Posts Tagged ‘EFL’

IATEFL Conference Manchester 2015 ‘How Poetry Can Aid Students’ Comprehension’ Rosemary Westwell

April 9, 2015

IATEFL Conference 2015 Manchester
Workshop 45 minutes with audience participation for experienced or inexperienced audience BE BEA
‘How Poetry Can Aid Students’ Comprehension’
One of the major problems students have with comprehending written English is the lack of understanding of non-literal language.

This workshop will explore poetic devices, styles and structure and show how an understanding of these can help students’ comprehension

poetic devices: worksheet 1 with answers
poetic styles: worksheet 2 with answers
poetry structures: worksheet 3 with answers
TEXTS: devices, styles and structure in examples of prose
How to use an understanding of poetic devices, styles and structure to aid comprehension at different levels
textbook: ‘A Close look at Unseen Poetry’ by Rosemary Westwell ISBN9781500468453 available from http://www.amazon.com
contact: Dr Rosemary Westwell rjwestwell@hotmail.com 
Work sheet 1 Poetic Devices Fill the gaps by choosing from: alliteration, assonance, simile, contrast, euphemism, hyperbole, imagery, metaphor, onomatopoeia, personification
________: words that begin with the same letter, e.g. Two toads were totally tired.
________: contains the same vowel sounds, e.g. the half-heard word stirred
cohesion : joining aspects of the poem so that the whole poem is ‘one’ expression or idea, often by constant or regular references to particular sounds, assonances, or alliterations in different parts of the poem.
collocation: implied collocation : ‘the tall building’, ‘the high building’, ‘the tall man’ are phrases which contain words that are often associated together i.e. they are common collocations – but ‘the high man’ is seldom used, ‘high’ is not usually associated or collocated with ‘man’ (depending on context). We may think of common collocations with a word or words in the poem that are not present but may be implied by the context.
comparison, ________, e.g. The thief was as cunning as a fox.
Connotations and implied connotations i.e. associated meanings e.g .the word ‘fly’ may remind us of the phrase ‘fly high’ or ‘do well’, or fly away : – run away, or escape. ________: e.g. He was as clumsy as a drunken tramp. She was as dainty as a cat.
________hints at a harsh truth, e.g. saying ‘He passed away.’ instead of ‘He died.’
enjambment continuing a line into the next one without a break sometimes in order to give more weight or importance to the idea(s) expressed
figurative language has a hidden meaning, e.g. he has a finger in every pie meaning he is involved in many different activities
grammar: use of specific grammatical structures for emphasis e.g. in the line ‘The free bird leaps’, the poet uses ‘the’ instead of ‘a’, meaning that ‘the free bird’ mentioned in the poem is not one bird, but represents all types of free birds.
_______ exaggerates, e.g. I drank gallons of lemonade.
________uses words that appeal to the senses: sight sound, touch, smell or taste, e.g. the rosy clouds
literal use of words e.g. He put his finger into the pie to taste it.
litotes, under-statement e.g. He passed with 100 per cent, so he knows a little of his subject.
________e.g. The man was a fox.
________, words sound like the sounds they represent e.g. squelching footsteps
paradox, something true which appears to be a contradiction, e.g. The truer the statement, the more it is disbelieved.
________, like human beings, e.g. The flowers danced.

Work sheet 1 Poetic Devices ‘Answers’
Alliteration: words that begin with the same letter, e.g. Two toads were totally tired.
Assonance: contains the same vowel sounds, e.g. the half-heard word stirred
cohesion : joining aspects of the poem so that the whole poem is ‘one’ expression or idea, often by constant or regular references to particular sounds, assonances, or alliterations in different parts of the poem.
collocation: implied collocation : ‘the tall building’, ‘the high building’, ‘the tall man’ are phrases which contain words that are often associated together i.e. they are common collocations – but ‘the high man’ is seldom used, ‘high’ is not usually associated or collocated with ‘man’ (depending on context). We may think of common collocations with a word or words in the poem that are not present but may be implied by the context.
comparison, simile, e.g. The thief was as cunning as a fox.
Connotations and implied connotations i.e. associated meanings e.g .the word ‘fly’ may remind us of the phrase ‘fly high’ or ‘do well’, or fly away : – run away, or escape. Alternatively, depending on the situation or ‘context’, we may be reminded of a wish to be a ‘fly on the wall’ to hear or see something that we would not expect to be able to.
Contrast: e.g. He was as clumsy as a drunken tramp. She was as dainty as a cat.
euphemism hints at a harsh truth, e.g. saying ‘He passed away.’ instead of ‘He died.’
enjambment continuing a line into the next one without a break sometimes in order to give more weight or importance to the idea(s) expressed
figurative language has a hidden meaning, e.g. he has a finger in every pie meaning he is involved in many different activities
grammar: use of specific grammatical structures for emphasis e.g. in the line ‘The free bird leaps’, the poet uses ‘the’ instead of ‘a’, meaning that ‘the free bird’ mentioned in the poem is not one bird, but represents all types of free birds.
hyperbole exaggerates, e.g. I drank gallons of lemonade.
imagery uses words that appeal to the senses: sight, sound, touch, smell or taste, e.g. the rosy clouds
literal use of words e.g. He put his finger into the pie to taste it.
litotes, under-statement e.g. He passed with 100 per cent, so he knows a little of his subject.
metaphor e.g. The man was a fox.
onomatopoeia, words sound like the sounds they represent e.g. squelching footsteps
paradox, something true which appears to be a contradiction, e.g. The truer the statement, the more it is disbelieved.
personification, like human beings, e.g. The flowers danced.
Worksheet 2 Poetic styles choose from: lyric, Romantic, comical, narrative, allegorical, monologue, low burlesque, classical, elegy, ode, pastoral

e.g. Is it a lyric poem that reveals what the poet is thinking and feeling?
Is it _______poetry that contains personal, emotional language especially about the beauty of the world around us or about love?
Is it an example of Metaphysical poetry? Does it dwell on the magnificence of the universe, infinity and/or man’s undefeatable spirit?
Is it a mystic poem that reaches beyond our normal consciousness?
Is it an intellectual poem that displays the poet’s skill with words and the shape of the poem?
Is it________? Does it try to make you laugh?
Is it a ________poem that tells a story?
Is it an instructive poem that has a lesson for us to learn?
Is it a moralizing poem that exhorts its readers to be good and shun evil?
Is it a fanciful poem that stretches our imagination to the limit?
Is it a symbolic or ‘________’ poem that is about something real that represents something much deeper e.g. a dove that symbolises peace?
Is it a ________in which a particular character is speaking?
Does the poem sound like a letter? Is it an epistle poem?
Is it a burlesque that treats a serious subject humorously?
Is it high burlesque that takes something unimportant and makes it out to be very important?
Is it ___________that takes something important and makes it out to be unimportant?
Is it a Carpe diem poem that is about living for today?
Is it a ________poem that relates to the ideals of beauty?
Is it doggerel or unliterary humorous verse?
Is it an ________that expresses grief over the death of someone?
Is it an epic or a long serious poem that tells the story of a heroic figure?
Is it an epigram that is very short, ironic and witty?
Is it an epitaph that is a commemorative inscription on a tomb?
Is it an epithalamium (epithalamion) that praises a bride and groom at a wedding?
Is it an Idyll (Idyl) that depicts a peaceful country scene or is a long poem telling a story about heroes of long ago?
Is it a ‘lay’ poem or a long mediaeval sung poem that tells a story?
Is it an ________that is a long lyric poem?
Is it a ________poem about peaceful and romantic country life?
Is it a pindaric ode that is a ceremonious poem that is balanced with question and answer-type lines?


Worksheet 2 ‘Answers’

Is it a lyric poem that reveals what the poet is thinking and feeling?
Is it Romantic poetry that contains personal, emotional language especially about the beauty of the world around us or about love?
Is it an example of Metaphysical poetry? Does it dwell on the magnificence of the universe, infinity and/or man’s undefeatable spirit?
Is it a mystic poem that reaches beyond our normal consciousness?
Is it an intellectual poem that displays the poet’s skill with words and the shape of the poem?
Is it comical? Does it try to make you laugh?
Is it a narrative poem that tells a story?
Is it an instructive poem that has a lesson for us to learn?
Is it a moralizing poem that exhorts its readers to be good and shun evil?
Is it a fanciful poem that stretches our imagination to the limit?
Is it a symbolic or ‘allegorical’ poem that is about something real that represents something much deeper e.g. a dove that symbolises peace?
Is it a monologue in which a particular character is speaking?
Does the poem sound like a letter? Is it an epistle poem?
Is it a burlesque that treats a serious subject humorously?
Is it high burlesque that takes something unimportant and makes it out to be very important?
Is it low burlesque that takes something important and makes it out to be unimportant?
Is it a Carpe diem poem that is about living for today?
Is it a classical poem that relates to the ideals of beauty?
Is it doggerel or unliterary humorous verse?
Is it an elegy that expresses grief over the death of someone?
Is it an epic or a long serious poem that tells the story of a heroic figure?
Is it an epigram that is very short, ironic and witty?
Is it an epitaph that is a commemorative inscription on a tomb?
Is it an epithalamium (epithalamion) that praises a bride and groom at a wedding?
Is it an Idyll (Idyl) that depicts a peaceful country scene or is a long poem telling a story about heroes of long ago?
Is it a ‘lay’ poem or a long mediaeval sung poem that tells a story?
Is it an ode that is a long lyric poem?
Is it a pastoral poem about peaceful and romantic country life?
Is it a pindaric ode that is a ceremonious poem that is balanced with question and answer-type lines?


Worksheet 3 Poetry Structure

Fill the gaps: choose from: rhymes, sonnet, a couplet , free verse, Haiku, Name poetry, an ABC, metre, a rondeau, sound poetry, Tanka, ‘Visual’, an acrostic, rhythm, a limerick,

e.g. Is it a poem that rhymes e.g. the last words of the lines have the same vowel?
Is it ________poem that has lines that begin with letters of the alphabet?
Is it ________ poem in which the first letter of each line spells a word?
Is it ________or a poem of 2 lines that may or may not rhyme?
Is it ________ (vers libre) that has no fixed metrical pattern?
Is it ________ that has three lines with 5+7+5 short syllables that do not rhyme?
Is it ________ is a short humorous poem consisting of five anapaestic (two short followed by one long syllable) lines?
Is it ________ that uses the letters of a key word for the first letter of each line?
Is it ________or a lyrical poem of 10 or 13 lines with a repeated refrain?
Is it a ________ or a lyric poem that consists of 14 lines with a special rhyming scheme?
Is it ________or poetry without words?
Is it a ________or a Japanese poem of five lines of 5+7+5+7+7 syllables?
Is it ________or ‘Concrete’ poetry in which the meaning comes from the way the words are arranged on the page?
Does it have a regular ________e.g. ‘If music be the food of love play on’?
Is the ________the most common ‘iambic pentameter’ i.e. the same as in the sentence ‘If music be the food of love play on’?*


Worksheet 3 Poetry Structure ANSWERS choose from: rhymes, sonnet, a couplet , free verse, Haiku, Name poetry, an ABC, metre, a rondeau, sound poetry, Tanka, ‘Visual’, an acrostic, rhythm, a limerick,

Is it a poem that rhymes e.g. the last words of the lines have the same vowel?
Is it an ABC poem that has lines that begin with letters of the alphabet?
Is it an acrostic poem in which the first letter of each line spells a word?
Is it a couplet or a poem of 2 lines that may or may not rhyme?
Is it free verse (vers libre) that has no fixed metrical pattern?
Is it a Haiku that has three lines with 5+7+5 short syllables that do not rhyme?
Is it a limerick is a short humorous poem consisting of five anapaestic (two short followed by one long syllable) lines?
Is it Name poetry that uses the letters of a key word for the first letter of each line?
Is it a rondeau or a lyrical poem of 10 or 13 lines with a repeated refrain?
Is it a sonnet or a lyric poem that consists of 14 lines with a special rhyming scheme?
Is it sound poetry or poetry without words?
Is it a Tanka or a Japanese poem of five lines of 5+7+5+7+7 syllables?
Is it ‘Visual’ or ‘Concrete’ poetry in which the meaning comes from the way the words are arranged on the page?
Does it have a regular rhythm e.g. ‘If music be the food of love play on’?
Is the metre the most common ‘iambic pentameter’ i.e. the same as in the sentence ‘If music be the food of love play on’?*

(Explanation: ‘Penta’ means ‘five’ as in the word ‘pentagon’. e.g. the opening line of ‘Twelfth Night’ by William Shakespeare: ‘If músic bé the fóod of lóve play ón.’ has a repeated stress pattern (or ‘metre’) that consists of a weak syllable first followed by a strong syllable e.g. u / weak/strong as in e.g. ‘the food’ i.e. The pattern of Shakespeare’s line is u/u/u/u/u/ or ‘dee dum, dee dum, dee dum, dee dum, dee dum’. Five repetitions of the pattern is said to be five ‘feet’. )


We return to the example of prose and explore how and understanding of poetic devices can improve and develop students’ comprehension.
TEXTS
A. What poetic devices have been used in these texts?
B. What styles can you recognize?
C. What exercises can you use with beginners to explore these devices?
D. What exercises can you use with intermediate students to explore these devices?
E. What exercises can you use with adults to explore these styles?
F. What exercises can you use with beginners to explore these styles?
G. What exercises can you use with intermediate students to explore these styles?
H. What exercises can you use with beginners to explore these structures
I. What exercises can you use with intermediate students to explore these structures?
J. What exercises can you use with adults to explore these structures?
K. Discuss how this helps your students’ comprehension

1) Ruth Rendell (2007) Not in the Flesh Arrow Books p.9-10

It was a gentle sunny day, what weather forecasters were starting to call ‘quiet’ weather, the temperature high for September, all the leaves still on the trees and most of them still green. Summer flowers in pots and urns and windows still bloomed on and on, more luxuriantly than in August. Frosts were due, frosts would normally have come by now but none had. If this was global warming, and Wexford thought it must be, it disguised its awful face under a mask of mild innocence. The sky had become the ‘milky blue’ of midsummer covered with tiny white puffs of cloud.’
assonance ‘still on the trees… green’, ‘tiny white’
alliteration ‘mask of mild …’
personification ‘a gentle ..day’
‘it [the weather] disguised it’s awful face’
extended connotation: ‘global warming’ – bringing to mind a mammoth problem that concerns the whole world, rather than Wexford’s small area.
‘milky blue’, ‘milk’ and ‘blue’ are not usually collocated, but ‘milky’ brings to mind ‘milk’ which nourishes us from the time we are first born – thus giving the word ‘blue’ a sense of positive enrichment
onomatopoeia ‘puffs’ – although in this context, it suggests the shape rather than the actions of the clouds.
contrast: ‘temperature high… Frosts’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘a gentle sunny day’; ‘leaves still on the trees and most of them still green. Summer flowers in pots and urns and windows still bloomed’ etc.

2) Val McDermaid (2003The Distant Echo Harper Collins p. 9)

‘His fall was broken by something soft. Alex struggled to sit up, pushing against whatever it was he had landed on. Spluttering snow, he wiped his eyes with his tingling fingers, breathing hard through his nose in a bid to clear it of the freezing melt. He glanced around to see what had cushioned his landing just as the heads of his three companions appeared on the hillside to gloat over his farcical calamity.’

alliteration ‘something soft’; ‘struggled to sit’, spluttering snow;
assonance ‘wiped his eyes’ ‘tingling fingers’
onomatopoeia ‘spluttering’ snow
alliteration ‘farcical calamity’
contrast ‘broken … soft’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘Spluttering snow’; ‘wiped his eyes with his tingling fingers, breathing hard through his nose’ etc.
imagery appealing to sound: ‘Spluttering snow’
imagery appealing to touch: ‘pushing against whatever it was he had landed on’
imagery appealing to taste: ‘‘Spluttering snow’’

3) Barbara Taylor Bradford (2001) The Triumph of Katie Byrne HarperCollins p.14

‘Listening attentively, Carly was transported by Katie’s voice, as she always was. There was a lovely resonance to it full of nuances and feeling. … They all knew how serious [Katie] was about acting. [She] was dedicated, disciplined and very determined to succeed. Somehow, Katie knew how to act the parts she had chosen without having had too many lessons, while Denise and she sort of stumbled along as best they could. Fortunately they were improving, thanks to Katie’s relentless coaching and encouragement.’
alliteration ‘dedicated, disciplined and very determined’; ‘sort of stumbled’
figurative language: ‘transported’ not carried away in a vehicle, but ‘carried away’ in thought
imagery appealing to sound: ‘lovely resonance to it full of nuances and feeling’

4) Richard Hammond (2008) As you Do Phoenix p.11

‘We were sent to a ski resort and this was my first ever trip to such a place. I grew up in Birmingham and we didn’t go skiing. Skiing to us back then was like going on aeroplanes, something only for James Bond. We went camping once a year in the Forest of Dean. And there was no skiing there. As it turns out, skiing trips are pretty bloody annoying anyway. It’s mostly about queuing, skiing. You queue to get your breakfast in the stupid wooden hotel, you queue to get on the minibus or find a taxi to take you to the stupid skiing place at the bottom of the stupid hill. You queue to buy a pass, which you lose later in the day and then you get down to the serious queuing, at the point where you get on the lift at the bottom of the mountain to take you to the top. This technically, is not queuing, it’s something more akin to fighting, so I preferred this bit. You hang around in a big crowd on a sort of train platform. Except there are no tracks, just a big wire overhead. Eventually, the cable car device lumbers into view and disgorges a load of really annoying people with stupid smiles under their stupid hats on to the other side of the platform.’
implied connotation: ‘James Bond’, bringing to mind the dare-devil courageous spy in Ian Fleming’s novels.
cohesion: repetition of the word ‘skiing’, ‘bloody’, ‘queue’, ‘stupid’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘the cable car device lumbers into view and disgorges a load of really annoying people’
simile: ‘like going on aeroplanes’

5) P.D. James (2003) The Murder Room p.3

‘There had been no smoking at the meeting but the room had seemed musty with spent breath and now he took pleasure in breathing fresh air, however briefly. It was a blustery day but unseasonably mild. The bunched clouds were tumbling across a sky of translucent blue and he could have imagined that this was spring except for the autumnal sea-tang of the river – surely half imagined- and the keenness of the buffeting wind as he came out of the station.’
assonance: ‘translucent blue’; ‘spent breath’
personification: ‘sea-tang’ ‘keenness’
implied collocation: ‘spent breath’ – the usual collocation is ‘stale breath’ – this collocation brings to mind: used up, old, breath thrown/given away like money when spending
contrast: ‘spent breath and now he took pleasure in breathing fresh air’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘a blustery day but unseasonably mild. The bunched clouds were tumbling across a sky of translucent blue’ etc.
imagery appealing to smell:’ the room had seemed musty with spent breath’
imagery appealing to taste: ‘autumnal sea-tang of the river’
6) Flanagan, Richard (2013) The Narrow Road to the Deep North Vintage Books

‘Why at the beginning of things is there always light? Dorrigo Evans’ earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother. A wooden church hall. Blinding light, and him toddling back and forth, in and out of its transcendent welcome, into the arms of women. Women who loved him. Like entering the sea and returning to the beach. Over and over.’
assonance: ‘Blinding light’; ‘transcendent welcome’
simile:…Women who loved him. Like entering the sea and returning to the beach’
implied collocations: sun ‘flooding’ – water usually floods; transcendent welcome – ‘transcendent’ is usually associated with going beyond the ordinary like the genius of Mozart suggesting a further device of hyperbole – the expected collocation here might be ‘enthusiastic welcome’ or ’very warm welcome’
cohesion: many references to light – in the first sentence ‘light’, then ‘sun’ and ‘blinding light’ associated with brightness and the warmth of the love of the women.
imagery appealing to sight: ‘sun flooding a church hall’ etc.
imagery appealing to touch: ‘transcendent welcome, into the arms of women. Women who loved him. Like entering the sea’

7) du Maurier, Daphne (1938) ‘Rebecca’ Penguin chapter 1 page 6

‘There was Manderely, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. ‘
alliteration: ‘secretive and silent’; ‘the hollow of a hand’
personification: [the house] being ‘secretive and silent’; ‘Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls’
metaphor: [the house is] ‘a jewel in the hollow of a hand’
extended collocation: ‘jewel’ – the usual collocation is ‘precious jewel’ this house is special, i.e. ‘precious’ and important to the narrator, just as jewels are precious and important treasures for most people.
cohesion: references to light and shade.: ‘the grey stone shining …in the moonlight …the mullioned windows reflecting…a jewel (jewels are often described as ‘sparkling’ in the light,) ‘the hollow of a hand‘ (a hollow brings to mind the darkness of the bottom of the hollow’
contrast ‘grey… shining’; ‘wreck … perfect’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘grey stone shining in the moonlight’ etc.

8) Ustinov, Peter (1977) Dear Me, Penguin chapter 1 page 21

‘I remember my grandmother quite well as one of the simplest and most sentimental of souls, and with the readiest of tears. The story of the Crucifixion was enough to set her off, as though it were not so much a monumental tragedy as a personal misfortune. When it came to the two robbers, the sobbing began. It was her habit to capture me and place me on her knee for the evening recital, pressing me to her ample bosom, and I still remember my striped flannel pyjama-tops dampened by tears which soon grew chill against the skin.’
alliteration: ‘simplest and most sentimental of souls’
assonance: ‘chill against the skin’
personification: ‘readiest of tears’
extended collocations: ‘monumental tragedy’ – the usual collocation is a terrible/awful/great tragedy – ‘monumental’ not only suggests the foundation of the beliefs associated with the Crucifixion that in many cultures throughout the world by also uses hyperbole by exaggerating the ‘greatness’ of the tragedy.
‘capture’ me – also uses hyperbole – his grandmother did not just ‘take him in her arms’ – the usual phrase used in this situation, ‘capture’ suggests imprisonment, Peter went to his grandmother unwillingly which, although true, the underlying meanings implied in the whole of the text suggests that he also loved his grandmother. ‘capture’ can also be associated with the way in which an artist can capture particular meanings/ effects intended in the portrait or piece of music, thus suggesting Peter was fascinated by this experience in spite of his discomfort.
cohesion: references to the story of the Crucifixion and good/evil ‘soul …tears. The story of the Crucifixion …tragedy …the two robbers, the sobbing …capture me …striped flannel pyjama-tops [reminding us of the clothes warn by victims of the holocaust] dampened by tears … chill’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘place me on her knee for the evening recital, pressing me to her ample bosom,’ etc.
imagery appealing to sound: ‘the sobbing began’
imagery appealing to touch: ‘pressing me to her ample bosom,’

9) James, P. D. (2003) The Murder Room Faber and Faber chapter 3 p.38

‘Emma loved Cambridge at the start of the academic year. Her mental picture of summer was of shimmering stones seen through a haze of heat, of shadowed lawns, flowers casting their scent against sun-burnished walls, of punts being driven with practised energy through sparkling water or rocking gently under laden boughs, of distant dance music and calling voices.’
alliteration: ‘haze of heat’
personification: ‘flowers casting’
extended collocation: ‘laden boughs’ – a usual collocation of ‘boughs’ is ‘heavy’ which suggests the bough is large and thick – more is added to our impression of this bough by extending it to include a large amount of summer foliage – making it heavy or ‘loaded’ i.e. laden.
cohesion: constant mention of associations with summer: ‘summer … shimmering stones …a haze of heat, … shadowed lawns, flowers … scent … sun-burnished walls, punts …sparkling water … rocking gently … laden boughs,’
contrast: ‘practised energy … rocking gently’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘shimmering stones seen through a haze of heat, of shadowed lawns, flowers … sun-burnished walls’ etc.
imagery appealing to sound: ‘distant dance music and calling voices’
imagery appealing to smell: ‘flowers casting their scent’

10) Martel, Yann (2013) Life of Pi Canon books Ltd chapter 45 p.162 – 163

‘Sometime that afternoon I saw the first specimen of what would become a dear, reliable friend of mine. There was a bumping and scraping sound against the hull of the lifeboat. A few seconds later, so close to the boat I could have leaned down and grabbed it, a large sea turtle appeared, a hawksbill, flippers lazily turning, head sticking out of the water. It was striking-looking in an ugly sort of way, with a rugged yellowish-brown shell about three feet long and spotted with patches of algae, and a dark green face with a sharp beak, no lips, two solid holes for nostrils and black eyes that stared at me intently. The expression was haughty and severe like that of an ill-tempered old man who has complaining on his mind.’
onomatopoeia: ‘a bumping and scraping sound’
personification: [the turtle] ‘was striking-looking in an ugly sort of way; [the turtle had] ‘a dark green face with a sharp beak, no lips, two solid holes for nostrils and black eyes that stared at me intently. The expression was haughty and severe’
simile: ‘like that of an ill-tempered old man who has complaining on his mind’
extended connotation: ‘first specimen’ – although specimens are usually associated with ‘first’, ‘second’ etc., in this context, the author is suggesting that he is not so much ‘involved’ with the subject of his interest as an outside observer, like a scientist, but is personally involved in a number of different species that he meets, this being the first. The inference of a scientific observation helps us believe that his descriptions are deeper and more meaningful than might otherwise have been the case. .
cohesion: mentioning the turtle as if it were a newly acquired (human) friend
‘a dear, reliable friend of mine…so close… striking-looking…ugly sort of way, rugged a dark green face with a sharp beak, no lips, two solid holes for nostrils and black eyes that stared at me intently. The expression was haughty and severe like that of an ill-tempered old man who has complaining on his mind.’
imagery appealing to sight: ‘a large sea turtle appeared, a hawksbill, flippers lazily turning, head sticking out of the water. It was striking-looking’ etc.
imagery appealing to sound: ‘There was a bumping and scraping’
imagery appealing to touch: ‘I could have leaned down and grabbed it,’

How to use this knowledge to improve students’ comprehension
1. beginners: (words only)
take one noun from the text and ask the students to name other words that they associate with this word. Allow them to use their own language first then translate into English
e.g. day (night, daytime, morning, afternoon, evening …
associated adjectives: In groups, how many adjectives for ‘day’ can they name sunny day, happy day, dull day. …
use the poetic devices for team games:
alliteration, choose a word e.g. day – how many other words beginning with d can you name e.g. day, dog,
assonance, choose a word e.g. day – how many other words that contain the same sounding vowel can you name e.g. day, way, weigh
simile, choose a word e.g. day – how many similes can you make associated with the word e.g. The sunny day was like a smile.
contrast, choose a word each, the other team names an opposite e.g. day – night
(imagery) appealing to what you see: find two example words e.g. ‘sunny day’
(imagery) appealing to what you hear: (+onomatopoeia) e.g. bang, cluck, hoot, giggle
(imagery) appealing to what you touch: e.g. adjectives: smooth, rough, cold, hot
(imagery )appealing to what you smell: nouns: different smells: e.g. curry, scent,
imagery )appealing to what you taste: salty, bitter, sweet
Then look for the poetic devices in texts
2. intermediate: common phrases using the same exercises as above.
Use the poetic devices to learn new figurative meanings:
e.g. idioms e.g. ‘an arm and a leg’, ‘every could has a silver lining’, ‘feel a bit under the weather’
Use styles of poetry to discuss styles of writing e.g. lyrical – writing that reveals what the author is thinking or feeling. e.g. ‘Alex struggled to sit up, pushing against whatever it was he had landed on. Spluttering snow.’ He was: uncomfortable, unhappy, in despair; probably: angry, embarrassed, shocked …
3. Advanced:
Analyse a text’s examples of poetic devices, style, structure and associated effects and meanings
Write paragraphs employing specific poetic devices or write in one of the poetic styles listed.

e.g. show the students a picture of a turtle and after they have attempted a description of their own, show them the paragraph from Martel, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2013) Canon books Ltd chapter 45 p.162 – 163
END

rjwestwell@hotmail.com

A suggested lesson for adults learning vocabulary in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) lesson

June 7, 2012
‘Lesson’
Resource
Level 2: Pre-Intermediate >> Vocabulary Worksheets >>
http://www.esl-lounge.com/level2/lev2seasons.shtml
Comments on using lesson material for teaching adults vocabulary relating to the seasons as provided by the website above.
In the lesson material above, students are asked to place a list of words under seasonal headings.
This would be an excellent revision exercise after an extended lesson on the vocabulary.
Vocabulary is stored in our memories according to the particular sound and meaning of the words. That is why we often make mistakes by recalling words that sound very similar to those we are trying to retrieve from our memory. It is also easier to recall words that belong to the same topic area, such as ‘pins’ and ‘needles’. In addition, words that we are familiar with can be recalled more effectively than those we have never come across before. This knowledge can be used in a lesson by concentrating on the words in a series of concentrated stages so that the vocabulary is fully acquired and most likely be recalled quickly and effective becoming part of the student(s) fully acquired ‘automatically retrieved’ language.  
Stage 1 of a 60-minute lesson:
Ask the student(s) to name the four seasons. Once these have been named and written down for the students to see, the students add words associated with the seasons that they already know and these are written down under the respective headings. (Note, many adults need to see the written word to be able to acquire new vocabulary.)
This may appear to slow the learning process down. It would be much ‘quicker’ for students to simply list the words they know under the respective headings and then ask their friends, look up on the Internet or a dictionary to find out the meanings of unknown words and add them accordingly. However, if the aim of the lesson is for the students to acquire the new words for long-term usage, much more than mere listing is required.
Stage 2:
Depending on the ability/personality/academic capability of the adult, if they are already aware of teaching methods, the student(s) should be reminded of the way in which we store and recall words.
The students are offered the remaining words from the list. Then students try to relate as much vocabulary as possible to words from their first language. For example, if the student is Spanish, the word ‘la flor’ may sound similar to ‘flower’. (Note, with adults, making associations with new vocabulary is particularly important and/or effective).
Stage 3:
In this stage words that are completely new to the students and/or that do not sound similar to words in their own language are taught. Different methods for vocabulary memorization may be offered or one chosen according to the nature of the student(s). One of the most effective ways of memorizing vocabulary is using a method similar to the ‘Linkword’ method in which mental images are created that link the sound and meaning of the new words so that they will become memorable. For example, If a Spanish student were trying to remember ‘flower’ they could picture a person dressed as a flower speaking and hesitating within the speech by saying ‘ –er’ (Hence, a Spanish student may think of the following: ‘flor-er’ = flower).
Stage 4:
When the entire list has been ‘learnt’ students are then encouraged to explore these words further so that they continue to stimulate their previously acquired language and thus embed the new word(s) so that it/they can be quickly – even ‘automatically’ —  retrieved and used. Students try to name additional associated words or forms. For example, ‘sun’ could be extended to ‘sun cream’, ‘sunbathe’, ‘sunhat’, ‘sun bed’, ‘sunning oneself’ and/or ‘suntan’. In this way they reinforce the initial word while becoming familiar with a wider vocabulary than the lesson requires. This will aid full acquisition of newer words later.
Stage 5:
In this stage the student(s) practise recalling the words to use them in different situations or contexts. For example, students may be asked to interview a weather reporter. While concentrating on shaping the interview and also including as many of the new words as possible, they will be engaging their cognitive powers effectively. Any misunderstanding of the meaning of some of the words will come to light as they try to use them in different contexts, for example, the student(s) my need to have explained the difference between ‘sunshine’ in ‘I love sitting in the sunshine’ and ‘Just do it, will you ‘sunshine’! (Even though this is a ‘pre-intermediate’ level sometimes humour using a different tone of voice is readily understood in the early stages of learning, although the full meaning may not be wholly understood.)
Stage 6:
At the end of the lesson students are given a positive experience in the usage of the newly acquired vocabulary. The exercise such as the one initially provided above (in which students list the words associated with the different seasons) or a quick team quiz which the teacher knows should be easy for the students will achieve further, positive reinforcement of the new words.
Ideally, these new words would be visited a day or two later, then a week later continuing i.e. the words should be recalled after increasing lengths of time.
The inclusion and/or the length of the different stages of the lesson will depend on the nature of the student(s). Some may be able to acquire new words quickly without a great deal of help so these stages may not need to be extensive. However, there will be those student(s) who find language learning particularly difficult and the stages listed above would be the best way for him/her/them to acquire new vocabulary effectively.

Understanding exactly how learners acquire language aids teaching

November 22, 2011

Learners and their needs are increasingly becoming the central focus of our teaching. However, if we look more closely at how learners acquire language and use this knowledge to structure our teaching methods, we can teach much more swiftly and effectively.
In order to acquire a language so that it becomes part of our automated output, we first need to ‘notice’ the target language. You can hardly avoid noticing a picture of a tiger on a page, for example, but if you turn the page over, how much detail were you aware of? Did you notice the position of its paws and its tail? The term ‘noticing’ in language acquisition, in its technical usage, includes thinking about it in depth.
After ‘noticing’ new language, we need to make sense of it by relating it to what we already know. Relating it to our own experiences and previously acquired knowledge makes the new language real for us as individuals. For me, a tiger lily, one of my favourite flowers, reminds me of the tiger, making it easier to relate to the word ‘tiger’.
Then we need to remember, recall and use the new language; we need to ‘push’ ourselves to produce it in meaningful situations.
How can we encourage our students to ‘notice’ the vocabulary they need to learn? Using the word ‘vegetable’, for example, we could break up the word into short syllables: veg – e – table, we could make connections with the syllables – the word ‘table’, or for more advanced students, we could use colloquialisms and idioms such as ‘to veg. out’ meaning to relax. For beginners who have difficulty with pronunciation, we could focus on the silent vowels for example and write the word as ‘vegtbl’.
After this, how can we make it easy for students to connect with the language? We could ask them to translate into their own language, select the correct meaning from several that we have offered, name as many collocations as they can, for example, ‘fresh’ vegetables — that is a common collocation — but do we talk about ‘new’ vegetables so much? And of course there is the ever-useful gap fill in which you provide sentences with gaps and one of the gaps needs to be filled with the word vegetable.
Then, how can we encourage our students to retain new words? We could say the word and ask the students to repeat it, the learners could look at the word, say it, cover it, write it down and then check it, or we could ask them to use the Linkword method. This involves looking at the new word for ten seconds while thinking of interacting images that not only reflect the meaning but also use similar sounds to the syllables of the word. For example, if they wanted to remember the Spanish word for cat, the word is ‘gato’. Gato sounds very similar to gateaux, cake, so they could think of a cat eating a gateau.
A major issue with our students is often the way they ignore corrections to their written work. So, how can we encourage them to: ‘notice’, make sense of, remember and make use of our corrections to their written work? Instead of writing in the correct forms, I suggest we ask our students to correct their own work in an informed way. For example, if they have written ‘I am student by brighton. I has two brothers.’, instead of correcting it to ‘I am a student in Brighton. I have 2 brothers.’ we could use an Editing Guide. This is a list of numbered common errors that pinpoint the type of error and explain rules for correct usage.
For example:
1. article? a? the? no article? e.g. a book (we don’t know which one); the book on the table (we know which book); Books are popular (we don’t know how many books we are talking about.)
2. verb form? …
Armed with a page of such information, all we need to do is underline where the errors occur and write the number that corresponds to that type of error in the written work. It is then the turn of the students to read the information in the guide and to correct their mistakes accordingly.
So you can see, using our understanding of how we acquire language, that is, knowing that we need to ‘notice’, make sense of, remember, recall and use the language can help our students learn much more quickly, effectively and enjoyably with a minimum of resources.
(reference: book: ‘Teaching Language Learners’.

Rosemary Westwell
rjwestwell@hotmail.com

How can you avoid being misunderstood?

August 25, 2011

After completing my book ‘Teaching Language Learners’ I have been asking people to review it. Expecting everyone to rave about it, and maybe a few people to point out some errors – no matter how careful I am, there always seem to be errors — I was somewhat surprised to receive my most recent reviews.

Before I comment I should add that most reviews of the book have been very helpful and positive – e.g. from an experienced teacher of EFL, English as a Foreign Language’:

‘I think the book’s USP [ultimate selling point] is your reflection on your personal experience of being a language learner and how this has influenced the methodology you employ in the book. I don’t know of any other teacher training manual where this has been the approach. The focus on the experiential aspects of language learning is valuable, and something we should more actively bear in mind when preparing lessons and teaching.

I found the sections on developing listening, spoken communication, reading and writing interesting and useful. I like the way in which the teacher is constantly asked to reflect and develop ideas, but support and feedback can be found usually on the next page – no need to turn to the back of the book. Also, the book is very well supplied with teaching resources …’

this reviewer understood my ideas. However, not everyone saw the value of the book in this way. My response to my recent reviewers:

I am grateful for your comments and for those of your friend who is Head of Modern Languages at a public school in the UK. Having other people respond to my material is really helpful. One can never assume that everyone will understand the messages intended or be of the same mind when teaching or learning a language. I am not sure if you and your professional friend want me to respond or not, but just in case you are interested in having a dialogue, I shall respond to the comments.

The book was written as a book of ideas for teachers and learners of languages. It was not designed as a book to read from cover to cover. Other than the first few chapters, it was more of a book to dip into when looking for ideas or of applying different approaches to teaching/learning a language. Thus is may well have been difficult to ‘read’.

‘Tasks’ and ‘Answers’ were not placed together immediately, because the whole teaching and learning technique it presented was based on the reader/learner/teacher ‘noticing’ or at least thinking about the topic first before being given solutions. In the classroom, I found that it was always worth the time and effort getting students to focus on the target language in ways that directly related to them so that the language became memorable and was thus more effectively retained.

I loved your comments about the quotations which were put in as light relief, diversions to lighten the load of concentrated learning.

The pictures and accompanying exercises were added, as you say, to suggest how students can be encouraged to remember vocabulary. There is a particularly effective way of remembering vocabulary which involves imagining interactive pictures related to the target language. I have also found using pictures as prompts for remembering previously acquired language can extend students’ short term memories very effectively.

I was interested to note that learning French by the Direct Method was successful for you. I had the same experience in secondary school which sparked my initial interest in language learning, although I find learning languages difficult.

As to your professional friend’s comments, I do not know whether you want to pass on my responses but here goes:

1. He notices I do not define who the ‘language learners’ are. The ‘language learners’ are those who are learning or those you are teaching. Language learners are individuals with unique characteristics, needs, and abilities. All language learners go through the process of language acquisition to acquire new language. Using our understanding of this acquisition process is the basis of the book. The book is a book of ideas to dip into. The teacher or learners adapt the ideas to suit their specific situation.  If a student is a beginner, single syllabled nouns would be more appropriate than teaching collocation, for example. Modern languages and English all have nouns and particular words that collocate well with these nouns.

2. He comments that there is a lack of progressive structure to the book. This is correct. When you have a class of students to teach, invariably a new comer arrives who has no knowledge of previous lesson materials taught. The methods suggested by this book make it possible to engage these students immediately.

3. I find it interesting that he comments that ‘the activities do not (for the most part) follow a structured period of learning. The basic principles of ‘introduction’, ‘practice’ and ‘performance’ which are used in any form of learning/teaching, seem to have been forgotten.’ This is where I have much to learn about other people’s interpretation of my ideas. I believed I was not only advocating these principles, but I was advocating them in a more concentrated and effective form — one that is directly related to how we acquire languages.  The ‘introduction’ is the period of time encouraging students to focus on the target language, to relate it to their own experiences and to retain it by using techniques that suit their individual preferences. Students are not simply ‘introduced’ to new forms; they are fully engaged with the language being taught/learnt.  The tasks that follow offer different ways of encouraging students to practice and perform the acquired forms so that they will be retained more effectively.

He suggests the book be targeted to interested amateurs who have small groups of adult learners wanting to improve their English. He is quite right; there has been a demand for the book from such people.

He also says it would be of little use to professional teaching of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and certainly of no use at all to teachers of children (7-18) who are learning a Modern foreign language. (!!!) I am amazed at this reaction. Most of the material relates specifically to teaching EFL – the ideas developed from my 20+ years of teaching EFL (including the teaching of children 10 – 18). Again and again I have had to teach the tenses in ways that clarified for the students exactly when and how they should be used.  My experience as a Spanish learner indicates to me that the tenses also have to be taught/learnt when learning Modern Languages. My book offers methods for doing this. Even more fascinating, is the way the professional teacher/ reviewer dismisses the ideas in the book as being of no use at all the teachers of children (7 – 18) who are learning a modern foreign language. I would be interested to know how he improves his students’ grammar. One idea in the book developed from the perennial problem that no matter how carefully I introduced a point of grammar to students of this age range, or corrected written work, the students continued to make the same mistakes. Only after I devised my ‘Editing Guide’ that made the students understand why their errors had occurred, what the correct usage should be, and made them write in their own corrections, did students fully take notice and refrain from repeating their mistakes.

I await with interest any further comments…

 

Giving a presentation

April 23, 2011

This post contains a description of my experience giving a workshop presentation to the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign language) Conference in Brighton April 2011

After a relatively iffy presentation at the conference last year, I was determined to do better this time. Kind friends came and suffered my first attempt and after making improvements from their suggestions, I believe it was OK! In fact, one member of the audience said to me as we left – that was a very good presentation and I had people crowding to see the book and asking me where they could get hold of it. So, my efforts to give much more information in a more agreeable way seem to have paid off.  One change I made was to have a lot of pictures. …

The presentation: Who or what do we teach? We don’t teach English, we teach language learners and if we focus on how learners acquire a language we can teach much more quickly and effectively.

During my PhD study (The development of language acquisition in a mature learner) I realized that a lot of the ideas I had been developing were also important to the way we teach. If we use our knowledge of how we acquire a language to restructure our approach, we can teach much more quickly and effectively. I have put these ideas into a book called Teaching Language Learners and we used ideas from this book in the workshop.

Have you ever felt, as I have, that I would be good teacher if it weren’t for the students? So many times I prepare a lesson in meticulous detail that would be the perfect lesson only to find that the students mess it up. They believe they have already learnt the subject, they don’t want to learn grammar at the moment or they would go off in a tangent, become terribly interested in a minute detail that was relatively unimportant. However, if we focus on how our students are acquiring language, few of these problems will arise.

So, how do we acquire a language? Note: I talk about ‘acquiring a language’ rather than ‘learning a language’ because for me the term ‘acquire’ includes a wider more permanent aspect to the process. So in order to acquire a language, we need to notice the target language. You can hardly avoiding noticing a picture of a tiger on a page, for example, but if you turn the page over, how much detail were you aware of. Did you notice the position of its paws and its tail? Where were the shadows? What other thoughts made the picture of the tiger real for you? The term ‘noticing’ in language acquisition, in its technical usage, means thinking about it in depth.

After noticing the target language, we need to make sense of it. We need to relate it to what we already know. That is why language acquisition is a unique experience for every individual. Each person has a different background and different previous experiences. Relating new target language to our own experiences and previously acquired knowledge makes the target language real for us. For me, a tiger lily, one of my favourite flowers reminds me of the tiger, making it easier to relate to the word ‘tiger’.

After noticing and making sense of the target language, we need to remember and recall the new language in order to fully acquire it. Then we need to use the language, we need to push ourselves to produce it in meaningful situations.

How can we encourage our students to ‘notice’ the vocabulary they need to learn? e.g. ‘vegetable’. Think of as many different ways as possible you could encourage your students to notice the word ‘vegetable’.

You no doubt have offered a number of useful ideas, some of which may have offered the following:

  • You could break up the word into short syllables: veg – e – table
  • You could make connections with the syllables – the word ‘table’, or for more advanced students you could move into using colloquialisms or idioms such as ‘to veg. out’ meaning to relax.
  • For beginners who have difficulty with pronunciation, you could concentrate on how the word is pronounced. You could focus on the silent vowels for example. Students often find it easier if they see the word written exactly as it is pronounced e.g. vegtbl
  • You could ask the students how many different kinds of vegetable they can name. By the time they have mentioned a number of examples, the word ‘vegetable’ has been used a number of times thus reinforcing it in their memories.
  • Or you could provide text containing the word ‘vegetable’ and ask the students to select other words they think would be useful to add to their vocabulary.

Next, how can we make it easy for students to connect to the language? How can we encourage our students to connect with the word ‘vegetable’ in ways that are meaningful to them as individuals?

  • You could ask them to translate into their own language.
  • You could ask them to select the correct meaning from several that you have offered.
  • You could ask them to name as many collocations as they can e.g. you can have ‘fresh’ vegetables, that is a common collocation, but do we talk about ‘new’ vegetables so much?
  • And of course there is the ever-useful gapfill in which you provide sentences with gaps and one of the gaps needs to be filled with the word vegetable.

Then, how can you encourage our students to remember?

How many different ways can you think of that will engage the students in memorizing the target word or words?

Memory techniques:

  • You could say the word and ask the students of repeat the word after you. There are some annoying adults who can remember words immediately this way, There are others, like myself, who need much more help than this.
  • You could use the method used to teach spelling many years age – You have the word written down, the learners look at the word, cover it, write the word down and then look to check if they have written it down correctly
  • You could ask them to use the Linkword method which worked very well for me although I only managed to retain the new language temporarily. What you do is to look at the new word for ten seconds while you think of interacting images, often humorous, bizarre that not only reflect the meaning but also use similar sounds to the syllables of the word. For example, if you want to remember the Spanish word for cat, the word is ‘gato’. Gato sounds very similar to gateaux, cake, so you could think of a cat eating, sitting on flying over a piece of gateau.

How can we encourage our students to use the language?

  • We could try the sledge hammer approach and try to force them to use it under duress, by saying ‘Use the word in a sentence NOW’ but that may not be the most successful way.

Let us take teaching the present perfect (I have done) for example, as in ‘I have thrown the ball over the net’.

Here is one way you could go about it.

1) You could ask the students for all the past participles they know and or introduce ones they need to know at their level or for a particular task. e.g. do (I have) done;  see (I have) seen

One way in which we use the present perfect is when we want to focus on the action itself.

2) To practice this use of the present perfect you could ask students to make up a series of questions e.g.

What have you done recently?

Which films have you seen?

3) Then you could ask your students to move into pairs or groups. One student could use the questions and the other student could provide the answers, both students using the present perfect in meaningful ways.

Another major issue I have with my students is the way I would burn the midnight oil marking students’ written work and return it to them the next day. They would look at the overall mark or comment(s). Yes a ‘B’ OK and then put the page away. They would ignore the corrections and learn nothing. You could ask them to rewrite the passage correctly, but some many have an aversion to writing. So, how can we encourage our students to notice, make sense of, remember and make use of our corrections to their written work? For example our student may have written ‘I am student by brighton.’ I think we should give the work of correcting to the students to do. I suggest using an Editing Guide. This is a list of common errors on one page, each error being numbered. Each error is explained and the correct forms listed. For example, if there is a problem with the use of an article, this could be listed as the first common error.

1. article? A? the? No article? e.g. a book (we don’t know which one); the book on the table (we know which book); Books are popular (we don’t know how many books we are talking about.)

Armed with a page of such information, each common error numbered, all you need to do is underline where the error occurs and write the number that corresponds to that type of error in the written work. It is then the turn of the student to read the information in the guide and to correct their mistake accordingly. In this case, they would write ‘a’ between ‘am’ and ‘student’. Not only would they notice their mistake, but in having to read the guide they would learn how and when to use this form correctly next time.

So you can see, using our understanding of how we acquire language, that is, knowing that we need to notice, make sense of, remember, recall and use the language can help our students learn much more quickly, effectively and enjoyably with a minimum of resources.

Depending on the age and level of the students, some may indeed be able to teach themselves much more if they are encouraged to use this approach.

‘Give them the tools and they will finish the job’ I say (with apologies to Winston Churchill)

Giving a presentation

This post contains a description of my experience giving a workshop presentation to the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign language) Conference in Brighton April 2011

After a relatively iffy presentation at the conference last year, I was determined to do better this time. Kind friends came and suffered my first attempt and after making improvements from their suggestions, I believe it was OK! In fact, one member of the audience said to me as we left – that was a very good presentation and I had people crowding to see the book and asking me where they could get hold of it. (It is available from Burrows Bookshop in Ely and I hope to do an ebook version later.) One change I made was to have a lot of pictures. …

The presentation: Who or what do we teach? We don’t teach English, we teach language learners and if we focus on how learners acquire a language we can teach much more quickly and effectively.

During my PhD study (The development of language acquisition in a mature learner) I realized that a lot of the ideas I had been developing were also important to the way we teach. If we use our knowledge of how we acquire a language to restructure our approach, we can teach much more quickly and effectively. I have put these ideas into a book called Teaching Language Learners and we used ideas from this book in the workshop.

Have you ever felt, as I have, that I would be good teacher if it weren’t for the students? So many times I prepare a lesson in meticulous detail that would be the perfect lesson only to find that the students mess it up. They believe they have already learnt the subject, they don’t want to learn grammar at the moment or they would go off in a tangent, become terribly interested in a minute detail that was relatively unimportant. However, if we focus on how our students are acquiring language, few of these problems will arise.

So, how do we acquire a language? Note: I talk about ‘acquiring a language’ rather than ‘learning a language’ because for me the term ‘acquire’ includes a wider more permanent aspect to the process. So in order to acquire a language, we need to notice the target language. You can hardly avoiding noticing a picture of a tiger on a page, for example, but if you turn the page over, how much detail were you aware of. Did you notice the position of its paws and its tail? Where were the shadows? What other thoughts made the picture of the tiger real for you? The term ‘noticing’ in language acquisition, in its technical usage, means thinking about it in depth.

After noticing the target language, we need to make sense of it. We need to relate it to what we already know. That is why language acquisition is a unique experience for every individual. Each person has a different background and different previous experiences. Relating new target language to our own experiences and previously acquired knowledge makes the target language real for us. For me, a tiger lily, one of my favourite flowers reminds me of the tiger, making it easier to relate to the word ‘tiger’.

After noticing and making sense of the target language, we need to remember and recall the new language in order to fully acquire it. Then we need to use the language, we need to push ourselves to produce it in meaningful situations.

How can we encourage our students to ‘notice’ the vocabulary they need to learn? e.g. ‘vegetable’. Think of as many different ways as possible you could encourage your students to notice the word ‘vegetable’.

You no doubt have offered a number of useful ideas, some of which may have offered the following:

  • You could break up the word into short syllables: veg – e – table
  • You could make connections with the syllables – the word ‘table’, or for more advanced students you could move into using colloquialisms or idioms such as ‘to veg. out’ meaning to relax.
  • For beginners who have difficulty with pronunciation, you could concentrate on how the word is pronounced. You could focus on the silent vowels for example. Students often find it easier if they see the word written exactly as it is pronounced e.g. vegtbl
  • You could ask the students how many different kinds of vegetable they can name. By the time they have mentioned a number of examples, the word ‘vegetable’ has been used a number of times thus reinforcing it in their memories.
  • Or you could provide text containing the word ‘vegetable’ and ask the students to select other words they think would be useful to add to their vocabulary.

Next, how can we make it easy for students to connect to the language? How can we encourage our students to connect with the word ‘vegetable’ in ways that are meaningful to them as individuals?

  • You could ask them to translate into their own language.
  • You could ask them to select the correct meaning from several that you have offered.
  • You could ask them to name as many collocations as they can e.g. you can have ‘fresh’ vegetables, that is a common collocation, but do we talk about ‘new’ vegetables so much?
  • And of course there is the ever-useful gapfill in which you provide sentences with gaps and one of the gaps needs to be filled with the word vegetable.

Then, how can you encourage our students to remember?

How many different ways can you think of that will engage the students in memorizing the target word or words?

Memory techniques:

  • You could say the word and ask the students of repeat the word after you. There are some annoying adults who can remember words immediately this way, There are others, like myself, who need much more help than this.
  • You could use the method used to teach spelling many years age – You have the word written down, the learners look at the word, cover it, write the word down and then look to check if they have written it down correctly
  • You could ask them to use the Linkword method which worked very well for me although I only managed to retain the new language temporarily. What you do is to look at the new word for ten seconds while you think of interacting images, often humorous, bizarre that not only reflect the meaning but also use similar sounds to the syllables of the word. For example, if you want to remember the Spanish word for cat, the word is ‘gato’. Gato sounds very similar to gateaux, cake, so you could think of a cat eating, sitting on flying over a piece of gateau.

How can we encourage our students to use the language?

  • We could try the sledge hammer approach and try to force them to use it under duress, by saying ‘Use the word in a sentence NOW’ but that may not be the most successful way.

Let us take teaching the present perfect (I have done) for example, as in ‘I have thrown the ball over the net’.

Here is one way you could go about it.

1) You could ask the students for all the past participles they know and or introduce ones they need to know at their level or for a particular task. e.g. do (I have) done;  see (I have) seen

One way in which we use the present perfect is when we want to focus on the action itself.

2) To practice this use of the present perfect you could ask students to make up a series of questions e.g.

What have you done recently?

Which films have you seen?

3) Then you could ask your students to move into pairs or groups. One student could use the questions and the other student could provide the answers, both students using the present perfect in meaningful ways.

Another major issue I have with my students is the way I would burn the midnight oil marking students’ written work and return it to them the next day. They would look at the overall mark or comment(s). Yes a ‘B’ OK and then put the page away. They would ignore the corrections and learn nothing. You could ask them to rewrite the passage correctly, but some many have an aversion to writing.

So, how can we encourage our students to notice, make sense of, remember and make use of

our corrections to their written work?

For example our student may have written ‘I am student by brighton.’ I think we should give the work of correcting to the students to do. I suggest using an Editing Guide. This is a list of common errors on one page, each error being numbered. Each error is explained and the correct forms listed. For example, if there is a problem with the use of an article, this could be listed as the first common error.

1. article? A? the? No article? e.g. a book (we don’t know which one); the book on the table (we know which book); Books are popular (we don’t know how many books we are talking about.)

Armed with a page of such information, each common error numbered, all you need to do is underline where the error occurs and write the number that corresponds to that type of error in the written work. It is then the turn of the student to read the information in the guide and to correct their mistake accordingly. In this case, they would write ‘a’ between ‘am’ and ‘student’. Not only would they notice their mistake, but in having to read the guide they would learn how and when to use this form correctly next time.

So you can see, using our understanding of how we acquire language, that is, knowing that we need to notice, make sense of, remember, recall and use the language can help our students learn much more quickly, effectively and enjoyably with a minimum of resources.

Depending on the age and level of the students, some may indeed be able to teach themselves much more if they are encouraged to use this approach.

‘Give them the tools and they will finish the job’ I say (with apologies to Winston Churchill)

Writing the blurb on your book is not easy

March 18, 2010

Writing the blurb on your book is not as easy as you might think. What are other people really interested in? – mainly themselves, you might answer. How do you relate the book to other people’s interests? People are so varied; their interests are so different. Perhaps the only solution is to write what you are interested in yourself and hope that others feel the same.

Is it safe for you to write without a copy-editor tidying up your language? Probably not, but they are busy people and sometimes it may be worth the risk…

Here is the blurb for my recent book Out of a Learner’s Mouth. The blurb has been tidied up – perhaps it could serve as a model..? (or not! What do you think?)

Out of a Learner’s Mouth

Picking up a stranger in a pub in Spain and buying a flat from him is an unusual way of starting a new relationship with the country and its language. However, this mature lady casts caution aside and gives the stranger her credit card to pay a deposit for her dream flat by the Mediterranean Sea. When the contract is signed and she first enters the building, she is unable to communicate with the electrician who is still fixing the wiring. She realizes she has to learn Spanish.

In a series of amusing anecdotes she records her feelings about the language and the Spanish way of life. She struggles with new vocabulary and with interference from school French. As her exposure to the language increases, her attitude alters; she makes drastic changes to her approach when teaching English as a Foreign Language to students in the UK.  

She describes the new Spanish words she acquires and shares the trials and tribulations that all language learners have with concentration, memory, personality differences and interfering life events. 

A developing awareness of the benefits of image, humour, other language associations and her past learning and teaching experiences give insight into the nature of the process.        

The book is an essential companion for those contemplating learning Spanish, or planning a holiday in a Spanish-speaking country, and for those in the language learning, researching, teaching and teacher-training businesses.

It pays to talk

August 26, 2009

I popped into Cambridge (UK) International Bookstore in Hills Road today. I can always get up-to-date news about the EFL world there. While I had time on my hands, I chatted about books that sell. It seems that the highest sellers are course books, which is to be expected. Methodology books that I thought would sell well, sell only moderately I was told.

If you are writing an EFL book, the advice is to write for the students. Surprisingly enough there were no rival diaries of language learners on the shelves. Perhaps I may be starting something new for the market (or I may be providing something that very few people will be interested in!). It will be an interesting exercise trying to make my PHD diary readable whatever the case.