Friday, 2 November 2018

ACLID Conference - Valladolid

ACLID: The association of language schools in Castilla y León 

ACLID has been dedicated to the defence of the language school sector for more than thirty years. It currently comprises fifteen language schools with eighteen centres, and its approximately one hundred and fifty teachers give classes to well over six thousand students annually. It offers information and training directly to member schools, as well as via the National Federation, FECEI.

On 27th October, the II conference was held at at the Palacio de Congresos “Conde Ansúrez” in Valladolid. The theme of the conference is ‘ELT in a Global World‘. I was really happy to have a proposal accepted. It was a lovely opportunity to meet colleagues from other parts of Castilla y León. 

Thank you so much to the Board for accepting my proposal "Learning for life: developing creativity and imagination in the classroom."

Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Writing is sometimes regarded as the ‘forgotten skill’ because it seems to me that it receives the least attention from us. With limited classroom time and limited time for correction and a curriculum to do, we usually devote very little time to it. Moreover, students and parents do not perceive writing as something they should be doing in the classroom. With its association with homework, written exercises and examinations, it may seem both traditional in the negative sense, and irrelevant to our learners’ more immediate needs.

Also, many students simply find writing more difficult than speaking. This is because writing requires a higher degree of formal accuracy than oral discourse and a greater amount of time is needed.

The danger in these circumstances is that poorer students struggle alone and the experience confirms them in their self-image as failing writers. And better writers miss a golden opportunity for improvement through discussion, collaboration and feedback.
Writing and conferencing in class allows for dynamic teaching and learning relationships between writers and their readers, they can question, prompt, support, provide ideas and language which can help the writer to be clear, organized and accessible to readers.

The process of writing

Strategies skilled writers use
 A piece of writing is the outcome of a set of cognitive operations and the concern of many researchers in L2 writing has been to identify them.
A number of findings have emerged:

·        Planning is a thinking activity to which writers return again and again during composing.
·        Writers have individual strategies for getting into writing: writing notes, lists or diagrams.
·        They consult their background knowledge.
·        They consider purpose and audience.
·        Writers re-read their work, assess it, react to it and move on.
·        They do not follow a linear sequence of planning, organising, writing and revising.
·        Revising takes place throughout the process and generally involves considerable changes, e.g composing something new, deleting sentences, shifting paragraphs around and sometimes deleting them.
·        All writers pay attention to surface-level features but better writers deal with these at the end of the process.
·        Linguistic problems seem to concern writers the least. Better writers usually leave blanks or write down a word in their language not to be distracted as they develop ideas.

Once ideas are developed, writers begin to edit for surface-level features such as accuracy in grammar, word choice, spelling and punctuation. 

Supporting students
The kind of support we give our students will depend on the kind of learners, e.g their age, background and needs for writing in English. The primary aim should be to help students to gain greater control over the cognitive strategies involved in composing.
We suggest the following principles:

Help students generate ideas.
White and Arndt (1991) make a useful distinction between guided techniques in which prompts such as questions are used, and unguided techniques, such as brainstorming, in which students generate ideas by themselves. 

Provide practice in planning
We should help learners find their own effective way of planning by giving them ideas for planning in the early stages and then let them decide which work best for them. Also it’s necessary to point out the flexible nature of plans, which should change and be adjusted as the writing progresses and generates new ideas and structures. 

Contextualising tasks to develop a sense of audience
Less mature writers may not have developed this sense of audience in writing in their L1. It is important to encourage them to ask themselves who they are writing for and keep that audience in mind as they write.

Encourage students in revision strategies
Conferencing is a useful technique during the earlier stages of composition when writers are still thinking about their content and organisation. A popular device for this is the use of checklists.
Reformulation is a useful procedure when students have produced a first draft and are moving on to look at more opportunities for improvement.
These techniques provide feedback to the writer. 

What is good writing at B1 and B2? 

It’s important that students are aware of this, so it is a good idea to ask them this question. Have a class brainstorming session and help them create a writing checklist.

There are lots of writing checklists around but having students create their own, and more importantly, using language they can understand, will make it more memorable. You can then make multiple copies so that they can each have their own ready when they finish a writing piece. 


Describing a famous person
At B1 level, students need to be able to write basic descriptions.
This activity helps students to understand the order of information
in a description of a famous person by focusing on how to organise their writing and use appropriate vocabulary

1. Show students a picture of a famous person. 
Tell students to ask you some questions to try to find out as much as they can about this person. Give short answers, so that they have to keep asking questions. Allow up to five minutes.

2. Elicit from students what different topics you talked about in relation to the person you showed them. Write these on a spidergram on the board as students come up with them: e.g. general details (name, age, nationality, job, etc.), physical description, personality, likes and dislikes, why this person is special to you, etc. 

3. Ask students to choose their own famous person, and to make brief notes on this person for each of the categories on the spidergram.

4. When they have finished, divide students into pairs, and ask them to tell their partner about the person they’ve chosen.

5. Go back to the spidergram on the board and negotiate a logical order for the information. Label the various sections with numbers. Point out to the students that there are different ways of doing this but it must make sense to the reader, i.e. don’t talk about physical characteristics, then personality, then jump back to physical characteristics – this would be confusing and difficult to read. 

6. Tell the students that you’re going to look at some language that will be useful in writing a description

7. Give students a worksheet or display on the whiteboard a series of phrases /sentences and ask them to categorise them by putting each one in the correct column on the table. When they have finished, ask them to check their answers with a partner.

8. Check the answers with the whole class and concept check any vocabulary which you think students may not know.

9. Give learners the beginning of a text which describes someone. Ask them to think about what the information in each of the gaps could be. Let students compare their ideas in pairs, then elicit one or two ideas for each gap from the class. There is no right or wrong answer.

10. Now ask students to write their own first paragraph, giving general details about the person they have chosen.

11. In groups of three or four, ask students to swap their paragraphs with someone else. Tell them to think about how clear the writing is, and to note down one positive thing about it, and one thing that could make it better, at the bottom of the page. Tell students to keep swapping within their group, until each person has seen everyone else’s work and added to the feedback.

12. Tell students to look at their own paragraph, read the feedback, and make any changes that they think will improve it.

13. Now tell students to write the rest of their descriptions, bearing in mind the feedback they got from their group on the first paragraph. Monitor carefully, guiding students towards the phrases in the vocabulary activity or providing new language, as required.

14. When most students have finished, ask them to tell you what makes a good piece of writing. Elicit their ideas and write them in question form on the board and use a class checklist.

15. Then divide students into pairs, and tell them to swap their descriptions with each other. Ask them to read the descriptions, and think about the questions on the checklist. Each student should then give at least two positive comments, and one or two comments on how their partner’s writing could be improved. Monitor carefully to make sure that all comments are constructive.

16. Students then get their own writing back, consider the feedback, and make any amendments, before you collect the work in.

Storyboard: A storyboard is a series of sketches or photos showing the sequence of shots planned for a film. It is a way of telling a story in pictures and words. This can help learners select, organise and express subjective concepts, more visual students or reluctant writers can engage with the subject more easily and it will show their understanding of a topic in linguistic and visual ways.

Learners create an illustrated text in the form of a storyboard. First they brainstorm ideas (language and pictures) in pairs. They organise the points in to key events or stages and decide the number of frames they will need. Each pair draws their storyboard on A3 sheets of paper or takes the photos. If technically possible, they could follow up by filming the storyboard. 

Moving upwards
1. Introducing clauses with whenever.

Level: B1 +

Say a sentence, e.g. Every time I see a a butterfly, I make a wish.
Ask students to think of one word that could replace every time…
Elicit other similar sentences, help with questions:

What do you do whenever you see a black cat?
What do you say whenever someone sneezes?
Where do you go whenever it’s cold?

Tell students that you have in mind a sentence which begins with whenever. Ask them to shout out words to follow, help with mime and gesture. Every time a student makes a correct guess, write the word on the board.

If a student offers a word you don’t want, write them to one side and later on try to use it to build up a new vertical text.

Get students to read the model text again and ask learners to say why the writer feels small and note their ideas on the board. For example, the writer never does his homework, is new to the school, is shy, doesn’t like the teacher, etc.

Then ask students to create their own texts following the model. They can also make a collage to decorate their text and have a class display. 

2. Writing a story from sounds.

Level: B2 and above

Prepare a sequence of sounds and ask learners to listen and imagine a story that the sounds begin to tell. Play the sound sequence once and ask learners to write down the words that the sequence evokes. Tell them they can use their L1 if there is a word they don’t know. Play the sequence at least three times. The first time, students listen with an open mind. The second time, they make notes of the sounds they hear. The third time, they write down their personal response.   

Work with interesting vocabulary: prepare a table with the sounds and their causes in mixed order and ask the class to match them. 

Students listen to the sequence again and encourage the class to describe it using the following structures: It sounds like … / It must be … That could be / might be …

Then ask them some prediction questions so that they begin to build a story. They build the story in pairs or groups. They exchange stories and ask other groups to comment on 2 positive