Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Please, mind the gap…

Let’s assume you now have got the National Insurance Number and the Qualified Teacher Status and you’ve received NARIC’s letter stating that the qualifications you obtained in your country are comparable to qualifications obtainable in the UK, that is your university diploma is equivalent to a full BA, and you can teach in secondary schools in England and Wales.

(We need to insist a bit on this because, in many cases, although you may have a university diploma, based on the number of university years, the subjects you studied and the transcript, NARIC may not grant its equivalence to a full BA, which might mean you won’t be allowed to teach in secondary schools.

A special little note here for the Romanians: the ‘degrees’ we work so hard to obtain are translated as ‘grades’ here and are not comparable to any UK qualification, so basically they don’t count. Yet, the Definitive Grade can be taken into account as proof of the Induction any teacher here must go through.)

Back to our main track: so you have the above-mentioned documents and you can now work. In theory. In practice, you still have a long way to go…

The first step is to Google for jobs. As I said before, this search returns millions of results, so be prepared to spend long hours in front of the computer, checking the sites of recruitment agencies and the ads, registering on these sites with your CV and a covering letter and applying for specific jobs. Irrespective of how impressive your CV might be, only if you’re really lucky will you get a call from an agency and be invited for an interview. If you’re convincing enough, they’ll photocopy your documents, ask you to do a CRB check (Criminal Record Bureau check stating you can work with children) and, in the next four to six weeks, they’ll take up your references.

95% of the ads you will find on the internet are posted by recruitment agencies and sound pretty much the same. Here’s an example (sic):

** January 2012 start
** 1050 Students
** Based in…
** Key Stage 3 and 4
** Potential to teach to A level

We are looking to appoint an innovative and enthusiastic teacher of English who has a proven and successful experience of teaching A level as well as GCSE. The school is an 11-19 day high school with a growing sixth form. It has a maximum annual intake of 215 boys and girls and is over-subscribed. Courses of study are provided according to individual needs for GCSE or BTEC and at GCE A Level, A/S Level and BTEC leading to admission to universities or specialist professional training. (I will leave you the pleasure to discover what all the capital letters mean…)

The ideal candidate will have strong classroom presence (meaning you should be well accustomed to dealing with students with a… ‘challenging behaviour’) and excellent classroom teaching. They will be supportive of their colleagues and be prepared to make a contribution to the success of the department. 

We are looking for someone who is fully qualified to teach in the UK, has QTS, at least 2 years of solid experience of teaching in a UK classroom and good, up-to-date knowledge of the current UK national curriculum.

If you would like to be considered for this position then please contact…

You can start ticking boxes:

  • “fully qualified” – checked
  • “QTS” – checked
  • “2 years of solid experience in a UK classroom” – ummm… nope, nobody hires you because you don’t have previous experience in teaching in the UK. That’s a Catch 22.
  • but… “solid” is essential, ’cause it means you’ve dealt with really naughty and rude students (oops, sorry, they’re referred to as ‘challenging’ here) – hmmm… nope
  • “good, up-to-date knowledge of the current UK national curriculum” – well, yeah… you’ve read all about it on the internet, does that count?

So, with two pros, two cons and one ‘pending’, you take a deep breath and ask yourself: “To apply or not to apply?

P.S. How does this relate to the motto? Come on, you’ve figured it out already, I don’t need to explain this any more, do I?


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It took me a while to deal with the results to the survey on RA in class – the one I was mentioning in my post Some more on RA in my classes, mainly because of the following reasons:

– disappointment – I sent the survey to 14 teachers in Constanta, hoping for and looking forward to their help; an impressive number of 8 responses were added to the already existing 45 – no further comment!

– the winter holidays and the sudden change in my plans on how and where I would spend them – waiting for my first time in London to happen, there was little room for anything else in my agenda…

However, I feel bound to publish the results of that survey, especially because I promised I would do that and because, as I already mentioned, they are important to me.

Here are the tables and charts automatically generated by the Google Docs application I used for the survey and collection of data.

1. Participants’ age:

I am 14 2 4%
I am 15 23 43%
I am 16 20 38%
I am 17 8 15%


2. I am a:

boy 30 57%
girl 23 43%


3. When we do a Reading Practice activity, …

I usually volunteer to read aloud 11 21%
I sometimes volunteer to read aloud 25 47%
I rarely volunteer to read aloud 14 26%
I never volunteer to read aloud 3 6%

Question 3

4. If it were my choice, …

I would never read aloud 3 6%
I would sometimes read aloud 35 66%
I would be the only one to read aloud 15 28%

Question 4

5. When I read aloud in class and the teacher stops me and names another student, …

I feel relieved. I am finally left alone. 3 6%
I feel disappointed. I would like to read the whole text. 17 32%
I feel generous. Everyone should have a chance to read aloud in class. 30 57%
I feel ready to laugh at my colleagues’ mistakes. 3 6%

Question 5

6. When I read aloud in class, I generally feel…

confident. I have an opportunity to show the teacher how good my English is! 24 45%
nervous. What if I don’t know some of the words? 14 26%
proud. The teacher rarely corrects my pronunciation. 14 26%
insecure. I know I will make mistakes. 12 23%
indifferent. It’s boring anyway! 7 13%
uncomfortable. Everyone will be looking at me. 7 13%
bad. They’ll laugh at my pronunciation. 3 6%
embarrassed. The teacher always corrects my pronunciation. 3 6%
scared. Why me? What have I done? 3 6%

People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Question 6

7. When I read aloud and the teacher corrects my pronunciation, …

I simply hate it! Why did she ask me to read if she knows I’ll make mistakes? 0 0%
I don’t particularly like it, but I understand why she does it. 27 51%
I feel so bad! She makes a fool of me in front of the class! 0 0%
I kind of like it… She helps me improve my English after all… 26 49%

Question 7

8. When I do my homework and there’s a text in the coursebook, …

I prefer to read it aloud. 19 36%
I prefer to read it silently. 31 58%
I would like to listen to someone else reading it. 2 4%
I just turn the page! 1 2%

Question 8

9. I like reading aloud in class because… – 25 participants answered this question*

  1. … if i don’t i get really bored.
  2. … no one understands what I read anyways.
  3. a better pronunciation never hurts
  4. Because I pay more attention to the meaning of the text.
  5. I can discover my mistakes .
  6. I can improve my English.
  7. I can show the level of English that I have and also I have the opportunity to express my opinions and share them with my classmates.
  8. I can test my English skills and because I can correct the spelling mistakes that I make.
  9. I can test my pronunciation, i can test also my english.
  10. I improve my pronunciation.
  11. I like reading aloud in class because I improve my English speaking.
  12. I like to read and I understand the text more when I read it aloud.
  13. I only read when I feel confident and I like that subject
  14. I think I can improve my English.
  15. I usually like to read and I learn to avoid a lots of my mistakes.
  16. I want to see how good my English is and i want to improve it.
  17. It gives me the chance to improve my English, I can learn how to read the words I meet for the first time, I get the chance to be corrected by my teacher when needed, so this way I’m not going to be emberessed when someone else who is not from my class corrects me and finally because it gives me great pleasure to read aloud.
  18. It gives me confidence in my own skills of pronunciation, and the teacher is always there to correct my mistakes
  19. It helps me improve my English. I like reading texts in English aloud with someone else because I like to speak English with other people. I think it’s my chance to learn English and to use it in the future.
  20. it is the best way to improve english
  21. Maybe i could improve my pronunciation
  22. our teachers are good with us, although we make mistakes. They just correct them and give us some advice. I like improving my pronunciation.
  23. the collegues can hear the correct pronunciation of the words.
  24. the teacher helps me to improve my English.
  25. when I make mistakes the teacher corrects it and thus I can improve my English.

10. I don’t like reading aloud in class because… – 13 participants answered this question*

  1. I am nervous sometimes. What if I don`t know some of the words?
  2. I don’t always feel confident
  3. I don’t have a reason to dislike reading aloud, after all it is a way of improving my English
  4. I don’t like reading aloud because that way I attract peoples attention and that makes me unsecure of my capabilities.
  5. I don’t like to make mistakes.
  6. I feel embarassed by my classmates who are always listening to my spelling mistakes.
  7. I like to read aloud.
  8. I usually make lots of mistakes and the teacher always corrects me  so I feel embarrassed some times .
  9. if I make mistakes, my colleagues will laugh.
  10. i’m insecure and i may make some mistakes
  11. Some of my classmates do a lot of noise and I can’t concetrate.
  12. some of my colleagues may laugh of my mistakes , and because I discover that what I thought I knew well , has, infact , another way of reading .
  13. Sometimes is embarrassing. I don’t like when the teacher corrects me but after all she helps me improve my English.

* the mistakes in the students’ answers to Question 9 and Question 10 are a proof that I did not edit them in any way.

Questions 9 & 10

My conclusion:

– 68% of the respondents would volunteer to read aloud in class, 94% would choose to read aloud at least sometimes, 32% feel disappointed when I interrupt them and name someone else to continue with the reading;

– analyzing the students’ answers to Questions 9 & 10 reveals some inconsistencies: 2 students answered Q 10 by saying they actually like or have no reason to dislike RA, 1 student answered Q 9 saying they like RA because it prevents them from getting bored… For some of my students, RA did not necessarily imply the texts in the coursebook – see Q 9, answer No. 7, which refers to students RA their essays or compositions.

Aware that my survey doesn’t prove anything worth considering anywhere else in the ELT world and that its results are meaningful only for me, I am glad to conclude that my students – all of them Romanian – actually enjoy RA in the English class. This conclusion encourages me to continue believing that reading aloud in the English class is not a waste of time. Not for my students anyway!

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All my bilingual classes have to take a semestrial summative test based on the vocabulary and structures they have studied so far. I find the tests accompanying the coursebook quite useful and I usually compile the exercises I find on the CD. It helps me check students’ knowledge on several units we have covered.

This year, I encountered the following problem:

When presenting Comparatives, the student’s book says: “Use different from or not as + adjective + as to talk about the differences between two things.

e.g. This credit card is different from that one.

These explanations are followed by an exercise asking students to identify several mistakes in the use of comparatives. The teacher’s guide suggests correcting “… this is slightly different as the Mark V” to “… this is slightly different from the Mark V

In the Language reference section of the same unit, the coursebook says:

If we want to talk about the differences between two things or people, we can use the following structures:

1 different from – e.g. Her trainers are different from mine.

2. not as + adjective + as – e.g. Her trainers are not as nice as mine.

And then, the test to the unit presents students with an exercise in which they have to correct the use of several comparatives, one of which is: “It doesn’t look any different as this one.” and gives as unique solution “It doesn’t look any different to this one.

Only 2 out of the 28 students taking this test have come up with the “different to” solution. Most of the other 26 opted for “different from“, but there were also some who corrected the mistake using “different than“.

Now get ready for the funniest part of it all, ’cause I am about to make a fool of myself: I corrected the students’ test using the unique solution, crossed out any “different from” or “different than” solution and took 0.5 points from each of the 26 students’ scores. Thus I managed to bring 7 of the students to 94.5 points out of 100 and robbed them of the chance of getting a 10 on this test… One good thing though: I didn’t mark their grades in the register, so I still have time to amend this.

A Google search for “any different from” returns 38 milion results; “any different than” returns 31.4 million results; “any different to” returns 9 million results.

The Macmillan Dictionary says:

different – not the same as another person or thing, or not the same as before
I tried on lots of different hats.
Her new glasses make her look completely different.

different from: What makes him different from the rest of the students?
different to: American English is slightly different to British English.

Ask.com says:

Different from” is the construction that no one will object to. “Different to” is fairly common informally in the U.K., but rare in the U.S. “Different than” is sometimes used to avoid the cumbersome “different from that which“, etc. (e.g., “a very different Pamela than I used to leave all company and pleasure for” — Samuel Richardson).

Some U.S. speakers use “different than” exclusively. Some people have insisted on “different from” on the grounds that “from” is required after “to differ“. But Fowler points out that there are many other adjectives that do not conform to the construction of their parent verbs (e.g., “accords with“, but “according to“; “derogates from“, but “derogatory to“).

The Collins Cobuild Bank of English shows choice of preposition after “different” to be distributed as follows:

“from” “to” “than”
U.K. writing 87.6 10.8 1.5
U.K. speech 68.8 27.3 3.9
U.S. writing 92.7 0.3 7.0
U.S. speech 69.3 0.6 30.1

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All work and no play makes learning (and teaching…) rather boring. On the other hand , experience demonstrates that we learn faster, easier and with better long-term results when our mind doesn’t focus on the learning process, rules and structures. A relaxed atmosphere during the class – we’re not grading anyone , an attractive (yet challenging) activity and lots of laughter may contribute more to our students learning English. Don’t expect anything amazing from this series of posts. I have not invented the wheel. I have just put together several game-like activities to trick students to learn while they think they are playing. They may be playing games, but they are mainly playing my game – learning English

Why play games in the English class? Here are some of my reasons:
– People learn a lot of things without even realizing it!

– Everything we see, read, hear, say, or do somehow remains stored somewhere deep inside our brain.

– Learning by doing – kinesthetic learning – combines the physical activity with the words associated with it (“Hands, fingers, knees and toes” – nursery rhymes to teach young learners little poems – words/constructions – while they are playing)

– Learning through stories has already proven its powerful effect on learners of all ages

– The easiest way to learn something new in a foreign language or to consolidate previous knowledge – PLAY A GAME!

– While playing, the players’ minds shift from focusing on the vocabulary and structures to focusing on the rules of the game, the details of the movements they’re supposed to make, the fun they’re having

– Depending on the organisation (pairs, groups, teams), most games automatically turn into class contests

– Contests are challenging and make the pupils/students try their best

The way I see these games, they should take between 1 to 10 minutes of your English class, giving your pupils/students the impression of taking a break and having fun while tricking them into learning some more.

I’ve been using games with my students for… the last 25 years. Please feel free to contribute with your comments, ideas, opinions, variants of the games presented, as well as to share your experience in playing games in the English class. Do GAMES work for you the way they work for me?
Letter games are really easy to organise. You don’t need any props, don’t even need to write anything on the blackboard. Just decide upon the number of letters, name them and ask your students to write as many responses as possible.

Depending on what you’re teaching at the moment, be it new vocabulary, a tense or some structure, you can always associate a Letter Game to it.

Can be used with any age and any level. How successful these games are depends on how creative the teacher is.

Teaching/Reinforcing/Consolidating tenses: Present Continuous
Give your students 2-letter combinations using A or I as the first letter and whichever other letter you might think of and ask them how many Present Continuous combinations they can make.
e.g. AC – am crying
– are crying
– am/are calling
– am/are carrying
– am/are cleaning
– etc.
Award one point for any combination which sounds right; you could also ask the student to write his answer on the blackboard, in which case you might give them one more point for the correct spelling.
Vary the tense and see if it works.

Teaching/Reinforcing/Consolidating colours/shapes and classroom objects
e.g. RP – red pen
– red pencil
– round picture
– rosy flower

Teaching/Reinforcing/Consolidating action verbs and descriptive adverbs
e.g. – WS – write slowly
– walk safely
– wait silently

A good follow-up of any such Letter Game could be to ask students to write sentences using the combinations written on the board.

A bit more difficult but also greater sources of fun.
The examples I used on the slide are mainly short forms students use when chatting on the internet or texting one another.
e.g. LOL – lots of laughter – internet meaning
– lots of love
– lovely old lunatic
Do you happen to know what the other letter combinations on the slide stand for?

There are also those “official” letter combinations which stand for something almost everyone knows or should know. A game like “What does it stand for?” might help you give your students new vocabulary like LASER Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

You could also give your students some combinations and ask them to look up their meaning on the internet.
If you are fortunate to have modern technology and use it in your class, looking up those combinations could turn into a game/contest very easily.

Has anyone used such games in their classes? To what effect?


A game mainly based on images which need to be projected on a white board or a screen.

a) Create an atmosphere by telling a story about an event which happened the other day.

Using the projector and the screen, show your students an image of a person dressed in a certain way. Continue with your story while allowing them to look at the picture for 30 seconds. Clear the screen, end the story and then show them the same person with 5 changes in the clothing items or the colours.

Have your students practice tenses (the Simple Past and the Past Continuous) in forming questions like: “Was the hat brown?” or “Was he wearing a brown hat?”, “Did she have a handbag?” or “Was she carrying a handbag?

b) Complicate the game by using the image of a scene (a street, a park, a room, some location). Tell the story while showing the image on the screen and then change the slide with another one showing the same location but with 10 differences. Have your students ask tag-questions: “The hat was brown, wasn’t it?
c) Complicate it even more by using “Find the differences” slides. With some classes, 5 differences would be enough, while with other classes, 15 – 20 differences would work just fine. Show the image, set a timer and ask your students to find the exact number of differences or as many as they can in the time given.

What name you give to your “FIND THE DIFFERENCES” GAME is entirely up to you. You could either create a situation or tell a story, or simply have the images projected on the screen and ask your students to find the differences within a certain amount of time.

Be it an “Eye Witness” or “My Twin Children/Nieces/Sister” game, the story generally helps quite a lot, because your students will remember more about the activity.

e.g. Place two images of the same person dressed differently on the same slide.
Tell your students a story like:

These are my twin nieces, Anne and Mary, but I always find it difficult to say who is who. If I tell you what they like to wear, could you help me identify them? Take notes and be ready to give me the answer when I finish describing them, OK?

At this point, describe the two images alternatively.
“Anne likes red dresses. Mary likes red shoes.” or
“Anne doesn’t like red shoes while Mary hates red dresses.” or
“Anne doesn’t like red shoes, but Mary/her twin sister does.”

If the images I used in my PPT (taken from different sites of games offering free play) seem too difficult or too dark, you can create your own images and place them next to each other or mirroring each other.
With more advanced classes, you can use one of the ready-made images found among the 140,000 results of a Google Image search based on “find the difference”.


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After publishing my latest post, several questions about RA kept nagging me:

“Am I misinterpreting my students’ signals when I ask them to do some RA in class?” – Besides the fact that (neither in my own class nor in those classes I observe) I don’t actually expect to see hands thrown in the air by students volunteering to read aloud or outbursts of enthusiasm and students cheerfully shouting: “Yes, Teach, let’s do that!“?, I am also aware that students who were born tired and bored wouldn’t suddenly be coming to life and start fretting with joy. They never react like that when the next exercise contains a text and they expect or know RA is what follows… Never! Not even those who actually like to hear themselves RA and consider it an opportunity to show off! IMHO, the only evidence that they like reading aloud is the lack of reaction or protests. If they didn’t like it, they’d make faces or mumble, make noise, try to delay it for as long as possible, or even protest in their specific teenage manner.

“Am I forcing my students to RA in class simply because I like the activity myself?” – Negative… It’s there, in the coursebook, it has a rubric saying ‘Read the text and …’ so it comes naturally to us to solve the tasks! I tried to skip the RA activity and got asked why we would do that. So it looks like the RA in class is not something I impose on them… On the other hand, I always ask them: “Who wants to start reading?”. I usually hear “Me! Me! Me!” from different corners of the classroom. Their answer used to bring a fresh smile on my face but lately, I have been doubting their sincerity and have been asking myself ‘Are they mocking at me?’ My own reaction to this brought me to a rather unpleasant conclusion: while doubting my teaching methods is a very good thing because it helps me better my professional approach, doubting my students’ sincerity for no particular reason is not OK. After all, it wasn’t them who made me question the appropriateness of my teaching…

“We DO read aloud in class, is it wrong?” – I tried to look for more evidence that RA in class might be wrong and got directed to two more articles which I found both interesting and supportive of the idea that RA is not wrong. Here are the links to these articles: Article 1 & Article 2 (not in any specific order!).

Yet, with one more buzzing question in my mind (“Do my students really like reading aloud or not?” ), I just thought of asking them and, since I couldn’t ask them in person (they might be tempted to give me the answer they think I’m expecting from them), I thought of a questionnaire. I deliberately didn’t ask for their names, so as to give them the opportunity to be completely sincere. I just want to know what they think of RA.

For reasons I am not going to disclose yet, I have decided to apply the questionnaire in two phases: first, on December 2, I sent it to 54 students I work with in two bilingual classes – 6 contact classes/week. I gave them five days to fill in the form. 45 of my students answered until December 6. Today I am going to send the link to several teachers and ask them to forward it to their pupils/students to complete the questionnaire in five more days.  On December 12 I will turn receiving answers off  and I will write another post in which to discuss the results of my survey – and how relevant they are for me…)

Here’s the questionnaire:


Dear Students,

This is a questionnaire on whether you like reading aloud in the English class and why/why not. Please spend two minutes answering the following questions as sincerely as possible. Don’t forget to press SUBMIT when you finish filling in your answers. Thank you! Teach

* Required

1. My age *

* I am 14
* I am 15
* I am 16
* I am 17

2. I am a… *

* boy
* girl

3. When we do a Reading Practice activity, … *

* I usually volunteer to read aloud
* I sometimes volunteer to read aloud
* I rarely volunteer to read aloud
* I never volunteer to read aloud

4. If it were my choice, … *

* I would never read aloud
* I would sometimes read aloud
* I would be the only one to read aloud

5. When I read aloud in class and the teacher stops me and names another student, … *

* I feel relieved. I am finally left alone.
* I feel disappointed. I would like to read the whole text.
* I feel generous. Everyone should have a chance to read aloud in class.
* I feel ready to laugh at my colleagues’ mistakes.

6. When I read aloud in class, I generally feel… *

* insecure. I know I will make mistakes.
* uncomfortable. Everyone will be looking at me.
* nervous. What if I don’t know some of the words?
* bad. They’ll laugh at my pronunciation.
* confident. I have an opportunity to show the teacher how good my English is!
* proud. The teacher rarely corrects my pronunciation.
* embarrassed. The teacher always corrects my pronunciation.
* indifferent. It’s boring anyway!
* scared. Why me? What have I done?

7. When I read aloud and the teacher corrects my pronunciation, … *

* I simply hate it! Why did she ask me to read if she knows I’ll make mistakes?
* I don’t particularly like it, but I understand why she does it.
* I feel so bad! She makes a fool of me in front of the class!
* I kind of like it… She helps me improve my English after all…

8. When I do my homework and there’s a text in the coursebook, … *

* I prefer to read it aloud.
* I prefer to read it silently.
* I would like to listen to someone else reading it.
* I just turn the page!

9. I like reading aloud in class because…

10. I don’t like reading aloud in class because…


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A few weeks ago, while reading Ken Wilson’s ‘Reading aloud in class is a complete waste of time’, I thought: ‘OMG, we do read aloud in class, either we, teachers, or our students and I never thought of this activity as being a complete waste of time.‘ The feeling of doing this the wrong way became stronger as I remembered Jeremy Harmer saying almost the same thing during the workshop he gave in Constanta in May when, to make a point, he asked some volunteers to come to the front of the classroom, gave them handouts with a pretty difficult text – unlike the texts we usually find in the coursebooks irrespective of the level, announced that every teacher would read one sentence and ran a reading marathon. We all realised that, when exposed to reading aloud (RA), even experienced teachers might feel uncomfortable, nervous, insecure or tempted to sacrifice listening to what those before them are reading for the sake of discovering which sentence will be theirs to read. While the activity in itself was a success – being interactive and dotting Jeremy Harmer’s i‘s, what I found amazing was how subtly he taught us how to avoid making some methodological mistakes: summoning several students to the front of the classroom, giving them some text way above their level, announcing how many sentences a student will read and galloping through the entire activity – to be avoided at all costs.

What, then, should I do when we encounter some reading material in the coursebook (and, as Ken Wilson pointed out “Reading texts are often the most dominant features of most coursebook material.“) other than ask students to read it aloud? One solution I thought of immediately was to ask my students to do all the Reading Practice exercises as homework, thus transferring the responsibility of how this activity would be done! But… what if they just copy their homework? What if they don’t read the text? I’ll have to come up with some more questions to test their comprehension but then again, how much of the information contained in the text should they remember and for how long? Should I give them several minutes to silently read the text in class too, so as to help them remember what it is all about? And if they’re going to read it again in class, why would I bother to give it as homework? Why would they bother to solve the tasks given for homework? Is there any point in reading coursebook materials anyway? Most texts look like newspaper articles, informing us on one thing or another, either on topics our students are supposed to be very interested in or containing information meant to raise the “Wow”-factor.

In an article entitled A Novel Idea: Reading Aloud in a High School English Classroom Stephen Dreher points out that “an individual’s reading preferences are dynamic and… it is difficult to define someone as one specific type of reader“, referring to how mood usually interferes with a person’s choice of one form of reading or another, i.e. silent reading, RA or being read to. Haven’t we all experienced these hypostases of being silent-readers most of the time, but also aloud-readers or mere listeners? Don’t we all love being read to every now and then? Of course, it strongly depends on the quality of the reading enhanced by the reader’s pronunciation, intonation, appropriately pausing and stressing certain words, which brings us back to the main track of why would we need to read aloud in class? To teach exactly the fore-mentioned features of good reading skills. “Every English teacher knows that reading well means far more than decoding and basic comprehension.” (Stephen Dreher) To this, I’d like to add that every English teacher knows that students’ correct decoding and basic comprehension of a text become self-evident while they read aloud.

In that workshop in May, Jeremy Harmer drew attention to the real-life situations when someone is actually somehow motivated to read aloud, using the example of one person reading a newspaper and stopping now and then to share parts of the information with their spouse or children, in which case the reader usually begins with: “Ha! Listen to this! Bla bla bla bla bla bla…” or “Hey, did you know that bla bla bla bla bla bla…?” Hmmm… OK, but what are the odds one of my students would read “The Sun” or “The Times” and suddenly interrupt their silent reading to share the information with their… parents? In English? They’re more likely to do that in Romanian, if at all. This makes me think of the method applied both in English-speaking countries and in non-English-speaking countries where primary school teachers use RA when teaching children to speak and read in their mother tongue. The practice of RA is then extended to higher level students, again in their mother tongue, at least for one very good reason: to make sure they’re not illiterate when graduating from compulsory education. Why then wouldn’t the method work for teaching foreign languages, too? Why can’t we, teachers, be satisfied with the simplest reasons for RA: the handiest method to develop our students’ ability to read in a foreign language and the most direct method to check whether they make any sense of what they’re reading or not? There’s more to reading than just recognising the words in the text, that’s why we’ve come up with so many reading sub-skills, but don’t you think these sub-skills have been overrated lately while the importance of reading for the sheer pleasure of it tends to be lost?

Far from wishing to contradict anyone else’s opinions or convictions on this issue, allow me to conclude by simply admitting to it: Yes, my students and I  DO read aloud almost every text in the coursebooks we’re using these days. They’re our main source of authentic material in the classroom, why not make the most if it? Is it a complete waste of time? No, not if the RA is enjoyed by all those involved – irrespective of how the activity is approached – or if they feel the RA actually helps them improve some aspects of their English.

Several links

For lists of arguments for and against RA in class, check this link. Those who are fortunate enough to have a subscription to ELT Journal, might even read the article. Its author concludes that “the benefits of reading aloud outweigh the disadvantages. If used sparingly in the classroom, it is a valuable learning tool.

For an article in which its author shares her opinions in favour of RA in class, click here. Heather Lundy says: “… this is a real life skill which
improves with practice, and… it is important to develop students’ awareness of the many levels of communication involved in effectively reading aloud.”

For several suggestions on how to effectively use RA in class, click here.

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For the last twelve years, I have been pondering on whether to keep going to national and international conferences or simply stop doing it. Reasons for stopping have been piling up, yet I can’t seem to find them convincing enough and probably, deep down, I still hope things may change for the better.

Although I surely don’t know much about the amount of work and nerve-racking implied by organising an international conference, I can’t pretend not to have noticed some aspects which, unfortunately, have prevented this conference from being a complete success. Among the several reasons behind this post, two stand out: a. to point out some mistakes, which might help others when organising a similar event and b. to unveil some reasons why a conference might be less successful.

Much as I might feel tempted to do it, I’ll refrain from giving specific names. Here’s the short list:

1. The venue – “Petre Andrei” University is a new building, with only two elevators on the ground floor (one of which did not work) and two more on the first floor, to be used by 250 participants at the conference if they wanted to get to the sixth floor, where the auditorium was, or to the different floors where the workshops were located.

2. The plenaries – Thirteen plenaries in two days, some of them running one immediately after the other, with no break whatsoever… and probably three hours of sitting down on a chair wouldn’t be that bad if who you’re listening to really has something interesting to communicate and gives you the feeling you’ve learnt something new and you’re taking home some food for thought. Well, the reality is saddening… A NEST beginning his talk with a reminder to the audience of who he is, how great he is, what coursebooks he’s written and how good friends he is with … [dropping names] and when he finally gets to the topic of his talk, it turns out to be more than 50% a commercial presentation… Another NEST presenting new activities to be done in the classroom, completely random and disorganised, culminating with an adaptation of “This little piggy went to market“, only his little piggy went to… eBay!? Another NEST, who has become a regular in the conferences in Romania although he has long stopped saying anything new, is just adapting the same old – same old he too got so fed up with that he has even changed his initially enthusiastic attitude towards the audience and nowadays his performance is more and more cynical and sarcastic… Luckily, there were several NESTs whose plenaries never fail to be both interesting and challenging and who keep attracting large audiences and make it worth attending the conference.

3. The workshops – What initially was announced as four concurrent sessions of 10 workshops each, ended up in the same number of sessions, but with 12 workshops each. Audiences to the workshops varied from 0 [zero] participants in several rooms – including that of a NEST presenter!!! – to a maximum of 45 in the international speakers’ rooms. Surprised?

4. How the numbering of the workshop rooms was done beats me – imagine Room No. 4 next to Room No.10, on the landing between the second and the third floors, Room No. 6 on the eighth floor, etc. That wouldn’t have been such a big problem, hadn’t the organisers changed some workshop rooms with just 15 minutes before a workshop session was due to start… Imagine, again, the embarrassing situation when, after changing rooms, a workshop presenter standing in front of the classroom sees two people coming in, says “Hello! Come in, please! Thanks for being here!” and the two people look at each other wondering what the hell is going on and then say “We’re sorry, what workshop is this? We were looking for Mr. X’s room, isn’t he going to have his presentation in this room? Oh, they’ve changed the rooms? Do you happen to know where we can find him? You don’t? OK, no problem, sorry, we’ll try and find him…” Now multiply this situation by five presenters who were forced to change rooms and around twenty people looking for each of the workshops they wanted to attend. I’ll let you do the math…

5. The workshop rooms – With large windows and no shutters or blinds or shades of some kind, comfortable as the rooms may have been, the bright light made it very difficult to see the PowerPoint or MovieMaker or Internet-using presentation projected on the shiny whiteboards… So much work and time invested in making a good presentation, wasted in an hour of bright afternoon sunlight. Oh, but the view of the sunset was amazing!

6. The publishers – The publishers’ book stands were spread over two floors, most of them aligned along the walls and/or the stair rails, leaving a narrow path for the participants to pass by. I said ‘most of them’ because there were two exceptions: one publisher who got the largest space and could display everything they wanted and another publisher who, being told that there was no need for them to be at the conference venue earlier than 10 a.m., got placed right next to the elevators, in sort of an end-of-hallway, facing the entrance to… the toilets. Was this publisher being punished in some obscure way? I wonder… If that was the case, well… they deserved it: they sponsored only two authors to come to this conference!

Do I sound unfair? I am being unfair, of course! The organisers have put many a sleepless night into the RATE conference, the circumstances were not favourable at all, the initial venue for the event had to be changed due to financial issues, they wanted to please all the publishers who sponsored authors to participate in the conference and all the teachers who took the time to fill in a speaker’s proposal, thus making it all a very busy event, and pretty crowded, too.

I know it’s a lot easier to criticise than to get your hands dirty in the doing of it all and I’ll apologise if I sounded critical, it was not entirely my intention… If it had been, I would have given names. Although I am sure I actually don’t need to, because those who were there know exactly what I am talking about here and those who chose not to be there will understand they have no reason to regret it too much.

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