How to distract your students into paying attention

Great post from Speakeasy at the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s the oldest trick in the book: If you have a boring task, make it seem like fun. Maybe others will pitch in. You might even start enjoying yourself. Remember Tom Sawyer living it up while whitewashing the picket fence? The best teachers I encountered while researching “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn” captivated their students’ attention by providing interactive and collaborative challenges with clear rewards. We can adapt some of their tactics.”

Go to How to Distract Your Kid Into Paying Attention

 

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“Text messages help smokers quit” – Can they motivate students?

I have always been interested in research into habit changing efforts that could possibly be instrumental in helping my students. This has led me into studying techniques related to fitness coaching, distance coaching, research into using SMS to remind people to take their meds, using SMS for weight loss, phone calling to coach people quitting drug habits and to support wellness programs, etc. Here is some late news on the same topic. To what Continue reading ““Text messages help smokers quit” – Can they motivate students?”

Mobile apps for teachers

My old Windows Mobile phone is still going and still doing a lot of work. It’s not just the app you add to your mobile but how you use the apps you have. I have a Windows Mobile phone that runs a mobile version of Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word. Here are some things I do with my mobile:

ATTENDANCE

I keep attendance, scores and other student data on my computer using Excel and this Excel master file is very complex with a lot of conditional formatting, macros and formulas. But I can also do attendance on my mobile using the simpler Mobile Excel and by using the built-in synchronization features it will automatically update my master Excel file. This way I don’t have to take my computer to class.

VOCABULARY LISTS

I teach some smaller classes of managers or other corporate students. These classes are typically 1-6 students. When I want to create an experience[1] for my students and take them to a shopping mall or an interesting retailer like Ikea, I will write the new vocabulary on my phone in Word. Using Word I can make the text quite large. As new words come up, I write them on my phone and show them to the students. After our two-hour lesson, we say goodbye and go our separate ways but after we part I copy these new words to my phone’s SMS messaging function and send them off to each student. As my students are heading home they all receive the list of new words that we just learned that day.

Sometimes I have some vocabulary or other English points that I want to review with my students. Rather than simply writing this down in a notebook, which I often forget to check, I will write it as a Mobile Outlook appointment. This appointment will pop up at a scheduled time, the time when I will be teaching those students. So this material that I want to review with my students will appear “Just-In-Time”. Appointments can be set in Outlook on your computer and then will get synchronized automatically to your mobile.

VOICE RECORDING

In researching business English usage, I have visited trade fairs and used my phone to record myself talk to salesmen about their products. I can study the real language used in trade fairs, the types of business terms and sentences, and also my students can get an idea of real business conversations. (Photo: Maotai salesman who tried to sell me some famous high quality Chinese liquor.)

Although I usually use my computer for this, I sometimes use my phone to record students speaking at my first class with them. Then at the last class, students can listen to themselves to hear the difference in their English, before and after.

I have also encountered certain individuals from a country famous for scamming people through Emails that purportedly offer you a million dollars or so if you help them to transfer several million out of their country. These guys, not Chinese, have actually approached me on the street here in China and presented the same deal as the Email spam scam asking me to help
them in this manner. I have used my phone to surreptitiously record these guys trying to scam me. The English is business English and accent from a certain region in the world that my students need practice with.

MP3 PLAYER

Sometimes it is easier for me to load the lesson MP3’s into my mobile for playback in the class than it is to play them from my computer. This is especially so when I am teaching at a coffee shop where I usually go to teach managers.

SPEAKING PROMPTS

I have put many Conversation Questions[3] into my Mobile Powerpoint. I usually use this when I’m out Engineering an Experience or when having lunch with students in the canteen and I want to get them talking about something. I ask them to choose a number between 1-5 and then flip through the slides that many times to add an element of luck or adventure to the process.

BOB and SMS

After learning about how business uses Customer Relations Management (CRM) software to develop closer relations with customers, I decided to develop a Student Relations Management platform, I call BOB[2], to develop closer relations with my students. The purpose is to create a “presence” with my students, that I’m not just there for them two hours a week but I’m always around always trying to help them with their English.

I have developed macros on my computer to work with my Excel master file of student data. When I connect my mobile to my computer I can use my computer and macros to send SMS messages through my mobile to my students in the following manner:

* Practice English message – I try to get my students to speak English with each other outside of class. We have sometimes established lunchtime, when they eat lunch with classmates, as a good time for them to do this but they often forget. I have sent reminders to each student to speak English at lunchtime. By using the macros I have developed, I can also send each student a different question that they can ask their classmates to help stimulate discussions in English.

* Student updates – My macros can send each student their individual scores by SMS so they can be aware of how they are doing in class as far as quizzes, attendance, participation, etc.

* News flash – Sometimes a particularly good movie with relatively simple English is showing on TV. I will use SMS to notify my students and invite them to watch it with me by tuning into the program and then using a chat program to chat with me and other students while watching the movie at the same time.

* “Where are you?” message – I can do attendance at the beginning of class and then my computer will send a message to the absent students letting them know they are missing our class. Students realize they are not forgotten.

* Reminders – I can send reminders about upcoming tests or homework that is due.

* Nudges – Research has shown that American students who do not read during the holidays decline in reading skills during the holidays. I figure that my Chinese students probably decline in English skills during the holidays so I will send them an SMS message to remind them to do something in English during these periods. I have developed a whole set of reminders to send to them every couple days of the holiday with a different suggestion of something they can do to improve or practice their English.

* Coaching reminders – I have been coaching some of my corporate students. Coaching involves agreeing on specific study goals with students and then encouraging and checking up on students to help them hit those goals. For example, the student may say he wants to listen to an English mp3 everyday while going to work on the bus. Using Outlook’s appointment function, I can have my phone remind me every morning that the student should be doing this. Then at that time I can send an SMS to the student to remind him or check up on him that he is doing this. My phone’s SMS function allows me to create ten stock messages that I can fire off to my students. Appointments can be set in Outlook on your computer and then will get synchronized  automatically to your mobile.

All of this I have done with four basic programs: Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word. It’s not just the app you add to your mobile but how you use the apps you have.

Notes:

[1] Engineering an Experience – http://goo.gl/i8Ttz
[2] BOB – http://goo.gl/ziWDK
[3] Conversation Questions – http://goo.gl/7uHw7

Engineering an Experience! – Think outside the book…way outside!

What are we going to do with our time if we don’t teach grammar? Blow our students’ minds!

Have you ever seen a three-way orgy in an Ikea store? I have. You can too! Ikea 3-way

 

Scene from "Ikea Heights"
This crazy filmmaker thought it would be great fun to secretly film a melodrama in an Ikea store. With price tags hanging in front of their faces and customers walking behind, they act out living and dying in a fictitious neighborhood called “Ikea Heights”. What an out-of-the-box crazy idea.

 

If I have a small group, maybe 6-7 students, I will always take them to Ikea at some point during our training.

For us “experience engineers”, perhaps you are one, part of “engineering the experience” is not just to engineer a lesson but to engineer the overall training experience. Some lessons are in the classroom. Some lessons are out…way out! We want to not only have interesting and exciting lessons but also surprising experiences. We want our students to associate English learning to something thoroughly enjoyable, stimulating, amazing — not boring.

To this end we often not only “think outside of the box” but we “teach outside of the classroom”. There’s many things we can do along this line.

You know the boring lesson in English coursebooks where they read some dialog to order the food? Teachers who are “experience engineers” will do crazy things like having lunch together with their students at a buffet restaurant…with a twist. Instead of every student going to get their own food from the buffet counter, the teacher, or even one or two students, will act as “waiters” and take orders from the other students who act as “customers”. The “customers” sit at their tables while the “waiters” take the orders and serve the food. Students take turns waitering so everyone gets a chance. Perhaps the teacher or a student will visit the buffet the day before to make a “menu” that the others will use to order from but this is not necessary. (BTW, if asked, the manager will probably offer a discount for the group.) Wow, a lesson you can eat!

My student, a manager in an American company, trying out the Ikea experience

Ikea is a unique kind of store. They are “experience engineers”, too. They create these realistic rooms or even tiny apartments so you can feel the life of living in an Ikea home. Show your students the “Ikea Heights” film before you go. (Write me if you would like subtitles.) At the store you can act out your own mini-scenarios or role plays. (Orgy scene NOT recommended.)

There are a lot of interesting business strategies employed at Ikea. My English students who are managers love it when I point these things out. Ikea herds customers through a path like a rat maze. They station a cafeteria exactly halfway through the store so that customers will have no excuse to leave before they finish their shopping. They have a very cheap hot dog and ice cream available at the end of the shopping experience to provide a favorable “peak/end” experience.[1] There are lots of business concepts to unravel there.

There is a wealth of business talk to engage your students in discussing marketing, sales, promotion, staffing (few staff), ideas from things like Paco Underhill’s “Why We Buy?” and Joseph Pine’s “Experience Economy” and business questions like “This frying pan costs only $1. Now why would a big store like Ikea sell a frying pan below cost?”

That’s not to mention all the discussion of preferences and even games: “What do you like more? This sofa or that sofa? Why?” “Now John, choose a chair you like but don’t tell us. Jane, guess what chair John prefers and tell us why.”

How about simulations? “Jane, you go ahead to the bed department. You are going to be a salesperson. Think of what advantages different beds have and when we come you should try to interest us in buying one of those beds. Give us a good sales pitch!”

Let’s quit complaining about the dull English coursebooks. They’re hopeless. Let’s go outside and turn the world into our coursebook. Let’s quit apologizing to the students for the boring books and take the responsibility and the challenge of being like other teachers who are “experience engineers”, creating lessons that you can see, feel, hear and even taste, lessons that are interesting, engaging and even surprising! Can’t we make experiences so mind-blowing that our students will want to grab their phones and text their buddies about the crazy English lesson they are having, that they will have to tell their parents or spouse about the crazy things they did today?

Don’t you think we can do better? I think we can.

(You “experience engineers” out there, share with us your lessons and ideas!)

Notes and references:

[1] Nobel winner Kahneman’s Peak End Rule not only applies to some of the things Ikea does but to what our lessons should be like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak-end_rule

http://tinyurl.com/4okbks5

>How can we encourage autonomous television watching?

>Some teachers speak of autonomous learning. Some teachers feel their students are too lazy. Some teachers feel students need to always be pushed to learn.

Why is it difficult to get students to study English but it is not difficult to get students to watch television?

Is it because watching television is, to put it simply, brainless? Do people have an inherent need for brainless entertainment?

Are all television programs brainless? Do viewers never learn anything useful from the tube? Is there no useful educational content in television?

Or is it that the makers of television programming have learned to be “student-centric”? Do they work under the pressure that viewers can switch to another channel with one click? Does this propel them to captivating content?

If our students could get up and leave our classrooms at anytime with no negative repercussions would it change the way we teach?

Are there any teachers out there that could compete with television? Are television programs always more engaging than English lessons?

Is there anything we can learn from television?

I am not recommending television watching or movies here, although I think those are great tools. My point is that we can learn a lot from these people, like television producers, who must, every night, attract the attention of what is a fickle public.

Rather than take the approach of making a boring processes more palatable to students, what if we really challenge ourselves to present materials as interesting as TV to make our training thoroughly engaging to the students?

I think that would motivate students to be truly autonomous.

>The disease is fatal. It’s called "boredom"!

>Troubleshooting a teacher’s problem.

A teacher is having some problems with his classes. Despite his efforts he said his classes were too boring. Here is what he said he was doing to get his students interested in English:

1. Play English Videos with Chinese subtitles
2. Role -play
3. Use scores to stress them
4. Ask the students to recite passages
5. Organize some English contests such as speech contest, etc.

1) Beginners and lower intermediate students will always focus on the L1 subtitles. Sometimes they are unable to watch the action as they have to watch the subtitles so closely. They are long and take up a whole class or more. Watching them is a passive event. The students sit and receive information but don’t have to interact with it. Finally, watching a movie is something they commonly do outside of class.

For beginners and intermediates, movies are not an easy language learning tool except for listening (and reading). There are a few simple movies that you can watch with your intermediate students in English with English subtitles that they will follow the language enough to laugh when something clever is said and shed a tear or two at the end. Try “Big” with Tom Hanks, “Trading Places” with Eddie Murphy, “Don Juan Demarco” with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando.

But even with these, they are passive events which only challenge the students’ listening and reading ability. They are not as good as something that makes the students interact with the language.

2) Role plays are good if they are interesting for the students. Students seem to especially love anything with negotiation in them. Negotiation is like a game for them.

3) Scores (like death and taxes) always seem to be with us. But (like death and taxes) they should be a motivator of last resort.

4) Reciting passages is an effort of rote memory. It also doesn’t require interaction between the student and the language unless the student is studying drama.

5) Speech contests are rote memory efforts with a bit of drama and a score coming up at the end. Debates would be better. Debates are a verbal game or challenge requiring student interaction with the language. For beginners and intermediates it may be best to keep the debates on fun or light-hearted topics to avoid focus on win-lose issues. For example, what is better: KFC or McDonald’s? Pizza or ice cream? One million dollars or one million flowers?

>Movies in the classroom

>“I made love to over 1000 women. Last Tuesday I turned 21.”

That’s an interesting statement. I’ll explain who said it and why later. There is tremendous interest in using movies to teach English these days.

I’ve found that it is often so enjoyable to learn with films that the students don’t even realize that they are learning. When these students are asked what they did in your class they will simply reply, “Oh, we watched a movie.” So at the end of the each lesson it is good to review with the students everything they have just learned.

It’s sort of like that old adage (adapted), tell’m what you’re going to teach them, teach them, tell’m what you taught them.

It has got to grab you

The movie should be very interesting, gripping, exciting! The movie should pull them into the story so much they forget they’re in a classroom. They become so interested in the story that they are desperate to know what happens next…and the only way they can do so is through English.

You have read until this point, right here, wondering about the young man who has made love to over 1000 women before he turned 21. Your curiosity is aroused. You really want to know and you’re wondering when I’m going to finally tell you. This is the kind of interest we need to create in our students.

These are opening lines from the movie “Don Juan DeMarco” starring Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando. It is a wonderful tale of romance and how living a little fiction can bring out the truth in us. I love using this film for two reasons. It is totally engaging and the vocabulary is accessible.

Language must be accessible

I make a special effort to select a film with language that is accessible, just a bit above their current level (Krashen’s i+1). I try to avoid pre-teaching as much as possible as it’s boring and ineffective.

One teacher has recommended the film “Wall Street”. It is a business movie and full of business language. It may be good for very advanced students but has way too much vocabulary for intermediate students to try to learn and recall.

Not only vocabulary can be challenging but also idioms. I haven’t used “The Insider” with my students for this reason. Here are some examples. I just grabbed these very quickly out of the movie without trying to find something difficult.

Typical dialog in The Insider contains expressions like: “contractual obligations undertaken by you not to disclose any information”, “you manipulated me into this”, “you greased the rails”, “will he go on camera?”, “faced with a multi-billion dollar lawsuit”.

From “Erin Brokovich”: “This is the only thing you’ve got?”, “that place is a pigsty”, “this is a whole different ball game”, “you think if you got no uterus and no breasts you’re still technically a woman?”, “devote my entire reign as Miss Wichita”.

Of course, these terms can be teaching points. A lot depends on how and much how fast. Some films seem full of idioms and technical jargon and some films seem to use a rather simple English. To give you an idea of typical dialogs in these films I have take a one-minute sample from four movies. I randomly chose 30 minutes as a starting point and took one-minute of dialog from there.

I have put into CAPS the language that I think my upper-intermediate students may not understand. I would suggest that for these students that I am speaking of two of the movies below would be i+1 and two are i+2 or 3.

Think of one of your classes as you read the dialogs and ask yourself if your students would understand it. From this you would base your judgment on how much pre-teaching you would need to do or, if you are like me, if the film is accessible and i+1. (Of course, if the film is tremendously interesting the students will make a greater effort to grasp it and something like i+2 might be possible.)

THE INSIDER

00:30:00 – 00:31:00, Starring Starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer

A: (Talking about golf) And he gets out there and HE HAS FIVE STROKES ON US. He has more CONCENTRATION than anybody I’ve ever met. It’s SPOOKY HOW HE CAN CONCENTRATE.
B (Jeffrey): I’d rather play than talk about it. What did you want to see me about? I don’t like being back here.
A: (To a 3rd man) Jeffrey SAYS EXACTLY WHAT’S ON HIS MIND. Most people CONSIDER what they are saying – SOCIAL SKILLS. Jeffrey just CHARGES RIGHT AHEAD. (To Jeffrey) Now I know you understand the NATURE of the CONFIDENTIALITY PORTION of your SEVERANCE AGREEMENT with Brown & Williamson.
B: CHAPTER AND VERSE.
A: Yeah, I know you do. You know, I CAME UP THROUGH sales. One of the reasons I was a great salesman was I never made a promise I couldn’t keep. I knew that if I ever broke my promise, I’d SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES.
B: Is that a THREAT?

BIG

00:30:00 – 00:31:00, Starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia

A (Talking to himself while doing something on the computer): The Dinky Link…Seven…Jimmy’s Toy Box!
B: Psst! Hey! Psst! I’m Scott Brennen.
A: Uh, I’m Josh Baskin.
B: Listen, are you trying to get us all fired?
A: Huh?
B: Slow down. PACE YOURSELF. Slow. Slowly. Slow.
A: Sorry.
B: Today’s my first day.
A: I know.
B: How long have you worked here?
A: Five years.
B: The WORK STINKS but the FRINGE BENEFITS are great.
A: See that girl over there in the red?

TRADING PLACES

00:30:00 – 00:31:00, Trading places starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche

A: (In the Jacuzzi) Hey, BUBBLES, man! When I was growing up, we wanted a JACUZZI…we had to FART in the TUB. This is BAD!
B: (In the living room) What’s he doing in there?
C: He’s singing, sir.
D: They’re very musical people, aren’t they?
C: What shall I do with his clothes, sir?
B: Send them to the laundry. He’ll need something to wear back to the GHETTO after I’ve won our bet.
D: (Everybody in the living room) Well, William, what do you think?
A: I like it, Randy. It’s very nice. I like the way you got the mirrors HOOKED UP. It’s very pretty.
B: I don’t think he understands, Randolph .
A: Mortie, I do understand.
D: William, this is your home.
A: Uh-huh, right.
D: It belongs to you.
A: All this is mine. I like my home. Very nice TASTE in houses.
D: Everything you see in this room is yours.
A: This is my stuff.
D: Your own personal PROPERTY.

ERIN BROKOVICH

00:30:00 – 00:31:00, starring Julia Roberts and Albert Finney

A: The only thing that CONFUSED me is, NOT that your MEDICAL problems areN’T important, but how come the files on that are in with all the REAL ESTATE stuff?
B: Well, there’s just so much CORRESPONDENCE. I just keep it all in one place.
A: Right. Right. Um, I’m sorry, I just don’t see why you’re CORRESPONDING with PG&E about your MEDICAL problems in the FIRST PLACE.
B: Well, they paid for the doctor’s visit.
A: They did?
B: YOU BET. Paid for a CHECKUP for the whole family. NOT LIKE WITH insurance where you pay and a YEAR GOES BY and maybe you SEE SOME money. They just took care of it JUST LIKE THAT. [snaps fingers] We never even SAW A BILL.
A: Wow. Why’d they do that?
B: Because of the CHROMIUM.
A: The what?
B: The CHROMIUM. That’s what KICKED THIS WHOLE THING OFF.

Whatever film you use, try to make sure it is grippingly interesting and the language is accessible.

>The David Letterman approach to English teaching

>
I received a message from a teacher in Brazil lamenting that the teenagers find the school’s English course book boring. I’ve yet to find a fun exciting thrilling English course book. Even the best courses seem to get boring after awhile.

Igniting the spark in bored students can be quite a helpful challenge. It can help teachers to strive to make their lessons much more interesting and engaging. Consequently, I have adopted the David Letterman Late Night Show approach to teaching.

There are many of these late night variety TV shows with a host who tells jokes, does some funny routines and then invites guests on the show, usually some sort of celebrity, to talk about their latest movie, book, vacation, party or something interesting and then ending the show with the performance of a music group.

Let’s look at the features of the talk show:

One of the biggest ones is that, unlike school, no one has to watch it. It is all purely voluntary. In fact, with remote control in hand, even a momentary lapse into boring material and the viewer will zap it in favor of another channel.

“Can you image the impact it would have on teaching if viewers could zap the teacher if he got too boring?”

How do these shows keep viewer interest? Letterman follows a pattern that insures variety:

  1. The monologue, a series of jokes he tells at the beginning of the show while standing in the middle of the stage.
  2. Then he sits down and tells a funny story of something that happened to him or someone else.
  3. Following this is one of a few things, a “game” played with the audience, more goofy stories or reading Oprah transcripts involving members of his cast.
  4. The “Top 10!”
  5. Guest #1, a movie star, politician or other famous character
  6. Guest #2, same as #5
  7. The band or music group at the end

With this little routine David is able to have a successful show and make nearly $1 million a week. People learn a lot of things from the Letterman show. They see and hear things and remember them. They may remember some details about an operation an actor had and some specifics about heart surgery. They may remember some anecdotes of an author. They may remember some interesting points about a vacation destination.

A lot of this is trivia. It may never be useful. But people hear it and often remember it. They have learned it. Later they sometimes refer to this information when making decisions. I feel it is significant that teachers often have trouble teaching students important things but television often has no trouble teaching people unimportant things.

With this in mind, I’ve added more variety in my classes, even if it is routine variety. I usually try to start with a short monologue, a story about something that happened with me and my family. This only takes a couple minutes and gives me a chance to ‘read’ the class, how they are feeling today, are they sleepy or bored, etc. and how do I need to conduct the class to engage them?

Then if this is a relatively new class I am teaching I will probably do a game. Games seem to work well in the beginning but students may not care for games in every class. Game or no game, I believe it is the teacher’s duty to warm up the class and teachers should not expect much participation if they don’t get the students warmed up.

At this point we will dive into our material, lessons I have prepared or a course book. No matter how good the course book is I have not found one that does not get boring.

I always try to save the best for last, something fun, maybe a lesson based around a film clip. End with a wrap up. Tell them what they learned? Review with them all the new vocabulary, the grammar they practiced. Often they don’t know that they learned something and you have to remind them.

Then send them home with a rousing “Goodbye! and thanks for being good students!”