Monday, December 22, 2008

TEFL Mingle Activities: Present Perfect

If you have any experience as an EFL teacher, you have probably used activities and know that they really can work. They can act as a spark that leads to a successful and satisfying lesson for the teacher and students.

This article describes a specific type of activity that I have had great success with over the years: mingle activities. As usual, I can't claim to have invented this style of activity but I do have some insight on how best to use it and the benefits it provides.

Mingle Activities

Mingle activities encourage interaction amongst students using prompts on cards. Students are given the cards and they then mingle with their classmates. They use information on their cards to form questions, and in turn they answer queries from other students.

As with all classroom activities, there is a contrived aspect to it. In the real world nobody walks around with a card with information printed on it as a way to help themselves form questions. But the activity does serve an important purpose. It gets students talking and forming sentences. It is repetitive and helps them recognize patterns.

Most important, they really enjoy the activity. Once they get going, you don't have to prod them at all. A party atmosphere takes over as students move around trying out their new found language skills.


This example uses the present perfect verb tense. The language function is : asking questions about experiences at any point in a person's life.

After following these instructions, you can then design and prepare cards for whichever grammar point you choose.

To prepare the mingle cards, you need a piece of paper, a pen, and a ruler. Or, simply prepare the cards using Microsoft Word tables.

Create a table with three columns and four rows. In each table cell (each cell will be a prompt card after you cut them out), type in a present simple verb followed by a noun or noun phrase. For example:

Card 1: eat octopus
Card 2: play tennis
Card 3: travel to Russia
Card 4: climb a mountain
Card 5: break your leg
Card 6: see a UFO
Card 7: meet a movie star
Card 8: catch a fish
Card 9: win the lottery
Card 10: see a ghost
Card 11: keep a secret
Card 12: fly a kite

If you have the time and really want to make the cards attractive, you could search online and find a relevant image for each card. Once you have added all the information in each table cell, cut them out into equal sized cards with scissors.

Make the appropriate number of cards up to 20. Any fewer than 10 students and this activity loses some of its effectiveness. However, large class sizes do not make this activity impossible to conduct. I have used it in classes with as many as 60 students. With large classes (more than 20) split students into groups of 10. Photocopy the original sheet before you cut them into cards and use one set for each group of students.

Before your students mingle, conduct the type of lesson plan you usually would in the lead-up to an activity. For this particular mingle activity, your students must:
  • be able to form a "Have you ever...?" present perfect question
  • be able to provide a short answer to the same kind of question (Yes, I have. No , I haven't.)
  • be familiar with some fairly common past participles
  • be able to conjugate a present simple verb to a past participle
  • understand the concept of using the present perfect verb tense to talk about an experience you have had at any time in your life
How your students get to this level is completely up to you.

Conducting the Activity

Tell your students that you are going to give each one of them a card. I find that explaining things first before giving them the card is the best way. If you give them the prompt card first, they will be distracted by it and won't listen to your instructions.

Explain that they will stand up in a few minutes with their card and use it to form a question to ask other students. It is very important to clarify the fact that they must take the info on the card and change it to reflect the present perfect question form you have already taught them.

Model a few questions and answers on the white board.

Example: Card 1: eat octopus

Question: Have you ever eaten octopus?
Answer: No, I haven't.

Finally, hand out the cards and tell the students to begin. There may be some hesitation at first. Provide some encouragement. Tell them to pretend they are at a party.

Within a few minutes, there will be an enthusiastic buzz in the room and the volume will increase as the students get involved in the activity. You can also walk around and listen to their questions and answers.


1. After they have had a chance to talk to each other, get the students to exchange cards and then repeat the activity.

2. Have students report their findings about their classmates after the activity. This can be done orally or in writing. For example, "Nueng has never eaten octopus."

3. Get students to create one of their own questions and then repeat the activity.

A simple type of activity that works and which can be used with any grammar point.

Friday, December 19, 2008

EFL Teaching Advice: Grading

Grade A schoolGrading assignments can be one of the most difficult tasks for new teachers to learn. I am referring mainly to essays and other assignments that involve writing and creativity. Maths and sciences usually present more right or wrong marking potential though they also leave some room for subjective grading.

Grading guidance for EFL teachers working overseas can often be completely lacking.

How should you grade assignments in a fair and equitable way?

Create a Rubric

A rubric is a detailed explanation of exactly how a particular assignment will be graded. Teachers who prepare rubrics for assignments will benefit both themselves and their students. Of course, the question is: how exactly do you prepare a rubric?

The key is to start from the focus of the course that you are teaching. If you are teaching a straight grammar course, you can't fairly assign an essay. The likelihood in most grammar intensive courses is that you will segue into some sort of language function. In other words, you will teach your students how to apply specific language skills to more real world situations such as essay writing.

So let's assume that you have taught university aged students how to write essays in English and now you want them to produce a five paragraph paper on a particular topic.

You may wish to introduce a sliding scale rubric. For example, you indicate to your students that organization is worth 10 points. Each student starts with 10 marks for organization and you substract one mark for every instance where the organizational pattern was not adhered to. If they have four paragraphs instead of five, subtract one point. If they don't have a topic sentence in one paragraph subtract one point. If they don't use a transition sentence between two paragraphs subtract one point, etc.

Similarly, 10 points can be allotted for spelling and grammar. You can then deduct half a point for each grammar mistake. Perhaps you might assign more weight to actual grammar points you covered in class.

Finally, 10 points may be awarded for language usage and content. This section of the grading would not be on a sliding scale and would be far more subjective than the other two areas. This subjective aspect is a real dilemma that comes with assigning grades, especially in language teaching and liberal arts subjects in general. To make things as fair as possible, ensure that you make clear to your students what you expect.

This is an example of a very general and simple evaluation rubric for an assignment. Of course, rubrics can be far more detailed than this one. But having at least some sort of plan is far better than just marking according to a "feeling."

There are other obstacles to marking assignments as an EFL teacher.

Grading on a Curve

Grading on a curve may have some benefits in certain situations, but as part of a language class for EFL teachers working in Asia, it is almost completely worthless.

I encountered mandatory grading on a curve at a university I taught at in Thailand. It seemed geared towards making the teachers' jobs easier. When grading is done on a curve, it is simply an exercise in comparison. The best assignment produced by the best student becomes the standard and every other effort falls somewhere below that. It doesn't matter if the best student was already excellent before they entered the course and made no improvements while the student who gets a C made huge strides.

In an ideal situation, grading on a curve may offer a workable and fair system. If all learners in the class have been screened and are at the same level, the syllabus is clear and closely aligned to the class level, learning goals are clearly outlined, and a fair rubric is used for all assignments and exams then grading on a curve may be possible.

However, this ideal situation will rarely, if ever, exist in the TEFL classroom in Asia. Even when the perfect situation presents itself, grading on a curve doesn't make the most sense if your main goal is to benefit the students.

Regardless of whether you are presented with a situation where grading on a curve is expected, you will face further ethical questions about your assessment style.

Other Obstacles

Pure objectivity is a myth. There are numerous factors, aside from the work a student produces, that affect the way you will grade.

Your relationship with a particular student can't help but play a part in how you view them and the assignments they hand in. When a student makes a good first impression, you may feel obliged to help them maintain the early good grades they achieved.

As unlikely as it may sound, you may even grow to dislike certain students.

The best way to guard against such feelings affecting your objectivity is to mark assignments "blind." In other words, mask the names and identity numbers somehow so that you are only looking at the work and don't have an image of individual students in your mind.

As mentioned, grading assignments can easily become an exercise in comparison. Try to look at whether the student achieved the learning goals and also whether they improved on a personal level. If there are few restrictions regarding how many A's can be handed out, take effort into account when deciding final grades.

This does not fly in the face of the rubric advice. It simply means that a student on the cusp between a B+ and an A, and who has made a strong effort, may benefit psychologically from the higher grade.

Simply being aware of the potential pitfalls can help you to avoid them to some degree. Develop a plan and stick to it but don't be so rigid that you can't revise and update your rubrics and grading methods over time.

Click for Excel tutorial on tallying points and calculating grades

Sunday, December 14, 2008

MS Word 2007: Page Numbering After Second Page

This tutorial teaches you how to begin page numbering on any page after the second page in a document in Microsoft Office Word 2007.

To begin page numbering on the first page of a document is a simple matter. Click on the Page Number button in the Insert ribbon and select one of the various options. Then, to start the MS Word 2007 Logonumbering on the second page, click the Different First Page box that appears on the Header and Footer > Design ribbon.

But starting the numbering after the second page is not as simple and, surprisingly, is not a task that readily presents itself to a Microsoft Office Word 2007 user.

Why exactly would you want to begin page numbering after the second page? Perhaps you have a title page plus a table of contents or a number of other front matter pages. Or there may be some unique reason specific to your document.

One way around this is to create two documents: one with the pages that won't be numbered, and one with the pages that will be numbered. However, this is a needless and awkward fix that creates extra clutter and makes it more difficult to organize your documents.

It is much easier to follow this tutorial and learn how to start the page numbering exactly where you want in a document.

To complete this tutorial, you need:

  • Microsoft Office Word 2007
  • Microsoft Windows operating system
This tutorial consists of two tasks:
  • Create Two Sections in Your Document
  • Insert Page Numbers

Create Two Sections in Your Document

To create two sections in your document:

1. Click the View tab.

view tab ribbon

2. Click the Print Layout button in the View ribbon.

print layout button

Note: If the Print Layout button is already highlighted, do not click it.

3. Place your cursor at the end of the page that precedes the page on which you want the numbering to begin.

page 3 of 5

For example, if you want the page numbering to begin on the fourth page of the document, place your cursor at the end of the third page.

4. Click the Page Layout tab.

page layout tab ribbon

5. Click the Breaks button in the Page Layout ribbon.

page layout breaks

6. Click Continuous from the Breaks drop down menu that appears.

Result: Your cursor now appears at the beginning of the page on which you want the page numbering to begin.

page 4 of 5

You have successfully created two sections in your document. Now, let's get those page numbers inserted.

Insert Page Numbers

To insert page numbers:

1. Click the Insert tab.

insert tab ribbon

2. Click the Header or Footer button in the Insert ribbon.

footer button

Note: This is a personal choice based on whether you want page numbers to appear at the top of the page (header) or at the bottom of the page (footer). This tutorial uses the footer.

3. Click Edit Footer from the drop down menu that appears.

edit footer

4. Click the Link to Previous button that appears in the Header and Footer > Design ribbon.

link to previous button

Note: The goal is to ensure that the Link to Previous button is disabled, in other words, not highlighted. If the button is already not highlighted, do not click it.

5. Click the Page Number button in the Header and Footer > Design ribbon.

page number button

6. Click Format Page Numbers from the drop down menu that appears.

format page numbers

the Page Format window opens.

7. Click the Start at: radio button, indicate at which number you want the numbering to start, and click the OK button.

page number format window

8. Click the Page Number button.

page number button

9. Click the Bottom of Page option from the drop down menu and the specific style of numbering you desire.

bottom of page option

Note: If you chose to put the page numbers in the header, click the Top of Page option.

And there you have it: page numbering that starts on any page after the second page!