Twitter and Screencasts as texts

As a pre-session CAM task, we have been asked to choose one written and one spoken text-type and come up with a plan to develop a (theoretical) one-to-one student’s receptive skills relating to these text types. This is my attempt:

Written: Twitter conversations

  • Genre features: short messages. Between typical spoken and written style. Generally quite informal. Many abbreviations / codes. Use of ellipsis to shorten texts (only 140 characters are allowed)
  • Schemata: SS needs to access Twitter schema (i.e. Twitter-specific lexis), plus schema related to the type of conversations they follow (i.e. celebrity chat, teachers, businessmen)
  • Sub-skills:
    • Identifying the topic of the text and recognising topic changes.
    • Identifying text-type and the writer’s purpose. (i.e. giving information, asking for help, encouraging support for a cause)
    • Inferring the writer’s attitude. (helpful, humorous, sarcastic)
    • Understanding text organisation and following the development of the text.
  • Strategies needed:
    • Activating background knowledge of the topic before reading the text.
    • Guessing the meaning of unknown words from context.
    • Seeking clarification.
    • Indicating lack of comprehension.
  • How to develop these skills:
    • First, focus on Twitter lexis (RT, ff, via, blog, post, mention, hashtag, tweet, feed)
    • Find out from the student what kind of people they follow. Divide them into groups by the function of their tweeting e.g. Do they generally tweet ideas? links? information? Work with the student to show them how this can help them to understand the messages.
    • Choose some of the conversations which the student has tried to follow. Work with them to look at cohesive devices throughout the text.
    • Using the same conversations, examine how the writer has shortened the text to fit the 140-character limit.
    • Look at example tweets from their feed and examine the writer’s attitude in each. Identify keys to recognising this attitude, including words, knowledge of the writer (are they known to be e.g. left-wing), pragmatics.

Spoken: Screencast tutorials.

  • Genre features: Supported by visuals. May include some technical language. Imperatives and other instruction-giving structures (If you click here…) Computer lexis.
  • Schemata: Computing schema, schema related to specific tool (e.g. voice-recording software), instruction-giving schema
  • Sub-skills:
    • Perceiving and distinguishing between different sounds.
    • Dividing speech into recognisable words or phrases.
    • Distinguishing between given and new information.
    • Using discourse markers and context clues to predict what will come next.
    • Guessing the meaning of words and expressions.
    • Identifying key information and gist.
  • Strategies needed:
    • Activating background knowledge of the topic before starting to listen.
    • Using non-linguistic information (situation, context, etc.) to predict what will be heard.
    • Using non-linguistic visual clues to help infer meaning.
  • How to develop these skills:
    • Focus on computing lexis, especially related to navigating on-screen (click, hover, press, button, cursor, mouse, upload, download)
    • Watch screencasts with student highlighting instances of these words.
    • Study different methods of giving instructions (imperatives, first conditional…)
    • Watch screencasts focussing on the instruction language.
    • Watch screencasts without sound to predict the content.
    • Transcribe a screencast to work on sound distinctions / divisions.
    • Use the transcription to study discourse markers / cohesion.

Has anyone focussed on these as text-types in the classroom? I’d be interested to know if my strategy reflects your own.

Playing with a projector

Our school’s got a new projector, and having a reputation as a technologically-forward type of person, I felt I should get using it as soon as possible, especially since I was one of the people asking for it!

I decided the best place to start was with the intensive group. They have three hours of lessons every day, and having started in September it’s quite difficult to find new things to keep them interested in the lessons. We’re already using Edmodo outside class (I blogged about it here), have made a video for the IH World YouTube competition and had a couple of sessions where they brought their own laptops, but this was the first time technology was one of the main aspects of the class. The lesson may seem a bit disjointed, but it follows the syllabus – finishing a unit on ‘time’, starting another unit and doing some CAE speaking practice.

We started off lightly, getting them used to the idea of having the projector in class. First, I showed them a short presentation I’d made based on some writing they did before Christmas. As an exam class preparing for CAE, one of the big issues I have with them is handwriting. With their permission, I took some of their work back to England and showed it to my friends and family, asking them to rate how easy it was to read. This was the result:

Next we discussed proverbs and I asked the students to suggest some. ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ was the best example, so I wrote that on the board. I showed them some pictures from the New English File Advanced teacher’s book. (For copyright reasons, I won’t reproduce them here) They were illustrations of ‘time’ proverbs, such as ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ and ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’. I asked the students to think of ideas for proverbs to go with each picture and to think about whether a similar phrase exists in Czech. We then looked at the pictures a second time and discussed the ‘correct’ answer for each image, as well as any other vocabulary arising from the picture.

To end the first 90-minute session, I showed them a wordle of synonyms for ‘I think’ and challenged them to come up with 18 phrases. Once they had a complete list, we went to break.

(made with – please contact me if you’d like the list of phrases)

After the break, we got to the ‘tech-heavy’ part of the lesson – I had decided to take the coursebook off the page and create a webquest. We did all of the activities from the book, but based on original sources, with the students using their own laptops in groups of 3 (there are 12 in the class). The complete webquest is here, with a summary below. I provided the students with links throughout, but encouraged them to look elsewhere if they wanted to.

The unit was called “Are you suffering from affluenza?” so their first task was to find out what “affluenza” is and add their definition to a Google Doc.

Next, they looked at an Amazon summary and a review of the book “Affluenza” by Oliver James, which had both been reproduced in New English File, and answered the comprehension questions through a Google form. I encouraged the students to use their own words, rather than copying and pasting. (I’ll return to this later)

In the final section, they used the ideas from the previous stages of the webquest and various other links I provided to add to a mind map using mind42 – a collaborative mind-mapping site – as preparation for a CAE Speaking part 4-style task.

Students getting involved in the webquest


We then returned to using the projector. First we looked at the final definitions and compared the different answers. We also looked at the answers to the reading comprehension, and discussed whether it was a good idea to copy and paste or write using your own words, as well as how useful both strategies are to remember information.

The final part of the lesson drew the previous work on opinions and brainstorming together. Students worked in groups of three to discuss the topics from the mindmap. To help them, they choose one topic which I showed on the board. They discussed it for three minutes, then changed groups and discussed it again. To finish the lesson off, we had a short conversation about whether the mind-map helped them to organise their ideas and how they felt the first and second time they had each discussion.

From my point of view, the lesson went well. We achieved the aims for the lesson, covered everything from the syllabus, and I think the students enjoyed approaching the material in a different way. I have asked them to send me a short email about how they felt about the lesson and whether they thought it was useful or not. When I have their responses, I will ask their permission to share them here.

I do have a couple of questions though:

  • Do you think the lesson was too focussed around the projector / technology? (The temptation was perhaps too strong, since I’ve been working with only my laptop for the last six months!)
  • Was there anything else I could have done with this material?

Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

Encouraging English in teen classrooms (an #eltchat summary)

Picture the situation.

A hard-working English teacher walks into a teen classroom. They are confronted by 15 (or more, or less!) faces with whom they will spend the next ninety minutes. Ninety minutes later they have heard ten sentences in English, along with torrents of L1, despite spending the whole class trying to encourage their learners to use as much English as possible.

What to do? Have no fear, #eltchat have the answers! This is a summary of the 9p.m. GMT discussion which took place on Wednesday 19th January, 2011.

The discussion followed various strands which I have tried to group loosely together. There are lots of ideas for you to try, but don’t forget that some might have negative effects on certain learners (this was a point raised a few times). Feel free to add further suggestions in the comments.

Throughout the year

  • Spend time to give them tools for communicating in English.
  • Teach set phrases “How do you spell…?” Also, ways to interrupt, appropriate ways to answer yes / no questions…
  • Have an English-only policy (there was some debate as to whether this is necessary / desirable / possible to maintain)
  • Treat them like adults. Make them aware of why they are learning a language.
  • Create an atmosphere where students are happy to talk together and listen to each other.
  • Teenagers have strong views and ideas. Meet them on an equal footing and they will respond.
  • Listen to what they have to say. Maintain eye contact and encourage them to speak.
  • At the beginning of the year set up a contract / list of rules generated by the students, including about L1 / L2 usage. Make sure you stick to it! It gives the students ownership and a sense of responsibility.
  • Negotiate the balance of L1 / L2, rather than dictating it.
  • At the beginning of term, hand out ten L1 vouchers with their names on them to each student. Every time they speak L1 to the teacher, they hand over a voucher. When they’ve used all of their vouchers, no more L1!
  • At the beginning of the year, do a survey of your students to find out why they’re there, what their hobbies and interests are…
  • Create ‘England / the USA / Scotland / Australia…’ in your classroom. Tell your students that when they walk through the door, they’re in Country X, so they have to speak the language! (Inspired by a teacher who ‘created’ Italy in her classroom – music, objects, etc)
  • Discuss why it’s a good idea to speak English in class.
  • Work hard at building a relationship with the class – this will make a big difference.
  • Encourage them to support each other, as well as seeking support from the teacher.

Throughout the class

  • Use a timer such as or the one included in the downloadable Triptico suite ( Set the timer for 5 minutes. For every 5 minutes students speak only English they can leave class 30 seconds earlier. Every time they speak L1, the timer is reset. You can choose a different reward if this wouldn’t work at your school.
  • Alternatively, 5 minutes in English, 5 minutes in any language – they use English when they don’t have to.
  • Alternatively (part 2!), for every 5 minutes in English they get 19 minute in L1.
  • Divide the class into two groups. Half can only use L1, half can only use L2. Then swap.
  • Each student pretends they are a different nationality and they each have their own interpreter.
  • Set students up in “triads” – 1 spokesperson, the other 2 SS just help them out.
  • Designate certain activities “English-only”, giving them time to prepare beforehand and reflection time afterwards.
  • Have a stuffed toy which is passed around the class as L1 is spoken. The person who has it at the end of class has to help tidy up.
  • Tape an adult class using English only (if you have one!) and play it in the teen class as a discussion starter.
  • Have a basket of sweets. Every time L1 is spoken take away a sweet. At the end of the class there are less sweets for everyone.
  • ‘Fine’ the students when they use L1 (there was a debate about whether this might have a negative effect).
  • Threaten to put teens in with adults if they speak L1!
  • Ask your students to stand up for a minute.
  • Try introducing an element of competition, for example a football-style league table.
  • Give them the option to take on a different identity. Or ask them to choose roles in a speaking task and take part with the appropriate stance / voice etc.
  • See who can go the longest without using L1 or who can have the longest turn in English – like holding your breath for the longest.
  • Joke with them: “If you can’t say it in English, don’t say it at all!”
  • At the end of the class ask them to guess what percentage of the lessons was L1 / L2 – remind them of the figures the following week and see if they can increase L2. You could also get them to think about what each language was used for.
  • For older teens: Give each student 10 beans. Teachers and other students can take away beans when they hear L1. The person with the most beans at the end of class can go home slightly early (1-2 minutes). All SS with fewer beans have to do one ‘forfeit’ for each missing bean – I normally get them to define one word from our vocabulary box for each bean.
  • Ask lower level students to imagine they are explaining things to a younger brother / sister – it gives a purpose for the simpler style of their language.

For individual tasks

  • Give sufficient preparation time, model the task, do a “test run”, then repeat the same topic a second time.
  • ‘Thinking time’ is very important. You could give them 5 minutes to come up with ideas and ask for any words they need.
  • Set up tasks very clearly, ensuring you provide all of the language they will need.
  • Before a discussion get them to list the kinds of words they think will be useful.
  • Make the students use specific vocab in their discussion. Other SS should guess which words they were.
  • Play bingo. Each student chooses 5 words. They should cross them off when they hear / use them during the class / during a specific task.
  • Walk around during pair / groupwork – although there’s an art to not stopping discussion completely.
  • Wait to correct until after the speaking has finished – allow it to be open discussion time.

Discussion topics that have worked (a.k.a. Make them forget they’re speaking English!)

  • Ask the students! The topics they are interested in tend to work best. “It is only when you use language to say things which are true about you do you start to ‘own’ the new language” J. Harmer. Allow spontaneous discussion to happen.
  • What methods of cheating do you use? When? Why?
  • Which ‘group’ do you belong to? Or do you? e.g. chavs, emos, goths
  • Wedding planning (with an all-girls’ group!)
  • Travel: plan a trip, ‘meet’ people…
  • Read reviews of books / films /music etc and discuss whether they agree with them or not (especially with 14+)
  • Gossip. SS chat to each other, then switch partners to pass the gossip on.

Tech tools

Ideas for specific activities

  • Get students involved in global collaboration projects which give them a reason to speak English (if you need help with this the best person to ask seems to be @shellterrell!)
  • Use project tasks to make them feel involved.
  • Blog. Gives them a real-world purpose.
  • They love doing multimedia projects in English, such as making a film /advertisement in English.
  • Teach them how to do ‘cool’ things through English, such as making mashups.
  • Get the students to record themselves doing a task on their phones. Then they make a transcript and look at where they could have used more English.
  • Don’t stop them from gossiping, as long as it’s in English.
  • They love exploring English music and the cultures behind it, e.g. hip-hop, rap…
  • Ask SS to write their own songs.
  • Do karaoke with them.
  • Ask the SS to think of ideas – their solutions will quite likely be more imaginative than ours!
  • Bring ‘real’ English into class – travel brochures, job ads, lyrics, magazines – and try to convince them that they WANT to speak English!
  • Record the SS doing tasks (with their agreement) and watch it with them – they’ll (hopefully!) be surprised at how much English they can use.
  • Play word definition and miming games, then encourage students to use them for peer teaching.
  • Live listening. Retell the story with pictures. Listen again. Retell again. Works very well as lots of exposure to L2.
  • Start with a picture and elicit what they can see / who the people are etc. Then tell them that is the middle of the story. Half of the group will come up with the beginning, half will come up with the end (in secret). Then they have to work together to make one coherent story without really changing the parts that they came up with.
  • If possible, take them on field trips.
  • Get them moving – physical activities help them forget the pressure of speaking English.
  • Play games in class – they love their PS3’s and wii’s! But board / card games work just as well.
  • Timed conversations – give them a place to start and a place to finish and 2 minutes to get from A to B. After 2 minutes, change the people.
  • Play ‘Just a Minute’ – give them a topic to speak for a minute about. It’s based on a British radio show. Wikipedia:; an example by Paul Merton:
  • Break down a PC into pieces – SS want more information about hardware names etc.
  • Negotiate things in English that they wouldn’t normally do in L1 e.g. sell greeting cards by phone (in a language lab), enquire about an English course, take part in an interview for a flatmate.
  • Any kind of “How to…” – download films, use online games…
  • Have a teacher’s press conference. They interview you, then use the same questions in pairwork.
  • Have a speed-dating session!
  • ‘Onion ring’: students stand face-to-face in two concentric circles and get opinions on something.Clap your hands; the outer circle students move two steps right two change partners. The teacher can take part too.

Use of L1

  • Not always a problem, providing clear boundaries are set.
  • Research suggests that discussing writing in L1 first can lead to better results.
  • Write some classroom phrases on the board in L1. Ask them to translate. (e.g. “How do you spell…?” “What do have for…?”
  • SS discuss something they are very interested in in L1, then other SS summarise it in English.
  • Let students chat in L1 at the beginning of class. Then ask them to summarise it in English.
  • Help the students to express what they said in L1 in English.
  • When you hear things in L1, ask them “How do you say…in English?”
  • Decide what percentage of L1 is acceptable for each level – more for lower levels?

Possible contributing factors to overuse of L1

  • Too much emphasis on using English might put students off – they are under too much pressure.

Some issues

  • What should do with lower-level classes? Is it possible to ‘discuss’ things with them in the same way as you would with higher levels. Also, many lower-level students are concerned about sounding childlike due to non-complex grammar / vocabulary.
  • What should you do when you want students to use specific vocabulary?
  • What do you do if students were forced to enrol by their parents and they don’t really care?

Further reading

Hopefully this will be the result:

Teens speaking

A translation hypocrite?

Would these learners have benefitted from a translation class? (Sandy Millin, creative commons sharing allowed)

It’s been a very stimulating afternoon. First I took part in #eltchat, which today had the topic “Can translation (and translation tools) facilitate language learning and how can it be used to best effect?” (the transcript is here). I then watched Guy Cook’s talk “Coming in from the cold: translation in language teaching” from this year’s International House DOS Conference (watch it here). With both of these offering fascinating explorations of translation, I couldn’t help but consider my own experiences as both a learner and a teacher, and what role translation has had in them.

As a learner

So far, I have studied five languages, achieving a greater or lesser degree of proficiency in each of them. I am a native-English-from-England speaker. I think it would be useful (for me at least) to think about how I learnt each language, and how much translation was used by myself and the teacher (bear with me on this, it’s long-winded!). Taking them in chronological order:


I first tried to teach myself French at the age of 8 or 9 from a book called “Essential French” which I had been given as a birthday present. My first memory of trying to produce any word in a foreign language is sitting on my parents’ bed reading numbers from the page and failing miserably – my attempt at 8 was ‘who-it’. The book is essentially a phrase book with pictures showing phrases being used in context. On every page there are lists of words with translations into English.

I was given my next French book at Christmas. It was called “First French”, although the closest I can now found being sold is “First French at Home“. This was a revelation for me, as together with the French and English, there were also ‘phonetic’ translations, so that I could try to pronounce the French possibly. I also saw my first French joke, which relies on translation to be funny. Unfortunately I can’t remember the first line, but the punchline relied on the fact that “Un deux trois quatre cinq” sounds similar to “Un deux trois cats sank” (if anyone can suggest the joke, please do!). I loved this joke, and I think it’s one of the reasons I was fascinated with the book – so it could be said that translation was one of the sparks that made me want to learn languages.

At the age of 11, I had the choice between two different secondary schools. One was a traditional girls’ school with a long history and the other was a mixed school which was technologically advanced and had only been opened 6 years previously. One of the main reasons I chose the latter was that on the Open Day we were told that all French and German lessons would be taught only in L2. Even at that age, this greatly appealed to me and you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that this was not, in fact, the case. However, the language teachers I had there were excellent (how lucky I was!) and my motivation was not unduly affected in the long term. As is the case in most state schools, I expect, our lessons were taught through L1, with all grammar presented in English. We were encouraged to speak L2, but only really did so to the teacher or when doing activities. All conversation which was not related to the lesson was done in English. Translation was not an explicit part of my secondary school study, but was used implicitly in comparing grammatical structures between L1 and L2, as well as learning vocabulary with translations.

In my first two years at university the method in grammar classes was similar, although there was more French. Being with a group of motivated learners helped, as we had all chosen to be there. We were slightly more likely to speak L2 in class, but it was still far from an L2-only environment. In both years we were expected to take French-English translation as part of our core language module. They differed slightly, as the first year was only French>English and the second was in both directions. This was the first time I had ever translated officially, and it was always thought-provoking. The texts we used were almost always newspaper articles. I noticed patterns which existed in one language, but not the other. I learnt many false friends, because I needed to avoid them in my exam. I also learnt a lot about French cultural mores and the idea that translation is not just about language, but also about culture.

During this 10-year period I did two one-week French exchanges, a school trip to Paris (don’t think I spoke any French except to waiters that week), three months working on a campsite for English holidaymakers in Brittany (I was the only French speaker, so was required to translate for guests in many situations including at a hospital, at the police station and at a garage) and two months working as a receptionist at a youth hostel (I think I translated almost every day in various combinations: English-French, Spanish-French and German-French). Experiencing the culture first hand really improved my acquisition, but the experience was never completely isolated from translation.

Back at university in my final year, we were expected to speak only French in the classroom. This was extremely difficult, as I had never had any pressure to do this from previous teachers. Now, I wish I had as I really believe that the extra practice would have improved my French. This time, there was no translation and everything was done purely in L2. Although my French was up to it, I lost a lot of the feeling of security I had had previously. I still chatted to friends in English, but this time it was whispered and immediately changed to French when the teacher was within earshot.

Since leaving university my French usage has been very limited. I taught a beginner’s French class to two English-speaking Czech colleagues last year which was almost entirely in French, although I had to use English occasionally when I didn’t have the language to explain a concept to them, or when my explanation would have been too difficult. We occasionally had discussions about how all three languages expressed the same concept, which was fascinating for all of us, as it showed the differing attitudes each language conveys. Unfortunately I can’t remember any specific examples. Apart from that, I have had the occasional conversation in French and been asked to translate emails / messages into English a few times.

Overall, translation has been an integral part of both my French studies and my real-life usage of the language. Of all of my languages, it is the one in which I feel I have the most solid grammatical foundation and although I don’t attribute this entirely to translation, I do think it has had a role in my confidence in the language. However, it has also had a few drawbacks, as in a classroom situation I never feel able to communicate entirely in French, even though I’m sure it should be possible, and I always fall back on English when things become too difficult.


(don’t worry – this won’t be quite as long!)

Much of my experience of learning German mirrors that of French. I started German at seconday school and continued on to university, in much the same manner as described above. The main difference between my experience of the two languages lies in my exposure to German in natural contexts and the modules I had to study at university.

Translation was not an integral part of my first year university studies. Instead we had grammar lessons and an ‘Oral and Essay’ strand in which we discussed topics in class and then wrote essays on them at home. Each class was one hour per week and was taught entirely in German, although again, we had whispered conversations in English when we thought the teacher couldn’t hear us.

In second year we all got a shock. 25% of our core module was based on interpreting. All of it was done into English, but it was still a very difficult skill to master. We had to interpret simultaneously (listening and speaking at the same time) and consecutively (taking notes while listening, then speaking in English based on what we had written). To help us, the texts we interpreted were based on topics we were studying in the grammar and oral/essay components of the module, so we had vocabulary from those lessons, but I still remember desperately trying to learn as much vocabulary as humanly possible. How did I do this? Largely with German-English lists of words. It was stressful at times, but I enjoyed the feeling of achievement I got when I could interpret something successfully “I know this word and I can do it!”

I enjoyed interpreting so much, I continued it into the fourth year where it was a module in it’s own right – although this may have had something to do with the fact that all of the other modules I could choose from were literature-based, and while I love reading, I hate ‘pulling books apart’. This time we were interpreting debates from the European Parliament. We had the transcripts of the discussions in both German and English, which we ‘prepared’ at home. Cue more long lists of vocabulary, this time learnt with the help of my technological discovery of the year, a dictaphone. I recorded lists of 20 or so words every few days and listened to them while walking to and from the university. Each entry was the German word, a sentence using it in context and an English translation of the word. To this day, I still see certain words and remember what I said in my own ear about them!

In second year I also did a translation module, with the same benefits as those described above for French.

In terms of real experiences of speaking the language, my exposure to German has been much more limited than that of French. I did a one-week exchange two years after my first one in French; I went on a trip to Berlin corresponding to my Paris trip (in fact it was the weekend before) :); I spent six weeks working at a factory where I listened to music in English all day, then watched German TV all evening as I had nothing else to do; I lived with a third-generation German-speaking family in Paraguay (we spoke a mixture of both German and Spanish as I quite often forgot the German words I needed); I’ve taken various day / overnight trips there while living in France and the Czech Republic.

Again, I’ve taught classes in German since I left university, but this time the learners did not speak English. I always felt uncomfortable, as if I didn’t really know how to express myself properly, and missed the fact that I couldn’t translate from English at times. I also never liked the textbooks / material I was working from, and as a new teacher didn’t really feel comfortable presenting the lessons differently. However, this probably says more about my confidence in German and my early teaching ability (hopefully that’s changed now!), than anything explicit about translation.

Overall, I’ve always felt that my German is on much shakier ground than my French. This is probably due to a lack of real exposure to the language, but the one area which always made me feel that I had achieved was interpreting. It never mattered if my cases were not completely accurate (my main German bugbear), as long as my speaking style was confident and the language I was producing was a good reflection of the original. Thankfully, I didn’t pursue it as a career though, as I’m sure this feeling wouldn’t have lasted!


I started Spanish as a complete beginner at university. My lessons were almost exclusively in L2 only, and I really felt like I’d been thrown in at the deep end. The textbook we used (Claro que si) had English rubrics in the first few chapters, then changed to being exclusively in Spanish. I didn’t study translation or interpreting at any point. However, when discussing anything with my fellow students outside class, we always spoke English. We regularly compared grammar we had learnt in Spanish with that of other languages we spoke (to study as a beginner at university, you generally have to have proven ability in another language) and we often translated as a ‘fun’ activity, because we felt it had benefitted us in our other languages. We also learnt some words through translation: I will never forget that ’embarazado’ means pregnant and not embarrassed! (This refers to Guy Cook’s point about ‘faux amis’ in his talk).

Despite formally studying for three years at university, I actually attribute almost all of my Spanish learning to the year I spent in Paraguay (July 2006-June 2007, the third year of my degree), including two months of travelling (Jan / Feb). During my travels I sprained and fractured my ankle, which was the point at which my Spanish really took off, as every taxi driver I met asked me the same three questions: “What did you do to your leg?” “Why did you go to Paraguay and not Chile / Argentina?” (where I was travelling) “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” (!) This repetition really improved my confidence when speaking Spanish and meant that when I returned to university my fluency was great, although my accuracy left a lot to be desired. While in Paraguay I went to a translation study group run by the owner of the langauge school I was working at. It often frustrated me, as he insisted on translating everything word for word. We did all of the translations orally and they never really made much sense, but I always felt too guilty to stop going to the class.

As with French and German, my exposure to Spanish since leaving university has been limited. I have done some informal translation between Spanish and English / German. I meet a Spanish woman once a week for a language exchange, often involving one or the other of us asking for translations of words which we can’t remember. I taught Spanish to an English-speaking Czech colleague for a year. Again, although I tried to use only L2 in the classroom, we often ended up discussing both the language and the culture in English, as well as comparing it to Greek, which she was teaching me.

I sometimes feel that a formal translation course would have benefitted my Spanish, as although I can speak fluently I feel my accuracy really needs to be improved. I often find myself thinking “How would I say that in Spanish?” when there are holes in my language, although I then try to get around it. This reflects Guy Cook’s point about “avoidance avoidance”. With only a few hours of lessons in Spanish each week and a large class to teach, I don’t think my university teachers ever noticed or had time to deal with these holes in my language, but as a teacher myself I am acutely conscious of them whenever I speak Spanish. Of course, a teacher who picks apart my grammar could also have them same effect – being a very confident person and unafraid to speak I don’t think this would stop me!


This is the first language I have learnt ‘in-country’. I’m now in my third year of living in the Czech Republic, and I’ve been informed my language is at approximately A2 level on the CEF framework (compared to C1 in French / German / Spanish). I tried to teach myself from a coursebook which is written largely in Czech, with the occasional list of words in both Czech and English, and only got through two chapters before giving up, mainly because I didn’t understand the instructions for any of the activities. I had lessons in my second year, when the foundations of my Czech were really laid. They were entirely in Czech, despite me occasionally attempting to get a translation from the teacher.

Apart from those few lessons, all of my Czech has come from necessity and exposure: I listen to Czech radio, I try to communicate in shops, I attempt to join in with conversations around me, I watch films with Czech subtitles.

The only really active way I have studied on my own has been to take articles in the free newspaper and translate them into English. Until writing this, I had never thought about that! I then get them checked informally by native Czech speakers at school. Again, I have noticed that through translation I have been forced to notice many structures in Czech and to think about their equivalents in English. This has been quite a useful skill when I then attempt to speak Czech – although I can say simple things, there are still huge holes in my language when I want to communicate anything more complicated than “I want to buy that, please.”


For just over a year I had one one-hour Greek lesson approximately every two weeks. As you might expect, my Greek hasn’t come on much, and I’ve forgotten most of it since the lessons stopped six months ago. However, I can read the alphabet and say a (very small) handful of basic sentences.

My lessons were in a mixture of Greek and English. I understood instructions, but could very rarely express myself or understand written instructions in Greek. I relied on my teacher to translate a lot of what was going on in the textbook, as the alphabet was (and still is) a huge barrier to understanding. I still try to read everything I see now though, and am excited every time there is a word I understand, almost always an English cognate.

Conclusions as a learner

Analysing my own learning, it turns out that most of it has been supplemented by translation. This does not, however, mean that when speaking the languages, especially the three stronger ones, I think in English. This only really happens when there is a ‘hole’, and if I’m speaking to a native speaker of the language, and especially one who I know does not speak English, I tend to have the motivation to get around this. So what has this meant for my teaching?

As a teacher

In my English classes I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time saying “Speak English”, so much so that some of my students joke about it with me when we are outside class – at a school party it was the first thing my FCE class said when I sat down at their table! I encourage my students to speak English and try to discourage them as much as possible from speaking Czech. I do, however, allow quick translations of words if a learner is really struggling with a concept and have even been known to allow an explanation of a grammar point if one student in the class really doesn’t get it. I feel slightly more confident about this now than I did when I arrived in the Czech Republic, since I now have a level of Czech which enables me to at least roughly understand most of what is said in my class, but I still worry about things not being translated ‘correctly’.

This year, all of my classes are intermediate level or above, and most of them are advanced. In every class I have at least who relies on Czech for their English. In feedback which I recently did on an experimental (for me) lesson, one student wrote “Lesson reminded me, when writing review in English, that I have to start think in English, not just translate Czech sentences, even though it’s hard for me.” [sic.] This was from an advanced student who has been studying English for years.

In a 1-2-1 class, I have a student who always tries to understand an explanation in English, but has a tendency to give up quite quickly and go to his computer dictionary to check meanings. I always look over his shoulder and try to help him to choose the correct meaning for the English word he is trying to translate. This has become a regular feature of our lessons, and I have learnt a lot of Czech from him!

I have done one or two activities involving translation during the past couple of months, again because my own confidence in Czech has increased. In my Intermediate-level teen class, the students spoke almost no English during 45 minutes of a lesson. I became so frustrated that I wrote a few of the classroom phrases they were saying on the board and asked them to translate them, for example “What do you have?” “How do you spell…?” Through this exercise I discovered that they didn’t have the basic classroom language needed to interact with each other. In combination with introducing one or two of these phrases each week since that lesson, I have also begun to put on a 5-minute timer. Every time they manage to speak English for five minutes without a break I put a mark on the board. For each mark they can go home 30-seconds earlier. Since doing this, they have really started to try to speak English in class (generally they can leave a 90-minute lesson 5 minutes early) – in most lessons they speak at least 60 minutes of English. What is particularly telling though is that the Czech they do speak is almost always asking for a translation of a word or grammar point to confirm that they have understood.

With two advanced classes I did an exercise prompted by a text in the coursebook about literary translations. They had to bring in a book written in Czech and translate the first or last paragraph into English. All but one of the books they brought in were translations from another language into Czech. Their translations prompted a lot of discussion about comparisons between English and Czech, as well as the original language of the book (German / Japanese). We also looked at a couple of grammar issues which came up.

One very common Czech mistake is the substitution of ‘it’ for ‘that’ in short phrases such as “That’s all” and “That’s a shame”. Every time students make this mistake, I now tell them that the equivalent of “To je…” in Czech almost always translates as “That is…” and not “It is…” in English, even though “To” is normally translated as “It”. Since I noticed this a few months ago, my students have become much more aware of this.

Outside class, a lot of the writing my students do contains elements of Czenglish. Maybe if we did more translation with them, this might go down? They also occasionally ask me to check English versions of texts they have translated, for example, abstracts for their degrees which must be submitted in both Czech and English.


(at last – well done if you’ve made it this far!)

  • Translation has been an integral part of my own language learning, and yet it is a very isolated part of my teaching.
  • I only introduced translation into my own classes once I felt confident that my level of Czech was high enough to understand what the students were saying.
  • My own and my students’ real life uses of foreign languages often involve translation.
  • My students have benefitted from the translation activities we have done in class.

So, bearing that in mind, does that make me a translation hypocrite? Should I be more relaxed about the use of L1 in my classroom and not pounce on Czech every time I hear it? After the discussions today and my own reflections in that post, I’m inclined to answer “Yes” to both questions.

The Online Professional Development Survey

I’ve spent this afternoon putting together the responses to the Online Professional Development Survey I sent out on Twitter this week. 43 very helpful people responded – thank you very much!

I have also included all of the comments as there were so many they didn’t make it onto the final slideshow! I thought they should be included somewhere though, so here goes:

What do you think you’ve gained from using Twitter for professional development?

What have you gained from using Twitter for professional development? (a wordle)

A great PLN
Loads of new ideas
An invigorating community
– sharing links and ideas
– being motivated to look for new things to share
– being in touch with what`s going on in the ELT world
– following conference updates if I can`t attend in person
– supporting fellow teachers with great ideas by retweeting or spreading the word
– inspiration for developing my own materials
– slowly plucking up courage to join in discussions and voice my own opinions
Motivation; new ideas; reflection on current practices; free training for online tools; connecting with like-minded professionals
A great deal of professional support and advice, lots of amazing ideas and resources as well as help when I need it.
A lot more than one would think. The information that is tweeted out, e.g. on free webinars, ideas, views on edreform, etc. provided me with more opportunities for self-development than in the previous 10 years. It also gave me the opportunity to connect with like-minded people in the profession. As a now freelance ELT teacher and teacher trainer, this gave me a lot of reassurance and further fueled my passion for my profession. Thank you my PLN!
Access to a network of incredibly dedicated and committed ELT professionals, sharing links to innovative resources and creative ideas for teaching, training…Motivates me, and hope to use it to motivate others.
A network of valuable professionals with interesting views and links, which give me something to mull over. Also enthusiasm for my job and new skills.
a whole new range of ideas and materials that I wouldn’t have found on my own
I’ve connected and shared/learned from educators I would never have met otherwise. I’ve learned many different tools and sites. I discovered blogs written by teachers and the millions of activities shared through those, the reflections they incite.
lots of teaching ideas & motivation to continue developing
resources, ideas, follow great colleagues, become a part of the global educational community, share projects, ideas, feel connected.
Access to the latest in ELT and EdTech from the people at the cutting edge.
Networking and friendship with important educators.
Knowledge of the latest in Web 2.0
Almost too much to mention! In brief:
– connections with great educators from around the world.
– discussions on lesson ideas/general ideas about education & ELT
– links to ELT blogs
– links to web 2.0 resources and (perhaps more importantly) discussion, reflection and advice on how to utilise them in class
– the opportunity to attend and present at conferences, both face to face ones and online events.
I’ve learnt a great deal, and met some wonderful educators from around the world.
links to other amazing TESOL blogs through retweets
Much greater awareness of discussions and people in ELT. New ideas & ways to work with learners.
I have gained contact with fellow teachers from all over the world thus expanding my pd network
A chance to meet like-minded professionals
LOTS of new ideas and resources, and can see a constant stream of new ones to come. Am planning on setting up a hashtag to use to stream things to my work colleagues in a new virtual space I’m setting up right now.
Incredible ed resources, a professional network, and an increased blog readership
the abundance of resources sharing which is not possible if I do it alone
I have gained lots of human connections to whatever information I am seeking at the time.
– Gained a really large community of learners/supporters/teachers
– Able to reflect more often
– Great resource for finding useful sites/information/tools/sessions
The latest in education from around the world. Sharing ideas with teachers in a virtual “staffroom”. Often not the time to do this on the job.
PLN, friendships, helping/advising others, getting help/advice, staff (I’m a sub and don’t have a staff, home school)
Lots of new learning tools and links. Following inspiring educators. Lots of contemporary ideas.
I have gained access to a group of really motivated educators who have great classroom ideas and great insight into the current ed policy debates.
A global network of educators who tweet interesting and useful links.
meeting other great educators; sharing ideas, information and expertise; participating in webinars, courses etc..; collaborating on projects; learning
I discovered very interesting web tools and resources to use them effectively
“1. Network of new colleagues
2. So many new resources
3. Ideas about teaching, ideas for classroom activities, ideas about grading
4. Daily professional development
5. A place to bounce ideas around (chats)
6. A community”
The confidence that I am not crazy in thinking that education is changing and has to change. Even though I am passionate about technology in education and have been working with it for over 20 years ( was involved in the ACOT program), I still need a support group!
Differentiated and personalized professional development

What do you think you’ve gained from using blogs for professional development?

What do you gain from using blogs for professional development?

“Reflection time; A sense of community – I’m not the only one doing these things”

“- great opportunity to look at teaching through someone else`s eyes- juxtaposing your ideas with those of others – that makes you reflect on the very basic concepts sometimes”

Reflection and clarifying my own ideas and thoughts; blog posts take longer to write and help me sort out my own thinking on various topics and areas.

Responding to useful/valuable blog posts engages me in interacting with colleagues further and at a deeper level.

Again, support, new ideas and being connected to like minded people

Got to know the people from my PLN a little better, especially on what their interest areas are, their thought on educational issues. It also gives me the opportunity to get more insight into where today’s EFL is going, what the trends are, general problems, issues that need to be solved.

New educational platforms, blended learning forms and tools, educational technology that haven’t reached us yet in Central and Eastern Europe (am based in HUngary)…. and a lot more.

I need/want to explore more myself, manage time to factor in reading blogs contacts and new ideas

More confidence in using technology in the classroom, a wide range of lesson ideas based around youtube etc

I’ve learned about new tools and how to use them, I’ve been pushed to reflect upon my practices and experiment in my classes.

lots of ideas

lifelong learning

A greater awareness of what’s happening today in ELT and EdTech

“My own blog has been great for reflecting on what I’ve done in the classroom, both for sharing lessons and activities that worked really well and evaluating activities that didn’t work so well. The feedback I receive from other teachers in the form of comments has been invaluable in shaping my thinking too.

From other people’s blogs, I have gained many ideas to adapt for my own classrooms and plenty of ‘food for thouıght’. Reading somebody else’s thoughts on teaching (no matter what thier context) and seeing things from their perspective is a great way to reflect.”

Again, I feel that I’ve learnt a great deal, and it has certainly kept me much more current with regards to developments in my field that I probably would have otherwise been.Beyond how I’m able to apply what I learn in my ESL classroom at an international school in Cambodia. Most of the students are ELLs so I’m able to forward suitable links to co-workers in various disciplines because of the blogs I follow.

Reassurance that I’m on the right track with what I’m currently doing. Deepening knowledge and understanding of language learning, people’s experiences, and language. Ideas to use in my own practice. I have read about current educational moves and it has improved my reflective practice

A wealth of resources and teacing tips for professional developmentreflectionLots of new ideas, resources, and things to reflect on and share.Blogging is an incredible tool for reflecting on my own teaching practice, and learning from other teachers around the world

“Through other people’s reflections I can feel more connected or like I am doing things on par with others. Finding tools, and getting new ideas to motivate my students with their blogs.

“New skills and tools. resources, networking (reading and commenting), validation (like minds, not alone or not only who thinks/questions that), opposing views, entirely new (to me) topic/method/tool/etc.Being able to look back at my development and changing ideas and practices. Getting ideas for using web tools in the classroom. Professional practice.

Many fantastic resources and ideas. For myself I love the idea of reflective practice. In order to learn, I have discovered, I need to write.

A chance to air my own thoughts and share my ideas, as well as reading about my colleagues’ own thoughts and ideas.

wider access to information and new ideas

Developed an insight into the way to use webtools appropriately

Daily professional development, enriching ideas, being part of a community of practice, a place for professional conversation

Too much to mention here

Reminded how important reflecting is for teachers.

I don’t do it yet. but it is on my 2011 to-do list

New colleagues’ ideas to follow and mimic.

What do you think you have gained from using YouTube for professional development?

What do you think you have gained from using YouTube for professional development?

Ideas! Seeing how other teachers use their classrooms is good for observations in your own time (especially if it’s difficult to fit them in where you work)
“- appreciating the powerful message of a short video clip in the classroom context- adapting non-ELT related materials to the needs of my sts- observing other teachers at work (recordings of Jamie Keddie`s lessons = a must for every teacher)- ‘attending’ conferences that I couldn`t participate in by watching talks online”

Very useful tutorials on almost everything – especially Web 2.0 tools

“Mostly motivational power, the great feeling of “”I’m not alone thinking that ….””

A lot of quick and handy training videos on e.g. using tech tools for teaching, my blogs, etc.”
more exposure to new theories / ideas – similar to attending a conference session.

I’ve listened to some great lectures discussing education, I’ve discovered/watched videos that can be used in class with the students.
visualization of the data, inspiration
“Mainly, I’ve come to videos from links/embeds in blogs and tweets so the gains have been the same.
I’ve also embedded some videos from YouTube onto my school’s wiki page for teachers so my colleagues can benefit from them as well.”

“I found a book of Ken Wilson’s I believe will take my teaching to new heights usingDRAMA!”

Being able to see other classrooms has been both informative and reassuring. Also, it’s great to be able to see talks and interviews from ELT people. Found interesting materials to use with my classes
“New ideas, new tools, equipment etc. Resources to use with my students (and reviews of these)”
I have found several examples of classroom activities being used in actual classrooms.

“Handy for uploading videos and sharing on blogs.Great for experiment demonstrations for the students.”
same as blogs and Twitter, visual PD, humor, etc.

“Great visual learning for ‘How to …’ videos. Easy to understand when you are confused with written instructions. Can recommend videos to others for easy viewing, high interest level for audiences”
“Resources for students – better than just reading for them.
Professional development for myself – almost as good as going to a conference in some cases.”
the way to use some tools appropriately Nothing like pictures to show you how to do something.

Too much to discuss here
Inspiration, and sharing it with others

What do you think you have gained from using the BBC / British Council Teaching English website for professional development?

This was my introduction to online professional development, although I didn’t take the next step until Shaun Wilden came to our school and talked me in to Twitter!
“- interesting ideas to reflect on (articles)- activity ideas to use in class- insight into great ELT authors` views on teaching (guest blogging)”
This is the one I spend the least time on. I don’t think I have spent enough looking through on what it has to offer to be able to comment here.
Lesson ideas / materials and some good theoretical knowledgeLearned new techniques, activities to be used in class with my students.ideas
Lots of new ideas and resources and information for reflection. I share heaps of this with my colleagues.
New to it, so still exploring it. BBC has some great science resources as awell I have used.

What do you think you’ve gained from using online conferences / webinars for professional development?

What do you think you have gained from using online conferences / webinars for professional development?

“- new challenging experience – gaining confidence to share ideas online- meeting fellow teachers from around the world and sharing ideas with them”

A lot of practical ideas, getting to know both speakers and participants a little better in terms of what their thoughts are on specific issus. How things are done in other countries, ….. long long list. Could repeat everything I said for twitter, basically. Though these are more focussed and give me the opp. to select and join in the ones I would like. It also allows me to stay silent and just listen and read if I choose to.

The chance to listen to leading ELT practitioners without leaving office/home contacts and knowledge about ELT developments

lots of ideas and ability to present online

Confidence to present.

The ability to ‘attend’ a conference from the comfort of your own home is amazing. There is also the convenience of archived sessions if you miss the live broadcast. The main gain has been hearing/seeing what other teachers around the world do in their classes.

Being able to listen to people live while interacting with those around you in the chat or on twitter makes the ideas and information much more memorable and enjoyable.

“As a trainee, I have been able to listen to experts who would have otherwise been impossible to have access to.As a trainer, I have improved my presentation skills and shared my experiences with teachers all over the world.”

Not much so far that I couldn’t find on Google

connection with teachers worldwide

Ideas, resources, connections

I have regained the time that I used to waste in bad real-life conferences!

“I love them. You can multi-task, sit on the couch and add when you like to the chats. Very useful, make twitter friends, find links and websites that are shared. You can share some of your own learnings, and such in the chats or even raise your hand and speak if you are willing. Great place to be involved and learn.”

global/non-local perspective, “staff” PD days, networking, Collaboration. Global ideas. Current/future practices. Building a PLN

They are an easy way to participate in PD without having to leave your school or house. I only attend when the topic interests me (unlike other PD sometimes). The ability to participate from my own home without the expense/time of going somewhere far away.

Live communication techniques , making new connections Immeasurable – new ideas, new techniques, new tools, new technology, expansion of PLN

Directed, specific PD that keeps me fresh and in the “challenge zone” of my own learning.

Writing and Marking

Advanced-level students using laptops to produce film reviews
Advanced-level students using laptops to produce film reviews

Having just spent the morning marking writing from both Cambridge CAE and non-exam Advanced students, I suddenly remembered that one of the things I highlighted in my CAM action plan as an area to work on was presenting and marking writing. It seems a blog post is therefore in order…

Writing seems to be one of those areas which is quite ephemeral – a kind of ‘practice makes perfect’ for both teachers and students. Here are some of the things I’ve heard (and maybe even said) from each side of the divide:


  • I don’t have time to write.
  • I hate writing.
  • Arghhh! I can’t write. (after being presented with a sheet of paper covered in notes)
  • What [exactly] do you want me to do?
  • Why do we have to write?
  • Writing is boring and it takes too long.


  • I don’t have time to include writing in my classes. / Students never do writing for homework.
  • I don’t have time to mark writing.
  • My students don’t care about writing, so why should I?
  • I don’t really know how to mark [fill in appropriate level / exam] writing.
  • I don’t want to depress my students by covering the page in red pen.
  • Their spelling / grammar / handwriting is atrocious – I can’t read it.

So what can / should we do about it?

At the risk of over-bullet-pointing my own writing, here are some of the solutions I’ve found have worked with my students so far:

  • Setting homework through Edmodo: they have a range of different ways to do the writing, and are therefore (slightly) more willing to do it. They can also send homework later if they don’t have time during the week it’s set.
  • Presenting writing through a task-based approach (this will be the subject of a future blog post – watch this space), which allows students to do the writing in class in groups and produce two versions of it so they really see the difference before and after input.
  • Using a writing code: students soon get the hang of this, although it takes a bit of explaining at the beginning of the year. They occasionally hand back writing if they want to know how to improve it (depends on the student’s level of motivation).
  • Laptops: By asking students to bring in their own laptops, I created a language lab at a school with two computers 🙂 Students enjoyed being able to edit their work quickly. They could then reedit it at home and email it to me if they wanted to.

As you can see, there aren’t many of them (otherwise there would have been no point highlighting it on my action plan!) I will therefore set you a writing task of you own, so that you can get into the spirit of things.

Choose ONE (or TWO or THREE…) of the following to answer.

  • Writing for exams: should we always mark using the criteria for the exam? If not, what should criteria should we mark to?
  • How can we encourage students to correct their work and give it back, without creating a lot more marking for ourselves?
  • How much marking is appropriate? Where do you stop?!?
  • Handwriting: is it an issue? Does it matter if students handwrite or type their texts?
  • Spelling: How can we help students to improve it? How important is spelling for non-exam students?
  • Grammar: Is it possible for students to improve their grammar through writing?
  • Feedback: Do you use a writing code? If not, what do you use? What kind of comments do you give the students?
  • Should we give the marking criteria to the students before they do the writing? Or could this be too much for them? (thinking about exam-based criteria especially here)
  • How can we teach teachers to mark writing consistently with each other when sharing a class? How can we teach teachers new to an exam to mark writing at an appropriate level? (I was new to CAE this year, and this was particularly difficult for me, although after attending a seminar in December I feel much better about it)
  • How can we encourage both teachers and students to make time for writing inside and outside class?

Answers should be 120-150 words long in an informal-neutral tone 😉

Right, I think that about covers it. I look forward to marking your answers!


PS I have thought of blogging with my students – it’s a work in progress at the moment, as I’m still working out how the blogosphere works myself and computer access is scarce to non-existent at my school!

My first play with Overstream

I’ve seen Overstream being put to good use a few times, mainly with humorous results. Today I was on my second day of sick leave, so decided to have a go myself using the song ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin. This is the result. (Unfortunately I can’t embed it as WordPress doesn’t support Overstream yet).

Not completely frivolous though: I do plan to use the video to good effect in my upcoming IH Brno Seminar on (you guessed it) A Whole New World (of ELT).


What I learnt on #eltchat today (Materials / Online Professional Development)

@ayearinthelifeof in the classroom (taken from #eltpics)

Today marked my second attempt at joining in with #eltchat on Twitter. For those of you who don’t know what this is, a brief explanation. #eltchat is a conversation between English Language Teachers (ELT) around the world. The sessions take place every Wednesday at 3-4pm GMT and 9-10pm GMT on Twitter, the social networking site. It’s an invigorating way to explore issues in ELT. This week’s topics were:

  • What principles do you follow when you prepare your own teaching materials?
  • How can we convince colleagues that online professional development is as valuable as face-to-face?

From rereading the transcript (the discussion goes so quickly), these are the issues which came up, in no particular order. Feel free to comment on any I missed out!

Principles when preparing your own teaching materials

  • The learner should be central.
  • Materials should be professionally presented. Play with layouts, fonts, etc.
  • Materials don’t have to mean paper worksheets: they could also be online, videos, presentations, art, mindmaps, realia…
  • Materials can and should generate activities.
  • Never do something yourself when your SS can do it for / with you.
  • They should be fun, meaningful, practical and motivate SS.
  • Try to include visuals, rather than just words.
  • They should suit the skill / language point of the lesson, rather than just looking interesting to the teacher.
  • They should empower SS to use the language and make connections.
  • Materials should be sensitive to the nationalities / cultures you teach.
  • Materials should be as relevant to the SS as possible. You can ask SS which topics motivate them.
  • Space should be available for learners to take notes, perhaps with the back of the sheet completely blank. Avoid the temptation to do all thinking on paper.
  • Open-ended materials can fuel whole lessons.
  • Materials should be applicable to a real-life context.
  • Inspiration can come from anywhere.
  • They should be flexible.
  • You can use your own materials to escape the confines of a coursebook, while still covering the syllabus. Or approach it differently, maybe by teaching a unit backwards.
  • Use your materials to remind SS that they don’t have to be doing the same thing at the same time.
  • Don’t forget about interaction!
  • Design materials which make SS think, not just repeat.
  • Think about trying the same materials out with different students.
  • How much time do you spend planning v. using materials?
  • Keep your materials: organise them on your computer, blog them, share them with your students / colleagues…
  • Remember the level of your students: important for the tasks and the instructions.
  • Trigger laughter and / or curiosity whenever possible.
  • Consider SS who may have difficulty with your materials e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia. For example, use coloured paper for those with reading difficulties.
  • When using authentic materials, fit the task to the students, rather than worrying too much about fitting the text to them.
  • Reflect, edit, adapt, recycle – don’t give up!
  • Play!
  • Take a risk!

Convincing colleagues that online professional development (PD) is as effective as face-to-face

  • Tell them about all the amazing people you meet / blogs you read / ideas you get / fun you have. Highlight how much you can learn in how little time.
  • A big problem is where to start: blogs may be less overwhelming than Twitter.
  • Show them a sample of online PD, so they can see what is going on.
  • Time is a major issue: many teachers feel PD should take place during work hours, and find it hard to see the reasons for continuing it outside. This is also often connected to the fact that online PD is unpaid.
  • Be a stuck record: your colleagues may join in to shut you up!
  • People struggle with information overload: we need to find ways to deal with this.
  • You could deal with links by favouriting, bookmarking and coming back to them at a later date.
  • Not joining in with online PD could mean you don’t really enjoy teaching / joining in with online PD could reinvigorate your teaching when you feel close to burnout.
  • It empowers you. You are participating and engaging with ELT.
  • Lead by doing: show your colleagues how much your online PD has helped you.
  • Share with your colleagues. Send them links that they might find useful. Start a wiki. Use google bookmarks. Post to an Edmodo group. Demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate!
  • Perception: Twitter is not just for geeks / socialising; You can control your own PD (when, where, how…)
  • It changes your practice and your expectations as a teacher.
  • Mentor: show someone round and help them take their first steps in Twitter / the blogosphere. Help them move from being digital visitors to digital residents.
  • Introduce online PD gradually to give others time to adjust.
  • Almost everyone ‘lurks’ for a while before they dive in to contributing on Twitter. This is a good time for adjustment, but many of us commented that people often give up before taking the plunge.
  • Recommend people / blogs for newbies to follow.
  • The school’s webmaster may block sites, making it harder to join in.
  • Access can also be an issue in terms of the availability of PCs, internet etc.
  • You end up doing things you never would have imagined doing before [like summarizing a discussion involving people from all over the world] 😉
  • Technology v. pedagogy: emphasise the latter if people are reluctant. Don’t forget that technology is difficult for many people.
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway! If you keep talking, someone will start listening.


I would like to reiterate that this is my summary of the discussions which took place today. I have used the words of some of the participants directly, but in no way claim them as my own – I wanted to make it a little simpler to find out what was going on, so have avoided crediting everyone. To find out exactly who said what, and to experience the full joy of an #eltchat, read the transcripts here.


Picture Boards

This post is partly in response to English Raven’s “May I call a meeting of the board(s)?” and particularly this paragraph:

“Hence, I feel this urge to encourage more ELTers around the world to show us their boards. It doesn’t need to be in response to a specific methodology/activity/technique challenge. I don’t particularly care what you are teaching or how, I just reckon I and a lot of other teachers could learn a lot just by getting a quick look at your board!”

It’s also a chance for me to share one of my favourite vocabulary revision games, especially popular with my YLs, although I use it for adults too.

The photos I’ve chosen to share are actually a year old, but I think they’re a good example of the boardwork I regularly did with a very small YL class I taught last (academic) year. Both of the SS loved writing and drawing on the board, so I made it a point to include this in every lesson I had with them. I tried hard to vary what we did, but this was one activity they loved so much we did it over and over again!

In our last lesson before Christmas I had taught them a set of 10 Christmas words. After the holiday, I wanted to revise them quickly, so I said the word and they had to draw pictures on the board. It was their own idea to create a single picture incorporating all of the words.

When they finished they then switched sides. This time I showed them the word card and they had to circle the correct picture on the board. Much hilarity ensued as they tried to work out what the other student had drawn!

One variant is to borrow a board rubber from another classroom. Instead of circling the correct drawing, they rub out the picture that you ask them about.

It worked really well with such a small class. You could probably do it as a team game in larger classes, or use mini-boards or (laminated) pieces of A4 paper and work in small groups.