What It Really Means to Know a Word

Christina Cavage

By Christina Cavage

What It Really Means to Know a Word

As ELT educators we often build our lessons around reading, writing, listening, speaking and grammar. We introduce new vocabulary that students need to be able to accomplish the reading or listening task. This often happens by providing a definition, and maybe a few ‘drill and kill’ type of exercises—matching the word and definition, multiple choice, or fill-ins. But, does this really lead to vocabulary acquisition? In a word, no. Vocabulary, specifically academic vocabulary is the often-forgotten skill in language learning. To effectively foster vocabulary learning, we need to consider what it really means to know a word.

two women talking

According to Paul Nation, explicit vocabulary teaching, is necessary, but not always effective for expanding a student’s knowledge of a word because knowing a word goes far beyond identifying the definition of a word. While form, meaning, and usage are the key elements for understanding a word, Nation breaks these down even further. When you know a word, you know:

Form:

  1. How it is pronounced (spoken form)
  2. How it is spelled (written form)
  3. Which word parts are in the word (prefix, base, suffix)

Meaning:

  1. Meanings/definitions
  2. Concepts associated with the word
  3. Synonyms or other words associations

Usage:

  1. How the word is used in a sentence (grammatical function in a sentence)
  2. What collocations the word has
  3. When and where the word is used (register and frequency)

This list may seem overwhelming, especially if you need to prepare students for university entrance, where their acquisition of the AWL (Academic Word List) is critical for their success. This list of 570-word families contains the words that most frequently appear in academic texts, across all disciplines. So, adding that layer to what it means to really know a word, goes beyond overwhelming! So, how can we adequately prepare students to not only know, but really know English vocabulary while engaging them in the learning process at the same time?

lesson from PECL -- vocabulary

Well, first we have to consider the tools we use. As we have seen, true academic vocabulary acquisition goes beyond what lies in many textbooks; thus, we have to look for additional tools. Within the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, lies The Modular Academic Word List Course. The vocabulary lessons within the Modular AWL are built around Paul Nation’s work in what it means to really know a word. Students engage in activities where they can practice spoken form, written form, meanings, grammatical functions, collocations, and more. These flexible lessons allow you the teacher to deliver powerful lessons in class and out-of-class.

lesson from PECL -- vocabulary

The AWL Library is divided into 10 sublists, the first containing the most frequent terms and the last (10) being the least frequent. Each lesson begins with an overview of the vocabulary term, highlighting meaning, part of speech, syllable division, and collocations. From there, students are able to see the word in context. Then, students are engaged with a formative assessment, assessing their understanding of the word in context. They listen and choose the word stress, engage with collocations, create their own sentence with the vocabulary item (in speaking and writing), and are given a final summative assessment of the vocabulary item, which is conducted with a gamification tool.

collocations activity

Each microlesson provides a dynamic, interactive learning experience, that is completely customizable. In other words, you, the teacher, can add, delete and modify any lesson to address the needs of your students. Additionally, as students move through the lesson, you receive real-time data on your students’ strengths and struggles, as well as their level of engagement. You can see who is engaging in the lesson, and who may not be engaging.

analytics features in PECL
Analytics in Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod

Teaching vocabulary needs to go beyond word, definition, and part of speech if we want to foster true acquisition. We can do this by providing students opportunities to engage with academic vocabulary that are built upon sound research in vocabulary.


Learn more at pearsoneltusa.com/nearpod

Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

Online Teaching and Learning Are Here to Stay

By Dr. Ken Beatty

Online Teaching and Learning are Here to Stay

Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison in 1922.

In 1913, American inventor Thomas Edison predicted that books and teachers would soon be obsolete. In their place, students would use his motion picture projectors to learn. Getting rid of teachers is an old idea, but one that’s been repeated every few decades, with radio, TV, computers, phones and, more recently, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

These predictions are usually self-serving. It’s clear that Edison’s prophecies were rooted in his eye for profits. The same attitude persists today, with educational institutions looking for ways to save money. Online teaching, for example, while not replacing teachers, removes the cost of building new classrooms and teachers’ offices. Teachers and students also tend to use their own computers and pay for their own internet connections rather than using a school’s resources.

Is online teaching and learning likely to fade away like Edison’s primitive motion picture projectors and other failed technology experiments? Probably not. Instead there are at least seven ways that online teaching and learning are here to stay.

1. Internet access is becoming a human right

The United Nations has declared internet access as a universal human right although it doesn’t say that it should be free. Giving students free access to the internet is important because of the unfairness of the digital divide where wealthier students prosper because they have better access to educational tools like computers and services like Wi-Fi. Many educational authorities are starting to find ways to get every student outfitted with a computer and online. As this happens, online learning becomes a more realistic option for everyone.

2. The role of peers as educators

We’ve abandoned the short-sighted model of the teacher having all the knowledge and students being empty vessels to be filled. Anyone studying online soon becomes aware how easy and important it is to learn from one’s peers. Students have much to offer each other and, if given the chance, can help in ways that teachers cannot. Doing so online, rather than in a quiet chat during a face-to-face lesson, means that it is less disruptive and less limited by time constraints. 

>> You might also like: Get Students Working Together Online

3. Blended (hybrid) learning can divide input/output

In simple terms, language learning involves two processes: input and output. Input is all the teaching that happens, as well as the reading and listening students do. Much of this can be taught and done outside the classroom in a blended (hybrid) learning model. Face-to-face classroom time is reserved for output, the chance for students to use the language they’ve learned, getting feedback from peers and teachers. These ideas are part of the flipped learning model.  

>> You might also like: Applying FLIP.

4. New times, new media

online learner

It’s difficult to imagine a job today where your first assignment would be to write an essay. This does not mean that it’s not important for students to learn essay writing; it is. Learning to write an essay is about learning how to think and explore a point of view, and the essay format applies to everything from news articles to application letters. But, increasingly, students are communicating in visual ways, such as computer-based presentations, and using photos, and videos. Online learning makes it easy for students to add these digital components to their assignments, better preparing them for the world of work.

5. The importance of digital professional development

Many resources for teachers once kept in Teacher’s Books are now online, and media helps make them far more engaging. StartUp, for example, has a Teacher’s Portal packed with useful text and video resources to help both novice and experienced teachers improve.

Pearson English Portal Teacher's Resources
Pearson English Portal: Teacher’s Resources

6. The evolution of the textbook into a multimedia tool

Textbooks have come a long way in the past 50 years as resources shifted from being teacher-centered to more student-centered. Where once a teacher would be the only one able to play a recording or show a film in class, students now have control over extensive media and interactive exercises online. Rather than just watching a video once or twice in class, students are now free to preview and review media and do online and app-based exercises where they want and when they want.

7. The use of social media for sharing ideas and assignments

Imagine handwriting an assignment 100 years ago. You’ve spent many hours and covered pages with your best penmanship. Before handing it in, you’d share it with a friend who suggests dozens of large and small changes. Would you be reluctant to start over? Probably. Today, in the computer age, everything is different. Students can easily edit online and, using social media to share digital assignments, can easily get feedback and make changes. Online learning encourages peer editing, and peer teaching as well.

>> You might also like: Motivating Students for Online Learning

There are many reasons why education doesn’t change, but it’s not always because what we’re doing is the best way. There’s sometimes a sense that whatever system is in place is good enough. There’s also an enormous inertia to overcome, making it hard to stop doing what we’ve always done. But change must come, and with a move to online learning it will come, one teacher and one student at a time.


Dr. Ken Beatty has worked in secondary schools and universities in Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. He is author of 77 textbooks for Pearson and has given 500+ teacher-training sessions and 100+ conference presentations in 33 countries. His most recent books are in the LEAP series, and he is Series Consultant for StartUp.


StartUp

StartUp is the new general English course for adults and young adults who want to make their way in the world and need English to do it.

Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part IV: A Wrap-Up
By Christina Cavage

Part IV: A Wrap-Up

Engagement—critical for success, not so easy to build. As you may recall, I started this dialogue out by drawing attention to how as ELT educators we are bridge builders. We build bridges not only between people and their goals, but also between people. We help make connections, and this has been challenged like never before in our COVID world. Engaging students who don’t have cameras on or aren’t sitting in the classroom with your other students, or who may be in a time zone that generally warrants sleep rather than learning, isn’t easy. However, with thoughtful consideration, and a wide variety of tools in your teaching toolkit, it’s doable.

First, it is important to recognize the three levels of engagement that we need to build: emotional, behavioral and cognitive. Each one comes with its’ unique characteristics and effective strategies.

Emotional engagement is all about lowering a student’s affective filter or building their comfort with taking risks and trying out new content. As we saw, there are many advantages to building emotional engagement in an online or digital environment. Students often feel freer to take risks and engage. The pressure of making a mistake sitting next to their peers often dissipates. Using a tool like Nearpod can really help students overcome the fears they may have of making a mistake. If you are launching a live session, you can hide student names, or you can launch a student-paced lesson.

Game in Nearpod

Strategies such as building a community of learners, holding a coffee or tea hour, using collaborative tools within your delivery systems and utilizing think-pair-share via Zoom breakout rooms or other functions within a conferencing platform are all effective strategies in lowering that affective filter, and building emotional engagement.

How about behavioral engagement? This is often a challenging one within our classroom walls and can become even more challenging in a Zoom or digital environment where you can’t always ‘see’ a student’s engagement.

Collaborative Board in Nearpod

Well, the key here is to make learning active. Regardless of if your class meets face-to-face, online, or live online, it is important that your students are active participants and not just recipients of language. Selecting the right tools and using them at the right time are critical.

As we saw earlier, microlearning, or learning in small chunks works best in building and fostering both behavioral and cognitive engagement.

Draw It! in Nearpod

Always consider asking your students to do after a mini lesson. Additionally, varying the types of tasks you are using in the class is just as important. Students tend to become more passive if the same type of activities come their way again and again. As the examples here illustrate, consider using a collaborative or discussion board, then after the next lesson, have students use an interactive activity such as Draw It! in Nearpod, or an activity where they have to do something. When you appeal to different learning styles, you are able to reach all students, and scaffold learning.

Lastly, we have cognitive engagement. While cognitive engagement appears to be the most obvious, it is often presents the greatest challenge because of all we often feel we need to accomplish.

Bloom's Taxonomy

As we saw in the third blog post, it is about moving students up Bloom’s taxonomy in a thoughtful, deliberate manner. We need to build up to creating rather than ask students to create after simple remembering and understanding tasks. Consider the teaching of paragraph organization. We may have students first identify the parts of a paragraph with a model text. Then, we may have students fill in missing gaps of a model paragraph. Next, we can have students unscramble sentences to organize them into a paragraph—all before we ask students to go and create their own paragraphs. Without proper scaffolding, students are being asked to jump across wide rivers without a bridge. It puts a strain on their cognitive load, and often creates obstacles in learning.

Now, with the pressures that many of us feel to ‘get things done’ this can be taxing. However, really working your students up Bloom’s can improve the quality of learning. In other words, it will stay with them longer. Research tells us that students who are cognitively engaged during a lesson perform better on assessments.

Example of microlearning

While this is not too surprising, it is important to frequently stop and assess students’ level of engagement. Consider again microlearning, with checkpoints that stop and immediately assess what they have just learned. As you see in this screenshot, after teaching the pronunciation of –ed endings, students receive a short formative assessment on what they just heard. When students know they will be immediately assessed, they tend to be more on task and engaged, regardless of where they may be sitting.

Overall, engagement is closely aligned with achievement. Students are able to achieve their own linguistic goals, as well as your course and programs, when they are engaged. And, when we think of engagement, we can’t simply think of how we can make the lesson more fun, but rather how we can build and foster emotional, behavioral, and cognitive engagement.

Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part III: Cognitive Engagement

Reflecting back on the last year has me, and most likely many of you, asking were my students engaged in this new normal? If this is to be a normal way of delivery, how can I engage them even deeper?  Well, if you have been following along, you are probably pretty familiar with the definition of engagement I have been working from–“the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught”. We know that engagement involves emotional engagement, which we looked at in the first blog, and behavioral engagement, which we looked at in the last blog, and cognitive engagement, which we will unpack in this blog.

What is Cognitive Engagement?

When we think of cognitive engagement, we may ask, Are my students interacting with content and applying the new content? Are they developing their learner autonomy? It’s really about effort and investment. However, this effort and investment begins with the teacher. The delivery of the content, or the manner in which we teach the content, can either foster or discourage cognitive engagement. What exactly do I mean? Well, the content has to be accessible to leaners, and that includes the terminology we use to teach the content. We also have to scaffold learning or take them up Bloom’s taxonomy. So, how can we build lessons that cognitively engage our students?

Strategies to Build Cognitive Engagement

Very much like both behavioral and emotional engagement, it’s all about leveraging our traditional teaching methods and the types of activities we have students participate in. When we unpack this a bit more, we can really break this down into four key segments: language of our delivery, allotted time for ‘learning’, scaffolding content, and time for learner engagement with content.

Element #1: Language of Delivery

Have you ever explained an English grammar lesson, used the correct terminology, albeit subject, object, participle, etc., and looked out at your class and saw blank stares? Or worse yet, called out a question on Zoom and were met with silence? For many of our students these terms may be familiar, but for many more they simply aren’t. The level at which a student entered your program may be a factor in how familiar they are with terms. So, how can we overcome this? Well, a silver lining in our COVID world is the tools we have available to us and are using. Imagine teaching a grammar lesson, and students ‘watching’ the grammar come alive.

video

Take a look at the screenshot of this video from the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod. It is done in the Khan Academy style. As the teacher is talking through the lesson, students are hearing the lesson, but also seeing it. The visual helps to support the terms the students are unfamiliar with. Furthermore, we need to make sure we focus on not just the what, but the how and the why—think language, form, meaning, and use.

Element #2: Allotted Time for Learning

We often have a lot to do in a little time. We may use our entire class period to present one lesson. However, how many of our students are truly able to absorb it all? How many are ‘engaged’ the full amount of time? In today’s digital world, with today’s digital learners, it is not realistic to think that they can listen to a lecture for an extended period of time, and ‘learn’ all the content and that is why microlearning has become some popular. Microlearning is about learning in small digestible pieces. Students learn in chunks, and then have an opportunity to practice one chunk before moving forward. Studies have shown that microlearning enhances retention and engagement for students. So, when planning a lesson, consider the chunk-chew-check method. Chunk the learning, give students a task or simple activity to chew on the new information, and then check—think formative assessment.

formative assessment

Element #3: Scaffolding

When we deliver a lesson, it is natural to build tasks and practices in complexity. That is really what scaffolding is all about. However, we often work on remembering and understanding in the classroom, or during class time, and then allow students to do the heavy lifting at home—creating. In order for students to be cognitively engaged, and not lose their motivation, it is important we walk them through each step in class, giving them the tools and skills they need to walk themselves through each step outside of class. Scaffolding needs to be thoughtfully designed in and out of class tasks. Take a look at a lesson in the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod. You will notice how the lesson walks students up Bloom’s taxonomy, each time asking a bit more of them, all the while engaging students in their own learning process.

grammar lesson

Element #4: Learner’s Time

Lastly, our students have busy lives, but we know that for a student to be truly engaged in learning, they need time outside of class to engage with content. This allows them to interact at their own frequency rate, but it also helps ELT students build those very critical academic skills, like autonomy. As educators, we need to set that expectation. We need to let students know that learning a language is a partnership—we can provide lessons, but outside of the classroom, they need to dedicate time. The digital world has once again come to our rescue and provided tools that we can use to engage students outside of class. Whether you use a Learning Management System (LMS), or another digital environment, your students can interact with content outside the classroom through additional practices and interactions.

live or student-paced lesson

Imagine launching a lesson in class, but students being able to work through that same lesson again outside of class. With the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, you can launch a lesson during class, or as a student-paced lesson, or both. The engaging platform allows students to interact, scaffolds the lesson, and provides a microlearning lesson.

In the end, we know the more engaged our students are, the more they learn. That is our goal, isn’t it?


Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod
Want to know more about the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod? Visit pearsoneltusa.com/nearpod.

Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

Motivating Students for Online Learning

Ken Beatty
By Dr. Ken Beatty

Motivating Students for Online Learning

Every teacher knows tricks to keep students motivated in a face-to-face classroom: a word of praise, an encouraging smile, a well-timed challenge, and grouping students to promote friendly collaboration or competition. But usual ways of motivating students may be less effective in an online classroom. Teachers need to adapt some strategies while adopting new ones.

Here are seven strategies for motivating online English students.

1 Expect participation: In many online courses, students rely on video recordings, watching them later. Students claim advantages for doing so. They can watch when they’re most alert and not distracted by other concerns. They can also watch a video more than once, to better review difficult topics. But language learning classes need to be interactive. Students need to ask and respond to questions, and listen to and speak with other students. Expect all students to participate in each and every class.

During class, students may not wish to appear on video, leaving the teacher and the rest of the class looking at a grid of blank tiles. Maybe it’s privacy concerns about a home environment, especially for students studying in their bedrooms. But most conferencing platforms allow students to create virtual backgrounds. Tell students to use these because facial expressions and body language are essential to communication.  

2 Build social groups: Why do students drop out of online courses more often than face-to-face ones? A key reason is that online students don’t have the same feeling of commitment that comes from connecting with others. When dropping a face-to-face class, students are aware they might bump into fellow students whose first question will be Why? It’s not the case for online students.

The solution is to build relationships, engaging students in frequent pair and group activities. Encourage study buddies but maintain privacy by asking students to get class-specific email accounts.

3 Personalize assignments: Students need language that is personal to them, such as to discuss things about their families, experiences, and food preferences. Give students language tasks that ask them to reflect on their own lives. Personalized content and assignments are more motivating and allow students to learn new specific content. 

4 Create pair and group assignments: Schools have long had a focus on individual learning, even though most things we do for work and pleasure are group-oriented. Here’s a task from StartUp, Level 2, Unit 3, What are you doing today? It starts with a video example that students can watch multiple times online or on their phone app, and then asks students to make a video of their own, talking about things they like and don’t like to do.

Example task from StartUp, Level 2, Unit 3
Media Project (StartUp, Level 2, Unit 3)

Although it’s an individual task, the final step is to share and get peer feedback. It’s also an easy task to adapt by asking students to make additional videos in which they interview each other and comment on others’ likes and dislikes. Pair and group assignments get students using the language they’re learning.

5 Ask students to show what they know: A lot of assessment is based on asking students to repeat what a teacher or textbook has said, using set phrases. Yet we know language is flexible, and there are many ways to say the same thing. Asking your English learners to memorize information can be demotivating, especially if they are more focused on passing a test than improving their competencies. Give students a chance to show what they know in ways they are comfortable sharing. It might be a recording, a speech, a play, or some other genre. The freedom to choose is motivating.

student studying outdoors

6 Encourage long-term writing and speaking: An ideal task for language students is to keep a diary, but few do, often finding writing about themselves too repetitive or embarrassing. However, there are alternatives. Encourage students to write a few sentences or a paragraph on a different topic each day. Start by suggesting topics related to the content of your classes, then let students suggest other topics as days go by.

Or ask students to each take a photo with their phones, and write three sentences about it. Share these with the class through a group social media account. If your focus is on listening and speaking, students can record voice memos.     

7 Predict the future: Learning English opens up academic, social, and work opportunities. Ask students to imagine a time when they will be fluent English speakers. What will their lives be like? How will they use English? Imagining the future and having goals helps motivate students.

Some of these strategies, like personalizing assignments, are forms of intrinsic motivation that come from the students’ hearts; they’re motivated by personal interest and ambitions. Extrinsic motivation, outside the students’ own interests, comes from making them aware of the academic, social, and work opportunities that better English language skills give them. If the content and context of learning online is not intrinsically motivating for each of your students, make sure you find ways to extrinsically motivate them.


Dr. Ken Beatty has worked in secondary schools and universities in Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. He is author of 77 textbooks for Pearson and has given 500+ teacher-training sessions and 100+ conference presentations in 33 countries. His most recent books are in the LEAP series, and he is Series Consultant for StartUp.

StartUp is the new general English course for adults and young adults who want to make their way in the world and need English to do it.