Catalyst: A Conversation Taskbook for English Language Learners
Catalyst comes in two flavours: Digital and Analogue
But Wait! There’s More!
Catalyst is designed for flexible deployment and can be used as a core textbook in conversation or speaking classes or as a supplementary text in units requiring a strong productive component. Catalyst is designed with the productive skills in mind. Oral output is buttressed with written journal exercises as part of a comprehensive strategy of “spaced repetition.”
Tactics? What Are they?
Tactics are highly idiomatic elements of communication like active listening techniques, signposting strategies, discourse markers, supportive backchannel gambits, tangent markers and a whole lot more. Acquisition of tactics empowers language learners with finesse and control that extends well beyond the classroom walls. Through a series of graded tasks students learn a variety of entrance and exit strategies, mastering the smooth segue along with the abrupt shift, interruption techniques along with the power to stave off intrusion, digression and the rebound, hedges, intensifiers, verification, afterthought and on and on. There are 46 graded Tactical Activities altogether.
Spaced Repetition? Far Out, Man!
Well, not that kind of spaced to be sure. Spaced repetition refers to a protocol whereby learning targets are reprised at regular intervals to maximize retention. Ideally, learning targets are reintroduced according to the 1:1:1:1 premise, that is, 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week and again 1 month after initial introduction. Spaced repetition is built into Catalyst. Follow-up journal assignments are a part of that overall pedagogical strategy, as are peer- and self-assessment, warm-up and follow-up activities and contextualized review targets. See the table below.
Spaced Repetition Principles as Deployed in Catalyst Taskbook
Journal assignments figure prominently in the assessment process as well. In addition to this mode of instructor-centred assessment, most lessons contain opportunities for self- and peer-assessment with reflective-style debriefing a regular occurrence. In those programs that require grading, instructors will find it simple to use roll call to amass marks that can serve as the basis of grades.
You Mentioned a Topic Creation Mechanism?
One of the more daunting challenges of mounting a successful “English conversation” class is the difficulty of selecting topics that interest and engage students. Often a significant portion of class time is wasted on that messy little dance that instructors and students of such classes typically engage in while attempting to negotiate a topic for the day. That’s why many conversation classes aren’t. Instead the program fakes it by building ostensible opportunities for oral output into a grammar or functional-based syllabus. Rather than creating meaningful output on the fly students are, in essence, being tasked to mechanically crunch through thinly disguised drills.
In the Initialization and Output Phases of Catalyst students learn to leverage simple word associations to instantaneously access anecdotal or experiential kinds of oral output. That student-centred output is then tasked with the acquisition of tactical targets in the third and much more comprehensive phase.
Coming from cultures where structuralist drills and grammar-translation remain the norm, the students simply can’t tell the difference. In Catalyst, topics are generated on the fly by the students themselves with topic creation taking mere seconds. Being student-centred, topics resonate with students, fully engaging them. Being personalized, L2, the target language, is neurally connected to real-world experience. Moreover, the approach followed by Catalyst reduces nervous “Teacher Talk” while equalizing the contributions of gregarious and shy students.
No Prep? Imagine That!
Admins Love It
But What About the Students?
Catalyst Learning Paradigm
Infographic depicting the relationship of Chatterbox and Truth or Dare for English Language Learners with Catalyst.
Off label, Truth or Dare for English Language Learners is proving popular with admins who find the game to be a useful diversion for filling the gap between teacher call-in and the arrival of a substitute. Instead of a classroom full of fuming students the sub arrives to a class fully engaged in English conversation. Students themselves are reportedly borrowing it for party play on weekends. We suspect there’s more than a beer or two involved.
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ELTon Award Nominee
Truth or Dare for English Language Learners was nominated for the 2012 ELTon Award for Innovation in Learner Resources. The ELTon Awards is a program of the British Council designed to "recognise and celebrate innovation in the field of English language teaching," Nominated ESL and EFL learning resources are assessed on the basis of three criteria: innovation, practicality and effectiveness.
Read all about it on our Blog
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