Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Pondering the Death of “Hangman”

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve always prided myself on almost always using games that actually require the students to practice the target language. Take board games, for example. The target language isn’t printed on the board, where the students can memorize what to do / say according to location. The target language is always on cards that we shuffle and change.

But I did play “hangman” with my deaf and hard of hearing students sometimes. My rationale was that slowly filling in each missing letter of the unknown word makes the students really pay attention to the word and what it looks like.

At the ETAI International Conference I attended last July, quite a few speakers brought up the issue of precious time being wasted on activities, including games, where what was really being practiced was not meaningful use of the language. “Hangman” was mentioned as an example.

I’ve been pondering this.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

My deaf and hard of hearing students need emphasis on the visual aspect – it would seem that this game makes students look very carefully at the letters that form the word, which helps them commit the word to memory.

But does it actually do that?

I’ll have to admit it doesn’t.

When I look back on the times we’ve played it in class, I think the thing we reviewed most is the alphabet. Some students may have picked up  some information about the frequency of letters in a word. But once my high school students discovered what the hidden word was, often after randomly and wildly guessing letters, most of them were not interested in the word itself and the meaning of the word went in one eye and out the other (eyes are better than ears in my classes, remember?). Usage and context wasn’t even a question. The students mainly wanted to know if we have time to guess another word before the bell!

Even if the students chose the words themselves, out of a printed dictionary, they weren’t paying attention to anything other than the length of the word…

So…

I’m relegating this game to the “almost” category I mentioned in the first line of this post. We’re talking about real life after all. Sometimes class dynamics (or teacher exhaustion) requires something light and simple to end a long day for everyone. It least the game is in English…

 

But I’m NOT Being NITPICKY, Students!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Alternative title – How to lose a teachable moment…

Yesterday we finally got started on creating a “Name Box” in class. Our version of Penny Ur’s recommendation to personalize grammar exercises (see post about that here) got off to a slow start because of two completely different reasons:

  • A friendly argument with another teacher about my claim that even though we are NOT following Penny Ur’s advice and using our students’ names, the fact that the students themselves are choosing the names of the famous people  included in the box will still have a personalizing effect. Students in special education classes are particularly sensitive and I firmly believe extra precautions are required (I use students’ names when I control the sentences, not a book).
  • It turns out that covering a lovely tin (that originally contained BarkTHINS)  with sticky red wallpaper is a terrible idea. All the lettering on the box comes through! And then the  sellotape (scotch tape) I used to tape pictures on the box over the lettering doesn’t stick well to the wallpaper! I’m still grappling with that problem…

Nevertheless, we began. Eleven students have already chosen their famous person. Along with the person’s name each student had to add the occupation and country (of origin).

I was really pleased that the students were interested in the names of professions and countries in English. The difference between “America” and “American” came up and we looked at how Brazil is really spelled.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

But then I ran into trouble. Three students chose names of actors. Great! Except for the fact that they referred to the profession as “players”.

I called everyone’s attention to the fact and tried to explain the difference between a football player and an actor.

The boys in the class thought I was talking nonsense. Why was I inventing a distinction? Why was I being nitpicky?

Not only is the word for both cases exactly the same in Hebrew, those boys play computer /video games and they know about “player one” and “player two”. Actors are just the same. Obviously their teacher doesn’t play enough video games…

At least the girls were more open to the idea of there being a distinction between a player and an actor…

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 18. Write in Class

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

This is the final part (part eighteen) of my blogging challenge. I’ve enjoyed this challenge a great deal. It has left me eager to start the new school year!

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 95: “Do writing in class”

I certainly use this tip.

Although it does make some sense for students to write their essays at home (writing can be quite time-consuming since students need time to think about what they are writing) it also makes sense to have the students write some of the essays (or work on parts of an essay) in class.

I do correct essays written at home, have students rewrite them and hand them in again. That is good. Nonetheless, the learning experience is different.

Immediate feedback

Encouragement

Support

Opportunity to model work habits

I’ve had students who told me they remembered certain advanced vocabulary items because these particular words were ones I had suggested when they “got stuck” while writing in class. Sometimes students even remember that I wrote the word on the board in the righthand corner, or on a yellow piece of scrap paper that was available.

Emotions and multi-sensory experiences seem to have a role here.

I believe that like most things in life, it’s about striking a balance. I won’t stop assigning writing tasks to be done at home but I make sure to have students sit and write in class.

Do you?

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 17. Sight Words

A better view Naomi's Photos
A better view
Naomi’s Photos

This is part seventeen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 89: “Teach a lot of vocabulary”

* Note: I was sorely tempted to reflect on all the tips in the vocabulary section, but a rule is a rule…

I love it when practices  we recommend for teaching Deaf and hard of hearing students are recommended for everyone.

Sight words are words you understand right away without the need to decode.  Check out this quote from the book (page 106): ” It appears that a large sight vocabulary …is the main condition for successful reading comprehension”. When you have words at your disposal that lead to meaning effortlessly, you can focus on the content of the text must more efficiently.

The thing is, the sight vocabulary needs to be large. Even students with normal hearing cannot pick up enough vocabulary based on incidental learning and by seeing words in context in books. Vocabulary has to be taught and practiced. A lot!

Vocabulary flashcards rock!

They will “rock” even more if you include collocations!

Especially god for pair work – an opportunity for students to be teachers too. Meanwhile you, the official teacher,  can work with someone who needs extra help.

The only caveat is the issue of general knowledge. The students have to have a reasonable grasp of the concepts the words denote. Otherwise the ability to quickly translate the words into their mother tongue does not contribute to reading comprehension.

Which may sound extremely obvious to you.

Unless you are working with Deaf and hard of hearing students…

(For more information on that issue, see the post on the Q/A blog: Translating words into L1 isn’t always helpful. Why?

 

 

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 16. Assess Yourself

Spot the difference! Naomi's Photos
Spot the difference!
Naomi’s Photos

This is part sixteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 88: “Assess yourself”

I couldn’t agree more – assessing is something we need to do to ourselves, not just the students. It is particularly necessary for veteran teachers, so as to avoid going into “sleep-teaching” mode – teaching purely based on habit. Doing that places the teacher in danger of failing to adapt her teaching style to the ever-changing needs/demands of the students and system and feeling bored with the profession.

The author discusses three ways to assess your teaching practices. I actually see the second two as two sides of the same coin and, would like to expand the first.

I totally agree that getting feedback from a reliable colleague is a very tricky issue. Everyone is so busy at school and asking to be observed can be awkward. However, it’s amazing how blogging truthfully about your lesson and then discussing it online with members of your PLN (Personal learning Network) can help you assess your lesson.  I emphasize the word amazing because none of the teachers in my own PLN teach EFL to deaf and hard of hearing students in the format of a learning center in the national school system. Nonetheless, these teachers have helped me understand what didn’t work well in a lesson or did in fact work well and why this must be so.

I cannot separate giving yourself feedback after a lesson and using the students as a source of feedback and assessment. When a lesson ends I judge it by the students’ reactions. Did they concentrate? Were they working or wasting time? Did they demonstrate that they understood the material? Did I have to explain the same point for a long time? What did they say to me and to each other?

The students’ feedback comes through loud and clear, as long as I take the time to reflect on it.

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 15. Eye Contact

I'm over here! Look at me! Naomi's Photos
I’m over here! Look at me!
Naomi’s Photos

This is part fifteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 78: “Keep eye contact”

Dare I say “I told you so”?

Not just me, any teacher /counselor / specialist who works with teachers who have a student with a hearing loss in their classroom has said the same thing; many things that we are asking you to do for “our” student are good for everyone!

I completely agree that keeping eye contact with as many students as possible helps them focus on what you are saying. Focus on the teacher, in fact. And when teachers look at the students a lot they are more aware of the students reactions – are they baffled or completely “on board”?

Naturally not everything good for students with normal hearing is ideal for those who don’t hear as well. The author recommends sometimes speaking from the side of the classroom or even the back. As long as the student with a hearing loss is seated on a side row (so as to be able to swivel in the chair) and the teacher moves to a different spot and spends some time there (aka, not moving constantly), he /she  could deal with these options as well.

I love this tip!

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 14. Speech & Memorization

The lampost doesn't have to bore the chair... (Naomi's Photos)
The lamppost doesn’t have to bore the chair…
(Naomi’s Photos)

This is part fourteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 74: “Let students use memorized text” {for speaking activities}

I sincerely believe this helps the students. Even the Deaf ones, not just the hard of hearing students.

The first things my students want to know how to say in English are set phrases , useful for dialogues in real life situations “what’s your name?”  “My name is _____”, How old are you”? “How much does this cost”? “I didn’t hear you”. The students with more severe hearing losses need a lot of practice with each phrase individually but once they master them, they become readily available for the students to use fluently. Fluently from the speaker’s perspective, not in the sense of how understandable their speech is to the listener (some of the students’ speech is not very clear).

My students need to practice the same exchanges and expressions over and over again. I used to have the students pull out the names of celebrities from a box. Then they were asked to answer as if they were that character. That would hold students’ interest while repeating the set phrases. This strategy worked better with younger students.

The author has intriguing suggestions for varying simple dialogues so as to keep the necessary repetitions interesting. I  particularly like the suggestion related to “tone”.  Students have to repeat the same words but each time they must say them in a different way – angrily, happily, sadly, etc.

This is something I would like to try.

How about you?

 

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 13. Guessing & Context

Can you guess? Naomi's photos
Can you guess?
Naomi’s photos

This is part thirteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 67: “Minimize guessing from context”

I was so glad to read this tip.

As a counselor I often explain that you can hardly expect a typical deaf or hard of hearing student to infer the new words in a text  from context when they don’t remember so many other words in the text. How can you infer what “climb” means in a sentence if you have forgotten the meaning of the word “tree” and remember that “up” refers to a direction, but you aren’t sure which one?

Now add that to the information given in the book about data collected from so-called “regular” students (and even native speakers). The conclusion is that accurately inferring the meaning of a new word from the context simply does not work very well.

Deaf and hard of hearing students are allowed to use a dictionary – let them use it! Teach them how and show them it is perfectly legitimate to use one!

It’s important to note the distinction made in the book between texts (such as independent reading in grading readers) where it is enough for the student to get the gist of  the meaning of an unknown word, compared to texts in the coursebook designed to teach new vocabulary.  Guessing the meaning in the latter situation may lead to wrong answers, time wasted and cause unwanted stress.

When reading a graded reader a student can even skip some of the unknown words..

Final note – I have found that when you do want students to practice guessing words from context, guessing verbs has a higher success rate than other parts of speech.

Have you also noticed that?

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 12. Pronunciation

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

This is part twelve of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 64: “Contrast with mother-tongue sounds”

Actually, with my deaf and hard of hearing students, comparing to mother-tongue sounds is needed too.

Since many of my students with a hearing loss don’t speak clearly in their mother tongue (some don’t speak with their mouths at all, but that’s another story) it is helpful to compare to the sounds they can say well in their mother tongue. And then, as the author does say, choose to work on the sounds which will most impede comprehension by a listener.

 

It’s great fun (but not always particularly useful) to practice the word “the” with the funny sound in the beginning that calls for sticking your tongue out.

mispronouncing “International words”, as the author calls them (words that are the same in many languages, such as radio and telephone) can lead to reading issues. When I taught elementary school, I always had to deal with children who worked according to the “don’t confuse me with the facts” principle.  Since they were positive that hamburgers are called “a-bu-geh”, they refused to accept that “hamburger” had anything to do with the food.

Nonetheless, pronunciation seems to aid retention of vocabulary, even for some deaf students. Spending some time on it may help retain the vocabulary, even if the clarity of speech doesn’t approve…

 

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 11. Listening & Vocab.

Do they communicate? Naomi's photos
Do they communicate?
Naomi’s photos

This is part eleven of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 57: “Don’t always pre-teach vocabulary

Listening.

(Pretend you are listening, not reading).

Listen up, I have two major comments here and I will only say them once (no second chance to hear it with a different voice / accent!):

  1. Really? Pre-teaching vocabulary before students encounter a spoken or written text doesn’t help comprehension very much? So most of the benefits I do see when I decide to pre-teach vocabulary  before a reading comprehension task have to do with the fact that the vocabulary items provide information about the content? Would I get the same results if I just gave the students information about the content in mother tongue? Especially since many of my students are so woefully lacking in the “general-knowledge-department”. I wonder. The explanations given are very convincing yet it would be fascinating to read more research about this (one reference is given in the book). How does a veteran teacher not affiliated with any university get access to such articles?

2. No, it’s not a typing error. The word “listening” does appear in the title yet I am focusing on the reading comprehension aspect. I’m a teacher of the Deaf, what do I know about teaching listening?!

Nonetheless, I read the entire section devoted to listening. And it’s good that I did. This proves the point I try to make before every teachers’ conference – don’t walk out on a lecture you think isn’t relevant for you or a skip a chapter in a book like this book. You never know when the information might come in handy, or spark off a completely fresh chain of thoughts!