Friday, March 30, 2018

English World 6 Unit 7 p.80 Grammar in Conversation

(Supplementary Materials for Specific Textbooks--English World 6)

Google Drive Folder HERE
Scrambled Conversation: docs, pub

I’m sorry?
What’s the magic word?
Give me your ruler, Mel.
Mel, could I borrow your ruler please?
Give me your ruler.
Mel, may I borrow your ruler, please?
Can I borrow your ruler, please?
That’s not very polite. Ask nicely.
I’m not sure.
Mel, would you be so kind as to lend me your ruler? Please!
Sorry. Can I borrow your ruler?
Why not?
I don’t think so.
Because I haven’t got one!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Indirect Pronouns--Shouting Dictation

(TESOL Worksheets--Pronouns, Word Patterns)
Google: docs, pub
[Standard shouting dictation activity.  This is done in pairs.  The pairs stand on opposite sides of the room.  One student is a reader, and one student is a writer.  Because they are standing on opposite sides of the room, they must shout their sentences to each other.  To increase the challenge, they are competing against many other pairs, all of whom are shouting different sentences.
To increase the challenge even more, the teacher can put on loud music  on.
There are many ways this game can be organized, but in my class I did it in teams, and awarded 5 points to the first team to finish, 4 points to the second team to finish, etc.]

  1. She wrote me a book.
2. Father read me a story.
3. I will buy you a horse.
4. She will buy me a diamond.
5. We made him breakfast.

  1. She told me a lie.
2. You sent me a package.
3. I sent you an email.
4. I gave the dog a ball.
5. We sang her a song.

  1. I bought him a cake.
2. I will make her a pizza.
3. We will sing them a song.
4. I am going to tell them a joke.
5. I will give you candy.

  1. Father will read us a book.
2. I will show you the world.
3. We will buy her a dress.
4. They will write us a story.
5. I will tell you my plan.











American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson

(Television Addiction)

...okay, so I'm a bit late to the party on this one.  But I did watch it, and I do have some thoughts, so I'm going to blog about it.

Why I Watched It
When I first heard of this show, I had zero interest in it.
That stupid O.J. Simpson trial, and that stupid media circus that surrounded it, had already consumed enough of our lives.  The last thing I wanted to do was watch a 10 hour dramatization of it.

But then I started noticing all the positive reviews this thing was getting, and I started getting slightly more interested.
In particular, the avclub (which I regularly visit) had some very positive commentary on this series, which made me interested.

See all their commentary HERE.

The past couple months, American Crime Story season 2 has been on TV.  I have cable in my apartment, so I see it from time to time.  I haven't been watching it regularly, but I've been catching the odd episode here and there.  And I found it interesting.

So at this point I was intrigued enough to go back and watch Season 1:  The People v. O. J. Simpson.

But first...
Some Thoughts on the O.J. Trial
I had never heard of O.J. Simpson before the murders.  (I was never a sports fan).
Obviously O.J. was very famous, but I think at least a certain percentage of Americans were like me.  We didn't know who this guy was, we didn't care, and we were a bit mystified at how much media coverage this whole thing got.

But even if you didn't care, you couldn't escape it.  The trial was on TV every day, but even if you weren't actively watching the trial, it was still on the front pages of the newspapers, on the editorial pages, on the editorial cartoons, on the nightly news, on the radio, on SNL, on late night talk shows, on the morning talk show I listened to as I drove to school every morning....
You couldn't escape it.
And the whole thing went on for a year!

By the end, of course, it had become such a big media event that all of us were emotionally invested in the verdict.
When the verdict was delivered, I remember my teaching stopping school so that we could watch it live on T.V.  (I think this was actually pretty common--most people stopped school or work).  And I remember how angry we were when we heard he was not guilty.  And I remember how the discussion of the verdict dominated everything for the next couple weeks (it was in our school paper, it was discussed during the sermon at church that week, and of course it was national news.)

Obviously anyone who has lived through this doesn't need me to remind them.  But I'm going through the trouble of making all of this explicit because I've discovered that this is not actually a universal experience.
In my years in Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam, I've discovered that this is a particularly American thing.  (Many of my Japanese friends, even ones who were the same age as me, had no idea who O.J. Simpson was.)
It is also, now that the trial is over 20 years ago, now becoming a generational thing.
Assume that for the first 5 years of life people aren't really aware of the news, and that means you have people who are almost 30 now who have no memory of the O.J. trial.

I currently live in Vietnam, and I currently work with a lot of people under 30.  So I'm discovering that the fact I know who all these people are is now part of my identity.  Knowing about Marcia Clark and Judge Ito and Kato Kaelin marks me as being a certain age, and being from a certain culture.
I've occasionally found myself in the position of having to explain to people what the O.J. Simpson trial was, and what a big deal it was at the time.

I'm even discovering that I've begun developing a certain nostalgia for these names.  At one time hearing about the O.J. trial used to give me a headache, but now it evokes memories of my teenagers years, and reminds me of when I was young.

Funny thing nostalgia--but that's a different subject for a different post.

And here's another thing that may be a different subject for a different post--how much was the O.J. Simpson trial a big media circus that distracted us from the real news, and how much was it the real news?
I mean, I know the whole media frenzy was stupid.  But it happened.  This trial dominated the cultural conversation for 2 years during the 1990s.  And nobody can erase that now.  It's officially a part of our history.
200 years from now, historians will still be discussing the O.J. Simpson trial, and the effect it had on the culture of the time.  (Although granted your average Joe on the street probably won't remember it in 200 years--your average Joe on the street who is under 30 already doesn't remember it.)

Also, although the trial was neither the cause of, nor the solution to, a lot of the social problems going on at the time, it was certainly very illustrative of them.
And to its credit, the TV show American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson shows this very well.  The race question is obviously all through this trial, but the problem of sexism is almost just as big.  (it is incredible what Marcia Clark went through, and  The People v. O. J. Simpson does a very good  job of showing all the sexism she faced).
Not to mention the classism.  (The O.J. Simpson trial showed very clearly that the rich and famous don't get tried like the rest of us.)

And (of course) questions of the media and celebrity obsession.  This was always the obvious issue, but The People v. O. J. Simpson deals with it in interesting ways.  On the one hand, the media creates this story, but on the other hand, the participants like Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran are fueling it by obviously playing to the cameras.
And even Judge Ito also comes off as being corrupted by the fame that this trial offers him.   (He proudly shows off mail that celebrities have sent to him, and his wife lies on her conflict of interest form so that Judge Ito can get the case.)

The Review
I'm going to borrow my analysis from the avclub, because I think there reviewer was very insightful about what made this series work.  From this article HERE.

Here’s the thing: We all already knew how American Crime Story was going to end. We knew this from the opening shots of the pilot episode ad from before the series even premiered. That’s the inherent challenge built in to the true crime genre: How do you build suspense, increase tension, and create a powerful, gripping narrative if we already know the outcome? The answer, at least for American Crime Story, was to focus on the characters rather than the crime. And what’s more, to focus on the attorneys, the jurors, the judge, the speculating media, the friends and acquaintances and family of the deceased — focus on just about everyone except the alleged murderer standing trial. The trial of the century was the People v. O.J. Simpson but in American Crime Story, we witnessed everyone else take the stand.

I think this is spot-on.  The least interesting person in this whole story is O.J. Simpson.  But there were a lot of other interesting stories in this tale.
The story of Marcia Clark, and all the sexism she had to face in this trial.
The conflict between Christopher Darden and Johnny Cochran was interesting.
All of the clashing egos and conflicts on The Dream Team was interesting.
The story of Robert Kardashian and his growing doubts was interesting.

There were a lot of very interesting stories going on here.

And there were a lot of little interesting twists and turns.
For example, I never knew (or had forgotten) about how Mark Fuhrman's attacks on Judge Ito's wife almost caused a mistrial.  That was an interesting little twist that got thrown into this trial.

This little project also managed to attract a considerable amount of talent.
For a T.V. show, there's a surprising amount of Hollywood movie actors.
John Travolta is amazing in this--his Robert Shapiro absolutely steals the whole thing.
But Nathan Lane is equally amazing--his slimy portrayal of the shifty  F. Lee Bailey was great to watch.
And the scenes when John Travolta and Nathan Lane faced off against each other... brilliant!

Bruce Greenwood (a.k.a. Captain Pike from the Star Trek movies) is just classic as the grizzled old District Attorney who is always angry and swearing.

All in all, enough drama in this to merit a recommendation.  That is, if you haven't seen it already, of course.

...but I do have a couple complaints.
The show works best when it takes itself seriously.
It works less well when it tries to be pandering.
Sure, there's an element of a joke to the whole O.J. Simpson trial.  But it's important for a series to be tonally consistent.  You can either play this thing as drama, or you can play it as farce, but it's tough to do both.
Some of the montage scenes, and some of the music cues, struck me as a bit cheesy.
Also... there were a few points were cameos of the Kardashian family were a little bit too obvious (Although on the other hand, I had not realized that the O.J. Simpson trial was the reason that this family got famous in the first place....So I guess that's another new thing I learned.)

Other Notes:
* I had forgotten just how vile a human being Mark Furhman actually was.  It was more than just the use of the n-word on those tapes--he talked about torturing and beating minorities, and manufacturing evidence.  And apparently his supervisor (Judge Ito's wife) had had to reprimand him for writing KKK on Martin Luther King posters.
"I wonder what ended up happening to him," I thought to myself.  "I imagine after all of this came out, he ended up ostracized by everyone, and hopefully died poor and penniless."
So I looked him up on Wikipedia and.... nope.  He wrote several books, became a regular contributor on Fox News, and had his own radio talk show.
Because of course he did.  There's no racist so vile he can't be rehabilitated on Fox News.

Link of the Day
Dershowitz vs Chomsky debate Israel at Harvard--This is an oldie, but I figured this was appropriate here since Alan Dershowitz was yet another character in the O.J. Simpson trial.  One of the many other interesting little stories in this series that I didn't have time to mention.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

English World 5 Review Vocabulary Units 10-12

(Supplementary Material for Specific Textbooks--English World 5)

Quizlet: docspub

English World 5 Unit 10-12 Review

English World 5 Unit 10-12 Review

English World 5 Unit 10-12 Review

The Language Teaching Matrix by Jack C. Richards--Revisited

(Book Review)

Started (re-reading): January 4, 2018
Finished (re-reading): March 27, 2018

I read this book once before back in 2014.  See my original review here.

I've been re-reading it the past couple months because of book club.
I'm not going to re-review it, but I will post some of the discussion from our Facebook page.
In an effort to get more discussion out of our book club, I've been trying to make a point to make one post daily about the books that we read.
In this case, I didn't quite keep to that goal, but I did at least get 26 posts out of this book, all of which are posted below.

A quick disclaimer, however.  As usual I didn't pace myself well, so these 26 posts are all over-analyzing the first half of the book, and I never got around to discussing the second half of the book.
I really hated the first chapter of this book, but it does get better as you keep reading.  And unfortunately that's not reflected so much in my posts.

But for whatever it's worth, here they are below.

Post 1
The next book is The Language Teaching Matrix by Jack C. Richards.
In order to accommodate people's schedules, we're going to be delaying the meeting until February 27. (Perfect for any slow readers in the group.)

Post 2
A word or two of introduction about "The Language Teaching Matrix".

I read this book 3 years ago when I was doing Delta Module 1. A friend of mine recommended it as essential reading for the Delta Module 1 exam, so I read it because he recommended it.
And I did find it moderately useful. The book is chalk full of useful terminology that often appears on the module 1 exam, and explanations of what the terminology means (for example descriptions of: product writing versus process writing, bottom-up processing versus top-down processing, interactional functions of language versus transactional functions of language, et cetera). This is particularly true of the chapters that focus on the skills: speaking, writing, listening and reading.
Other sections seem less relevant to module 1—for example chapters on how teachers can self-evaluate their own lessons. As I read, I began to suspect this book might actually be more useful for module 2 than for module 1, and when I finished, I asked my friend which module he had actually meant to recommend the book for. He confirmed that it was more useful for module 2. But since I plan on doing module 2 someday, I don't consider it wasted time.

I hate to say it, but I found this book a bit of a difficult read. The whole thing is written in thick, heavy, academic prose—the kind of prose that requires very careful reading, and does not yield up its meaning easily. For example:

"Program planners, textbook writers, and language teachers now have a variety of options to choose from in developing content-based approaches to second language instruction. The present analysis has suggested that the basis for appropriate instructional designs is the notion of student functional proficiency and its interactional, task, and cognitive components. Approaches that address only the linguistic dimensions of the problem ignore the complexity of classroom learning and classroom interaction through the medium of a second or foreign language. At the same time, a broader research base is essential to provide information for program planning and evaluation…" (p. 157-158).

I’m not saying I couldn’t understand it, but I had to fight really hard to keep my eyes from glazing over, and because of this I had to re-read many of the paragraphs several times in order to finally absorb their meaning.

The composition of the book is a bit random. As is common practice for academic books, many of the chapters in this book are simply re-printed articles that the author had previously published in various academic journals. This results in a series of articles which are all quite solid individually, but don’t come together as whole when they are all positioned as chapters in the same book.

As my friend later put it, “It’s a chapters book, not a whole read.”

I didn’t realize this at first, and was initially approaching it as a “whole read” book. After all the title, The Language Teaching Matrix seemed to indicate that the book was going to detail some sort of comprehensive system. And the introduction stated explicitly that “The Language Teaching Matrix is designed to serve as a textbook in courses on language teaching methodology and teacher preparation” (vii).
Actually, the book almost comes together as a whole read book. The various articles in the book manage to cover all of the components of a language course (curriculum development, teaching listening, teaching reading, teaching writing, teaching conversation). But then some of the chapters seem a stretch to put into the same binding, like the chapter about how to integrate bilingual children into mainstream education, for example, which has little relevance for those of us teaching in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) environment.

Despite all of this, I did find the book to be interesting. And the 2nd chapter "Beyond Methods" has stuck with me in particular. (I quoted it a few times in reference to our previous book).

At any rate, I suppose we're due for a challenging book. We've been trying to alternate easy reads with more challenging reads. We just got done with a very easy and pleasant book, so I guess we're due for a more academic one.

We've also given ourselves plenty of time to read this--almost 2 months. So we have plenty of time to slowly pick apart Jack Richards prose, and hopefully get some good discussion out of it.

And since this book is considered essential reading for the DELTA course, we're all going to want to tackle it sooner or later anyway. So we might as well do it together and try to support each other.

Post 3
Preface p.vii
"This is not a book of prescriptions, where teaching is approached in terms of methods and products that offer teachers predetermined models to follow. Rather, teaching is approached as a dynamic process. Teaching depends on the application of appropriate theory, the development of careful instructional designs and strategies, and the study of what actual happens in the classroom. Because these ingredients will change according to the teaching context, effective teaching is continually evolving throughout one's teaching career."

This has certainly been true for me. Every time I think I know what I'm doing, I find that a new group of students or a new context will make me have to re-think my teaching style all over again.

Post 4
A few people have been asking what is "The Matrix".
Going off of my memories of the last time I read this book--3 years ago--I think "The Matrix" is just a clever sounding title designed as a catch-all to justify Jack Richards re-publishing several of his old essays. In other words, I don't think any coherent "Matrix" formula emerges from this book.
But maybe I'm being a bit harsh or remembering wrong. (This book is frequently cited as one of the "Must-Read" Delta books, so there must be something to it.) We'll have to evaluate it as we go, I guess.

Jack Richard does attempt to answer the question of "What is the Matrix?" on page vii.

"The 'Matrix' in the title is a metaphor for an interactive and multidimensional view of language teaching; for in this book effective language teaching is seen to result from interactions among the curriculum, teachers, students, methodology, and instructional materials"

Aargh! My eyes are glazing over already! What does that even mean?

Post 5
p.1 "Curriculum Development in Second Language Teaching"

Over my many years teaching English, I've gradually come to the opinion that what happens in the classroom only accounts for a small percentage of a students actual learning.
That is to say--anyone who actually wants to learn English needs to do a lot of studying outside of the classroom. Students who only show up to the classroom, and don't do any reading/listening/speaking outside of the class, will not make any kind of meaningful progress.

...But I don't know. Am I just making trying to let myself off the hook with this philosophy? What do you think?

On page 1, Jack C. Richards writes "If students aren't learning it is assumed to be the fault of the method, the materials, or the teacher."
But what about the students themselves?

Post 6
p.2-3: Needs Analysis

I've got to confess, I haven't been doing a lot of needs analysis with my adult classes.
I did it with my first couple adult classes at our school (at the suggestion of my manager) and got so frustrated with all the contradictory information that I just threw my hands up and gave up on the whole enterprise. One person wanted to study more grammar, one person didn't want to study grammar at all. One person pleaded with me to do more games, one person said there were too many games in the class.

Also, I find that student's self-reporting can be unreliable. There's a difference between what they think they want, and what they actually want. Some students say that they want to study seriously the whole time, and not play any games. But then when you actually try to do this, they find that they can't concentrate for the whole 2 hours without any games or breaks.

Although if I'm being completely honest with myself, maybe another reason I've stopped doing needs analysis is just because it's extra work. It's much easier to just use my pre-existing materials than it is to try to create a whole new course to tailor it to the needs of your students.

So maybe I haven't really given it a fair chance.

I don't know. What's been your experience with Needs Analysis?

What I've started doing instead of doing a needs analysis at the beginning of the course is to give students a feedback form halfway through the course, to see how well they are enjoying the activities that I'm already doing. Any activity that gets a less than 50% vote of approval gets cut from the second half of the course.

XXXX Commented:
Usually I evaluate and determine their language needs (what do we need to focus on first and prioritize). After, we do a survey on how and what they like to learn/learn about/etc... Afterwards, I do my best to represent their needs in lessons, but it doesn't always work out. It IS impossible to tailor each lesson to each individual student, however, it's our responsibility to try and get most of our students in each lesson. This is why it's important to use different types of tech, games, etc... Not every lesson will be fun and exciting and some students will think differently about each lesson. However, if you can give your students variation in each lesson then you are doing your job and the best you can. Educators cannot reinvent the wheel every time and I completely relate to you when you say it's easier to use pre-existing materials. UPDATING our lessons to fit the needs of our current students is a good way to not reinvent the wheel and still meet the need.

Post 7
Needs Analysis Continued:

A sample needs analysis is included in Appendix 1 (p.27-28). Despite the skepticism I expressed in the previous post, a lot of these questions look very useful, actually.

I particularly like the question "e)" which asks the students how they want to be corrected.
I've found in Vietnam that the issue of how to correct students is one of the trickiest. Some adult students want to be corrected all the time (and will sometimes complain if you don't correct them enough), while others are very shy and self-conscious, and will shut down if you over-correct them.

I like the idea of collecting the information about how the students want to be corrected at the beginning of the course. Then you could in theory tailor your correction style to each student---give some students immediate correction, some students delayed correction, and some students no correction. (There is a case to be made--See Krashen and Michael Lewis--for not correcting speaking at all).

It sounds nice in theory. But would it work in practice to give several different styles of correction to several different students? Or would you just have to choose one consistent method for the whole class?

XXXX Commented
Here is an interesting article that might compliment the topic

Post 8
Behavioral Objectives p.4-5
I've mentioned before that I occasionally struggle with Jack Richards's prose.
The final paragraph at the end of the behavioral objectives section is a good example. I think I know vaguely what he's talking about, but there are no concrete examples.

"A criticism that is often made, however, is that representing language teaching goals in terms of behavioral objectives is impractical, as well as undesirable. Some learning goals cannot be stated in terms of behavioral changes expected in students. In such cases, it is preferable to focus on the classroom tasks and learning activities that learners should engage in, and the intrinsic worth and value of these experiences for their own sake, without specifying precise learning outcome..."

I think I know what he's referring to, but I'm not sure.
I think he's referring to the fact that just because a learner can't use something in free production doesn't mean that they haven't benefited from the program.
In a previous book club book, "Uncovering Grammar" by Scott Thornbury, we talked about how long it can sometimes take for a piece of linguistic knowledge to go from conscious knowledge to procedural knowledge.
I see this all the time during level testing. Our students "learn" the past tense in English World 2, but even students in English World 6 or 7 struggle to use it in free production.

Post 9
p.5 Skills-Based Objectives
I probably shouldn't make too big a deal about the intensive reading program skills objectives, especially since Jack Richards is just using it as an example of what skills objectives could look like, and the actual objectives themselves are not the main point.


I've always been skeptical about the teaching of reading skills. Partly that's just my own personal bias.
When I was a student, I had a few lessons where the teacher would try to teach us explicit reading skills in our L1 (guessing words from context, skimming, scanning, using headings to predict content), and I was always incredibly bored by these lessons, and also felt that they were pointless because the teacher was just making explicit what we were all doing subconsciously anyways.

I've always had a similar skepticism towards teaching reading skills in the L2.
Although, I remember my former manager, XXXX, once told me that research indicates that L1 one reading skills don't transfer to the L2 (for some mysterious reason) and so students need to be explicitly taught these skills when reading in their L2.
I think I've read other books, however, which argue the opposite (although I can't remember where now).

But what do you think of objective "b)" in Jack Richards's example:
"After completing the reading course, the student will: Make use of non-text information (especially diagrams etc.) to supplement the text and increase understanding."

Do we really need to explicitly teach this to students? Isn't it common sense that when you are reading a text, and there is a diagram accompanying it, you would use the diagram to help you understand the text?

I Commented:
Addendum: Although actually, on closer examination, to be fair it never actually says this will be explicitly taught. Only that the student will be able to do it.
Post 10
At the risk of becoming a broken record, I'm going to repeat what I've been saying all along with this book. I think Jack Richards is a smart guy, but I find his prose difficult to decipher.

Top of page 7 is another example:
"It is clear that in using skills taxonomies and content-based descriptions as objectives, the distinction between 'objectives' in the sense proposed by Mager and 'syllabus'--that is, between goals and content--has been blurred."

I know I took that out of context, but to me it still didn't make sense even in context. Perhaps someone who is reading along, and has their own copy, can help me decipher what this means in context?

Post 11
p.7-8 Proficiency Scales
Ahh, now this one directly relates to our programs, right? This is exactly how our IELTS courses are designed, right?

...actually I was a bit surprised that Jack Richards didn't use IELTS as his example here, but then I looked at the copyright date. This book was first published in 1990. The IELTS test didn't go live until 1989 (according to wikipedia).

and I believe (someone correct me if I'm wrong) IELTS didn't take over the global testing market until relatively recently.

Actually short IELTS digression.

I've been teaching English since 2001, and I didn't hear about IELTS until 2010. But I think some of that was because I was in Japan, and IELTS isn't popular in Japan (or at least wasn't at that time.)
But I'll throw it out to the group
1) When did you first hear about IELTS?
2) People who've been in Japan or Korea recently--has IELTS caught on over there yet? Or are they still doing TOIEC and TOEFL?

Post 12
p.7-8 Proficiency Scales
Aargh! Once again I don't understand what Jack Richards is talking about. (Is it just me, or are other people struggling with this book).

The last sentence of page 7:
"It has also been observed that there is little relevant empirical data to develop valid statements of proficiency across skill areas, an issue that has proved problematic with the ACTFL proficiency scales."

I don't know what this means.
The IELTS test, for example makes statements of proficiency. To get a 7 on Lexical Resources for IELTS Writing Task 1 (according to the publicly available criteria) the candidate :
uses a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision, uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation, may produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling and/or word formation

How would you need empirical data to develop this statement of proficiency? Wouldn't you just create the statement?
And what do you suppose Jack Richards means by "across skill areas" ? Is that different than the criteria within one particular skill area?

Post 13
p.8 Syllabus Design

At the bottom of page 8, Jack Richards dumps a bunch of names on the page, and (typically) doesn't explain the significance for the reader. (Does anyone else feel like half this book is just unexplained references?)
"The concept of a language syllabus has been fundamental in the development of language teaching practices in the twentieth century. In the work of British language teaching specialists as Harold Palmer, Michael West, and A.S. Hornby, and such American specialists as Charles Fries and Robert Lado, questions concering the linguistic content of a language program were considered primary and a necessary basis for a language program" (p.8)

Fortunately, TEFLology can come to the rescue here.

Episode on Harold Palmer here:

A.S. Hornby here:

Michael West here:

Charles Fries popped up briefly in our previous book. Diane Larsen-Freeman mentioned him as one of the founders of Audiolingualism.
Since Audiolingualism was structured around grammar structures, presumably this was the kind of syllabus Charles Fries favored?

In a previous book club book "Uncovering Grammar" by Scott Thornbury, Scott Thornbury was skeptical of the idea that grammar could be broken down into a linear syllabus and learned step by step. This is something Jack Richards neglects to discuss.

Post 14
p.9 Yet another sentence I don't understand:
"Syllabus design theory has consequently been one of the most active branches of applied linguistics in recent years... to the astonishment perhaps of those with a broader educational view of curriculum issues."

So, he's definitely hinting at something here. But why exactly would people with a broader educational background be surprised at how important syllabus design was? I wish he would explain his references more.

Post 15
p.9 Different types of syllabuses:

On page 9, Jack Richards lists different types of possible syllabuses: structural, fuctional, notional, topical, situational, skills, and task based.

Slight digression on the differences between fuctions and notions.
In his book: "The Lexical Approach", Michael Lewis argues that the differences between functions and notions have often been confused by textbook writers and syllabus designers. I'll quote some of the relevant parts below:


This term was introduced into language teaching only about 20 years ago. It was coined by Wilkins and can be very simply defined: a function is the social purpose of an utterance. If we ask the question Why did the speaker say that, the answer will come in the form of a function — (s)he was making a request, offering to help, refusing an invitation etc. Most language teachers are very familiar with such labels, which frequently represent units in the textbook. Wilkins' own explanation of function can be found in Notional
Syllabuses (page 22): The third type of meaning conveyed by an utterance is a matter of the function of the sentence (utterance) as a whole in the larger context in which it occurs. The sentence does more than communicate information. When it is uttered, it performs a role both in relation to other utterances that have been produced, and as a part of the inter-active processes involving the participants. An account of the internal grammatical relations and therefore of the ideational meaning does not tell us much about the use to which the sentence is being put by the speaker. ... Although questions of use have not always been considered part of semantics, they are of great relevance to the language teacher who is preparing pupils for the process of communication.

Functions represented a major change in syllabus design. They are, in the technical sense, pragmatic in character, being concerned with the social purpose of the utterance. They are now so much part of language teaching that it is difficult to recall quite what a radical shift was represented.
Previously, strict structural sequencing tended to prevail. Nowadays, it is a commonplace that sentences such as Would you like a cup of teal can be introduced early in a learning programme, without structural analysis. This was not so before the influence of pragmatics was felt.

The change has considerable relevance to our present discussions, for I shall argue later that other kinds of language, in particular, institutionalised sentences and lexical phrases, can be introduced in the early stages of learning without analysis, to a much greater extent than has hitherto been the practice. This idea is central to the Lexical Approach.

Functions are relatively easy to understand and describe and they were enthusiastically taken up by textbook writers. The other component of the syllabus-type proposed by Wilkins was more abstract and it is to this that we now turn.


Surprisingly, in Notional Syllabuses, Wilkins does not define notions, and they have always remained rather elusive. He wrote (page 24):
It is possible to think in terms of a functional syllabus and a conceptual syllabus, although only a syllabus that covered both functional (and modal) and conceptual categories would be a fully notional syllabus.

This is the only point in the whole book at which he refers to 'conceptual categories', and normally he uses the term 'notion' to cover that half of his notional syllabus which is not functions. In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that this element in his thinking was little taken up by textbook
writers, and remains unfamiliar to most teachers.

He did, however, divide notions into specific notions and general notions. The utterance Could you pass the ... please exhibits the function of Asking for something. The 'something' for which I ask, is a specific notion: salt, book. It is immediately apparent that under this analysis functions are little more than
a different way of arranging sentences, and specific notions little more than a new name for vocabulary. Such an analysis facilitates minor re-ordering within the syllabus, which indeed happened, but little more than that.

More importantly, general notions were, according to Wilkins, semantico- grammatical categories. Among those listed in Notional Syllabuses are Time, Duration, Time Relations, Frequency, Quantity, Sympathy, Flattery, Divided and Undivided Reference. Few of these will be recognised by teachers as headings within their present textbooks!

It is interesting to note that Wilkins was proposing, in his own terms, not semantic categories, but grammatico-semantic categories. In brief, he was suggesting re-grouping structures under categories of meaning. As with the remainder of his work, it was essentially a matter of re-arrangement within

With hindsight it is possible to see that this was insufficiently radical — dissatisfied with the traditional sequence of structures, he sought a sequence more appropriate for adults, frequently on relatively short, intensive language courses in continuing education. The concept (introduced by Pit Corder) of 'high surrender value' was a powerful influence. The idea was that the most useful things should occur early in a course. Wilkins 2 says quite explicitly: The problems faced in determining the grammatical content of general courses
are more those of staging and sequencing. Despite asserting that he is primarily concerned with meaning, he makes explicitly clear the fact that he regards vocabulary or lexis as subordinate:....
And so on.

Post 16
p.10 Syllabus Design
I'm not sure if I particularly agree with the quote on page 10. Or at the very least, I don't fully understand its practical implications.

Jack Richards writes (at the bottom of page 9 and top of page 10)
"In practice, a combination of approaches is often used, since many would agree with Johnson (1981:34):..."
Jack Richards then quotes Johnson:
"A syllabus is essentially a job specification, and as such it should set out clearly and precisely what is to be done, and the standards or criteria to be met by those who do it. If seen in this light, arguments as to the relative merits of notional, situation, or topic based syllabuses, etc, are no more sensible than arguments as to whether the specifications in a construction contract should cover the foundations, or the steel framework or the concrete or the glass or the interior design etc. The obvious answer is that all of these must be covered."

The problem I have with this analogy is that the features of a house are finite, whereas the features of language are potentially infinite.
Grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, speaking, pronunciation, ellision, assimiliation, collocation, register, idioms, colloquialisms, paragraph structure, inferences, cohesion, coherence, spelling, word stress, sentence stress, intonation, rhythm, accommodation, articulation,
....etc, etc, etc.

How could you possibly hope to cover everything?
Isn't the whole raison d'etre of a syllabus based on the assumption that the certain material has to be selected from a potentially infinite amount of choices?

Post 17
p.10--And also Appendix 3. The Malaysian Communicational Syllabus
What did you guys think of the example of the Malaysian Communicational Syllabus?
It was so far removed from what my usual concept of a syllabus is like, that I didn't really think it was real at first. (I thought it was one of those manufactured examples.) But then I checked the caption, and apparently this is actually a real-life syllabus taken from the Malaysian schools.

It doesn't seem to fit any of the categories that Jack Richards listed on the previous page. (Structure, Functional, Notional, Topical, Situational, Skills, or Task or Activity Based). Or am I missing something.

...That being said, I got a couple good ideas from it. The first activity, 20 questions, for example. (I knew this game, but hadn't used it in ages, and this reminded me to bring it back out. Used it with my J6A class this morning, and they enjoyed it.)

Post 18
p.10 and Appendix 4
This is a nitpick, but sometimes I can't help myself. (Also sometimes zooming in on all these little nitpicks help me to keep focused with these otherwise dense books.)
Jack Richards writes of the syllabus in Appendix 4 "This is part of a tutor's kit intended for volunteers working with Vietnamese refugees in Britain." (p.10)
But then in Appendix 4 itself, the caption says "Reproduced from 'Lessons from the Vietnamese' from the National Extension College Trust Ltd."
Shouldn't it be "Lessons FOR the Vietnamese?" What does "Lessons from the Vietnamese" mean here?

Post 19
Okay, so I've been really lazy about making posts on this page. But, we decided last week to move the meeting date back by one month. It turns out no-one (myself included) had read been reading The Language Teaching Matrix.
Part of this was because of all the travelling during February and TET holiday. (And, in my particular case, getting married, and also having the parents come out to Vietnam).

But also... is it just me, or is this book a bit tiring to read?

As I wrote before, I found it a bit hard going the first time I read it 4 years ago. But upon re-reading it now, I find that I actually hate it. So many opaque sentences. So many unexplained references.

What is your take on this book so far?

In my experience, this book tends to divide people.
When I did the DELTA Module 1 4 years ago, one of my friends really liked the book. The other one just said it was weird, and stopped reading it.
In the time since, whenever this book comes up in conversation, I've noticed that some people really like it, and some people really hate it.
I think I'm going to classify myself among the people who hate it. But... there must be something to this book because a number of people really like it. Maybe I'm just not intelligent enough to dig it? I don't know.

At any rate, everyone does seem to agree that this is one of the key texts for the DELTA, so I assume we're not wasting our time by reading it, even if it is a bit of a slog to get through.

And, I figure book clubs are good for difficult reads like this. An easy-to-read book we could just do on our own. The whole point of a book club is to give each other support for the books that are not so easy to read.

So, in that spirit, I'm going to try to get back in the habit of posting daily about this book. Many of these posts may just be me complaining about how I don't understand what Jack Richards is saying, but I'll try to keep them regular nonetheless.
I figure discussing it as we go will help us keep our motivations up. So if anyone wants to join me in this, feel free.

Post 20
p.17-19 Summative Versus Formative Evaluation
Sorry about my little rant yesterday. I'm finding now that I'm getting back into this book that it's not nearly as unreadable as I had characterized it as. A bit dry, certainly, but I am getting through it.

I do find, however, that pretty much all of chapter 1 (Curriculum Development in Second Language Teaching) has absolutely no relationship to my reality. Is anyone else finding that?
I mean, what world is Jack C. Richards living in?
I mean, maybe some of what he is suggesting would be realistic in a situation in which every ESL teacher had a Master's Degree, and there was an infinite amount of time, money, and resources to spend on curriculum development, and the language teaching institution actually cared more about the students than about the money.... THEN maybe some of this could be realistic.

Look at all the things he's suggesting for Summative Evaluation and Formative Evaluation. Do you know ANY language school that does this?

....actually to be fair, I'm going to backtrack a bit on what I just said and admit that ILA does do some of this. A couple years ago there was a switch from students filling out a Customer Satisfaction Survey at the end of course (which would have been "Summative Evaluation" according to Richards terminology), to calling students for feedback as the course progressed ("Formative Evaluation").
But I don't think ILA is anywhere close to doing the kind of evaluation Richards suggests on pages 18 to 19. Nor is any language school that I know of.

Post 21
I hope I'm not breaking a confidence here, but someone recently said to me about this book, "I keep getting to the end of the page, and then realizing that I haven't been paying attention to any of it."
"Ah, I was worried it was just me," I answered.

Page 20 was one of those pages:
The first full paragraph on that page was a prime example.
In fact, the first sentence of that first paragraph is a prime example: "It has been stressed that effective language teaching programs are dependent upon systematic data gathering, planning, and development within a context that is shaped and influenced by learner, teacher, school and societal factors."

My brain immediately shut off when I hit that paragraph. It wasn't until I got to the end of the paragraph that I realized I had absorbed absolutely nothing of it, and had to go back and force myself to read it carefully.

What about this paragraph is so boring?
One thing I notice is the passive voice. In the sentence I quoted, there are two clauses, and both of them are in the passive voice.
In fact, I went through that whole paragraph, and every sentence is in the passive voice.

Traditionally, high school English teachers have always taught that the passive voice is what makes sentence so boring. A couple of the books we've read on discourse analysis in this book club have disagreed with that. (The passive voice isn't just something that makes sentences boring--it does have a useful function for organizing the focal point of the sentence.)

See Steven Pinker:

...and yet, I'm wondering if the overuse of the passive is what makes Jack C. Richards so unreadable.

Post 22
Reflections on Chapter 1:
I spent a lot of time complaining about this chapter, but now that I'm through with it, I do have to admit that Jack Richards has given me a few interesting thoughts to chew on. (If memory serves, this was the experience I had with this book the first time I read it--hated struggling through the prose, but there were some interesting tidbits here and there.)

Still... how much of chapter 1 do you think relates to our daily job as language teachers? I think it would be much more useful if we worked in curriculum design.

Sidenote: there's a quote from Scott Thornbury. I can't find it now, but I believe it goes something like: "Textbooks are the new methodology." (Hopefully I'm not misquoting him.)

For most of us, I think the world of textbooks is all we've ever known. But I believe that the era of mass-produced aggressively-marketed glossy color textbooks is only about 20-30 years old. (Someone let me know if I'm getting this wrong). So when Scott Thornbury and Jack Richards first started teaching, language teaching wasn't quite as simple as "work through the grammar points in the textbook".

But nowadays, I think most language schools don't actually plan their own syllabuses, or do any of the work Jack Richards advocates in chapter 1. They just shop around for a textbook that they like, and then the textbook becomes the syllabus.

Post 23
p.35-37: Beyond Methods
Beyond Methods is, I think, the best part of this book. (And also the most widely quoted, I believe).
Pages 35-37 are particularly a breath of fresh air after having read through the history of language teaching methods in our previous bookclub book. It's nice to see Jack Richards so effectively demolish the idea of the search for the perfect method.

Post 24
I thought the section on structuring was interesting: "Fisher et al. (1980) conclude that students 'pay attention more when the teacher spends time discussing the goals or structures or the lesson and/or giving directions about what the students are to do.' "

I often worry that if I spend too much time giving directions, I'm going to lose the attention of my students. Interesting that apparently more time giving clear directions increases students' attention.

Post 25
Learner Strategies p.42-47
So, I've got some thoughts on learner strategies.
I tend to believe that the learner, not the teacher, makes the ultimate difference in the success rate. (Although is this just a way for me to escape responsibility? I don't know.) But in my experience, good students do well in class, and bad students do poorly in class.
But I'm also very skeptical of teaching learner strategies. Partly because I always hated it in school when teacher's would teach learning strategies. (In my experience, I felt the learning strategies were either so obvious that it was patronizing, or they were things that I didn't want to do, and so I ignored them.)
My old school in Cambodia had an English for Academic Purposes program in which teaching study skills was integrated into the curriculum. But the students usually reacted badly to it. (As a colleague of mine put it, the moment the curriculum goes into preachy mode... "You should do this, you shouldn't do this"... the students always lost interest.)
Also, in our situation it's dangerous, because many of us are monolingual English speakers, and have no business lecturing anyone else on the best way to learn a language.
(Although strangely enough, the students always ask me for my advice on the best way to learn English. )

XXXX Commented:
I feel deeply about this topic and have a lot I want to ask about your post. I need a day or 2 because I'm out of town. But it's coming....

XXXX Commented:
I actually always fire a little bit in at the end of my adult lessons. Give a quick demo/plug for stuff I actually enjoy (or a few different apps) that aren't boring. Most of them write it down and a few of them even apply it!

Post 26
Nitpicking again.
Jack Richards talks about a foreigner gradually learning the meaning of the Japanese word "itadakimasu"

Richards writes: "If she subsequently goes on to learn some Japanese, she will be able to apply her knowledge of Japanese words and grammar to the phrase to arrive at its literal meaning, which is 'eating--going to'. "

But that's not the literal meaning of itadakimasu at all.

Discussion Questions: docs, pub
I typed these out for our bookclub discussion.  They are taken directly from the discussion questions in the book itself.

1. Curriculum Development in Second Language Teaching
7) Examine an ESL or foreign language course book. What assumptions underly the book with respect to
  1. The syllabus?
  2. The role of the teacher?
  3. The roles of the learners?
  4. Learning theory

2. Beyond Methods
2) Why do you think name-brand methods seems to be an attraction for many teachers? Do you think methods help or hinder teachers?
8) Do you think it is possible to teach strategies to learners? Select a strategy, operationalize it, and suggest how it could be taught?

3. Designing Instructional Materials for Teaching Listening Comprehension
  1. Give examples of contexts for listening where bottom-up processing is more important than top down processing, and vice-versa.

4. Conversationally Speaking: Approaches to the Teaching of Conversation
1) Interview several teachers of conversation skills. What do they see the primary purpose of conversation class to be? What aspects of conversation do they spend most time on in class? What kinds of activities do they use and how often? What do they see the greatest difficulties in teaching a conversation class to be?
3) Discuss the notions of accuracy and fluency. Do you agree that accuracy is a component of fluency, rather than a separate dimension? How can accuracy be addressed in a conversation program?

5. A Profile of an Effective Reading Teacher
4) Discuss the difference between “teaching” and “testing.” Select an activity that could be used in a reading class, and discuss how it could be presented (a) to have primarily a teaching focus and (b) to have primarily a testing focus. How was the activity presented differently in each case?
6) “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” Do you agree? Can you have good practice without theory? What is the relation of theory to practice?

6. From Meaning Into Words: Writing in a Second or Foreign Language
  1. Do you consider yourself to be a good writer? What difficulties do you have with writing?  How similar or different are you difficulties to those of nonnative writers?

7. The Teacher as Self-Observer: Self-Monitoring in Teacher Development

7) Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the three approaches to self-monitoring presented in this chapter: diaries, self-reports, and recording lessons.  Which approaches would you feel most comfortable with? Why?

Video Review
Video Review HERE and embedded below:

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