Showing posts with label Resources for English Language Learners and Teachers | Pearson English. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Resources for English Language Learners and Teachers | Pearson English. Show all posts

To infinity and beyond! Toy Story classroom activities for young learners

Summer is just around the corner – and that means lots of great movies will be coming out to keep us entertained during the holidays.

This year, there are some incredible Disney movies on offer. We can look forward to Toy Story 4 coming out on June 21st, a new CGI version of The Lion King in July, and we recently saw a live-action version of Aladdin hit the big screens.

To celebrate the release of Toy Story 4, we have some classroom activities for your young learners. Students will use their critical thinking skills to help the different Toy Story characters out of awkward situations and create a role play for one of the situations. The lesson is suitable for A2 learners and up.

Download our “Can you rescue the toys?” lesson activities here:


Don’t forget to check out our Pearson English Kids Readers collection with all your favorite Disney characters. To get students ready for this summer’s blockbusters, you can find the books online and download Teacher Resources for each level too.

Toy Story – Level 2

Toy story 1When Andy brings home a new toy, Woody is worried that he’ll be forgotten. Will this technologically advanced Buzz Lightyear take his place as Andy’s favorite?

Find your copy here and follow Woody as he tries to regain his position as Number 1 toy.



Toy Story 2 – Level 3

Toy Story 2The next adventure sees the gang in a race to save Woody from becoming a museum exhibit. Will Buzz, Rex and the others be able to find him before he’s taken to Japan? And what about the new toys that Woody meets along the way?

Pick up your copy of the story here and find out who Woody chooses to go home with.



Toy Story 3 – Level 4

Toy Story 3Over the years, Andy’s grown up and now he’s off to college and must decide what to do with his beloved toys. But a misunderstanding sees them end up in a daycare center, rather than safely stored in the attic.

Will the toys make it back to the safety of the house or will they be trapped with the toddlers forever? Find out here.



The Lion King – Level 4

Lion KingWhen young lion cub Simba loses his father in a stampede, his wicked uncle tricks him into believing it was his fault. Simba runs away and grows into a strong lion along with his new friends, Timon and Pumbaa.

Will Simba ever return to his family home and take his place as the lion king? Read about his adventure here.



Aladdin – Level 5

AladdinWhen Aladdin finds a mysterious lamp, a genie appears to grant him three wishes. He wishes to become a prince so that he can meet Jasmine, the princess of Agrabah. However, an evil magician also wants the lamp.

Take a magical carpet ride on this adventure and find out if Aladdin and the Genie get what they wish for here.



Which Disney movie are you looking forward to watching this summer? Let us know in the comments!

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Mapping the path to success with Roadmap

Roadmap is a new flexible eight-level general English course for adults.  

In this webinar series, the co-authors of this innovative course show you how to use it to meet the needs of every one of your classes.

Damian Williams presents the first webinar. He explores Roadmap, how teachers can identify the needs of their classes, and shows how the course can help learners achieve their learning objectives as they progress on their learning journeys.

Here’s a snippet from his presentation.

Overcoming the personalization challenge with Roadmap and the GSE

Teachers hear a lot about personalization. It’s a word that makes a lot of sense. Students want a course that’s tailored to their needs—after all, it’s more motivating, relevant, and engaging to learn something that’s based on your interests.

But personalization is also a term that causes teachers to shake their heads in worry or disbelief. How can you possibly personalize a course when you have so many students and a single coursebook?

It’s a conundrum, for sure. But one that the Roadmap series and the Global Scale of English (GSE) help teachers to tackle head on.

Here, I’ll outline how we can help our learners achieve their goals and go further into how personalization can be a central part of your teaching.

Know your learners: Find out what drives them

Before all else, you must get to know your learners. Once you understand what drives and engages them, you can set the right objectives and teach confidently and competently.

The first part of this is understanding the individuals in your classroom. You should learn about their needs, benchmark their abilities, show interest in their hobbies and reasons for studying. It’s also key to bring in their other motivating factors – such as passing an exam or attaining a certain level of English for work.

It’s then crucial to find out what similarities and differences you have within your classes – so you can best serve the needs of your class as a whole.

Different classes at the same level will often have goals that differ quite dramatically. For example, it’s a given that your class needs to develop its grammar and vocabulary. But some groups may want to prioritize their speaking exclusively. Others may want to focus on developing other skills, such as getting their writing up to scratch for formal exams.

Set clear goals and show tangible outcomes

So, with student motivations firmly in mind, you need to map out and set learning goals. Goals help learners forget distractions and see which direction to head in. They also allow for steady, confident progress towards a destination.

Without realistic goals many learners set themselves up for failure and become demotivated. For example, for most learners, progressing from B1 to B2 is not an achievable objective within a single course.

However, if B1 is broken down into a series of milestones, not only does the level feel more manageable, but students can also recognize and celebrate their achievements as they make progress.

Roadmap has been structured in a way to help you define realistic objectives and set up students for success, because each lesson in the series is mapped to clear, tangible goals with communicative outcomes.

By basing the learning objectives on those set out in the GSE, students can clearly see how they are progressing through the course. This leads to higher levels of class satisfaction.

Adapt and personalize your classes

How exactly can you find out what your class wants and work out how best to give them what they need?

In your very first class, ask students to look at the contents page of your course book and get them to highlight the topics they are most interested in and the language or skill areas they want to work on most.

Discuss the results with the class and dig deeper by asking relevant questions. Once you have a general idea of what the class wants to focus on, it will make it easier to pick which lessons you spend more or less time on. Allowing students to have a say in the learning process will also help develop independent learners.

A Dual Track approach

Another aspect of Roadmap which allows teachers to personalize their classes is its flexible structure. The fast track route has four main lessons covering grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, which all lead to a speaking goal. There is then the extended route, which allows students to develop their writing, reading and listening skills, not just practise them. These skills are broken down to sub skills which help prepare learners for the real world.

This dual track approach allows teachers to personalize their teaching depending on the needs of their class. For example, if you have one group which struggles with listening, you can choose elements of the extended route to help them with this. Unlike many other course books, which integrate skills and language, Roadmap makes it easier for teachers to pick and choose the best content for their learners.

The course is designed this way in response to the research we undertook with teachers.

Reflect and help learners see their progress

Reflection is another big part of the formula. Without it, students can’t see how far they have come and often feel like they haven’t made enough progress.

Learners need space for reflection to review what they’ve learnt and see what they still need to do.

In Roadmap the Check & Reflect pages allow us to do just this and also recycle what’s been learned. We can then see how this translates into tangible goals. All of this helps building confidence, and helps teachers and students track progress.




Personalizing a coursebook exercise

To wrap up, I’d like to leave you with some steps you can follow to personalize an exercise:

Step 1: Give learners time to prepare. Offer guidance on what to think about or take notes on. As part of this we can ask them to do a visualization. For example, rather than just asking learners to describe a room in their house, we can ask them to close their eyes and use their imaginations: imagine you are a teenager and it’s the first day of the summer holidays. The light is shining through the curtains, and you’ve just woken up, thinking about all the adventures you’re going to have. Look around your bedroom. Now describe the room to your partner.

Step 2: Give learners choice and autonomy. Instead of asking them to plan a party, for example, we can give them a range of options for things to plan (a party, a family get-together, a sale, a conference, etc.). Or you can ask them to come up with their own ideas, so long as they use the target language or grammar.

Step 3: Give learners a clear, communicative goal. For example, instead of simply asking them to practice the present perfect, we can ask them to talk about experiences they have or haven’t had. This allows them to draw from the language resources they have available.

Step 4: Give learners an opportunity for reflection on their progress, as well as a chance to think about practical ways to improve in the future.

Engaging with students on a deeper level with Roadmap

Personalization can help us engage students in ways that we haven’t been able to before. Roadmap is structured to help teachers personalize their teaching and start reaping its benefits, together with their students.

Roadmap is a new, eight-level general English course for adults. Engaging, clearly organized and flexible, Roadmap provides teachers with a course that they can adapt to each of their classes.

Curious to know more? Watch a recording of Damian’s webinar here or sign up for the upcoming episodes of the Roadmap webinar series!

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4 things you should look for when choosing a distance learning course

In this third post in his series of four, Mike Rost explains what teachers and learners should look for in an online distance learning course.

Read our first two posts here:

How to choose a distance course

In addition to being a course writer for learners of English as a second language and a teacher, I’ve also been a lifelong second language learner myself, as well as a bit of a tech geek. This means I’ve experienced online learning from a variety of angles.

As a result, I have something of an insight into what students are looking for, as well as what teachers should be evaluating when it comes to choosing a good online course for their learners.

So let’s have a look at the four things you should take into account.

1. The learning materials

The first thing to look at is the learning material itself. Ask for a sample or demonstration of the course for the level you are teaching and get a feel for it. Is it the kind of thing you would enjoy working with?

When you’re evaluating it, it’s important to get a sense of learner engagement too. Does the course offer compelling content that aligns with your students’ needs, interests, or preferences in some way? You’ll find it much easier to work with it, adapt it and hold your students’ attention with it if so.

Also see if there is enough content. If you think you’ll struggle to find activities for your students to do in the lessons – including additional fast finisher activities and extra practice – then it might not be the right course for your students.

Similarly, if you are worried that you’ll have to pad out the lessons with lots of additional materials, then perhaps it’s just not the right one.

2. A quality multimedia element

Secondly, you should also look for high-quality video and visuals. Across the board, learners are coming to expect a slicker experience in online learning than ever before.

It’s much harder to hold a learner’s attention when the materials are lacking in production value or feel like they are 1990s television reruns.

Other questions you might consider are:

  • Is there some kind of story I can latch onto?
  • Will students find it fun? Is it light?
  • How easy is it to get into?  
  • Will my students want to keep coming back to it?

3. The learning outcomes

When you are evaluating lesson materials for an online course, it’s important to think about learner progress. Will your students make some tangible progress by using these materials?

I have to admit: I’ve wasted a lot of time – and money – trying to make my way through online courses as a learner that, frankly, just seem like a random set of exercises, leading nowhere in particular.  

If you feel a course offers a series of clear objectives for your students and an accessible pathway to achieve them, then it might be worth taking into consideration.

4. Course features and structure

Last, but not least, it’s important not to get sucked in by some of the cute elements you see in online courses. There might be some interesting bits of gamification (like badges and mascots and scoreboards), but this doesn’t tell you how well structured or engaging it really is.

Virtually all courses now give you some form of immersion in the language and practice elements. But if the course is lacking a coherent system of scaffolding that leads you to some bone fide progress, it’s eventually going to feel disappointing to learners.

Although I may be a bit more discerning than most online learners, I do think most students choosing a distance learning course will look for these same two things: compelling content and a coherent sense of progression.

Distance course checklist

In addition to these four things to watch out for, you can pose several specific questions to inform your final decision:

  1. What level is the course?
  2. What age is it appropriate for?
  3. How many hours a week does it offer?
  4. Does it cover my students’ interests?
  5. What areas are my students most interested in? (Speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.).
  6. Is there easy live interaction between students and teacher?
  7. Does it look fun to teach?
  8. Does it have any weaknesses?

Next time Mike will be looking at the challenges for teachers in extending a class beyond face-to-face time, using blended learning strategies – so keep your eyes peeled!

Don’t miss his last two posts:

To find out more about how you can use distance learning in your own teaching practice, check out Pearson English Interactive, an online course designed for adult learners that incorporates technology with the latest teaching methodologies.

Do you teach online or blended courses? We’d love to hear about your experiences! 

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5 ways to keep students’ attention in class

Do you ever find it hard to keep students focused and on task? Young learners get easily distracted and it can be hard to come up with ways of keeping them engaged.

In one of our posts earlier in the year we suggested a few ways of getting students’ attention when the class is not listening. Ideas such as call and response, transitional chants or songs, and countdowns can work well when you need to get the attention of the whole class, although if used too often can lose their effectiveness.

Read: 8 Young learner first lesson problems and solutions. 

So what can we do to get, and more importantly, keep our students’ attention? Here are five top tips! 

1. Plan a range of activities

Young learners have relatively short attention spans. In the classroom it is rare to have the whole class fully-engaged in something for a long period of time, since the children will have different interests and levels, so it is essential to plan a number of activities for each lesson.

The more variety you can include in the type of activities and tasks you plan, the easier it is to provide something enjoyable and relevant for each child. Choose short tasks and try to have a couple of extra activities up your sleeve in case something you planned doesn’t work well. However, don’t worry if you don’t have time to do them all – you can always save them for a future lesson.

2. Vary the dynamics and pay attention to the mood

Another way of keeping students engaged is to mix up the classroom dynamics, having a combination of individual heads down work, pair work, group work, and whole class discussion or games. When planning your lesson, think about how your students might be feeling at each stage. After doing some reading or quiet work, students may start to become restless, and this is the ideal time to get them up and moving about.

While you are in class, pay close attention to the mood of the class. When you sense that students are becoming distracted or bored, change the dynamics of the activity.

3. Use brain breaks

Ever notice that students become lethargic and show a lack of interest? Why not try introducing brain breaks at strategic points in your lessons? Brain breaks are short physical activities or games designed to get the blood flowing and to re-energise students to help them get ready for learning. They range from short activities that last a couple of minutes, to longer breaks that may be suitable if your lessons last more than an hour.

Find out more about brain breaks. 

4. Peer teaching

We can vary different aspects of the lesson using the previous strategies, but one thing that rarely changes is the role of the teacher! One way of keeping students involved is by giving them more responsibility and allowing them to take a more active role in their learning.

Peer teaching is a way of completely changing the classroom dynamic and have students teach their peers, while you take a step back. For primary classes, start by asking one or two students to take charge of a ready-made activity, e.g. one from your course book. They should give instructions, demonstrate, monitor as necessary, and finally check answers.

When students are used to doing this, you can start to have them work in pairs or small groups to plan their own activities to use in class.

5. Useful classroom management strategies

Of course, nobody is perfect and there will be times when you lose students’ attention and they are not on task. For these occasions, there are a wealth of classroom management strategies you can use to regain the attention of the class. Here are a few techniques:

  • Walk around the classroom as students are working. They are less likely to go off-task if you are available and watching.
  • Stand next to or behind individuals who are not paying attention, or move your position to a strategic point in the classroom where everyone, but in particular those who are not listening, can see and hear you clearly.
  • Have a code word. Choose a word before the lesson and display it on the board. Tell students that you will call out this word at times during the lesson and they need to pay special attention. You could ask students to do an action e.g. stand up and turn around, and give points to the first student who does so.
  • Silence. An old but effective trick is to stand at the front of the class in silence and wait for everyone to stop talking.

For more classroom management tips read our article: 8 First lesson problems and solutions for young learner classes. 

Your enthusiasm is key

Finally, if we want our students to be motivated and engaged in our lessons, it is essential to show enthusiasm for what we are teaching. The more lively and animated you are about the lesson, the more the students will want to join you and learn.

What do you do to keep your primary-aged learners attention? Have you tried any of these strategies? Let us know in the comments. 

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Six steps to exam success: Motivating your students

This is the fifth part of our exam preparation series: 6 steps to exam success.

In this article, author Billie Jago looks at a number of ways in which you can help you students find the motivation they need to pass their exams – including course personalization, competition and collaboration, autonomy and more.

At the end, you’ll also find a link to watch a recording of her webinar which took place on 20th March, 2019.

The challenges of motivation

Motivating your students for upcoming exams can be difficult. Students have their own reasons for taking an exam – and self-doubt along with added external pressures can sometimes lead students off course and make them lose focus.

That’s why, as teachers, it is essential we constantly vary the way exam classes are taught and maintain a student-centred environment. This helps ensure learners feel continually encouraged and inspired.

So how can we go about delivering exam courses for students that keep them engaged and motivated?

Focusing on student interests

When first meeting students, the initial ‘get to know you’ discussion can act as a springboard for subsequent parts of the course.

By trying to group together similar interests that the students have, writing or speaking tasks can be given with those in mind. In this way, you’ll not only engage students’ enthusiasm but also provide the opportunity for better and more natural language to be produced.

Giving students some autonomy

It is important early on in a course for students to feel as though they are in control of their own learning. Simply by asking students what they would like to focus on in a class or for a written task allows for a more student-centred learning environment.

The role of the teacher is then a facilitator, encouraging learner autonomy, which enables students to work independently and in cooperation with others.

Encouraging collaboration and competition

When working in pairs or groups, learners may have to justify their ideas or articulate an answer. This fosters peer correction and more critical analysis of their own progression. By getting students to work together, we encourage them to learn from each other.

At the same time, we can make classes more dynamic by introducing a timed and competitive element to tasks to practise timings for the exam. This helps create a lighter class atmosphere and offers a more enjoyable way to practise common task types.

Taking the time to analyze previous exams

Watching previous speaking exams online and analysing them or looking at the marking criteria in groups can also be a way to combat the overuse of sometimes repetitive tasks. It may also students feel more confident about their own performances in the exam (or give them something concrete to aspire to).

Offering praise at the right time

A challenge during any exam course always seems to be finding the right time, or any time, to give praise or recognition. Identifying a moment when a student excels in something or has made an improvement is crucial in motivating students. They will feel as though they are being paid attention to as an individual, and it can boost wavering confidence levels as the exam draws nearer.

Following up on homework

Homework should always be followed up on. If a written task has been given, ensure that after checking the work, you are allowing the student to correct their own errors that you have identified. This avoids fossilisation of errors and encourages confidence in a student’s own ability.

Finally, it is important for us as teachers to remember that student motivation levels will be a continual challenge, particularly on exam courses. Not every student will feel demotivated or those who do, may not feel it at the same time.

Ultimately it is up to us to ensure that we provide a classroom environment that is conducive to successful learning. We should aim to offer words of encouragement when needed, and give practical advice to ensure that each student is reaching their full potential.  Our students should progress in the knowledge of the language and then be able to transfer that knowledge confidently and successfully into their future exams.

Want to learn more? Watch a recording of Billie’s webinar now.

Cambridge exam preparation materials with your students in mind

We offer a range of Cambridge English preparation materials for all ages and levels. Our exam experts, consultants and teachers support the development of our courses to make sure they meet current exam specifications while offering you engaging classroom activities at the same time.

Gold (New Edition) 4 levels (B1 – C1)

After speaking to teachers around the world, our best-selling course – Gold – has been revised and updated. Full of stimulating, discussion-rich lessons, this four-level series will give your students the confidence they need to pass the B1 Preliminary, B2 First and C1 Advanced exams.

Download a sample now.

Gold Experience (2nd Edition) 8 levels (A1 – C1)

Teaching teenagers? Then Gold Experience (2nd Edition) is just what you are looking for. As well as preparing students for Cambridge exams, this engaging course helps students develop a range of 21st Century Skills like debating, critical thinking and creativity.

The second edition is now available from levels A1 – C1.

Download a sample now.

Expert 3 levels (B2-C2)

Our more intensive course, Expert, helps support ambitious students as they prepare for their B2 First, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency exams.

Revised for the 2015 exam changes, the 3rd Edition develops language awareness and communication skills as well as test-taking skills.

Download a sample now.

Practice test plus 7 levels (Pre-A1 – C1)

We also offer a series of practice test books. Full of example papers and exam tips, these are the ideal resource to accompany your course. Now available: A2 KEY for Schools, B1 Preliminary, B2 First, C1 Advanced as well as the Young Learner exams – Starters, Movers and Flyers.

Find out more now.

Discover our entire exam preparation webinar series and learn how to support your students as they prepare for exams.

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5 academic skills for primary students

In an ever-changing jobs market, the skills we all need to use have developed beyond numeracy and literacy – and part of our jobs as teachers is to give students the skills they’ll need in their future careers.

Primary students preparing to go to secondary school (and then university) will need academic skills too. While there are lots of courses offering to teach these skills to older learners, we can give our younger learners a head start in the classroom.

A breakdown of academic skills

There are a number of important academic skills that can be carried into many different areas of students’ lives. These include:

  • Time management
  • Prioritization
  • Cooperative learning and delegation
  • Research
  • Analysis

Each individual skill will help students to manage their workloads and work effectively and efficiently, whether they are working in an office, studying for a degree, or are self-employed.

Activities to develop awareness of academic skills

Here are a few ideas for use with students of all ages, to develop students’ awareness and understanding of these skills. These have been taken from classroom activities in the New Cornerstone and New Keystone series.

Time management

For much of the school day, children are told where to be and what to do. However, knowing how to tell the time is not the same as managing time.

Some students underestimate how long an activity will take and then feel cheated or ‘behind’ when their work takes longer (especially fast finishers). Others overestimate the time needed and feel overwhelmed and want to give up before they have even got started.

Helping each student understand what each activity involves will help them to plan and manage their time. It will also encourage them to recognize everyone has differing abilities and works at a different pace.

Give each student sticky notes representing 10-minute blocks of time (6 pieces if your classes are in 1 hour segments).

Explain an activity:

  • You will read a story and they will need to listen for key information and make notes,
  • After that, they will work in groups to make a Venn diagram.

Next, have the students think about how much time each part of the lesson will take using sticky notes. If they think making the diagram will take 20 minutes, they should put two sticky notes on top of each other.

Have students share what they think the time allocation should be, taking into account how long your lesson is. Did any ‘run out of time’ or have time ‘left-over’?

After the activity ask students how accurate their predictions were and if there was any time wasting.

Let students practice using this type of task analysis throughout the week for different activities, so they begin to see which activities they work quickly through and which they find more time-consuming. This will help students plan and manage their time better.

Also, involve the parents by sharing what has been done in class. Get students to manage the time allocation:

  • From waking up to getting to school (getting washed and dressed, having breakfast, the journey to school),
  • From arriving home to going to bed (homework, evening meal, any cores, time for watching TV or playing games, getting ready for bed).

How does their time management change at weekends/in the holidays?


Prioritization is another big part of time management. Task analysis helps students recognize what they must do and how they must do it in order to get a good grade. It also helps them understand the things they will most enjoy about an activity.

To teach prioritization, it should become a regular part of the class. At the start of each week list (approx. 5) class objectives to be achieved.

Ask each student to number these objectives, 1 being their top priority, 5 being their lowest. Make a note of which students prioritise the same tasks in the same order to help with grouping.

Next, ask them if any of the objectives will need planning or preparation (for example; growing cress for a science experiment) – and if so, should that be started earlier in the week?

At the end of each day, review how the students are doing in reaching the objectives and if they need to reprioritize.

As the week progresses, add in additional items that are not priorities. For example, clean out your school locker/sharpen all the pencils, as well as other new real priorities: revise for quiz on Friday. This will give students an understanding of how priorities can change.

Collaborative learning and delegation

Delegation and collaborative working are both essential academic and life skills. Thankfully they are already quite familiar topics for students. In their everyday play, students often delegate roles and characters –  ‘You be Spiderman, I’ll chase you’, etc.

It’s helpful to encourage this behavior in the classroom too. It can help students (of all ages) to recognize what they can achieve through cooperation and delegation because of their different skills.

Explain that a group project (e.g. a group play) will require students to share information and to work together. Make it clear there are rules to follow:

  • Everyone must take part in the performance
  • The play must be at least 1 minute long
  • The group needs to write a script and create some props
  • As a team, all are accountable/responsible to each other (as well as to you)
  • The activity will only be classed as a pass/successfully if everyone takes part
  • There is a finite goal – the play will be performed at the end of next week to the Year 2 classes.

Suggest that the group meets and plans together (reading corner, at lunchtime, etc.). As they prepare, ask for updates on who is doing which tasks and why. Also encourage the group to determine whether something could be done differently/better by sharing the jobs.

Listen in to see how objections are handled (recognize some of this discussion may be in the students’ first language).

At the end of the project ask each student to list what they enjoyed the most and what they found most challenging. For the next project, ask them what skills they would like to develop further.

Research and analysis

 This can sound daunting for Primary students, but laying the foundations for academic research is easier than you might think.

Big questions at the opening to every unit in the New Cornerstone and New Keystone series are a gateway to developing research and analysis skills. Two examples are, Why are plants and animals important in our world?  Or What can you do to help people in need?

Providing students with a way to remember the important steps in any kind of research makes this type of activity less daunting.

Hands On’ is a 5 point guide that can be demonstrated by drawing a hand with five fingers:

  • Hypothesis
  • Research
  • Gather data
  • Create a report
  • Present evidence
  • Research and analysis (written on the palm of the hand)

Following the five-point guide students must:

  • Give their thoughts and ideas on possible answers (create a hypothesis)
  • Use books, the world around them and the internet to find information (research)
  • Learn how to recognize what is fact and what is opinion (gather data)
  • Review the data and summarize the main points (create a report)
  • Use examples from their research to support their argument (present evidence)

Any type of research needs to be methodical, using the 5 points above helps students build a clear structure that can become more detailed and complex as they advance through school.

Using New Cornerstone and New Keystone

Guided reading with New Cornerstone

New Cornerstone (for primary children) and New Keystone (for lower secondary) are designed to deliver these transferable academic skills. Every unit, in every level, builds connected learning and evidence of understanding through Building Background, Reading Strategy, Before You Go On, and Putting it Together sections.

Teachers get detailed support in the Teacher’s Guide on how to introduce, manage and analyze the individual and group activities and rubrics to help build students’ academic skills across the year.

Want to learn more?

Why not join our Facebook group and share your tips for developing academic skills with Primary students.

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What is so “Big” about Big Questions?

A few years ago, I was working as an educational consultant. Part of my job involved visiting schools that had outlined improvement plans regarding English language teaching and learning and observing classes.

In one case, I was struck by the contrast between the lessons of a regular English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class teacher and an English Through Science teacher. The classroom was the same, the students were the same, but one class went so much better than the other.

We’re going to revisit what I observed and examine why one teacher was far more able to engage her students and facilitate learning. It all comes down to Big Questions and how they can completely change classroom dynamics.

What did I observe?

The first regular EFL group I observed did not go well; the students were bored, they couldn’t pay attention and the teacher struggled to keep them in control. Frankly, though the teacher did her absolute best, the class was a bit of a nightmare.

However, the second class, which took place immediately afterwards, was an outright success – even though it was the same group of students.

In the second English Through Science class, I saw that students were reporting their progress regarding plants they were growing. They analyzed the factors behind the growth of some of their plants and behind the fact some of the plants did not make it through the weekend. Then they discussed photosynthesis and were talking incessantly, raising their hands, practically jumping off their seats. They interpreted charts and drew conclusions.

Linguistically speaking, it was as if I were looking at a different group of students. While in their regular EFL lesson they were in the drill and kill mode, with short sentences that barely made the cut, in this lesson the sentences were rich in vocabulary and structure, much more sophisticated than anything they produced just 60 minutes ago.

How did Big Questions make the difference?

All the teacher did was give meaning to her lesson via a Big Question. The lesson was relevant, was meaningful, and though children struggled with words, the cascade of ideas and opinions they wanted to share was unstoppable. What a difference a Big Question had made.

A Big Question makes you think; it makes you bring your previous experience and knowledge to the discussion. A Big Question may not have a unique, correct answer, but any answer that is the result of a collective construction of knowledge will have fulfilled its purpose. We will always have something personal and relevant to say in response to a good Big Question. A Big Question makes me look for evidence to support my ideas. And that kind of depth of knowledge and rigorous thinking is what we as teachers should strive for in any classroom.

Effectively, Big Questions are essential questions that:

  • are open-ended; have no simple “right answer” and no “yes/no” answers
  • are meant to be investigated, argued, looked at from different points of view
  • encourage active “meaning making” by the learner about important ideas
  • raise other important questions
  • naturally arise in everyday life, and/or in “doing” the subject
  • constantly and appropriately recur; they can fruitfully be asked and re-asked over time

Here are some examples of Big Questions:

  • Are animals essential for man’s survival?  Explain.
  • How would our culture be different without computers?
  • Why is science an important subject for us to study? How has science improved our lives?

How are Big Questions more meaningful?

In language learning, Big Questions have an additional role: they make us use language meaningfully.

We may struggle with what we want to say, but if the Big Question is relevant and challenging, students will always leave their comfort zone and look for ways of participating in a discussion. All we teachers need to do is provide scaffolding so that they can use new words and sentences meaningfully.

A Big Question makes learning move from being about language and turns it into learning through language. And language is, above all, a means to an end, the end being meaningful communication.

Perhaps it is good to bring up what experts say about questioning and discussing using big questions:

Student engagement using good questions and discussion lead to:

  • Improved learning outcomes
  • Higher levels of thinking
  • Improved student achievement (Applebee et al., 2003; Murphy et al., 2009).

Employers report that these skills are important to career success (Wagner, 2008) and these skills support critical thinking and collaborative problem solving (Schmoker, 2006; Wagner, 2010).

That is why Cornerstone and Keystone center each unit around a Big Question: because this makes learning relevant, meaningful, and socially constructed. All that learning is about.

For more top tips join our Cornerstone and Keystone Facebook group, where you can share ideas with passionate teachers all over the world.


Applebee, A. N. (2003). The language of literature. New York: McDougal.

Wagner, T. (2010). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need—and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.

Schmoker, M. (2011). Focus: Elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

All references come from Acree, J. & Danker, B. (2015) Questioning from Classroom Discussion: Purposeful Speaking, Engaged Listening, Deep Thinking. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Learn more about Cornerstone and Keystone

New Cornerstone (for primary learners) and New Keystone (for secondary learners) have a strong focus on developing students’ imaginations through their use of Big Questions. There is a range of interesting and globally-inspired topics to engage and motivate learners as they develop their academic skills.

What is New Cornerstone?

Guided reading with New Cornerstone
  • A 5-level, very-intensive primary course with material for 10+ hours of English per week.
  • A new, improved edition of a popular primary course.
  • American English (AE), with 35% new content, which has been mapped to the GSE and includes brand new reading texts.

Download a sample now!  

What is New Keystone?

  • A 4-level, academic secondary course for students aged 10-14, with material for 10+ hours of English per week.
  • Each level has six thematic units organized around a Big Question. Lessons center on authentic readings with a wide range of genres. These include biographies, informational texts, and poems, as well as classic and contemporary literature.
  • It is aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the GSE.
  • A new edition of a popular American English (AE) course, with 35% new content.

Download a sample now! 

How do you inspire your learners? Let us know in the comments!

The post What is so “Big” about Big Questions? appeared first on Resources for English Language Learners and Teachers | Pearson English.

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A dive into the challenges of online distance learning

Distance and blended learning is growing in popularity all around the world. Alongside the opportunities for students and teachers, come real challenges. Some are related to technology and others related to classroom management and community building.

In this second post in his series of four, Professor Mike Rost talks about the difficulties students and teachers face when learning and teaching online – and what we can do about it.

Read the first post in the series: The advantages of online distance learning.

Tech challenges in online teaching

In 2019, access to technology is less of a problem for students than it used to be. Most learners have a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone – and will generally have internet access, for at least some of the day.

Still, we should not assume all our students have unfettered access to tech. It’s important for teachers to confirm their students are able to readily access the resources they need to participate in online distance learning.

What’s more, most younger students are considered to be digital natives – that is, they grew up with the internet as an integral part of their life. And while most are comfortable navigating new software and solving hardware problems, issues of digital literacy will prevent some students from successfully taking full advantage of online learning resources.

All students, even the most “literate”, will therefore benefit from initial orientation and regular reviews of the courseware you are using. This helps to make sure that they are taking full advantage of the resources within the course that are available to them.

A lack of support creates issues for teachers and students

Though there are a lot of advantages for distance online learning courses, there are some potential pitfalls that teachers and administrators need to be aware of. The most critical is when there is a lack of support for and from teachers.

Situations can arise where an administrator, who is trying to manage a tight budget, thinks that online courses require fewer teachers because classroom space is not needed. When this happens, teachers soon become overloaded and cannot meet the needs of their individual students.

Within a few weeks student engagement may begin to flag – regardless of the type of assignments or activities provided. Unsurprisingly, some students begin to drop out of the course, or just do the minimum amount of work to get a passing grade.

In distance learning, teachers need to have the support of management, so they can in turn support their students through course personalization and individual attention.

Preferably, this should take place through live video conferencing – or at least through regular (individual) emails. This keeps students engaged and allows teachers to provide one-to-one feedback and help them solve learning problems, as well as giving the students a human connection through the course.

The problem of no peer support

As part of my work in course writing and curriculum design, I travel to a lot of countries and visit a lot of diverse classrooms. I recall my first visit to a university classroom in Mexico, and I was struck at how much peer bonding there was during, and especially at the beginning of, classes.

I remember one class where it took a full ten minutes for the arriving students to make their rounds, pausing in front of each of the twenty or so classmates to greet them, always including a light hug and kiss on the cheek, often with a friendly verbal exchange and usually a laugh or smile. I recall thinking then – when are we going to get down to business?

The class went well, with a lot of spirited communicative activities and exchanges, all in English. After class, I asked the instructor about the arrival ritual. Although she was a bit puzzled at first, she said it was “essential to give them an opportunity to connect” and told me that “then they can support each other better during the class.”

Experiences like this one have helped me become aware of just how important personal connection and personal support is for students in language learning. Indeed, the type of personal connection and support you can experience in classroom may be the primary advantage of classroom courses.

So for online courses, it is important to find a way to re-create this. If face-to-face class meetings – even once every week or two weeks – are not possible, I have had a lot of success with synchronous (real time) discussion groups, where we get together and talk about any achievements or concerns students may have.

Face-to-face interaction (with or without the hugging and kissing) helps to maintain a sense of community. If that’s not possible, then asynchronous discussion boards will also go a long way towards keeping students engaged with each other.

Beyond this sense of connection, there is the language partner aspect of language learning. In communicative language learning, it is important to have interactions in which students can test out their developing command of the spoken language. Online courses can simulate spoken interaction, but the face-to-face context adds an important learning dimension.

The question of motivation and engagement online

The challenge of keeping our students engaged and motivated is common across grade levels, subject matter, and all types of institutions and courses – not just in online language courses. So we have to recognize this as a universal problem in education.

Many of our students – more than we would like to recognize – have never really succeeded at learning English in traditional classrooms because the class was “over their heads” or they simply couldn’t tune in.

On the positive side of this issue, distance online learning can improve motivation and engagement. An online course that is pitched at the appropriate level and pace can be very motivating for students, especially when the teacher sets small, short-term goals with realistic expectations. In addition, many students enjoy self-pacing, achieving short term goals, and receiving immediate feedback and recognition for success – all of which can be achieved online.

Moreover, when learners experience success, they exert more effort and become more resilient. It’s a cyclic relationship – and an effective distance learning program will have short activities—micro tasks—that can enhance motivation in this way.   

However, if the only contact students have with their teachers is through the internet, some new challenges come into play:

  • Students may enroll in online courses because they believe the course will be easier and require less of their time and minimal cognitive commitment. So before the course even begins, these students may be prone to disengagement.
  • Online environments can generate a feeling of anonymity – a perceived lack of identity and affirmation – which makes it easier for students to withdraw, or participate minimally, or – as I’ve heard from some teachers – “completely disappear from the course.”
  • Without face-to-face contact, teachers are not able to pick up nonverbal and behavioral cues from students that might indicate the students are disengaged, frustrated or unenthusiastic about participating.
  • Teachers also cannot share their emotions easily with their students and may find it harder to express their enthusiasm, or give encouragement, or show concern.

So it is important for teachers – and course designers – to be proactive! We need to keep these issues of motivation and engagement front and center at all times, and anticipate that we will have to address these issues directly with each new group of students.

Next time Mike will be looking at how to choose an online distance course, so stay tuned!

Pearson English Interactive

To find out more about how you can use distance learning in your own teaching practice, check out Pearson English Interactive, an online course designed for adult learners that incorporates technology with the latest teaching methodologies.

The post A dive into the challenges of online distance learning appeared first on Resources for English Language Learners and Teachers | Pearson English.

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5 ways to become a reading detective

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous and well-loved detectives in the history of literature. The character was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 19th century. Since then he has appeared in four novels, over fifty short stories by the author, as well as countless TV series, films and video games.

To celebrate Sherlock Holmes Day on May 22nd, we’ve got five easy ideas to turn your students into reading detectives.

1. Contextualizing

19th century London is a very different place to the world your students live in today! This means there may be references to unfamiliar ideas and objects and things your students don’t understand. To help their comprehension, work with your students to identify words and concepts which might be difficult. For example, Sherlock Holmes and his colleague Doctor Watson often travel around in a horse-drawn carriage. Have students think about the modern-day equivalent (a bus, car or taxi) and think about what life was like in those days.

Asking questions about how life was different then and the advantages and disadvantages of the two lifestyles gets students using their critical thinking skills, as well as giving them a deeper understanding of the story.

2. Finding clues in the context

Often, our students will see new vocabulary in a text. During class and at home, they have tools at their fingertips to help them understand what a new word means. For example, they can ask the teacher, or look up a word in the dictionary. However, there may be times, such as during exams, when they can’t use these tools. Train students to guess what a word means from its context. They can look for clues like the position in the sentence, as if it comes before a noun, it’s likely to be an adjective; or grammatical clues like an -ed or -ing ending which may suggest it’s a verb.


3. Working with language

As gentlemen in 19th century Great Britain, Holmes and Watson sometimes use phrases which can sound very strange in today’s modern English. Take this excerpt from the original Scandal in Bohemia:

“Pray take a seat,” said Holmes. “This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have I the honour to address?”




Rewriting short sections of the text with more contemporary language and structures helps students to show they’ve understood and allows them to practise the skill of paraphrasing, which is an important reading-into-writing skill.

4. Using graphic organizers

If you’ve ever watched a police thriller on TV, you’ll see a whiteboard in the office with details about the case, the main suspects, a timeline and other details. Encourage your students to create a similar graphic organizer when reading.

With fiction, they can identify who the characters are, how they are related to each other and their role in the story. With non-fiction, students can identify the key information from a text, such as important dates, facts and figures. As well as showing their understanding of the text, it acts as a summary of the key points.

5. Predicting

Sherlock Holmes is famous for his skills as a detective and he always catches the criminals in the end. Your students can use prediction skills to guess the outcome of the story too – this will show how well they’ve understood the text so far, as they will be making deductions based on what they’ve uncovered while reading.

Challenge them to beat Sherlock Holmes by having them predict the ending after each chapter of the story – if their original prediction matches the story’s ending, they’re a top-notch detective!


Sherlock Holmes Readers

We’ve got a great selection of Sherlock Holmes Readers, both for younger learners and adults.

In our Pearson English Kids Readers collection, you can find two short stories in which Holmes and Watson investigate different crimes. In The Red-Headed League, a young man takes on a strange job copying a text from a book. How does this relate to a planned bank robbery? And will Holmes solve the case in time?

And copying comes up again in The Three Students – but this time there is concern that an important exam paper has been copied. Who is to blame? Will your students catch the culprit before Holmes and Watson?

Pick up your copy today and download Teacher Resources for this Level 4 Reader here.

For Teens and Adults, check out our range of Sherlock Holmes short story collections below, as well as the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. All come with audio and Teacher Resources which can be downloaded from our site. Click on each title for more information.

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

What’s your favorite detective story? Let us know in the comments!

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