miércoles, 22 de febrero de 2017

How Can we Assess Grammar Effectively?
                                                                                 By Zarela Cruz

When it comes to grammar, students have the strong belief that its assessment consists of a long list of rules to be memorized, word categories, content words, function words, multiple choice exams and the cherry on top: the passing or failing grade. This is a big misconception. Grammar is a set of rules, but it does not mean that it is not possible to broaden our scope during assessment.
It is true that students must learn a set of rules. That is the starting point of course, but not the only goal. We must, for example, give them the chance to use and apply what they have already or just learned in class, through role plays, presentations and interviews among other well-known activities.
What are we teachers more willing to use? A gap filling exercise, a transformation sentence, error identification, a multiple choice test, an online quiz, and a cloze test are definitely a must. Why? Because they are easy to make and most of all, faster to check.  

Let’ stop for a while and check our objectives: What are we assessing grammar for? To master a grammar topic? Good. And what is the next step? To use it effectively and/or efficiently. Why not considering asking them to prepare a True/False quiz with the grammar points seen so far? You will be surprised to see how creative students can be. You can include some of their questions in a coming evaluation. You cannot imagine the sense of achievement they feel when they see some of their questions as part of your monthly evaluation. You have more advance students? Ask them to prepare a Portfolio. This is not a short-term assignment, but you can monitor it in steps and provide feedback so that they can refine their papers.

An activity I use quite often is writing peer correction. We use an Error Correction Code everybody is aware of and use it when checking a classmate’s writing. At random. At any time. But of course, it is important to show them how this Error Correction Code works with a writing sample. If students are not able to find the mistake, it is simply because they commit the same mistake. Once they have identified their faults, they will be more careful from then on.

And last, but not least important; use a rubric. Students do want to learn from their mistakes, but most of all, appreciate a teacher who is fair, and not only uses the top standardized tests.

Now is your turn:
How do you usually assess your students regarding grammar? Would you try a different approach in the short term?

Let us know what you think! Keep in mind that our purpose is to interact with the teachers’ community members and to share our experience and thoughts.


How to make the assessment of grammar skills more efficient? NOZADZE, Alexandra. Journal of Education. ISSN 2298-0245

Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in English and Spanish. She has also completed a number of online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor. This article aims to reflect on the assessment of grammar.

miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

Is Speaking All That Simple to Assess?

By Mayra Yaranga

A typical situation in language lessons involves speaking activities, such as dialogues or monologues. The students finish the activity and the teacher gives marks. Unfortunately, it seems all too common that the marks are based on the students’ accuracy in grammar and perhaps propriety in pronunciation. This situation is echoed on students’ attitudes: if they notice that they make a number of grammar mistakes, they typically self-rate their speaking skills as ‘terrible.’

Assessing speaking skills should go beyond checking for grammar and pronunciation accuracy. In fact, I would like to argue that the most important element is often neglected: content. While language system use is relatively easy to observe and errors can be spotted without much effort, focusing on how students develop, support their ideas and use language functions in a way relevant to the task requires a great deal of effort and attention from teachers throughout the entire activity. The complexity involved is evidenced in the very detailed criteria used to assess speaking skills in English language examinations, which include assessing content. If teachers become familiar with such criteria, they should be able to assess their students more fairly and more comprehensively.

Students also need to know what is expected of them in speaking activities. This involves debunking some of the popular myths they hold about language learning. For instance, they need to understand that good pronunciation does not involve imitating a foreign accent, but producing sounds and utterances comprehensible enough for effective communication. They also need to understand that grammar mistakes occur, but could be overlooked to some degree if the message is effectively conveyed.

Finally, I believe that no speaking activity is fully developed if there is no feedback given at the end. For example, if students are asked to have dialogues in pairs to be later performed in front of the class, they need to be given feedback that goes beyond grammar and lexis, but focuses on the content of the conversation, how natural the interaction was, if body language was culturally appropriate, among other aspects. If students are aware of the criteria to be used in their assessment and the teacher provides feedback on such aspects, the activity cycle can be said to have ended successfully.

What do YOU think?
Which criteria do you use to assess your students’ speaking skills?
Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ;Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London)  revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education - UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada - IPNM. Currently she works as IELTS trainer, Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacifico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ. 

viernes, 10 de febrero de 2017

A Renewed Look at developing Listening 
Comprehension Skills

        By María de la Lama E.

Can our students progress in acquiring a foreign language without developing strong listening comprehension skills? Can two people communicate orally if one of them is not able to understand what is being said?   Listening is the main door for learning.  As Rivers (1981) pointed out, in normal life we can expect to listen twice as much as we speak, four times more than we read, and five times more than we write. However, how much time do we allow in our lessons to develop in our students this important skill? Usually, it is assumed that   teacher talk will be enough to develop in our learners listening abilities but, is it enough?
Let’s consider some techniques that have been proved to be effective in developing listening comprehension skills:

1.Go beyond the overused technique of listening for the gist or to get the main idea. Try out other activities such as note taking, clue searching, paraphrasing, inferential listening, or graphic fill-ins.
2.Consider that each level i.e. Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced has its own set of activities each one much more interesting than listening to get main ideas. Thus, while Elementary students can do selective listening or listening with visuals, Intermediate students can enjoy other activities such as inferential listening or story rebuilding.
3.Promote the development of different skills, especially those that will have a positive impact on the students’ communicative competence such as distinguishing word boundaries, recognition of stress and rhythmic patterns, recognition of cohesive devices or even retaining short phrases that have been said.
4.Activate the students’ background knowledge of the topic presented in the listening activity. A very effective way to activate their previous knowledge of the topic to be heard in your students is by asking them to predict what is going to be said. Also, check if your students have the knowledge which is prerequisite to understand the text presented. Consider that there is a relationship between background knowledge and command of the language: a good command of the language will free the student to rely on pre-existing knowledge of the topic to understand an oral message.
Remember that if you ask your students to listen to a text whose context is unknown for them, they will struggle too much with the task and will end up demotivated.
5.Bring the real world to your classroom by using authentic materials. Nowadays there is plenty of listening materials that will make your lessons more lively and motivating. Use extracts of movies, TV sitcoms, songs, etc. You do not need to adapt them according to your students’ level, just control the task that they will perform with that material.
6.Do not expose your students to uncomfortable situations during listening comprehension activities. You want them to feel successful and enjoy their learning experience. Some teachers like to call on to individual students to provide the answers after a listening activity. This is not too helpful. It’s much better to ask them to compare their answers in pairs, and before listening to the text a second time, write their doubts on the blackboard. Thus, you will be doing two good things: your students will be listening again with a specific objective instead of a boring “listen again” and you will be preventing those possible frustration feelings from part of the students that did not get the right answer.

Now your turn:

What do you usually do to enhance your students’ listening skills?  How would you rate your techniques?
Let us know by dropping a few lines sharing your experience with us and our readers!

Source: Teaching Language in Context
Alice C. Omaggio

DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.

jueves, 2 de febrero de 2017

Are Your Students Bored With Reading? What to do to Change That Situation

By Flor de María Vila A.

Whenever we need to train reading text, the first thought we frequently have in mind is: “Students aren’t terribly fond of reading; I need to motivate them so that they enjoy the activity”
As good teachers, we prepare everything needed to teach our learners how to read. For instance, we prepare videos related to the topic or use different visual aids to enhance students´ participation. In most cases, our pupils get excited and become ready to welcome the passage. However, as the lesson goes on, something happens that makes the honeymoon finish before having the chance to truly enjoy it. Learners start getting bored, and a considerable amount of time has been dedicated to an apparently inactive exercise. Or maybe worse, some students finish first, while the others are still struggling with the text. Then we tend to accelerate the process because we cannot stand a “silent and inactive stage.” We have our students compare their answers either with their classmates or with the key provided by the text or even with their teacher, namely, us.
And the big question is: Does this work? Are students learning how to read? Are we teaching them how to read or just motivating them to do what they already do in their own language?
In fact, this topic needs more than one article to give a better idea of what teaching reading implies. The explanation of what this process means will help us understand why the enchantment of initial motivation does not last until the end of a reading lesson. In general terms, reading is not just the act of decoding symbols, it deals with the comprehension of the message contained in the text and to do so it is necessary that the reader negotiates the meaning between the text and his own background, experience, knowledge, as well as his objective about this activity. It is not enough to work with the well-known BDA activities (activities done before, during and after reading). The act of reading demands not only knowing the vocabulary related to the topic but also discerning how to use the different cognitive skills and strategies that will help establish permanent interaction with the text. This enduringly active communication will create an interaction back and forth which will keep the flame of joy for reading longer and stronger.
If we know how the process of reading really works, we will be able to make better use of any aid to motivate students and keep them motivated along the road. Nowadays, there are many tools that will make this part of the job easier since they provide interesting reading passages, in different levels of English, diverse lengths and dissimilar topics. Moreover, they contribute with the visual aids needed, the pertinent vocabulary explanation and some exercises that will reduce our workload. Some of them are Newsela, News in levels, Readworks, Rewordify, Commonlit, Tween tribune, Breaking news English, Guided reader, Books that grow, and Footsteps to brilliance. Each of them has a number of advantages; you just need to decide which your main objective is to choose the one that fits. Try just one of these tools and start experiencing the change in your reading lessons.
However, do not ever forget that you need more than the dancing shoes to be a dancer. 
We will see more in another article, keep in contact. 

Meanwhile, share with us your experience and together we can take off.
What do you do to keep students´ interested in reading? Do you teach any strategies to improve comprehension? 

Biographical Data
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS)

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2017

Discover New Resources to Teach Students
How to Write Well in a Foreign Language
                                                          By Enrique Rojas R.

There is always been the feeling that teachers are not being very successful in instructing students to write properly and effectively even in their own language, let alone in a foreign one. Naturally. It did not come as a surprise when Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, after a careful study, concluded that some of the methods used in teaching writing were more effective than others. Now technology has revolutionized teaching in many ways. What does it have to offer in the instruction of foreign language writing?

One of the most important points is that technology can be the magic wand to turn slothful, apathetic greenhorns into eager and motivated writers. One of the reasons learners are not very willing to make the effort to produce written materials is the usefulness of the endeavor. They know that only the teacher (and then hopefully) will come in contact with the product of their work and perhaps translate it into a grade and that will be the end of it.  A very different story would be if they knew their work was going to be published and read by other people. Then they could be really proud of the work they have done.

Up to a few years ago, the only chance of giving that written work some form of life was posting it on a bulletin board within the classroom or, in the best of cases, on the hallway, where it could be seen –and perhaps read— by other students. Now, with technology the possibilities of having those pieces of writing published for other people to read are very real. Now writing can be done for a reason, to serve a real purpose, to express opinions, to communicate an issue, to draw attention to a particular concern.

One way to do that is through a school website or blog. Also there are sights that offer different options. For instance Google Drive and Zoho Writer allows the teacher to turn a writing assignment into a webpage and Yudu and Issuu lets convert them into a newsletter or e-book.

There are also programs that teach students how to write and aid teachers in the arduous task of grading papers. TeachThought, an international organization and platform that seeks to support the implementation of innovative learning, advises us: “Increasingly complex and comprehensive programs are available to help students fix errors in their writing, and can offer feedback during the writing process, when it matters most… While programs like these are still evolving, they will undoubtedly become a go-to tool to help educators teach students writing in the coming decades.” An additional advantage is that students can take advantage of the feedback to make changes before handing in a paper, thus gaining in guidance and sense of achievement. Countless people learn all kinds of things through tutorials and there are also many to help students learn grammar in an easier way. Grammar is the basis for good writing. And new software is coming out that can help students as they write, “addressing grammar issues as they happen.” Another type of software can help teachers to keep an eye on students’ progress, or lack of it.

Perhaps better known is Google Drive, a file storage and synchronization service created by Google, which permits students to work together on a project or to provide each other feedback that can be exceedingly beneficial in the writing process. Another point is that students may learn to write fluently using a keyboard instead of pen and paper, which is what they will probably have to do often in their professional lives. Teachers can find themselves many other ways to use technology to enhance their teaching writing and make it into a much more agreeable task for the learners.

10 Ideas For Using Technology To Teach Writing. teachthought. http://www.teachthought.com/uncategorized/10-ideas-for-using-technology-to-teach-writing/ Retrieved Jan 23, 2017.

Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a M.A. in Journalism and a MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an M.A. in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and B.A. in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 18 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.

miércoles, 18 de enero de 2017

Is it a Must to Teach Grammar? 
Elucidate What to do or not to do

                                                         By Zarela Cruz 

When it comes to grammar, students’ (and even teachers’) reactions can be quite diverse: from enthusiasm to boredom. It should not necessarily be like that. Students do need grammar to speak and write correctly.  Without that knowledge, they may be fluent, but not accurate.

As teachers, we must keep in mind that grammar should be contextualized; otherwise, any grammar point we teach will end up as a set of rules that form a pile of information for the students to memorize. Needless to say, this is not a bright prospect for any learner, regardless of their level.

So, how could we teach modals, for example? By teaching functional language, that is making polite requests, giving advice, giving orders and so on. How can you teach and contrast the present perfect and the simple past? By preparing a list of “Find someone who…..” and adding information questions to clarify students’ answers. You want to teach regular and irregular verbs? Play bingo! Do you prefer action? Sit students in circles and throw a small ball to a student while asking the past tense of a given verb. It the student does not know the answer, they have to leave the circle. If they answer correctly, they will throw the ball to another pupil and mention another verb for the receiver to come up with the past tense, and so on. You are not allowed to make such a fuss within the classroom? Well, “noughts and crosses” is another option.  Have you ever tried “Change your place if....?” You may use this activity not only to practice grammar, but also to reinforce new vocabulary.

Not your best choice? Then you may want to use pictures from famous people and ask students what they know about them using for example, simple past, or future with will to make predictions, or make hypothesis. You may also want to compare two by using comparatives, or mention more elements and look for superlatives. The list is endless. And remember:


Now your turn:
How do you make your students feel eager to learn grammar? or Have you already given up?
Let us know by leaving a comment!  Your colleagues will benefit from your experience! Peer support is always a plus!


Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her masters studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in English and Spanish. She has also completed a number of online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor. This article aims to reflect on the teaching of grammar

viernes, 13 de enero de 2017

Mobile phones in class: a Friend or a Foe?

By Mayra Yaranga.

Mobile phones are part of everyday life, and teachers can take advantage of their many features to help students improve their speaking skills, whether in or out of the classroom.

Mobiles can provide an effective resource in accuracy-based speaking activities. For instance, they can be used to practice different pronunciation features by having students record themselves shadowing an audio recording. Later, the recordings can be shared through WhatsApp for feedback from the teacher.

As for fluency work, m-learning can become a very useful ally for teachers. First of all, it can supply the lack of background information that students may need for a speaking activity such as a talk or a debate. Preparation time for such activities could include some kind of webquest* with the help of students’ phones. The fact that nowadays people store photographs and videos in their mobiles can give them immediate access to these materials in class, so that any speaking activity (a talk or conversation) set by teachers can gain from the visual stimuli stored in the phones. Tasks which involve students reporting current or personal events can also be recorded and shared, and students can add comments if a common WhatsApp group is created by them. This provides a sense of describing real things, real people, and using real communication.

In conclusion, it is sound to regard mobile phones as useful tools to develop speaking skills, provided that this is done responsibly and with effective monitoring to avoid any distractions from our actual goals.

 *WebQuests are activities, using Internet resources, which encourage students to use higher order thinking skills to solve a real confusing problem. WebQuests are a sub-set of Problem-Based Learning (PBL). (http://www.webquestdirect.com.au/whatis_awq.asp)

Now it’s YOUR turn
Have you ever used mobile phones in class to develop speaking skills? If so, what were the results?
Azabdaftari, B.; Mozaheb, M. (2012). Comparing Vocabulary Learning of EFL Learners by Using Two Different Strategies: Mobile Learning vs. Flashcards. The EUROCALL Review, v20 n2 p47-59
Jung, H. (2015). Fostering an English Teaching Environment: Factors Influencing English as a Foreign Language Teachers' Adoption of Mobile Learning. Informatics in Education, v14 n2 p219-241

Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ; she holds a Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London)  revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada from IPNM. Currently she works as IELTS trainer, Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ. She has published papers in the fields of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies.

lunes, 26 de diciembre de 2016

It is the right time to remember that
‘Year’s  end is neither an end or a beginning, but a going on, and all the wisdom
that experience can instill in us’ (Hal Borland)

lunes, 19 de diciembre de 2016

Five Valuable Lessons Learned in 2016

              By María de la Lama E.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed through my teaching career is that our classes provide indeed the best opportunity to find out about how people learn foreign languages.  As  reflective teachers,  every day we have a chance to see  how new generations incorporate new techniques to their learning  style while keeping, at the same time,  those techniques that have proved to be effective when dealing with a foreign language.  Let me share with you my observations on how students seem to react in class when dealing with: communication, error correction, usage of textbooks and the acquisition of new words.

1.   To communicate is still the most important goal for our students. No grammar exercise, reading or writing activity can produce in them the thrill to engage in a real communicative situation. Being able to connect in a foreign language is one of the most powerful sources of motivation.

To enhance communication, bringing the real world into the class does pay off. By engaging the teaching and learning of a foreign language with the written media, TV, literature and music, the learning of a foreign tongue becomes a fun and interesting experience which makes the desire for mastering it sustainable through time

2.   Error correction: When correcting mistakes, students   seem to prefer the teacher not just supply the correct form, but to guide them in discovering and solving their mistakes on their own. By the same token, our students seem to prefer us to furnish them with   strategies to learn on their own rather than being spoon fed with language knowledge.  It’s important to reject a still unfortunately common idea:  that the very manner in which we learnt (many years ago) is the best way for our students to learn. We can realize how wrong this idea is if we consider that today most of our language learners belong to the Y generation.
3.   Using the textbook: A recipe that never fails is to constantly innovate the way we do things in class. As I said many times to other colleagues, “predictable” teachers who tend to stick to a textbook seem to have more difficulties to connect with their students affecting their rapport with them. The idea is NOT to stop using the textbook but to use it in a creative way. It’s incredibly boring for students to know that after exercise A, the teacher will continue with exercise B and C... This can be done by inserting in the lesson plan activities based on different sources; much better if they are authentic materials.    

4.   Learning new words: Teaching collocations has given way to a more effective way to improve the vocabulary of our students. Thus, instead of providing them with a set of new words, even if they belong to the same semantic field, students seem to learn more easily a new word if this word is learnt  with the words that usually go with it. Thus, instead of “wine” students can learn: red wine / a glass of red wine, etc.  In this manner they do not only increment their vocabulary but their recalling of new words seems to improve. Most importantly, the learning on collocations contributes to their fluency.

5.   Pronunciation: the ugly duckling?  Quite contrary! Adult students, in particular, highly appreciate the teaching of pronunciation since they need simple explanations, rules and demonstrations of how the phonological system of the language being learned works and what are the main differences with their own native language.

DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.