    The benefits of starting a project that interests your students

    Group projects are motivating because they give students a common objective to work towards. The need to work as part of a team teaches teens collaboration skills, such as accountability. When learners decide on roles within their groups it soon becomes apparent just how important it is for them to be responsible and do their part.

    Project work also often encourages students to push themselves beyond their comfort zones as they try and test new skills. This is often true when learners are required to present on a topic or learn how to do something practical (like using PowerPoint or Google Slides for presentation design).
    In addition, projects can test a variety of English language and 21st century skills such as:

    • critical thinking skills (for planning and development of ideas)
    • topic/subject-specific vocabulary
    • reading and listening comprehension (for researching)
    • speaking skills (for group work)
    • creative skills (for project development and production)
    • presenting skills (for the final delivery of the project)

    Furthermore, when projects take place over several classes, students often eventually get into a routine and seek less direction from the teacher. They know what needs to be done and get on with it in their groups. Of course, you will still need to monitor and offer guidance throughout the project.

    The key elements of an independent learning project

    Find a meaningful subject matter

    First, you’ll need to start with a topic that engages your students. To discover this, put students in groups (online in breakout rooms or in the classroom) and have them work together and mind map some local, national or global problems they would like to solve. For example:

    • The local theater has closed down and they want to set up a new drama club.
    • There is a lot of pollution in the capital city and they want to help reduce it.
    • The rainforest is being deforested and they want to create awareness.

    After they have a good-sized list, instruct each group to pick something they would like to learn more about. Alternatively, if your students are unlikely to find interesting problems to solve themselves, provide them with several short-level-appropriate reading materials about topics you think will catch their attention. That way they can learn about local or international issues and choose a project focus.

    Balancing guidance and instruction

    A vital goal of this project-based approach is to encourage students to be independent. That does not mean they should have no boundaries or objectives, however.

    You’ll need to set deadlines, tell them what you expect of them, and explain how they should present their projects at the end. And depending on their levels, your students will also need a certain amount of scaffolding. You can do this using a set of questions. For example:

    1. What is the main problem you want to solve?
    2. Who does it affect?
    3. Why is it important to change?
    4. What steps could you take to solve the issue?
    5. Who could help you do this?
    6. How could we do this as a group?
    7. How can we present the issue to make people care about it?

    These questions can form the basis of the project, which can last from one to several weeks, depending on their age, level and time restraints. Adapt the questions to suit your students and the specific needs of their projects.

    Facilitating teamwork

    Encourage students to work together to plan, research and present their ideas. Set days or classes by which certain project elements must be completed. This helps ensure that the students make progress and encourages them to ask you questions if they are stuck.

    Decide whether you want to give set times during your classes to work on the project, or whether you want to dedicate entire classes to their work. Also, think about how much work should be completed in your student's own time. Their workload, level of English, and access to technology will all impact your decision.

    For example:

    • Class one: Define the problem you want to solve. Consider what you need to find out, decide on individual roles and develop an action plan. Show the teacher your progress.
    • Class two: Research your project questions and share what you find with the group. Is there anything else you need to know? Show the teacher your progress.
    • Class three: Come up with a presentation outline and begin to work on it.
    • Homework: Each work on your individual presentation section.
    • Class four: Show the teacher your progress. Practice your presentations.
    • Class five: Practice and then deliver your presentations.

    You may wish to allow students the freedom to choose how they would like to present it. Give instructions on how long you expect the presentation to be. If working remotely, collaboration tools such as Google Docs, Padlet and Trello are excellent for facilitating teamwork.

    Here are some ways you might ask them to present:

    • a poster and presentation
    • an online presentation (e.g. using PowerPoint)
    • a website (on paper or online)
    • a video presentation
    • a theatrical production
    • a podcast episode.

    Keep in mind that the objective is to help them research, present and deliver a project in English. Check in regularly on progress and provide feedback and help whenever needed.

    While it’s important to monitor and guide them with the English language as they work, it’s also crucial to let students make decisions for themselves.

  • A group of young adults sat at a table in a library looking up towards a older woman
    • Teaching trends and techniques
    • Language teaching

    Fostering critical thinking in the classroom

    By Pearson Languages

    Critical thinking is a term often thrown around the teacher’s lounge. You often hear, “Of course, teaching critical thinking is essential.” However, in that same space, we may also hear the question, “But how?”

    Teaching students to think critically involves helping them to develop a critical mindset. What exactly does that mean, and how can we do that?

    What does it mean to think critically?

    Critical thinking is a complex process that involves students reflecting, analyzing and evaluating ideas. Building a community of critical thinkers in our classrooms involves going beyond the cognitive domains and building the affective domains.

    The cognitive domain concerns subject knowledge and intellectual skills, whereas the affective domain involves emotional engagement with an idea or learning material.

    This deliberate teaching of critical thinking needs to be part of our teaching toolkit. We need to develop a mindset around it in and out of our classrooms.

    How can teachers develop a critical-thinking mindset?

    Consider all the questions we pose to students during our classes. Do we expect a yes or no answer, or have we established a classroom environment where students offer considered reasons for their responses?

    By following some guiding principles, we can get into the practice of naturally expecting deeper answers:

    1. Students need to engage in critical thinking tasks/activities at all levels.
    2. Teachers need to provide space/time in the classroom to build critical thinking learning opportunities.
    3. Practicing critical thinking must be incorporated throughout the course, increasing complexity as students improve their critical thinking ability.
    4. Students must be given opportunities to practice transferring critical thinking skills to other contexts.

    Activities to foster critical thinking in the classroom

    Activity/Strategy #1: Categorizing

    Provide a set of vocabulary terms or grammatical structures on the board (or pictures for true beginners). Ask your students to gather in pairs or small groups and have them categorize the list. Ask them to be creative and see how diverse the categories can be.

    Example:

    Desk, computer, pencil, stove, dishes, forks, novel, cookbook, sink, shelf

    • Made from trees: pencil, novel, cookbook, desk.
    • Made from metal: fork, stove, sink, etc.

    Activity/Strategy #2: What’s the problem?

    Provide students with a short reading or listening and have your students define a problem they read or hear.

    Tomas ran up the steps into Building A. The door was closed, but he opened it up. He was very late. He took his seat, feeling out of breath.

    • Determine why Tomas was late.
    • Underline verbs in the past tense.
    • Create a beginning or ending to the story.

    Activity/Strategy #3: Circles of possibility

    Present a problem or situation. Consider the problem presented in strategy #2 above: Ask the students to evaluate the situation from Tomas’ point of view, then, from the teacher’s point of view, and then from his classmate’s point of view.

    This activity generates many conversations, and even more critical thinking than you can imagine!

    Activity/Strategy #4: Draw connections

    Provide students with a list of topics or themes they have studied or are interested in. Place one in the center, and ask them to draw connections between each one.

    Afterward, they should explain their ideas. For example:

    “Energy and environment are affected by sports. Most sports do not harm the environment, but if you think about auto racing, it uses a lot of fuel. It can negatively impact the environment.”

    Activity/Strategy #5: What’s the rule?

    Play students an audio clip or provide them with a reading text. Draw students’ attention to a particular grammatical structure and ask them to deduce the rules.

    Activity/Strategy #5: Establishing context

    Show your class an image and put your students in small groups. Give each group a task. For example:

    The Jamestown settlement in the United States
    “A famous historic site is the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia. People from England were the first people to live in Jamestown. When did they arrive? They arrived in 1607. They built homes and other buildings. They looked for gold, silver and other materials. They sent the materials back to England. It was a hard life. Jamestown wasn’t a good place to settle. The winters were cold, and the settlers didn’t know how to protect themselves. After some time, they traded with the Native Americans, including tools for food. This helped the hungry settlers. Did many people die? Yes, many of the first settlers died. Later, more settlers arrived in Jamestown. It wasn’t easy, but in the end the settlement grew.”

    Ask questions like this:

    • If this were in a movie, what would the movie be about?
    • If this were an advertisement, what would it be advertising?
    • If this were a book, what would the book be about?

    There are many other wonderful strategies that can help build a classroom of critical thinkers. Getting your students accustomed to these types of tasks can increase their linguistic and affective competencies and critical thinking. In addition to these on-the-spot activities, consider building in project-based learning.

    How can you incorporate project-based learning into your classroom?

    Project-based learning often begins with a challenge or problem. Students explore and find answers over an extended period of time. These projects focus on building 21st Century Skills: Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking.

    They also represent what students are likely to encounter when they leave our English language classes.

    An example project

    Consider this project: Our cafeteria is outdated. It does not allow for food variety, or for guests to sit in groups of their desired size and activity level. Survey students who use the cafeteria. Follow up the survey with interviews. Determine how your group can reimagine the cafeteria. Prepare a proposal. Present your proposal.

    You can imagine the amount of language students will use working on this project, while, at the same time, building a critical mindset.

    Teaching critical thinking is all about building activities and strategies that become part of your teaching toolkit, and your students’ regular approach to problem-solving.

  • A young boy in a room full of books thining with his hand to his head, there is a lightbulb graphic above him
    • Teaching trends and techniques
    • Language teaching

    Success beyond class: Critical thinking skills and academic english

    By Pearson Languages

    English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes are designed to prepare students for higher education delivered in English. Students are expected to hold their own among a class full of fluent English speakers. So it’s essential that they have not only the language skills, but the academic and social skills that tertiary education demands today. And it’s up to teachers to ensure our students develop these skills – but that requires a balancing act.

    Many EAP courses lack the authenticity of the college classroom experience. Lectures are generally relatively short, only 5-10 minutes long. Reading is scaffolded, and the content is very structured, even overly structured. Then, our students move into their academic courses where they encounter two-hour lectures, 50+ pages of reading, and content that is far from scaffolded. So, how do we bridge these academic, linguistic and social gaps? Let’s look at some techniques to help students succeed in higher education.

    Bridging the linguistic gap

    Linguistics gaps may involve content-specific language, or the informal language students encounter when they work with other students, or the connotative and denotative meanings and contexts of a word. To bridge this gap, we need to build deep conceptual vocabulary knowledge. We don’t want students only to have label knowledge. Label knowledge allows students to pass a vocabulary text where matching or multiple choice is present. But that is not enough in an academic environment. Deep conceptual knowledge means truly knowing a word.

    So, what does it mean to know a word? Well, according to linguistics scholar Paul Nation, a student needs to know the following:

    • The spoken and written form 
    • The parts of the word that have meaning
    • The word's forms and their meanings
    • The concepts and vocabulary associated with the word
    • The grammatical function, any collocations
    • The register and frequency of the word

    That is a whole lot!

    To build this extensive knowledge, we need to do so in an intentional manner. We need to build various activities that develop and foster critical thinking skills and engage students.

    Here is an example:

    “Hello! I am so glad to see so many of you at our special lecture today. Today, I am going to describe how a mixed community is planned and built. First, let’s look at what a mixed purpose community is, and then we will discuss the planning and building. As many of you know, a mixed purpose community is a neighborhood that includes residential spaces, business spaces, services and green spaces. How about the planning? First, when planning mixed purpose communities, architects, city planners and builders work together to plan where everything will be located. Because they want the community to be a fully walkable one, they need to think about how far homes are from schools, services and other businesses. Then, they carefully look at what kinds of businesses and services are needed. Next, they must design sidewalks so people can easily get to anywhere in the community, and not worry about car traffic. Today, planners are even looking at including bicycle paths, as more and more people are riding bicycles to work. Lastly, they need to consider the different types of residential space they will need. They build homes and apartments to attract all a wide variety of residents. These communities are becoming more and more popular, but planning them still takes time and a team of people.”

    The terms mixed and community are bolded. You can engage students with a simple noticing activity of how these words are used, the forms they take, the words around them, their collocations and the concepts associated with these words. An exercise like this will help students develop a deep understanding of these words. And that deep understanding will enable students to make connections and draw conclusions around these terms.

    Bridging the academic gap

    EAP students move from very scaffolded EAP courses to courses where they must listen and take notes for 50 minutes or read 50+ pages before class. Additionally, their professors often do not build background knowledge, or scaffold learning, as they expect students to enter their classrooms with this understanding. And this can create an academic gap.

    When it comes to bridging this gap, content can be the vehicle for instruction. Exposing students to the language of academic disciplines early on can build background knowledge, and be highly motivating for students who crave more than rote language instruction.

    Bringing the social gap

    When students enter their university courses they will be expected to work with peers, engage in group activities, negotiate, take turns and assert their own ideas into a dialogue. These social skills require language which needs to be developed and practiced in their EAP courses.
    You can do this by building instructional tasks and learning around developing and practicing critical thinking skills. Consider introducing project-based learning to your class. In project-based learning, students must work with their peers, learning how to prioritize, negotiate and assign responsibility. Bringing in these types of tasks and activities helps develop soft and critical thinking skills.