question words

Here is a very straightforward way of exploiting a video from the Internet. It works best with short news stories like the one used as an example. Keeping the KIS spirit, it does not require any preparation from the teacher, other than finding and playing the video.

Tell the students that the are going to watch a short video. As they watch, each student must write down three questions for the video to test understanding. One question should be about something being said towards the beginning, another question should be written down about something from the middle and a third question about something being said towards the end. They must start their questions with a question word (who, where, when, why, what, which, how). These are some possible questions for the video below:

  • How old is he?
  • What’s his name?
  • Where is he from?
  • When did he start to play the piano?
  • How many classical pieces has he written?
  • Where can he hear melodies?
  • When did he start composing?
  • What does his teacher say about him?
  • How does his father feel?
  • What is his dream?
  • Who are his biggest fans?
  • What are the birds names?

For very low level classes, tell the students that they can write questions for what they see on the screen (What instrument is he playing, what is he wearing, how many people do we see in the video, etc.).

The beauty of this type of video exploitation is that the same video can be used for all language levels really. The lower the level, the more this becomes a speaking activity that keeps the students talking about what they see using the vocabulary they know. The higher the level, the more this becomes a listening activity. There are very crystal clear words and expressions that the students will identify in this video and there are some others that require a deeper level of competency. The difficulty of listening activities lies more on the task itself than on the language.

This type of video exploitation also keeps the students work on grammar and question making. Two for the price of one.

You may tell your students to get into groups (for ideas on grouping students you may want to check my post on grouping students), give each student three strips of paper and, once they watch the video and write their questions, they can place them on their desks for everyone in the group to see, discard the questions that are the same, and try to peer edit the possible errors they may spot). Walk around and check possible errors yourself. Then play the video a second time for the students to write answers for the questions.

And here is Shane Thomas’ website, if you want to listen to his inspiring music. What a talented young guy he is!!

teaching English the keepitsimple way in 10 steps.

Effective teaching does not come from thorough lesson preparation or from (over)use of teaching materials. Effective and memorable teaching comes from keeping things simple. So whether you enjoy using photocopies, textbooks, technology, no technology, all of the above or none of the above… keep it simple.

Teaching the KIS way is essentially a set of generic procedures that are easily adaptable and that can be used in most teaching scenarios for most language levels. Teaching the KIS way embraces a frills-free/no clutter/common sense approach to English language teaching. It tries to maximize lesson preparation time. Good teaching comes, first and foremost, more from preparing oneself and having established a series of routines and procedures rather than from investing precious time in concocting the perfect lesson.

Teaching English the KIS way in 10 steps.

  1. Prepare yourself first. This entitles knowing what motivates your learners so that you can try to find ways to tap into their interests. How can I contribute as a person –not just as a teacher- to a group of people? What are my interests? Would my learners be interested in what I have to offer as a person? What technology do I have at my disposal? Can the learners bring technology into the classroom? How can the learners possibly benefit from it? Know yourself, know your learners and know your teaching environment and prepare yourself accordingly.
  2. Start off the lesson with no plan in mind and see where it leads. It might as well be the most memorable and useful part of the lesson. Praise someone on their good taste of shoes. Tell your class to run a search for “types of shoes” on Google and see what the learners come up with. Show them a yoga breathing exercise. Sing a song. Tell them you had the most satisfying dinner last night. Whatever springs to mind. Look forward to the uncertainty of the onset of the teaching period.
  3. Set up some routines. Have a different learner prepare and deliver a five minute speech to the class on the topic of their choice everyday. Then, have a discussion around the speech. Highlight good use of language and suggest extra words and expressions. Get the learners revise the new words and expressions towards the last ten minutes of a lesson and play a game around it or have them test each other. Assign five to ten minutes every day for them to write on a journal.
  4. Integrate multimedia. A set up of a laptop, a projector and internet connection is extremely useful in the language classroom. Play short video extracts from the Internet and focus on decoding speech, features of language and lexis rather than test understanding, so that it equips the learners with the tools to better understand TV series or movies on their own outside the classroom setting. Use visual input as a springboard for discussions and critical thinking.
  5. Use coursebooks. They save preparation time and they are written by experts in the field. They contain tailor-made material that meets your learners at their language level. However, bear in mind that, after all, a coursebook is another –very useful- learning material. Have your learners decide what catches their eye and feel free to ignore what it does not or find alternative ways to cover that content.
  6. Lexis first. Regardless of the language level of the learners, prioritize language in context that is not limited to words in isolation but in partnership. Explore these strings of words by running live searches on the Internet and have a critical look at them. This affects word collocations, colligations and co-text. Think of interesting questions where that language is used. Better still, have the learners write their own questions putting the language to practice.
  7. Promote autonomous learning. In essence, learning or improving a language is a lifelong process that does not start or finish with a given teacher. As well as spoon feeding the learners in class, it is the teachers role to share their experiences as language learners and give advice on the kinds of things that can be done to take control of one’s learning. Most English language teachers are not native speakers of English and their own experience as learners and competent users of the language is an invaluable resource for a group of students.
  8. Flip it. Assign tasks from the coursebook as homework and then delve further into that content in class. It is not very productive to play a listening extract or reading a passage in class to test understanding. People move at different paces and many need more or less time to take on those tasks. Have your learners do this at home and think about what kinds of tasks (in addition to the ones included in the coursebook) the learners can do to engage and interact around the ideas using focal language.
  9. Ten minutes a day without fail. Tell your learners that they need to spend at least ten minutes a day doing something meaningful in English. Tasks could range from listening to songs to watching TV series or movies or doing grammar exercises or chatting or texting to friends or going over their vocabulary notes or reading a graded reader. The key element is that they do this with a critical mind. For instance, if they decide to listen to a song, they could be looking for the lyrics, take a mental note of a couple of language chunks, then look for examples of use in a dictionary and write them down in a notebook. Obviously, ten minutes is a very short time span but this is to instill a sense of need to be in touch with the language on a daily basis, no matter if it is limited to just ten minutes.
  10. Teach in-the-moment and enjoy the ride. Do not get fussed over covering material and enjoy teaching as it happens. Embrace the unexpected. Welcome mistakes.