Monday, 31 August 2009

"Yes, I can"

Subject-verb agreement, a never ending story

Time and time and time again throughout the school year I have to tell my students to check their written texts for subject-verb agreement. It seems like getting rid of these mistakes is almost impossible for some. Several times students have also come to me towards the end of the year and asked me what I actually mean when I say "concord mistakes. I know that we sometimes just have to spell things out to the students, but I must say I get a bit frustrated that they do not ask until the end of the year if they have not understood anything about this grammatical topic...

As an attempt to prevent this from happening this year, and in an attempt to try to teach them all what I mean by "concord" at an early stage, I start off this week's lesson by putting focus on the problem. My plan is to give the students a short introduction to the topic in which I tell some of the basic rules, and that they then work on various tasks individually. Since this will be the first day of English with their brand new computers, most of the activities are taken from a couple of web pages, NDLA and Exploring English. These pages and the activities they offer show me that I am not the only teacher fighting this problem in the classroom...

Picture from "Common English Grammar Mistakes"

Monday, 24 August 2009

The English language - how did it all start?

One of the competence aims for the first year students that really scared me when I first saw it, is the one that says that the students should be able to "explain the main characteristics of the development of English from an Anglo-Saxon language to an international world language". I guess I have always taught my students about how English came to be a world language, but the history of the language was not a part of the curriculum here in Norway until "Kunnskapsløftet" in 2006. Honestly, I believe the first time I really learned something about the history myself was as a master student at the university, and I therefore thought it a bit over the top to teach my own students about the topic. My opinion has changed, however, and knowing that they have to learn something about the history of the Norwegian language, too, it makes sense to point out some of the similarities between our own language, spoken only by 4,5 million people, and the number one world language English.

Using online resources for most part of my teaching, it has been a challenge to find pages on the internet dealing with the history of the English language in a way that is not too difficult for my students. has a page that can serve as a starting point, and I am also happy to find that Norsk Digital Læringsarena, NDLA, has come up with varoious resources on the topic. On this page we can read a short text about how the English language has developed through history, and I particularly liked the audio clip with examples of various varieties of English. I guess the students will also like the "Drag and drop" activities trying to place the origin of various words in the English language. So now that I have found some internet pages that I can use in class, I hope neither language history nor the teacher will scare away the students tomorrow afternoon. It will, after all, be our first meeting this year...


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The extended name tag

It is time to get down to the nitty-gritty stuff and start thinking about teaching again. The students come back to school tomorrow, and the first classes are just around the corner. As an EFL teacher I strongly believe that one of the most important things we can do with the students, is to make them start speaking English as soon as possible. I know for sure that way too many students believe that their English is not good enough, and that speaking a foreign language in front of 29 other students is a nightmare. I was one of those students myself when I went to school. My English is still far from perfect, but I have realised that the only way in which I can improve it is by using the language as much as possible.

I would like to share an activity that I have used in my classes the last couple of years, an activity which usually makes all of the students say at least a few words during the first English class of upper secondary school. It is called (I think...) the "extended name tag" and is something I learned at a course in cooperative learning in Canada three years ago. It goes like this:

  • Give all the students a sheet of paper and tell them to write their names.

  • Give them instructions about what to draw in the four corners, like "your favorite city", "a place you would like to go if you could choose anywhere in the world", "your number one hobby", "a place you visited this summer", etc.

  • When I have done this activity in class before, I have usually put the students pairs of two and asked them to present their name tags to their partner. The partner then has to remember what he/she is told, so that he/she can retell it either to a small group of students or to the rest of the class.

My experience is that most students like this activity. They can talk about things that are familiar to them, and, abracadabra, they have spoken English and learned something about at least one of their classmates at the same time.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Back to school!

How can seven weeks pass so quickly? What happened to all the things I had planned to do during the summer holiday? Is it possible for me to do them all in the one week I have left before going back to school? Probably not! I believe I had an idea about having everything lined out before the new school year started, but to be honest, I have hardly spent a minute thinking about it at all. The fact that I have not been online for the largest part of the summer can give me some kind of excuse, but strictly speaking, it is called summer holiday for a reason, is it not?

Even though I know the start of the new year will be as busy as the last weeks before the summer, I am nevertheless looking forward to going back to work, to meet all my great friends and colleagues and all the students. A new year means a new start, and hopefully all the work we put into preparation and planning last year will pay off now. Surely we will be able to improve some of the things we have already tried out in the classroom, too; nothing is perfect! Last year I made a "to do"-list for the school year before I started. In January, however, most of the things were still undone, so this year I will not make long term plans and not try to fool myself into believing that I can become this super woman who has all the lectures and projects planned weeks ahead. I am getting older and more realistic as time goes by...