Innovate ELT 2021 – day two

These are summaries of the talks I attended during day two of the OxfordTEFL Innovate ELT online conference on 1st and 2nd October 2021. Day one is here.

Note: when I’ve included links, sometimes they’re the ones the presenter included, sometimes they’re others which I’ve found. If you’re one of the presenters and would like me to change any of the links, please let me know!

Plenary – Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community – me 🙂

Here is a link to the blogpost detailing my talk.

Plenary – Not just diversity, but unity – Fiona Mauchline

If we’ve learnt anything in 2020-2021, it’s that we need people: to shape our lives, and to learn. Emerging from such isolating times, let’s reflect on how to employ not just ‘people in the room’ ELT approaches, but ‘between people in the room’ approaches. Connection: what language is for.

Fiona reminds us that while of course it is important to get more voices in the room and to focus on diversity, it is also important to consider the connections between the people in the room. She asked us:

  • What two things did you most miss about life while in lockdown or under restrictions?
  • What do you most miss about face2face conferences/ELT events?
  • How do you feel about group communication in a Zoom room with more than 3 people?

She reminds us how important it is to get students talking as early as possible in a session or lesson to break the ice and help students to feel comfortable sharing ideas – these questions were an example of that kind of activity.

Most of the answers in the chat showed that we missed the social aspects of life. There has been a lot about changing narratives and diversity over the past year, but the most important thing Fiona has noticed has been the need for connection and unity. Cohorts who met entirely online and never had any contact face-to-face first seemed to have less effective learning. Fiona shook up her teaching, for example by including sessions where she set things up and left the lesson for a while to give the students space and to move the focus away from her.

In many classrooms, both face-to-face and online, we all look in the same direction, which our brain interprets as a non-communicative situation. We’re all separate online, in different boxes, which our brain interprets as being apart and non-communicative. Even face-to-face, it’s hard to find images of classrooms with people really looking at each other – again, the body language implies not communicating.

We need to look at physically moving learners into communicative modes, rather than just having them speak to each other. Build on the social in your classrooms. Here are some ideas to do this:

Fiona said her plenary last was a ‘call to arms’ and this year it’s a ‘call to hugs’ 🙂

Fostering Learner Autonomy in Virtual Classes – Patricia Ramos Vizoso and Urszula Staszczyk

We all want to see our students bloom and become more autonomous learners. In this talk we will look into some practical ideas that can empower them to be more active and conscious participants in their language learning process, making the whole learning experience a memorable one for both them and us.

Learner autonomy is important because it leads to more efficient and effective learning (Benson, 2011). It helps them to become lifelong learners. Learners are more invested in their learning, and therefore more motivated, because they choose what works for them. They also understand the purpose and usefulness of lessons. Class time is not sufficient – learners need more time to really learn a language.

These are possible ways of focussing on learner autonomy:

In this talk, Ula and Patricia will focus on learner-based and teacher-based approaches.

To implement learning autonomy in class, be aware that it’s a process – it needs to be done regularly, step by step. For example, start by giving them choices (Do you want to do this alone or in pairs? Who do you want to work with?) You have to be consistent and patient – results might not be immediate. The teacher is a facilitator, not the source of knowledge. Try different things, and don’t be afraid to take risks – different things will work for different groups.

We could say that there are 3 phases of learner autonomy:

  • Kick-off: All learners have the potential to be autonomous, but we need to develop this potential. Teachers are there to help learners understand what that potential is and what options learners have.
  • Action: This is the ‘doing’ phase.
  • Reflection and Evaluation: Learners decide what worked and what didn’t.

Kick-off

Set goals: SMART objectives, a class goal contract, or unit objectives. Discuss these goals, keep track of them, and when learners lose motivation or go off track, discuss the goals again. Possible headings to help learners frame their goals:

  • What is your goal?
  • How do you plan to achieve this goal?
  • When and how often will you do the work?
  • How long will it take?
  • Who will evaluate your progress? How?

Learners might not know how to create goals like this, and will probably need support. Here is an activity you could do to help them, by presenting problems and solutions which students match, and learners decide which strategies they want to try out.

Acting

Give students choices in class:

  • Who will they work with? When?
  • How will they do tasks? Written, oral, video…?
  • What materials will they use?
  • What do they want to improve?

Encourage them to think about why they make these choices, not just what the choices are.

Another idea is a choice board:

The phrases on the right are feedback Patricia got from her students, which she conducted in their first language.

Other ideas for action: encourage peer correction, create checklists with students, flip lessons, micro presentations (1-3 minutes) based on topics they’re interested in, task-based learning, project-based lessons.

You can adapt activities from coursebooks or other materials you’re using to make tasks more autonomous – you don’t have to start from scratch. Small changes in instructions can make a different. For example, rather than ‘Write a summary’, change it to ‘Produce a summary’, then discuss what that might mean. Ula’s learners produced a mind map, bullet points, a comic strip, and a paragraph as their summaries, then did some peer feedback before they handed in the work. This is what Ula’s learners thought about these twists to the task:

Some tools Ula and Patricia mentioned:

Reflecting and evaluating

This could happen after an activity, after a class, or after a specific period of time. It can be individual or in groups. As with all parts of the learner autonomy process, it’s gradual and you need to support students to do this effectively.

  • ‘Can do’ statements
  • Guided reflection questions
    • What did we do today?
    • Why are we doing this?
    • How will this help your English?
    • What makes it difficult?
    • How can I make it easier next time?
    • Do you prefer to be told what to do or to choose what to do? [Helps learners/teachers to think about goals and strategies for achieving them, as well as encouraging students to take risks and try something new and not just do things which are easy for them]
  • 3 things I’ve learnt, 1 thing I’ll do better next week, 2 things I enjoyed
  • Reflective diaries (good for helping learners to see how their goals have/haven’t changed over time, what strategies they’ve tried to use, what’s worked and what hasn’t)
  • Emoticons work with young learners:

The reflection stage gives you as a teacher useful feedback too about how to improve your implementation of learner autonomy in the classroom.

Tools for reflection online might be:

“Why not just google it?”: dictionary skills in digital times – Julie Moore

This session will explore the unmediated world of online dictionaries, what ELT teachers really ought to know about online reference resources, and how we can pass that information onto our students to point them towards appropriate tools that will prove genuinely useful in their language learning journey.

Julie started off by telling us about the boom in learner dictionaries which happened in the late 1990s and how much the landscape of dictionaries has changed in the interim. Dictionaries are expensive to produce, but sales have plummeted.

Many teachers might still think about dictionary skills in relation to paper dictionaries, even if they use online dictionaries themselves. They also might not think about how to train learners how to use online dictionaries.

Paper v. online

Paper dictionaries are somewhat cumbersome and require some skill to access. HOwever, if learners bought a dictionary they were generally teacher-recommended, reliable and audience-appropriate (designed for learners).

Online lookups are quick, familiar and intuitive. You can use them wherever, whenever you like. You’re not tied to a single dictionary – you can look at lots of different resources. They’re ‘free’ (at least to some extent). However, they’re unmediated and can be difficult for students to navigate. Dictionaries online are for very different audiences and are often inappropriate for learners. They’re sometimes misleading, and it can be demotivating if learners don’t understand.

Dictionary sources

Teach learners to ask: Where is the information from? In the screenshot above, it says ‘Oxford Languages’, but who exactly is that? In this case, it came from Lexico, the Oxford University Press dictionary, and is aimed at first-language English speakers. There are specific Oxford dictionaries for learners though.

Collins Cobuild is aimed somewhere between first language and monolingual learners

Cambridge, Longman and Macmillan also have dictionaries for learners.

Merriam Webster is useful for American English speakers. Their main site is aimed at L1 speakers, but they have a learners dictionary.

The differences between them are mostly about formats – they are all high quality.

How much information is there?

The screenshot above is actually an excerpt from the longer entry. Here is the full entry from Lexico:

Vocabulary in definitions

In L1 dictionaries, the definition is often a higher level than the target word, often abstract and grammatically dense. This is not a problem for most L1 speakers, but can be a real challenge for learners. You can see examples above.

Compare these to learner dictionary definitions:

Learner dictionary definitions generally draw from a set list of words to create definitions, typically a list of 2000-3000 words. This means that B1 learners, maybe even A2 learners, should be able to access the definitions. Definitions are grammatically simple and accessible. Collins Cobuild use full sentence definitions, putting the word into a sentence.

Other information

In learner dictionaries, there is often extra information like word formation, pronunciation audio, Collins has video pronunciation for many words too and a curated set of example sentences. The first example sentence is often a ‘vanilla’ example – how the word is typically used. Many learners won’t read beyond the definition or the first sentence. Further sentences show colligation (grammar patterns), often with with bolded words to highlight the patterns. Sometimes the grammar patterns are spelt out separately, but not always. Other example sentences show collocations.

Learners need to know that all of this is available. Dictionary skills are still vital to teach to help learners work independently.

Teaching dictionary skills

When students ask what a word means, use it as an opportunity to look at a dictionary. In feedback on writing, you can give learners a link to help them find out more about vocabulary – they’re far more likely to follow up than if you just say ‘look it up in a dictionary’. It’s hard to resist clicking on a link!

If lots of learners have had the same problem, bring it into class.

Show learners how to use collocations dictionaries too – the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary is free, the Oxford one is a paid service.

[Unfortunately I had to miss the last few minutes of this very useful talk!]

Some feedback on your feedback – Duncan Foord

Tools and techniques for giving feedback to CELTA trainees and experienced teachers

The workshop is aimed at CELTA tutors and anyone who observes teachers and gives them feedback.

Despite the fact that this activity is probably the key element in the CELTA course and probably the most crucial developmental activity for practicing teachers, CELTA trainers and Directors of Studies are given relatively little training and guidance on how to do it well. In this workshop we will look at effective ways of providing feedback to novice and experienced teachers after observing them teach. Come to this workshop for some tips on how to do it better and how to continue to develop your skills as a trainer and mentor.

Constructive Feedback

  • Uses facts in support of observations
  • States the impact this had
  • Indicates what is preferable
  • Discusses the consequences (negative and positive)

Destructive Feedback

  • General comments, unsupported with specific examples
  • Blames, undermines, belittles, finds fault and diminishes the recipient
  • Gives no guidance for future behaviour
  • Delivery is emotional, aggressive or insulting

The first area of giving general comments, is probably the most common one that I’ve been guilty of – I’ve worked hard on this part of my feedback.

Thinking about comments

Are these observer comments useful? Is so, why? If not, why not, and how would you improve them?

  • You didn’t correct students enough in the lesson today.
  • Tell me one thing that went well and one that didn’t go so well.
  • Did you achieve your aims today?
  • It’s difficult grading your language to a new level.
  • Some students arrived late, but that wasn’t your fault.
  • Tom (peer trainee), what did you think of Marta’s lesson today?
  • Vladimir and Keiko were very quiet in the pair work activity. Why do you think that was?
  • Do you think you used ICQs enough?
  • How could you set up that conversation task more effectively next time?

This task prompted a lot of discussion in our breakout room. We talked about the usefulness of questions like:

  • How did X affect your students?
  • How did the students respond to X/when you did X?
  • What evidence do you have that X was useful to your students?

These were Duncan’s ideas:

‘Tell me about one thing that went well and one that didn’t go so well’ – this doesn’t give a lot of support in terms of what ‘well’ means, and turns the lesson into some kind of talent show. I’d never thought about this before – definitely going to stop asking that!

Aims – what if the aims weren’t very good in the first place? The changing the aims question invites the teacher to reflect on how useful their aims actually were.

It’s not useful to wallow in the idea of difficulty. It would be better to look at solutions.

We should mention the students in our feedback, rather than focussing only on the dynamic between the tutor and the teachers.

Frame the question from the point of view of its outcomes: Did students understand what they had to do in the role play activity? If trainees can see the consequence, they’re more likely to look for solutions.

Look to the future: How could you…more effectively next time? Rather than How would you have…? What would you have…?

It’s important for teachers to see the consequences on the students, rather than the consequences on the ticklist in yours/the teacher’s head.

Feelings: if the teacher needs to grieve something, or is really upset, you can ask ‘How did you feel about the lesson?’ but if not the question isn’t necessarily that useful.

Key takeaways

  1. Be specific and mention students all the time.
    How well did students understand the language point you were teaching them? How did Vladimir and Lucia deal with that activity?
  2. Work with facts not opinions, the lesson not the teacher.
    Abdellah did not participate in the pair activity.
  3. Focus on key points, don’t get distracted with trivia.
    What did students learn/practise? Was it useful? What was the atmosphere in class like?

Duncan boils down the essentials of a lesson to:

  • Did the students learn or practise anything?
  • Was it any use?
  • What was the atmosphere like?

This is one way to start feedback. It’s also probably what students are asking about lessons themselves too.

You ask them those questions, and can lead on to ‘What are the consequences of this?’ / ‘What does all this mean?’ It can make it easier during a course for trainees to realise that that’s why a lesson has failed to meet criteria too. If it’s a fail lesson, it can also be easier to tell the trainee right at the start as otherwise they could well be distracted trying to work out if it’s a fail; then the discussion is about what you can do to make it a pass next time.

Coffee break

There were regular one-hour coffee breaks throughout the conference. I went to the final one from the conference. This was a great way to have chats with small groups of people. I chatted to teachers in Toronto, Benin, Moscow, and Saudi Arabia, among others. I really liked this feature 🙂

We were also told about the Oxford TEFL online community for teachers OT Connect, particularly for newly-qualified teachers or for those who don’t get CPD elsewhere, but it could be good for lots of people.

Engaging learners online with hand-drawn graphics – Emily Bryson

Simple drawings are an effective tool to teach vocabulary, make grammar intelligible, and support students to attain essential life skills. This workshop demonstrates innovative graphic facilitation activities to use in class—and will convince you that anyone can draw! Get ready to activate your visual vocabulary to engage your learners online.

Emily stopped drawing as a teenager, but then a graphic facilitator visited her college a few years ago and now she uses it all the time. She trains others in how to use it, and is constantly learning to improve her own drawing.

There is research to show that drawing helps learning to remember vocabulary. There can be a wow factor to drawing too – it’s not as hard as people think.

This is an example of a visual capture sheet:

Emily asked us to use the stamp tool in annotate to mark the wheel to show what we do with drawing already – I like this as a Zoom activity 🙂

Ideas for including drawings in lessons:

  • Include images in classroom rules posters.
  • Ask students to draw pictures to accompany their vocabulary.
  • Introduce sketchnotes.
  • Introduce icons which learners can draw regularly, as a kind of visual vocabulary.
  • Draw a notebook to show learners exactly how to lay out their notes, especially if you’re trying to teach study skills.
  • Use gifs – make sure they’re not too fast as they can trigger epilepsy. You can save a powerpoint as jpgs, then upload it to ezgifmaker. A frame rate of 200 works well.
  • Use mind maps. Miro works well online for this.
  • Have a set of icons/images – each one could be a new line of a conversation, or the structure of a writing text, or to indicate question words as prompts for past simple questions, like this:
  • Create an image to indicate a 5-year plan. Two hills in the background, with a road leading towards them. What would be at the top of the hill for you? What would your road map be?
  • Use visual templates (in the classroom or on Jamboard):
  • Draw a mountain and a balloon. The students have to work out how to get the balloon over the moutain. The mountain was the challenges facing them in their English learning, the balloon was the learning itself.
  • Visual capture sheets can be more engaging:
  • Drawing storytelling. Emily uses this to teach phonics as part of ESOL literacy, especially for learners who can’t write in their first language. It gives them something they can study from at home. Emily showed us how she uses a visualiser to help the students see the story as she draws it, with them sounding out the words as they understand the story.
  • Use images to check understanding – learners annotate which image is which, or to answer questions.
  • Encourage critical thinking, for example by having some images in grey and others in colour.
  • Start with a blob or a squiggle. Learners say what it could/might be, and can draw on top of it too:

Anybody can draw 🙂 Emily showed us how to draw based on the alphabet. For example, a lightbulb is a U-shape, with an almost O around it, a zig zag, a swirl, and you can add light if you want to:

For listening, the icon might be a question mark with an extra curl at the bottom, and a smaller one inside, with sound waves too if you want them to be.

For reading, draw a rectangle for the cover, two lines from the top for pages, and some C shapes down the side to make it spiral bound.

For writing, draw a rectangle at an angle, with a triangle at the bottom = pencil. Add a small rectangle at the top, plus a clip = pen. Draw a larger rectangle behind = writing on a piece of paper.

If you’re not sure how to draw an icon, just search for it – ‘motivation icon’, ‘study skills icon’ for example – it can be much easier to copy an icon than to copy a picture. The Noun Project has lots of different ideas too.

As Pranjali Mardhekar Davidson said in the comments, all drawings can be broken down into basic shapes. This makes it much less intimidating!

Emily’s message: Feel the fear, and draw anyway! 🙂 and if you’d like to find out more, you can join one of Emily’s courses. Her blog is www.EmilyBrysonELT.com where there are lots more ideas too. You can share your drawings using #drawingELT

Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community (Innovate ELT 2021 plenary)

I was very happy to open day 2 of the second online Innovate ELT conference on 2nd October 2021 with a 15-minute plenary. The topic was ‘Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community’ and the abstract was:

Sharing your ideas with others is a great way to develop professionally. But where do you start? There are now myriad ways of getting your work out there, without having to go down the traditional route of writing for publishers. In this plenary, I’ll talk about some of the ways in which self-publishing, blogging and other ways of sharing practice are changing the landscape of teacher writing, and how you can get involved too.

In The Developing Teacher, Duncan Foord talks about 5 circles of development as a way of thinking about how you can develop professionally in a range of different ways. [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Image from Duncan’s TED Afyon May 2016 presentation

I’ll look at how you can write professionally at each level of this framework. You could start from the centre and work outwards, or jump in wherever you feel comfortable.

You

The simplest way to start writing professionally is to keep a teaching journal for yourself. You can make notes after every lesson, choose one group or student to write notes about each week, summarise what you’ve learnt at the end of each week and what you’d like to work on in the following week…the only limit to what you write is your imagination! If you’re stuck for ideas, my ELT Playbook 1 has 30 ideas for possible journal writing tasks [find out more].

You and your students

Most of us adapt or create materials for our students. Getting feedback on your materials from students is a great way of developing your writing skills. You could ask them about the amount of information on the materials, the layout, the clarity of any explanations, and/or the way you used the materials with the students. Find out what does and doesn’t work, and experiment with new ideas.

You and your colleagues

Once you’ve started reflecting on your lessons and getting feedback on the materials you produce, why not discuss this with your colleagues? You could share materials you’ve created with other teachers working with similar groups, and find out how the materials worked with their students. You could have a go at writing some teachers notes to go with the materials too. With your reflections, you could share key points you’ve learnt, activities you’ve tried, or questions you have in a WhatsApp group. Alternatively, organise a meeting with colleagues to share your ideas and volunteer to write a summary of what you all learnt. These are all ways to share your writing with your colleagues.

You and your school

The next step is to share your writing more widely, potentially creating something more lasting for the school community rather than purely for colleagues you work with right now. You could put together a course of materials which could be run over a number of sessions and reused multiple times. What about creating an introductory guide to particular aspects of your job, for example, how to run conversation classes or how to teach young learners on Zoom?

You and your profession

Now that you’ve got all of this writing experience behind you, you can really start to exploit the many opportunities there are out there for sharing your writing with the wider profession, many of which weren’t possible 20 years ago but have now made it possible for anybody to share their writing. You could start a blog – I did this over 10 years ago now, and in the process I’ve developed hugely as a writer in the process. Short-form writing works well on Twitter, Instagram or other social media – there are huge communities of teachers on most platforms. For longer-form writing, why not look at writing an article for magazines like English Teaching Professional, Modern English Teacher or Humanising Language Teaching, or for teaching associations like IATEFL or your local association? For full-length book projects, you could try completely independent self-publishing, though this means you need to do all of the marketing yourself, or contact small independent publishers like these to help you with your writing projects:

But why me?

As there is already so much writing out there, you might wonder why anybody would want to read what you have to offer. Remember that your voice and your experience is unique – nobody else has experienced teaching in quite the same way you have, and what you have to share is valuable. It may take a while to build an audience, but with time, patience, and consistently good quality writing, you will.

Getting support

When publishing your writing for a wider audience, especially if you want to make some money from it, I would highly recommend paying for an editor to look at your work before you share it. The feedback and support you will get from them will increase the quality of your writing, and you’ll learn a lot from the process. No matter how good you think your materials are or your proofreading is, your work will always benefit from somebody else looking at it.

For more ideas and support, I recommend joining IATEFL MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) [disclaimer – I’m on the committee!] Even if you don’t join, you can still find lots of information on their blog, covering many different aspects of materials writing: everything from producing materials for your classroom right through to working for publishers. You could also look at MATSDA, the Materials Development Association.

What are you waiting for?

If this inspires you to get writing, or to share your writing for the first time, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Good luck and happy writing!

Innovate ELT 2021 – day one

These are summaries of the talks I attended during day one of the OxfordTEFL Innovate ELT online conference on 1st and 2nd October 2021. Day two is here.

Note: when I’ve included links, sometimes they’re the ones the presenter included, sometimes they’re others which I’ve found. If you’re one of the presenters and would like me to change any of the links, please let me know!

Plenary – Facing forward, looking back – Duncan Foord

What can we learn from looking at the history of ELT? I will be sharing my personal take on how I think we have done over the last 60 years, “Things that went well and points to consider…”

Duncan started by asking us whether we think that ELT is better now than it was 60 years ago, for English teachers or students. 92% think yes, nobody said no, 8% said don’t know (of 37 responses). Some of the reasons people gave:

  • More communicative
  • More research
  • Easier to access support from around the world
  • More student-centred
  • English more accepted as a lingua franca

Duncan’s reason for picking 60 years was that the pre-cursor to CELTA started in 1962, giving ELT a practical, hands-on qualification you could do to become a teacher: ‘ELT as craft’. ELT became a professional activity. We become teachers by actually teaching, not just studying it.

Another reason Duncan thinks ELT has improved is ‘the human touch’. We’re bringing humans together by enabling them to communicate with each other internationally. We see teachers and students working together across cultural boundaries that politics may not normally allow (e.g. US and Iranian teachers working together). An awareness of classroom dynamics and increased personalisation encourage learner-centredness, recognising learners as individuals, and making things more democratic through activities like pair- and groupwork.

The third reason is that there is there is a clear framework through the CEFR to make learners of where they are and where they’re going. This framework isn’t a list of grammar points, but a list of ‘can do’ statements.

A counterpoint is (was? around 2010?) a kind of ‘tech fetish’, pushing the craft of teaching to one side. He thinks that has calmed down now and that there is more of a balance between technology and craft, rather than technology taking over.

This gives us 3 C’s. We should aim to keep the dynamic of improving what we do (Craft), keep our strong sense of community (Community), and Coach learners in how to use materials and resources – we don’t have to bring all of the materials in ourselves.

Am I asking the right questions? – Teresa Bestwick

Why talk about questions? I could simply answer ‘Why not?’ but there are so many other reasons which we’ll explore in this talk. We’ll have a critical think about the types of questions we ask our learners, colleagues and the teachers we train, as well as those we ask ourselves.

When we start a session/lesson, we can have some questions on display to give attendees/learners something to think about. Questions can be:

  • Closed – yes/no
  • Open
  • Display – we know the answer, but we want the learners to demonstrate particular language they know.
  • Referential – I don’t know the answer to it, and I’m interested to find out more.
  • Convergent – limited number of answers.
  • Divergent – encourages the use of creativity, critical thinking skills etc.

Closed questions aren’t always bad. Sometimes they can be useful for checking understanding or language. Teresa shared three links to help people improve their ICQs and CCQs:

When we ask students a question, wait time is important. We need to make sure students have thinking time. We also need to give students the language to be specific about ‘I don’t know’:

  • I understand the question, but I don’t know the answer.
  • I know the answer, but I don’t know how to say it in English.
  • Language of speculation: Could it be…? Might it be…? Is it possibly…? allows students space to not have to be correct, and can be empowering.

Questions we ask students:

Questions encourage an answer.

Think about how you respond to content – don’t be insensitive by only focussing on language.

Never underestimate the power of follow-up questions.

Would you rather…? or If you were a… questions can be really motivating for students and prompt a lot of discussion.

Questions can be used as a behaviour management tool – pose a question to help learners notice their behaviour.

Use exit tickets [I’ve done this in the teen face-to-face classroom for the last two years, and it works really well – individual feedback for each learner, and a great way for you to check each person’s understanding.] Here are some more examples of EFL exit tickets:

  • One question I have about what we did today is…
  • Write three MCQs about today’s lesson.
  • Write two questions to ask me/your partner using the grammar or vocab from today.

Questions we ask ourselves:

When you have a problem, if you can turn it into a question, you can start looking for solutions.

Teresa mentioned Heron’s six categories of intervention, which she first came across in Duncan Foord’s The Developing Teacher [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]. She also recommend Rachel Tsateri’s blogpost. These are different ways of framing questions when helping yourself or others to reflect. Here are some of the questions stems you might want to use:

It’s important to ask ourselves questions to help ourselves to develop. These are some of the examples Teresa mentioned:

  • What do I love about what I do?
  • What am I looking forward to in my career?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What’s working for me?
  • What’s one area I’d like to improve in?
  • How am I developing this month?
  • How will this help me?

Teresa recommended two books:

The TEFL Development Hub

This is the community which Teresa is a co-founder of, with Simon Pearlman. They have a website and are on facebook. They post a question every Wednesday to get teachers thinking. Whenever anybody posts anything in the Hub, it has to be a question. Their weekly meetings are also based around questions.

A thought we were left with:

How to tell a story – Jamie Keddie

Good storytellers make it look easy. They might lead you to believe that it’s all about spontaneous, improvised performances. But don’t be fooled. Successful storytelling requires planning, reflection and attention to detail. In this workshop, I would like to share some basic principles that will allow you to develop your classroom storytelling skills. 

We’re not born being able to tell stories. It’s a skill we can get better at.

Jamie is talking about short stories from the teacher as a way to engage the students and get them doing things. He started off with a list:

  • Madame Tussauds
  • The Tower of London
  • Superman 2
  • The Egyptian mummies at the British Museum

We had to guess what the list was about, and then Jamie told us the story. Guessing first was a great way to get us engaged. He asked us what we thought he was most excited about – these questions kept us involved all the way through.

One of Jamie’s favourite themes is misunderstandings and miscommunications. He asked us if any of us had a story we wanted to tell about this. I got some useful feedback on my story 🙂 and enjoyed listening to others’ stories too.

He asked us about ingredients for successful storytelling. Often he gets answers related to performance techniques or teacher talk techniques, for example eye contact, pauses, body language. We suggested ideas like framing the story, personalisation, being concise, involving the audience. Jamie thinks we see storytelling wrong: we focus on the performance, rather than the preparation and process that goes into it beforehand to give the structure.

Sometimes we can ask too many questions in our stories as teachers. If we’ve got a good story, it’s naturally involving. Don’t just ask ‘Can you guess what it’s about?’ – give them some fuel to help them guess, like Jamie’s list at the start. Questions like ‘What do you think happened?’ ‘Why do you think he did that?’ – these are much stronger questions. After a good story, the listener might have unanswered questions – this isn’t a problem, it shows they’re engaged.

It’s useful to look for a ‘way in’ to the story, a ‘hook’. We don’t have to go in through the door of the story – we can break in through the window, go down the chimney, steal an elephant from the zoo and crash through the walls 🙂 These hooks can be useful for comprehension and to give the learners some help in understanding the story. It doesn’t have to be something super clever – it can draw attention to some of the content in the story, like giving them a title, key words, asking questions about a concept in the story (mine was about code-switching for example, so asking about this could work), lists…they can all help the students to make connections.

Set up can be very important – don’t neglect it, because this gives the context people need to understand the story. When preparing, think about how to draw attention to the details, and what order to mention them in. This can help to make the story more impactful. How descriptive can you get? Should you add more details? Or remove details? We can draw attention to certain information in the story, for example by pauses or by the order we mention things in.

To manage the time, students can record a ‘talking head’ video of their story, rather than telling their story live during the lesson.

If you’d like to find out more about storytelling and see examples, Jamie’s website is LessonStream. He also runs a storytelling course for teachers.

Teaching, Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Presences in Action – Tyson Seburn

The Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001) identified four aspects of enriching online educational spaces: teaching, cognitive, social, and (most recently) emotional presences. Twenty years later, these were thrust into action for everyone to varying degrees of success. But what are they? We’ll explore them here.

[I missed the start of this session]

Tyson is talking about asynchronous and blended courses.

To increase his teaching presence, Tyson uses:

  • Colours to show the students to guide them in what they need to do in online tasks. For example, highlighted in blue if they’re working in groups, highlighted in pink if they’re working alone.
  • Teaching tips to help the students use the medium better.
  • Emojis to show what is a handout, a recorded lesson, a task to complete etc.
  • Layout of the tasks – week one is a top-level heading, tasks that are part of week one are indented.
  • Have a forum where they can ask questions specifically.

Teaching presence can also come from students, not just the teacher.

  • Have roles for students within an activity / task.
  • They can answer each other’s questions about concepts / instructions.
  • Give peer feedback and evaluation.

Cognitive presence is about exploration. How are the students exploring the materials?

  • Vary engagement type, for example through different interaction patterns or different types of website/tool.
  • Encourage learners to contribute information.
  • Create spaces where the students need to make connections between different parts of the materials, and ask questions of the materials rather than just accepting what’s there.
  • Allow students to come to conclusions themselves, rather than supplying the conclusions to them. A reflective journal could be a good way to do this.

Social presence is about interaction and community. How can we can create spaces where students have to interact and give them opportunities to do so? How can we create a community where students feel bonded together and with the teacher?

  • Conversation and dialogue: how and where can we create these opportunities? Not just top-down, but students speaking to each other.
  • How can we humanise the experience of learning? For example, one teacher added a forum that they clicked through to where they were sharing pictures of their pets – this was a reward for those who were actually reading and checking the forums 🙂
  • Creating bonds and togetherness.
  • Encourage students to express (dis)agreements.

Tyson mentioned some different tools he’s played with, like Reface for some amusement (though I find this a bit disturbing!), or Padlet. Padlet has a map function to add pins to a map – not one I’d seen before.

Social presence could include giving the students conversational gambits which they can use in forums, for example for agreeing and disagreeing. This helps them to connect with each other.

Majeski, Stover and Valais (2018) added emotional presence to the list. This includes:

  • Emotional perception – can they recognise emotions?
  • Understanding – can they understand the emotions of others?
  • Faciliation – can they use emotions in a constructive way?
  • Management – can they recognise when emotions are causing disruption in their learning and think about strategies to deal with this?

The final presence is to some extent embedded in the other three presences which were proposed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000). These presences can help you in a range of ways:

These are Tyson’s references:

Demo Lesson – How to approach a text from an eco-linguistic perspective – Daniel Barber

The ecological issues we face call into question the stories we live by. Eco-linguistics offers teachers tools to examine the stories behind classroom texts. Do they teach compassion for the living planet? In this lesson, students will read and discuss a text through eco-linguistic filters to discover the underlying message.

One of the interesting features of Innovate ELT conferences is the live lessons with real students followed by guided discussion, but this is the first time I’ve made it to one. I thought it would be nice to go to something different something when attending this conference. I’ve also never really been sure about how to bring the environment into lessons where it’s not already present in the materials. There were students from all over the world: the Netherlands, Myanmar, Switzerland (but in Russia), Peru and Belarus. It was interesting to see somebody else teaching on Zoom, apart from anything else!

Daniel set up the lesson by showing students a picture of Christmas puddings in the shops in September in the UK. This was a prompt for a discussion about celebrations and the importance of celebrations in different countries.

The next stage was introducing the title of the article: 2021 Holiday Shopping Predictions: 3 Trends to Watch. This prompted a discussion about changes in students’ shopping habits over the last couple of years.

Throughout both of these stages, Daniel had a box on each slide called ‘Vocab notes’ where he added phrases that came up during the dicscussions.

There was a link to the text and a list of questions for the students to answer. I liked the layout of the slide (shown as a thumbnail below), with the text on the left and the questions on the right. Each paragraph of the text had a different coloured background, making it easier to read than if it was purely black on white (or at least, I think it was!)

After the comprehension stage, Daniel asked students to match hidden messages to specific parts of the text which he’d highlighted. For example, the line ‘The store shopping experience adds to the magic’ in the text could be match to the hidden message ‘Shopping is an exciting adventure’. There was also the idea that people were called ‘consumers’ throughout the whole text – we are only seen as people spending money.

At the end of the lesson, we had 10 minutes to chat to the students and ask them some questions about the lesson based around the idea of hidden messages in texts, questioning messages and assumptions we make individually and collectively, and the overall themes of the lesson. This idea of hidden messages in texts was interesting for me, as it’s not something I’ve really thought about working on with students before.

When we came back together as a whole group afterwards, the discussion was interesting with both students and teachers sharing ideas about the lesson. Daniel presented this as one way of encouraging students to think about messages in texts without falling into lecturing them on what they should think.

If you’d like to find out more about ecolinguistics, the Wikipedia article provides a useful starting point. There is a free online course called The Stories We Live By from The University of Gloucestershire and The International Ecolinguistics Association if you’d like to find out more.

This was definitely an interesting format, and well done to Daniel for putting himself out there by teaching a lesson with 11 teachers observing him!

The quiz

Day one ended with a quiz in the ‘Zoom garden’, which is a lovely idea. I’m off to join in now 🙂

Boardwork (guest post)

This is the second time I have had the pleasure of hosting a post by Amy Blanchard on my blog. The first time, it was all about Peace Boat, a Japanese scheme to promote peace and cultivate a wider understanding of different cultures. This time Amy is talking about her first conference presentation, which she did at this year’s InnovateELT conference. Over to Amy…

Amy's talk
(photo by Innovate ELT photographer)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to present at the third annual InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. The brainchild of the lovely people at ELTJam and hosted by Oxford TEFL, it’s become famous for a diverse and friendly crowd, relaxed and productive atmosphere, and innovative format: 10-minute plenaries in the garden, sessions involving learners, and 30-minute talks. I delivered one of these short sessions on the topic of using the whiteboard. No, not interactive, just the act of writing with a pen on the board. As a CELTA tutor, observing lessons and boardwork is a key part of my role. It’s something that frequently comes up in feedback. Yet there is no dedicated session on boardwork, nor did I have one on my initial training course.

Is boardwork still considered relevant in this era of technology, projectors and digital books? I think so, and attendance showed I wasn’t the only one, with a good mix of teachers and trainers alike.

The session began with a short discussion between the attendees: what do they write on their board? The following were all discussed as possibilities. Ultimately, teachers who know their students can make the best decision about which of the following might be useful to have on the board for their particular classes.

A menu

Seeing the content of the class in advance can be motivating for learners. Knowing what is coming up can make them feel more comfortable and give a sense of achievement when it’s done. Personally I use it more with my younger classes than with adults. My YLs often need to know that there’s something more appetising on the horizon, and they feel more secure knowing the routine of the class.

Aims

Again, this is not compulsory but can motivate students, especially if they are phrased in a way that makes the menu content make sense. So ‘telling anecdotes’ rather than ‘practising past simple’.

Admin

A few people used their board to highlight information for their students: course dates, exam dates, instructions to tasks, page numbers, and homework. Set homework immediately after the lesson component it refers to, and try to avoid leaving it to the end of the class; this makes it seem like an afterthought.*

Points system

Some teachers have a separate chart for this, or many now use Class Dojo or a similar system. Either way, seeing a visual representation of behaviour can be useful for YLs.

Errors for delayed correction

The majority of attendees use their board for noting down errors and give corrective feedback. One important thing to note – if you do write an error on the board, make sure you cross it out clearly. Leaving it on the board can reinforce it in students’ minds, even if you’ve told them it’s incorrect.

As we discussed these points, I drew areas on the board for each section. Have a system and be consistent in where you put this information. Learners find what they need more quickly if they know where to look.

Emergent language

The majority of the talk focussed on what all teachers said they use their board for: emergent language. This is ‘unplanned’ vocabulary which emerges during the lesson due to students’ needs. Giving students language when they need it is a huge part of our job and it’s important that we help them to the best of our ability. In order to clarify and consolidate this language, it’s vital we put it on the board. Remember that the students’ notebooks typically reflect what we put on the board. We need to consider what information we can add to the vocabulary to make it most useful for students.

One of the morning plenaries at Innovate was given by a polyglot, Lýdia Machová, who shared her tips for language learning. One of these was to learn vocabulary in context. Recording vocabulary with co-text (i.e the language with which it appeared) can help our students remember the meaning and give them a better idea about how it is used. Highlighting difficult phonemes, stress and features of connected speech helps them remember the pronunciation long after the lesson has finished. Using different colours to highlight dependent prepositions or the separability of phrasal verbs helps them learn even more, or – as Duncan Foord put it in his plenary, What Have Teachers Ever Done For Us? – helps resolve their doubts before they even appear. I demonstrated these points with the words photography, photograph and photographer. 

Amy's whiteboard, showing stress patterns for photograph, photographic, photographer, and vertical extension for call off (the wedding, the match, but not the flight)

One of my favourite ways of exploiting and developing new language is through vertical extension. By eliciting more examples from students, we can check their understanding and help students to use the word by highlighting common collocations. It can also be useful to point out things that do not collocate, as this is often a problem for students. I demonstrated this technique using the phrasal verb call off.

If our board is systematic and informative, hopefully our students’ notes will be, too. It’s very important to give students time to copy, so that they can concentrate while the language is being discussed. I recommend monitoring to ensure they copy accurately. This also gives shyer students the chance to ask questions.

Colours are important too. Personally, I’m a stickler for writing in black. Although everything looks clear when you’re stood up at the board, if you’re sitting at the back of the class, or have problems with your vision, red and green pens can be really hard to read.

By the end of the lesson, the board should be covered in lovely new language. Use the last 5 minutes of the class to review it, either through some extra drilling practice, or a game of Backs to the Boards/Hot Seat that just requires you to point at the language.

Encourage students to take a photo of the board. If you have an online platform or whatsapp group, they can share it (great for absent students!) or just keep them on their phone to flick through next time they’re bored on the bus. It’s also useful for the teacher to take a photo; an easy way of keeping a record of new vocabulary to recycle and consolidate in future lessons. Furthermore, taking a photo of your board is a wonderful way of reflecting on the lesson, and on your board work. You’ll see things you could have added or expanded, and ways to make things clearer.

Teachers are also sharing pictures of their boards on twitter, using the hashtag #ELTwhiteboard. It’s a wonderful place to connect with other teachers, to ask for advice and to pick up some great ideas for lessons. Get involved!

This was a 30-minute, streamlined talk that only had time to focus on a few aspects of using the board. The biggest omission is the issue of who writes on the board. Do your students write on the board? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @admiralwamy

* Ur, P. 100 Teaching Tips (Cambridge 2016) p.6 [affiliate link]

Amy Blanchard

Amy has taught English all over the world including many years in Spain for International House. She is now a freelance CELTA tutor and can be contacted at: amybtesol@gmail.com

Innovate ELT (May 2016)

A month ago I had the pleasure of attending the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona. It’s been a bit hectic since I got back, so this is the first chance I’ve had to share a few of the highlights of the conference for me.

Innovate ELT breaks from the traditional format of many conferences. Two of the things that I particularly liked were the mini plenaries, which anybody could apply to do, and the live lessons.

The mini plenary which I found particularly thought-provoking was by Laura Patsko, whose title was Whose English is it anyway? She’s shared a recording and the full text of her talk in this post. Among other things, it drew on her personal experience as somebody who’s lived in different English-speaking countries, as well as on her research into English as a Lingua Franca. I’d recommend taking a look.

You can also watch a recording of my own five-minute plenary on Five things I’ve learnt from five years of blogging.

Most of the live lessons during the conference were done with local students, with the conference goers watching the whole lesson, then discussing it after the students had left. In a slightly different format, Ceri Jones taught a lesson of Welsh for beginners in which all of the people in the room were the students. The session was an hour long, with some reflection before we started on our expectations of what would happen in the lesson and how much we thought we would learn, followed by the lesson itself, and ending with reflections on our experience. I’ve taken part (and given!) many lessons like this, but never in Welsh and never at a conference. I think it’s vital for language teachers to put themselves in their learners’ shoes whenever they can. This is especially important if they’re teaching very low levels to realise just how much processing goes on to be able to take in the information from the teacher, and how tiring it can be to work in another language for an extended period of time. Thanks for the opportunity to do this again, Ceri.

The most practical session I went to was by Chia Suan Chong. She shared a series of activities for working on intercultural communication skills, for example on how to identify and deal with misunderstandings, modify your language when speaking to people with different levels of English and decide what name/title to call somebody by when you meet them. You can find all of the worksheets on the Cornelsen site, to accompany their new series Simply Business.

As a bonus extra, here’s a video recorded during the conference by Chia for Business English UK in which I describe three things I think of when I think of the UK.

Take a look at their Twitter feed and website to find out more about studying Business English in the UK, and to follow the travels of Farringdon Bear.

Thank you again to ELTjam and OxfordTEFL for organising the conference.

Making the most of blogs (Innovate ELT 2016)

On 6th and 7th May 2016 I attended the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona, jointly organised by ELTjam and OxfordTEFL.

The conference started with three short plenary sessions, and in a change from the traditional conference format, anybody could apply to be a plenary speaker, in much the same way as you would for a workshop, rather than it being invited speakers only. Following on from Kat Robb and Jamie Keddie, my plenary was called Five things I’ve learnt from five years of blogging. Thanks to Laura Patsko for recording it via Periscope so that you can watch it here – the image quality is a little low, but the sound should be fine.

I followed up the plenary with a 30-minute workshop on Saturday called Making the most of blogs. You can watch a 60-minute webinar I did on the same topic last year, or read on to see the slides from this version, including some blog recommendations to start you off.

Making the most of blogs title slide

I chose this topic because blogs are a key part of my professional development, both through writing my own blog and reading those of other people. I have learnt so much from this process, and hope that I continue to do so for a long time. This presentation aims to share that love 🙂

Why do teachers blog

Teachers blog for many different reasons. Here are just a few.

Reflection
By blogging, it makes you consider your lessons, your teaching and your life in more depth. You think about what you’re going to write, and which aspects of your teaching/work/life you want to shed light on. The comments you receive help you to go further by finding out more about particular topics or reconsidering your ideas about why something did/didn’t work.

Sharing materials
You’ve produced great materials or your students really enjoyed a particular activity, but you have no idea when you can use them again. Share them with others, and inspire them 🙂 Materials, activites and ideas from my blog are all in one category.

Portfolio
When you apply for work, your blog can show prospective employers a lot about you and your interest in developing yourself professionally. If you’d like to move into materials writing, the things you’ve shared show what you’re able to produce and give editors an idea about your writing style and experience. It’s also a good way for you to keep track of what you’ve done over time. I do this through my writing, videos and presenting tabs.

Making connections
By reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, you start to build up a network of people who are interested in development. This comes in very useful when you are…

Asking for help
A blog is a great place to throw out questions and see what comes back. One example of that on my blog is when I wanted to know about what EFL teachers do when they retire, which prompted a very useful discussion in the comments and led to me setting up an ISA.

Catharsis
For me, the main reason I choose to write on my blog is to get things out of my head, whatever they may be. Sometimes I know that these posts are very personal, touching on stress, health, home, love and more, and there is no obligation for you to share anything you don’t want to – it’s your blog, and your decision. These are often the posts where the comments make me laugh and cry, and show just what an amazingly supportive bunch of people those of you who read this are. Thank you!

How do you find blogs?

OK, so blogs are useful. But how do you know where to start looking for them?

Many blogs have a blogroll, a list of the writer’s favourite blogs to read. You can find mine in the bar on the right of my blog.

The British Council Teaching English facebook page is an endless source of useful links, including many different blogs.

On Twitter, you can follow the #ELTchat hashtag, which is populated by English teachers sharing content. The ELTchat summaries page takes you to the blogs of many different contributors to the chats, and the summaries themselves are an incredibly useful source of information on a plethora of topics connected to English teaching. If you’d like to find out more about using Twitter for professional development, try this post from my blog. This post was also written a couple of days after an #ELTchat on using social media for professional development, as summarised by Lizzie Pinard.

If you’d like some more specific starting points, here are ten blogs I’d recommend. I chose these blogs when I put together this presentation as they’re ones I return to again and again, but ask me on a different day and I’d probably pick a different ten 🙂 (apologies if I’ve missed yours!)

Blog recommendations 1

ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections
Mike Griffin is based in South Korea. He teaches and trains in universities there. His posts often make me laugh and always make me think.

Living Learning
Anne Hendler was based in South Korea for a long time, and is currently in transition to new places (looking forward to finding out where!) Her posts are a prime example of reflection in action, and are full of ways that she has worked with her teen classes to become a better teacher.

The Other Things Matter
Kevin Stein may not write very often, but when he does, it’s always worth reading. He is based in Japan and works with teenage students, many of whom have had trouble at other schools. His blog also includes some short fiction designed for language learners, accessible via a tab along the top.

Blog recommendations 2

How I see it now
Hana Ticha teaches in a Czech state secondary school. I’ve learnt so much from her about the challenges of teaching in a context very different from that of my own in private language schools. She also writes about how she keeps her own English up. If you didn’t grow up using English and think that might mean that you can’t blog, Hana’s writing is a prime example of why that shouldn’t stop you. If your mother tongue is English, read it anyway 🙂

Lizzie Pinard
Lizzie has taught in a variety of different contexts, and is now working for a British university. Her blog contains lots of information about studying for Delta and MAs, as well as helping your students to become more autonomous. She also reflects on her own language learning.

Close Up
Ceri Jones is a materials writer, trainer and teacher based in southern Spain. She shares materials and activities (often under the tabs along the top) and reflects on her lessons. A recent series I’ve particularly enjoyed has been about teaching ‘barefoot with beginners‘, without using coursebooks. If you click on the link, start with the post at the bottom and work up to get the full story.

Blog recommendations 3

Muddles into Maxims
Matthew Noble is a CELTA tutor in the USA. Reflections on how to become a better trainer and on his own lessons make his blog a go-to for all teacher trainers. He’s also recently hosted a series of interviews with Anne Hendler about the process of doing the CELTA as a teacher with experience, starting here.

ELTeacherTrainer
John Hughes is a materials writer, trainer and teacher. His posts include advice on materials design, classroom observation and business English.

Blog recommendations 4

Tekhnologic
This is quite simply one of the most useful blogs out there. It’s full of incredibly professionally designed templates and materials, and loads of easy-to-understand tips on how to get the most out of Microsoft Office, particularly Excel and PowerPoint. Before I found this blog, I thought I knew quite a lot about Office, but T never fails to introduce something I’ve never seen before in their posts. I just wish I knew who is behind the blog (though I know they’re in Japan) 🙂

Teaching Games
Mike Astbury is currently based in Spain, and if all goes to plan he’ll be coming to work with us at IH Bydgoszcz next year 🙂 He posts lesson plans and activities based around games for a range of levels and ages. They are all available as templates for you to download and adapt to your classroom.

Fear of missing out - how to get a feed

Once you’ve found a blog you want to follow (read regularly), there are a couple of ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on new content. You can choose to subscribe by email, meaning you’ll get a message every time a new post is published.

Another option is to use an RSS feed. This is a link which you put into a reader (see below) in order to automatically collect new posts. On my blog, you can find links for both of these near the top of the right-hand column. Some RSS readers don’t require the specific feed, just the normal link to the website, i.e. https://sandymillin.wordpress.com for this blog.

RSS readers

A reader is a piece of software you can use to read all of the blogs you want to in one place, instead of going to each blog individually.

I use feedly, a free subscription service, where I can add a link to any blog I want to follow and it will automatically collect all new posts from that blog as they are published. The screenshot above gives you an example of the interface: posts I have read in that session are greyed out, and posts still to read are in black. They are organised in order of date, telling me how many days old they are. To keep posts for longer than 30 days, you need to pay for the pro package. On the left you can see (some of!) the list of blogs I follow, along with how many posts are waiting for me to read from each. I don’t think I could keep track of anywhere near as many blogs as I do without using a reader! I spend about 5-10 minutes a day looking at the oldest posts, often just skimming them and saving them for later using diigo, an online bookmarking service. You can access it via your browser or through the free app.

Alternatives to Feedly which I haven’t used are the WordPress Reader and BlogLovin’. There are also many apps available. Try out a few different things and see what works for you.

Join the conversation - add comments

One of the main reasons I enjoy blogging is the conversations which happen in the comments section. Even if you decide not to write your own blog, you can still join in by adding your thoughts. It helps the writer to know their efforts weren’t in vain 🙂 and may add layers to their thinking.

And please don’t worry about sounding stupid or feeling like you don’t have anything to add (both things I think we’ve all experienced):

xkcd.com cartoon: I try not to make fun of people for admitting they don't know things. Because for each thing 'everyone knows' by the time they're adults, every day there are, on average, 10,000 people in the US hearing about it for the first time. Fraction who have heard of it at birth = 0%; fraction who have heard of it by 30 = 100%, US birth rate = 4,000,000 per year; number hearing about it for the first time = 10,000/day. If I make fun of people, I train them not to tell me when they have these moments. And I miss out on the fun.
One of my all-time favourite cartoons 🙂 Thanks xkcd!

How to start your own blog

Now that I’ve whet your appetite and you want to get involved, here are three simple steps to starting your own blog:

  1. Choose your host.
    I like WordPress because I find it quite intuitive, but I know it might not suit everybody. WordPress.com is free. WordPress.org is paid and may require a bit more tinkering, but you can use your own domain name if you want to. A couple of alternatives are blogger and edublogs, but again, take a look around and see what works for you.
  2. Design your blog.
    For me, this was one of the most fun parts. I started with one theme, then changed my mind after a couple of months because I decided it didn’t really ‘fit’ me, and then moved on to the rainbow theme you see now. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up spending 3-4 hours doing this and head down a bit of a rabbit hole, but it’s worth it because it’s part of your professional branding.
  3. Write your first post!
    It doesn’t need to be long, and it might be as simple as telling people why you’ve decided to start your blog. Here’s my first post. Once you’ve written one post, it’s much easier to write more 😉

What to write about

But of course, you won’t always know what to write about! An important rule of thumb for me is that you should write about what interests you. Don’t feel like you must write about something in particular because that’s the way that ‘blogs are written’. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? 🙂

You can…

  • …share your materials or ideas
    Don’t worry if you think your idea is not earth-shattering or completely original. Remember that people will read your blog at different stages of their career: they might be new to teaching or in a completely different context and have never seen it before, or they might be experienced and these things have fallen out of their head (!)
    Having said that, if you are basing your idea on the work of others, please credit them and provide a link or a book reference if possible to avoid plagiarism. There’s nothing more annoying than something you’ve put a lot of work into appearing verbatim on somebody’s else’s blog with no acknowledgement. Thank you for not being that person. Here endeth the lecture.
  • …reflect on lessons or experiences.
    What worked? What didn’t work? The latter is often more fruitful and interesting – don’t be afraid to share failure, as it can result in tips from others that will help you improve. Here’s an example. Reflecting on experiences outside the classroom can also be interesting to readers, especially those who want to find out more about what it’s like to work in a particular type of school/culture/country.
  • …ask questions.
    As you build up your readers and promote your blog, you should get some interesting answers. Often just the act of posing the question yourself can help you to move closer to the answer.
  • …summarise a webinar, seminar, presentation or conference.
    This helps you to keep track of sessions you’ve attended, and brings them to the attention of other people who may have missed them or been unable to attend. It’s also interesting to see what each person’s take is on a particular session. For examples, why not explore the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 register bloggers?
  • …respond to other blogs.
    If you read something on another blog, you might like to write a longer response to it on your own. What are your thoughts on the same topic? Did you try out a particular activity? Naomi Epstein is particularly good at doing this on Visualising Ideas.

Tips - pictures, share buttons, about page

If you start writing a blog, there are three things you can do which will help your readers:

  • Include a picture with each post.
    People are more likely to engage with a link if it’s accompanied by a picture than if it’s just text. Don’t forget to acknowledge copyright by including the source of the image, and to ask for permission if necessary.
  • Add share buttons to your blog.
    On WordPress.com, this is an option in the ‘settings’ tab of the dashboard. If people can share at the click of a button without having to copy and paste links, your post should get a wider readership.
  • Create an ‘about‘ page.
    You’re putting in all the work, so tell people who you are! They’ll wonder who’s writing all this stuff. Don’t forget to update it periodically – mine was a year out of date when I put together this presentation. Oops!

Self-promotion

It can be a bit daunting to start promoting your blog, and it may feel immodest, but if you’re not going to tell people about it, why write it?

It doesn’t need to be much, but please do tell people about your writing: share a link on Twitter using the #eltchat hashtag, post it on facebook, email it to a few people who you think might be interested… Genevieve White has some great advice about self-promotion for wallflowers to help you. You can use the #shamelessselfpromotion hashtag if you want to 🙂

On the other hand, try to avoid spamming by sharing your post in twenty different places in an hour – I don’t know about other people, but I’m liable to ignore that content because it annoys me (!)

Do bear in mind that it can take a while to build up readers. I started my blog in 2010, I write quite a lot, and this is what my stats look like as of today:

sandymillin blog stats as of 21 May 2016

A lot of those views come from people returning to old content which they’ve found useful, and a new post often only gets 50-100 readers in the first couple of weeks, whatever it might look like from the number of subscribers it says I have at the top of the page 🙂 Remember, too, that stats aren’t the most important thing, although they can be pretty addictive!

Questions

I was asked two questions at the end of the presentation.

The first was ‘What do you do about negativity?’ When dealing with negative comments, of which thankfully there seem to be few, I moderate comments before posting, so they only appear if people have previously commented on my blog or I have approved them. I can then choose if I want to share a negative comment or not. Obviously I still read them, and you have to deal with it in the same way as you would negativity in any other area, for example student feedback. Consider it on balance with all of the positives, and try not to let this happen:

How negative comments echo in our heads

The other question was ‘Why blog?’, and I hope I’ve managed to answer that throughout this post. I’d love to hear your reasons for blogging (or not!) and for you to share a link if you decide to start your own blog.

Thanks for the opportunity to present, Innovate ELT!

Hopefully, you’ll also be able to read my summary of some of the other talks I attended soon.

Update

At the end of the conference Milada Krajewska from Lang LTC in Warsaw interviewed me about blogging for teachers. Apologies for the background noise as they packed up the conference!

An announcement: Innovate ELT 2016

InnovateELT conference confirmed speakers: Ben Goldstein, Chia Suan Chong, Jamie Keddie and Sandy Millin

It is a huge honour for me to announce that I have been invited to speak at the second InnovateELT conference, which takes place in Barcelona on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th May 2016. It’s organised jointly by OxfordTEFL and ELTjam. It will be the first time I’ve been an invited speaker at a conference, and it’s incredibly flattering to see my name up there with Ben, Chia and Jamie, who are all people I look up to and have learnt a lot from.

The conference itself is something quite different from other ELT conferences, which is another reason I’m excited to take part. Ceri Jones wrote about a live class she taught with students during the first conference – one of the features of InnovateELT is the involvement of students, not just teachers, in the whole experience. Another idea is ‘mini plenaries’, just 10 minutes long (here’s Scott Thornbury’s rehearsal for his 2015 plenary). Topics covered also ranged into more unusual areas than standard conferences, including mental health and social inclusion in ELT and English for the Zombie Apocalypse. You can get an idea of the general atmosphere at last year’s conference by watching this video and find out all of the talks which were included by visiting the ELTjam website.

The theme for the 2016 conference is ‘Grassroots: Power to the teacher!’ If you want to get involved, you can find out more via the iELT 2016 website or the Eventbrite listing. Early bird tickets are available until 30th November 2015.

The call for papers has also gone out, with the following options:

  1. 60-minute session with learners
    These sessions will involve you teaching a class of 6–10 Spanish-speaking, B1/B2-level learners observed by delegates. The session should include opportunities for feedback and discussion of the lesson. The room will have an Internet connection and a projector. The students should be included in the feedback sections, which can be in groups or plenary or a combination.
  2. 30-minute workshop/talk
    These sessions will be in rooms with Internet connection and a projector.
  3. 10-minute plenary
    These will take place in the garden. You will have a microphone but no other technical aids. We are requesting submissions from people within and outside the ELT community.
  4. 5-minute pitch
    These will take place in front of a panel of experts from the world of publishing, EdTech and business. If you have a great idea, this is the time to pitch it. All pitches will receive 5 minutes of feedback from the panel.

You have until 1st December 2016 to submit your talk, and you get free entry to the conference if you are accepted for type 1, 2 or 3.

Finally, you can follow all of the announcements related to the conference via Twitter and facebook.

I hope to see some of you there!