Foundation "Parasol" participates in the KA1 Adult education project “Open for Europe” which aim is to raise the key competencies and skills of staff in order to increase the quality of teaching and learning and to make them relevant to the needs of our learners – mainly seniors. The aim of the project is also to support our learners in the acquisition of learning outcomes (knowledge and skills and competencies). Foundation "Parasol" is searching for new approaches and new methods of language learning. The most important areas of improvement for Parasol are in terms of quality development, personal and social development, in terms of improving staff skills and competencies (teachers, administrative staff, managers).
Two of our teachers participated in the course on modern British culture that took place between 30 July and 10 August 2018 at the British Study Centre in Oxford, England. The two-week teacher refresher course comprised of sessions run interchangeably by Emi and Dave, two experienced teacher trainers, with the sessions covering a wide range of issues related to many aspects of British culture, such as politics (including Brexit of course), the Royal Family, social welfare and British spending habits as well as popular culture (music, film and TV) and British humour. The sessions weren’t hypothetical in nature, on the contrary – our trainers presented us with tonnes of authentic materials, such as newspaper articles and clips, various TV programmes and other kinds of footage, which then formed the basis for discussions and other follow-up activities.
The course also included a very practical component of studying British culture through guided tours of some of the famous sights in Oxford, such as a number of ancient colleges and libraries belonging to the University of Oxford (e.g. Christ Church or the Bodleian Library). Another notable place of interest we were taken to was the Oxford Magistrates' Court, where we were allowed to observe authentic court sessions.
Other than providing us with comprehensive knowledge on British culture, the course was also invaluable for us as English teachers in a strictly linguistic sense. Some of the activities were devoted to issues such as vocabulary or the infamous British pronunciation (including the seemingly unpronounceable names of places across the United Kingdom). During these activities, we had a chance to further improve our competences as English speakers and English teachers.
An important aspect of the course which needs to be stressed here is that it provided us with a number of actual tools which we will now be able to implement in our classes and share with our fellow teachers at the company. These tools or teaching methods were demonstrated to us in a most practical manner – we were asked to do the activities ourselves as students and then to reflect on their potential use with our own students. Here are some activities and resources the course featured that we found particularly valuable in that sense:
- an activity wherein the teacher divides the class into two competing teams which then need to describe a word or a phrase to their representative, who is sitting with his or her back to the board (where the teacher writes down a word that everyone but that person can see); the activity is a great way to revise some vocabulary with students, who in the process also develop their fluency and their interactive skills in English;
- a game simulating a ‘quiz night’ – in itself an important element of British pub culture since the 1970s – in which a quizmaster reads out questions, and students, working in small teams, have to write down the answers on a sheet of paper. There may be several rounds, each with around ten questions to do with a more or less specific general knowledge topic or a subject related to British culture, such as cinema, music or the royal family. After each round, the teams swap their sheets and mark one another’s answers. As well as being good listening comprehension and speaking practice (with participants encouraged to consult answers with their fellow team members, speculate and make guesses), the activity is a fun and engaging way to revise vocabulary and wrap up any discussed cultural content;
- a listening/viewing worksheet that can be used for any video and/or audio content, asking students to make predictions about the contents based on the title and come up with several questions they would like to have answered – both of which can be done as a speaking task in pairs or groups. The worksheet was used with Grayson Perry’s documentary series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’ on working class, middle class and upper-class taste as well as with YouTube videos of British stand-up comedians, such as Romesh Ranganathan, Joe Lycett or Sara Pascoe – all exposing the trainees to authentic language as well as cultural content,
- a board game teaching British slang;
- a kinaesthetic group listening activity adding a change of pace and variety to the class, in which all students get one or a few strips of paper with a fragment of the lyrics of a song. The class standing up, they listen, with each student asked to put their strip on the board or the wall once they have heard it so that the whole lyrics are arranged in order once the song has played. The activity offers memorable exposure to topic vocabulary and target grammar. At the course, we listened to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’ following reading and a discussion about his career;
- reading material on odd jobs with the royal family, such as the Warden of the Swans or the Royal Shoe-Wearer. The job descriptions can be used to teach useful language for writing job applications and attending a job interview;
Additionally, the course allowed us to rub shoulders with teachers of English from a number of countries – Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, 12 people altogether. Almost all of the classes required us to interact with each other in English, thus giving us a great opportunity to talk about our teaching experience and exchange our teaching methods and ideas.
Overall, the course proved to be a great experience on a number of levels. Undoubtedly, it made us all better teachers than we were before the start of the course and I would definitely recommend it to all foreign teachers of English.