Two things that happened today

I want to tell you about two interesting things that happened today.

My first class of the day is with my boss’s son. I’m teaching him reading skills, writing, and presentation skills in preparation to enter a high school in New Zealand. We started working on writing with a personal narrative essay. He’s on the third draft now. Today we went through his writing bit by bit. I circled the words that he chose wrongly (I think he was choosing by sound). I noticed that a lot of them were prepositions and I started thinking: I’ve read that prepositions are among the last things to be acquired in English language acquisition, so how can I help him help himself when he’s just not sure?

The answer, of course, is pretty simple. I turned to COCA. And I taught him how to use a corpus and to select likely combinations and take a look at the context. I didn’t fix a single one of his preposition mistakes but with the help of COCA he fixed them all himself. Granted nothing else I had planned got done in the hour, but he said this is a really helpful tool that he can start to use on his own now.


My last class of the day was switched at the last minute. Our middle school students are studying hard for their midterm exams, but a few students felt they’d studied all they could study and even done all the extra problems. They were tired of it. So my boss asked me to take those learners (from a mix of classes) and do something with them. They asked immediately for a game, of course. The first game to catch my eye is one called “Pass the bomb.” It has a plastic toy “bomb” inside with a variable timer that explodes as people pass it. The original game is played with cards. Each card has a topic (the forest, the toy box, the hospital, etc) and the idea is to say something related to the topic on the selected card and pass the bomb before it explodes.

We couldn’t use the bomb – people were studying and it’s too noisy. So I altered the game a bit – I asked them to choose a card at random and try to speak for one minute on the topic. I modeled it first (not very well) to show that it’s not an easy thing to do. They managed it and enjoyed the challenge, but the results were pretty boring so for round two, I asked them to choose a random card and create a story around the topic. That was a lot more interesting as students created stories about mad waiters in restaurants and thieves who steal and eat only fruit and homicidal toys from the toy box (who date, then break up, then date, then break up, then finally the two girl toys start a relationship and live happily ever after – all in heaven because they’d already killed each other at the beginning of the story).


Anyway, those are some things that happened today.

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  • michaelstavropoulos  On April 18, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Reblogged this on lessonsinefl.

  • Hana Tichá  On April 19, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Hi Anne,
    I think you’re too modest. You should have called your post: Two things that happened today that I’m proud of. 🙂 I love COCA and I’ve used it myself a few times, but I prefer SketchEngine where there are more corpora available in one place. The trouble with using a corpus is that, I believe, it is suitable from intermediate level up. The example sentences are authentic, thus the learners must be able to decode them in order to extract what they need.
    The Pass the Bomb activity is fun and my students never want to stop playing it. Yes, the trouble is that it can get very lively and too noisy. The speaking activity you described reminded me of something I tried with a group of young learners; It could be called The King’s Speech. Ss work in pairs, facing each other. They get a card with a set of colored pictures. They need one stop watch per pair (not a problem with all the smart phones and tablets they have at their disposal). To cut it short, the one who can describe the picture for a longer period of time wins and proceeds to the next round with another winner. It’s a pyramid procedure; in the end there are just two competitors in the finals and the others are watching. The task needs to be challenging enough so that the students only speak for one minute at the most. The good thing is that they always realize how hard it is to speak nonstop and meaningfully for some time.
    Thanks for sharing, Anne. It’s good to know we’re in the same boat. 🙂

    • livinglearning  On April 21, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      Hi Hana,
      I think I read your post on The King’s Speech and it partly inspired the activity (in its original one-minute form). Changing it to stories allowed the students to be creative and I think took some stress off them when there wasn’t a time-limit (although they still wanted me to time them). I love your idea of turning it into a competition and I may try that on a day when their stress levels are a bit lower.

      I often break my school’s ban on smart phones and allow the students to use them to time themselves or for other purposes. It’s just too essential a tool to remove completely and I really think my students need to know all the ways it can help them study on their own.

      Thanks for the SketchEngine reference. I’ll check that out. I agree that corpora are most useful with intermediate and up. I have been wondering about ways of helping students of lower levels monitor their own writing, but it could be that they are just not at that stage yet. Reading a lot helps though.

      Thank you for your comment. It is always a pleasure to discuss these things with you and hear your thoughts.

  • anthonyteacher  On April 19, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Nice post. COCA is great and has do many uses. There are a lot of corpus tools. I use COCA and StringNet ( Rather then giving you a series of concordances, it returns interactive patterns which show both collocation and colligation. It’s simple and has a lot of cool features. Check it out.

    • livinglearning  On April 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Hi and thanks for your comment! I’m going to check out StringNet and see how it can be useful for my student. The simpler the better – that’s totally key.
      Thanks again for reading.

  • Josette  On April 28, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Fun to see you bringing this theme into the blogsphere! Your “things that happened today” photo collection is very well known, and I can see a successful run of it here too. 🙂

    I was really impressed by you taking your student through COCA. This must have been incredibly empowering for him. It reminds me that I need to slip COCA into this semester. It’s usually hit or miss with my teachers: some fall in love with it, and some find it a complete bother. In the end I think knowing what resources are out there (and free!) is just as helpful.

    I’m going to check out Hana’s suggestion, SketchEngine, now and see if this might be more user friendly.

    Thanks for the inspiration!


  • […] challenge and I am going to participate.  Historians might suggest this is related to the time she blogged about two things that happened one particular day but I will leave that to them. At the moment I am more concerned about what I will write tomorrow. […]

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