Get Ready For Academic IELTS in 120 hours (+free syllabus)

Happy Father's Day!

Two months ago I wrote about a crash course Preparing for Academic IELTS test. Today I want to share my reflections on a new book by Macmillan Education: Ready for IELTS 2nd edition by Sam McCarter and Louis Rogers.

Why IELTS?

I have been preparing my students for Academic IELTS for a while, and I must admit I find this test the most sensible assessment, compared to other tests and exams. In order to get a decent band, you need to prove not only your linguistic proficiency but also ability to think quickly and reasonably.

You’ll probably be surprised (my students usually are) but the latter skill is really difficult to master.

Components

The whole course contains: Student’s Book, Workbook and Teacher’s Resource Pack with Resource Centre. What’s interesting about the components is that there are no CDs or DVDs attached – all audio files are downloadable, and while some may find this annoying, I applaud this sensible and eco-friendly solution.
Teacher’s Online Resource Centre includes audio tracks (for both SB and WB), speaking videos, communication activities, tests, wordlists and exam tips. Moreover, there’s Presentation Kit, Digital SB and ebook with answers.
The online environment for Ready for IELTS is just brilliant. You can create your virtual classroom to follow your students’ progress and – this feature got me – it gives you the possibility of using the book on any IWB as it’s fully operating online. Naturally, you also have access to additional worksheets, test tips etc. which makes it the best online support for a course I have seen.

Skills

While the main focus of the course is on – surprise, surprise – IELTS test techniques, the skills covered by the book aren’t related only to the test. There are many exercises on functional language that will help to develop “real” (not test-oriented) language. Each unit contains vocabulary section, reading and listening parts, grammar exercises and writing composition (traditionally, the hardest part of IELTS prep). Moreover, there are communicative activities in Teacher’s Resources in case students are tired with test-only approach.

Compared to Direct to IELTS, Ready for IELTS is definitely more slow-paced and relaxed, leaving space for a teacher to bring in some fresh air – I really appreciate this. The description on the cover claims the course helps students advance from band 5.0 to 7.0 and while I can only smile at the statement (which is actually true, although it doesn’t really concern linguistic skills) – I must admit this course offers far greater general development. So, compared to Direct to IELTS, this book is definitely version 2.0: smarter, faster and funnier.

Recommendation

Now’s the time for my confession: I’ve decided to write this review simply because I am starting my own 120-hour course preparing for Academic IELTS soon. Having read Ready for IELTS, my choice is simple: I pick this book and I hope it’ll help me in making a great – and successful – course for both my students and me.

And if you want to see how I’ve organised the whole course, you’re more than welcome to download Ready for IELTS 2nd ed syllabus which is shared under Creative Commons Licence.

Enjoy!

I want to thank Macmillan Polska for their help in creating this review.

Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Student’s Book Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-0-230-49568-5 (with answers)
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Teacher’s Book Premium Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32867-0
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Workbook by Louis Rogers – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32865-6 (with answers)

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7 free online courses in November

iloveyouso

Yes! My favourite month is almost here! I love November – especially when I can stay in, wrapped up in my favourite blanket, with a purring cat snuggled against me and a great book to read… or a TV series to watch. Have you already seen Stranger Things 2? If not, you should totally do, as you can actually see what Role Playing Games are and how important they may be in real life!

Apart from RPGs (currently I’m writing a nice article about the idea behind this phenomenon, give me a fortnight or so), I don’t mind spending my time learning new things – and as every month, I’d like to share my picks of the month: seven free courses you may attend online:

1 Engaging ELLs and Their Families in the School and Communities by Arizona State University

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 6 weeks

The course is focused on K-12 classroom environment in the U.S., however you will learn how to better and more successfully engage your students and their families in the school and community, how to engage a student in the classroom setting as well as in various aspects of the school including extracurricular activities and the inner workings of the school and education system. You will also be introduced to strategies for engaging the families of your students in the school community. It may be useful for those teachers who deal with parents on a regular basis.

2 ICT in Primary Education: Transforming children’s learning across the curriculum by University of London

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 6 weeks

Why and how are teachers integrating ICT (Information and Communication Technology) into primary education? Here you will compare your own ideas with other teachers around the world and will learn how to be aware of the range of reasons for using ICT and how to analyse the strengths and weakness of different decision-making mechanisms. You will also become familiar with a wider range of useful tools and resources for integrating ICT. It may be useful for those teachers who are slightly overwhelmed by technology in their classrooms.

3 Social Media – What No One has Told You about Privacy by Dr. Anne Kayem

Started: 23rd of October
Duration: 2 weeks

Have you ever accepted a friendship request from the guy or girl you met at the shop only to regret it the minute you clicked on “accept”?  If you have, then you probably know about the nagging feeling of discomfort that you try to ignore or comfort yourself by telling yourself that it does not matter. However,  if you feel concerned that something is not quite right, it most likely is the case. I believe privacy and social media is (or should be) a hot topic at the moment for everyone, especially teachers dealing with teenagers.

4 Applying to U.S. Universities by University of Pennsylvania 

Started: 30th of October
Duration: 5 weeks

This course will help international students (non-U.S. citizens) and non-native English speakers navigate the U.S. university admission process by offering practical information about the documents and pieces that make up a U.S. university application. More importantly, admission officers will discuss how they use those pieces to decide who is accepted and who is denied, so that you can understand the process beyond the pieces. I would recommend this course to anyone thinking about studying in the U.S. – and those teachers who work with students planning to do so.

5 Develop your knowledge of studying in the UK by the British Council

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 4 weeks

This course is designed primarily for those counselling students looking to come to the UK to study, including school counsellors, education agents and those interested in becoming education agents. Potential students and learners will also find the course informative and useful. You will learn about the UK education and training system, quality assurance systems and how they operate, student lifestyle issues, welfare and support for international students, application processes and entry requirements. It may be useful for those students – and their teachers – who think about studying in the UK.

6 Mentoring in Schools by European Schoolnet Academy and Inducas

Started: 15th of May (but materials are still available)
Duration: 6 weeks/ self-paced

This course may be a really great help for DoSes.  It is focused primarily on mentoring of colleagues within a school. Particular references are also made to the mentoring of beginner teachers, supporting them to find their place in the school and classroom.  You will learn how mentors can support and develop the work of teachers in schools. The course aims to support mentors working with teachers by offering them strategies and tools for their work with teachers as well as examples of effective mentorship approaches leading to more effective, happier, and successful teachers.

7 Coursera: Lesson Planning with the ELL in Mind by Arizona State University

Started: 30th of October
Duration: 6 weeks

This course is perfect for teachers who are just starting their adventure with EFL teaching! In this course you will learn how to design lesson plans around the needs of your students and their language level through the analysis of content language and cognitive demands. You will learn how to align language objectives to the adopted standards of your school and content area. Analysis of second language acquisition theories will be applied to lesson planning.

And, as a bonus – just for your teenage students:

World of Spies: Keeping Secrets by Purdue University

Start: 20th of November
Duration: 4 weeks

What does it take to be a spy? Strong critical thinking and communication skills, a firm grasp of logic, and a love of puzzles are all useful. This course, designed for 13-18 year old students, will help them develop those abilities while exploring the exciting world of espionage. They’ll learn about code-making and breaking, encryption, logical thinking and more as you find out whether you would make a good spy. If you have ambitious pupils – that may be a great beginning of their e-learning career!

I hope you’ll enjoy the courses I recommend – I still have to make up my mind on which course should I take. Definitely the one by the British Council, but maybe I should satisfy my inner child and have fun with espionage? So many options, so little time!

Enjoy!

7 YouTube channels to spice up your lessons

 

International Picnic Day! (1)

One of the funniest and weirdest activities you can enjoy with your friends is a so-called YouTube party. Basically, you meet your mates and have regular fun until someone says “I totally have to show you something on YouTube…” And boom, the YT party begins because everyone has seen something to share with friends.

And, oh, the depths of the Internet you may visit…

If you teach teenagers or digitally aware adults you may enjoy a little YT party as well, just try to moderate the videos presented by students as some of the videos may turn out to be somewhat inappropriate.

If you want to avoid potential embarrassment, try to show some EFL-friendly channels. Don’t know which ones are worth recommendation? Well, I’ve shortlisted some nice channels and hope you’ll find them enjoyable.

1 Anglophenia

I really love this culture-oriented channel focused on British and American celebrations, festivals and customs. You’ll find here a lot of short, funny and witty videos on various topics – from British houses (the great mystery of double taps explained) to the practical guide on how to insult like a Brit.

2 English Like A Native

I came across this channel when I was looking for good videos with various accents – I heard Anna’s short film on Scouse and it was more than enough for me to spend the whole evening watching her videos. Funny and smart, discussing the wide range of topics from accents to the ways people shouldn’t pay compliments – I’m sure you’ll love it!

3 English with Lucy

Lucy is a very popular British English teacher who focuses on more “traditional” approach to learning English, talking not only about cultural aspects, but also improving skills, remembering vocabulary etc. I’d recommend lessons with Lucy as a great homework for my students.

4 Learn English with Papa Teach Me

Want to speak like John Snow (and still know something)? Or maybe you’d like to sound like Jason Statham? Just watch Papa Teach Me channel and enjoy the “how to” films full of funny examples, but also really useful information you may find valuable from teacher’s point of view (I do!) – cockney, RP, or real tutorial how to speak like the Lannister.

That would be easy, just send your regards on the tip of the knife…

5 Learn English Kids by British Council

In case the name of the channel isn’t clear enough, let me clarify: this is a great channel for the youngest learners of English. Songs, nursery rhymes, games, stories, lessons – everything you’ll ever need to satisfy the demands of even the laziest child (and his parents). You should also try British Council: Learn English Teens channel as it’s full of useful videos for teenagers.

6 BBC Learning English

Apart from the casual news, BBC has a variety of films on its Learning English channel. “Go the Distance” is a series of videos focused on learning online, the “We Say – You Say” section provides a detailed explanation on proverbs and sayings, 6-minute English sections on Thursdays are just great with interesting topics and great vocabulary chunks… Just try not to lose your head over all those inspiring videos!

7 Learn English by British Council

Short videos, proper lessons, useful tips and interesting people – you can find it all on this channel. You may bring it to your classroom when you feel a bit lazy – or you may ask your students to watch a video as their homework, which is always a better idea than telling them to find the channel and browse it by themselves. I really recommend the series “How to improve your skills”, especially for the beginning of a course.

If you know of YouTube channels that I haven’t shortlisted please let me know, I’ll be happy to watch them – and learn – more.

Enjoy!

 

Bring some colours to your classroom (autumn lesson ideas)

shopping

I know that your favourite season is probably summer – especially with the holidays, right? Well, the break from school is over but, with rainy days coming, your work may feel like an unbearable drudgery. Luckily for us all, I have some ideas to share – and I tested all of them and must say they’re guaranteed to bring some colours to your greyish classroom!

Create your own game!

One of the things about autumn is that your students seem not so active anymore, so you can enjoy activities that are less loud and adapted to more pen-and-paper type of creativity. One of my favourite activities is creating a board game – we play a lot of them, so it’s quite an easy work to come up with their own.

Or so they think.

I did that with teenagers and adults, and everyone liked the opportunity of revising something while creating and playing a colourful handmade game. You can come up with a contest and the group whose game was voted the best can get a prize.

When I Dream: making your own board game

Another game you may create on your own is When I Dream… a game perfect for autumn when all you dream of is closing your eyes and slowly drifting towards… hey, no napping! Get some pumpkin-spiced latte and try to play a game where your classmates create a dream for you – will you guess all the clues they’ve hidden?

The Colors of Evil

It’s a short film that will definitely brighten up your classes – be your students old or young. It’s a charming story of a cute and fluffy demon with the most valuable lesson for English students, namely: work on your spelling!

You know this joke among the cthultists – “I was browsing my old Latin book and suddenly I summoned Yog-Sothoth!”

The best thing is, the film has a great potential for follow-up activities and I’m sure they may be as colourful as the story itself: a little role-play maybe? Acting out an interview with the demon? Creating a short graphic story?

Writing poems? Easy peasy!

I can see your smiles slowly waning but wait – seriously, writing poems can be fun… especially now, as autumn in all its colourful glory simply inspires everyone to get at least a bit poetical. Even if your students don’t seem charmed with the idea, try to liven them up and show them, step by step, that they are able to write a poem – and a good one!

The sense of accomplishment is profound – they will tell you they couldn’t believe they would be able to write a poem in their native language and here they are, having written it in English!

Not doing homework? Great!

I simply love the activity. By autumn, after the first days of school are over and all new school-year resolutions have already died, the first excuses for not doing homework begin to sprout like mushrooms. Not that I’m surprised as I have already come up with a nice excuse for not writing this note on time (I’m on sick leave, see? purrfect excuse!) – so I can be not only forgiving, but also entertaining, as changing lame excuses into most improbable ones  – and then making a proper project with the wild ideas seems to be an activity that is funny, creative and team-building (which team has the best excuses?) – perfect to clear the autumn fog!

Scaredy Cat

I don’t work with children anymore – not as often as I used to, at least – but one of the cutest activities I’ve ever come up with was the one based on Scaredy Cat by Heather Franzen Rutten (I got her permission to use this story). Now – a tiny scrap of a kitten lost in a big strange world: isn’t this a situation most children can relate to? And when fear seems to overwhelm the little feline – presto! here’s an old, wise cat who shows the tiny mite that his fears are unnecessary as the strange world is full of potential friends. Add to this story absolutely cute pictures and you may enjoy many follow-up activities adjusted to your students’ preferences: role-plays, graphic stories, diaries…

I’m an Evil Teacher, aye, but the story makes my heart melt, honestly…

Now, those are the ideas tested by myself – and the memories they awoke while I’ve been writing this note made me smile, because those lessons were like colourful jewels in my previous school year. May this one be as memorable, and as vivid for me, for you – and for our students.

Enjoy!

 

From Goal Setting to the Effect – workshop with Luiza Wójtowicz-Waga

From Goal Setting to the

I’ve been learning Spanish for a while now and it’s been a great time, save for a time when my profesora was replaced by a native. The new profesora was a really nice lady, I guess, and a teacher with an impressive potential for development; the thing was, however, we had no proper coursebook and relied on her materials… and I had no idea what was going on in the class, what new skills I developed, what things I was supposed to learn. I tried talking to her DoS, but soon I got frustrated and eventually I quit.

This “traumatic” experience made me an advocate for a clear specification of the lesson goal and, naturally, sharing it with students. So when Luiza, who’s a highly experienced trainer and a very inspiring woman, invited me to her workshop on goal setting, I was on cloud nine.

Goal setting a’la holiday planning

Goal setting is pretty much like going on holidays, explains Luiza. First, you choose your destination and then you plan your journey and pack your luggage.

The most important aspect of a goal, though, is its relevance. Guided by Luiza we worked hard trying to make our goals SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound) and then making them appropriate for our students’ needs (depending on their age, type of classes etc.). To make this task more challenging, we worked on sign-posting methodology – addressing the goal not only at the beginning and the end of the lesson, but keeping it visible throughout all activities.

Do I even need this?

The most difficult activity was, as always, defining the goal and making it relevant both from students’ perspective and from teacher’s viewpoint. “Do I really need this?” was the question we imagine our students ask, and we planned our goals accordingly.

“Student learns how to describe a photo” doesn’t really sound exciting for any student, but we can add a little bit of magic by paraphrasing it into “student can describe a crime scene basing on a photo”. The activity will be pretty much the same, but suddenly the goal sounds more useful – and that’s why students’ brains will accept the unavoidable necessity of acquiring knowledge with ease.

Hopefully. 

Sugar, spice and everything nice

I’m not going to reveal all the secrets I’ve learnt – but we discussed Test-Teach-Test approach, an amazing activity-planner idea by Ewa Torebko (I’m going to share it soon, because this particular idea deserves a separate note, it’s sooo awesome), von Restorff effect and John Hattie’s ideas.

Things I’ve learnt? How important the last exercise is, how easily you can manage the whole goal-setting process and how important summary of the classes is.

If you ever have the chance to attend this workshop – do not hesitate, simply put your name on the list and prepare for a great time: six hours of learning, fun and meeting new, friendly and inspiring people.

Just be sure to take the next day off work, your mind will be buzzing!

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 1:Why do we play games?)

 

Why do weplay games (3)

I guess I’ve mentioned more than once that I really love role-playing games and I can tell they’re pretty much like educational process – I’ve decided to write a series of short blog-notes about this phenomenon, explaining why games, especially RPGs, are so vital in my approach to teaching.

Some of you have probably heard about RPGs, but I need to clarify one important thing – I’m not going to talk about computer games (so-called cRPGs), I’m going to focus only on good, old pen-and-paper ones (yeah, like Dungeon & Dragons or Warhammer) as their construction and communicative aspect are the most important aspects.

Before I get to RPGs themselves I want to focus on the idea of a game – it can be easily observed that games are more and more popular in TEFL, and in teaching in general, they are enjoyed by students and teachers alike and I wonder: have you ever thought what is the reason of the enjoyment?

Well, before answering this question, the main problem is the game itself. Have you ever tried to define it? Ludwig von Wittgenstein tried (and died, oops), and came to conclusion that each explanation we’re able to construct only restricts the concept of the game – thanks, philosophers! Fortunately there were some academics who got inspired by Wittgenstein’s endeavours and tried to define it nonetheless.

In his book “Games People Play”, Eric Berne (who was a psychiatrist, but he also came up with an idea of transactional analysis, one of the most wicked ideas from a linguistic point of view) defined game as “an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. (…) Every game (…) is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality”. Marta Wołos in her study gives her own classification of the game, based on ludicity of a game, existence of rules, established and repeatable structure, an element of choice or chance and artificiality of the world of the game.

So we know that the game is a series of established and repeatable activities/transactions where the participants know the rules and try to use them (or cheat, but that’s still playing according to rules), where the world is artificial and there is always an element of chance or choice.

Now, to the main question: why do we play games? When we look at the cultural aspect, we can see how imitative children games teach archetypes and social roles without which society can’t exist. At least Jung said so.

But what about the adults? What about games we bring to our classrooms?

One might think playing games is a form of escapism (quite a common theory when we talk about video games), however there’s more to that. Eric Berne says games are helpful in relieving the tension caused by social pressure. The opportunity of playing games is also helpful for people who are shy or not keen on showing emotions in public. Johan Huizinga (probably the first person to look at the games from a scientific point of view) mentioned four aspects that make games enjoyable: direct competition between players (e.g. snakes&ladders), chance activities (like gambling), mimicry (acting out in role-plays) and pleasure of movement (most games for children).

Everyone enjoys either some form of competition, or a little bit of (safe!) gambling. People like showing emotions by acting out someone else. We all feel that playing a game is a way of relaxing from everyday life and its stress.

That’s why we play games – unconsciously looking for a way of learning by proxy, trying to introduce some fun into tedious classes. How many students have you met who claimed there were “too many” games in the classroom and they “didn’t feel they were learning”? It’s because they associate games with pastime, and not with educational process. Now, you and I know better, right?

Role-Playing Games are special snowflakes when it comes to playing games. They are amazing not only from the educational perspective, but also from psychological, linguistic and sociological point of view. I am going discuss RPGs in the next part of my short series.

If you want to read more on the topic:

Berne, Eric (1996): Games People Play, Ballantine Books

Wołos, Marta (2002): Koncepcja gry językowej Wittgensteina w świetle badań współczesnego językoznawstwa, Kraków: UNIVERSITAS

Huizinga, Johan (1938): Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture (you can read it here)

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953): Philosophical Investigations (you can read it here)

 

5 free online courses in August

Tidal Rise

Aaaaand my summer break is over – I didn’t write literally a single word during the past fortnight. No, I wasn’t chilling out, I was doing a total makeover of my flat: painting walls, changing floors – I really love the results of my endeavours, especially that I have learnt something really valuable: doing physical work puts your mind at ease. Sure, you may revise your Maths while calculating the amount of paint you shall need for this particular wall, but I didn’t think about my work, teaching, CPD – and even though I’m slightly tired physically I do feel mentally rested.

Still, I’m not going to do similar makeover in this decade, thank you very much.

August is actually on, so this time I have only 5 online courses you may still catch up on and enjoy while the summer lasts.

1 Becoming a Confident Trainer by TAFE SA

If you’ve just started working with adult learners it’s a course for you: focusing on gaining confidence, and understanding an idea of a trainer as someone who presents concepts in a professional manner, is an effective communicator and has developed an awareness of the learning needs of their learner group.

The course started on the 7th of August and ends on the 5th of September.

2 Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom by the Museum of Modern Art

This is a very interesting course focusing on integrating art into classroom environment, ways that you can incorporate inquiry around a work of art into your classroom and types of resources that you can access to supplement your lesson development and planning. It may be a really nice idea if you have a IWB in your classroom and want to show something special.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 4 weeks.

3 Teaching Tips for Tricky English Grammar by University of California, Irvine

That is a really great course for fresh teachers – it literally shows you some problematic areas of grammar common for most learners, and it gives you ideas on how to explain grammar so that you avoid your students’ frustration. It’s on the intermediate level (so you may recommend it to your students as well) and the issues include e.g. nouns, quantifiers, articles, word formation and phrasal verbs.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 4 weeks. You need to be able to make videos of yourself demonstrating your teaching, using a webcam or phone.

4 K-12 Blended & Online Learning by University System of Georgia

If you’re interested in incorporating technology in your classroom and your work with young learners either in a public school or in a private language centre, you may be really interested in what this course has to offer. You will not only focus on technology, but also on specific content and even creating syllabus! Frankly speaking, this course would be my pick of the month.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 8 weeks – plenty of time to learn.

5 Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach by University of London, UCL Institute of Education

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is the most common method alternative to the old PPP – and in this course you will get familiar with this approach. TBLT uses communicative tasks as the key unit for creating language learning activities. You will explore how TBLT and teaching second language reading can be successfully integrated in practice through analysing task-based reading materials.

The course starts on the 14th of August and takes 6 weeks.

As you can see from my set, Coursera doesn’t seem to have summer break! If you’re still on holidays you can spend some time on learning – and if you do, let me know which course you’ve chosen.

Enjoy your learning and your summer break (if you’re lucky to have one)!