Skkn how to teach english to high school students communicatively and effectively

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Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 HOW TO TEACH ENGLISH TO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS COMMUNICATIVELY AND EFFECTIVELY I. REASONS AND AIMS FOR CHOOSING THE RESEARCH: In most English classes, teachers tend to overuse either English, which makes it difficult for slow students to understand, or Vietnamese, which may distract students from learning the language. To avoid this dilemma, teachers should be able to know how to use English properly, and adequately to teach their students. It is commonly known that most students are eager to learn English if their teachers use a good, “easy” English to teach them and this also makes them feel interested in learning the language. From my experience, gathered from reading books and observing what my colleagues did, the following approaches are found to be really helpful for language teacher in this case. Besides, the new series of textbooks presently used in Vietnamese high school are designed in view of communicative language teaching method. Therefore, this writing is involved the comment on bottom-up and top-down strategies and the connection between these strategies and pair work and group-work tasks. In gerneral, the aim of this study is to encourage teachers and students to use as much English in the classroom as possible to communicate with each other. Therefore, this writing introduce “How to teach English to high school students communicatively and effectively”. This concerns with the teachers’ skills at employing pairwork and groupwork activities in the classroom. In other words, the teachers should know how to organize pair and group work effectively and how to deal with initial problems that may arise. Page.1 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 II. BACKGROUND: 1. Pairwork and groupwork: Foreign language learners, especially high school students are often shy, and find it hard to express themselves in the language in front of the public at the beginning stage. Hence, the role of the language teachers is to make their students get used to the language and feel confident in using the language. In this case, pair/group work activities do help as Ur (Ur 1998: 210) suggested.  Advantages, disadvantages : For certain types of activity, pairwork and groupwork have number of advantages over working with the whole class together. Teachers should be aware of the advantages, the problems to find the solutions to these problems . Here are some main advantages and problems: Advantages More language practice Problems Noise Students are more involved Students make mistakes Students feel secure, confident Difficult to control Students help one another ………………….. Save time 2. Bottom-up and top-down strategies: What are bottom-up and top-down strategies? As Harmer mentioned, “In top – down processing reader or listener gets a general view of the listening or reading passage by, in some way, absorbing the overall view of the picture” and “in bottom-up processing, the reader or listener focuses on individual words and phrases and achieves understanding by stringing these detailed elements together to build up a whole” (Harmer 2001 p: 201). This is to say that top down is the process in which students use their schematic knowledge to access to the topic of the passage, and bottom – up is the process in which students use their knowledge of language to explore the passage to have detailed ideas of the text. Page.2 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 III. PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS: This research was applied to three classes of tenth graders ranging from fourteen to fifteen years old (10C1, 10C2, 10C3). Each class contains forty five to fifty participants who are of mixed genders and language ability. In terms of language competence, most of them might be considered as pre-intermediate students. The methods used to conduct the study include: - Observation. - Journal. - Dialogue. IV. CONTENT AND APPLICATION: 1. A combination of the two strategies in teaching reading and listening: Like other teachers, I had an experience of using both of these strategies, but separately, to teach receptive skills, i.e. reading and listening skills. Then I found that my students did not understand the topic clearly. For example, when I taught them the reading about “science “, I applied the top – down approach to one class and bottom – up approach to another class. And then the results I got were unsatisfactory. The students in the first class seemed not to know much about the “science world”, and the students in the other class just knew something about the vocabulary, but not the whole text. However, after reading books and observing what some of my colleagues did in their teaching, I realized that we could make a language class become more interesting and effective by putting these two approaches together. I also met this point of view in Harmer’s book in which he pointed out, “ it is probably most useful to see acts of reading and listening as interaction between top-down and bottom-up processing” (Harmer 2001 : 201). Following are two suggestions of using the strategies in teaching listening and reading skills. Page.3 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 1.1 The strategies in teaching listening: Top-down processing Expectations based on prior knowledge. (content schemata) Expectations based on discourse and sociocultural knowledge. (formal schemata) Expectations based on the assessment of context Pragmati cs Metacognitio n Interpretation of spoken discourse (input) Language knowledge (phonology vocabulary, grammar,) Listening Strategies Bottom-up processing Page.4 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 1.2 The strategies in teaching reading Top-down processing Expectations based on prior knowledge. (content schemata) Expectations based on discourse and sociocultural knowledge. (formal schemata) Expectations based on the assessment of context Pragmati cs Metacognitio n Interpretation of spoken discourse (input) Language knowledge (phonology vocabulary, grammar,) Listening Strategies Bottom-up processing Page.5 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 2. Organizing pairwork and groupwork: The success of group or pair work depends on some extents, i.e. the surrounding social climate, how habituated the class is to using it, the selection of an interesting and stimulating task whose performance is well done within the ability of the group or pair, and especially effective and careful organization. 2.1. Giving instructions: The instructions that are given at the beginning are crucial. If the students do not understand exactly what they have to do, there will be wate of time, confusion, lack of effective practice, or even possible loss of control. Therefore, the teacher should select tasks that are simple enough to describe easily; and in monolingual classes, you may find it cost-effective to explain some or all in the mother tongue. However, it is advisable to give the instructions communicatively rather than mere explanation before delivering materials or building groups. And a preliminary rehearsal or ‘dry run’ of a sample of the activity with the full class can help to clarify things. If your students have already done similar activities, you will be able to shorten the process, giving only brief guidelines; It is mainly the first time of doing something with a class that such care needs to be invested in instructing. Try to foresee what language will be needed, and have a preliminary quick review of appropriate grammar or vocabulary. Finally before giving the sign to start, the teacher should tell the class if there is a time limit, or a set signal for stopping, and say what it is. If the students simply stop when they have finished the task, then tell them what they will have to do next. It is wise to have a reserve task planned to occupy members of groups who finish earlier than expected. 2.2. Process: Page.6 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 Teacher goes from group to group or pair to pair, to monitor, and either to contribute or to keep out of the way whichever is likely to be more helpful. If you do decide to intervene, you may provide general approval and support; help students who are having difficultly; keep the students using the target language; or tactfully regulate participation in a discussion where you find some students are over dominant and others are silent. 2.3. Ending the task: Draw the activity to a close at a certain point. Try to finish the activity while the students are still enjoying it and interested, or only just beginning to flag. 2.4. Feedback: A feedback session usually takes place in the context of full-class interaction after the end of the group work. Feedback on the tasks may take such forms as giving the right solution, if there is one, listening to and evaluating suggestions, pooling ideas on the board, displaying the meterials the groups/ pairs have produced. The main objective here is to express appreciation of the effort that has been invested and its results. Feedback on language may be integrated into this discussion of the task, or provide the focus of a separate class session later. 3. The connection between the strategies and pair-work/group-work activities: In terms of students’ point of views and communicative language teaching method, I have discovered that bottom-up and top-down approaches together help learners much more in learning the language if teachers link these approaches with pair-work and group-work activities. In this case, students will find themselves free to talk and to communicate with one another in their own language, and they may also feel it interesting to put their heads together and try to explore the reading text or the listening passage. Accordingly, the students will become more active and confident to express their ideas, and this is one of the Page.7 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 goals of a language class. Let us consider the following experiences as examples of the application in the classroom. 4. Application in the classroom: 4.1. Pair-work and group work in teaching grammar: In order to teach the structure “used to /didn’t use to + inf” (Unit 4 English 10, part E. language focus, exercise 2), we may do as following: Exercise 2: Work in pairs, ask what your friends used to do and didn’t use to do (Ask about food, sport, music, school, subject ……. ). - Explain the structure by giving an example: Ex: Tom often came to class late but now he doesn’t any longer. - Ask if there is anyone can express the sentence in another way. Teacher: Now, the whole class, who can put this sentence in another way? Just speak out. Students: …… (silent) Teacher: Ok, now discuss with your friends beside you for one minute…… - Ask some group representative speak out their answers. - Give comment and correction (if needed) Teacher: we can say “ Tom used to come to class late”. Teacher: Mai, what does “used to” mean? - Follow the previous steps. - Help the students to understand the structure if their answers are wrong. In this case the students can have chance to communicate with their friend freely in the language. Teacher: Now you are going to talk about things you used to do and things you didn’t use to do. Look at the exercise. What question can you ask? Teacher: First, about food. What food did you use to eat for breakfast when you were small, Hoa? Hoa: I used to eat …….. - Teacher writes the basic question on the board: Page.8 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 What (food) did you use to eat? - Teacher asks a few questions round the class to show the kind of conversation students might have: Teacher: What kind of music did you use to listen, Huong? Student: I used to listen to pop music. Teacher: Pop music? when did you use to listen to it? ( And so on with some others) - Teacher may ask two students to have similar conversations, while the others listen. Teacher: Now, The first, third and fifth row turn back. Ok, you are going to work in pairs, talking to the one oposite you. Ready? Ask and answer the questions (in the exercise). First, one person asks, the other answer (about all the topics) then change the role. Start now. - Teacher moves quickly round the class, checking that everyone is talking (but do not try to correct mistakes, as this will interrupt the activity) - When most pairs have finished, stop the activity. Ask a few students what their partners said: Teacher : Now, stop talking. Mai, tell me about Huong. What did she used to do? Student : She says she used to eat ice cream, listen to pop music and swim in the afternoon , she liked meat but she didn’t use to eat it. - Teacher gives feedback: - Well done…… 4.2. Bottom-up and top-down in connection with pair-work and group-work in teaching listening and reading: As shown in the charts (page 2 and 3), it is clear that teachers have to design tasks or questions which provide the students with schemata knowledge as well as details to help students comprehend the required texts fully. For example, when I taught the listening lesson of Unit 1 in English textbook 10 (page 16), I conducted the lesson as following steps. Page.9 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 First, in before-listening stage, I made use of top-down approach by making a general statement about the text “today we are going to listen to a short talk of a cyclo driver, Mr. Lam, about his daily routine”. This provides the students with “background” or “prior knowledge” of the text. To some extent, they might have expectations as to what to listen to in the tape. Then I asked the students to answer the following questions in groups to give them a chance to express their ideas as well as practice using the language and talking about the topic freely: 1. Look at the pictures and write down as many related words as you can. 2. Put the pictures in the order you think the story will go. 3. From the order you have chosen, tell a story about Mr. Lam. In the next stages, the students were asked to listen to the tape and do the True/False task and Gap Filling task which are involved in the application of bottom-up approach. In this case, the students were asked to explore the text in a more detailed way. Another example to illustrate the use of these strategies in the classroom is related to the reading text of Unit 9 “undersea world” (English textbook 10). The steps to carry out the lesson are described as following. First, in while-reading stage, students were asked to read the whole text once quickly and answer the question “what is the main idea of the passage?”. If it is taught to students who are not quite good at English, this can be altered by a multiple choice question (MCQ) of the same content or “underline the sentences that show the main idea of the text?” In addition, the students were also asked to find out the main idea of each paragraph. These questions, which are clearly based on top-down approach, gave the students a general picture of the text. Page.10 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 Next, the students were asked to read the text again to answer a number of questions which are based on bottom-up approach, such as following: 1. How many oceans are there? 2. How much of the earth is covered by seas and oceans? 3. How do scientists now overcome the challenges of the depth? 4. According to the first paragraph, what would happen without modern technology? 5. ………… After finding out the answers for these bottom-up based questions, the students could have more details about the text they are reading. Moreover, in this case, bottom-up approach could also be made use to design such exercises as “put the sentences which are cut out from the text into their original places” or “what does the word seabed refer to?” etc. This kind of questions help the students investigate the text in two important features, i.e. “cohesion” and “coherence”. Therefore, they could decode the text fully. In other words, the students might avoid “the mismatch between the reader’s view of the world and the view that seems to be presented in the text” (Celce – Olshtain 2000:127) Finally, my lessons usually end with a task asking the students to retell or summarise briefly what they have learned. By this way, I can make sure that the students understand the lesson completely. V. RESULTS: After a year of conducting the method, to my expectation, I harvested a satisfactory crop. I have found that most of the students have become more active in class. They no longer passively wait for the questions or information from the teacher to interpret the texts. In reading and listening classes, they willingly take part in negotiating with their partners to explore the texts. This is evident in what I observed and collected from their journals. Most of them admitted that their reading and listening skills have improved a lot. In addition, they all reported that Page.11 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 when they learn listening or reading they feel very interested because they are not merely learning these two skills alone, but they also learn to develop other language skills. Pedagogically, this is what we have expected. VI. UNANTICIPATED PROBLEMS AND EXPERIENCE: Although the results I have got are quite satisfactory, there are still some problems that need concerning. In the first place, from my observation, although the students took part in the lessons willingly and actively, there were some who seemed to isolate themselves from the activities. When asked to join their classmates, they were reluctant to move from their seats. Another issue related to conducting this method is while doing group-work activities to explore the texts, students tend to use their mother tongue to discuss instead of the language they are learning. However, as experience has shown, it is hard to control the use of L1 among EFL and ESL learners in classrooms. Finally, in order to carry out the method effectively, the teacher must know for sure about the students’ language competence to apply suitable tasks or activities; otherwise, the lesson will end up in confusion. VII. CONCLUSION: Personally, I believe that what I suggested above will help me, as well as other language teachers, much in teaching career. However, the results of the application depend much on teachers as Lewis and McCook pointed out that teachers were applying what they were introduced to, sometimes successfully, sometimes less ( Lewis & McCook 2002:152 ). Thus, in terms of communicative language teaching, teachers in the new learning settings are expected to become more reflective teachers (Celce – Olshtain 2000:17). They must be sensitive and must know what approaches and how to apply them to their language class. Page.12 Le Thanh Hung – Dau Giay – 2011-2012 REFERENCES: Celce-Murcia, Marianne & Olshtain, Elite, 2000, Discourse and Context in Language Teaching, Cambridge: CUP. Hoang Van Van & Hoang Thi Xuan Hoa, 2009, English textbook grade 10, 3rd edition, Ministry of Education publishing house. Harmer, Jeremy, 2001, The Practice of English Language Teaching, 3rd edition, Harlow: Longman. Lewis, Marilyn & McCook, Fiona, 2002, “Cultures of teaching: Voices from Vietnam”, ELT journal, April, vol.56, no.2, pp.147- 153. Nunan, D., 1998, The Learner-Centered Curriculum, Cambridge: CUP. Thống Nhất, ngày 18 tháng 5 năm 2012 Người thực hiện LÊ THANH HƯNG Page.13
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