Embassy English Guest Speakers

How can we get new ideas into the staff room and bring our teachers in contact with what is happening in ELT beyond our school? Well one way that Embassy English has been doing this recently is by bringing in guest speakers to our central London centre, and we’ve been fortunate to have had workshops from Jason Anderson, Danny Norrington-Davies, Gillian Cunningham and Emina Tuzovic recently.  If you have the chance to attend any of their workshops, I’d highly recommend it, or perhaps you can catch Jason or Danny at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow.

A short take away from each talk: 

Jason Anderson: Sharing our intentions with our learners
How explicit are we in sharing lesson aims with learners? Do we believe more in procedures or outcomes? Learner autonomy or teacher control? Flexibility or clear structure? Are we ‘freedom fighters’ or ‘control freaks?’

As a ‘freedom fighter’ myself, it was interesting to hear the majority of my more ‘control freak’ colleagues’ opinions.  One thing that stuck with me from the discussions with other teachers was as Fiona Thomas said, I like to know the purpose of a workshop I attend, so maybe I should show the learners the purpose of our lessons more explicitly at the end as well as the beginning of every lesson.

Danny Norrington-Davies: From Rules to Reasons

I’ve been reading his new book, and have been trying to take on board his approach to getting students to notice why a grammatical structure is used rather than presenting rules that are simplufied, have exceptions and at worst are untrue. Even if this is an approach I already believed in, it is not necessarily what I do in practice when relying on the course book grammar activities tends to be my default just because it’s easier and I’m lazy. 

I’ve had students write why a verb is used on mini white boards and they have been able to do so successfully at both elementary and intermediate level.  In fact my elementary students were better at explaining the difference in meaning between future forms (e.g. future plan, I know) than the intermediates who tended to say the name of the form (eg present continuous) and needed more prompting to think about why a certain expression was used.

Gillian Cunningham: Play it again and again Sam

Memory is so important in learning new vocabulary and we must remember that, and we must remember to help our learners remember new expressions. Revision doesn’t always have to come from students; it can come from the teacher repeating or previewing new lexis to get it in their brains.  And memory activities could be as simple as having students write down all the words they remember from the lesson.

Some theories:

Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve says that we forget 50% after an hour, 60% after 9 hours and 80% after a month.

The von Restorff effect says that something unexpected or exciting is more memorable.

Primary and recency theory says we remember best what comes first and last.

Trace theory: the more often and intensely a memory condition is traced, the easier it is to remember.

It’s easier to remember chunks that having meaning, than isolated words in a list.

Emina Tuzovic: Teaching Writing to Arabic Learners

This was a brilliant talk I also went to at IATEFL 2016. I don’t have very many Arabic learners but one thing I’ve incorporated into my own teaching with them include being more tolerant and aware when they confuse vowels and helping them to notice the vowels and write them in a different colour. Also I’ve been more explicit in pointing out sentence structure and given them paragraph dictation to separate and punctuate sentences.


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