Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘learner training’

IATEFL Manchester 2015: The ones I missed

For various reasons, not least the sheer size of the conference, there were various talks I missed during IATEFL. Thanks to the power of the internet, I’ve managed to catch up with some of them through tweets, videos and/or blogposts. Here’s a selection of them:

The ear of the beholder: helping learners understand different accents – Laura Patsko

Laura’s talk was on at the same time as mine so I wasn’t able to watch it. I know it started with her ‘having a cold’ to demonstrate how we can make meaning evefn when the sounds we hear don’t correspond with our expectations, and I’m intrigued to hear more about her suggestions. She’s shared her presentation, and hopefully there will be a video of at least some of it soon!

Here’s one of her tweets from another point in the conference:

Fostering autonomy: harnassing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Lizzie‘s talk was also in the same slot as mine and Laura’s – so many possible times and they put us all on in the same one! Lizzie has written a lot about autonomy on her blog, and demonstrated it with her own Italian learning. The aspect of learner training is key when trying to encourage autonomy, and is one I’m sure Lizzie’s presentation would have helped me with. Thankfully, she’s blogged about it as has Olga Sergeeva, but it’s not quite the same as hearing it first-hand. I’m hoping the gods of IATEFL shine on all three of us next year and put us on at separate times!

Where are the women in ELT? – Russell Mayne and Nicola Prentis

As with last year, the talk which Russ was involved in is one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. Nicola and Russ picked a subject which is another very important discussion point, after Russ tackled the myths of EFL in 2014. [Original text (see comments for why I’ve kept this) As with last year, Russ’s talk is the one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. He has a way of picking subjects which are very good discussion points, and this year he was ably assisted by Nicola Prentis.] Their talk immediately followed my own and was in a tiny room, so I knew it was wishful thinking to believe I might get in, but I tried anyway. A whole group of us were waiting outside, disappointed. Last year Russ’s talk was officially recorded (content is currently being updated on the IATEFL 2014 site), and Russ and Nicola have recorded their own version this year – thank you! This area is one of particular interest to me, being a woman and in ELT as I am. 🙂 Through the Fair List, I’d become aware of the fact that plenary speakers at conferences are often men speaking to a room full of women, which seems odd. As I understand it, Russ and Nicola were questioning the fact that men feature dispropotionately at the ‘top’ of the ELT profession, despite it being a female-dominated one in general.

They did an interview about it which you can watch as a taster:

Here are two of the blog posts which were triggered by their talk, both of which have fascinating discussions in the comments which are well worth reading:

  • He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! Steve Brown highlights the amount of time that the ‘big’ names highlighted in Russ and Nicola’s talk have been at the top (something which they mentioned in their interview too)
  • P is for Power: Scott Thornbury questions the balance of power in the ELT profession, not just in terms of gender, but also covering native/non-native speakers and the socio-economic circumstances that teaching takes place in.

Russ and Nicola have also set up their own website to examine gender equality in ELT, with a lot more information about their research. At other points in the conference there were tweets about increasing the number of non-native speakers visible at conferences and in the global community.

Walk before you run: reading strategies for Arabic learners – Emina Tuzovic

I saw Emina speaking about helping Arabic students with spelling at IATEFL last year, and she subsequently very kindly wrote a guest post summarising her talk for this blog. I’m hoping to encourage her to do the same again this year, as her ideas are very practical and deal with areas which there isn’t much coverage of in the literature I’ve read.

People, pronunciation and play – Luke Meddings

Luke shared a couple of his ideas in an interview:

I really like Luke’s focus on playing with language, which is something I’ve become more and more interested in.

Olga Sergeeva went to Luke’s talk and wrote a summary of the whole thing, although she admitted it was difficult because they were laughing too much!

Tools, tips and tasks for developing materials writing skills – John Hughes

John has shared his slides, which gives me a taster of the tips he has for developing these skills. I think the most important idea is to ‘develop a materials radar’, which echoes what Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones talked about in their presentation on using images at the MAWSIG PCE.


Mike Harrison talked about using Vine to make short videos, and Shaun Wilden and Nikki Fortova looked at apps on the iPad to do the same.
Here’s an idea from Nicky Hockley to use a mobile phone to practise past continuous:

If you’re considering whether to use technology in your class or not, this handout could be useful:

Random tweets

These are things which I retweeted because they made me think. I’m sharing them here to make sure I don’t forget those thoughts and to see what you think. They’re loosely grouped into topics where possible.

Student abilities
Memory and engagement

These link back to Joy Egbert’s plenary.

Materials design and the importance of editors

An opportunity for anyone wanting to get into materials design?

This looks amazing!

…and on Twitter!

And if you decide to self-publish:


Patsy’s accompanying blogpost is available on the OUP blog.

Empowering teachers

Yes, yes, yes to all of these!

Training and professional development

(Hoping the rate of sickness at IH Bydgoszcz doesn’t go up when I take over as DoS!) 😉

About language

Other people’s blogging

Lots of people were blogging throughout the conference. You can find a full list of all of the IATEFL Manchester registered bloggers on the ManchesterOnline site.

IATEFL Manchester Online 2015 registered blogger

As always, Lizzie Pinard was very prolific, and has helpfully indexed all of her posts. Apart from the plenaries, I only went to one of the same talks, so there’s a lot to catch up on! Olya Sergeeva also has an index of the posts she wrote about the sessions she went to, including some which I’ve linked to above. Tyson Seburn wrote about his bite-sized takeaways from the conference. Jen McDonald summarised the talks she saw in short paragraphs. The British Council had a number of roving reporters at the conference, one of whom was David Dodgson.

IATEFL online

Apart from the many sources I’ve mentioned above, there is, of course, the wonderful resources that is IATEFL online, full of interviews and recorded sessions, at least some of which I hope to find the time to watch at some point in the future. Are there any you would particularly recommend?

How I’m learning Russian

I’d hate to have me as a student.

I very rarely do homework, so much so that my teacher has given up setting it for me.

I cancel about one lesson in four, normally the one on a Saturday. I’ve recently moved it to a Thursday in the hope that I’ll be more likely to have time then. I have two 90-minute lessons a week, the other being on Monday. We’ve never managed to make up a missed lesson, and since I pay on a lesson-by-lesson basis, this must create quite a lot of financial uncertainty, which I feel bad about.

At times, I hijack the lesson and tell my teacher exactly what activities I want to do. The last example of this was after she used a bilingual Quizlet set to introduce clothes words to me at the end of our Monday lesson. In a very rare spurt of motivation, I had twenty minutes on Wednesday night, and ten minutes on Thursday morning during which I managed to play with the words and kind of learn about 70% of them. I started the lesson by drawing pictures of clothes all over the board and writing the words next to them.

Russian clothes on the board

This took about 20 minutes. I then asked my teacher to define words for me, which meant she had to teach me verbs like ‘wear’, ‘get dressed’ and ‘put on’, and prepositional phrases like ‘on your head’, ‘on your feet’. She then turned the tables and made me define words for her. This whole process took 90 minutes, and meant we had no time to do anything she had prepared. I wrote notes throughout, and listened to and spoke more Russian than I had in any other lesson throughout the year. She told me: “You’re ready for it now.”

I constantly make demands about what I want from my lessons. My main demand is to have my lessons entirely in Russian (or as entirely as possible for a beginner/elementary student), but this is difficult because of the above statement/belief, that you have to have a certain amount of language to be ‘ready’ to speak/listen to more. This is not a choice I have in the real world, where I have to deal with whatever is thrown at me, and the person who’s speaking to me often doesn’t know how to change their language to help me understand.

We’ve also got into the habit of speaking English in class. In an average 90-minute lesson my teacher probably speaks about 10 sentences of spontaneous Russian which are not read from a piece of paper and/or accompanied by an English translation. I speak less than this, and occasionally read new vocabulary/sentences from the page, although this is not consistent – I probably only say about 50% of the new language that is introduced to me during any one class. Both of us have spoken a bit more Russian in the last couple of lessons because I’ve made more of an effort, but it hasn’t lasted long. The rest of the lesson is in English, including chats and all grammar explanations. I rarely have to produce any Russian that isn’t part of a drill based on an exercise from a worksheet. I’m trying to speak a bit more Russian in class now, but I don’t have a lot of the classroom language I need unless I ask for it to be translated, because I’ve never heard it or been made to use it.

Most of the published materials my teacher uses are taken from a text-only coursebook, with lists of vocabulary and dialogues, or a slightly more ‘designed’ coursebook with some pictures and tables. Both of them are through the medium of English. I have no idea how you find published materials to learn Russian if you don’t already speak English (this is true of a lot of none-EFL materials). We have occasionally used a website with some very entertaining short videos telling the story of John, a Canadian visiting Russia, which is available in various languages. The videos are very short – less than a minute each – and accompanied by subtitles in Russian or other languages if you want to read them.

We have never listened to any ‘real’ Russian in class, like music or videos, or any audio designed for the classroom. All of my listening practice comes from life outside the classroom, very rarely with support from an English-speaker to help me, but English speakers normally do the work if they’re there, rather than me! That means that most of the time I’m trying to piece things together myself, using what skills I’ve picked up from learning other languages, and the pre-intermediate Czech that I know. This has, of course, got easier as the year has progressed.

I demand context, trying to move away from isolated vocabulary. I constantly ask for the prepositions and cases that go with the verbs/nouns, even though I know I won’t remember them at the moment. I try to get as much new language in sentences as possible. Having said that, I find the Quizlet sets useful for building up sets of vocabulary in topics like the body or clothes. I’m trying to get exposure to as much language as possible while I have access to somebody who can mediate it for me. During a lesson which isn’t based on materials, we fill a notebook with random notes. There’s a lot of Russian here, but it’s almost all written – there’s very little speaking, very little controlled practice, and almost no free(r) practice at all, unless I instigate it. The bit of text you can see in the top-left corner of the page is the second half of twenty minutes worth of writing I did at home to force myself to produce an extended stretch of Russian.

My Russian notebook

In some classes, I give my teacher English sentence after sentence I’ve tried to say in Russian during that week, but didn’t know, ask her to translate them, then fail to learn them. This week we have a week off school and I’ve finally had time to dedicate to Russian. I’ve copied out the sentences onto cards (made from A4 pieces of paper cut into 16 rectangles, yellow because it’s a happy colour!), with pictures on the other side as prompts. There’s a huge backlog, and I have no idea how long it’ll take to actually learn them.

Sentence cards

Sentence cards with pictures

My teacher has a degree in teaching Russian. She is a native speaker of the language, who also speaks very good English and knows bits of other languages, so can occasionally tell me when grammar is similar to other languages I speak. She is a lovely person to put up with me. She puts a lot of time and effort into preparing lessons and materials. Here’s an example of a summary of tenses she made:

Russian tense summary

She’s also started making Quizlet sets for me after I showed her the site and she realised that it motivated me! I copy the sets she’s made and get rid of the English if I can, trying to make things Russian only. When I got ill and was given a special diet, she translated the sheet I was given by the doctor and made me a list of all of the food in Russian and English, with pictures for things I might not know. When I found out just before a lesson that my grandad had been taken into hospital, she took me for a walk in the park and we chatted, then wouldn’t let me pay for the lesson.

The last lesson we had was at my flat, and she decided to try something different. We labelled everything in my kitchen that I didn’t know the names of already. I’d been meaning to do this for ages but hadn’t got round to it. We did this entirely in English, with me asking ‘How do you say…?’ in English. I was never forced to use Russian, and I forgot to try. I could have practised using the words in sentences and spelling them – although I can read Russian confidently now, I still have no idea how to say a lot of the letters. We could also have played a describing game again, but I didn’t think about that until I was writing this.

Russian has taken over my kitchen!

Russian has taken over my fridge!

When I have time, normally in three- to four-hour blocks about every six weeks, I transfer the language in my class notebook to a vocabulary notebook, organised by topic. This is the first time I’ve tried this approach, and I mostly use it as a dictionary. Copying the words/phrases helps me to recognise them, but I haven’t really used the notebook to learn.

My vocabulary notebook - pictures

With pictures and colours where possible…

My vocabulary notebook - English

…with English where it’s not. (or when I run out of motivation)

My vocabulary notebook - mix of pictures and English

With colour-coding to show grammar patterns

I also use index cards to write out grammar and some vocabulary sets, particularly those connected to time. I try to have as little English as possible on the cards, and use regular layout and colour-coding to help me reduce the need for English. If there is English, I often write it in tiny letters that are difficult to see – I want Russian to be the first thing I see when I look at the cards.

Russian index cards

Verb conjugation, time and reflexives

Index cards everywhere! Time time time...

Time index cards, showing colour-coding

I then blu-tack them all over my flat. (Blu-tack is the one thing that I always take with me when I move to a new place!)

Index cards everywhere!

Cards start on the cupboard I look at when I’m getting ready in the morning/doing my physio exercises

On the front door

They graduate to the inside of my front door when I think I know them. (Loosely arranged by grammar point, e.g. verbs at the top, and with the really easy stuff at the bottom)

Surrounded with postcards to be more interesting!

Surrounding them with postcards makes me more likely to look at them (maybe…)

This is what my desk looks like in the process:

My desk when I'm studying Russian


Some conclusions

  • Both the teacher and the student(s) need to have a lot of willpower to conduct the lesson entirely in the target language.
  • The student also needs to be given the classroom language they need to be able to operate in the target language.
  • The teacher needs to be flexible, to respond to the language that the student needs, the time they have available, and the mood they are in.
  • The student needs to make an effort to study what has been learnt in class.
  • Language should be introduced in context, rather than as isolated items. It should be learnt as chunks to start with, then pulled apart for grammar later.
  • Seeing language once is not enough. Students need to manipulate it, play with it, say it, use it, in class to help them remember it.
  • The student needs exposure to real language in the classroom environment to prepare them for what they will encounter outside the classroom.

Some methodological terms which I can hear you shouting at me

Comprehensible input

Lexical approach



What did I forget?

What’s next?

March and April have been pretty busy, both personally and professionally. They came not long after I’d finished Delta, and this week off has been a great opportunity to catch up and get a handle on a lot of things. Most of the things you can see in the photos in this post were written out in a one-day marathon study session. Three days later I had another whole day of study, which meant I finally finished copying everything out and caught up. This is something I want to avoid in the future!

I have therefore decided that in May I am going to try something (new) for thirty days and study Russian for 10 minutes every day. This could include any of the following activities:

  • Using my sentence cards, where I try to remember them/write them out
  • Reading my index cards out loud
  • Testing myself using my vocabulary notebook
  • Playing on Quizlet
  • Reading one of the free magazines/newspapers I’ve collected – highlighting the words I can understand
  • Watching a YouTube video in Russian, like Cheburashka or Russian Winnie the Pooh
  • Listening to a song and reading the lyrics (I need suggestions for this)
  • Writing a short text in Russian, including to Ann (who I wrote one short email to last time she suggested this!)
  • Recording myself speaking, then listening back and correcting it

Any other ten-minute activities I could try? I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month!

Update: here’s part two of the post, showing what I did over the following few weeks.

Writing journals with students

When I was working at IH Newcastle, I taught the same group for 20 hours a week, four hours a day, divided into two two-hour lessons. That’s quite a lot of time with the same group, and yet I sometimes found it difficult to get to know the students with any kind of consistency or depth, especially because there was so much coming and going: new students could arrive Monday morning, Monday afternoon and/or Tuesday morning, and every Friday some students left.

I decided to try an idea I’d first heard about at TESOL France in November 2011: journal writing. By the time I left Newcastle I’d done it successfully with groups at three different levels, with slightly different approaches in each case.

For all three levels, students wrote in small A6 notebooks from the school. I think this is the perfect size, as they’re not too daunting and it’s relatively easy to fill a page. When I introduced the journals for the first time, I asked the students to tell me anything they thought I should know about them. They could also ask me questions, about life in the UK, about English, or about me. I think it’s only fair to give them the chance to ask about me, if I want them to talk about themselves in this way. They had time in class to write their response. I then collected the journals and spent about an hour each day responding to all of them, with some correction (depending on whether I wanted that particular student to focus on accuracy or fluency when writing). As far as possible, my response consisted of answering any questions they’d asked me, then asking further questions as a prompt for the next day’s journal writing. The questions could be linked to things the students had told me, or on a completely new topic. The topics we covered in the journals were incredibly wide-ranging, and differed from student to student. They also informed some of the lessons I taught, by showing me what my students were interested in. Here are some of the things I remember talking about:

  • why the English drink so much
  • why Tesco is so popular
  • the North Korea/South Korea divide
  • the riots in Turkey
  • how to become a state school teacher in Spain
  • films and TV series (a lot!)
  • books
  • places to visit in Newcastle/the UK/the students’ own countries/cities
  • language learning (including advice on how to practise outside class)
  • family
  • homesickness
  • computer games
  • card games/tricks
  • …and much, much more…

When the students left my class and/or the school, I gave them their journals to take away with them.


This was a group with a lot of Arabic students who were very reluctant to write generally, but who were very willing to write in the journals. I think this is because it was writing with a real purpose, and they could see that I was correcting them. It was also important for them that I was showing an interest in them as individuals, by responding to what they wrote on a personal level. There were non-Arabic students too, and the journals gave me a chance to see everyone’s writing regularly.

With this group, I did the journals at the end of the lesson, which meant we didn’t always do them if an activity ran over. I tried to leave about 20 minutes, with the first 10 being for a regular spelling test, as this was a real problem area. All of the spellings in the test were collected from the journals – I recorded the mistakes in a list in my notebook, which I then put onto Quizlet. Each time we did the journals, I would dictate five spellings for the students to put in the back of their notebook. After the spelling test, they had writing time to respond to my comments and questions and/or continue the conversation in any way they chose. Sometimes I would ask them all to write on a specific topic. Here are some examples of writing they did after my mum visited the class, in which you can see the kind of feedback I gave.

Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample


Despite the success of the journals with the pre-intermediate class, I didn’t start using them for a while with the intermediate group – I’m not sure why! When I did, I did a lot less correction with them. We also didn’t do a spelling test as part of the journal writing, although I did collect the spellings and do occasional tests and games with them in class instead. As soon as I started using the journals, the dynamic in the class changed and my rapport with the students really improved as we all got to know each other better. The quiet writing time at the end of most classes was also good for the more introverted students.


Again, I didn’t start using the journals straight away, but I did use them for over two months. For the students who wrote them for that whole time, there was a marked improvement in the quality of their writing and in the length of their responses. What was quite noticeable with this group was that they really tried to incorporate new vocabulary and grammatical structures into their journals. Their written comments and questions were also sometimes language-related. For example, after a lesson on collocations with ‘get’, one student told me about all the phrases with ‘get’ he’d heard his host family use the night before.

I finally learnt from my pre-int/int experience and moved journal time to the beginning of the lesson. As students came in I gave them their journals and they started writing straight away. This was a great way to cater for latecomers, and gave the students the chance to write for as long as they needed to (normally 15-20 minutes) instead of being rushed by the end of the lesson approaching/arriving. While the students were writing, I would normally have a conversation with one or two of the students in a kind of mini tutorial. At this level I underlined problems/mistakes but didn’t correct them, so they had to ask me if they didn’t understand what the problem was. I could also use this time to talk about other areas to work on, unrelated to the journals, and to provide some intensive, targeted practice.

This was the class I was teaching when I left Newcastle, and in my final lesson with them I asked for some feedback on the journal writing process. I asked them:

  1. What did you think about writing the journals?
  2. Do you think writing the journals helped you?
  3. How could I improve this activity?

These are their exact responses:


In my opinion, it’s a very good idea to get them pupils to write.

It’s more interesting than other writing exercises, because it implies a conversation (between teacher and student).

In all my other classes I barely wrote. That’s not very good because it’s one of my sticking points in English and therefore it was the perfect exercise for me.

This student had been a bit frustrating for me, as I couldn’t seem to get through to him. Writing the journal improved my rapport with him, and gave us things to talk about. It also really focussed on his weak point, which was writing as he said. I was pleasantly surprised by his feedback.


The journals are a good way to test student’s writing and get to know them, so I think it is very useful.


What did you think about writing the journals?

It was a good experience. We tried to use the vocabulary we learned before so it was a good way to practise. It’s also interesting because we wrote about thing we like.

How could I improve it?

I have no idea.


1. I really liked writing the journal because it’s a way of knowing each other better and practicing my writing. It’s an interesting thing and I enjoyed doing it. The good thing is that now I’ve something to remember you!

2. As I said before I honestly think that it really helped me, because you corrected my mistakes and I hope I won’t make them again.

3. I’d say that you don’t need to improve it. It’s great the way it is!! It doesn’t need an improvement.

(As you see, I’ve used different ways of expressing my opinion) (something we’d practised in class that week!)


I’ve never done it before. For starters I was surprised, but got used to it.

– make language problems obvious. Sometimes I haven’t been aware of this à good to know so that I can work on it.

– Go ahead with these journals, a piece of individual teaching in a large group!!

– Definitely!

– Nothing to complain about J


1. Very positive. Please go on with it. I think it’s positive to learn about your students. You can immediately evaluate them for their writing skill. For the students is good to write about their daily life.

2. For me it was helpful. Actually I know my weak point and I will try to improve it.

3. The booklet should be bigger. Nothing else to add.

Your turn

As you can see, the journals made a real difference with these groups, and as one of the students said, allowed me to provide ‘a piece of individual teaching in a large group’. Although they probably took an hour or so of my time each day to check, the pay-off in terms of the improved rapport and needs analysis were worth it. When you’re teaching the same group all the time, you don’t necessarily need to do the journals every day, but it’s a good routine to get into (and provides 20 minutes of ready-planned lesson each time!)

I haven’t tried this with my groups in Sevastopol yet, but now that I’ve written this post, maybe I will. I could introduce it, with them making the first entry in class, then give the students the chance to write their journals at home if they want to continue with it. Hmm…

Another post you might be interested in: Writing and Marking

Ways to practise your languages

One from the archives, from my first year of post-Celta teaching. I’ve just found this file on my computer, last opened on 1st April 2008. I’m still pretty happy with it, although I’d probably make it a lot longer now! What do you think?

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

International House Newcastle Personal Study Programme (IATEFL 2013 presentation)

My presentation for IATEFL Liverpool 2013 is an introduction to the Personal Study Programme (PSP) which we run at IH Newcastle. It was part of the Learner Autonomy SIG day.

If you couldn’t be there, or you want to relive it, here is a recorded version:

You can also read about PSP on the IH Newcastle website.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Note: thank you to Amy Brown for helping me to put the presentation together.

A few bloggers have very kindly responded to my presentation. I will post the links here if you are interested. Please let me know if I have missed any:

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