Bulgaria - Receptive Skills and Speaking Seminar

These two seminars in Bulgaria took place in Sofia and Stara Zagora

The titles were:
- Receptive Skills - Listening and Reading
- Speaking and Drama - Fluency and Accuracy more here

In Receptive Skills - Listening and Reading we discussed what makes a good listener.  In short the conclusion was that a good listener is someone who is good at decoding what they hear to get meaning.

In order to decode what they hear students need to filter through a vast amount of sound to get to the meaning.  This workshop looks at what the vast amount of sound includes and how this can be brought into the classroom to develop listening skills in our learners.

We did this specifically by listening to short clips of recordings and then describing the sounds we could hear.
colleagues in Stara Zagora get to grips with interactive reading tasks

The clips came from a range of textbooks and materials on the market.    

Listen to the clips and ‘describe’ what you hear:
Cockneys (00.05 – 01.45)
Diane Abbot (02.06 – 03.12)
World of English 1 (03.20 – 04.18)
Castaways (04.22 – 05.17)
World of English 2 (05.18 – 06.34)
Which country is it? (06.39 – 12.31)
Holidays (12.39 – 13.11)

We looked at accent and discussed how this can cause difficulties for listeners decoding meaning.

'Yeah, well talkin’ about it Toni, there’s me cousin, right, dja, you know Jimmy, don’tja? 
An’ he came down the other week. 
He’s a nutter. 
He is.  I’ve never known a Cockney like ‘im.  He’s goin’ round sayin’: ‘goin’ out tunoit’ an’ all this, you know, he goes round like that.'

... and colleagues had a go at Cockney themselves.  The colleagues identified elision, assimilation, interruption, speed, slang and many other characteristics of this speech.

We listened to a real interview between a politician and a journalist from a EFL publication on the market.


Here, colleagues suggested that the speech was a formal radio interview and this explained the slower interaction between interviewer and interviewee.  There was a discussion about the role of sentence stress for highlighting meaning in speech.  Here, the politician frequently blurred parts of her speech while stressing and pronouncing clearly the meaning carrying words.

''International words are easy.  Telephone is telephone, computer is computer. 
Yes, but magazine is not magazine, magazine is spisanie. 
Right, telephone and computer are true friends, but magazine is a false friend.''

With another recording from a Bulgarian publication we talked about the effect multiple speakers have on the difficult for decoding meaning.  This particular recording offered seven speakers and a dog!  There was discussion about the need for clarifying the division between pronunciation (accuracy) and listening (fluency) materials.

We listened to another recording which used actors, or so we thought, was not scripted, and though there was quite a lot of 'real world' sounds in the recording, the feeling was that it still wasn't 'quite right'.  It still sounded a little bit false.

Another recording offered a professional recording, by this we mean that there were what appeared to be trained actors, the speech was unscripted, or perhaps semi-scripted.  This recording had a male trying to identify countries from their outlines and a female guiding the male through his task and then giving the corrections.

We summarised some of the characteristics of 'real world' speech we thought our students need to decode in order to get to the meaning of what they hear.  The challenge to teachers is to bring this into the classroom so that learners can become adept at filtering and getting at the meaning.    
accent, dialect, colloquialisms 
monologue, dialogue, plurilogue 
elision (dropping sounds) 
assimilation (blending sounds) 
background noises 

DIY listening.  There was agreement that textbook materials don't always provide the best input listening experiences for students to develop these skills.  I suggested that perhaps the teacher can do a better job.
I still think this is the case and am waiting to be convinced otherwise.
Teachers can produce better listening experiences by using their own speech in the classroom.  They can do this by using 'semi-scripts', a term which I think comes from Marion Geddes in the late 70s, in order to 'approach authenticity' which is a good as it can get in the classroom.
The great thing about content material is that they are full of diagrams, illustrations and pictures which can be used as the 'semi-script' both for the teacher to deliver the input speech, and for the learners to use as a frame for listening.

There are many tasks students can do in this context.

Types of listening activities:
Listen and do
Make notes
Stage a process
Gap fill
I followed the same idea in talking about organising reading tasks for learners.  There are many types of reading to be found in coursebooks, we looked only at 'information transfer' tasks.
The reason for this is that the 'processing of input reading text' is at the core of integrating content and language methodology.  Students need to get to the most important content and summarise it, rearrange it, learn it in as easy a way as possible.

Setting up info transfer goes some way to providing students with a view of the core of a content topic area as well as a means for organising this content.

Pharmacology lecture notes

I like to use material from my wife's education.  She is a Paediatrician.  The excerpt above is from her pharmacology notes.  There were 20 pages like this.  It's one long linear text.  You can just imagine the professor giving the lecture and my wife writing as much as she, as quickly as she can.  When it came to learning the material, my wife was having problems learning the material.  I offered to help, and once we'd agreed that I don't know the slightest thing about pharmacology, we began to look at the structure of the content.

With some discussion we managed to produce this diagram.  The linear text of 20 pages is in fact a large tree diagram which shows types of medical substances and the effect they have on different nerve groups.  There is also the names of the drugs on the market.  The only thing missing is the dosage.  It took my wife half an hour to memorise the 'picture' we'd created.
I'd go as far as to say that the professor (never met him/her) would have been doing a better job had they actually given the students the diagram in the first place before the lecture began.  The professor, no doubt, would argue that this isn't his/her job.

In a foreign language, content like this must be structured as simply as possible to allow students easy access to it.  As we can see here, even in MT, it's difficult to listen and take notes, and then learn linear 'text'.

On a much simpler level, card sorting in the classroom is one way of getting students to read and discuss and organise text according to decisions they make about content and logical structure.
This example is from Geography.

Students read, discuss and sort the text depending on they decisions they make about coal as a source of electricity.

Diet and disease
Certain diseases, such as coronary heart disease, breast
cancer and bowel cancer are more common in some
countries than in others. It is thought that some of these
diseases may be linked to diet. Below is some information
about them.
People who weigh 20% more than the ideal are overweight.
They have a shorter life expectancy and are more likely to
suffer from diseases that include heart disease, diabetes,
gallstone, high blood pressure, arthritis and varicose veins.
Some people put on weight easily. The reasons are not
understood. They do not necessarily eat more than other
people, but they eat more than they need and lay down the
excess as fat.
(this is just a short part of the whole text which is from the Science Across the World topic 'What did you eat?')    I used this example as a linear text and asked colleagues to identify a generic structure in the text.

The best diagram I've come across to accompany this text, is this tree diagram / flow diagram, where the flow describes cause and effect.


Speaking and Drama
We started the discussion by focusing on the difference between fluency and accuracy in oral production.

This was to set out some descriptors of what we mean by fluency and accuracy in the classroom and what is the role of each in terms of language development.

Some of the suggestions from the teachers to describe tasks which focus on accuracy in speaking were:

•- Pronunciation
•- Reading aloud
•- Reading answers to a task
•- Careful talking
•- Well-thought out
•- Well-structured
Some of the suggestions from the teachers regarding tasks focusing on fluency in speaking were:

•- Looking for information
•- Sharing information
•- Quick exchanges
•- Two, three more people
•- Not worrying about making a mistake
•- Keeping the flow going

This workshop aims at bridging the gap between accuracy and fluency.

Question loops
any situation where you have questions and answers, or terms and definitions, or halves of sentences, or two-clause sentences separated by linking phrases etc, can be exploited to create a question loop.
It's very easy to make a question loop.  All you need to do is type your questions and answers into a table with two columns with the questions and answers on the same row, but in different cells.  Then mark all of the answers and move them down one row.  Then cut the last answer and move it to the top row.  Print them off and hand out one row to each student.  They read their question, someone else answers, reads their question and so on, till you get back to the beginning. (Many thanks to Nigel Heslop for this task.)

Info gap

An information gap can be made with any visual with labels copied twice one for student A and the other for student B.  Each visual has different information missing so that students, who aren’t allowed to show each other their visual, must speak to each other to fill in the missing information from their diagram.

Information Search
This is similar to question loop in that this activity suits information in the question and answer format but where the information is organised in ‘three things you know’ and ‘three things you want to know’.
In an information search, there are 6 or more cards with information around the class and students have to find the information missing from their cards by asking the right questions.  If they are asked for information and they have it on their card, they give the information.
(watch out for this kind of thing at www.onestopenglish.com/clil)

Question help

What is the location of...? / Where is ... situated?
What is the distance of ... from the Sun? / How far is ... from the Sun?
What is the temperature / mass / atmosphere / core of...?
What is the atmosphere / core of ... made up of?
What does the atmosphere / core of ... consist of?
What is the planet ... named after? / Where does the name ... come from?
What else can you tell me about ...?

Answer help

... is located / is found / is situated
The distance between ... and the Sun is ... / The distance of ... from the Sun is ...
... has a temperature of ... / from ... to ... / ... varying between ... and ... / ranging from ... to ...
... has a mass of ... point ... times ... to the (power of) ... kilos
... has a (very thick / thin / poisonous) ... atmosphere (made up of ...)
... has a core made up of ... / which is made of ... / consists of ...
... is named after
It is also ... / It also has ... / It also ...

Word guessing games
Prepare a sheet of vocab and put the class into teams.  Each team has one minute to guess as many words as possible and they get one point for each correct guess. 

Class surveys
Use questionnaires to guide pupils in asking set questions of their classmates.

(From Watcyn-Jones)

Making presentations / talking from a prompt
Instruct pupils to present information from a visual using language support handout.


We also did a bit of drama.  The play we did as an example of what is possible in the space of a 40 minute lesson was 'The Plague at Eyam' from the Science Year CD. This is all archived at the ASE STEM site.

Repetition and rehearsal – opportunity for combination of accuracy and fluency
–- Check the roles
––- Discuss the characters
––- Other ‘parts’ to play, rags, boxes, doors
––- Discuss setting - background
––- Share roles – two students together
––- Give time to rehearse, think about voice
––- Think about sound effects
––- Film scenes / mp3 record scenes

You can download the play from here, browse the ASE STEM site for Science Yr for more.

Attached files