Double or nothing!

Day 10 – the new cohort

English is all over the shops

English-isms in the larder!

“Monday, Monday, so good to me”

Ever noticed how many songs there are about Mondays? Most of the ones I know are fairly negative which is perhaps why the only one I find myself humming on a Monday morning is the one from the Mamas and the Papas which is pretty positive – why? Simply because I really love Monday mornings! It’s the one part of the week when I actually get to see my students – the rest of the week is very impersonal and digital so I find myself really looking forward to my sessions with  real live people! And because I don’t get to see them often in the course of our twelve month programme imagine how good I feel when I get to see both groups in one morning. Not only that, but one of the groups was also getting a second class on the same topic as last week – both from one and the same person, yours truly.

The classes were on the intercultural competence for the September cohort (more on that when it comes round for the February club) and subject-specific reading skills for the new February cohort (see last week’s post for their introductory class on reading skills).

What went well? I actually timed it pretty well and was finished on time, for a change 😉 What didn’t go so well? I tried something new and don’t think it worked as well as I’d hoped; let me explain…….

English is even on our breakfast tables

I’d mailed the students (sigh, digital) to ask them to bring a text with them which they wanted (or had) to study with one of their upcoming classes. The texts ranged from standard chapter introductions in coursebooks, to short stories. My aim was to constantly link back to their texts from the theory. I had re-shuffled my powerpoint so that after each slide there would be a question asking the students how they would do this with their texts. Let me give you an example:

strategies and then some

We looked at strategies such as:

  • deriving the meaning of an important unknown word from the context
  • using a dictionary
  • recognising types of text
  • using illustrations as a means of support
  • applying knowledge of vocabulary (including prefixes and suffixes)
  • using the layout of a text

Then came the instructions for the students:

Look at your text and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will my pupils be able to recognise the types of text (e.g. is it a newspaper article, a poem etc)
  2. Are there any illustrations that could help?
  3. Does the layout help with reading? (short paragraphs, columns, stanzas)

personalised=more relevant?

The class carried on in this way, theory to practice with lots of space for discussion. But I find it hard to give everyone enough space to relate it to his or her own personal situation. My class is not huge, but the range of materials is huge which is why in the past I’ve tended to provide a handout, a generic text so that we’re all looking at the same thing. This year I really wanted to try and personalise it a bit more so that the students would find it even more relevant to their situation. I’m not convinced it worked well. Parts did and others didn’t. I think the main issue is information overload.

Tip for myself: restrict yourself to the essentials instead of trying to ‘dump’ too much information on the students and make sure they grasp the basics. The rest will come.

after reading….

We discussed the ‘issues’ around interactive reading and getting pupils to read the text out loud (I’m generally against this as it is too often used as a form of classroom management and the pupils are not actually reading the text but focussing too much on deciphering letters). The rest of class involved prediction (‘flashing’ a text), recognising internal structure (chronology, the ELZA method, redundancy, word level. Then we moved on to what happens after reading. We look at affect as that is often something people only think of with “L”iterature; so before diving into the “wh” questions what effect has the text had on the pupils, what opinions do they have, does it cause an emotional response? (cf David Bleich file in downloads box).

After the compulsory idea-exchange (cutting up texts and re-organising them, 1-minute reading and reciting exercises, etc, see also download box for file ‘reading ideas’) we then discussed extensive reading, short stories and motivation to read. I wanted to spend more time on how to assess reading but we had little time left so only briefly touched on it. The national exams here are reading exams: lots of short texts (often newspaper articles) with mutiple choice questions in English and some open-ish questions Dutch (you are testing comprehension and not spelling or grammar, after all). Some schools (bilingual schools or those offering the Cambridge exams) opt to have their own school exams purely in English which is fairly logical as they place high demands on their pupils in all classes with regards to both receptive and productive skills so their exams reflect this.

too soon for problems?

I skimmed over reading problems (e.g. dyslexia) but had planned on doing this and had therefore overfilled my slide so they could read it on our intranet later. I think that after three months of Mondays it’s more important they get to grips with the essentials than that they become experts in differentiation and referring problems to the powers that be. They currently still have the class teacher in every lesson with them until the summer holidays so any issues can be discussed with him or her. I think that this type of information will only become relevant after the summer when they’re on their own, in charge of their own classes.

What do you think? Should problems such as dyslexia be dealt with straight away so that they store the information for when it’ll be needed or is that just overkill?


Rather than have something to grab their attention at the start of class I prefer to leave with something. With an eye to ‘teach what you preach’ I let them read one of my favourite poems and suggested that this type of reading can also be thrown into the class occasionally to show kids it doesn’t always have to be so serious! = a must for all English teachers!

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