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Here Below you can check out the feedback (for one of our units) of one of the 16.000 students that last year took an online course with ITTT!
This unit is about the other two of the four basic skills of any language: speaking and writing. These two skills are classified as productive skills.
Both skills are used to communicate. When people communicate they are doing so for one or more of the following reasons:
- They have some communicative purpose
- They want to say something
- They want to listen to something
- They are interested in what is being said.
When a teacher wants to introduce a communicative activity, we should bring in a number of these factors. We much create a need or desire in the students to communicate or the activity will most likely not be a success. Students need to see what the point is or they are far less likely to actively participate.
Writing requires more accuracy, while speaking requires more fluency. They are however equally important. So, what is the difference between accuracy and fluency activities?
- Accuracy activities are concentrated on producing correct language. The teacher usually controls these activities to make sure the reproduction of the language is indeed accurate. We mostly use these activities during the Study face.
- Fluency activities concentrate on students experimenting and be creative with the language. We are not as concerned with the accuracy but more on the effectiveness and flow of the communication. These activities are usually part of the activate stage.
Speaking activities in the classroom
1. Controlled accuracy-based actives are drilling (use a ‘3 by 3’ drill whenever possible), prompting (for example pre-planned question and answer). The language is controlled by the teacher.
2. Accuracy based guided activities that are a bit more creative and productive include model dialogues and guided role-play. The output is controlled by the teacher, but the exact language isn’t.
3. Fluency focused creative communication include free role-play, discussions, information gap, debates, simulations and communication games. The scenario is created by the teacher but the language isn’t.
Students can be reluctant to speak in the classroom for a variety of reasons such as lack of confidence, peer intimidation, fear of making a mistake, lack of interest, previous learning experiences, cultural reasons. As a teachers we should try and create a comfortable environment where students are not afraid to speak and enjoy communicating. Some techniques to encourage communication are:
- Pair work
- Group work
- Controlled and guided practice before fluency activities
- Purposeful speaking activities
- Change classroom dynamics
- Careful planning
- Allow student time to think about what they are going to say with certain activities.
Some guidelines for free / creative speaking activities teachers must keep in mind, before, during and after the activity:
- Decide on the aims: what do you want to do and why.
- Predict what the students will bring into the activity, including possible problems.
- Time available and necessary.
- Prepare necessary materials.
- Work out clear instructions tailored to the level of the students.
- Create interest with students; try and relate it to students’ own interests and experiences.
- Remind students of useful vocabulary and structures.
- Give clear instruction and check they have been understood.
- Students need enough preparation time before the main activity.
- Make the activity more ‘process’ than ‘product’.
- Monitor the activity and watch the pace.
- Evaluate the activity and students’ performance to provide feedback later on. Don’t give instant corrections.
3. After: provide feedback
- Indicate how well the class communicated. Focus on what they were able to do, not on what they couldn’t.
- Possibly record the activity and play back for discussion. Focus on improvements rather than on mistakes.
- Note down recurrent errors in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary use.
Some differences with speaking are differences in grammar and vocabulary. In the case of writing we must also focus on
Poor handwriting may influence the reader in a negative way. As a teacher we should always encourage our students to improve their handwriting.
Spelling mistakes can lead to misunderstandings and can be perceived by the reader as a lack in education. One of the best ways to improve spelling is through extensive reading.
- layout and punctuation
Students need to learn about the different layouts of writing through exposure and be given the opportunity to practice many different styles.
Punctuation is often a matter of personal style; however a completely incorrect usage can lead to difficult to read pieces of writing and misunderstandings.
We should let students check their own work for grammar, vocabulary usage, punctuation, spelling, layout and style of writing. We need to make sure they have ample time to do so.
We apply many of the same principles for writing and speaking activities. There needs to be a desire or need to write. We should encourage creative writing. It engages the students and often provides them with a sense of pride upon completion. Some examples are stories, plays and poetry.
In the ‘real world’ writing is mostly done individually, however as teachers we can also let students work in pairs or groups.
Games in the classroom.
A game is an activity with rules, a goal and an element of fun. There are two kinds: competitive and co-operative games. We can also differentiate between communicative and non-linguistic games.
Games are popular with all age groups and can provide useful controlled practice as well as free practice material.
This unit is very useful and I gained a lot of new ideas (including games) on how the get my students to practice their speaking and writing skills in an effective way.