Guest Post: “Going Going Gone” with Low-Literacy Learners By Clare O’Nolan

I’m pleased to introduce my first guest on this blog – Clare O’Nolan!

Clare is an ESL and ESOL teacher and teacher trainer based in London. Interested in teaching underprivileged and homeless. Spare time scuba diver and birdwatcher. Clare tweets at @Clareonolan

I was lucky enough to be able to share my excitement about the adaptibility of the disappearing text method for special needs students (I’ve been posting about my experiments with it recently!) with Clare. Although she works with an entirely different kind of population we found that the system works for her too!

So, here’s Clare’s post!

(Note: The original Going Going Gone” post is from Jason’s Renshaw’s blog.)

My class and I had great fun with this last Thursday!

I used the 5 sentences from the current ‘chapter’ of material we are using. The students (5 women, 2 men from Afghanistan, Yemen, Morocco, Somalia & Bulgaria) had read it with me and the pictures before hand. Each sentence was boarded alongside the picture (instead of the questions in Jason Renshaw’s version) and drilled with slightly exaggerated word stress. I thought remembering the rhythm might help later with the word order.

1st round: removed unstressed function words; dismay all round – replaced them on the board by eliciting from students. (More dismay – we did it!)
2nd round: removed same words again plus prepositions. (Less dismay this time.) I gave the students a copy of what was left on the board as a 1/2 page handout. They worked in pairs to restore both sets of words by writing in the gaps. We checked as a class using the board again, them reading aloud.
3rd round: removed all previous words plus verbs from the board. This  version was shown on the second 1/2 of the handout and the students filled the gaps again. They took longer but succeeded. (Proud dismay all round!)
4th round: fast worker only. On another handout provided I had taken out everything except initials for the names and the nouns in the story. She had to write back in all the missing words. (Success.)

I found it useful for little things like showing them collocations are waiting, for a bus, are going, to the zoo etc. They practised the connection between what they saw (familiar pictures), what they heard (reading aloud), and what the wrote to fill in the gaps.
I tried to avoid your problems with too much copying from the board (!) but fell into the trap of not allowing for large handwriting in the gaps. I needed to leave more space. Also whilst wanting to show how many words were missing, I confused them with dashes like this ——– (they assumed each dash was a letter) when I should have used a line _______ . I also like the way the task could be easily differentiated for the variety of abilities, even in this small class. I will definitely do it again with the next chapter of our material.

Saturday – Japanese Authors

Since our thoughts are with the people of Japan and the devastating events they are dealing with, I’ve decdided to write about the Japanese authors I enjoy.

I’ll start with Kazuo Ishiguro, though he left Japan as a child and grew up in England. It’s just that I recently read his book “Never Let Me Go” which I couldn’t put down. A small book which I really recommend. The other book I read “When we were Orphans, is not a “quick read” but also highly recommended.  I never read the book ” The Remainder of the Day” – I just saw and liked the movie!

I REALLY enjoyed reading both “Kafka on the Shore” and “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami. Actually the first book I read by him was “Sputnik Sweetheart” which wasn’t as good, so I’m very glad I didn’t give up on the author!

May the news coming from that direction improve soon!

Goal 21: Cuba, “Kubbeh” and Creative Writing

Photo by Gil Epstein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

I don’t do creative writing with pupils whose vocabulary in Enlgish is so small (in 10th grade!) that we could sit down and count it.

However, since I’ve entered the world of blogosphere and started experimenting with all this new stuff, interesting things have been happening. And since, as usual, these 30 goal challenges seem to be have a direct link to current events in my classroom, here’s a brand new story related to goal 21: encourage creativitity! I thought I would write about slideshows some of the kids made for the poem “The Road Not Taken” but there’s not really much to tell.

A story in three parts (so far):

Part One

Our beloved retired volunteers, Linda and John ( a married couple) were away for 3 weeks. When they returned, Linda sat down next to a very weak 10th grade hard of hearing pupil, who we’ll call H.,  who wanted to know where she had been. I told H. that she could ask Linda what she wanted to know and that we would write a story about it together.

When H. heard that Linda had just returned from Cuba she exclaimed ” But that’s a name of a food” (Kibbeh in Israel is pronouinced Kubbeh)! We put a hold on the activity until Linda took H. to the map on the wall…

H. asked the questions in Hebrew and I wrote out Linda’s answers in simple English. Here’s the story we produced:

Linda went to Cuba and Costa Rica. It is far away. She had fun. She saw beautiful birds. She went for one week.

H. hadn’t known the words “went” ” fun”  “far away” or “birds”.

We read it twice and then I erased one word in each sentence.  We did this several times (each time only one word a sentence) . H. really concentrated and was very proud of herself that she completed the missing words. Linda copied the story off the board and she put it in the binder.

Now, that may sound educational but hardly creative writing.

Part Two

Later in the day H. had another lesson, without Linda. Using the story we wrote about two vacations she went on, replacing info in the original story (such as: Eilat instead of Cuba, dolphins  instead of birds, one week instead of three). She was very focused.

Part Three

Two days later she came to class, pulled out the story and said: What are we going to do with MY STORY today?

I think that counts as creative writing!

This story isn’t over! To quote Tyson Seburn ” One of the best things you can do with material is milk it for all it’s worth!”

Goal 20: Share Your Resources

Once again this challenge of the 30 goals challenge seems to be related to current events. I just got the ” speaker form” for this summer’s ETAI conference (our local affiliate with TESOL).  I may be immodest here, but for a teacher who teaches a very specific population, my lecture at last year’s conference was very well attended. It seems that my assumption that strategies and materials I use are applicable for others  in different teaching settings is correct (make no mistake, when I tried to focus my lecture on pupils with hearing problems in the regular classroom, the largest attendance I had was four people!).

So, that wasn’t very modest of me but thinking about it did actually make me feel better. Today was a “burn-out” today. It rained really hard this morning and some girls didn’t bring an umbrella and (big surprise, right?) got wet and then got all upset about it!

So here’s a taste of one of the strategies I spoke about at last year’s lecture, using pictures to help weak high-school students prepare for their national matricualtion exams.

General explanation and picture activity one:

The most popular “reading picture” activity

If you want more, check out the “visual corner” category on this blog.

Leveling the Playing Field – Playing Games when Teaching One-on-One

I never pretend not to know the answer when I’m playing with a student in a “one-on-one” setting. Students see through that right away. They expect the teacher to know the answer and would have no respect for a teacher who didn’t know the answers.

Teachers don’t have to pretend. There are many ways to level the playing field. Teacher and student can enjoy really playing while still ensuring that the student will win a fair amount of the time (but not ALL the time!).

Here are some examples using the game BASEBALL:

Baseball game for class

A simple baseball diamond is drawn on a piece of paper, on the board, or (as in this picture) pasted onto cardboard with a picture of a baseball player in the middle. Baseball is not a common sport in Israel, so the picture makes it easier for the students to visualize the actual game.

The “ball” is one die. You can’t throw higher than 4 so if you get a 5 or 6 you must throw the die again (I sometimes place stickers over those numbers). Colored discs, coins or anything else can be used as markers.

The basic rules are simple. You begin at home-base. You throw the die. You must complete the number of tasks that is indicated by the number on the die. In our example the task is translating vocabulary items that appear on flashcards. Then you progress from base to base. Every time you pass home base you get a point. The player with the most point wins.

Now, how does the pupil play against the teacher?

Option One:

The student is the only one who throws the die. If the pupils throws “3” but could only translate two words out of three shown on the flashcards, the student progresses two bases and the teacher progresses one. If the student knew all three words, the teacher, on that turn, didn’t progress at all.

Option Two:

Both the student and the teacher throw the die. The teacher doesn’t have any task to do but always has to move one base less than the number indicated on the die. The student progresses in the same manner as before.

Option Three:

I use this one with students with emotional issues. The student gets two turns, the teacher gets one turn. If a student gets a translation wrong, he has to repeat the teacher’s correction and then can progress.

Option Four:

The pupil competes against the clock and himself, not the teacher. This is a circular game; it doesn’t really have an end. The pupil plays for 4 minutes and writes down the number of points she got. The next lesson she plays with the same pack of words, same time, and sees if she improved her score.

Works with all ages!

Goal 19: Why teachers should get credit for bird watching.

This goal of the 30goals challenge deals with  “burn out”, which is a very real problem for me. I’ve been a teacher for 25 years and I’m very involved in what I do.

I’ve been spending less free time doing other things  since I started blogging and reading all these fascinating blogs by others! Yet I feel that doing so encourages me to keep going! Don’t really know what to do about that one.

Anyway, here’s something I wrote for a local English teacher’s  publication, the ETNI RAG on why bird watching is good for teachers:


a puffin

Goal 18: Sharing a Story about Take2 of the DISAPPEARING TEXT!

This goal of the 30 goals project is ” a piece of cake”! Participating in this whole challenge has been about sharing my story! Since I’ve begun the words seem to come pouring out!

So, today’s story is about my second attempt at adapting Jason Renshaw’s disappearing text strategy. I’m really excited about this. Tried it twice today!

Lesson one went very well. There were only 3 students (3 were absent!), two VERY weak 12th graders (20 year old girls) and one bright, 10th grade boy. Once again we created a text on the board about the holiday of Purim. The weak girls suggested the content (in Hebrew) and the bright 10th grader supplied a lot of the vocabulary and sentence structure in English. Again, 6 sentences.

Then we started erasing words. At first one by one they came to the board to complete the words. But then just the girls took turns at completing missing words and they turned to the boy who fingerspelled the spelling of the words for them. Suddenly these girls were paying attention to those pesky “is” “are” which don’t exisit in Hebrew. These are girls who don’t remember the meaning of simple words such as “walk”. But here, because they helped create the text, at least during the lesson, they remembered the meanings of the individual words and focused on whole sentences and structure! Wow!

Two hours later I became ambitious and tried the strategy again with a rambunctious group of seven  10th and 11th graders (with 2 other pupils doing other things in the back). These kids use four different coursebooks, big differences in level. It was noisy but they liked creating the text. They were surprised enough by the idea of me erasing words to be fairly quiet when I had them come one by one to complete two missing words each.

But then I had a bit of a problem. When I ereased words the second time, the pupils who weren’t writing gradually stopped following. There were seven of them and the process went too slowly. Ideally we should have split into groups for the second “word filling” time, but how was I supposed to do that? It’s a tricky issue to divide them into two equal groups (fair share of different abilities) and, since they just invented the text, I didn’t have the text to hand out to each group! They wouldn’t copy the text off the board – that most certainly doesn’t work with these pupils.

Any sugesstions?

I’m really pleased about the addition of this new strategy to my “toolbox”!

NOTE: This counts as completion of goal 16. Teaching frontally in such a manner is definetly a change in my learning center!