Back to skoool!

It’s Sunday night and for many of us, classes start tomorrow. Fancy some free material? How about a collaborative TD project for the new year? Read (or skip) to the end for both!

It’s that time of year again. A new calendar year. Will it bring new hopes? New aspirations? New classes? New students? All of the above? I find this time of year often feels familiar. I have the nagging feeling that I could have prepared for it a little earlier. Or that I’ve forgotten how to teach. I’ll doubtless have a sleep interrupted several times to check if I’ve slept through my alarm by mistake. Still, at least there’ll be some friendly faces in the staffroom tomorrow morning.

But then, I won’t be going into a staffroom. Not for a few days yet. Most of my classes are in company or online. Depending on the time of year, I find myself working something like an itinerant salesman, flogging my wares to potential clients. Either that or tapping my way to RSI in front of a computer screen – not quite how I imagined TEFL would pan out. This does have its advantages, of course. Online work means less time spent commuting and with the face-to-face stuff I’m lucky enough to be able to cycle there most of the time. I see new parts of the city. I meet students from all walks. I see inside a range of companies in various locations. One place I rarely am at the moment, though, is a staffroom.

 

old staffrooom pic

 

This is a bit of a shame – I miss the halcyon days of racing the length of a London basement on wheely chairs against colleagues. Or the communal cursing of a jammed photocopier. Or the printed picture of the DOS with a ‘big brother is watching you’ slogan. As well as the letting off of various steams, there was often the free-swapping of material, ideas and advice.  In a staffroom there’s also a wealth of different voices and opinions you can record and take into class with you.

I used to have a dictaphone that I used for speaking examination work. It was a very high tech system where we’d record in MP3 format out in the field, then upload onto our computers at home, transfer to a USB stick and then pop in an envelope to be sent to central processing. I like to imagine it sat in a metal filing cabinet like this:

filing-cabinet.jpg

The sort you could then upcycle into a fancy plant potter like this:

Filing-Cabinet

But I digress…

The dictaphone was ours to keep (the fringe benefits of TEFL, eh?) and use as we saw fit when off-duty. I used mine to collect some audio snippets from colleagues from time to time that could be used in class. I also had a mini microphone I’d acquired at the turn of the century in Japan. I used it with my minidisc recorder.  I would occasionally surprise people by poking the foam-covered sound catcher under their noses and demand a soundbite. Those days are gone – we now have mobile phones that can capture top-quality audio without the necessity of all that gubbins. And we can send audio and video via instant messenger pretty much instantly.

And that instant messenger is a handy tool. Why, just the other week there was news of another tax avoidance scheme – the sort of news to annoy and enjoy. I have a group of tax lawyers who’ll lap it up, I thought. I had a nice video from the Guardian and a friend who works for HMRC who I could ask for an opinion from. Perfect. I fired off a message asking for his opinion. He’s not got back to me yet. Then there are my uni students studying digital marketing. A close friend of mine works for PR for TV advertising. He’s a perfect match – I whatsapped him requesting a quick soundbite on why TV advertising isn’t dead. He hasn’t done it yet but he said he would. This was a month back and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion he’s not going to deliver on that one. My teacher and ex-teacher friends, however, get back to me all the time. They seem to understand that the idea for the lesson occurred to me very close in time to the actual lesson itself. So when I found a nice video on Vox about open plan offices being over-rated, I quickly messaged a couple of ex-colleagues for contributions on things they thought were over-rated. They got back to me in a matter of minutes! Happy days.

Free lesson material!

Here’s the Vox video. I used the last section only. My students had recently moved premises and were adjusting to their new office space, so it was a nice fit when I saw it pop up in my Facebook feed.

I grabbed the tapescript from the closed captions (you can do this for any youtube video to save yourself some transcription time – to see how, click here)

If you think this might work for your class and want the final tapescript and material I used, it’s here: Openplan is over transcript gapfill. After initial listening for global understanding we focussed on some perceptually tricky bits using the gapfill and then followed up with some receptive phonology work (dictation exercises which then turned into a battleships grid for S-S practice). Similar procedure to the one described in a previous post under ‘then what?’.

Possible tasks

As well as discussion tasks (you’ll notice I dictated discussion questions if you see the end of the word doc), you can have students work in groups to redesign their office/classroom/school.

Follow up

Lexically, my students were attracted to the word ‘overrated’ in the tapescript, and this also tends to bear fruit in discussion, so I focussed on this when harvesting my virtual staffroom’s audio opinions. It ended up being in a later lesson (two for the price of one – yay!) but deciding on what was under or over-rated was a good springboard. Here are a couple of examples, and the tapescript at the end.

Rich isn’t a fan of Love Actually:

Ri takes issue with the question itself:

She’s got a point. Here’s the tapescript – lots of potential to focus on spoken discourse features, receptive phonology or lexical stuff.

Ri and Rich tapescript highlighteddocx

What about you? What do you think’s over-rated?

An invitation to a New Year staffroom

If you think that material would work well in your classroom, do you fancy joining a group of likeminded teachers sharing audio? Make your TD resolution easy – all you need to do is commit to posting a video/news article plus a question for the other members to answer. If you happen to have a tapescript, so much the better, but all we really need to start with is the audio clip. Natural, unrehearsed audio is what we’re after (or video – it’s easy enough if you’ve got a smartphone). So I’ve set up a facebook group.  Who’s in?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 comments

    1. Cheers, Sean! Thanks for stopping by and joining the fb group. There’s a story from BBC Scotland up on there just now…though it’s not particularly Scottish in its content. Maybe you’ll be tempted to contribute there?…..

      Like

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