Groupwork and the NASA Survival Activity

It can be vital to establish a pattern of effective group work among a cohort of student, particularly at the beginning of the course.  International students may not be used to working in groups or even using English to communicate their ideas, so they need to see that doing so can be enjoyable and rewarding, but also relevant and intellectually stimulating.

The NASA Survival Task – which genuinely originates with NASA, but which I was introduced to by the wonderful Rob Reynolds and Oaklands College, St Albans – involves a sequence of thinking and speaking tasks, and in my classroom ends with a short piece of self-reflective evaluative writing.  I first did this task as a trainee teacher on my Cert TESOL course, and it’s always gone down well with students.

A suggested lesson plan is best followed via the Powerpoint slides above and involves the following steps:

1. To pre-teach / check vocabulary, show the students pictures of the 15 objects they will later discuss.  They should see each picture for 20-30 seconds; the room should be silent, and students should not take notes.

2. When the 15 pictures have been seen, ask students in groups to recount what they saw using ONLY ENGLISH.  Slides provide linguistic structures for circumlocution; students no doubt know the names of the objects in their first language, but several are likely to evade them in English.  It’s important for them to realise, however, that they can do this using only English, so make sure nobody reverts back to their L1 (encouraging peer-discipline will help).  Assure students that they will get a chance to check words and spelling later.

Continue reading “Groupwork and the NASA Survival Activity”


Academic Collocations : STUDY and RESEARCH

A simple task with potential for further exploration and exploitation:

Ask students to brainstorm which words they might expect to see immediately before and after RESEARCH and STUDY.  Can they identify which are verbs, adjectives, and nouns?

Brainstorming done, give the students the selection below, extracted from data provided very kindly by Pearson (see here for more on their Academic Collocations List).  Can they find all of their own suggestions?  Can they find “better” versions of what they might have been trying to communicate?  Are there any surprises within the lists?

academic adj research n
basic adj research n
carry out v research n
comparative adj research n
conduct v research n
considerable adj research n
current adj research n
earlier adj research n
educational adj research n
empirical adj research n
existing adj research n
experimental adj research n
extensive adj research n
field n research n
further adj research n
future adj research n
initial adj research n
little adj research n
original adj research n
past adj research n
previous adj research n
primary adj research n
publish v research n
published adj research n
qualitative adj research n
quantitative adj research n
recent adj research n
scholarly adj research n
scientific adj research n
traditional adj research n
undertake v research n


Continue reading “Academic Collocations : STUDY and RESEARCH”

Tools for analysing vocabulary within texts

Various online tools can tell you a thing or two about the vocabulary used in a particular text.  To provide a concrete example of how these work, I’m using a piece from the Economist on the legacy of the Bretton Woods Agreements.

Wordle clouds seem to be everywhere these days, and perhaps it’s not surprising when you consider how neat yet simple a tool Wordle is.  Copy and paste text and Wordle processes it, removing common function words, and counting the frequency of lexical items.  It then produces a visual “cloud” of words, each sized according to their frequency within the text.  Designs can be randomised or tweaked until they meet the user’s approval, after which they can be printed to PDF, saved and linked to, or embedded in a website, like this:

Wordle: bretton woods

As well as being very pretty, Wordle clouds have a nice application in class: students can be shown a cloud in order to predict content before reading, and if any prominent words are completely unknown, they can be checked and discussed prior to any sight of the original text. Continue reading “Tools for analysing vocabulary within texts”

What’s in the news? An example EAP sequence

Colleagues in departments tell me that they want international students to be able to participate, think critically analytically, and to be in touch with what’s going on in the real world.  This last issue seems – to me at least – to be underrepresented in the wider world of EAP teaching, but it’s a potentially rich seam of potential for the teacher and learner alike.  Students who can apply theory to practice are valued by their departments, and if doing so involves applying the academic to the real world then perhaps EAP courses should be paying more attention to what’s going on outside of the classroom.

In the early stages of EAP courses, I like to get students involved in a reading-to-write project using whatever is in the news and of interest to them.  The students pick a news item (from a “simpler” source like the BBC News if proficiency levels are low), read a text that reports it, and then attempt to write a very brief summary (50-100 words, depending on the students) to explain to me what it’s about.  I’ll typically given them question prompts as guidance (see below).

Continue reading “What’s in the news? An example EAP sequence”