Kristen Lamb's Blog

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One of the reasons I encourage writers to blog and to read blogs is that you will find inspiration all around you. A dear friend of mine, Steve Tobak, has a MASSIVE blog following and is the business blogger for CBS, Fox Business and Inc.

I love reading his posts about entrepreneurs because so much applies to authors (we are entrepreneurs of a different sort, but still entrepreneurs). The other day, he had a post called 7 Things Confident Leaders Don’t Do, and I am going to take the liberty of retooling this for writers.

In a world full of wanna-be best-sellers, confident writers don’t:

1. Do What Everyone Else is Doing

Find your own voice and tell your own story. Don’t write to the market. Find the publishing path that works for you. If self-publishing works for you, your budget and your personality, great. The stigma is fading…

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Communicative Language Teaching

It has been a long, long time since I posted about teaching — though with good reason. I’ve been on vacation for the past two and a half months! But now the long winter is coming to an end, and I’m planning my classes for next Monday. Determined to promote communicative English better than I was able to last semester, I pulled out my old textbook and am currently reminding myself of the correct methodology.

All tips following in this post are extracted from Rod Ellis’s book, “Task-based Language Learning and Teaching,” which I highly recommend to all aspiring language teachers.


The Basics

CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) and TBLT (Task-based Language Teaching) have both been around for a while and seem to have a semi-decent foothold in the west, but unfortunately don’t exist in most Asian classrooms. Here, the focus is on Grammar-translation and rote memorization — methods useful for learning isolated vocabulary and grammatical theory, but not much else.

Well, except for scoring high on those standardized tests that are apparently more important than life itself.

The main idea behind CLT is that students learn through interaction with other people, rather than lists and flash cards. This means real language, with context.

TBLT takes this a step further with the theory that new grammar and vocabulary should be integrated within tasks that mimic real life. This way, the student can navigate real-world situations in the target language. TBLT also makes it easier for students to notice the gaps in their knowledge, recognize the usefulness of the target grammar, and be motivated to acquire what they need to fill in those gaps.


TBLT’s Three Phases

Pre-Task Phase: The preparation phase. This can consist of many different activities, including explanation or demonstration of the task, planning time, class dictionary searches, topic discussion, brainstorming, vocabulary worksheets, etc. Grammar does not necessarily need to be addressed here, as it can be explained in the Post-Task or left out altogether.

During-Task Phase: The meat of the lesson. This is an assignment, whether oral or written, that requires students to perform a task they are likely to encounter in the real world. The assignment should result in an achievement (Outcome) of some kind, including physical Outcomes (completed worksheets/writings/maps/food/art projects), new non-linguistic skills (learning something via English instructions), or solving a puzzle (murder mysteries, Taboo). Successful navigation of a scenario (a doctor’s visit or job interview) can also be considered a valid task Outcome.

It is important that students believe the goal of the activity to be the Outcome, even though it’s actually to produce relevant language at the appropriate level. As long as students believe this, they will complete the task successfully. But if they believe the goal is to use language, “there is a danger that the learners will subvert the aim of the task by displaying rather than using language” (Ellis, 8).

Yes, I just threw bookquote at you. Because you want your students solving the problem, not showing off their awesome language skills. (“Let’s see, how can I work the word ‘logarithm’ into a scenario about asking directions to the cafe?”) TBLT is focus on meaning — the point is not flawless grammar and nuanced vocabulary, at least not at this stage…

Post-Task Phase: This is the present/review/reflect/clarify phase. Students should be made to repeat the task (present their answers or reenact their discourse) before the rest of the class. Language production is usually more accurate the second time, as they no longer need to strive for meaning and can now focus on form. Teacher feedback is very important here, as it is the optimal point for either oral or written encouragement and suggestion. You can choose to address common errors or points of confusion from the During-Task Phase, or explain the rules of the lesson’s target grammar — which students should have already noticed patterns for while completing the task. But, as stated above, explicit grammar instruction is not a necessary component of the lesson. Students should also have the chance to reflect on their own performance of the task.



This is all just the very basic components of TBLT, and I’m sure a lot of it sounds confusing if you’ve never studied this methodology before. But once you’ve written a few lesson plans following this three-part structure, it really does become second nature and you start to notice the difference in your classroom.

One great thing about TBLT is the flexibility of it. Some teachers prefer to cut away everything but the task itself, never explicitly explaining form. Others merely supplement other methodologies with short task tie-ins, which is called Task-supported Language Teaching. It’s really up to you how you use it, but I highly recommend adding it to your classroom routine in some way.

For more information and sample lesson plans, check out this page.

For a personal essay on how a self-implemented communicative approach can help you become fluent in a foreign language, check out my friend’s awesome blog post here.

If you want me to just stop advertising links and answer all your questions, leave a comment below.


Ellis, 252

A very well-formed perspective on language learning from my friend in the JET program. 🙂



As a Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program participant (a JET), I am writing this for people interested in studying foreign languages, taking the JLPT, moving to a foreign country, and for people who might want a different perspective on the process of learning a language. I know how it feels to try to learn a language and fail, I did that with Spanish and Italian. My Italian teacher even agreed with me that I was bad at foreign languages. By the time I came to study Japanese, I’d had enough of failing.

As anyone who is studying Japanese knows, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is the ultimate way for foreigners to gauge their progress in mastering the language. The test is divided into five levels, with N5 being the easiest and N1 the most difficult. Theoretically, if you can pass N1 you should be able to read a Japanese…

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“What is your life sometimes?”

So. Here’s an anecdote from a few months back.

One night in Naju, I went to bed excited that I’d spend the next day at my school’s annual festival, watching my students perform musical numbers and skits and various other things. Despite a semester in Japan, I’d never had the opportunity to experience such a thing and so wanted to go even though my presence was not in any way required.

At 2:00am exactly, I woke to my phone ringing. It was a Korean cell phone number, so I assumed the caller had just made a mistake. I let them call back twice before finally picking up.


There was a pause, then a click.

A moment later, the same number called. I answered in Korean, and a woman’s voice responded likewise. “Hello?” I said again, clawing through sleep-veiled layers of my brain for the translation of what I wanted to say. After an awkward pause, I gave up. “Um, wrong number.”


She didn’t call back. Unfortunately, I was now wide awake. I twisted beneath the covers for a while, sticking my feet out when they felt too warm and pulling them back in when they iced up. Finally I pulled my phone back over and started reading World War Z. Surely I’d feel tired again soon.

5:00 hit before sleep decided to humor me.

8:00 hit and my host mom came in with breakfast. At 8:30 I woke up long enough to pull the try onto my bed and eat it. Some time around mid-morning, I sleep-texted my Korean friend.

I awoke for real just after 11:30, when my host mom exploded through my bedroom door, screeched “오메!” and then rushed out again, shouting to someone else that I was still home.

I still have no idea why she did that.

I was already late, but remembered seeing that the festival would go until 6:30, so I wasn’t worried. I faffed around, checking Facebook and email, taking a long time to decide just how warmly I should dress. By pure accident I found the festival pamphlet my school had given me and saw that I hadn’t seen 6:30 — I’d seen 16:30.

After having a friend translate the schedule for me (via text) I decided that it would still be worth it to go, if only for the last part. All my students’ performances were scheduled between 2:00 and 4:30.

1:00 — I go to take a quick shower. The shower head is broken.

Host mom, I think, weren’t you at the store buying a replacement when your son called you about it three days ago?!

All I had at my disposal now was a spigot and a small plastic basin. I’d taken numerous so-called “spit baths” before, when camping and when hurricanes did away with the hot water at home, so I decided to just suck it up.

The water was almost ice.

Sure, I spent my childhood trolling snake-infested forests (and back yards) and sharing murky swimming holes with gators — but that was just Florida. Such a childhood paled in comparison to a cold bath in Korean winter. By the time I had finished wringing the (metaphorical) icicles from my hair I was shivering so badly that Survival Mode Brain made an executive decision: Forget going outside. We’re turning on the mattress heater and getting right back in bed.

And that is how this wimp missed school festival day.

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