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These words have been attributed to
Dorothy Parker. Whether she is the one who deserves credit for them, as I have
recently learnt, is open to debate. Be that as it may, they never fail to
strike a chord with me whenever I read them.
Many of us seem to avoid having the
task of writing a text. Others, the brave ones, take the plunge and sit in
front of the computer wracking their brains in search of the perfect opening
sentence. I have played both parts.
While pulling my hair out and trying
to think of how I can continue the text, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t
discuss writing more often. I think we can agree that in order to help learners
develop their speaking skills, we should be proficient speakers ourselves. When
it comes to writing, however, why do so many of us shy away from the challenge
of honing our own skills as writers?
Villas Boas (2017) argues that we don’t give due importance to writing because we simply don’t write much. As a consequence, we may believe our students will not have to write much either. Without being aware of it, we may be contributing to the creation of a vicious cycle in which students don’t enjoy writing because their teachers feel the same way. The way I see it, our ultimate goal is to help other people become better communicators. Leith (2018) reminds us that
“our working lives and our working relationships are shaped by how and what we write. To write clearly is an essential courtesy, and to write well is to give pleasure to your audience. You are not only making a case or imparting information; you are cultivating a relationship.” (p. 4)
If this is true, we would be falling
short of our target by not encouraging them to improve their ability to put
ideas down on paper.
It appears that what prevents us from
taking more interest in writing is the pressure we feel to produce a text from
scratch. One possible explanation for this keyboard anxiety is that we tend to
look at writing from the back end. We imagine the finished text while staring
at a blank page on the screen. We often look for inspiration in other people’s
texts and admire their work and think of how accomplished they are.
Hart (2006) illustrates it well when
he compares a great text to a beautiful building – both are built one step at a
time. By breaking down the process into small, manageable steps, the
overwhelming anxiety is likely to be reduced.
Suppose you want to share your
experiences using technology in the classroom because you’ve had great results
with your students, how would you go about the process?
Rather than simply choosing an interesting topic, try to dig a bit deeper and come up with a question. For example, you could ask: how can students benefit from using their smartphones in class? Your text will then be the answer to this question. By sharing what you’ve done and the results you’ve had, you’ll be highlighting the importance of using technology in the classroom. You won’t be just telling people it is important, you will be showing them it is.
Once you have come up with an
interesting idea – not just a topic to write about – then you will ask yourself
what further arguments you need to support your view. These answers will guide
you while you collect information. What books or articles can I read on the
subject? Can I talk to other professionals who share my views? Or perhaps I
could hear the other side of the argument.
This way of thinking supports the
idea that when we write we enter a conversation. All too often, many of us seem
to assume that expressing one’s opinion about an issue can be done by putting
together a collection of smart ideas and send them out into the universe hoping
for the best. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
We must remember, however, that we put forward an argument based on what has already been said about it. As Graff and Birkenstein (2010) explain:
“if it weren’t for other people and our need to challenge, agree with, or otherwise respond to them, there would be no reason to argue at all.”
Therefore, if we want our text to make an impact an encourage others to think about the issue, we need more than coherent statements and smart ideas.
Focus and organization
Now you have your idea and you have
collected plenty of information to support your views. It’s time to draw up a
rough plan of your text. By selecting and structuring the information you want
to include, you’ll have an outline which will help you write your first draft.
Remember: it’s just the outline, not the text itself. It is like you’re
gathering the bricks, the cement, and the tools you need by your side. Having
them close at hand, will prompt you to start writing with more confidence.
You can then move on to writing per
se. And I say: just do it. Write like nobody is watching. Allow yourself to
write more loosely now that you have a plan. You might leave blanks where you
don’t know exactly how to connect the ideas or where you want to double-check a
specific piece of information. The goal here is to keep moving. As you finish
your first draft, you’re likely to have feeling of accomplishment, and that
should be enough to keep you motivated.
At this point you can find your inner
grammar sergeant and do what you haven’t done yet: comb through your text and
include the missing information and find ways to make it pleasant to your
target reader. You’ll be paying attention to lexical and grammatical cohesion,
linking devices, references, spelling, punctuation, etc.
Another helpful tip to follow at the polishing stage is to read your draft aloud. This may bring to the surface any overly complicated sentences, which you can rewrite. For instance, a separation between subject and verb will sound awkward and help you notice it. Reading your text aloud is also an effective way to attend to its rhythm. According to Provost (2019), you can do that by varying the sentence length and writing with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences.
“This is a brief summary of my talk at the Southern Cone BRAZ-TESOL Conference 2019. My goal with this presentation was to encourage teachers to write more and share their experiences so we can all benefit from learning about different contexts and practices. I also believe that as you understand the process and follow the steps to produce your own texts, chances are you’ll feel more enthusiastic about writing. This enthusiasm will inevitably trickle down to your teaching of writing, and your students will certainly appreciate it.”
Leandro Zuanazzi has been an English teacher since 2011. Currently, he is working as a freelance teacher. He holds the CPE, the CELTA, and the TKT (Modules 1, 2, and 3). Leandro is passionate about professional development and has a special interest in writing skills as well as language development for teachers.
Are you back to school this week (or in the upcoming ones)?
Regardless of how experienced you are, it’s always a great idea to gear up with strategies, tools, and resources for heading back to school. Get ready for a a brand new semester, chock-full of new opportunities!
Take a look at some ideas:
Build a community in your class
Your relationship with your students will shape your lessons and the way you prepare (for) them. With time, teachers learn that trust and rapport mean more than punishment. Your students expect you to tell them what to do and how to behave (even adult learners). Set off your rules and regulations from day one and remind them constantly. After that, start off the semester by sharing something about your life (nothing excessively personal) so that students see you as a the human being you are. Some suggestions:
Where did you grow up?
Were you a good student?
What kind of music do you listen to?
When was the last time you felt extremely happy?
Develop a project
CONDILIFFE, 2017 claims that helping students to reach a learning goal by exploring projects can be an effective way to promote students’ sense of curiosity and a lifelong learning mindset. Complex concepts can be more easily understood if students are motivated to improve their abilities to solve problems through the application of what they’ve learned collaboratively. Find a buddy and propose an interdisciplinary project. Check some ideas:
If you are starting a new semester but have the same classes, why not using a get-to-know-you-even-more activity? Elicit from your students basic questions they use to get to know someone. Write answers on the board. Tell them that they have to come up with deeper questions, such as “What makes you happy?”. Have them walk around the room and when you say stop, they have to use the questions and start a conversation.
Advice from the community
We asked and many teachers answered! Take a look at what teachers from different contexts have to say about this topic.
Join this amazing mini course and enhance your knowledge about videos and increase your set of video-based activities. Our tutors will help you understand and select different video genres, raise your awareness about practical selection of videos for educational purposes, develop your design skills and provide you with opportunities for getting creative using videos for language learning!
Join our annual and internationally recognized teaching event: BOR2019. At our events we invite teachers to problematize, engage in new perspectives, debate and learn about new educational trends so that we can make a difference in our classrooms. Get ready to attend top-notch talks, workshops, Pecha Kucha presentations, show&tell moments and Live BrELT Chats delivered by specialists in the field of ELT. We hope to see you in Brasília on 7 September at Casa Thomas Jefferson, Asa Norte.
Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Tik Tok and YouTube and some of the most popular social networks that are video-based and they are used by young generations to communicate and express themselves! What’s more, videos aren’t just a mode of delivery for interactive communication, they are also used to access information on a regular basis. Our students are accustomed to using video, and we teachers can use that to our advantage.
2 – Visual Engagement
Videos can be an information-rich genre that can provide students with the ideas and concepts that they must learn to manipulate language effectively. Long are the days when we teachers used only reading texts as input. Videos can be great stimuli for language learners and you can also find suitable topics based on your class profile.
3 – Lingua Franca and Global Awareness
Videos can provide learners with a global perspective of the English language. In modern days it’s highly important to help our students understand that the English language has no owner but at the same time belongs to anyone who makes use of it. By exposing your students to real language spoken by different nationalities, you are releasing them from the pressure of imitating hegemonic variations of English (AmE or BrE), and they will feel more empowered to use the language.
4 – Exposure to different genres
You can work on a number of different speaking genres with video. Your students can learn the characteristics, identify the audience and analyze the purpose of genres like podcasts, roundtable discussions, inaugural speeches, news reports, interviews, quizzes, audio letters, digital influencers testimonials, you name it!
3 Suggestions of video-based activities:
Put target vocabulary on the board. Tell students to watch a video that contains these words. Drill them. Pair sts and tell them to ask and answer questions that contain one of the target words. Monitor closely as you pay attention to the way students pronounce these words. Provide feedback and/or show them other videos with different ways to say these words. Have them compare and contrast.
A tool we love to use is Lyrics Training. LT uses the Listen-Analyze-Play approach and can help learners improve their vocabulary (and grammar too). How does it work?As sts watch the music video or trailer you choose, the lyrics are presented in one of three different ways: 1. ‘karaoke’ style – so you can read or sing along; 2. with gaps for you to type in the missing words; and 3. with gaps for you to select from ‘multiple-choice’ options. You only see the lyrics line by line, as they are sung, and this is the ‘hook’ with the second and third options: you have to try to type or select the correct words before the next line starts. If you’re fast and don’t make many mistakes, your score will be higher.
Find a suitable video tutorial. Ask your students if they watch tutorials online and tell them to share with their elbow buddy the last video tutorial they watched. Collect feedback and have sts share to the class. After that, ask them to analyze the main characteristics of the video. Show them another video tutorial and ask them to compare and contrast both videos. Arrange students in large groups and tell them to write a script and record a video tutorial (in a quiet place). Finally, watch their tutorials and collect feedback on the use of the main characteristics discussed in the beginning of the lesson.
Enhance your teaching skills by learning more about using video in the ELT classroom:
Join “Using Video in the ELT Classroom” a mini-course by BrELT Academy and What is ELT ?.
It’s true to say that teachers work 24/7. We have all caught ourselves listening to a song, reading a magazine, spending hours on YouTube on our free time and suddenly thinking: “I’ve GOT TO use this in my lesson!”.The truth is: we don’t cease to think about our students and materials that will aid learning. This 3-hour mini-course is for those who love videos and want to maximise learning by using them effectively in the classroom. You will:
– Participate in a live 90-minute webinar and have access to supporting activities in our virtual learning environment (approx. 90 minutes of interaction) – Learn about different video genres – Watch a demonstration and brainstorm ideas on how to use videos in different stages of a lesson – Understand the different aims and purposes behind using videos in the classroom – Develop your lesson planning and activity design skills – Take away a sample lesson plan – Get creative using your favorite videos – Exchange ideas with like-minded teachers
The secrets I tell my students about learning English
Rocket, eraser, dog, cat, pen, pencil were the first words I learned when I started learning English at the age of six and I loved repeating them to show everybody I could “speak” English. Wait, SPEAK, really?
Well, after completing the English course and getting my certificate from a language school, I was sure I was ready to use English whenever and wherever I wanted, right? W-R-O-N-G. The first time I had the chance to talk to a woman from the USA I said: “When do you use the present perfect tense? It is so difficult to memorize all those irregular verbs!”. I don’t need to tell you she didn’t know what I was talking about. On a following occasion, I tried to remember the page of one of my textbooks with a dialogue that I wanted to use in that moment.
Frustration. That was the word that came to my mind. How come I could not speak English after completing an English course? I thought I was not intelligent. I went to so many classes! I repeated after the teacher, I read the textbooks, I completed the workbooks, I did my homework, I took tests…
Taking the course Applied Linguistics in my English as a Foreign Language program (Letras) in Brazil was a turning point in my learning process. I wa s assigned to read Rebecca Oxford’s book “Language Learning Strategies – What Every Teacher Should Know”. This book presented so many practical ideas to learn a language and I started using various of them right away to study. And I developed my language skills enormously!
I then decided to share all these strategies with my students and this topic served as a theoretical background for my Master’s. I think many teachers believe their students already know how to study. In my case, I can still remember reading my textbook right before a test because I was not aware that I could (and should) have done much more than that if I really wanted to manipulate the English language.
After several years teaching languages and now teaching ESL in Canada for almost 5 years, I have reasons to believe that talking about language learning strategies with the students in the beginning of my courses makes a positive difference in their learning process.
As many adult students here in Canada did not have the opportunity to go school in their home countries, learning English is rather hard for them. However, I believe that getting them to use strategies to learn how to learn makes the learning process less challenging.
How do I share the secrets with my students in my classes?
First, I show them a funny video and use some ideas from a lesson on the website Film-English. Using this video is great because they laugh and reflect about what we have to do to learn a language. After that, I have a dialogue with my students about how to practice each skill (listening, speaking, reading, writing). As they usually participate a lot and give various suggestions, I just manage the discussion and write their ideas on the board.
Following this discussion, I give them a table I created with some ideas (which I edit according to my students’ needs). I also remind students about the strategies on a regular basis. They can include other activities or translate some of them if they want to. You can read the table here.
Creating their English learning schedule is the next step. I give them a table with the days of the week and tell them to write an activity for every day and the time they plan to spend on the activity. I tell them that even 5 minutes is enough for an activity. The important thing is to do something every day. I also make sure they include more strategies about the skill they think they need the most. If they think their listening is “weak”, for example, they must include more strategies about this skill.
Besides that, I ask my students to reflect about their own learning. They write about the things they are doing to reach their objectives. If they want to have a job interview, for example, they have to think about what they are doing to have a successful job interview. Watching videos, taking notes, reading their resume and cover letter, and rehearsing for the interview are extremely important. This practice is great because they can think about their actions to learn the language.
As soon as they learn about the strategies and realize how important they are, they start using them consciously. They demonstrate autonomous behaviours to practice English by using apps, reading books, taking notes, highlighting new words, drawing, volunteering in various organizations, talking to classmates, and even writing letters to me!
All these strategies helped me and my students in our adventure of learning English and I hope they can be helpful to you and your students too.
Cintia Costa holds a Master in Linguistics and a Bachelor in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Universidade Federal do Pará, in Brazil. She has been a teacher trainer and ESL/EFL, Portuguese and Italian teacher since 1993. She was a professor for the Portuguese program at Duke University, in the United States, and for the TCP program at the University of Winnipeg. She currently works as an ESL Instructor at the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology in Winnipeg. In her free time, she loves yoga, meditation, and going to parks.