Saturday, November 18, 2006

Problems Encountered When Reviewing Vocabulary

Last Wednseday, I had my English class consisting of 40 agriculture and engineering unversity freshmen majors. The title of the course, "English A", peaks the students interest and curiosity (I am being sarcastic). The class meets once a week for an hour and a half. Last week, I had a class that did not go so well and I would like to write why:

First, for warm-up I displayed some questions using key vocabulary from previous classes using powerpoint (the file can be viewed on-line here). Students made pairs (every week, students are put into pairs randomly) and one student faced the screen and asked his partner the questions displayed. The partner was not allowede to see the questions. They then switched roles.

The previous week we had read about nigthmares so last week we reviewed the key words from the reading. Students' homework was to write the words in their vocabulary notebooks and do a vocabulary exercise.

To review the key words I wrote the base words and their derivations on the blackboard. For example, I wrote the word terror (the reading was about nightmares) on the blackboard. Students in the vocabulary section of their textbook had two sentences with blanks where they would have to write the correct derivation of terror (answers in parentheses):
1. Jemilia was _______ of being alone in her large house at night. (terrified)
2. The most __________ experience I've ever had was in an airplane. (terrifying)

Next to terror, I wrote terrified, terrifying.

The other base words were decribe, recur, fortune, analyze, neglect and imagine so the blackboard looked something like this:

Terror: terrifiying, terrified
Describe: descriptive, description
Recur: Recurrent, recurring
Fortune: Unfortunate, fortunately

After we finished the vocabulary review, to review the pronunication of the words, I would point to a base word and have the students repeat the derivation. After we practiced the derivations for the seven words, I erase the middle parts of each derivation (e.g. desrcibe: d____ve, de______ ion) and had the students repeat the derivations. Lastly, I erased all the derivations and had the students repeat the derviations for a base word after I reported it.

In the next activity, I used powerpoint again. Students were shown 5 slides for about 15 seconds each (Please see sheets 1 - 5 here). Each slide consisted of the day's base words/ derivations and base words/ derivations that they had studied previously. Also, the words were displayed in various styles. Students were asked to write down as many words as they could remember and then share their list with their partner. (The idea came from Morgan, J & Rinvolucri, M. (2004). Vocabulary. Oxford, p.93)

After making a new list with their partner, students were asked to write as many sentences for as many words as possible in 10 minutes. I told them they could not use a dictionary. I thought that this would be difficult but possible because students had
1) been exposed to the different ways of using words through the vocabulary exericises and reading
2) had studied the words before and should have understood what they mean.

Before this actitivity, I envisioned that the students would work together actively in pairs to write as many sentences as possible in 10 minutes. However, of the 34 students who came to the class that day, the majority of them struggled monumentally with this activity. Many students just stared blankly at their notebooks, other students wrote but completely ignored their partners. After students had written as many sentences as they could, I would say a word and asked if anyone had written a sentence for the word. I decided to pose the question to the entire class because I did not want to call on a pair and embarrass them if they had not written a sentence. None of the students volunteered to give a sentence. After about 3 minutes of uncomfortable silence which seemed like an eternity, a student volunteered to give a sentence. (In retrospect, I have taught in Japan in 8 years and know that most students will hesitate to volunteer answers, but I am stubborn and cantankerous.)

So, the activity did not go well. After the activity ended, I commended the students on their fantastic listening ability and also how impressed I was with their reading ability. I then told them that to learn how to use words, you actually have to try to use them. Making mistakes is important and part of the learning process. That is why I has tried to do the activitiy. I asked students before they left the class to write me some advice on how this activity could be done better. These are the answers I got (They have not been edited but some have been translated into English). I have categorized the answers into Advice, I don't Know, Overall Reflection of the Activity, and Postive Responses:

Advice (20 students)
practice reading, writing and talking
Make sentences in homework. And next time, speak sentences. The time to make sentences need.
To write sentences is difficult. Call on one person. Don't call on all of person.
Take more time memorize words.
I think we me talk more naturally. I think you should increase talking in groups.
Everyone read aloud textbook and homework
It's difficult for me to write sentence. I think better that teacher show us example sentence.
I think that we feel nervous still now. So, it is important to be friendly with each other.
You should call on people once at a time.
I think for one word, I want to know more about derivative and how to use. I enjoyed this class.
Choice and ask to a person. I can't understand how to use a word.
Difficult to remember the mean of words. I want to use dictionary.
How about make group? Not pair.
I think something like game contain in class.
I think more understanding lots of words meaning a person.
I think if we see some example. We can make some sentence. Ex) prevent + O + from doing = I prevented hom from going to school.
Because Japanese people are shy, we give paper that we write sentence.
Almost pair partner have never met before. So we don't get along well with each other.
I think we should understand the used of the words well.
Nominate (= call on somebody)

I don't know (5 students)
I'm sorry I don't know
I don't know good idea.
I'm very difficult problem.
I'm sorry, I don't know.
I can't think of good way.

Overall Reflection of the Activity (4 students)
Today's lecture is difficult for me. But I want to study fun English .
I don't good thinking sentence in short time. So today's class is hard.
It's difficult to make sentence.
Word review is difficult for me.

Positive Responses (5 students)
I think we should write English sentence more. And we will understand English more.
Today's class was good.
I want to do this type of activitiy again.
Today's word review was not difficult for me. Because I understood words.
English game or CD listening or use PC? The class is fine like it is.

What I learned:
  • I thought I had given the students plenty of exposure to the use of the words, but many disagreed with me. Perhaps when we do vocabulary exericises I should tell them don't just fill in the blanks but pay attention to how the word is used and write your observations in your vocabulary notebooks.
  • Students think that they have to write a perfect sentence. I just want them to write something. I have a 2 year old son who knows a lot of English and Japanese. He uses a lot of words incorrectly, but the more he uses certain words and phrases, his usage evolves and becomes more and more standard (meaning grammatically and pragmatically accurate). When students tell me their sentence, I want the sentence to be incorrect because the feedback will help them realize how the word is used and their classmates will benefit from the feedback. Nevertheless, this is a source of great anxiety for students and I have to be more considerate to this.
  • Here is an idea on how I could do the activity without causing so much anxiety. A lot of students wanted to work in groups. Maybe is I had the students work in groups and gave each group a more concrete goal it would have worked better. For example, "Each group has 10 minutes to write the most sentences they can. The group that writes the most correct sentences will have to be sung to by the rest of the class next week." Then, I would collect the sentences, read them and announce the winner the next week. The next week, I could also highlight some gramattically incorrect or semantically/ pragmatically awkward sentences and ask students how they would correct them. I could also highlight some well-written sentences and congratulate the group.
  • Questions directed to the whole class do not work. Learners prefer being put on the spot (being called on) to volunteering an answer. The problem is I prefer the latter and not the former.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Using Jeopardy to Teach Relative Pronouns

Last week I went to the same junior high school I went to last month for a demonstration lesson in front of 30 English teachers and officials of the city I was visiting. I was asked to teach page 60(?) of the New Horizon Textbook. My students were 35 third graders (9th grade). I was supposed to teach the nominative use of that relative clauses (The word being modified is the subject of the that clause, in Japanese this is 主格のthat). For example,

  • This is the dog that ate the cat.
  • The country that hosted the world cup was Germany.

I was not supposed to teach the objective use of that relative clauses (The word being modified is the object of the that relative clause, 目的格のthat).

The above explanation makes the class sound more difficult than it actually was. This class went better than the last one because I decided to flood students with input and encourage them to learn the new grammatical pattern that way rather than force them to speak a grammatical pattern that they did not need to use so much. I also had a graduate student, John Wang, and an undergraduate student, Monchichi, come and help me by joining the various students groups during the activity and providing support. Here is what we did:



  • Use jeopardy to help students learn how to use "nominative that relative pronoun clauses" through input flooding
  • Do 95% of the class in English
  • The students experience group work and speak English within the group

Warm up (Materials: computer, projector)

Plan: Students make pairs. Using MS powerpoint, I display 10 questions. One member of a pair is looking at the screen and asking questions to the other member who is turned away from the screen and cannot see the questions. Then, the members switch.
What happened: Students were nervous at first but did this activity.

Introduce the Key Sentence: (Materials: sentence cards (made by some nice graduate students) to put on the blackboard)

What I did and how the students reacted:
I put the following two sentences in the blackboard:
1. Mr Hall is an Iwate University teacher.
2. He is nice.
I asked students to make the two sentences into one sentence. Most of the students knew how to do this but no one volunteered an answer as I had anticipated so I simply reminded students that the sentence would be:
Mr Hall is an Iwate University teacher who is nice.

I asked students, "Why do we use 'who'?" Of course I had no answer so I asked a student, "Is Mr. Hall an animal?" The student, after an initial period of uncomfortable silence said "no." I then asked is "Mr. Hall a thing?" and asked a student for an answer. Unfortunately the student answer, "yes". I then said that I was not a "thing" but a "human" and that we use "who" to add information about humans. (The students had studied "who".)

Next, I then put the following two sentence cards on the board:
1. Kobe is a city.
2. It has great beef.

I then combined these two sentences to make
Kobe is a city that has great beef.

I asked students if Kobe was a human to which they replied "no." I then told them that we used "that" to add information about "things" or "non-humans" and asked them to make a sentence out of the following two sentences:

1. The Nile is a river.
2. It is in Africa.

As a class, students made the sentence
The Nile is a river that is in Africa.

I did not call on a student because I knew that no students would answer in such an atmosphere where they were being taight by someone they did not know and were being watched by 30 or so other strangers. Nevertheless, students seemed to understand so we went to the next activity.

Jeopardy (Trivia) (Materials: computer, projector, name tags)

Preparation:Before we started jeopardy, students made groups. The groups were pre-determined by the homeroom teacher. Each group had 6 people and each person in the group was assigned a letter from A - F.
(Side note: ALTs who teach the same students only once a month, if you are going to do group work (more than 2 members per team) I recommend that you have the HRT determine the groups in advance and tell the students before the class they will do group work. The homeroom teachers knows best which students work best together and how to make the groups about even in ability.)
Students also wore nametags. Before class, students wrote the name they wanted to be called, their group number, and their letter(A-F). The nametag looked something like this:

Group 4
Letter E

The Game

How it was played: I explained that "that" and "who" sentences could be used for trivia and then demonstrated (not explained) how to play jeopardy by practicing a few questions. I told students that jeopardy meant 質問コーナー in Japanese. The rules were that each group would have one leader and that only the leader could answer the question. Of course, the other group members could tell the leader the answer but only the leader could raise his hand. However, the leader would change after every question. For the first question, the leader was student A from each group. After the question, the leader changed. I used powerpoint to display the jeopardy game and questions. The jeopardy template came from EFL Geek and I added the questions. The file that we used to play jeopardy can be downloaded here.

Each question and answer had a nominative "who" or "that" relative clause sentence. When a group answers a question correctly, they were able to rest. The other groups would have to repeat the answer which had the target structure. After they repeated the answer, I would remove the target structure and students would have to repeat the sentence without the target structure.

Question: This is a man from Iwate who played on the Japanese Soccer Team.
Answer: The man who played on the Japanese Soccer Team is Mitsuo Ogasawara. (All the groups except the group that answered correctly repeats.)
Answer without target structure: The man is ^^^^ Mitsu Ogasawara. (Students say the sentence adding the omitted target structure).

How the students reacted: On their evaluation forms, most students said that they understood the "that" construction and they enjoyed the class. Many also said that they had made the effort to speak English in their groups. I owe that to John and Monchichi who worked with each group and helped motivate them to speak English.
During the game, students struggled to repeat the sentence without the target structure.

Overall Reflection

I have learned a lot from my last 3 experiences teaching at a junior high school and senior high school. I am finally understanding the students and what they will or will not do in the classroom. This is good because the next time I teach jr high students I can have a class with activities I know that they can do so that the students remain confident and feel secure but also mix these secure activities with more demanding ones that will force students to challenge themselves without overwhelming them.

I also understand what kind of groundwork has to be done in advance for the students to be able to do group work (This is only if you are a visiting teacher and will only teach the students a few times a year.).