Twitter and Blogs for Professional Development (post-IATEFL)

During IATEFL I had quite a few conversations about joining Twitter and starting blogs. I know that both of these processes can be quite daunting when you’re new – it’s only 18 months since I started, and the learning curve at the beginning was pretty steep!

To that end, I’ve collated a few blog posts which might help:

When I have a bit more time, I’ll hopefully write a beginner’s guide to blogging along the lines of the Twitter one above or my Independent English blog (shameless plug there!)

I hope these links help, and if there’s anything you need advice on that isn’t covered here, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

Hyperactive teens

This morning I started teaching four 13- and 14-year-old boys from Azerbaijan. They are in their second week at our school on a booster course for iGCSE English as a Second Language. I have them for two 45-minute slots, which are their 3rd and 4th for the day.
I know that I am very lucky to have such a small class, but at the same time it was quite a struggle. I felt like I was running a race throughout both lesson. They demanded a lot of energy to control them and get them to listen to instructions. They don’t see the point of working in pairs or of peer checking. Getting them to work by themselves was possible, but required quite a battle and a lot of praise when they did anything. Class discussions involved a lot of work from me, with them mostly trying to get me to say words in their language, which I assume were not very complimentary!
We have a points system, where they are given points for doing anything good (including offering answers to questions, writing a couple of sentences…) and points are taken away for problem behaviour (not listening, throwing rubbish on the floor…or even, as one boy did today, pouring water on another boy’s head!). It may well have been them testing my limits today, but I thought I would share the situation and see what others think.
Another teacher has them and the other four students (making a total of 8) from 9-11 and I have them from 11-1. Their speaking is pretty good, with the odd hole for vocab. Their writing is fluent, but very low on accuracy, but I’m not sure how to deal with that, since any attempt to focus them for more than 15 seconds has been pretty futile, so peer correction or group correction seems to be a no-go. They are only with us until the end of this week, so I won’t be able to radically change their learning style.
Tech is also not really an option, although they do have their phones, and repeatedly get them out. The aim for the week is to give them some reading and writing practice to help them with that part of the week, and the topic is ‘Ideas and the future’. They went to London at the weekend, so I got them to write about that today, then edit a picture of London to show it in the future, and write a little about that. My co-teacher is doing some exam-style reading based on the melting of the polar ice caps tomorrow. No idea what I’m going to do yet!
Feels much better to get that all out of my system…looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this group!
Thanks 🙂

Go online: getting your students to use Internet resources (IATEFL 2012)

In August 2011, I was lucky enough to get one of two International House John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships for IATEFL Glasgow 2012. As part of the scholarship, I needed to do some action research and present it at the conference.

I chose to research ways to encourage students to use the Internet and other technology resources to improve their English.

The resulting 30-minute presentation can be seen and heard here:

It was originally recorded using mybrainshark, which unfortunately no longer exists.

Apologies for the buzz of the fan on the first two slides – this goes away later. There’s a slide at the end of the recording added just before my presentation, so don’t stop after the thanks! 

It was originally presented on 21st March 2012 at IATEFL Glasgow.

The presentation: a written version


I chose to focus on student use of online resources after using Edmodo, a closed social network similar to facebook but specifically designed for education, for over a year with all of my classes. I observed that only some of the students engaged with the materials and tools I posted on the network and I wondered what I could do to improve their take-up of the resources.


As part of my research I did made observations related to two of my classes, did questionnaires with the students in those groups and created a survey which I publicised via Twitter for students around the world to complete, with a total of 74 responses. Everything which appears in quotation marks below is taken word for word from the surveys I did. If you would like to see the original data, please let me know.

Students who already use online materials

From my research I identified four key characteristics of students who already use the Internet and other technology for their English. They are:

  • motivated; they will use anything available to them to improve their English.
  • competitive; they want their English to be better than that of others or than their own is now.
  • connected; they already have easy access to the internet, normally via smart phones or tablet computers.
  • knowledgable about English resources; either their teacher has already introduced them to useful sites or they have been motivated enough to go out and find the sites for themselves.

What do students already use computers for?

The key words which students used in their answers to this question in the survey were:

  • work;
  • free time;
  • friends;
  • family;
  • Google;
  • emails;
  • facebook.

English only appeared as a medium for chatting on facebook and Skype. Therefore computers are only used to socialise in English rather than to explicitly study, or at least studying in English was not important enough to be mentioned as an answer to this question.

In my view, the main reason for this is that students are not aware of the range of materials which are available to help them with their English. I believe it is one of our responsibilities to show them these resources, so that students can decide whether they want to use them or not.

Problems and solutions

“If I turn on my computer to use websites, I started to log in facebook.”

“Sometimes, I just want to go on facebook and I forget why I went on my computer.”

Use something fun

Quizlet is a website enabling you to easily make and find flashcards covering a wide range of subjects. There are currently over 10 million sets on the site, and this is growing all the time.


For students, the many different functions of Quizlet give them a lot of exposure to the language in a variety of different forms, including being able to listen to computer-generated American pronunciation (this is about 90% correct by my reckoning, with some problems with stress placement). Games allow them to learn the words in a more motivating, fun way than traditional vocabulary lists. There is a speller function, meaning they can practise a side of vocabulary which is not often explicitly studied and track their progress. For students who prefer to use paper, the vocabulary can easily be printed in a variety of forms, including as a list or as two different sizes of flashcards, so they still have access to the same vocabulary as those using the computer-based activities. If they are logged in, students can see their progress through game scores/times and tracking of words studied in the learn and speller mode, as well as by completing the test function.

The site caters to different learning styles, with some activities based on visual cues, others on audio cues, and still others on moving information around on the screen.

It is very easy to personalise the vocabulary students are studying on the site, and they can make as many of their own sets as they please. There is a competitive element, with the highest scores for the space race, the fastest times for the scatter game and the names of students who have completed the learn mode appearing on the set page. Students are encouraged to beat their own highest scores and fastest times. Students can connect through facebook and see what sets their friends have been using, adding a social element. Peer reviews are generally more successful then teacher endorsements, since we are always telling our students what to do! Finally, there are many mobile apps which can be used to see the flashcards on the move, although none of these incorporate games as far as I know.

Overall, the variety of activities available to students on Quizlet could sometimes be more fun and more challenging than facebook, although you will probably have to sell it to the students!

“I didn’t want to create a user name.”

Use sites with no login

Quizlet allows students to access everything on the site without requiring a login, although they do need one if they want to track their progress or appear on any high score boards.

Other sites which don’t need a login are Lyrics Training and English Central.

Lyrics Training gets students to watch YouTube music videos and complete the lyrics. There are three levels available: beginner, with only a few words removed; intermediate, with about half of the words gone; and advanced, with all of the words missing.

Lyrics training

The site is fun, and because students can chose the videos they watch, it (hopefully!) caters to their choice in music and allows them to personalise their learning experience. It is relevant, since many students enjoy learning to help them understand more music. It also adapts something which they may well already do into a more productive task, something which may encourage students to use it without too much hesitation. Students who choose to create a username can make their own video tasks, as in the one I made above, although this is quite complicated.

English Central is another video-based site. In this case, learners watch videos and read the subtitles, then record themselves saying the dialogue from the video. The system then analyses their pronunciation and compares it to the original version. They can click on any word to see a definition and example sentence and hear the pronunciation.

English Central

In addition to being fun and personal in the same way as Lyrics Training, English Central has the added benefit of allowing students to practise their pronunciation in a (fairly) natural way without needing a teacher, something which can be hard to do. Although users don’t need to log in, if they do, the site has a progress bar which allows them to see how much they have done as they move through the levels. I have written a step-by-step guide introducing students to English Central on my Independent English blog.

Another solution to the problem of students reluctant to create another user name is to create a generic class login which everyone in the class can use.

I wanted exam practice.

Make it relevant

While this advice applies to any task we give our students, it is particularly true of students preparing for an exam, often with a limited time available to them.

To this end, I encouraged students preparing for the Cambridge FCE exam to take advantage of voice recorders on their phones and on the Internet, such as audioBoo and Vocaroo. As part of the FCE exam, candidates have one minute to compare and contrast two photos and answer a short question about them. This is ideal as a recorded task as it promotes self-reflection (How could I improve? What did I do well?) and also makes students really think about what they are saying (knowing that they are being recorded makes students more careful).

Audioboo and Vocaroo

Out of 11 students only 2 recorded themselves regularly, but by the week before the speaking exam every student had sent me a recording of either the task described above or the collaborative task, which involves discussing a variety of pictures and solving a problem in pairs. I highlighted the fact that some students recorded themselves and encouraged them to talk about it in class, attempting to promote a culture of ‘me too’ – students wanting to be recognised in the same way – while avoiding having a teacher’s pet.

Most importantly, regular voice recording allows students to track their progress in speaking. As one student said in answer to the question “For you, what did you find most useful about recording your voice?” “To hear how I improved during the weeks. It was amazing to hear me in September and December. It was a big difference.”

“I don’t really like to study on my computer.”

Bring it to class

With the same FCE class described above, I introduced the flo-joe word bank as a 20-minute introduction to every class. Every day, the website posts one question each based on phrasal verbs, word formation and collocations to help the students prepare for the Use of English exam.


I was lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard, but it would be easy enough to print the pages or even write the questions on the board as they are quite short. By making students aware that this resource exists and that you value it enough to dedicate class time to it, they are more likely to visit the site themselves and find out what else is there.

In fact, this was the case with one of my students, who started to complete the weekly writing tasks posted on the site under his own steam.

Show them non-computer sources

An alternative for students who want to access extra resources but don’t want to use the computer is to give them ideas based on non-computer sources. Voice recording via mobile phones is one example.

Another is podcasts, which are now easily available and cover (almost!) every possible topic. Students can choose topics and styles of presentation which suit them, and podcasts easily fit into their lives, since the majority of students now have an mp3 player of some kind. Here is a step-by-step guide introducing students to podcasts and showing them how to use them.


I need translations.

Give them the tools

On being greeted by a sea of English on most of the websites mentioned already, students may feel put off by the amount of language they ‘need’ to access the materials. As teachers then, it is important for us to give them the tools they need to make full use of the resources available.

An online dictionary helps them to understand new vocabulary, while (normally) providing the pronunciation of words, key collocations, notes about how to use the lexis and additional reading practice. This is much richer than a simple translation, which while useful at times, should not be the students first recourse in my opinion. Any student with internet access on their mobile phones can get a variety of dictionaries at the touch of a button.


In addition, I encourage my students to use these dictionaries in class, allowing me to help them find their way around at first. By consistently helping students to find meanings themselves, they are more prepared for life outside the classroom when a teacher won’t always be around to help them.

Here is my step-by-step guide to online dictionaries.

Everyone else understands but I don’t.

Extra support

For students who are not comfortable with technology/computers or who feel their English level is too low, accessing online materials can be quite daunting. If possible, one-to-one attention allows the teacher to focus on a student’s problems, which as well as making the student feel valued, helps the teacher the next time they introduce a tool by highlighting possible problem areas for new users. If it is not possible for the teacher to do this, or if their peers are already confident with a tool, students could be paired up with a ‘buddy’ who can help them.

It is also important for teachers to ‘share the love’ when it comes to new technology: by showing other willing teachers how to use the tools you are introducing, you give the students more possible helpers. If your school has a self access centre, you could also demonstrate the tools to those who work in it, so that students can ask for help and get extra support there too.

“You gave us too many websites so it was a bit hard to use everything.”

Remember it can be overload

Of course, not everything which inhibits learners from taking advantage of Internet resources is student-generated! The above is a direct quote which echoed what a few of my FCE students said in the first class where I did this research. I took two things from this into my second group:

  • Avoid showing them too much, too fast: introduce tools one a time, and when students are comfortable add another one if necessary.
  • Once is never enough: just because students have seen a tool once, it doesn’t mean they can use it again. It’s worth repeating introductions to tools more than once, allowing students to take the lead with explanations after the first time. Being systematic and introducing only one tool at a time also helps here.

After the course

Via Edmodo and facebook, I asked my students to tell me whether they still used any of the tools I had shown them after they left my class. Here are the four responses I got:

After the course quotes


Here are all of the key words mentioned above:

IATEFL 2012 mindmap

Ultimately, we shouldn’t force our students to use technology if they don’t really want to. It doesn’t suit everyone. However, if we at least show them what’s out there and give them the chance to experiment with it, students can make their own decisions about whether or not to use the tools.

I hope that these suggestions prove useful to you. If you have other solutions, please do add them to the comments. I would also be interested to hear about the tools which your students find most useful. Finally, if you any questions please post them in the comments.

Thanks to:

  • IATEFL and International House for the scholarship.
  • My students for putting up with me and my endless requests during the research!
  • My Twitter colleagues for sharing the survey and supporting me in my research, as well as introducing me to the tools mentioned in this presentation and many ideas for using them.
  • Ceri Jones for helping me out with my scholarship application.
  • Jane Harding da Rosa for helping me to conduct the research.
  • Jenny Pugsley for giving me feedback on the final presentation.

Update: I have written a step-by-step guide introducing students to Quizlet and podcasts (including for IELTS) on my Independent English blog.

Revamping writing

In a recent class my students did some writing starting with the (elicited) sentence:

Tom was teaching English at IH in England two years ago.

This was to finish off a week during which we had studied relative clauses, and I hoped that students would include at least one or two of these in their own writing. It has to be said that my introduction to the writing was probably not the best ever seen in a language classroom, and this may have had something to do with the final result. However, since the students are in an Intermediate class, the general standard of their writing needed to be improved anyway.

I took the writing home at the weekend and came up with a set of questions, reproduced below.

Before the class, I cut them up so that each question was on one slip of paper. I turned them over and numbered them, so that the students could see which ones they had already responded to.

In class, I first asked the students to break down their writing onto small pieces of paper, so that one piece of paper had one clause (though I used the term ‘idea’ here). The examples here are from the end of the lesson, after they had worked on the text:

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 1

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 2

This made it easier for them to move the ideas around in the story – more like a puzzle than a piece of writing!

Students then worked through the questions in the same groups which they wrote the original stories in. Once they had a final version, they rewrote it on a new piece of paper. For the fast finishers, I marked a few errors for them to look at.

As the students themselves agreed, the new piece of writing was much richer. They still remember some of the questions I asked them when producing writing now (2 weeks later), although obviously not everything!

With the permission of my students, here are the before and after versions of their stories (click to make images larger):

Before and after 1

Before and after 2

Before and after 3

Before and after 4

Hope that all makes sense! I’d be interested to here if you’ve tried anything similar with your students.

How can we get the most from conferences whether we attend or not? (an #eltchat summary)

This is the summary of the first #eltchat on Wednesday 14th March 2012. To find out exactly what #eltchat is, click here.

With IATEFL 2012 fast approaching and in the midst of the spring conference season, this #eltchat was aimed at helping both those who can and can’t attend conferences to get the maximum possible benefit from them.

Before you go

Try to research the people and organisations who will be there. Find people on Twitter if possible – this should make it easier to recognise new faces.

Research speakers you plan to see – this will help you to decide which sessions to attend.

Make sure your bags aren’t too full – there is always something which you must buy!

While you’re there

Go to sessions you’re most interested in, not just because you feel you SHOULD go to a certain session. Do you really want to see big name presenters or are you just attending for the name?

Don’t try to pack too much in. Conferences can be very ‘full on’. Leave space for downtime and reflection; your brain needs a rest sometimes.

You don’t have to go to every session. Make time to speak to people too!

Watch out for signs of overload and skip a session if you need to recharge, especially when the conference is over a number of days.

Ask other participants what they’re going to see as well – weigh their recommendations depending on what you know about them!

Find other people to share the conference with – you can see different sessions and compare notes, or see what you think about the same session: a bit like a scavenger hunt 🙂

Look out for people promoting their sessions on Twitter: this can help you to make face-to-face contacts while at the conference.

Get to sessions that are likely to be popular early (especially ones in small rooms) to avoid missing out on them.

It’s probably better not to talk to presenters just before their session, but afterwards it’s normally OK, although you might have to leave the room so the next presenter can prepare.


Notes may never be read again, but writing them can help you to process ideas.

Notes don’t have to be essays: they could just be marginal notes to yourself – whatever helps you remember. You could also try mindmapping or tweeting during the session, if wifi is available. Mike Harrison suggests this mindmapping app for iPad and iPhone, and linked to a guide about how to use it.

Many people post slides on the net after their presentations, or with permission you can take photos of slides during the presentation as notes.

You could also write up key points after the session rather than during it or create audio notes rather than written ones.

Evernote was suggested as a good way to synthesise your notes, as you can include videos, audio, pictures and even text! It is available on nearly all platforms and it uploads to the cloud, so you can organize your notes later on your computer.

Personally, I believe that the most useful ideas will stick anyway!

Here’s an amazing example of notes based on a presentation.

After the conference

You could provide a feedback session at your school, including some useful activities for other teachers, or sharing handouts and ideas with them. This might require you to take detailed notes during the conference.

Try to include one or two of the activities you have seen in your classes during the following 2 weeks. This helps to fix the activities in your mind.

“If I say “wow” afterwards, it means I want to use that in class, want to learn more.”

If you can’t go

Follow the associated hashtag on Twitter – this will give you many insights into the talks being held, and will also help you to find follow-up blogposts. You can still get a lot out of the posts, even if you don’t attend the conference, because it gives you time and space to reflect on the ideas posted.

You can often still download the conference timetable, and could plan your ‘ideal conference’, then try to find out about the sessions afterwards by searching for the presenters.

Don’t forget there are many free online conferences and seminars too! In addition, IATEFL will be streaming many of the sessions. Last year over 50,000 people accessed the online conference area.

Suggestions for conference organisers

It would be great for conference organisers to provide a webpage or wiki to collect all of the associated blog entries and other materials. Ceri Jones says TESOL Spain already have links and handouts on their website.

Another idea would be an interactive agenda which could be designed much like a study guide, a blank template with “big idea” notes and context and contact info.

The downsides

There can be quite a lot of work to catch up with afterwards.


Conferences: Spreading the Love (an #eltchat summary from this time last year!)

The IATEFL 2012 app

A page created by Marie Sanako for IATEFL 2012 related notes or blog posts – you can post links there yourself

IATEFL 2011 video sessions available on iTunesU

4th International Conference on Computer Supported Education, Porto, Portugal

Tips for conference attendees

A podcast episode about attending conferences, accompanied by a written explanation of the key points

Don’t forget!

The #ELTchat symposium will take place on Thursday 22nd March 2012, with a live #eltchat during the session and live streaming too.

IATEFL 2012 preparations

My blog has been rather neglected recently, and the main reason is that I have been preparing to go to my first ever IATEFL conference.

Back in June 2011 I applied for the International House John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarship, which would enable me to become a member of IATEFL and attend the Glasgow conference. In August I found out that I was one of the two lucky winners of the scholarship. Since then I have been doing classroom-based research, the results of which I will present on Wednesday 21st March at 17:55GMT. Many of you helped me out a lot in late 2011 when I published a survey for students on their use of Internet resources for their English.

Over the last month, my preparation has intensified. I have collated the results and put together my presentation, recorded an audio version of it and written a full text version of all of my findings. I will publish all of this on Wednesday, hopefully slightly before the presentation itself so that even if you can’t attend, you can still experience the full joy of research 😉 You can also follow the conference online, including live streaming of many of the sessions.

For those who will be at IATEFL, hopefully I will see you at my presentation (Wednesday 21st March, 17:55-18:40, Boisdale 2), entitled ‘Go online: getting your students to use Internet resources’. To help you decide whether you want to come or not, Adam Simpson interviewed me and created a presenter profile with the results. I’m looking forward to (re-)meeting a lot of my PLN, especially after the great experience I had in Paris in November last year.

Once it’s all over, hopefully I will get back to blogging a little more regularly, and I will, of course, share my experiences of the conference with you too!

Chestnut tree in a Glasgow park
Chestnut tree in a Glasgow park by @cgoodey on #eltpics. One of only 2 photos of Glasgow on at the moment, but I'm sure that won't be true for long!

Web tool recommendations (#eltchat summary)

This is the summary of the second #eltchat on Wednesday 29th February. To find out exactly what #eltchat is, click here.

(Since this post is full of links which may change/move at a later date, please let me know if any of them are broken. Thanks!)

“If you could recommend one particular webtool for the classroom, what would it be, and why?”

The Tools (over 40 of them!)

The famous ones

  • Skype – phone calls through the internet, including video. Simple, effective, reliable, and it works all over the world. It can be used to bring experts or other teachers into your classrooms. You can use the ‘chat’ feature to share files and write in vocabulary. You could use Skype instead of traditional listening tracks to Skype friends in the UK/US (or other countries!) For example: “With my [Shelly Terrell’s] 4 to 6 yr-old German students they learned how to do origami from @EHerrod‘s son in the UK via Skype”.
  • YouTube – even those who hate tech will still try it! It’s easy to forget how helpful thousands of the clips can be, although some schools block it.
  • Facebook – the groups function is useful for educators
  • TED – hundreds of inspiring videos by thinkers and leaders in every field imaginable
Voice recording
  • Vocaroo – voice recorder. Easy to use (single click), no need for registration.
  • Soundcloud – voice recorder with the added facility of voice commenting. SImple to upload to the internet and share. James Taylor wrote a post about it. Audioboo is useful for this too.
  • Fotobabble – upload a photo and record yourself talking about it for one minute. Some fotobabbles on this old blog  (see November/December archives)
  • Voicethread – comment collaboratively on slides/pictures/whatever you want
  • Voxopop – create talk groups to get your students discussing things together
  • Voki – create avatars to do your speaking for you. Shelly Terrell created this guide to using vokis
  • Audacity – downloadable software which can be used to record students and put together podcasts
  • You can also record voices on a smart phone
  • Videoant – video annotation which is easy to email to students/observed teachers
  • Jing – create video annotation to provide feedback to students or show them how to do something. Students can also create their own files. You can make screenshots with it too. Great for essay feedback, and useful extra listening practice. Teacher Training Videos guide to Jing
Bookmarking / link collection / organisation
Ready-made materials
  • Movie segments to assess grammar goals – activities based on films, through which teachers can present grammar points
  • EFL smart blog – a blog for students with complete mini lessons, including authentic listening and accompanying activities
  • Knoword – a vocabulary guessing game based on randomly generated dictionary definitions
  • Speakout video podcasts – the link takes to the pre-intermediate video podcasts. Each unit of the book is accompanied by one podcast.
  • Film-English – an award-winning site by Kieran Donaghy with complete lesson plans based on short films
Tools for teachers to create activities / materials
  • Triptico – a single software download providing loads of free tools; especially good for classrooms with interactive whiteboards (IWBs). Word magnets are good for colour-coding grammar explanations. The card game is good for randomly choosing speaking topics. It’s really easy to use and @David_Triptico is constantly adding new resources to it.
  • Quizlet – a great tool for vocabulary where students (and teachers) can create flashcards and immediately play games with them. Students really enjoy using it.
  • Hot Potatoes – freeware including “six applications, enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises for the World Wide Web”
  • Socrative – “a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets” and it’s free [this was my personal favourite discovery of the chat]
  • Puzzle Maker – a site which allows you to create printable wordsearches, crosswords and other puzzles. Crossword Maker just lets you create crosswords. Wordsearch Maker creates wordsearches. Nik Peachey describes how to use the latter here.
  • Wordle / Tagxedo – word cloud generators. Could be used for simple ‘word find’ activities such as ‘Spot the word with a prefix’
  • Language Garden – language plants make sentences, poems and grammar look beautiful, as well as providing visual prompts for students.
Creative tools for students
  • SP-studio – create cartoon characters based on the style of South Park cartoons. Kids can then create profiles for their cartoon characters.
  • Survey monkey – helps students to practise question forms by creating online questionnaires, as well as finding out more about their fellow students. Very easy to use.
  • GoAnimate – online video creator
  • iMovie – kids can create “movie trailers” about books they like
  • Google Docs – word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software available online for collaboration, sharing or private use. Can be used for essay writing and other writing assignments as well as for individual vocabulary banks for students.
Tools which you can integrate other things into
  • Edmodo – a closed social network for education (my post about Edmodo) – I use it to share resources with my students.
  • Wikis – but you need lots of tools to put in them. Some wiki providers include pbworks and wikispaces. They allow embedding of other tools.
  • Blogs – spaces to provide information, links and create online texts. Some providers include wordpressedublogs and Posterous (see below). They allow embedding of other tools.
  • Posterous – it focuses on all four skills; it’s easy to use; there are free apps on various platforms. Intuitive, and great for introducing blogging to students.
  • Moodle – a tool for creating complete virtual learning environments (VLEs). It allows embedding of other tools. Safe for kids too.
  • Glogster – good for project work. It allows embedding of other tools too.
For independent learners
  • English Central – students can use this outside the classroom to practise listening, reading and pronunciation as well as improve their vocabulary.
  • Lyrics training – students can listen to songs and complete the lyrics
When you implement a web tool in the classroom, what is the criteria for using it with learners? What do you look for in a web tool?
  • Accessible for free on many platforms
  • No (or at least very easy) registration
  • User-friendly for both teachers and students
  • Supports various skills
  • Fun!
  • A way to make English a tool, rather than concentrating on the language aspect
  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • Offer various activities
  • Practical
  • Allow students to practise their English in a meaningful way
  • Justified from a pedagogical point of view, not just because it’s a cool new toy
  • Ease of integration with other tools
How do we get non-tech-savvy teachers excited about web tools?
  • Show the real pedagogical value
  • Through their students – if you get the students enthused, they will tell their other teachers
  • Start with showing them examples of why they can get excited, not how to use web tools
  • Show them how much time it can save them, although at the beginning it feels like they take more time
  • Lead by example
  • Introduce things in small doses
  • Give them a task that must use a web tool / taster sessions
  • Present them with simple, quick and practical classroom uses of these tools
  • Go back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and help them see why they need a tool
  • Encourage them to play with tools for personal use first, for example by making birthday greetings
  • Visit their lessons and suggest alternatives
  • Do workshops which teachers bring their own laptops to – doing IT is better than watching
  • BUT: We shouldn’t feel we have to. Some teachers don’t have this option, and others are really not interested. Gareth Davies wrote a blog post expanding on this after the chat.
Tips for teachers
  • Be consistent – don’t flit from one tool to another.
  • Don’t get swept away with new tools.
  • Don’t try to do too much too soon.
  • Play around with tools to help you become more confident.
  • Test things out throughly before you introduce them. OR Experiment together with the students. (a language learning task in itself)
  • Introduce them in small doses
  • Make sure you have a plan B, just in case the tech fails. Don’t freak out! You could teach the 3rd conditional – If they program had worked you would have seen… 😉
  • Ask students to share their favourites too – they might know about tools you don’t
  • If students know that the tech exists, they can decide whether to use it or not.
  • Prepare for excitement from kids! Never be afraid to learn with them.
  • Some tools may seem too childish for adults.
  • If something doesn’t work the first time, try to analyse why and work out what you could do differently. Don’t just assume the tech was wrong. It might work with one group of students but not with another.
  • Make sure that the pedagogy comes first – don’t just use tech for the sake of it.
  • Remember that you can often do the same things without tech – do you really need it? If you can’t justify why the tech version is better, there’s no reason to use it.
Make the most of your old computer
Make the most of your old computer – image by @mscro1 on eltpics

Some of these tools are not available in every country or at every school. Technology is still far off for a lot of teachers. You also need to make sure all of the students have access to the technology outside the classroom.

Remember that some teachers are limited to time – they have to finish a coursebook and tools take time and have to be appropriate. Ideally, you need to use a tool that will allow students to USE what they studied in the coursebook.

Other links
A small plug

On Wednesday 21st March 2012 I will be doing a presentation at the IATEFL Conference about ways teachers can encourage students to use online tools, based on action research done in my classes. Subscribe to my blog to find out the results if you can’t be there!

Update: here is my IATEFL 2012 talk.