IATEFL PronSIG Glasgow One Day Event

On Saturday I had the privilege of attending an IATEFL PronSIG conference in Glasgow. 

The name of the conference was “The Road to Pron-tegration” and its focus was on teaching and practicing pronunciation; which, to be honest is something that as a teacher I have always shied away from. I suppose the reason for that is two-fold. First, It was never something I learned in school; ever! When I learned Ancient Greek and Hebrew at University it was never mentioned. When I had learned Spanish, Ukrainian, Mandarin and Polish I never used it. So how was I supposed to teach with something I have never used myself and had always learned other languages without? The second reason I’ve been reluctant to use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) in my lessons is because as the product of both British and American culture and not being distinctly either one, I always feel like I’m not the best authority on modeling which sound is which. And while I am a native speaker, the sounds I use in my pronunciations are often a mix of British or American depending on what I’m talking about or how much thought I put into how I’m saying it. 

So my goal for this conference was to challenge myself to change that and to force myself to stop running away from something simply because it was something with which I was unfamiliar.

The sessions were really a mixed bag. Some were styled as presentations, some were workshops and some felt more like lectures. Each had their own merit and I was able to take something from each. However I felt the real learning took place outside the sessions in the discussions and interactions with some the other educators in attendance.

One of the presenters with whom I spoke the most was Marianne Jordan. She and I share a similarly “blurry” background when it comes to being able to answer the question: “Where are you from?”. The work she is doing with the IPA and the app she is developing was really inspiring and I couldn’t leave the conference without picking up a copy of her book “Phonetics for Learners of English Pronunciation“.

The Opening Plenary speaker in the morning, Robin Walker, gave an excellent presentation on the basics of teaching pronunciation and given his years of experience he was able to break down the key elements very well and gave us so many ideas and suggestions for ways of implementing pronunciation activities in the classroom.

The frustrating thing for me was the repeated feeling that there was so much that could have been said and discussed if only there was more time! I feel like this could have easily been a two-day conference and still not have delved as deep into all the facets of English language pronunciation and methods of implementing instruction in pronunciation techniques in the classroom.

While I can’t say that I know everything I need to know about pronunciation, (far from it!) I can say that I no longer have an excuse for not using it in the classroom. So watch this space as I experiment with ways of improving my instruction on pronunciation in my lessons.

Do you have any tips or methods you use in your EFL/ESL classroom? Do you find yourself in the same place I was before the conference? Leave a comment and let me know!

Mind Mapping My Way to Nanowrimo!

So over the past few months I have been experimenting with the use of mind mapping as a teaching tool.

I know many teachers who use it as a warm-up activity or even as a production task. But I’ve been curious wether it’s possible to create an entire lesson out of a mind map created by students. I’m developing a CPD training course that would help teachers to decrease their planning time and to increase student engagement and productivity by simply using mind mapping in the classroom.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, mind mapping involves taking a general topic or idea and then breaking it down into logical parts or sections that can be then broken down even further.

For example, here is a mind map I created with a class a few months ago on the topic of Social Issues.IMG_9029 2.JPGPlease ignore any spelling mistakes and reserve judgement on evaluating the validity of whether or not you believe these to be (or not be) social issues. My point is that this massive mind map was created by students, without any pre-teaching or scaffolding. After creating the mind map, I split students into groups and each group chose a topic they wanted to research and present. From there, for large portion of the lesson time, groups of students worked independently to research their topic and create short presentations. The final portion of the lesson was dedicated to each group giving a short presentation about their topic and fielding questions from the rest of the class. Now of course, one reason that it worked quite well in this instance was because they were already C1 level and higher and were able to talk quite fluently about this topic without much difficulty. For lower level students, more support would definitely be needed.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Last week, the unit topic for my B1 students was “Telling Stories” and considering that some of the other teachers and I are gearing up for Nanowrimo next month, it seemed like a good a time as any to get students thinking about the topic. So I decided to create a “Character Mind Map” that would build scaffolding that would allow my students to create their own character profiles.

Creating the mind map took almost 40 minutes but we finally ended up with this masterpiece:

IMG_3900.JPG It was a long process and I could tell the students were tiring of it towards the end. But what it allowed them to do was to have in front of them all the information they needed to create their own characters. By the end of the lesson these B1 students, who up till now had not been very thrilled with the idea of creating their own novel, were having a fantastic time telling me all about their characters. By structuring the lesson with this mind map, I was able to equip the students with everything they would need to succeed in producing character for their stories.

I have a lot more work and research to go as I work on developing my own training course for teachers to use mind mapping for their own topics and lessons. But I had to share this beautiful intersection of using mind mapping to present Nanowrimo to lower-intermediate students. For me at least, it felt like a break through.

If you have used mind mapping in your classroom or have any thoughts, I would love to hear from you in the comments!