5 Easy Ways to Teach English Through Any Subject

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I had an embarrassing experience in France when I was 16-years-old. 

No, it wasn’t my French that was the problem (although I’m sure I made lots of pronunciation mistakes). It was my knowledge of English!

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Sat around in a communal circle of newly-found friends, I was at Taizé: a Christian retreat in Burgundy. At many points during the week-long pilgrimage, I found myself conversing with people from all over the world. It was my first truly ‘intensive’ exposure to so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.

“You must have felt humble” states a friend during a conversation of which I cannot remember the theme. 

“What does ‘humble’ mean?” I asked.

Then the laughter came. “Are you sure you’re British?” asked one of the group.

I was sure I was, and I was the only native-English speaking person in the group. It was rather a bashful moment to be honest, and it spurred me on to read more and more books and get better at articulating myself. 

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My friends brushed-it-off and were very light-hearted and amused by the matter.

I wasn’t amused though.

English is a massive language

Here are some facts about the English language that I recently discovered:

  • A new word is added to the English dictionary every 2 hours! This means that, in one complete year, 4380 words will have been added to the dictionary! 
  • About 360-million people speak English as a native language. This ranks English third in the world: behind Spanish (400 million native speakers) and Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers).
  • Despite the common belief that English has more words than any other language in the world, this is actually impossible to prove. However, English is definitely larger than continental European languages, due to the absorption of German and Latin throughout its history. 
  • The difficulty of English language learning depends upon the native language of the student. The closer the native language to English in terms of letter shapes, sentence structure, grammar, syntax and logic, the easier it will be to learn. Additionally, in a study conducted by Philip Seymour of Dundee University and his team, it was found that English was the toughest European language to master. Children learning other European languages as a mother-tongue typically master the basic elements within one year. British kids, however, typically take 2.5 years to reach the same level.

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Conclusion: English is a pretty difficult language to learn!

Helping our kids to master the language

I’m a high school science teacher. I also have a duty to teach English through my subject. 

I have an additional responsibility too: as an international school teacher in Thailand, I must model the very best elements of English pronunciation so that my students pick up the language quickly and efficiently. The local colloquialisms, dialect and accent I picked up from North Wales has to go out of the window (at least to a certain degree).

Here are my top-ten tips for teaching English through your subject:

#1: Book the school library and choose your books beforehand

Getting the kids out of the classroom provides a nice change for them and, if we choose our books wisely, we can get our kids to read around the subject and absorb lots of great information and facts.

bean bags

Try to make the library task productive too. It shouldn’t just be a ‘sit and read silently for one hour’ task. Give the students a worksheet to complete where they have to source the info from books. Perhaps get the kids to write a one-page summary of what they’ve read in their books. 

#2: Be a model of good speech and get your kids say words out loud

Most subjects have key words that the kids have to remember. My subject – Science, has many!

When a key word comes up, get the kids to:

  • Write it
  • Highlight it
  • Use it
  • Say it

I’ll often get all of the kids to say words out loud:

Me: “So what’s the positive electrode called, please?”

Class: “The anode”

Me: “Excellent. Say, ‘an-ode”

Class: “An-ode”

Me: “Not everyone said it. Again please”

All of the class: “An-ode”

I’ve also written a blog post about reinforcing key vocabulary, which you may find helpful, here

#3: Use ‘Learning Journals’

I wrote a massive blog post about this here, but I’ll explain the process briefly again.

Basically, get your students to write revision notes in a special, ‘non-school’ notebook of their choice. Perhaps one they’ve bought for themselves.

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Every week, collect the books in on a fixed day. Write one post-it note of feedback on each book and hand it back the next day.

This gets kids into the habit of regularly reviewing their work and delineating their understanding of the concepts covered by the course.

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It’s an EXTREMELY POWERFUL tool, but it is rarely used in teaching profession (sadly).

#4: Play vocabulary games

I’ve written extensive articles about this here and here. Learning games are very easy to set up and require very little planning. My two favourites are ‘splat’ and ‘corners’, which I’ve included here:

Splat

Here’s a short video of me playing ‘splat’ with some of my former students:

Corners

#5: Talk face-to-face with students when giving feedback

Marking can be powerful when used properly. Personal, face-to-face feedback is even better though.

About once every two weeks I like to set my kids a task and then speak to each student one-at-a-time at my desk. 

I’ll look at his/her notebook and point out the things that could be improved upon (as well as the good stuff). By doing this every two-weeks I can ensure that the changes the student has agreed to make are being implemented. This includes spelling mistakes and the use of key vocabulary.

Overall Conclusion

Making our lessons more ‘English intensive’ doesn’t have to be intense for us!

By making some minor adjustments to methodologies and feedback systems, we can dramatically increase the English acquisition of our students.

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Should Parents be Involved in Sex Education?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

As an 11-year-old boy I was interested in two main things: sweets and toys (especially toy soldiers, model cars and wrestler figurines).

Then the day of the ‘video’ came. A large TV was wheeled into class and the school nurse and class teacher looked on as a group of kids giggled at the animations in the ‘Growing Up’ documentary.

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I knew it was coming, and so did my parents – they had to sign a consent form beforehand.

Did I really need to be taught that at 11-years-old? For me, personally, I don’t think so. It was little too early. 

The news

As I was scrolling through the BBC News’ Family and Education section looking for interesting articles to tweet, I came across this top story:

bbc news

You can read the full article here.

After reading the article my conclusion is this: Children in England of 15-years-old and above will be soon be allowed to opt in for sex education classes, even if their parents wish to withdraw them.

Currently, parents have the right to withdraw students from sex education classes up to the age of 18.

The article makes the legitimate point that any child who does not receive sex ed before the age of 16 will effectively have reached the age of consent without knowing what sex is, and what the consequences of sex could be. There are also concerns that modern sex education covers topics such as mental health and LGBT issues, which some lawmakers and ministers feel are such important topics that parents should have no say in whether or not their kids learn about them. 

I tend to disagree, strongly.

Culturally and religiously inappropriate

In many cultures, sex education is simply not taught to kids at the age at which we in the U.K. would deem it appropriate. Here are some facts which I’ve pulled from research done by studyinternational.com

  • Belgium: Sex education begins at the age of 7 in some schools, although the approach to sex ed is rather relaxed and no national strategy or system is really in place.
  • China: Mostly absent, although Do-It-Yourself STI testing kits are readily available. Sex education is primarily the responsibility of parents, not schools.
  • India: Sex education is not compulsory, but good programs are in place that are aimed at 12-20 year-olds
  • Indonesia: Again, sex education is not compulsory but big changes are happening across the country to modernize Indonesia’s provision. 
  • New Zealand: As a compulsory subject, sexual education is taught through a rigorous national curriculum from Year 7 to Year 13. However, concerns have been raised about New Zealand’s STI levels, and moves are being made to modernise and improve the programme. 

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As we can see for this small sample, people of differing cultures have completely different views on when and how sex ed should be taught. We also see that despite comprehensive sex ed courses being provided to schoolchildren in countries like the U.K., New Zealand and America, the effects seem to be mixed:

  • In New Zealand, teenage pregnancies and birth rates are falling (is that a good thing?), but STIs such as syphilis are on the increase
  • In the U.K., despite sex education being written into law with the The Education Act of 1996 (which states that sex education should inform pupils about STIs and HIV and encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and family life”), syphilis infections are the highest they have been in 70 years. 
  • The American situation is just as dire, with the CDC reporting that in 2016 gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia infections were at an all-time high. Sex education has been a public health priority for American governments for four decades but methods of implementation vary by states, districts and school boards.

One could argue that sex ed in schools simply doesn’t work. In fact, that was almost the exact conclusion of a massive 2016 Cochrane Infectious Diseases Review of studies into sex ed. The review states that:

There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programmes alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents.

Removing parents from the ‘system’?

Some people would argue that a pattern seems to be emerging (albeit slowly): the systematic removal of parents from involvement in their child’s education. 

Let’s take a look at a quick summary of some developments in the U.K.:

  • Whilst homeschooling is allowed in the U.K., the headteacher of a pupil’s assigned school must be notified. A local council representative may come to inspect, and if he or she provides a negative appraisal of the situation then the pupil may be required to attend full-time school. School Attendance Orders were introduced in 1996 and basically allow for the government to fine and prosecute parents if their children do not receive a suitable full-time education from at any point between the ages of 5 and 16. 
  • Children between the ages of 13 and 16 have the same medical confidentiality rights as adults, which means that doctors and teachers are not required to inform parents in the case of an abortion or sexual activity. 
  • If parents are homeschooling their children, then they do not need to follow the curriculum. However, they must make sure their child is educated suitably for their age and ability and for any special educational needs they may have.

Conclusion

Sexual education doesn’t seem to be working effectively, as STIs continue to rise globally (even in those countries where sex ed is comprehensive and implemented through a national strategy). This concerning, and more research needs to be done to ascertain feasible solutions.

Parents should be encouraged to get more involved in the sexual education of their children. Parents should always be given the choice to consent to school-based sex education for their children. The religious and cultural beliefs of the family unit should be respected. 

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The Four Rules of Praise

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s a warm mid-summer day in muddy Swynnerton, England. I’m at an army base for Summer Camp. I’m a 15-year-old army cadet.

The Territorial Army had some of their boys in to inspire and help us. They needed a cadet to help with the radio and signals work during night exercises. I can’t remember if I volunteered or if I was chosen, but I very quickly found myself listening in on the radio transmissions, recording the call signs and messages in the log book and taking action where needed to pass on vital information about group movements and conditions, along with any emergencies.

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I loved it. It was ace!

I just immersed myself in the process and did the best job I could. I was told what to do by the T.A. lads and I just got on with it.

Later that night, they all shook my hand and told me I had done a good job.

The next day came and I was approached by my home platoon sergeant. I can still remember her words, two decades later: “Corporal Rogers I’m hearing brilliant things about you from the T.A. Keep it up! You’re doing Flint Platoon proud”.

That felt amazing, and it spurred me on to work harder.

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Praise only works when it is used properly

The Army Cadets were an excellent model of good teaching. To be honest, I really think they turned my life around. I went from a shy, weak and rather timid boy to a confident and rather ambitious young man in the space of about three years, thanks to their help.

Giving feedback

I’m going to summarise what I’ve found to be the very best ways to use praise to empower and push our students forward. They worked for me when I was being taught as a kid, and they’ve worked for thousands of students that I’ve helped in my twelve years as a high school teacher.

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.

Rule #2: Praise must be specific

Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?

Be specific. Here are some examples:

“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”

“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”

Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

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I’ve written about the power of this technique before, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.

Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.

On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.

Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on subtle reinforcement for more info about this powerful technique).

Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future

Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.

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Praise must be collective if it is to be truly effective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.

Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.

“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”

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Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Today is a remarkable and unique day. The suspense and the emotion fills the air. It surrounds us. We can even taste it.

A daring and incredibly dangerous rescue mission has been given the green light to go ahead. Today is the day that Royal Thai Navy Seal divers will begin the attempt to rescue the 12 schoolboys and their 25-year-old coach who’ve been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex, Chiang Rai, for two weeks.

Thai Cave Rescue
The boys and their coach inside the cave, accompanied by a Thai Navy Seal diver. Image courtesy of the Royal Thai Navy Seal Facebook page.

Being based in Bangkok, Thailand, I have a close association with Thai people from all walks of life. This event has truly gripped the nation, and the world.

Before I talk about today’s subject matter, I’d like to ask all of my readers to please join me and all Thai people by praying for the safe rescue of all 12 boys and their coach (and the safe return of the rescuers).

Humans are natural carers

This cave rescue in Thailand has given me a fresh perspective on the topic of empathy. It’s made me ask the question: do children really need to be taught how to care for one another?

The outpouring of help for these trapped boys and their coach has been truly inspirational. I won’t even begin to attempt to write a list of all of those who have helped because that list would be so huge it would take months, maybe years, to research and collate. But it has been remarkable. People from all over the world have literally sacrificed their time, money, health and energy to do everything possible to help these boys.

One man even sacrificed his life: Petty Officer Saman Gunan, who fell unconscious and died shortly after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave complex.

When times are at their worst, humans will do everything they can to help. Mr Saman Gunan is a true hero who selflessly did the best he could to help people who were in desperate need.

Surely this is our highest and most prized quality as humans – selflessness. Few people, however, are both incredibly brave and selfless, as Mr Gunan was.

He will forever be remembered, and missed.

Teaching kids to care

I personally believe that the vast majority of people are natural carers. We empathise naturally – it’s part of who we are.

Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe - rendering

According to Samantha Rodman (Clinical Psychologist and Author), however, there are six keys ways in which we can teach kids empathy. This would seem important in a world where youngsters are being increasingly detached from physical interactions with one another by the barriers of mobile technology.

Materialism also doesn’t escape the jury’s verdict.

According to research conducted by psychologists at Northwestern University, materialism is socially destructive. It is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships.

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To further compound this issue a more startling picture of human empathy is portrayed by the research conducted by Sara H. Konrath and colleagues of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. Her team conducted a 30-year study between 1979 and 2009 and discovered that Emphatic Concern and Perspective Talking is declining rapidly in college students. 

Maybe we do need to teach kids how to care, after all. 

So what are the six ways to teach empathy?

  1. Teach kids about emotions: Children need to know what emotions are, and how to identify them. Once kids have identified those emotions, they can then learn how to manage them. Progress in this area has been heavily fueled by the Mindfulness in Schools strategy, which teaches the importance of observing one’s thoughts and emotions, rather than reacting by reflex-action. Check out their website – it’s well worth a look!
  2. Read and watch TV with your children: I guess this could work in a parent-student, teacher-student and student-student dynamic. The key is to get the kids thinking about and discussing how the characters feel in different parts of the story. It still amazes me when I watch a movie in the cinema and people laugh when some character gets killed or something bad happens. Movies are strange entities because in some cases they play on human emotion positively by creating more empathy, but in some genres repeated watching can lead to desensitization. 
  3. After conflicts, have a reflection: This is a classic tried-and-tested technique, and it works well. “How do you think Sarah felt about what you said? How would you feel if someone said that about you?”. Getting young people to reflect on the emotional consequences of their actions can have profound, long-term effects on their character and personality.
  4. Set an example by resolving conflicts in your own life: Probably more applicable to parents than teachers, or teacher-parents, but well-worth mentioning. If you have an argument with your wife in front of your kids, for example, you must also make-up in front of them too. With your students in school, you could get them to shake hands after an argument and get them to say sorry to one another.
  5. Express feelings on behalf of those who cannot speak: Babies, pets and, in some cases, disabled people, cannot express their emotions verbally or through other means. Discuss with your students or children what the feelings of these individuals might be when the opportunity arises. 
  6. Be a good role-model of respect and decency: Show courtesy. Be respectful of people who have different opinions or beliefs than you do (unless those beliefs threaten life, health or safety – then you’ll have to take action in a sensible, emotionally-detached way). Let your students see you showing respect for those around you who may have a different religious belief system, or political opinion, than you do. It’s very sad to see politicians arguing on TV, for example, when they should show greater respect for one another. 

Conclusion

  • Research has shown that empathy is decreasing in young people
  • Materialism is associated with anxiety, depression and the breakdown of relationships
  • There is a case to be made for the rigorous and broad teaching of empathy to kids in schools
  • There are ways to deliberately teach empathy to children, and six have been identified here

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Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Childrens’ Health

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was 1988. I was five-years-old.

I wasn’t a particularly ‘good’ kid in early primary school. I tried to follow instructions, but things didn’t really ‘click’ for me until later in life. One day, however, I must have been a good student because my teacher rewarded me by letting me use the computer.

I was led by hand to a small room adjacent to the classroom. Nestled in the corner on a wheely truck was a BBC Micro computer. It came complete with a huge floppy disk drive and some kind of touch-pad which I didn’t understand how to use.

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It all looked very high-tech and cool to me.

For thirty minutes I was allowed to play vocabulary and maths games. The black screen whirled with green text and pong balls as I tried to solve the problems. The bleeps and 8-bit sounds were awesome.

Later that year my family would buy a far-superior computer and a legendary gaming console – the Atari 520 ST.

If I was lucky I’d get an hour to play on that computer each day. The games were aimed at kids and the themes were vivid and colourful. The Atari machine taught me hand-eye coordination and the basics of using a mouse, floppy disk drive and operating a basic computer. I think it also made me a bit of a dreamer and aided my imagination.

Double Dragon
‘Double Dragon’ – A game I used to play on the Atari 520 ST back in 1988

My life back then was very-much centred on the outdoors. The Atari was a nice addition to my life, but I still preferred running though streams and burying my toy cars in the garden.

Fast Forward to 2018

I can’t believe that thirty whole years have passed since 1988. My generation has seen so much change in such a short space of time.

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Some technological developments over the past three decades have been revolutionary and beneficial to mankind. The creation of the mainstream internet in 1993, for example, opened peoples’ homes, libraries, offices and schools to a whole new era of possibilities and opportunities in learning, business, entertainment, communication, research and e-commerce. 

Along with this sudden treasure trove have come some shocking and extreme societal changes which pose new challenges for all of us. 

sitting on the carpet

Take a report published by the Telegraph this week, for example. The headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher: 

Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds

The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.

The findings are alarming:

  • Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):

Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.

But I thought that technology was good for kids!

As teachers, we’ve pinned our colours to the ‘Technology Troop’ so much that as soon as people start speaking up about the dangers of widespread and pervasive technological encroachment into peoples’ lives they are often shunned; sometimes disgraced and can be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ or not ‘with the times’.

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I once remember a fashionable post and picture from a friend on LinkedIn in which he said “When faced with a steam-rolling technology you either become part of the steam-roller, or part of the road”.

I remember thinking ‘How about you just move out of the way of the steam-roller’?

It didn’t take long before the reflex-action barrage of indignation was fired my way.

But the dangers of compulsive and widespread association with our mobile devices are real – very real:

  • A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in Canada, America and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

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Conclusion

As teachers and parents we are facing a global health crisis of epic proportions.

The dangers of excessive mobile-device usage are well-researched, fully-supported and very real. Also: ‘excessive’ has become the new ‘normal’.

If we do not take action now, when this problem is in it’s relative infancy, then who’s imagination can predict the problems that are waiting to manifest?

We must no longer subscribe to the notion that technology is amazing and that anyone who criticizes or questions its value in an educational setting is to be shunned or belittled. There are legitimate reasons for being concerned about the encroachment of screen time into childrens’ lives. 

Next week, I’ll be exploring ways in which adults can reduce the screen time of their children and students. We all must help. We all must take action now. 

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