Teaching Strategy Chains for Listening (or not)

This is a small research project I did for my MA. It was my lowest mark on the course and I totally tried to do more than was feasible. I will address the limitations below.

Teaching strategies

An approach to using strategies in listening isn’t new, although there is more to it than the advice given to new TOEIC teachers of “Get them to predict based on what they hear and then think about the gist.” What interested me was whether the strategy chains that learners build up, according to Rebecca Oxford (2011) could be instructed.
I put together a class at the local community hall for 6 weeks, with 7 women. The first class let me see the strategies that the learners were already using and give a questionnaire (the MALQ by Vandergrift et al., 2006). The last class involved no instruction of the strategy chain but allowed me to see whether it was being used. Most used a few simple strategies. I derived a chain of potentially useful strategies based upon learners’ answers to the MALQ. The class was a massive mix of levels, from A1 to B2 on the CEFR. I used a mix of authentic texts (reality television) and inauthentic texts (from elllo.org). First I used one text to teach the strategy chain. Learners listened twice and transcribed what they understood from the text in English or Japanese. They wrote what strategies they used in English or Japanese.

The chain

I derived the following chain for instruction: schema activation (through focused thought or speaking to other learners about the topic), plan how to listen based upon their schema activation, relax in order to reduce cognitive load issues and regain focus when attention has been lost. The reasons for this particular chain was that the learners reported little use of these strategies in their listening yet I believed that the learners would benefit from them, particularly the relaxing and refocusing.

So, what happened?

Well, all the learners went along happily with the teaching and said they used the strategy chain in weeks 2-5. In week 6, the assessment week, not a single learner reported use of the chain.
Now, this is not the end of the world. It showed me that teaching is just teaching. Whether learners decide to do something in a classroom is another thing entirely. You cannot force a way of working onto someone. It also comes down to comfort and experience. For some of the learners, they were quite proficient in communication but claimed to be uncomfortable with listening. I used schema activation in the chain and perhaps this was something that they did unconsciously. For the lower-proficiency learners, perhaps the relaxing and refocusing needed more time to be practiced effectively. Whatever the case, strategies are used, in tandem with one another, but perhaps rely more upon learner evaluation of the strategies’ value in combination than teacher evaluation.
Another aspect of the course was that it was 6 weeks which was all the time fast was feasible for me after handing out leaflets on the street and asking friends to share on Facebook (when I was on there). Potentially, with a longer course it might have resulted in learners using this chain in the assessment week. It might not have, and I am going to say that it appears unlikely. Still, it’s good to know what is unlikely to work, isn’t it?
In all likelihood it appears that teaching strategies helps learners, but the chain of strategies used depends entirely on the individual learner. It might be useful to carry out the MALQ in class, see what isn’t being used and teaching successful use of particular strategies.


Oxford, R (2011) Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. London: Routledge.
Vandergrift, L, Goh, CCM, Mareschal, CJ, & Tafaghodtari, MH (2006) “The Metacognitive Awareness Listening Questionnaire: Development and Validation” Language Learning 56:3 September 2006, pages 431-462.

In to view; a two-way perspective on job interviews

This is a bit more freelance than usual. I am on a long trip to an interview by train (not very long but long enough to need a sit down). After that I have a Skype interview with an organisation overseas that I respect very much. But, what’s an interview? Is it OK to not feel stressed?

Interviews: my take

Loads of people take interviews as a sales pitch for themselves. It’s an opportunity to market your brand. What are your values? I am going to go out on a limb here and say all of that is hogwash. I am not selling myself. That is not an interview, it’s a sales pitch.
An interview gives me a chance to find out what I haven’t already gleaned from an internet search and chatter among peers. Is this somewhere I want to spend time? Do I think it would be beneficial to me? I know I can help students to learn, but how will this organisation help me to develop that further? Is it in keeping with my beliefs about practice or not? It’s an opportunity for teachers to interview someone for the position of employer. It needs to be a two-way street.
So, bizarre as it may be, I’m not nervous. I’m wondering if these jobs are right for me or not. I am not just talking about money but that might be part of it, along with CPD opportunities both formal and informal, conditions made explicit and any possible red flags.
So, no, I don’t feel stressed. I feel interested. If I do not get the job I avoid a poor fit with an organisation. If I get weird vibes, it means I shouldn’t take it even if offered. On the other hand, if the vibes are good and people are nice and the conditions great, even if I don’t get the job I will watch for future openings.

Making Written Recommendations

I’ve added something to my online Google Drive folder for the first time in ages. It’s a short Focus on Form activity for turning basic recommendations into written recommendations using modal verbs and adverbs. I wrote it for a class at a car seat company, so you might want to edit the Word document.
It is very rough around the edges by design – there is more than one possible correct answer so there is no list of correct answers – you need to check the work yourself or have the learners do it, perhaps peer checking before teacher feedback.
Making Written Recommendations (MS Word, PDF)

Lesson resource: Night of the Living Dead

I know that Halloween is over a month past. Anyway, I was thinking about authentic, non-copyright texts and I remembered that Night of the Living Dead has never had copyright on it due to a mistake in the original film release. You can download it from The Internet Archive along with subtitles (and if you open the subtitles with a text editor like Notepad or Notepad++, you get yourself a handy script with time codes, although without speaker information).
To save a bit of time, here are some notes I took while I was watching:
10:00 (roughly) Imperatives.
20:00 (roughly) Narratives (Ben tells Barbra what happened, Barbra tells Ben).
36:30 pictorial cues to the next lot of possessions (good for eliciting knowledge of vocab and checking with listening in a minute’s time)
37:25 “I found a gun and some bullets out there. And these. This place… we have a gun and bullets, food and a radio. Sooner or later someone’s bound to get us out.”
40:25 Mr Cooper and Tom enter.
40:45 How long have you been down there?
Conditionals if, when, in case, rhetorical questions, modality will/won’t/can’t/better off. Good for negotiations and making concessions.
48:41 Simple present statements about present state with wasn’t about to mixed in.
50:00 “Does anyone up there know why we’re being attacked?”
“The radio said…” Reporting.
57:40 “The cause… It could be…” /ɪ kʊ biː/
59:40 Locations, possessive for condition.
1:02:40 Possessives. “You can…” for commands.
1:05:00 elision of /d/ in “more and more”
1:05:40 “Where’s that big smile for me?” /weərzat/
1:15:00 “There’s supposed to be a broadcast at 3.”
17:50 “Kill the brain and kill the ghoul.”
1:18:50 Report of killing ghouls. Could be good for a summary.
1:31:20 “We only need a few men to check out the house.”
I hope this is of use to someone. I will probably use it myself at some point, and if noting else, it serves as at least a mental note.