On 4th June 2021 I did a presentation as part of IH Bucharest’s regular series of webinars. I did a version of a talk I first presented at IATEFL 2014, sharing activities you can use to train students to understand real-world listening, not just coursebook audio.
Bridging the gap between classroom and real-world listening
“I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from students I worked with in the UK. Inspired by their problems and the work of John Field and Richard Cauldwell, this workshop aims to introduce you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English.
Here is a recording of the talk, including more information about IH Bucharest and the teacher training they offer:
(These are affiliate links, so if you buy them or anything else after clicking on these links I will get a little money. Thank you!)
I also recommend showing your students how to make the most of podcasts. I wrote a post on my Independent English blog which you can use as an introduction or to find links to some podcasts I recommend.
On 18th and 23rd January I presented my talk on communication tips at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference. Here is the blurb:
Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. Clear, supportive communication is something I feel very passionate about, and have worked on a lot over the past few years. In this talk, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.
This was a variation of a presentation I originally did for ACEIA in October 2020. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post. You can watch the video from the IH AMT here (and links to other talks from the event in this blogpost):
Here are my slides from the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day, where I also did a 30-minute version of the talk:
What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?
On 28th November 2020 I had the honour of being the opening plenary speaker for the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day. The theme of the day was ‘From the Heart’, with speakers discussing topics they’re passionate about. For me, that’s the importance of clear communication.
This was a variation of a presentation I did last month for ACEIA. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post.
Here’s the video, including a link to the playlist for the rest of the day:
Here are my slides from Bielsko-Biała:
What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?
On Sunday 21st November 2020 I took part in the 2020 KOTESOL Daejeon-Chungcheong Chapter Thanksgiving Symposium. The theme was ‘Looking towards 2021’, with the idea of moving beyond the survival skills most of us have been working on in 2020 for the new world we find ourselves in.
My talk took a fresh look at a subject I’m passionate about, online professional development. This was the abstract:
In an increasingly online world, there are a huge amount of opportunities for teachers to access professional development via the internet, but it can be challenging to know where to start. I’ll introduce you to a range of online professional development resources which you can use, and offer you advice on how to decide which ones might be right for you.
I presented without slides, instead using the summary below as my guide and showing the relevant resources as we arrived at them. It’s a whistle-stop tour, with the idea that you can get an overview, then come back to this post as many times as you like to explore the resources.
This question is two-fold.
Firstly, why is online professional development generally worth exploring? I’ll answer this one.
It’s (mostly) free.
It’s available whenever and wherever you can get internet access.
It’s wide-ranging: there’s a plethora of resources to choose from.
It can fit around you: you can exploit it as much or as little as you like, at whatever time and location you choose.
Secondly, why might you specifically want to exploit it? You’ll need to answer these questions for yourself.
Do you want to only consume content, or create your own content, for example building up an online portfolio, or both?
Do you want to explore broadly and dip into lots of areas, or have a more targetted approach focussing on specific puzzles or questions you have?
Because resources available online are limitless, it can be hard to know where to start, and you may experience a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) at the beginning – I certainly did! One way to combat this is to decide how much time you can dedicate to exploring, and how often you want to dive in. To some extent this will be determined by your answers to the second question above.
You may decide to set aside a dedicated hour or two a week, or five or ten minutes a day, to make professional development a habitual part of your routine.
Alternatively, you may decide that you prefer to set aside a few hours now and again to do a deep dive and really explore a particular area or resource.
Of course, this can change over time, but having an idea before you start can help you to decide what resources are most appropriate for you to explore, and/or whether it’s really worth starting that blog/podcast/Twitter account you’ve been considering.
It can also remove unnecessary pressure on yourself if you feel like you have to explore everything or produce the most amazing content ever seen in English language teaching – neither of these are likely, so accept it now and move on. You’ll be in a much healthier place if you go in with realistic expectations 🙂
This list is in no way exhaustive, and if I wrote it again tomorrow, next week or next year it would certainly look different. Please comment if any of the links stop working or you have other resources to add to the list.
Consuming content: targetted research
If you have a specific topic or puzzle in mind, you have two options to find useful resources.
Choose one of the general interest resources below, then search their website for keywords connected to your topic.
Explore my bookmarks. I’ve been curating a list on diigo for 10+ years, adding anything which I think might be vaguely useful to anyone else, anywhere. You can try to read my mind and figure out which tag I might have used or do a general search in my bookmarks. Here’s a more in-depth introduction to what diigo is and how it works.
You might not find anything at first, but try different keywords and different resources and you’ll inevitably find something.
Consuming content: general interest
It’s very easy to end up down a never-ending rabbit hole with a list like this. Rather than trying to explore everything, consider your answers to the questions above, and choose the way in which you prefer to consume information, then select one or two resources to look at initially. As you explore, you’ll find that some types of development work for you, and others are less engaging. For me, I spend most time on blogs and blogging, and a little time on podcasts and Twitter, but I know there is so much more out there. As time goes on, you can return to the list and investigate other resources which take your fancy. Bookmark this page 🙂
Three TEFL podcasts I enjoy are:
The TEFL Commute – Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor present the podcast that’s not about language teaching, but the subject always comes up. Episodes are generally 30-40 minutes. In 2020 they did a series of 10-minute episodes covering a range of different topics connected to online teaching, including lots of ideas for the classroom.
TEFLology – Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner and Robert Lowe produce a range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too. Episodes are generally 40-60 minutes.
TEFL Training Institute podcast – Ross Thorburn presents ‘the bite-sized TEFL podcast’, originally with Tracy Yu, and now with a wide range of guests. Episodes are generally 15-30 minutes. I reviewed the podcast here.
There are lots of options in this category, but I’ll just explore three: webinars, lessons, and YouTube.
A webinar is an online presentation, similar to a conference session. One example is the presentation at KOTESOL which this blogpost is based on. They can range in length from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours, and might be a one-off event or part of a series or event like an online conference.
You can either search for a particular topic e.g. ‘business English webinars’/’English reading skills webinars’, or find providers who have a large collection of webinars and explore their catalogue. For example, here are all of the IH Teachers’ Online Conferences (TOC).
Other providers include publishers like Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan or Delta publishing, teaching associations like IATEFL, TESOL or EAQUALS (though recordings tend to be available to members only), or schools who run training events online, like IH Moscow or IH Bucharest. It’s generally possible to subscribe to a mailing list to find out about upcoming events.
Here is my diigo list of webinars to give you a starting point.
There are hundreds of lessons available to watch online. I compiled a list (warning – clicking on the link opens a very bandwidth-heavy page!) which you can choose from. This is a great way to observe other classrooms, pick up activities and techniques, and hone your observation skills.
Apart from webinars and lessons, there are lots of ELT-related YouTube channels. Any large organisation probably has a channel. Publishers often share short tips, like these ones from Cambridge on ideas for teaching outside the classroom. International House has a series of Timeless Teaching Tips. I’d welcome links to channels from individuals which I could also recommend.
You can watch hundreds of grammar presentations on YouTube to get ideas for how to explain grammar to your students, though this comes with a caveat: just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s a model you want to follow. Philip Kerr explains. This could be a good way to hone your skills by working out what not to do!
Again, there are various options here. I’ll look at blogs, magazines, and journals.
Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, from light bite-sized activity ideas to lengthy in-depth research-based posts. They’re written by people from all walks of ELT: teachers, trainers, materials writers, researchers, lexicographers, and those who don’t fall into any one particular category.
You can find blogs in many different ways:
Search for topics of interest plus ELT blog, e.g. ‘young learner ELT blog’.
Look at the blog roll on somebody’s blog (mine is to the right if you’re viewing this on a computer) to see who they recommend.
Search for a big organisation like a publisher or teaching association, plus the word ‘blog’.
Once you’ve found a blog you like, you can subscribe to it, either by getting emails when a new post appears, or using a blog aggregator like Feedly to collect new posts in one place. I explain how Feedly works in a paragraph and a few screenshots in this post (press CTRL+F/CMD+F on a Mac and type ‘Feedly’ to find it quickly).
Here are four blogs which are currently active to start you off:
Kate’s Crate – Katherine Martinkevich links to articles she has read with a short paragraph explaining why she thinks they’re interesting. Good for business English, management and teacher training.
ELT planning – Peter Clements shares activity ideas and reviews of resources, plus concepts he’s learnt about in his own professional development. Posts vary in length. Good for young learners, teens, and learning about a huge range of concepts and resources across all areas.
What they don’t teach you on the CELTA – a group of bloggers covering a wide range of different topics, particularly relevant to private language school ELT. Many are aimed at relatively new teachers, but posts often make me think too.
TEFLtastic – Alex Case is probably the most prolific ELT blogger on the internet, constantly sharing new resources. His blog is a goldmine of resources covering every area of teaching you can possibly imagine.
Apologies to blogging friends who I haven’t included – there are so many great blogs out there!
Most ELT magazines require a subscription, but some are free. Even paid magazines tend to have some free content, such as sample issues. They cover a wide range of topics in a single resource. Here are a few to investigate:
IH Journal– although it is called a journal, it’s more of a magazine in my opinion. Completely free, with articles available separately or as part of full downloadable magazines. Many articles are written by IH teachers past and present, but other writers are featured too. (Disclaimer: I’ve written a regular article for every edition for a few years now.)
EL Gazette – this is more news-based, so is a good way to get a sense of the wider profession. It also has a reviews section.
An alternative source of magazine-type content is newsletters if you are a member of a teaching association or special interest group.
Journals are generally peer-reviewed and edited, as opposed to blogs where the writers can publish whatever they want to. They are generally more academic and research-based than magazines. Some are behind paywalls, but KOTESOL have compiled a long list of ELT journals with free content available. LearnJam have a shorter list of 5 online journals, including some which are subscription-only, with more detailed information about each journal. Although the ELT Journal from OUP is subscription-only, the ‘Key concepts‘ section of each is freely downloadable, and is an excellent place to start if you want to find out more about research.
So far all of the resources can be accessed in under an hour, but you might prefer something more in-depth or structured, and the internet can provide this too.
The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) is a very active community run by teachers, for teachers. They run a variety of courses, from basic TESOL certificates to ‘Advanced Skills’ courses, with tutors from all walks of ELT. Their Teachers’ Room is open to all members to participate in discussions.
The Association for Quality Education and Training Online (AQUEDUTO) is an accreditation body for online teacher training. They have a directory of courses which have been checked for quality.
Online professional development isn’t just about consuming resources created by others. You can also learn a huge amount by sharing content you have created. The act of preparing your thoughts for other people to see/hear forces you to reflect on what you want to say and how best to say it. It can also start conversations which take you in directions you’ve never considered before.
Writing gives you the chance to take time over framing your thoughts, and go back and edit. Looking back over things you’ve written in the past is a fascinating way to track your professional development over time – I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I would be now when I started my blog ten years ago.
Writing tweets can be a great way to get started with writing your own content. You can join in discussion in Twitter chats like #eltchat, ask questions, or answer questions from other educators. To find people to follow, find out who is sharing on a hashtag like #eltchat, then see who they are following. You could also start by following me @sandymillin.
Blogging and commenting
Explore your ideas in writing, share activities, and build a portfolio. I’ve written a fuller post on making the most of blogs, including advice for how to start your own and what to write.
If you’re not ready to start your own blog, commenting on other people’s posts with your own thoughts is a good way to start writing too. I don’t think I’m the only blogger who really looks forward to conversations in comment threads on my blog.
Interviews and discussions
The internet gives you direct access to members of the ELT profession from around the world. A polite email with some questions or thoughts about their work, or even a request to interview them, might bear fruit for you. Or perhaps you could write to the author of a book you’ve read about how you’ve used their ideas? Or ask an academic some questions about their research? You never know where these conversations might lead.
If writing isn’t your thing, you can also use the internet to speak about your ideas. This could be public, for example by creating a podcast or a YouTube channel, or private, maybe by arranging to interview somebody who works in a similar context to you, but in a different country.
The book Podcasting and Professional Development: a Guide for English Language Teachers by the creators of the TEFLology podcast is a good place to start if you want to find out more about how to create your own podcast. A lot of this advice would also be relevant to creating a YouTube channel. (Disclaimer: my blog is mentioned in the book!) (Affiliate links: Amazon, Smashwords)
Reflective practice groups
These are self-selected groups of teachers who come together to discuss a particular topic as equals. The range of potential topics is limitless. All you need is at least one other colleague who is willing to meet you for an hour or two, and you’ve got a reflective practice group. Zhenya Polotosova and Anna Loseva have written quite a lot about participating in groups like this. You can find out more using this list of bookmarks.
Once you’ve put in all of this effort to start developing online, what can you do with what you learn?
Once you’ve found or created something, share what you’ve learnt with somebody else. This might be in your staffroom, or on social media. There are active communities of teachers on facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It can take a little time to be brave enough to share in one of these communities (I lurked on Twitter for at least 6 months before I joined in), but if you take the plunge, you have the chance to learn so much.
Ask yourself questions about what you’re reading and producing:
How will you apply what you’ve learnt?
What else do you want to learn about?
Who else do you want to learn from?
What biases might the people you’re learning from have? How can you get a fuller picture?
Are you satisfied with your progress with teaching puzzles? What other puzzles do you want to explore?
If you’d like more reflection questions to answer, I’ve written two books of them: one for relatively new teachers, ELT Playbook 1, and one for teacher trainers, ELT Playbook Teacher Training. You can find out all the information about how to buy them on my books page.
I hope you’ve found that whistle-stop tour through the world of online CPD useful. I’ll leave you with three questions for you to think about and comment on below if you like:
On Saturday 17th October I presented as part of the Asociación de Centros de Enseñanzade Idiomas de Andalucía (ACEIA) 1st virtual conference. It was a new management talk:
Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. While I can’t promise to resolve all your communication problems, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.
This is a topic I feel very strongly about, as my experiences of bad and good managers have largely centred around the quality of their communication. In my own management experience I’ve noticed that as my ability to communicate successfully and clearly has improved, I’ve gained confidence and I feel like the people I manage trust me more. They are also very open to giving me feedback on my management in general and my communication specifically. The tips in my talk are primarily aimed at managers, but many of them would be useful for teachers and general communication in life too.
These were my slides:
Before you do any broadcasting, it’s important to listen.
Don’t interrupt. I have a tendency to finish other people’s sentences or assume I know what’s coming next and start replying. A colleague once told me this was stopping him from speaking to me properly – he suggested I use my finger to stop myself from being able to speak! This really works: when I shouldn’t interrupt, I adopt a thinking pose with my index finger on my lips and it makes it much harder to start speaking.
Pay full attention. Stop what you’re doing and really listen. Make eye contact. Listen with your brain as well as your ears – don’t just spend the time working out what you’re going to say next or how you’re going to solve the problem.
What are they not saying? Notice body language and patterns of communication (or lack of communication) which may indicate hidden messages. Perhaps the person you’re speaking to is very stressed about something but doesn’t know how to communicate this. Perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed in general. Perhaps they really don’t like communicating with you and are avoiding it (not necessarily because they don’t like you – perhaps they don’t know how to speak to somebody they perceive as an authority, or perhaps they don’t want to interrupt you because they think you’re busy, or perhaps they don’t feel like they trust you enough to talk to you yet.) There’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ there, because we never really know, but be open to hidden messages, not just the ones which are explicitly stated.
Consider your medium carefully. What is the best way to communicate your message? Options might include:
We have so many options for communication now. The method we use says something about how formal or serious particular communication is, whether a written record is required (either to track information or simply so information is easy to refer back to), how much (perceived or real) time we have available, and how we might want our interlocutor(s) to respond.
Be clear about what information doesn’t exist. If you don’t have information yet, make sure the other person knows this. Otherwise, they may assume you’re keeping it from them for some reason. For example, if you know that a one-to-one student is in a teacher’s timetable, but said student hasn’t confirmed the start date of the lessons yet, tell the teacher that you don’t know the start date.
Be realistic about when communication will happen. Following on from the previous point, ensure that people know when they are likely to get any missing information and what factors will affect this. For example, when will the school contact the student to confirm the start date? Knowing when you will get information can reduce anxiety, and mean you can more easily postpone worrying about something until later.
Remind people to help you with communication. As managers, we’re normally spinning a lot of plates, and inevitably we’ll lose some of them. Get your staff on board to help you. Ask them to prod you if you don’t reply within 3 working days for example, and be clear about what is their responsibility to follow up on and what is yours.
Be open about mistakes in communication. Apologise when needed. We’re humans. We make mistakes. This is just as true in our communication as it is in any other area. Sometimes the things we do or say (or don’t do or say!) can be stressful for somebody else, or make their jobs harder. If you realise that your actions have made this happen, apologise for it. This is far more likely to build relationships of trust than brushing such mistakes under the carpet or pretending they didn’t happen.
Consider the timing of your communication carefully. What messages are you sending out about…
By instantly replying to every message you receive, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and probably interrupting your life outside work. You are also implicitly indicating that you expect instant responses from the people you work with, and are therefore adding unnecessary stress to them.
By replying to messages at unusual times, such as very early in the morning or late at night, you’re also implying that your employees should do this too.
By being available all the time, you’re losing the chance to have a life outside work, or at least drastically reducing that chance.
To help yourself to communicate more healthily, set working hours and consider what notifications you have, and pass this information on to your team. For example, our senior team have clear working hours which all the teachers know, WhatsApp notifications, but no email notifications. We have told teachers that we will respond to phone calls or WhatsApp messages as soon as possible within working hours (or I’ll respond to early morning phone calls too to arrange cover for sickness), but emails will be responded to when we get to them.
You can also make use of the scheduling function which most email providers have to ensure that your messages are sent at reasonable working hours or at the point of need, rather than when you wrote them at 6am, or 5 days before a teacher needs to see it.
Is it really an email? We’ve all sat in a completely pointless meeting which should have been an email. Only have meetings for things which require some form of discussion or Q&A.
What is the meeting for? Who is it (really) for? Know why you are requiring people to be in the same place at the same time. Make sure it’s not just for you, but that they are benefitting from the meeting too. Our school meetings happen every Friday for 30 minutes. They have two purposes. The first is to pass on information which is important for that point in the year and to ensure teachers know how to fulfil their responsibilities concerning things like writing reports or marking written work. The second is a social reason: it’s the only time in the week when we are a single school and a single team, all in the same place. This is why it was so important for us to continue these weekly meetings when we were all working from home too, to reduce the sense of isolation.
Do you need to say it all? At some points in a meeting, you may not need to read all of the information. Let people process information for themselves if it’ll be faster. For example, in our (deliberately fuzzy) agenda below you can see bullet points at the top. There are two sections: Please can you… for things they don’t need to hear me say, and Reminders for things like dates for their diary which I’ve already spoken about before. There is also colour coding, as suggested by our teachers at the end of last year. Orange indicates I’m telling you for the second time, red would be for the third time. [The document is titled ‘agenda’, but also acts as minutes – it’s edited during the meeting, printed out and put on the wall, and also available on Google Drive for teachers to refer back to as needed.]
Break up the info dump. As you can see, we share a lot of information during our meetings. They normally take the full 30 minutes allocated to them, sometimes a little longer. It’s impossible for somebody to focus on one person talking for all of that time and actually process the information. At one or two points in the meeting I normally have some kind of discussion, for example ‘What do you need to remember to do from the meeting so far?’ or ‘Have you picked up anything while teaching on Zoom this week which would be useful for everyone else?’ This gives me a little break, changes the pace, and allows teachers to process the information a little. It also creates a couple of extra beginnings and endings during the meeting, meaning information is a tiny bit more likely to be retained and acted on.
Are the next steps clear? At the end of the meeting, make sure everybody knows what they’re expected to do next and what the deadlines are.
Include positives/thank you. In a general meeting, include positive things too. I found that I used to feel like I just spent 30 minutes every week telling the staff off or nagging them. I still do sometimes, but ending on a positive note has reduced that feeling.
Clear subject line. Make your subject line as clear as possible to avoid guessing games and make it easier to find emails again later. If it’s new topic, start a new thread with a new subject line. Be selective about your use of the word ‘urgent’ in subject lines.
One big email? Lots of little emails? If you have lots of information to convey to the same people in a single day, it’s better to send out a single longer email than lots of short emails. This is less overwhelming in inboxes and easier to refer back to.
Signpost big emails. Use headings and highlight key points to help readers navigate the block of text. Put new topics into new paragraphs, and use bullet points to break down topics as needed.
Make it easy to use your emails. Don’t expect recipients to read between the lines. Be explicit about what kind of reply is needed and when. Include links to anything external so the recipient doesn’t have to hunt for them.
It may seem like it will take longer to write emails like this, but it will probably save you time in the long run as you’ll have to do less chasing, and won’t need to resolve issues like people filling in the wrong document because you didn’t include the link to the right one.
Here are two examples of emails I’ve sent recently:
Documents to check + creating Zoom IDs
Here are all of the documents you need to check your timetable against:
– Room timetable – Level meeting timetable – Cover timetable – Register links (these will appear in your Google Docs later in the day – please don’t ask for them – I’ll put up a note on the door when they’re ready)
Your register links document takes you to various general links for teachers, including the Zoom IDs list. Please create meetings for all of your Zoom classes on Friday 18th. Make sure they recur until 30th June 2021 so you never have to change them through the year. Add the ID and password to the Zoom ID document so it’s available for cover and if the office need to tell a student.
When you have added all Zoom IDs to the list and checked all of your documents, reply to this email. Say ‘Fine’ if it’s all complete. List any problems if not – be as clear as possible. Please do not send the email separately – I want to keep it all in one thread so I can keep track of who’s replied.
In this email you can see:
a clear subject line;
clear instructions on how to complete the task;
information about how exactly they should reply and what information I need;
why I’m asking them to do things in this way.
Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year (please reply by Monday 7th Sept 18:00)
[This email image is deliberately blurred.]
In this email you can see:
a clear subject line, including exactly when I need a reply by;
topics highlighted in blue;
all documents needed are attached;
all links to be followed are included in the email.
We’re managing a lot of communication, and potentially there are a lot of versions of documents flying around.
Date any documents you send out, rather than having the same file name or calling them 1, 2, 3, etc. Reverse order sorts them nicely: 2020.10.17. I normally keep all previous versions in a folder called ‘Archive’ and only the active version in the top folder to help me navigate. Here’s an example from the presentations on my personal computer:
Note any deadlines you set for replies in your diary or calendar. Follow up only with those who didn’t meet deadline, rather than sending out a blanket email to everyone. Don’t start following up until the deadline arrives – otherwise you are creating extra implicit deadlines, and causing yourself and your colleagues unnecessary extra stress.
This can be one of the most challenging parts of our jobs, whether as teachers, managers or trainers, and can often be the cause of a lot of stress.
Use a feedback model (this one is from Manager Tools). This structure can help you to keep feedback neutral and ensure that the person on the receiving end is receptive to it (whether positive or negative). There are four steps:
Ask Can I give you some feedback?
Describe the behaviour: When you…
Describe the impact: …it makes me feel / …students find it difficult to… / …students are really engaged.
Discuss next steps: Keep it up! / What can you do about this? How can I help you?
It’s important to get the person you’re speaking to to say what the next steps are themselves, and preferably the ideas will come from them. They’re much more likely to act on the feedback if they say it rather than if you say it.
Focus on behaviour and actions, not personality. This keeps things more neutral and means feedback feels more constructive and less like a personal attack. It takes practice! If you’re not sure if your feedback does this successfully, run it by somebody else you trust and ask for help with rephrasing it as needed before you give it to the person concerned.
What expectations are teachers holding themselves / you holding teachers to? Teachers can often be their own worse critics, and beginner teachers in particular may not allow themselves to be beginners. Ensure that any expectations are realistic for the level of experience of the teacher, and that they know what you expect of them is fair.
Boost confidence and spot strengths too. Aim to give at least as much positive, confidence-boosting feedback as you do feedback on areas to improve.
Ask, don’t assume. Ask questions, rather than thinking you know why something happened or what somebody is feeling or experiencing at a given point.
Be patient and supportive. Aim for communication which helps rather than hinders or stresses out your colleagues. Keep this in the back of your mind, and don’t let your own stress or frustration at the fact this is the 18th time you’ve asked come through (easier said than done, but vital to remember!)
Provide training on your bug bears. To reduce your own stress levels, teach people how to do things which frustrate you when they do it ‘wrong’. For me this is the use of ‘Reply all’ rather than ‘Reply’ to group emails – you can also avoid this by BCCing all of the receiving emails, because then people can only reply to the sender rather than everyone!
Be on the receiving end of your own communication. Copy yourself into your group emails using your personal address, so you realise just how many emails you’re sending out. Record a meeting and sit through the whole thing without fast-forwarding it. You’ll soon send fewer emails and run shorter meetings!
Be a learning communicator
Reflect on particularly successful / unsuccessful communication. Why did that observation feedback run so smoothly? Why did that interview feel horrible throughout?
Seek out feedback. Ask for feedback on your communication. This includes when communication went wrong – wait until the emotion has gone out of the situation, then ask for advice on how you could have made the situation run more smoothly. If your staff trust you, they’ll be very willing to give you this feedback.
Choose an area to focus on. For me, this is currently all of the points in ‘listen’ at the start of this post!
Be kind to yourself 🙂 Your communication won’t always be perfect, but don’t dwell on it when things don’t work out. Model learning from problems and mistakes, seeking feedback, and moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.
What tips would you add to improve communication as a teacher, manager or trainer? Have you had any experiences of particularly good or bad communication which have helped you to become a better communicator?
On 3rd October 2020, I took part in the IH Kyiv online conference. [Update: I presented the same talk at the IH Torun Teaching Training Day on 7th November 2020.]
I presented on the topic of group dynamics, something I’ve become increasingly interested in since doing my MA module in Trainer Development last year. Although Jane Harding da Rosa introduced me to Barry Tuckman’s work a few years ago, I don’t think I was ready to take in the ideas. I wish I had been! There are definitely at least two groups I can think of which would have been a much pleasanter experience for both me and the students had I understood some of the concepts I mention in this presentation. Oh well – we live and learn!
Here are three quotes from Chapter 3 of Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho which set the scene:
The quality of the eventual outcome of the course will to a considerable extent be forged in the interactions between the members of the learning group.
It always takes some time, and considerable care on the part of the [teachers] to enable groups […] to ‘form’ and reach a stage where they are personally secure, and trusting of each other and the [teacher] enough to start learning.
Even if the group is already well formed, each new meeting requires attention to re-forming: re-entering the public world of the group from the more private world of family or workplace.
Although the quotes are about teacher training, I think they’re equally applicable to the ELT classroom.
My presentation was mostly about raising awareness of issues connected to group dynamics, rather than activities to help you deal with them. Those activities can be found in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book Classroom Dynamics, which I recently finished and will review on my blog shortly. Short review: every staffroom should have a copy! About 50% of the ideas in my presentation came from her book – thanks Jill! [Amazon affiliate link]
Here are my slides:
Thinking about groups
We started with an activity adapted from p39 of Classroom Dynamics.
Think about groups you have taught. Which groups were easy to teach? Which were difficult? Which were mixed?
In your life up to now, what groups have you been a member of? For example, family, sports team, colleagues at work, church… Did you have a good, bad or mixed experience as a member of these groups?
Think about the good groups.
Did they have anything in common?
What do you think these groups gave their members?
You can use this activity with classes to help them consider what makes a good group and what they can contribute to and get from a group.
Stages of group life
I talked through the 5 stages described in Barry Tuckman’s stages of group development:
You can see a full-sized version of the diagram I talked through here: http://bit.ly/tuckmangroups. It shows a lot more information about what each of the five stages involve. There are lots of sources describing these 5 stages (the final one is sometimes missing, or called ‘Mourning’).
These are typical stages, but some groups get stuck at a particular stage and never move forwards, others regress or move backwards and forwards, especially if new people join the group.
As a teacher, it’s useful to know about the stages to understand what you can do as a teacher to help a group to form successfully, and understand why some groups won’t work well together.
Causes of group problems
On p149 of Classroom Dynamics, Jill Hadfield has this summary of possible causes of group problems:
I asked two questions, which you could think about now:
Have you experienced any of these as a teacher or a student?
What can you do about them?
We then looked at a bit of theory to pre-empt these problems, aiming to reduce the likelihood of them starting in the first place, or deal with the problems when you notice they start to manifest themselves. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s worth being reminded!
Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:
the teacher makes it clear why they’re doing particular activities/using particular techniques – displaying clear aims can help.
the teacher compromises on approach/tasks in lessons, doing some of what the teacher wants and some of what the group wants.
To win […] trust, we have to be open about our objectives, and be ready to participate in activities on an equal basis whenever it is possible or makes sense for us to do so.
Students need to feel like you’re a participant in the group too, not just a dictator. If you expect them to share, it’s important for you to do so too. The same is true of being receptive to feedback, and giving constructive feedback.
Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:
with a very problematic group: introduce less group work, use more individual/pair work, regroup students so it’s less explosive.
with a relatively low-level problem: use gap-bridging activities.
with a well-balanced group: confront the problem and discuss it.
It takes time and effort for humans to trust each other, and sometimes a small action or a single word can be enough to break that trust. We need to help students feel comfortable with each other, building trust consistently, rather than just doing one getting-to-know-you activity at the start of the course and thinking we’re done with that (this is a reminder to myself too!)
The indigestible group member
Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:
with rebels: get to know them and make sure they know you; providing clear limits/boundaries can help in some cases, but may make it worse.
with frustrated leaders: do individual interviews with all students; encourage everybody to say ‘I think’ not ‘we think’.
with insecure students: give them warmth and attention and help them integrate.
Participants frequently arrive with preoccupations relating to their work, their families etc. [which] prevent them from being fully ‘present’. [They often] gain least from […] courses and […] are most critical in end-of-course evaluations.
Helping students mentally transition into the classroom space, learn to put their preoccupations aside, and feel comfortable in the room are all important. Again, this takes time and effort to build up.
Chapters in Classroom Dynamics
These are most of the chapters in Jill Hadfield’s book:
Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
Getting to know each other: humanizing activities and personalised grammar
I did it your way: empathy activities
A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
Group achievements: product-oriented activities
Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques and summaries
That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
Ensuring participation // Learning to listen
A sense of direction: setting, assessing and resetting goals
Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations, group solutions
Ending with positive feelings // Evaluating the group experience
In the chat I asked:
Can you think of any activities which would serve these purposes?
How could they help your groups?
How could they pre-empt some of the problems we’ve discussed?
As Jill points out, a lot of the activities we already use can be tweaked to help work on classroom dynamics as well as the language or skills aim we want to use them for. Obviously reseating is a potential problem in a socially-distanced classroom, but could be adapted for activities online.
Having thought about the ideas I’ve introduced here, when working with groups from now on what will you:
The Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) Symposium is another event which I would never have been able to attend face-to-face because of the timing and the location, but now it’s online I can go – yay! It’s aimed at trainers of Cambridge certificates: CELTA, Delta, CELT-P, CELT-S and TKT, though a lot of the content is relevant for all teacher trainers.
I talked about Life after CELTA. This was the abstract:
Even a Pass A CELTA graduate ‘will benefit from further support in post’. What might this support look like? What are the main areas that CELTA graduates continue to need help with? What can trainers do during the CELTA course to lay the groundwork? I hope to answer all of these questions in this session.
Here are my slides:
Here’s the recording:
Key areas for new teachers
When I employ an early career teacher, I know we’ll probably need to work on five key areas:
These are areas which many new teachers struggle with and need particular support in. I’ll look at each area below, with ideas for how CELTA trainers can develop these skills as much as possible during the course. Many of these things are already incorporated in courses, but it’s worth being reminded of their importance, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted!
For each area, I’ve suggested a task from an ELT Playbook which could be used with trainees or as a trainer. These are the current Smashwords discount codes, valid until 5th October 2020 [affiliate links]:
Materials preparation time: This is probably the biggest time sink for new teachers. This might be created a huge PowerPoint presentation, cutting up loads of bits of paper, or going down a rabbit hole to find the perfect image/video/text etc. I generally recommend that trainees do materials prep last, once they have a completed plan, with all of the documentation. I also try to show them how to teach lessons without PowerPoint, and challenge them to do at least one lesson like this during a course, especially if they’re a stronger trainee. Weaker trainees can aim for one or two activities per lesson without PowerPoint.
Simplify lessons: I recommend a maximum of one or two all-singing, all-dancing activities per 60 minutes. If trainees come to me with a plan with more than this, I’ll advise them to get rid of one or two, even if they can justify why it would be a great activity and incredibly useful for their students. Once I’ve told them this a few times, they start to listen!
Time-saving tips: Encourage screenshots/taking photos rather than retyping the whole exercise, even if it might look prettier! Show trainees hacks for the paper-based classroom, like putting a coloured dot on the back of each set of handouts.
Technology: Introduce multi-functional tools like Quizlet, which can also be used for printing flashcards in a face-to-face classroom. Show trainees how to find and copy existing sets, not start from scratch every time, and encourage them to save sets with the book name, edition, unit number and page number in the title so they’re easy for other teachers to find (like this). Create templates for documents on Word/PowerPoint which are reusable and easy to complete – show trainees/new teachers how to do this too if possible.
Lesson planning: I strongly believe that trainers should intervene as soon as possible if planning documentation is not up-to-scratch and be explicit about what will help trainees in lessons. There’s normally somebody else in the TP group who’s understood how to write a useful lesson plan, so I normally ask their permission to share the plan with the person who’s struggling. This is better than a generic lesson plan as the trainee knows how the lesson went, and can see how having a solid plan helped the lesson to be more successful. As a trainer, we should also provide clear feedback on the plan, with one or two specific areas to focus on each TP to improve the plan, not the just the lessons. Generally, a strong plan = a successful lesson = teacher confidence. There’s plenty of time for teachers to move towards less detailed planning later, once they’ve got the basics under their belt.
Rehearsal opportunities: Encourage trainees/teachers to rehearse things they’re nervous about, preferably with their TP colleagues, but with you if nobody else is available. This is particularly true for complicated instructions – make sure the lesson isn’t the first time the trainee/teacher has ever tried to say those instructions out loud.
Lesson plan as film script: Emphasise the importance of trainees/teachers knowing exactly what they want from the students during the lesson. Imagine it’s a film script, where everyone needs to know where to stand, what to hold, what to do at each point in the lesson. This can help trainees to add more depth to their lessons, though sometimes it can go too far! If it does, remind them that improvisation is an important part of great film-making too – there needs to be space for the actors/students to breathe too; it can’t all be about the director/teacher. This can help them to understand the idea of handing over to the students more too.
Wait time: Give trainees/teachers tricks to increase the amount of time they wait after asking questions, for example counting ‘1000, 2000, 3000’ or putting a post-it on their computer saying ‘Wait!’ The pauses add natural breaks into the lesson, allow everyone to think a little, and can reduce anxiety. They also mean students are more likely to give answers of some kind, and maybe even successful ones 😉 All of this can increase teacher confidence, and help them feel more in control of the lesson with better teacher presence.
Provide necessary support: Don’t leave trainees/teachers to flounder or spend hours trying to figure things out themselves. This is particularly true of teaching grammar: show trainees/teachers how to do this the first time out. This will add to their toolbox, and give both teachers and students a better experience. A lot of our in-house training at IH Bydgoszcz connected to lessons is about supporting teachers to feel confident in grammar lessons. One useful tip is for teachers/trainees to do the exercises themselves as part of their lesson planning, and make sure they know WHY the answers are correct, not just what. Modelling this kind of scaffolding is useful for teachers to see how to help students too.
Self-talk: There’s a free bonus activity connected to ELT Playbook 1 looking at self-talk and teacher confidence. Download it here.
Give guidance: Show trainees how to participate in communities within their course, for example by creating Whatsapp groups for everyone on the course, their TP group, and their 3 TP colleagues. Point out chances to use these communities e.g. it’s a good idea to discuss this part of the lesson…you could vent about this…
You are not alone: Remind them that there’s always somebody they can call on, both during and after the course. Emphasise how to work together during TP prep, and tell them never to spend more than 10 minutes trying to figure something out – after that they should ask for help. ‘The people around us’ in ELT Playbook 1 can help teachers/trainees to realise who can help them with what.
Exemplify reflection: As a trainer, be human! Own your mistakes and tell trainees how you have learnt/will learn from them. Show them that it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Also highlight areas you’re particularly proud of, especially if you were experimenting with something new. Be excited 🙂
Strength spotting: I learnt about this from Sarah Mercer, and there’s a specific task connected to it in ELT Playbook 1. Encourage trainees/teachers to learn from the strengths of others. Really emphasise this by making TP peer feedback focussed on strengths as much as possible and then telling them how other trainees can do the same thing. In your spoken feedback, highlight one thing each trainee did that you want the others to do in future TPs.
Specific feedback: Give specific feedback, including comments were possible, not just generic comments. For example: ‘Good drilling’ becomes ‘You used a consistent model with a natural stress pattern.’ This shows trainees/teachers what behaviour to repeat, in the same way that our (normally much more specific!) negative feedback shows them what behaviour to avoid/modify in future. Model this, but also encourage trainees to avoid the word ‘good’ in their own feedback to each other. Thanks to Kate Protsenko for highlighting this to me, and inspiring the task ‘What is ‘good’?’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training.
Practise what you preach: Teachers should model effective language learning behaviour to their students, trainers should model effective teaching to their trainees. 😉 I think most of us do this already, but it’s still worth reflecting on what you do and don’t model to your trainees. Follow through on your advice in your own demo lessons and input sessions: vary activities, give concise instructions, don’t use too many ICQs, start/finish on time…sometimes easier said than done! The task ‘Practising what you preach’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Trainingcould help with this.
Be human: Model compassion towards yourself, model taking care of yourself during courses, highlight when you need help or when you’ve found support somewhere (in a book, on a site, from another person). I’ve already mentioned owning your mistakes. Don’t try to be a computer, or to be perfect. We need to model this so that new teachers don’t feel that they need to be perfect either. Perfectionism is boring.
What’s not here?
The surface things:
feedback techniques, etc.
These are generally considered to be the stuff of CELTA, but I think they’re less important than any of the five deeper areas above. Those deeper areas are universal: any teacher needs them, in any context, online or offline, wherever they are in the world. The surface things are all useful techniques to be aware of, but they’re context-dependent. A confident, reflective, practitioner who can learn from their community, manage their time well, and understand the power of modelling will learn how to do all of these bitty things sooner or later. Remove any of those five areas and the chances are much slimmer.
Do you agree? Are these areas you work on? What would you do to support new teachers with these or other areas during an initial teacher training course?
To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.
If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There is a Smashwords discount code for 10% off ELT Playbook 1 until 5th October 2020: TB33T. You can also buy a paperback or ebook version of ELT Playbook 1 from Amazon [affiliate links] or a paperback from BEBC (support this great bookshop!)
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out any of these activities.
Sometimes a chat over dinner can be a wonderful catalyst. A couple of weeks after IATEFL 2019 I went for dinner with a colleague. We discussed all kinds of things, and one of the things that came out of the discussion was a plan for a different kind of workshop, one where the teachers chose the topic.
This plan was inspired by sessions I attended during IATEFL, and my reading for the NILE MA trainer development module. It’s a general format which could be applied to any workshop. Each section should last about 15 minutes.
What you (want to) know: In groups, teachers brainstorm what they know about the topic and write the questions they have about it. You can do a quick survey of how confident the teachers feel about the topic. You can prepare prompts to help the teachers direct their thinking if you want to.
Investigation: Teachers find out more about the topic using whatever resources they choose from whatever you have available. If you don’t have much, you could use my diigo links as a starting point. This step could take longer if you want it too. Emphasise that there won’t be time to look at every resource – they should pick and choose one or two things to read/watch/listen to.
Sharing: Back in their original groups, teachers share what they’ve learnt. They add to the brainstorms, discuss whether their questions were answered, and think about what other questions they might have.
Forward planning: Teachers decide how they can apply what they’ve learnt in the session to their own teaching.
(Brief) Feedback: Get feedback from teachers on how the session went and how confident they feel about the topic now.
On discussion with the teachers, we chose the topic of noticing progress for this experimental workshop. These are the slides I used:
The letters on the slides (A-E) refer to the five areas on slide 2 to help teachers choose which resources to investigate during step 2 of the session.
Teacher feedback on the workshop
These comments are shared with permission.
(my reflection) Preparation before the session meant that I was free to monitor, answer questions and feed in extra information during the workshop.
I enjoyed this session and being able to share ideas with others and find out what they learnt as it gives me ideas which I didn’t think of. Charting ideas on paper as a team works well and is encouraging and confidence boosting. I would like to do another session like this.
I like that I can go back to the powerpoint afterwards and check out what my group members have told me about. It’s nice to have a lot of options (choice). I would like to do workshops in this style again.
Good balance of self research and group feedback. Self-driven= more natural and less ‘forced’.
Can go at our own pace and do what interests us.
I really liked how personalised it was and practical. I think this type of session helps people know what’s out there. I’d definitely do this again – thank you very much!
I liked the freedom to look at what I wanted and it was nice being in groups with people who were interested in different things. Can we do something like this again please?
Time to research independently. It was good to have a range of media (video, reading etc) for different preferences.
Own pace and autonomous.
Autonomy, could learn what I wanted, not dictated to. Discussion at end was good in groups.
Good staging, reading time, multiple sources and discussions.
I liked how there was more time for personal reading (being an introvert).
Time to digest before talking. Could explore what interests me/will be useful for my students. More like this please.
I liked the staging and found it very logical and useful. I think I would’ve liked more time alone to read/watch/get the input but appreciated that this was quiet and independent this week. I would like to do workshops in this style again.
Could focus on an area I was interested in.
Freedom to research what you’re interested in and what you need. Good stages to gain information from others and share ideas/knowledge. An interesting workshop – would be great to do again!
I enjoyed having quiet time to read and learn about things. I also liked not having things thrown at me. Timing was adequate. We should now go and explore on our own. I think more time would have resulted in us just sticking to one particular topic, instead we want to look at as many different things as possible. Please let’s do this again!
Generally like the format.
Areas to improve:
(my reflection) The session worked really well, but the slides took a long time to compile. If I ran it again, I’d include a lot fewer resources to choose from, not least because it would take less time to put together! On the other hand, this workshop can be reused again in the future as is with no preparation at all.
People need to be able to speak/discuss what they want to e.g. one classroom is for silent investigation and another classroom is for teachers to discuss with each others. [Note: during the investigation stage I asked teachers not to discuss anything as some teachers present struggle to concentrate when reading with noise in the background. I told them they’d be able to discuss everything later.]
The titles and summaries on each slide could have been clearer e.g. a summary such as ‘This page has lots of ideas for…’
Hard to find a specific direction.
Timing was OK, although not really enough time to explore properly/in enough detail.
I think the initial brainstorm could be a bit shorter.
There were too many options (things to look at/explore) – not enough time for detail.
Would be good to have a follow-up session of what we’ve tried and how it went. Have several rooms with ‘noise levels’ so those that want to discuss and research at the same time can – more sharing will happen if we can talk.
Very broad – a lot of information to sift through.
Put the stages of the workshop on the board too please.
Would be good to have a bit more time in the research stage.
Maybe too many points to discuss? 3 might work better than 5.
As you can see, the workshop went down well, but as always, there’s room for improvement 🙂
On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):
All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.
My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.
If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!
Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.
It was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference (TOC) on Friday 22nd May 2020. Nearly 40 people presented for 15 minutes each on the theme of online teaching.
For my presentation, I decided to go for something low-tech that you could still do online, and what’s better than making a fortune teller. It’s a very simple origami project, one I think most of us have probably made in the past. Here’s a video of how to make one:
My decision maker
As a lot of us are working on our mental health while we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, my fortune teller was a way to choose your response to different people in different situations. The three sets of choices are:
Who are you talking to?
What are you talking about?
an activity you tried
how you feel
your plans tonight
something you’ve read
IH TOC 😉
What do you say in that situation?
I give up!
I need chocolate!
Tell me more.
What should I do?
(Don’t say anything…take a deep breath!)
Other ways to use them
You could also use fortune tellers for:
practising lexical sets
making decisions in a role play
choosing with activity/game you’ll do next
And they’re not just for children: you can use them with teens and adults too with the right topics. Most people like to make things 🙂
What else could you use them for? Have you tried them out with your students?
Here’s the video if you want to watch the whole presentation:
On Thursday 7th May I did a 60-minute Zoom training session on how to use Zoom…meta! I worked with about 20 teachers from Urban School and other language schools in Barcelona, showing them how to use Mentimeter and word clouds in their online lessons, and in the process answering questions on a few other aspects of using Zoom. Thanks to Urien Shaw for organising it.
We started by playing with Mentimeter, which is interactive presentation software.
I used an open-ended question displaying a flowing grid so we could get to know each other a little:
To answer a question, participants go to http://www.menti.com and type the code from your presentation.
Here is a full list of all of the Mentimeter question types and how to make them. The Mentimeter blog has lots of ideas for how to use the different types of questions which are available, including lots of examples.
Here are some ways you can use Mentimeter in class:
Which (form of this) activity do you want to do? Gist reading/listening questions. How much time should I give you?
Vocab revision, what vocab do you already know, word association as a lead in (i.e. what do you associate with this topic), produce examples of a grammar structure, what do you know about this person/thing/place, what do you remember from last lesson
Brainstorming ideas, get feedback on your lessons, getting to know you, lead in to a topic, what do you remember about…, create example sentences using this grammar structure/word, correct the mistake
Do you prefer X or Y? To what extent do you agree with this statement? How much do you like/enjoy…? For feedback on your lessons/particular activities…
Ranking (participants can only choose one option)
Class survey of most/least popular anything (food, book, animal…)
Which holiday type/item of clothing/animal/celebrity/computer game… do you prefer?
Q & A
Brainstorm questions for a guest speaker/the teacher/other students, what questions do you expect this reading text/audio/video will answer, what questions do you still have after watching/listening, what would you ask the person in the video…
Select answer – scores appear after these slides
Any closed multiple choice quiz questions
Type answer – scores appear after these slides
Open quiz questions where any answer is possible
The free account allows you to include an unlimited number of PowerPoint-style presentation slides, two ‘questions’ and five ‘quiz slides’. You can have an unlimited number of presentations, so if you need more of these slides in a single lesson you can just make more than one presentation.
Students can make their own questions, though they need to open an account to do this.
Next we used a word cloud to discuss ideas for doing feedback or error correction in online lessons. The ideas in this word cloud were taken from a workshop at IH Bydgoszcz a few weeks ago (thanks again to our great staff there!). I then showed how you can produce very different word clouds using the same input data with the simple insertion of ~ between words to keep them together. So these two things appear differently in a word cloud:
highlight problems and they rewrite
Words which appear more frequently in the source text appear larger in a word cloud, as can be clearly seen in the second word cloud above. www.wordclouds.com is my current favourite tool to produce word clouds.
Here are some ways you can use word clouds in the EFL classroom (the links take you to lessons on my blog using this idea):
As a lead in to a reading/listening, put the text/transcript into a word cloud and students predict what they’re going to see/hear.
Use the same word cloud afterwards for them to remember what they saw/heard.
Students make their own about a particular topic/place/person/thing.
Make sure the words are spaced out as much as necessary for them to be clearly visible.
Use a legible font.
Ensure the contrast between text and background is clear.
Use a theme with various colours in it, rather than just one or two.
Check that words don’t run into each other if you need students to write them out in some form (for example, with the word cloud below one student wrote: crowdedsunny, more crowdedsunny, the most crowdedsunny, highlighting the mechanical nature of this task beautifully!)
I have lots of bookmarks connected to using word clouds: https://bit.ly/sandywordclouds and it’s one of the first things I ever presented about and wrote up on my blog, way back in February 2011. Writing this post was a trip down memory lane!
Here’s a selection of links I compiled for our teachers following up on a workshop I ran on Friday 27th March. I showed them around a few online dictionaries and corpora, and we briefly talked about how students could make use of their notebooks to record language. I know there are many other useful resources, but this is what we managed in 60 minutes. Feel free to add them to the comments!
http://www.oald8.com – Oxford. Good for having a really short link (!), clarity of information and layout, checking levels of words, finding out if words are academic (they have academic word lists), depth of information
https://www.macmillandictionary.com/ – Good for checking levels of words (3* = most common, 0* = not common at all), really new words (people can suggest additions), the ‘red words’ game
https://bab.la/ Polish-English bilingual – good for seeing example sentences in both Polish and English, starting to expose students to reading definitions in English (not just translations)
https://www.wordreference.com/ bilingual dictionaries in a range of languages – has some example sentences (though bab.la has more). The forums can be quite useful, though students should use them with caution as there are occasionally incorrect explanations.
https://www.english-corpora.org/ has a collection of corpora. When choosing, think about the date the language was collected (how recent is it?), the sources (spoken/written/internet/balanced?), and the language varieties (British? international?)
Some of the functions are hidden behind the ‘more’ button on the search page.
List = examples of the language in use (these are called ‘concordance lines’)
Collocations = write the example word, then click POS to select the part of speech. The numbers tell you the positions before or after the word you want to search in. e.g. ‘depend’ + ______ PREP L 0 + 2 R gives you a search for prepositions that appear in the first and second position after ‘depend’. You can also put a specific word in the second search box, e.g. ‘depend’ + ‘on’ to only get results with that pair of words.
KWIC = Key Word in Context. The one that goes multi-coloured depending on what part of speech the word is.
Word = the one that I love 🙂 This function isn’t available in all of the corpora. It shows you everything: definition, synonyms for different meanings, topics, common chunks, collocations, and concodance lines. It also links you to the pronunciation of the word in different contexts on the three sites below:
http://playphrase.me/ clips from film/TV containing your word/phrase (though can’t see wider context) – good for comparing how a word/phrase sounds in different accents/voices
https://youglish.com/ pulls from YouTube videos. Gives link to whole video with phrase highlighted. Speed adjustable. Gives you pron tips below.
https://getyarn.io/ Pulls out the key phrase and enables you to see the next/previous clip to give you more context. Shows you more links below with the same phrase. Has a ‘next line’ quiz which could be addictive! But no clear content filter!
Another great corpus for language learners is SKELL: Sketch Engine for Language Learning. I like the Word Sketch and Similar words functions.
*or at least, very very low prep! Thursday night: nobody had suggested any queries or problems for our one-to-one troubleshooting session tomorrow. What should we do instead? There wasn’t really time for me to prep anything else, and Ididn’t know what to pick anyway. Cue a quick email:
Please think about 2 things you’re proud of in your lessons (group or 121), and 2 questions you most want answered. We’ll use that as the basis for the session tomorrow.
At the start of the 60-minute session I spread out a pile of A4 scrap paper on the floor. Everybody took a piece, folded it in half, and wrote two questions they had, one on each half. They put them on the floor for later. They then took another piece, folded it again, and wrote the two things they were proud of. This took a lot longer, and I had to point out that ‘proud of’ doesn’t have to mean finished or perfect, just something you’ve worked at and know you’ve improved. We got there in the end! It reminded me of Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL plenary, when she told us to spot our strengths, the inspiration for the strength spotting task in the Teacher Health and Wellbeing section of ELT Playbook 1. Everybody mingled, chatting to everybody else, holding up their strengths in front of them, including me. We talked about why we chose them, what we’d done to work on them, and asked each other questions. That took about 10-15 minutes. I asked for a show of hands to see if any of the strengths matched any of the questions. Only 3 or 4 of the 20 teachers put their hands up, so I changed my mind about the next step. Instead of pairing people off, I ended up putting them in groups of 4 or 5. They had about 15-20 minutes. This time they all read out their questions in their group, then chose which ones to discuss and offer answers to in a free discussion. Meanwhile, I took photos of all of their questions and wrote them into a single list. It was an excellent indication of the range of concerns that our teachers have, from classroom management and better pacing to more effective listening lessons and challenging students more. This is a great starting point for deciding the topics of our upcoming workshops. At the end I asked for another show of hands: who’s learnt something today that will help them with their teaching? Every hand went up. The feedback was very positive. Teachers said they particularly enjoyed the small group work and the freestyle nature of the session. It worked well at this point in the year as everyone is settled and feels comfortable as a group. Definitely a format I’ll use again!
This was the topic for my presentation at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference in Greenwich on 9th January 2020.
Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, the last year has given me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I’ve done for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.
Working with humans
Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues.
Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.
Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in the summer. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course.
Start where they are
This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.
Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session.
Experience-based rather than information-based
We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.
I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual.
I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.
I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.
In all of our workshops we now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, they choose two or three to try in the next week and their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. We aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.
I haven’t done a CELTA recently so I’m still thinking about how to do it in that case, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them.
Learning through dialogue
Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others.
Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.
As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that they should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.
Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. It means that they’re more likely to respect your advice and they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.
Having said that, make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode.
Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:
What do you need more help with?
What will you take from this session into your lessons?
What should we keep the same?
What should we change?
Anything else you want to tell us?
This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback.
I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.
Does your training follow similar principles? Will you change anything in your training based on anything here?
If you’re interested in developing as a teacher training, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code MG24Z until 14th January).
There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:
On 4th July 2019, I had the privilege of presenting at the English Teachers Association of Israel (ETAI) 40th anniversary international conference. Here is a summary of my talk:
Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities
This session will demonstrate a range of low-preparation ways to adapt speaking activities that appear in coursebooks and other materials, based on my self-published book ‘Richer Speaking‘. These adaptations are aimed at helping students to speak comfortably for longer and produce higher quality language while minimising the effort for you!
To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.
What do I want to know?
Tell your partner about you.
Before speaking, come up with three questions you want to know the answers to. Pool the questions with a partner and add two more to your list. Tell your partner about you. If your partner gets stuck, ask one of your questions.
Did you find out what you wanted to know?
This gives students a real reason to listen, and helps them come up with ideas for their own speaking turn too. It also helps to create more of a conversation instead of two monologues.
Any list of conversation questions.
Answer the conversation questions. Afterwards, list the language you used (either in English or your own language). For example:
Consider what other language you could use. Look at your notebook or coursebook to help you. Change partners and repeat the activity.
Did you use all of the language on your longer list?
This challenges students to use a wider range of language and adds a reason for them to repeat the same speaking activity. It can be particularly good for exam students who need to show off the range of language they know.
Who am I?
A role play. In the session I used one from Now You’re Talking! 2 by Rivka Lichtner (A.E.L. Publications, 2018) where an Israeli teenager sees an American celebrity on the street. The teenager thinks the celebrity looks familiar and tries to speak to them, while the celebrity is on holiday and wants to hide their identity. [I love this idea!]
Create a mini biography for a teenager or celebrity in this situation. Here are some ideas:
Celebrity: Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you visiting Israel? Why are you hiding?
Teen: Who are you? Who do you think the celebrity is? Why do you want to talk to them?
Both: How do you feel right now? Why? What did you do before the conversation? What are your plans later?
Optionally, exchange biographies with another student. Read your biography, then put it away. Meet as many celebrities/teens as you can in the time limit.
Teens: Did you find out who the celebrities were?
Celebrities: Did you hide successfully?
By giving students time to prepare before they speak, they can get into the role more fully and the role play should be much more interesting for them. Adding dimensions such as feelings and how this conversation fits into the character’s whole day can make it feel more realistic and part of a larger story.
Not me, you!
Talking about why two cartoons are funny. Again, the cartoons in my session were taken from from Now You’re Talking! 2.
For 1 minute, think of as many reasons as you can for why these cartoons are funny. Choose an object with your partner (for example, a pen or a coin). List ways that you can pass a conversation over to a partner. For example:
What do you think?
Do you agree?
I really don’t think…, but maybe you do?
Have a conversation with your partner. Every time you pass the conversation to them, give them the object. When the teacher says stop, you shouldn’t be holding your object! Don’t be the last person speaking!
Who is holding the object?
Because students don’t want to lose the game, they push themselves to find something else to say to be able to hand over the conversation to their partners. This extends the conversation and gives them turn-taking practice.
To finish off the session, we used these reflection questions based loosely on ‘Supporting students in speaking tasks’, an activity from ELT Playbook 1.
Choose 2-3 speaking activities you’ve done in the last school year. Could you adapt them using these ideas?
Do you often include stages like these? Why (not)?
What other support do/could you give your students to help them:
prepare to speak?
speak for longer?
repeat activities in a varied way?
have a clear reason to listen?
If you’d like more reflection activities like this, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There’s a 10% discount until 31st July 2019 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code YM64U.
Thank you to those who attended my talk, and I’d be really interested to hear from you if you try out any of these activities in your classroom. And don’t forget to get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]!
Every May, International House World Organisation runs their Teachers’ Online Conference (TOC) event. This is a day or two of short talks on a huge range of topics presented by teachers from across the IH network. They are recorded and you can still watch talks from previous years. I’ll add the recordings from this year once they’re available (in the next week or so).
This year, the event happened on Friday May 17th. My presentation was designed to help you reduce your planning time, but still teach an effective lesson. It’s based around adapting a double-page coursebook spread to maximise the usefulness for my students while not adding huge amounts of planning/materials creation to my day.
The questions I suggested you could use when thinking about planning are:
How can we do these pages?
What do my students need the most?
What do they already know?
How much time do they need to bridge the gap?
How can I maximise engagement?
What can the book support the students in?
What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
Another possible set of questions I’ve come up with in the last couple of days is:
What do my students want to know (how to do)?
What aspects of that language/skill/function etc. do they already know? How will I find that out in the lesson if I’m not sure?
How can I help them bridge the gap between what they can already do and what they want/need to do? What problems might they have with this language/skill/function? What can they/I do about them? (Is there something in the book that already deals with this? Do I need to add/change something?)
How can I check/make sure students realise they’ve improved?
I’d be interested to know what happens if you try out either of these sets of questions as a planning approach as they’re a reflection of what I think I do when I approach planning, and I’ve only written them down this week!
Elementary functions lesson
These are my notes for the Speakout Elementary coursebook spread above, which I used to generate the questions. You can see me voicing them and adding extra detail in the recording of my session.
“Teaches itself” – Everything is here – could work through page from start to finish, and SS would learn. But book-bound, little variety and most importantly… probably too long – potentially 2-3 hours of lessons here if you really exploit it. Start with timing – 90-minute lesson, take away warmer/homework check = 70 minutes-ish left over.
Need to prioritise. What’s main aim? What’s most useful to my students? Unlikely to have time to do justice to both function and telling a story so pick one to really work with in depth. Ask students which one in previous lesson? At elementary = aim should be building confidence, rather than rushing through and ‘finishing’ everything. Repetition, practice, chances to use the language.
So I choose apologies (I think my students will be able to use this every lesson – they’re always having problems! And useful when they travel/meet new people) Stories are great too, but I’ve got to pick one – not enough time to do justice to both.
Where could you start? How can you engage them in the topic?
The image in 3A might not generate much conversation, though the story is good. Set up situation – clear context. Going into work. You had this problem from image (either cartoon or p93 pictures). What did you say to your boss? Mini roleplay – test what they already know. Start from communication rather than language (TBL) + help students to notice the gap. Tells you how much you need to teach them later.
Could also start with images from p93 – what are the problems? Who apologies? Why? Start with finding out what students already know.
Or the excuses vocab from 2A/2B if they’re a lower level and really need the help, or this could follow looking at the images if it turns out they don’t know the language – they’re producing ‘lost keys’ ‘didn’t wake up’.
> Materials needed = images scanned/photoed from your phone (with copyright information!) rather than spending time Googling other images, or the book software if you have access to it, or a quick cartoon you can draw on the board of one of the situations from the book, or you need 3A/3B from book/board. If in book, ask students to cover ex 4 onwards.
Various options for next stage: if you’re confident, you can work with student-generated language and build up dialogue with them on board, adding in phrases from 4A/4B/4C as needed – could be engaging if you can keep everyone involved, could also be very teacher-centred! Less teacher-centred = they write out their roleplay in pairs/groups and you go round feeding in language. If less confident, work through 4A/4B/4C as is. = meaning, form. Language bank gives some extra practice if needed.
BUT what’s missing? What about pron, drilling, memorisation, student confidence? Will they be able to use these phrases accurately and fluently later? This is where your time will probably go in an elementary functions lesson! What could you do that’s minimal prep here? Key word drill, deletion drill, first letter drill, remember/test/write – all useful. Decide how much needed in the lesson.
> Materials needed: book, board, choice of key words (but students can help you decide those in the lesson – better if from them!)
Lots of practice of phrases, now back to context and communication.
Show them the framework from 5A (in book/photo on board with copyright/key words written on board – up to you, but minimal prep!) – pairs think of conversations between teacher and student, practice for a couple of minutes, ask if anyone wants to perform.
Could use 5B to show who apologises to who, or could elicit from students on board – probably more engaging and creative
They come up with more conversations, perhaps in a mingle – they haven’t moved yet in the lesson! Or use 5C as is – they listen and guess = engaging, reason to listen. Feed back on what they’ve done / Language upgrades / Ask if they’ve improved their confidence.
Intermediate grammar lesson
I ran out of time to discuss this in my presentation – I wanted to show how you could use the questions generated by the elementary spread to plan with another coursebook/level. I’m imagining planning a lesson for a group of 12 students, aged 16-45, about half and half teens and adults, with a 90-minute lesson of which the first 20 minutes are revision/HW check.
Here are my answers to the seven planning questions:
What do my students need the most?
Aim is to get them using relative clauses (which I know my intermediate students don’t use from observing them in previous lessons), not learning about Che; communication key – lots of speaking.
What do they already know? (in this case, at the planning stage what do I think they already know?)
Have seen defining clauses before, but probably don’t use. Maybe first time with non-defining within our school, but teens are likely to have seen it at school fairly recently and will probably be faster.
How much time do they need to bridge the gap? (in this case, what’s my prediction when I’m planning?)
Time spent on seeing what they already know about relative clauses, and giving them plenty of time to produce their own = start planning with the end of the lesson? Adults will need more time than teens.
How can I maximise engagement? (when answering this, I ended up writing out a whole plan!)
Teen students unlikely to know about him, and I’m not sure the adults will be that interested in him either. So raising interest important (could find another person to describe, but that creates loads of work and we want minimal prep!) Right from start, get them talking about films about famous people & they could return to this at end of the lesson producing their own description of person/film for example. Should be more accessible for all ages (could be real film or one they wish existed) – so a twist on the topic.
To segue to the reading, do a KWL chart. Or they could write 5 questions they want a film about Che to answer, rather than testing their knowledge (which I suspect most of them don’t have!) – student-generated = more interesting. Or use the photos but not the quiz? Lots of options!
When they were talking about their own people/films, did they use relative clauses? Probably not – so point this out to them before 1d to give them a reason to pay attention. 1g is OK as text follow-up, but won’t use that many relative clauses. But you could use it as another test of whether they’re producing relative clauses, since they’ve seen examples of them now – retelling a text is a great way to see what language they already use.
Bridge the gap by working with sentences you collected while monitoring when they were talking about their films, or predicted they’d get wrong before the lesson (this is a good approach if you’re less confident/find it difficult to hear what students say) – with relative clauses, the biggest problems are normally the form (word order, which relative pronoun to use, producing sentences like GGB is the actor who he played Che where the word the pronoun replaced isn’t removed) and the intonation difference between defining and non-defining clauses (Can they ‘hear the commas’?), so these are the things you should plan to help them with. Do memorisation work with Ex 1d to keep it in context – get students to reproduce sentences without looking (probably with some form of key word prompt), or read-remember-cover-write-check, or translate the sentence into their mother tongue then back into English with their books closed. In all cases, compare the differences between what they wrote and the original – they’ll notice the problems and you can point them out if they don’t! None of these ideas require extra prep! Keep the grammar bank in reserve if they really need extra form help, but you’ll lose the context of Che/famous people here.
For pron work, they read all of the sentences in 1d in pairs as quickly as possible, though without worrying about the pron of words like Che, Bernal and Rosario! You can get them to write he or it above the sentences to make it easier. Do an open class drill of any sentences that cause problems, including pointing out the commas and the difference that makes to intonation if they had trouble with it.
Another possible activity for practice: students write out a sentences from 1d, but separated (The photo is probably one of the best known photos in theworld. It was taken in 1960.) on scrap paper, then test each other by mingling with one piece of paper each and asking their partner to recombine them verbally. You don’t need to prep this – it’s a challenge to work out how to separate the sentences and students will learn from this, also chance to mingle and move around. This activity can take quite a long time though, so decide in the lesson whether it’s needed and have your scrap paper ready. No point spending ages prepping it yourself if you’re not going to end up using it! Could be reused as revision in future lessons too if you collect the scrap paper.
Then they do the writing/speaking about their film again at the end but with a new partner, and you can praise them on how many (more) relative clauses they’re using and/or how accurately they’re using them now compared to before!
What can the book support the students in?
See point 4.
What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
See point 4.
How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
They’ve moved, changed groupings, worked with heads up and heads down, and produced something creative (talking about their films). There’s speaking, listening (to their partners), writing (if you do the scrap paper activity), reading, grammar, pronunciation, and probably a bit of vocab from the reading or fed in during the speaking activities.
The lessons as described above:
are relatively flexible
leave the students space to show what they know
allow you to respond to their needs by filling gaps in their knowledge instead of trying to cover everything because it’s in the book (and are therefore more focussed and engaging)
require no extra materials, or some quick-to-prepare materials if you want to do this, using what’s in the coursebook as a jumping-off point
include time for memorisation and confidence-building
have a range of activity types, not just completing exercises from the book
give students the chance to notice their progress
require minimal preparation beyond thinking about the answers to the questions! No cutting up 🙂
If you want to have a go at this kind of brainstorming yourself, there’s a task called ‘One activity, multiple tasks’ in ELT Playbook 1. Find out how to get your copy via the ELT Playbook blog and share your ideas on social media or in the comments below.
Probably the topic I’ve presented on the most, but this version of the presentation was with a twist: I had no voice! That means the slides are more detailed than usual as they had to do the speaking for me. Thanks to those who attended and read along 🙂 Since the last version (already 5 years old!) I’ve added a little bit about podcasting and about ELT Playbook.
The slides include clickable links, but for ease of blog readers, I’ve also included a summary with links below as well. Feel free to ask me any questions or add other resources you think are useful for those starting out with online professional development.
Twitter and #ELTchat are where my online professional development started, and as I’ve written before, they changed my life. The #ELTchat hashtag is one of the most active English-teaching-related hashtags on Twitter. The peak of activity is from 19:00-20:00 UK time every Wednesday, when a single topic is discussed. This continues for the next 24 hours in a slow burn on that same topic. The whole discussion is then summarised by one person in a blog post. All of the summaries are available in the #ELTchat summaries index, a one-stop shop for a huge amount of professional development. The hashtag is active throughout the week as people share ideas, resources and questions on all manner of ELT topics.
To find ELT people to follow, look at who’s posting in #ELTchat and who they follow. I’m @sandymillin on Twitter if you want to see who I follow.
If you have a facebook account already, this is probably the easiest way to start your online professional development. Some people have two separate profiles, or a profile and a page: one for personal use and the other for professional use. I don’t, but only because I’ve been using facebook for so long it would take me hours to separate them now – I do only accept requests from people I’ve interacted with though.
Webinars are online seminars which you can follow live or watch as recordings whenever and wherever you like. Access to some recordings are restricted to members of particular organisations. There are a huge range of ELT webinars available now, covering pretty much every topic you can think of.
The easiest way to find webinars is to put “______ webinars” into your favourite search engine, substituting _____ for a particular topic e.g. “teaching English pronunciation”, or any of the following providers:
National Geographic Learning
Oxford University Press
Cambridge University Press
If you’re looking for something bite-sized, the IH Teachers Online Conferences include lots of 10-minute webinars. You could also look at my webinar bookmarks, or the regular lists of upcoming webinars posted by Adi Rajan on his blog, like this one for February and March 2019. Adi lists webinars both inside and outside ELT which he considers relevant.
As with facebook, if you already listen to podcasts this is a very easy way to add a bit of CPD to your life. My three favourite TEFL podcasts are:
45 minutes with three areas: TEFL news, TEFL pioneers, TEFL cultures
30-45-minute interviews with people from across the TEFL profession
The guys from TEFLology have also written a book called Podcasting and professional development [affiliate link] which tells you how you can start creating your own podcasts, as well as providing a longer list of podcasts related to teaching.
Here are four blogs which are written by English teachers in Poland:
Of course, no presentation I do nowadays is complete without mentioning ELT Playbook, my series of books containing tasks to help teachers improve their ability to reflect on their careers. Each task is accompanied by reflection questions and ideas for ways to summarise your reflections in a blogpost, video or audio recording, Instagram-style post, or a private teaching journal.
ELT Playbook 1 was launched just over a year ago, aimed particularly at new teachers, but also at managers and trainers who work with them, or more experienced teachers who want to go back to basics.
ELT Playbook Teacher Training is in the final stages of preparation, and will hopefully be ready to buy in the next 2-3 weeks – watch this space! It’s aimed at those new to teacher training, either in training or management positions, and also has tasks which could help those creating workshops or conference presentations for the first time.
This should give you a good starting point for your own online professional development. What other resources would you suggest? And what questions do you have?
Way back in December I ran a 45-minute conference session based on a task from ELT Playbook 1, ‘One activity, multiple tasks’, which appears in the ‘Being creative’ section of the book.
The book features 30 tasks designed particularly to help new teachers to reflect as they start out in ELT, but they are also suitable for managers and trainers who need ideas for professional development sessions. I was also partly inspired by the ideas in The Lazy Teacher Trainer’s Handbook by Magnus Coney [affiliate link], which advocates minimal planning and exploiting the knowledge in the room wherever possible. The final reason I chose this was that I was running out of time to plan my session as I was organising the whole day, and I needed to run two workshops! The other one was about how to learn a language, in case you’re interested.
Before the session, I choose an activity at random from a teacher’s book. The one I ended up with was to revise future forms, taken from page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It features a page of questions like this:
A Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream! B It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
A I’m freezing! BShall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?
…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to. This planning stage took me about 15 minutes – 10 to decide what I was going to do in the session (i.e. which ELT Playbook 1 task I was going to exploit!), and 5 to pick and photocopy the activity.
In the abstract for the session it said that teachers would come away with lots of ideas for how to exploit activities. As the session started, I told them that those ideas would be coming from all of us in the room, not just me!
We started by them completing the original exercise. I demonstrated how to do quick feedback by getting different pairs to write their answers on the board, then just dealing with any questions where there was confusion. We were about 10 minutes into the session at this point.
In the same pairs, teachers worked together to list as many ways as they could think of to set-up, vary or exploit that same activity. They did this on the back of the sheet (minimal materials prep!) I put a few prompts on the board to help, something like: speaking, writing, listening, reading, alone, pairs, groups, class, etc. and elicited one or two examples to start them off. They had 10 minutes to make their lists.
At the same time, and once I’d checked they were all on track, I made my own list* on the back of my paper (minimal prep! Also, I ran out of time to do it before the session and thought it might be useful if at least some of the ideas came from me!)
We put our lists face up on our chairs for the ‘stealing’ stage. We read everybody else’s lists, putting a * next to any activities we didn’t understand. More *** meant that lots of people didn’t understand. This took about 5 minutes, so we were 25 minutes through the session.
Next people added any of the extra activities they liked the sound of to their own lists. 5 more minutes, 15 minutes left.
For the next 10 minutes, different people demonstrated the activities that had stars next to them in front of the whole group. As I expected, most of the ‘different people’ were me – I’d deliberately picked some slightly obscure things to stretch their range of ideas a bit!
In the final 5 minutes, I told them about ELT Playbook 1 and suggested they try this kind of brainstorming with other activities they want to use in class to help them vary their lesson planning. Right at the end, they had to tell their partner one activity they’d thought of or heard about in the session which they planned to try next week. The whole session went pretty well, I think, and I got good feedback afterwards. 🙂
These are the ideas I came up with in 10 minutes:
Remove the options.
I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)
Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1 on a slip of paper, copying the English onto the other side. They then walk around showing other students the L1 to be translated.)
One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response
Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard; teacher/a student says A, teams run and write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”
Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂
Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!
Regular followers of this blog may have noticed I’ve been writing and talking a lot about working with new teachers, particularly over the last year. In the last month, International House have shared three of the things I have produced on this theme.
In the talk I suggested a range of different ways that managers and trainers can support teachers as they take their first steps in their careers. I based it roughly around an extended version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m not going to share the slides separately, as I don’t think they’ll tell you much by themselves, so you’ll just have to watch the presentation! 🙂 You can watch all of the other sessions from the day here and there was also a parallel Modern Language Conference, with sessions on teaching Arabic, Italian, Russian, French and Spanish.
The second is part of my series for the IH Journal, published in Issue 44, entitled ‘Working with new teachers: the things they say’. It’s the first of two parts (the next one will be in the autumn edition) where I list some of the typical comments I hear from new teachers at our school, and the things that I normally say in response. It’s written for both new teachers themselves and the people who work with them. Again, I’d recommend reading the whole journal, as it really showcases the diversity of knowledge within International House.
The final thing is another video, recording at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers Conference in January this year, and published this week.
This one is aimed directly at new teachers, and gives 3 minutes’ worth of tips to help them out.
If you’re a new teacher, I hope you enjoy your time in this amazing career. If you’re working with new teachers, I hope there are some useful reminders here for you. 🙂
This weekend, March 10th and 11th 2018, the rather excellent EFLtalks is hosting two days of talks with 24 women presenting. Each talk is 10 minutes long, with 10 slides only. Here’s the blurb from the facebook page:
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!!! To celebrate, we have put together two days with 24 of EFL’s top Women from around the world with 10 in 10 presentations – “Inspiring Women of ELT.” We have many prizes and special surprises lined up so don’t miss out. It’s free!! Join us Saturday and Sunday for the biggest Women’s Day Event on the web and be inspired!!
I’m very grateful to Rob Howard for organising this, and very proud to have been asked to participate. I will, of course, be talking about ELT Playbook 1. I’m really looking forward to finding out what these other wonderful ladies have to say. I’ll see you there!
My very first presenting experience was sharing a couple of activities at a swapshop at a PARK conference, I think in 2009. I went to every one of the PARK conferences while I lived in Brno, so it was lovely to be invited to present this time round, and to be able to do it due to a Polish national holiday 🙂
I did a version of a talk I first presented at IATEFL 2014, sharing activities you can use to train students to understand real-world listening, not just coursebook audio. You can find it here, along with all of the audio from the presentation.
If you’d like to find other resources connected to listening skills, beyond the ones shared in the presentation, I would also recommend:
Today I had the pleasure of attending the annual International House Torun Teacher Training Day, which consisted of pizza, twenty small workshops divided into four slots of five sessions each, a break with more pizza and some yummy Torun gingerbread, a walk to a local hotel, a plenary with Adrian Underhill, and a Q&A session with various experts, of which I am now apparently one 😉
Here are some of the things I learnt:
Growth mindset should be influencing the feedback I give students and trainees, by focussing on effort and process/strategy, rather than natural talent and results. James Egerton gave us examples like ‘You concentrated hard on my last comments, so well done.’
‘Yet‘ is really important in feedback, as it implies that something is achievable. Consider: ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian.’ and ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian yet.’ It turns out that even Sesame Street know the power of ‘yet’!
The reason the sentences ‘They just don’t have a language learning brain.’ and ‘You must be really good at learning languages.’ annoy me so much is probably because they imply a fixed mindset, whereas even before I had a term for it, I always believed that anyone can do anything with some degree of success if they have the motivation and put in the time.
I think it could be a very good idea to have a CELTA input session on mindsets very early in the course. I wonder what influence that would have on trainees’ ability to accept feedback?
It doesn’t matter how many times I see Kylie Malinowska do the elephant story, it’s still enjoyable, and I still can’t keep up! I discovered that it comes from Drama with Children [affiliate link] by Sarah Phillips.
There are at least 15 things you can do after doing a dictation when students have put the paper on their heads to draw the picture you describe. Before today I only ever got them to describe it to each other. Though the only one I can remember without asking Kylie for the slide is battleships!
Using MadLibs with children is actually incredibly useful, as it encourages them to solve problems and notice when language doesn’t fit, but also appeals to their love of the ridiculous. I’d always thought they were a bit pointless before!
You can bring language from a student’s family and friends into lessons through things like doing surveys, doing project work, writing biographies, sharing photographs or doing show and tell. Dave Cleary explained that even if students do these in L1 at home, they’ll bring them to class in L2, and they’ll have a real reason to use the language.
A great activity for playing with language is to take a photo of a famous person the students know, and get them to finish sentences like ‘He’d look really great/silly with…[earrings, a long ponytail, etc.]
Telling students the story behind an idiom, whether real or made up, can help them to remember the correct wording, and maybe also the context where you’re most likely to use it, according to Chris McKie.
There is a Hungarian idiom meaning something like ‘Let’s see what happens’ which translates as ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’.
Adrian Underhill may have been talking about the pronunciation chart for a long time, but he still considers it to be outside the mainstream of ELT.
He’s incredibly passionate about it, and it’s very entertaining and engaging to be taught to understand the chart by him. I knew bits and pieces about how it fit together and how to teach it before, but I now understand it in a lot more depth.
All pronunciation can be boiled down to four core muscle ‘buttons’: lips (spread and back or rounded and forward), tongue (forward or back), jaw (up or down) and voice (on or off). This helped me to understand how I produce some sounds in English in more depth, and even one in French that I managed to learn but had never been consciously aware of how to produce!
If he was a cheese, Adrian would be some form of blue cheese – he went into a lot more depth about this, and I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question!
Thanks to Glenn Standish and the IH Torun team for organising such an enjoyable day. Lots of ideas to think about, as always!
On 4th March 2017, I went back to my roots to present at the IH Brno local conference, this year called ‘Sugar and Spice’.
This one-day conference is where I did my first full-length conference presentation in 2011. That presentation was called A Whole New World of ELT and was about all the many ways you could develop your teaching using online resources. My presentations now are much more pared down and focussed, and (I hope!) more accessible because of that – when I first started I tried to pack way too much in there. I was also seduced by new toys at that point and made an all-singing, all-dancing Prezi, which makes me dizzy looking at it now, and took hours and hours to make. Simple PowerPoint slides are definitely the way to go!
I had a brilliant time at the conference, including seeing Hana Ticha present for the first time and taking part in a Live Online Workshop from the conference, which will be available as a recording soon. Thanks for a great weekend, IH Brno!
Each year IH Bydgoszcz holds a Cambridge Day to give ideas to teachers in the local area to help them teach Main Suite exams. Recently, our sister school, IH Toruń, has become an exam centre too, so to celebrate, we held events in both cities this year. My session was designed to share some (perhaps) less well-known online resources which can be used by teachers who are preparing students for both exams. These are the sites which I shared:
Cambridge Phrasal Verbs apps
Amusing cartoons and a matching game designed to help students remember 100 phrasal verbs. As far as I know they’re a different hundred in each!
A collection of FCE resources for students and teachers which I recommend, including among other things a link to FCE: The Musical!, a 60-minute webinar by Andy Scott with lots more ideas of ways to make exam preparation interesting.
Richer Speaking is my ebook, which includes a section with activities for extending speaking, aimed at encouraging students to produce longer stretches of language. This is especially useful for the picture tasks in Cambridge exams.
I’ve heard about this talk from the 2013 IH Director of Studies conference many times, so when YouTube suggested it to me this evening, I finally decided to watch it. I’m glad I did.
In this 52-minute talk, Tessa describes a framework based largely on work by Michael Huberman describing teachers’ impressions of the different stages of our professional life cycle. It was full of fascinating quotes from teachers, many of which rang true with stages I have been through or people who I have worked with.
When searching for a link to Huberman’s work, I also came across this IH Journal article by Ron White on Teachers’ Professional Life Cycles, which covers some of the same ground as Tessa’s talk, although I’m not sure if it pre- or post-dates the presentation.
On a completely different note, it was also a pleasure to see a presentation which doesn’t rely on PowerPoint, and it inspires me to have a go at a different presentation style for at least one talk over the next year. I do it sometimes on CELTA, but have always used PowerPoint for conferences and seminars.
It would be good to know whether you think this kind of framework has practical applications, or whether it’s just something that’s interesting to be aware of.
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.
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 🙂
Teachers blog for many different reasons. Here are just a few.
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.
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!
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.
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!)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
John Hughes is a materials writer, trainer and teacher. His posts include advice on materials design, classroom observation and business English.
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) 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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):
One of my all-time favourite cartoons 🙂 Thanks xkcd!
Now that I’ve whet your appetite and you want to get involved, here are three simple steps to starting your own blog:
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.
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.
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 😉
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? 🙂
…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.
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.
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!
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:
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!
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:
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.
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!
Today I had the pleasure of taking parting in the IH Bydgoszcz Cambridge methodology day. I presented a range of activities to help teachers prepare students for the Cambridge First and Cambridge Advanced writing exams.
The slides from the presentation and all of the resources can be found below. You can download everything from slideshare, for which you will need to create a free account. The links in the presentation are clickable. You’ll find full details of all of the activities in the notes which accompany each slide, which you’ll be able to see when you download the presentation.
I’d like to thank David Petrie and Pavla Milerski for activities which they allowed me to incorporate into the presentation, and Anna Ermolenko and Tim Julian for other ideas which didn’t make it in in the end. If you’d like more ideas, you can watch David’s webinar on writing skills for exam practice. Being connected to a network of such helpful teachers is so useful. Thank you!
On Thursday 21st May 2015 I was honoured to present as part of the British Council webinar series. Since blogging is such a central part of my teaching and my life, I’m often asked about it. In this webinar, I tell you:
where to find blogs connected to teaching;
what to do with the posts you read;
how to keep up with the blogs;
how to start your own blog.
Here is a recording of the webinar, including a list of many of the blogs which were shared by myself and the participants during the talk. Here are my slides: All of the links in the presentation should be clickable. If any of them don’t work, please let me know. If you have a favourite blog to read, feel free to share it in the comments so that others can follow it too. And if you start a teaching blog, I’d love to hear about it. Good luck!
On Monday, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Katherine Bilsborough, one of my fellow TeachingEnglish Associates. She was in Palma (where I’m working this month) doing a seminar on behalf of OUP. The other presenter was Jessica Toro, who I know from going to IH Director of Studies conferences. It’s a small world!
Their sessions were very useful, and since I didn’t have wifi access, I decided to take my cue from Christina Rebuffet-Broadus and have a go at my first ever sketch-notes. Looking at Christina’s notes now, I probably tried to pack a bit too much into mine, but I’m quite pleased with them for a first attempt. You’ll notice the notes from Jessica’s talk are a lot more adventurous as I got more confident 🙂 Let me know if you want text explanations of anything I put on there.
Katherine’s talk was about how to make the most of your coursebook, particularly if you’re working with primary-age children.
Jessica told us how to help students get ready for young learner exams.
Both sessions had lots of activities in them which makes me a tiny bit more confident about offering advice to teachers about young learner classes next year!
One of the things which most annoys me when talking to people about International House (IH) is the assumption that it is a franchise. A franchise is an organisation where every branch is pretty much the same regardless of where you are in the world (think McDonald’s or Starbucks). IH is actually an affiliate network: schools have to fulfil certain criteria to be allowed to use the IH brand and to get the benefits of being part of the network, as well as paying an affiliation fee, but they are free to do this in any way they choose, resulting in an incredibly diverse group of schools.
Click on the map to find out all the places which have IH schools
I’ve worked for IH since 2008, and in that time I’ve been privileged to see many of the schools in the network, particularly over the last year. I decided to share a little of the diversity of the schools I’ve visited in my presentation for the May 2015 IH Teachers’ Online Conference (IH TOC 7).
Today I had the pleasure of presenting a Live Online Workshop for International House teachers around the world.
The topic was the use of images in the classroom, including an introduction to ELTpics. This was the abstract:
Picture this: ELTpics and images in the classroom
Images are the language of the 21st century. How can we exploit them to maximise our students’ language production? This webinar will introduce you to ELTpics, a collection of nearly 25,000 images shared by teachers and other members of the ELT profession and available for you to use in the classroom. Learn how to make the most of the collection with activities to use the ELTpics images, those in your coursebooks and those your learners bring with them every day.
You can watch a recording of the session, which will take you 56 minutes:
Almost all of the activities were taken from the blogs of various wonderful people, as well as the ELTpics blog. Here are the links:
Information about how to credit ELTpics images can be found on the attribution page of the ELTpics website.
I also shared two mosaic makers. On BigHugeLabs, you can use the Flickr links or images which you have on your computer. For Fotor you need to have the images on your computer first. I think the Fotor mosaics look nicer, and you have more options for layouts on them, but you can include more images in a BigHugeLabs mosaic.
Finally, you can download the slides, which will give you a summary of all of the activities (not all of them have links above):
[I believe you need a free SlideShare account to be able to download the slides]
I haven’t had time to write on my blog in the past few months, but I did manage to do a couple of very short pieces for others while I was on one of my recent long bus journeys.
One of these was for the British Council Teaching English website as part of their monthly blogging challenges. I wrote on the theme of professional development, with the title ‘Developing Myself and Others‘. Click on the link to read the post.
I’m currently assistant course tutor on a CELTA in Vancouver which runs until the 19th December. I’ll then have a few days in Seattle, then head back to the UK for Christmas, where I’m hoping to apply for my Russian visa and get back to Sevastopol, at which point I might have time to blog again!
This week we’re running a series of 90-minute teacher training seminars at IH Sevastopol. The first is about online professional development.
This is a topic I’ve covered many times before, but since I change the slides a little each time, I’ve uploaded the latest version below. To hear the most similar recorded version, go to my October 2013 Online CPD post. July 2014’s version is slightly different from slide 12 onwards.
The only other difference, not included in the slides, is that the Teaching English British Council facebook page now has over 2.5 million likes! What a great community to be part of!
Hive of Activities: a blog by Emma Gore-Lloyd, where she shares activities she’s found useful in her class, particularly for FCE, CAE and CPE;
my diigo list of exam-related bookmarks, which I constantly add to. You can narrow it down by clicking ‘+’ next to any of the sub-categories on the left. For example, clicking ‘+’ next to ‘FCE’ will show you only my FCE links.
For those who don’t know IH TOC is the regular International House Teacher’s Online Conference. This time round the conference has returned to the successful 10-minute presentation format of IHTOC60, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of IH.
My presentation offered advice on how to raise your professional profile. You can watch the video below:
Feel free to ask me questions about any of the ideas, or to ask for more advice. I’m always happy to help! You can also watch all of the other talks.
I’ve just finished my presentation at the International House Teachers’ Online Conference to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the IH organisation. All of the presentations are 10 minutes long, and there are 60 presentations in total. All of the videos are (will be) available on the blog. There’s something for everyone!
For my presentation I had the difficult job of choosing 10 blogs to share with the world. I decided to choose blogs which I go back to again and again and/or which lead readers to other great bloggers. Sorry if I had to miss you out! Here is the presentation, handout and the video. Ten blogs in ten minutes (IH TOC 60)
International House is celebrating 50 years of teacher training courses. The first course took place in 1962, and was the forerunner to what is now the CELTA. As part of the celebrations, a one-day online conference has been organised for Friday 25th May 2012, and I am one of the presenters.
As it is my first webinar, I thought I would present on a topic I am familiar with, so I chose ‘Twitter for Professional Development’.
Here are all of the links I shared during my presentation:
I shared these ideas and links with colleagues at my school during a 45-minute workshop. They are meant to help us all get more use out of our electronic whiteboards, which are sometimes only used as an oversize television, or at best a way to access Google. I presented four tools, and demonstrated a couple of ways to use each of them. Since I’m not too confident with the pen functions of our IWBs, and the calibration needs to be redone quite regularly, all of these tools could equally well be used with projector too.
Not just a presentation tool! PowerPoint is actually very versatile, and is great for vocabulary revision games. There are many templates on the web which are (relatively) easy to download and adapt. I have also written a post showing you how to make two games: one for hidden pictures and the other flashing pictures up quickly for students to remember vocabulary.
Triptico is my favourite IWB tool because it is versatile, easy to use, constantly updated, and best of all, free! David has created a video showing how to use a lot of the tools within Triptico. I shared my ideas for using Triptico here and recorded a video showing you how to download it and use word magnets, although it’s a little out-of-date. This is what Triptico looks like now, and there are about twice as many functions as there were a year ago when I made the video:
To declare an interest, I am one of the curators of the Flickr #eltpics site and it is something I am very proud to be a part of. Teachers, writers and other interested parties from all over the world share photos on Twitter, including the #eltpics hashtag in their tweets. A group of us then upload them to Flickr, where they are then available for anybody to use in classroom materials or on blogs, with no need to worry about copyright restrictions. There are only two conditions: that you attribute the photos to the photographer (their name is under each picture) and that you do not make any money from anything featuring the images. At the time of writing, we have just topped 8000 images divided into 66 sets, and we also take requests for topics or types of image which people would like us to add. You can see the 10 most recently uploaded #eltpics at the bottom of the right-hand column on this blog.
I also shared Big Huge Labs excellent mosaic maker and captioner, which are a great to use with #eltpics. You could use the captioner as a way to revise or introduce a particular piece of language. Here’s a picture I added captions too. It was taken by Ian James (@ij64):
Quizlet is an online flashcards site, where you can search for content which has already been created, or make your own flashcards. The scatter and space race functions are both great for an IWB/projector. I have written a complete guide to Quizlet over on my blog for students.
Here are a few other posts I have written with ideas or tips which might also be useful:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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-joeword 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.
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:
Here are all of the key words mentioned above:
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.
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.
I’m currently in the process of preparing for my IATEFL presentation in March 2012. Here is the title and abstract:
Go online: getting your students to use internet resources
What factors help or hinder students’ uptake and continued use of online materials to aid their English learning outside the classroom?
What can teachers do in class to encourage students to take advantage of available materials and help them to overcome any obstacles?
This talk will detail the results of action research done in my classes.
It’s supposed to be based on classroom research, and I have been collecting information from my students, but I would really like to widen the research to make it a little more valid, since most of my learners come from similar backgrounds, and one of the things I am aiming to create is a list of characteristics of students who do and don’t take advantage of online materials. If it’s only based on my 20-40 year old students at a private language school in the UK, it’s not going to be relevant to many 🙂
I would be very grateful if you could ask your students to complete the questionnaire below. Could you also forward it to other teachers you know who may not be on Twitter/blogs for their students?
30 tasks for new teachers to help them learn to reflect on their teaching, as well as build up an online community. Also great as a refresher for experienced teachers, or as session prompts for trainers and managers. The ebook is just £5/€5.50 - less than the price of a cinema ticket! Also available as a paperback.
What are you waiting for? Get your copy today!
30 tasks for teacher trainers to help them learn to reflect on their teaching, as well as build up an online community.
A collection of techniques for adapting speaking activities. Click the image to read more and to find links to purchase it for less than 1 USD a copy! (Published by the round)
#eltpics is a collection of photos, based on a weekly theme, taken by ELT teachers, trainers and writers from around the world.
These are, in turn, available free to others in the field of ELT under a CC license to use in their classroom and on their non-commercial materials.
Anyone interested in joining in can tweet an image with the hashtag #eltpics, and it will then be added to the #eltpics Flickr group.
For a more detailed explanation of how to join in, please see this post.
For ideas on how to use some of the photos, visit the eltpics blog.
It was nominated for an ELTons award in 2013.
You can see the last 10 photos uploaded to the site below:
Sandy Millin is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.