Friday, 29 July 2011

ELTChat Summary: Conversation and Situational English

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If you have never participated in an #ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT. Over 400 ELT educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please take a look at this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions.
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Defining conversation and situational lessons.

On Wednesday 20th of July the first ELTchat of the day discussed the subject of teaching conversation and situational English. The chat kicked off with an attempt to define these terms and the general differences between them. The crux of this discussion centred around the nature of these types of classes and if conversation classes are focused in the same way as situational classes.

@mcneilmahon - conversation is interactional and situational is transituational
@chucksandy - Perhaps I'm wrong but when I think of situational I think of functions &  ordering in restaurants & such. Am i off?
@barbsaka - Thing is, even if I'm teaching for situation (like restaurant, hotel) there seems to be a lot of interaction. No?
@pysproblem81 - The difference is that there is a clear aim that can be measured - can learners do X in English?
@theteacherjames - But conversation class has less clear pedagogical aims? Beyond general fluency/comprehension?
@barbsaka - Huh. I've never thought of 'conversation' as being aimless before. Seems to me there are clear functions in social interactions
@rliberni - conversation 'lessons' can just be chat with no focus or learning outcome & often the teacher does most of the conversation
@mcneilmahon - It's definitely not aimless, but the aim is to be social, to build a relationship, to belong to a community, not to survive
@PrettyButWise - isn't conversation higher than situational?

How do you teach conversation English?

The focus then moved onto conversation language. For many there is an assumption is these types of lessons are totally unstructured, free and much more easy going classes. However many of the participants were keen to point out that they treated these lessons with the same pedagogical approach as other, more obviously structured, types of lesson.

@theteacherjames - My first priority is to make them 'comfortable' with the language.
@barbsaka - 'Skills' I include in conversation are turn-taking, interrupting, and active listening. And I do have to teach them :)
@hartle - I'm doing an online 'conversation course' at moment but still include language awareness and skills on emergent language.
@yitzha_sarwono - 4 beginner's class I usually teach conversation by asking them to fill the blanks from a conversation provided before they begin speaking
@rliberni - In my experience the thing that even the most advanced students have problems with is unstructured conversation about random topics
@barbsaka - Fun idea for beginners. Take basic conversation - only rule is no looking at paper while listening to the speaker (eye contact). Then, add improv
@hartle - I ask stds at end of lesson to propose topics for next lesson, the most popular wins (like #eltchat)
@chucksandy - I don't think real conversation happen much during task time in classes. It's what happens in breaks/side chats/before & after.
@web2literacy - I like learners to bring things in from home to generate conversation e.g. photos etc


How do you teach situational English?

Less time was devoted to the discussion of situational English lessons, as it seemed that this was an area where most participants were comfortable with the definition and the practice. As you would expect, some great ideas about how to make these activities useful and interesting were shared.

@pysproblem81 - For situational language does that mean we need to simulate the situation?
@barbsaka - Do you put students in situation and then pull out language? Or preteach language and then practice in context?
@pysproblem81 - I’m in the UK, so get learners to engage with texts they face in real situations in their lives
@chucksandy - in 1 of my books we've got  a party planner activity: plan in groups, present, invite, choose most interesting, do it.
@rliberni - I once did a role play about a wild west bank robbery to practice conditionals.  We ran it over 3 weeks, including plan, do, regret.
@barbsaka - One of my classes LOVES to practice English for travel situations, but NEVER has to use English when they travel
@JoeMcVeigh - Must organize syllabus somehow! Grammar, situations, interests. Students like models but anything can be overdone.
@gknightbkk - I teach learners to be cooperative listeners


The chat ended with a general acknowledgement that whichever type of class you are teaching, there has to be a focus and a clear objective.

@hartle - The key, I think, whether situational or interpersonal is communication - as natural and meaningful as poss.
@gknightbkk - transaction v interaction is the distinction rather than conversation v situation. All conversation is situational
@mcneilmahon - my final thought - whether inter or trans, it needs to be planned and the aims of the lesson and the language both explicit

Links and Recommendations:

@gknightbkk - Field, Tenor, Mode
@pysproblem81 - List of authentic sources for use in creating situational lessons /
@pysproblem81 - Skills for Life ESOL resources - very situational:
@JoHart -
@JoeMcVeigh - 5 Great Books for Teaching Speaking in the ELT Classroom:
@rliberni - The Art of Conversation
@alastairjgrant - A nice example of why and how -
@JoeMcVeigh - Here's a book recommendation: Conversation Inspirations 3rd ed. by Zelman published by Pro Lingua.  Great ideas esp. for role plays
@JoeMcVeigh - Pragmatics: Teaching Speech Acts, Tatsuki & Houck, (Eds.) pub. by TESOL, Inc. 2010

First of all, you don’t need a Twitter account to follow #ELTchat. Simply go to and search for #ELTchat on Wednesdays at 12pm and 9pm London time respectively. Want to know when this is in your part of the world? The times for the next two #ELTchats around the world are here and here.

But you don’t want to just follow, do you?

Go to, sign up for an account (if you haven’t already got one). Then, on Wednesday join in the discussion by adding the hashtag #ELTchat to your tweets. For more information about ELTchats, including opportunities to propose your own questions and vote in polls to decide what will be discussed go to Full transcripts of discussions (and much more!) can also be found on the #ELTchat wiki.

What’s a hashtag? How do I follow them? Watch Shelly Terrell’s informative video to find out more:

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Monday, 4 July 2011

Using Soundcloud in an Unplugged One to One Class

Am I an angry cloud or a happy cloud?

Note taking is one of the central tenets of Teaching Unplugged, and the more I try to practice it, the harder I realise it is. This is especially true in a one-to-one setting. I find it's particular tricky because I want to sustain genuine face to face conversation, and having me scribbling away feels like a level of artifice that distracts from the quality of the conversation.

Furthermore, if I'm being honest, I find it difficult to concentrate on both things at the same time. Both the conversation and the note taking suffer, so nobody wins. This is where technology can step in and help out.

Soundcloud is a popular audio sharing platform which was designed to allow musicians to share their music in a quick and convenient fashion. However, as it is essentially an easy way to record and then share audio, I thought I could use it to replace my notebook.

Firstly, you need some hardware (a smart phone running either IOS or Android, or a PC or Mac) and some software (the appropriate Soundcloud app: iPhone, Android or desktop). Then you need to go the website and create an account. Once you've done this, you simply need to start your app and get recording. On the iPhone it's as simple as pushing a big red button.

When you've finished, you can share the file with your student by emailing it to them directly from within the app. It has a really useful function that allows you to comment on precise moments in the recording, so I ask my student to use this to identify any problem areas they think they can hear in their own speech as homework. In the next class we go over those points and clear up any other details I think need some attention.

Here's an example that I recorded with a student last week. I'm posting it here with her permission.

I have also found that the student forgets that there is an recording going on fairly quickly, and so you have the chance to hear the errors that are most like to occur in a natural setting, just to add to the authenticity of the exercise.

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