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My name is Chris, and I've been a language teacher for fifteen years. I've also designed curriculum, courses, and programs, as well as trained teachers. As an educator, I want to share my knowledge with you, free of charge.

The newsletter can be explained quite simply.

Get ideas. Expand your teaching ability. Restock your bag of activities.

Yes, it's that simple!

As teachers, we constantly look for new ideas to keep classes fresh and interesting. New ideas also push our skills in new directions and help improve our craft as teachers. It doesn't matter if you're new to the field or more experienced, there's always more to learn, always more to try.

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Why spend hours scrounging the net when you can get ideas, tips, and activities delivered straight to you? 

Still not sure? Here are a few ideas from recent newsletters to get your started!


September 18th

Storytelling always works well in the classroom or as homework. It allows students to incorporate the target language. It also offers the following benefits:

1. Students practice narration, or the ability to connect ideas together smoothly.

2. Students build vocabulary because they often voluntarily search dictionaries for new words.

3. Students begin to understand word choice and nuance, particularly as they go through dictionaries to find the right word.

4. Students get to exercise creativity, a skill I feel often gets forgotten in the language classroom.

So this week's tip offers two ideas on storytelling. The activities can be used with just about any age group or level. Of course, lower-level students will need a lot of time to complete the activities. If you decide to have students read the stories aloud, then make sure enough time remains for everyone to present their story.

Round-Robin Storytelling

Step 1: Place students in small groups of three or four. Although all students will participate in creating the story, each group must decide on the one person who will write the story down.

Step 2: One student begins the story from a few phrases pre-selected by the teacher. For example: "Once upon a time..." or "It was a dark and stormy night..." or "When Tim woke up, he just knew it would be a strange day..." The first student makes a sentence that connects to this introductory phrase.

Step 3: The next student continues the story with a sentence or two. Storytelling continues around the group during the time allotted. Other students may not edit the sentences except for grammar, in which everyone may pitch in to get this aspect correct.

Step 4: The teacher goes around and monitors or corrects as necessary. However, he shouldn't be too intrusive.

Step 5: Present the stories!

Deck of Cards Storytelling

Step 1: Arrange the class into small groups of three or four students. Distribute a deck of playing cards face down to each group. You may divide the deck in half or a third, but guarantee that each group gets at least fifteen cards (preferably more).

Step 2: The group decides on a phrase to start the story from one of several pre-selected by the teacher. The phrase usually gets students into the activity more quickly, rather than the groups agonizing over how to begin.

Step 3: The first student draws a card, and must use the number on that card in the sentence. For example, the student draws a seven of clubs, he must use the number "seven" in his sentence.

It was a dark and stormy night. It was seven o'clock when the lights went out.

Step 4: The second student draws a card, and must then use that number in the sentence. Each student may give one or two sentences, one of which must have the number. Jacks, Queens, and Kings are "Jack, "Queen," and "King" in the story respectively. An Ace may be "Ace" or "one." For example:

It was a dark and stormy night. It was seven o'clock when the lights went out. The wind was loud and the thunder was louder. Jack started to cry.

Step 5: Continue the story around the group. Other students may not edit the sentences apart from correcting grammar mistakes. Meanwhile, the teacher monitors and offers correction when necessary.

Step 6: Present the stories at the end!


July 17th

Listening

This week's tip focuses on improving listening, but outside of class. All of the news articles posted at Heads Up English have an audio file for use in the and/or out of the classroom. There is also the Skill Builders: Listening series of materials with extended articles and activities to improve listening. Despite all the materials which focus on listening skills, and not just at Heads Up English, a lot of students aren't really sure what to do. So try the following:

First, select an article from the Lesson Archives or the Skill Builders: Listening section. Then assign students to listen to the same article several times every day. To better focus their effort, give the below assignment:

Monday: Listen to the article three times at each sitting to understand the general content.

Tuesday: Listen to the article again, and provide a short summary of the information presented. Alternatively, students can listen again and answer a series of questions to gauge comprehension.

Wednesday: Listen to the first paragraph twice, and then write a two-sentence summary. Do the same for the second paragraph, the third paragraph, and so on.

Thursday: Students should look at the key vocabulary and understand each word. Next they should listen to the article and mark each time a vocabulary word is heard. Do this several times until the words are easily and accurately caught. Lastly, listen once or twice more and be able to use the vocab in context of the article.

Friday: Listen to the whole article. Mark down some questions or ideas that were of interest. Either raise them in class for discussion, or do some independent research on Wikipedia, Google News, or another source.

This process is quite challenging, but also maintains interest. A lot of students listen to an article several times and then move on. Yet comprehension may remain low, as may ability to use key vocabulary, grammar, or ideas. In addition, if students only listen a few times, they may not get enough exposure to the language.


May 29th

Word Searches

This week I want to talk about word searches, which many teachers use strictly as a vocabulary exercise - list the words, then have students find them.

Word searches and word pools, both of which can be found in the weekly lesson plans, help to improve reading speed. Students recognize words, and identify prefixes and suffixes. This leads to improved skimming and scanning abilities, too.

What's skimming and scanning? Skimming refers to quickly reading an article or essay for the gist. Scanning refers to dipping into an article or essay for specific information. Both prove important in everyday life, and are used regularly to go through e-mails, reports, newspaper articles, and so on. If students can recognize letter patterns and words more quickly, then they can read more quickly. Even upper-level students can benefit from these exercises.

We can also make word searches more interesting and incorporate other elements. For example:

1. The teacher dictates the words, which allows students to practice listening and spelling.

2. The teacher reads a sentence aloud. Students must identify the verb, and write it down for the word search.

3. Students conjugate the plain form of the verbs into the past tense. They then go through the word search looking for the past tense form. This works especially well with irregular verbs.

4. Rather than just give words to look for, short sentences provide clues for the words to be found. Students must read the sentence, understand the clue, think of the correct vocabulary word, and find it in the word search.

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