Monday, May 29, 2006

Tips for doing Role Play

Doing role play is not easy because I find that it is very difficult for a lot of adolescent learners in Japan to adlib in English or play the role of someone else. A few weeks ago I tried to do a role play in an English class of 40 students I teach at the nursing school. The role play went well. I made pairs by matching students with high scores on a quiz I gave on vocabulary which was to be used in the role play with students who got low scores. Those students who scored in about the middle were matched with eachother. The thinking behind this was that the students who understood the chapter we were studying would help the students who were struggling.

Today, I tried a role play again but this time I paired the students randomly. Role play did not go well and some groups were absoluetly lost. I realized that in a class with students with a range of abilities and degree of motivation in English that random pairings for a challenging task might not be a good idea. Let the learners teach each other, don't try to be a superhero.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Problem with Translating Programs

In a freshman English class that I teach, I asked the students to write a paragraph about a coincidence that happened to them. Over half of the students used a translating program to do the assignment and their writing was impossible to understand. I asked my English Teaching Methodologies 3 students in our Issues in EFL in Japan blog to explain why so many students felt that they had to use a translating program when they could have done a better job writing the short essay themselves. I received some very interesting comments. To read the post and the students' comments please click here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Using Vocabulary Notebooks in English Class

This year, I have started using vocabulary notebooks for two English classes I teach outside of Iwate University. In this post I will talk about the vocabulary notebooks I use at the nursing school I teach at.

Last year in a class I taught at a nursing school, I gave vocabulary quizes every week that our class met. The main reason why I gave the quizes was because it was the way I had been taught Japanese and it was very successful in getting me to memorize many Japanese words. Although most of the words I learned were in my "receptive knowledge" and not my "productive knowledge", I slowly learned how to use the words after hearing them multiple times and trying to sue them myself. In the nursing school, I found that weekly quizes were effective for about 20 out of 40 learners in that they understood the words and could use them in writing. However, there were about 5 students who routinely got zeroes on the test and 15 students who would maybe get 1 or 2 of 5 words correct on a quiz and had very limited command of the nursing vocabulary we studied. I realized that some students in the class knew how to study words and others did not. So, this year I decided to introduce vocabulary notebooks to encourage students to develop strategies for learning words and to help them keep track of their own learning.

At the beginning of the year I asked students to purchase a binder and I created sheets with the kind of layout I wanted them to use to record their vocabulary (Click here to see what a blank sheet looks like). The idea for this layout came from an article I read by Schmitt & Schmitt (1995) in the ELT Journal and the Word Surfing Technique developed by Will McCulloch.
In the left column of the Front Page (Click here to see a sample), learners write the translation of the word they want to learn in Japanese. In the right column they write a key word or key picture which will help trigger their memory of the word.

On the corresponding section of the back page (Click here to see a sample) learners write the following in the left column:
1)The word they want to learn in English.
2) The pronunciation of the word in using the phonetic alphabet.
3) The part of speech of the word
4) Derivations of the word
In the right column learners can write a connecting word which is a word that is used often with the word they want to learn as well as a sentence containing the word.

Here are some ways we have used the vocabulary notebooks in class:
  • Students write dialogues referring to their vocabulary notebooks
  • Students create vocabulary quizes for each other using the sample sentences in their vocabulary notebooks.
  • Before we start a chapter in the textbook, I give students a list of words that I would like them to write into their vocabulary notebooks.
Right now, students are only writing words that I tell them to write in their vocabulary notebooks. Once we all get used to them, I will encourage students to write other English words they encounter into their notebooks and would like to learn. We will also probably start organizing the pages in our vocabulary notebooks in the near future.

Next week, I will collect the nursing students vocabulary notebooks and see how have they been used. I will teach this class once a week for 23 weeks this year, and we have already had 6 weeks of class. I want to encourage students to use the vocabulary notebooks but I do not want to overwhelm them to the point where they become discouraged. For this reason, I am moving very slowly with the vocabulary notebooks and not trying to suddenly force them completely on the students. I hope that by the end of the semester some of the students who seldom wrote down words before the class or were at a loss as to how to study vocabulary will think that making and mainitaing a vocabulary notebook was a good way to help them learn nursing English.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My Son's Language Acquisition after 1 year and 8 months

In the past month and a half my son's vocabulary has increased at an absolutely explosive pace. He seems to be saying something new every day. My son says both English and Japanese words, but he has yet to say more than one word in one sentence unless it is a fixed phrase. I thought that I would list the words I think he knows and approximately which month he started saying them. The words in italics are Japanese. He will actually repeat a lot of what he hears but the below words are what he says on his own. You can listen to some of the words by clicking on them.

September/October 2005
Daddy (His first word!)

November/December 2005
achi (=there!)
baba (=granny)
bye bye
anpanman(= beanpaste man - a popular cartoon character)

January/February 2006
What's that?
atta (A Japanese verb he uses when he finds something he was looking for.)
denki (light)

March 2006
atsui (hot)
one, two, three
wan wan (= bark bark or doggy)
oishii (= delicious - he said this once in November but did not say it again until March)
deta (Can be translated as "It went out". My son says this after he poos.)

April 2006
ba-gu (= hamburger)
pee pee
poo poo
okataduke (=let's clean up)
how are you?
issai (=one-year old)
momo (The name of his Japanese grandparents' dog)
ojiji (Great grandfather)
obaba (Great grandmother)
paipai (breast)
mimi (ear)
douzo (It means "here you are" but my son uses it to say "give me this!"
pooh (Winnie the Pooh)
banana (he says "ba")

May, 2006
densha (train)
Raliegh (The name of the daughter of a friend)
sensei (teacher)
this way
possessive s his first grammar!
no no san (the mother of a friend)
mao kun (a friend)