Adventures in Close Reading

I have written several times about close reading, and I have played with it in class here and there, but it hasn’t been until this most recent term that I have used it consistently and as a central part of a course. I am teaching reading to a small, low-level group of students and close reading was employed as a solution to some of their reading problems. Continue reading

Using Videos for Formative Assessment

Videos have a range of uses in language learning. They are great teaching and learning tools, and how they are used is shaped by who is in control of them. Teachers can find many ways to use videos in the classroom (see my post about using long videos), and learners can also find unique ways of working with videos (from music with LyricsTraining, to gap-fills with Tube Quizard, to comprehension-focused videos with TedEd). Jeremy Slagoski, in a post on using online videos, argues that learner control of a video – the pausing, repeating, using subtitles, etc. – helps to build metacognitive strategies (e.g. monitoring and self-evaluation) vital to listening skill development. On the other hand, he argues that a teacher in control of the video makes the listening experience “less authentic” because they direct what happens, when, and even why. Continue reading

On Debate and Consensus-Building (a research-inspired activity)

How do differing discourse goals affect students’ abilities to process evidence? Does the act of argument and persuasion mean they read evidence from a biased perspective? If they argue from the opposite side’s perspective, will that change their own opinion? What if they had to come to a mutual decision? Would that affect their opinion? Continue reading

3-2-1- Speak: Combining Peer Feedback, Accuracy, Fluency, and Academic Speaking

Practice makes perfect, right? It’s not as simple as that, but there is some evidence that doing something again and again does lead to improvement. I’ve just been reading research about repeated readings leading to improved comprehension. As interesting as that is, this particular post is not research-based, per se. Instead, I’d like to describe an activity I have been doing in an advanced listening and speaking class, one which I first read about on twitter and then actually got to experience myself at the 2017 TESOL convention in Seattle. This activity, based on repeated speaking, combines a range of different skills: content and critical thinking, listening, accuracy, feedback, fluency, and academic discourse for a winning combination of great practice that students enjoy (so much so that I was inspired to write this post). Continue reading

The Power of PechaKucha

PechaKucha has become quite a popular presentation format, perhaps coming in just under TED’s level of infamy. Like TED, there are a number of “PechaKucha Nights” popping up in cities and at universities around the world. It has enjoyed this rise in status for good reason: people like the brevity, the visual appeal, and the informality.

PechaKuchas are typically 6 minute 40 second presentations consisting of 20 slides (or images) displayed for 20 seconds each. Each slide automatically advances until the end, ensuring a presentation that is fast-paced, information dense, and has an end in sight. This model means that a number of speakers can present in a relatively short period of time.

PechaKucha makes a great presentation tool for the English language classroom. The goal of this blog post is to detail some of these reasons and show how PechaKucha can be adapted for almost any context. My own project examples will also be given at the end.

1. They Are Short

30-minute group presentations are great in theory: students can share a lot of information and display in-depth research on important topics. But, how many can you fit in one class? In one week? In one term? PechaKuchas will never be as thorough as the long-form presentation, but for typical class sizes (10 or more) they can be fit easily into 1 or 2 50-minute periods, especially if they are modified.

The short time of PechaKuchas has a number of benefits. First, it means you can fit many presentations into a single day or two, even building in a period of Q&A that still doesn’t tack on too much in terms of time. Second, because you can do so much in so little time, you can give students multiple chances over a term or semester to give presentations. That is, you can give them multiple chances to hone their presentation skills. The long-form group presentation, or even the 10-minute individual presentation, does not usually allow for this. Third, you are working to the audience’s attention span. Paying attention is hard. Paying attention in a second language is even harder. There is a place and time to have an intense focus, but perhaps presentations are not the best, especially if the presenters are struggling or they did not follow directions completely (i.e. its their first presentation ever). The PechaKucha model allows students in the audience to have sustained but relatively short focus – a kind of practiced or scaffolded exercise in paying attention. And, given that the model is visual, somewhat informal, and is more conducive to speaking rather than “reading” a presentation, the PechaKucha presentation itself is usually more enjoyable to watch.

The typical PechaKucha is a 20×20 6:40 presentation. However, as you will see below, this can easily be modified into a 10×20 3:30 presentation (for larger classes) or even a 5×30. Really, any combination of times and slides could work so long as the presentation stays true to the principle of PechaKucha.

2. They are Visual and Text-Averse

PechaKuchas appeal to audiences because they are extremely visual. A single slide usually consists of one or two images, and, not text walls – no long blocks of text that the speaker then reads to the audience. Each slide’s visual can either serve as background support for the speaker or can be directly referred to by the speaker. Plus this type of minimalist structure is often considered a good design principle for presentations, namely because it puts the focus on the speaker.

4. They Require Practice

Because students cannot rely on the text on the screen, they must put greater emphasis on practicing their presentation, memorizing their presentation, and/or preparing notes. Timing here is also important. Because the slides automatically advance, students need to make sure their information is timed correctly. Therefore, they need to practice. Increased practice means increased speaking (in private or public, to one’s self or their friends), which hopefully means increase in fluency. This format moves students away from “reading a presentation” (from a script or from slides) to speaking more naturally.

5. They Promote “Skills”

PechaKuchas do not sacrifice skills for time. Discourse markers used during formal presentations can also be used during PechaKuchas. Warming up an audience, introducing topic, background, shifting topics, exemplification, definition, explanation – all of these moves and their rhetorical phrases can still be included. While PechaKuchas cannot allow for the long-form exposition or for in-depth explanations of background, research methods, stats, or analysis, they do offer something longer presentation formats do not: conciseness. For a successful PechaKucha, students need to be able to explain complex ideas or details in a compact way. They need to get to the point, and quick. This is a skill that is useful inside and outside the classroom, for almost any context!

6. They Can be Modified

As I mentioned above, PechaKuchas can be modified. Here are a few examples of modified PechaKuchas I have recently used:

  • Course: Listening and Speaking
  • Level: upper-intermediate, pre-advanced
  • Topic: ___ & the Brain
  • Class Size: 12

10×20 PechaKucha (3:30)

After watching a model PechaKucha and explaining the traditional PechaKucha format, students were given the following instructions:

  • You must use the PPT I give you.
    • I distributed blank, pre-formatted PPTs to students. They had to simply add images, save, and upload.
    • There were 11 slides in total. The final slide was a “Thank You for Listening” slide that ended the presentation.
  • You must not write any text.
    • Actually, on the title slide, they were allowed to write their title and their name.
  • You must memorize not read your presentation.
    • Some students DID read their presentations. While this was bad for their grade, it was a great opportunity for the class to learn that spoken English is much easier to understand than English that is read aloud.
  • You must practice your presentation for Audio Diary 3. I will give feedback before your presentation.
    • Students practiced their presentation and audio recorded it. They sent it to me, along with their script or notes, and I gave feedback on grammar, structure, and pronunciation.
  • Course: Listening and Speaking
  • Level: upper-intermediate, pre-advanced
  • Topic: open
  • Class Size: 12
 10×20 PechaKucha (3:30)

Students did a final presentation based on an interesting topic and their own survey research. I gave them an example presentation outline that could help them structure their PechaKucha:

  • Slide 1: Introduction to topic
  • Slide 2-3: Background/context of topic
  • Slide 4: Your research method/questions
  • Slide 5: Your survey data/ analysis
  • Slide 7-8: Your survey discussion/ interpretation/ implications
  • Slide 9-10: Conclusion

There was a 3-minute period of question and answer afterwards. This presentation took two classes (two days)

I also took the opportunity to go over more “presentation phrases” that we had learned from listening to lectures and TED talks.

  • Course: Reading
  • Level:intermediate
  • Topic: Book report
  • Class Size: 14
 5 slide PechaKucha (2:40)

Students used this as part of the extensive reading program. They have read various books all term and ended with a presentation on their favorite book.

  • Slide 1 – 10s – Introduction/Title of book
  • Slide 2 – 60s – Plot/Summary
  • Slide 3 – 30s – Favorite scene/character/part
  • Slide 4 – 60s – Evaluation and recommendation
  • Slide 5 – 0s – Thank You

This was a highly structured and short PechaKucha due to the limited class time and the limited time during the week to do it. However, students worked hard and employed a number of skills we had worked on for reading, namely summarization and evaluation.

I’m not disparaging the long-form presentation. There is certainly a place for that, especially in EAP. I am, however, trying to stress that PechaKucha – in its original or modified forms – may be more appropriate or more effective in certain contexts.

Of course, maybe you already do something like this in your class.You don’t need to call it a PechaKucha (in fact, for the last example above, I didn’t). The basic principles of being brief and having only visuals is common sense and hopefully common place. For those looking for a new way to do presentation, or some ideas on how to adapt their current projects, its my hope that the principles of PechaKucha inspire greater presentations for the sake of the student….and for the sake of the audience who has to listen to that student (the teacher included).

PowerPoint Hack: Use PowerPoint like a Whiteboard

Sometimes, I don’t feel like writing things on the whiteboard. Sometimes, I want to collect student ideas, but want them to be written clearly, neatly, and quickly, This blog post will demonstrate how I use PowerPoint to achieve this. The end result looks like this:

pptwhiteboard1

Recording student-elicited vocabulary into my PPT

Step 1: The Developer Tab

In order to accomplish this “hack,” you will need to have the Developer tab activated on your toolbar/ribbon. To do this, you will need to go to File -> Options -> Customize Ribbon and check the “Developer” in the right-hand column.

developeroptions

This will give you the following tab:

developertab

Step 2: Adding a Text Box

Next, you will need to add a text box to your slide. Click the [abc] icon (circled red above) and then draw your box anywhere on your slide.

Step 3: Changing the Text-Box Properties

The text box is very limited in functionality unless you make several important changes to its properties. To do so, right-click on the box and choose “Property Sheet.” There are numerous changes that you can make. The most important are

  1. EnterKeyBehavior – change to “True”. This allows you to use the “Enter” key to make new lines
  2. MultiLine – change to “True”. This allows the text box to display multiple lines
  3. Font – this sets up your font, font size, and other font properties.

propertysheet

Other properties of note include:

  • BackColor – change the background color
  • ForeColor – change the font color
  • Scrollbars – to have scrollbars in case text goes beyond the text box dimensions

Step 4: Copy, Paste, Resize

To use multiple text boxes, you do not have to complete the above steps. Just copy and paste the box throughout your PowerPoint.

Step 5: Save

Save it. Any text you type will be saved, too!

Caveats

You are limited in color and making the box transparent has never worked for me. Boxes cannot be animated. If you accidentally select “View Code” instead of “Property Sheet” when you right-click on the box, saving might become more difficult as sometimes PowerPoint thinks you have edited a macro and therefore need to save as a .pptm. If this happens, delete the code.

I hope that you found this useful. Please let me know if you have any questions or any suggestions for creative ways to use this!