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CEF Activity Packs: Can Doing Around The IH World

Late evening, late autumn, late 2006. The CEO of IHWO is alone in the plush new offices on the South Bank of the River Thames. The move was smooth, the place has taste. The future beckons – Dos Conference 2007 on the horizon – the DoSes are hungry. Directors’ Conference hot on its heels – demanding and restless the lot of them. We need an idea. We need a project. An attention-grabbing headliner to justify our existence. Hang on a sec, two new emails – subject: CEF ‘Can Do’ statements and the European Language Passport; subject: Adrian Post – materials writing? Bingo!
Two years ago a project was born that brings together the Common European Framework ‘Can Do’ statements (see Roger Hunt’s article in this issue for a much deeper look into these), the European Language Passport and the cream of International House’s creative talents. That project has now come to its fruition in the form of the IHWO Activities For Common European Framework Levels, which are now available for use by all ih teachers in the materials bank of the affiliate section of the IHWO website.
The project came about from a desire to exploit the arrival of the European Language Passport and the growing influence that the CEF was having on TEFL as a whole and course book publishing in particular. How could ih respond to these developments? How could ih provide its teachers and schools with the resources they need to maintain their market leader status at the cutting edge of English teaching? How could ih meet the ever increasing demands of clients to incorporate the CEF into their language training? How could ih teachers supplement course books that were now increasingly based on the CEF ‘Can Do’ statements? The answers to all of these questions and many others are to be found in the IHWO CEF Activity Packs.
[Visual 2 / Priority Low – Caption:] Tasks by ‘Can Do’ statement
Adrian Post, former DoS of ih Opole, got the ball rolling by producing a pack of thirty activities based on the ‘Can Do’ statements at B1 level – equivalent to IHWO levels 4 (Lower Intermediate) and 5 (Mid-Intermediate). Once he had got the first drafts together, I made my first appearance on the scene (and the rather fictitious nature of this article up to now slowly becomes more factual).
Newly installed as Academic Coordinator for Resources and DoS Support in February 2008, I had absolutely no idea of what the job would entail or what I was supposed to do. Luckily, Adrian’s materials were there to be edited and evaluated and would then serve as a model for the other levels. My mandate was to ‘make as few changes as possible,’ and thankfully hardly any were needed. The day I began looking through the B1 pack, I was immediately gripped by a sense of excitement and an urge to get into the nearest classroom as soon as possible. How I hoped I’d have standby to do the next day at one of these levels so I could try out some of Adrian’s activities! In the end I had to wait until the following Monday, but my enthusiasm was fully justified as the task worked a treat and the students were motivated by the materials and impressed by the professional presentation – much more attractive than the tatty, unreadable photocopies they had become accustomed to, not to mention ih branded.
[Visual 3 / Priority High – Caption]Teachers’ notes to a CEF activity
It was clear we were on to a winner. Imaginative, student-centred tasks, developed in line with the latest in TEFL trends, fully ih branded and copyrighted and easily adaptable and accessible to all ih teachers and schools around the world. The next challenge was to complete the project by creating packs at the other CEF levels and then get them into the schools as quickly as possible. What I needed to find were more creative and imaginative International House materials writers. I didn’t have to look far. I unashamedly approached colleagues at ih Buenos Aires, ex-colleagues from ih Prague and trainers from ih online courses. The team came together quickly and got straight down to work.
Every morning over my porridge and orange juice before heading off to the day job, I delighted in editing activities sent to my inbox from all four corners of the globe (well, ok, three, to be honest). Soon enough we were piloting activities in the classroom, tweaking here and twanging there. It was challenging and invigorating work. The writers had to create everything from scratch – no borrowing from course books or the internet – everything had to be 100% original. Some of the ‘Can Do’ statements were rather vague; others pedantically precise – the quintessential task had to be found.
The Directors got excited as they heard about the new project while enjoying the black stuff in Dublin last May. The new school year in the Northern Hemisphere saw the first packs up on the website – Andy’s A2 and James B2 packs joined Adrian’s B1 as the first to be completed. Andy also solved another challenge we were faced with – how to produce audio tracks to complement the listening tasks. He dared to use Audacity, a freeware recording programme, to create MP3 audio files that could be played on computers or burned to CD – the IHWO CEF MP3 CD was born.
James rose to the challenge and put in a brilliant performance as a radio DJ for ‘Commuter Confusion’, roping in unsuspecting friends who have no idea what TEFL stands for to play his commuter-confused victims. And towards the end of the year we turned a classroom into a recording studio in Buenos Aires to create listenings for the A1 and B2 levels – many thanks to all our bravely contributing colleagues for their outstanding performances – Paul the gregarious greengrocer and Jackie the stroppy supermarket announcer deserving Oscars at the very least.
As Christmas approached, just in time for the 2009 Directors of Studies’ Conference in London, all six packs of thirty activities were ready to go. Thanks to Andrew Zakharevsky’s (IHWO IT Consultant) incisive and rapid technological wizardry, the packs were up on the affiliate site as individual Word documents or in pack by pack RAR files, for schools to download and get into their classrooms.
And so the project is drawing to its final and yet most exciting stage – getting the activities out and about and fully utilised around the network. We have showcased them at international conferences, emailed all ih schools to explain their existence and even written articles about them in leading TEFL journals. Now the challenge and responsibility is yours. The packs can be printed off and put in binders in your staffrooms, ready to photocopy and take into the classroom as is. They can be incorporated into your existing resource banks, level by level, according to the relevant units of the course books you use. They can be stored on your computer hard drives, ready to be refined even further towards your students’ individual needs (please send me a copy of any adaptations so we can share them with everyone).
Use them in conjunction with the European Language Passport; find out what your students can do and can’t do at their level and then select the appropriate tasks to turn each ‘can’t do’ into a ‘can do’. Use them to detect linguistic weaknesses in your students’ language and then combined with the IHWO General English Activities (http://www.ihworld.com/an/materialsbank/index.asp) to turn these into strengths. Use them to promote task-based learning in your schools. Use them as off the peg standby lessons. Use them to promote Intercultural Communicative Competence in your students’ learning context. Use them for internal promotion and marketing of the industry leading ih brand. Use them to test your students’ linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic communicative competences. Use them to highlight the importance of independent learning strategies and help your students develop them. The list is coming to an end, if not endless. Use them.
Once you’ve used them, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re a teacher, if you’re in charge of resources at your school, if you’re a DoS or Director, if you’re a budding materials writer who’d like to be involved next time round, drop us a line (Neil.McMahon@ihworld.co.uk) with your feedback on the activity packs, any adapted activities you create and suggestions for new resources you’d like to see or possibly write. Your teaching future is bright, your teaching future is ‘Can Do’!

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