Just about anything can be used by creative English language teachers to liven up their lessons, as discovered by participants at the Melta conference.
Conference: an appointed meeting for instruction or discussion; confer: to consult together, to compare.
Going by the above definitions from the Chambers dictionary, the Seventh Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) Biennial Conference 2003 must have met most of its objectives, as participants not only gained further insights into the art and science of teaching but also took the opportunity to share and compare their ideas.
Indeed, the plethora of teaching ideas that sprang from the papers and workshops had no need of sophistication to be impressive. Just a slight “repackaging” of the same methods taught at college could be “resold” as new.
Except for a pair of inflated toy spiders brought in by one of the foreign presenters, most of the ideas utilised things we often take for granted such as travel brochures, songs, drama, mnemonics and newspapers.
In her workshop Teaching Language Using Stories, for example, Dr Lee Su Kim from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia demonstrated that telling short stories should not be confined to students reading paragraphs from a story.
A whole group of learners could come out and tell a story word by word, and the fun part was that no mercy would be shown to fumblers.
Lee also taught the use of songs, ballads and role-playing to make short stories come alive. Simultaneously, items from the syllabus and grammar could be infused into the learning process.
Brochures and dictionary
Who would have thought that travel brochures could be a teaching tool? Trainer and writer Dena How did, and the result is an exciting array of language activities for students.
How demonstrated some activities based on the ubiquitous travel brochure and soon had her audience howling with laughter.
For her opening, she dressed up as a tourist guide while a male teacher was roped in to be a Japanese tourist, complete with wide-brimmed hat, dark glasses and camera. Both then engaged in a conversation about where the best tourist sites were, after which How shared her ideas on how travel brochures could be exploited for teaching English.
Among the ideas: students can underline phrases in travel brochures and then compose poems from there. They can also engage in conversation by asking for and giving information.
If autonomous learning is one of the goals of teaching, then, teaching students to use the dictionary should be a priority. Sally Wehmeier, of Oxford University Press, demonstrated the latest innovations in dictionaries in her Learners’ Dictionaries – A Bridge to Successful Language Learning demonstration.
“Learners’ dictionaries are now powerful and user-friendly tools that present real language data in a form which students can access,” she said.
Wehmeier demonstrated the power of the latest dictionary CD-Rom which allows students to interact with information in new motivating ways.
Participants marvelled at the way the dictionary offered British and American pronunciation of the same word, and allowed users to make cross-references to information found in other pages.
In his paper, Employing DEAR-NiE to Improve the Standard of English Among Students, presenter Mohamed Ayoob advocated the extensive reading of newspapers. DEAR refers to Drop Everything And Read – an idea that dates back to 1970 and has been successfully carried out in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Combining DEAR with NiE taps the rich current source of reading materials in newspaper, he said. A task sheet is given out to ensure that the reading is directed.
“Teachers might think that preparing the task sheet is very tedious but it becomes easier with practice. If the task sheets could be prepared and printed in the newspaper, it would save teachers a lot of time too,” he suggested.
Ayoob said DEAR-NiE was more applicable to students at polytechnics, teacher training colleges, matriculation centres and fully residential schools because of their higher language ability.
Games and madness
KDU College Penang’s Lucille Dass had participants on the floor (literally) with the fun-filled activities in her intriguingly titled workshop Teaching ... a CRAFT (Creative Range of Animating, Fun-filled Teach-niques) with CAKE (Cognitive, Affective, Kinesthetic, Engagingly Enabling) appeal.
All the big words translated to interactive activities adapted by Dass that engaged the heart, mind and body. For example, Dass transformed a simple fill-in-the-blanks exercise (missing letters) into an exciting activity by turning it into a contest which involved kinesthetics.
Another activity had Dass asking participants to act out prepositional phrases like put it down, close it up, throw it out, pick it up, with a fun activity to do, the students (or rather teachers) creativity was limitless.
In Method and Madness, a basic method-acting workshop, Reynold John Buono helped participants to let their hair down.
The enjoyable and energetic two-hour session had participants staring into each others’ eyes (very awkward for Malaysians), practising their breathing (light and heavy) and speaking gibberish – all this to show that communication involves more than words.
Buono got his audience to explore connections between spoken language, body language, tone of voice, silences and vocalisation. “Try this for your students and you will see their confidence, expressiveness and attention improve by leaps and bounds,” he said.
He said that as teachers, they should employ drama to help them in their work as they could put on different personas for different situations, for example, being friendly or stern with their students.
Fun, not dry
In Writing to Learn in the Maths and Science Classroom, Assoc Prof Dr Kuldip Kaur from Open University Malaysia shared her experience in setting writing tasks for primary school children.
The topics were based on Maths and Science with the children expressing enthusiasm for such exercises.
“Don’t worry if your students make mistakes, as mistakes are an important part of learning,” she advised, adding that one method of getting students interested in writing was allowing them to write in their mother tongue first and then slowly weaning them from it as they progressed further into writing in English.
In ELT Books and Teacher Perceptions: A Case Study Prof Dr Arifa Rahman from the University of Dhaka, gave an interesting account of a newly published English textbook used in pre-college level classes in her country.
“The book which introduced the communicative approach to language learning could have gone down better if the classes had not been too big,” she said, referring to Bangladesh’s overcrowded classrooms with some having more than 100 students.
“However, the teachers found that this approach brought them closer to their students, compared to the previous grammar and rote-based learning approach,” she said.
In an interview later, Dr Arifa advised writers of Maths and Science materials and textbooks to write with the student in mind and not based solely on the syllabus.
She said: “They should write in everyday language, include fun activities and incorporate the latest information from the Internet,” she said, adding that the language should also be in the active voice rather than the passive.
“Learners appreciate a style that is communicative and engaging, not dry and text-bookish as found in older textbooks,” she added.
“However, scientific and mathematical terms must remain as these are integral to the subject matter.
“Writers can also add additional material such as geographical and historical details related to the topic to add a different dimension to the subjects.”
A different type of writing was dealt with by Dr Francis M. Peter in his Text to Hypertext: Exploring New Avenues through the Net workshop. Dr Peter from Loyola College, India, said that his college had a course which taught college-level students how to write for the Internet.
“Writing for the Internet involves writing to grab attention,” he said, explaining that for this reason, headlines and captions had to be attractive and startling.
“It is very much like copy-writing for advertisements and very much like news writing, in that readers want to know what’s the best, what’s the latest, what are the details, and what’s in it for them.”