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

Posts tagged ‘PLN’

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: In sum

These are all of the posts I’ve written about IATEFL Glasgow 2017:

If you’d like to watch other talks and interviews from the conference, there are a few recordings available:

My first IATEFL conference was Glasgow 2012, and it’s interesting to reflect on how much I’ve grown and changed as both a teacher and a person since then.

The IATEFL conference is the best week of my year every year, partly because my IATEFL family just keeps growing.

These are still two of my favourite photos of my PLN, both from Glasgow 2012:

The PLN after my talk

The PLN after my talk


Lunch with some of the PLN (photo by Chia Suan Chong)

It’s wonderful to be able to keep bumping into so many people who I know online in the rest of the year as the conference continues, and to meet a whole lot of new people, all of whom are passionate about the job they are doing and learning about how to get better at it.

Generally I find the conference a much more relaxed affair than when I first attended, as I’ve taken a lot of pressure off myself to try and attend absolutely everything, instead going with the flow and listening to how my body feels: there’s a limit to how long you want to sit in a stream of windowless rooms lit by fluorescent strip lighting before you need to go outside! I’ve also learnt to book accommodation as early as possible, and as close to the conference site as possible, making it much easier to pop back and get rid of heavy books and things before the evenings.

The kind of talks I’ve chosen to attend have changed gradually, as there are now more materials writing, management and training talks, reflecting the development in my career, but I still enjoy learning practical ideas for the classroom too, especially since these are the easiest to pass on to my colleagues when I return to school. I’ve also found myself more and more interested in corpora, listening and task-based learning, partly as a result of going to previous sessions on all of these topics at IATEFL.

The International Quiz night and the Pecha Kucha are my two favourite evening events at each IATEFL, and I’ve now been lucky enough to take part in the PK twice, first at Harrogate in 2014, and this year at Glasgow as part of the debate team. Phil Longwell talks about the 2017 PK evening in his post, including a recording of Marisa Constantinides. Shay Coyne was kind enough to record this year’s first ever IATEFL PK debate for your viewing pleasure:

Since last year, I’ve been on the IATEFL Membership and Marketing Committee, as part of which I curate the IATEFL blog. Here’s an interview from the conference where I talk about the blog and how you can write for it.

I’m also (I hope!) better at summarising my experience of the IATEFL conference each year. The first time round, there was an emotional and a functional post, and I don’t think I really processed what I’d tweeted. This time, it’s taken me about two days/at least sixteen hours to go through all of my tweets and go down a lot of rabbit holes (!) to put together my summaries of the week, but I feel I’ve gained a lot more from the process than I did the first time round, and I hope readers of my blog have too!

Roll on Brighton 2018!


Featured blog at Lang LTC

Featured blog banner for Lang

Thanks a lot to Lang LTC in Warsaw for featuring my blog as part of the Edu Blog Fest on their facebook page this week. They’ll share a selection of my posts, with different ones each day, along with some ideas by their teachers inspired by those posts. Here’s the link to the first post and to their facebook page, which has a different featured blog every week, and is full of great ideas for teachers of all languages, not just English.

11 things (again)

1. Acknowledge the nominating bloggers/2. Share 11 facts about yourself

Clare Fielder recently nominated me to take part in the ’11 things’ blog challenge which she wants to revive. I originally shared my facts in December 2013 but I liked Clare’s questions so have decided to answer them here. I’ve also nominated a few more people to answer the questions who weren’t blogging last time I did this. I hope they’ll join in!

3. Answer the 11 random questions the nominating blogger has created for you

1. How are you feeling today?

Happy, for many different reasons 🙂

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting on the train to Warsaw for my penultimate weekend of working on a part-time CELTA. It’s the fourth time I’ve been, and (I hope!) the first time I’ll actually get to see some of the city, due to a combination of (what is supposed to be) good weather and light evenings.

It’s the last week of the school year for most of the teachers at IH Bydgoszcz and we had a great swapshop of summer school activities this afternoon. Everyone is very positive as we finish off the year, and there’s a real buzz in the staffroom.

I also had the best night’s sleep I’ve had for a long time last night, which I suspect was because I managed to walk both to and from school for the first time in over a month. I sprained my ankle for the third time on 4th May, and I managed to ditch the crutches yesterday. Roll on complete recovery!

Life is good, with lots of great plans lined up for the summer (watch this space), and the fact that I’m taking the first steps to a long-held dream of buying my own flat. 🙂

2. What book is closest to you as you write this? And would you recommend it to others? Why (not)?

Because I’ve only got a small rucksack with me for the weekend, I couldn’t fit in my real book, and as I write this I’ve just realised that I left my iPad behind so I don’t have my ebook either. Oops! That means I have no idea what the nearest book to me is right now…something one of the other passengers is reading! If I was at home, this would be my answer…

I’ve read the first few pages of The Pickwick Papers on a free books app on my iPad which I’m using to catch up with classics I’ve never got round to reading before. I love Charles Dickens, so I’m pretty sure I’ll like this.

I’m also reading two paper books, The Song of Homanathe second in a fantasy series, which is fine, and The Rose of Sebastopol. I noticed it in our school library a couple of weeks ago, and obviously needed to read it because of my connections with Sevastopol and Crimea. It’s set in the Crimean War, which I know more about than I used to, but still not much. I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, so am not sure if I can recommend it or not yet, although they were very easy to read, so I probably would.

3. What’s your top tip for de-stressing after a hard day at work?


Being outside really clears my head and gives me time to think. As somebody who used to be allergic to exercise, I’ve noticed a massive difference since I started tracking my steps about four years ago, and I’ve drastically increased the amount of exercise I do. It’s gone from 1,500-2,000 steps on some days, up to over 10,000 most days. I feel so much better for it, and I now always try to live or stay in places which mean I can walk to and from work. It’s also helped me to lose weight.

4. Have you ever learnt any foreign languages? How has this helped you be a better language teacher?

Erm, just the odd one or two. I’m a bit of an addict!

I did French and German at school, and added Spanish at university, reaching C1 level in all of them, although they’re a bit rusty now, especially my French.

I’ve learnt Czech, Russian and (currently) Polish because of living in the countries. I’m about pre-int in the first two, and my Polish is improving all the time, especially since I started actually speaking!

I’ve also dabbled in Malay, Greek, Mandarin, Thai and braille, and am trying to learn some Italian ready for a CELTA in Milan this summer.

Being a language learner myself has made a massive difference to my teaching, because although it’s impossible for me to truly understand what it’s like to learn English as a foreign language, I do know what it’s like to feel like an idiot or a very small child, to be mostly or completely illiterate, to feel frustrated because you know you know that word…and on the flip side, I have hundreds of tried and tested language learning techniques I can share, and I completely get the feeling of achievement you feel when you manage to understand or communicate successfully, so I keep trying to push my students past the pain so that they can get to that point!

5. Describe your teaching style by comparison to an animal, and explain the similarities!

Sorry. Going to skip this one, as I find this kind of thing really difficult! Anyone who wants to attempt an answer in the comments is welcome to try… 😉

6. What are your areas of specialism & expertise within ELT / teaching, and your strengths as a teacher?

My main area of expertise is in knowing where to find the answers to questions I have, mostly through the amazing network of teachers I’m connected to both online and offline. I’m also very organised, which makes my life a lot easier as a manager, and means I’m often asked about how I manage to get so much done.

In the classroom, I think my strengths lie in my ability to empathise with the students due to my own language learning experience, as I said in question four. I’m also very reflective, and I’m always trying to improve my teaching.

7. Which are the most recently used smiley/emojis on your mobile phone/whatsapp or instant messenger programme?

The ones I use the most are :), 😉 and :p I don’t really know that many other emojis and I don’t have a smartphone, so it’ll be a while before I get round to learning any, I suspect.

8. What was the most recent photo you took?

Not quite the most recent photo (I suspect nobody really wants to see the progress of my sprained ankle healing, but if you do, I’ll be adding them to ELTpics ‘Health’ set when I’ve got the full set…)

This is the room in the hotel I stayed in in Warsaw three weekends ago, the last time I was there. For some reason I got into the habit of taking photos of all of the bedrooms I live/stay in, probably because there have been so many with the amount of moving around I’ve done, and now I can’t stop doing it…

Hotel Reytan, Warsaw

9. Where are you based, and would you recommend working there to others?

Answered that question recently as a whole blogpost, before I read this question 🙂 Here’s a nicer photo that I hope social media will pick over the hotel one when deciding what to highlight from this post! It’s my mum in the botanic garden across the road from my flat during her first visit to the city a few weeks ago:

Mum in the botanic garden under a tree covered in red blossom

10. What’s your best memory of a lesson you’ve taught?

When I was working at IH Newcastle, I had a group of B1 intermediate students who stayed together for about six weeks, and who I taught for twenty hours a week, two every morning, and two every afternoon. Having the same group of students for so long was very unusual there, as new ones normally joined the group every Monday, and left on Friday, either to go home or to move to a different level. We got to know each other really well, and we often talked about food. One week we decided to dedicate our afternoon lessons to cookery and food, with the final lesson of the week in the school flats to cook together.

Sandy, an Arabic student and a Czech student chopping onions

We represented five different countries and ate traditional food from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the UK, which we all worked together to prepare. Some of the students had never really cooked before so it was a whole new adventure for them. It was a fabulous afternoon full of laughter and delicious food, and is one of my all-time favourite lessons. It is proof of the positive effect that English lessons can have, as it really brought us all closer together.

The whole class, featuring students from four different countries, plus me

11. What would you like to say to me, now that I’ve nominated you for this challenge?!

Thank you for encouraging me to re-read my previous answers, and bringing back some happy memories! And thanks for inviting me to play again on my blog – it’s so nice to have the time to do that at the moment, as these are often the posts I most enjoy writing 🙂

4. List 11 bloggers

Seconding a few of Clare’s nominations:

Joanna –

Zhenya –

Anna –

Hana –

And my extra ones:

Elly –

Tekhnologic –

Rachel –

Matt –

Pete –

Svetlana –

Katherine Bilsborough – she doesn’t have a blog, but she can guest post here if she wants to join in 😉

5. Questions for nominated bloggers

Again, I’m going to steal some of Clare’s questions and add a few of my own:

  1. What’s your favourite thing you’ve written (ELT or otherwise)?
  2. Do you have a favourite recipe you want to share?
  3. What’s the last photo you took?
  4. What’s the last piece of music you listened to?
  5. What was the last film or TV show you watched? Would you recommend it?
  6. Do you ever listen to podcasts? Any favourites? If you don’t, can I persuade you? 🙂
  7. What tip would you offer to a new blogger?
  8. What’s your memory of the best lesson you’ve taught?
  9. Have you ever made a mistake or been in a bad situation which felt huge at the time, but now you’re really glad it happened?
  10. Where are you based and would you recommend it to others?
  11. What question do you wish I’d asked you, and what’s the answer?


Russie nominated me on her list – thanks! I chose a couple of questions to answer to add to the ones above:

What would you describe as quintessentially English?

I was back in the UK for 24 hours in between two CELTA course last year, and had one of the most English days of my life. My mum, grandma and I went to a little village in Northamptonshire called Lillingstone Lovell for an ‘Open Gardens’ day. The village was full of traditional cottages and had a beautiful parish church. You could go into different people’s gardens and see all the beautiful plants and sculptures they’d got in them. We finished the day with a cream tea at the village hall.

Lillingstone Lovell church on the open gardens day

What was the last experience that made you a stronger person?

Over the last couple of years there have been two main things which have changed me as a person. I’ve written about both of them on my blog. One was being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (warning: do not read if you’re squeamish) and the other was being in Sevastopol during the year when it became Russian. Both of them have made me even more determined to make the most out of everything which comes my way, because you never know when your life will change. They also made me appreciate just how little control you have over some things, and that it’s important to stay positive as much as possible.

World Teacher’s Day at Teaching English British Council

World Teacher's Day

This month, Teaching English decided to celebrate World Teacher’s Day by asking “What does being a teacher mean to you?” As you can imagine, the answers were quite diverse! You can read mine and many others, then add yours in the comments on the post.

Online Professional Development – 2014

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!

I look forward to connecting to you online!

Yay! Teaching!

Photo taken from ELTpics by Ana Maria Menezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

ELTchat podcasts

If you’ve never heard of ELTchat, you’re missing out!

ELTchat logo

It started out as a Twitter chat on Wednesdays, with two one-hour sessions every week. There’s now only one chat a week, alternating between lunchtime and evening British time, but apart from reducing the number of chats, the ELTchat community has only got bigger and bigger, incorporating:

  • the original hashtag, which is active throughout the week, and is full of resources for English Language teachers;
  • the website, your one-stop shop for everything ELTchat, including:
  • the (amazing!) summaries index: after every chat, some lovely person offers to write a summary of what was discussed, and it’s then linked from this page. After nearly four years of weekly chats, there are a huge amount of summaries available.
  • the facebook group, especially useful if you find Twitter difficult (it’s worth persevering, I promise!);
  • and, last but not least, the podcasts…

The podcasts are put together by James Taylor, and bring together various topics from the ELTchats that have taken place between one podcast and the next. They also include interviews with the chat moderators and other ELTchat participants so you can get to know them a bit better.

You can find a list of all of the podcasts on the ELTchat site or download them through iTunes, among other places. There are currently 23 episodes available, covering a whole range of topics, including error correction, mindfulness, and teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, among other things.

In the June 2014 podcast, you can find my interview with Hada Litim, one of the newest moderators. I’ve also contributed to a few other episodes.

I can honestly say that ELTchat changed my life – it introduced me to dozens (hundreds?) of passionate teachers from around the world, gave me ideas to take into the classroom, made me think, kick-started my blogging and contributed to my professional development in more ways than I can count. Take a look, and see what a difference it can make to your teaching too!

Developing ‘Teaching English’ – Ann Foreman and Paul Braddock (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

I love the TeachingEnglish facebook page because it has helped my blog a lot, so I really wanted to see Ann and Paul talk about how they do it. I’m also a TeachingEnglish associate blogger for the website, which is a great opportunity.

Paul and Ann are talking about how they are hoping to reshape the TeachingEnglish website to offer better resources for CPD.

Paul starts by sharing the CPD framework the British Council developed. On the site at the moment, you can click on your level of development and that will give resources specific to your stage in your career. They suggest what skills you should have at that level and give you ideas on how to develop them. For example, starter teachers have resources on pairwork or developing rapport, whereas higher-level teachers have resources on things like materials development.


Ann talks about their huge success on facebook. They have over 2.2million likes and a 1.5million weekly reach [which is phenomenal!] They started it with the idea that it is not just to promote British Council materials, but a place for people to see what is available in the teaching world in general. The facebook page has it’s biggest audience in India, then Egypt. A lot of people follow it from South-East Asia and Latin America. The people who share resources tend to be European-based, but the discussions are international.

They tried to learn from what is successful in CPD today. Here’s what they focussed on:

  • social media and blogs: it’s crowdsourced, and the validity is from how useful ideas are and how much they’re shared.
  • action research groups: people often go to a workshop given by an expert, but this is only effective up to a point. Paul’s teaching centre set up action research groups where teachers worked with others who were interested in the same areas. They found it was far more motivating for the teachers.
  • free and paid-for online training opportunities: for example MOOCs.
  • government-/institute-funded projects: for example in Malaysia, where there are teacher-led projects.

They compared this with what was offered on the TeachingEnglish website, and found it quite different.


The words in the image above show what people are looking for.
The notion of ‘experts’ is changing, and now there are many of them, in the form of bloggers sharing their experience in class, for example.
Voluntary participation allows teachers to decide to what extent they want to be involved, how much work they want to do, etc.

They decided that organising things into career paths might be a more useful way of organising the information. For example, you want to develop your ability to teach teenagers or to write materials. You use the site as a scaffold to work towards your goal, through a series of challenges and goals and expertise to get you there. There may also be an element of gamification to help make it more interesting.

They have come up with a system of four different rooms, with a series of challenges. Here’s a slightly blurry example of the ‘research’ room:


You start off with the ‘research’ room to develop your goals, followed by the ‘classroom’ room where you try them out. The ‘classroom’ is not just for teachers: for example, if you’re a manager it might be about how you observe lessons and experiment with this. As you complete the challenges, you collect badges which show how much you’ve done. Then you have the ‘training’ room and the ‘research’ room, which collates all the resources you might need for that topic, since it can be a bit difficult to find what you need on the TeachingEnglish website at the moment. You’re encouraged to reflect on and share what you’re doing.

The idea is that it will work like a good staffroom, but in a virtual context. It’s trying to make the best of what comes from social media, but draw it together in a way that social media might not do. It’s big challenge, but it’s worth us trying to do it as Ann and Paul said.

It’s not up yet, but will be started small and developed over time. They would like feedback on the idea so feel free to contact them.

I think this looks like a fascinating initiative, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

Update: here’s an excellent illustrated post about an interview Ann and Paul did during the conference where they also talk about their ideas.

“Chain Reaction” interview with Laura Patsko and Katy Davies

In the lead up to the IATEFL 2014 Harrogate conference, Adam Simpson has started a ‘chain reaction‘ blog challenge:

“I choose two or three of this year’s registered bloggers and introduce them on my blog. These bloggers then in turn choose other registered bloggers and interview them… and so it goes on until you all have a good idea of who will be blogging about this years event.”  

I decided to interview Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson. I first saw Laura present at the IH Prague conference a few years ago, although we didn’t meet until later. Katy and I worked together at IH Newcastle. We all spent a lot of time together at IATEFL Liverpool, and it’s great to see how their shared interest in ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) has developed into the blog they’ve described below. For this interview, I used the same set of questions that Lizzie gave me.

IATEFL Harrogate 2014 banner

Follow the conference and watch recordings of sessions by clicking the image!

Please introduce yourselves

We’re Katy and Laura, and we are particularly interested in the use of English around the world as a lingua franca (ELF). Katy is a full-time teacher at the British Council in Dubai, and Laura is a full-time teacher and teacher trainer at St George International in London. We both became increasingly interested in ELF as we studied for our master’s degrees and conducted research in this field.

Could you give us brief details about your session at IATEFL 2014?

Our session (30 minutes) is based on the fact that many speakers of English in the world today are using it as a means of communication when they do not share a first language. In other words, English is their ‘lingua franca’. They may rarely or never communicate with ‘native’ speakers of English, and are unlikely to need or want to sound like a ‘native’ speaker. Our session will outline some practical implications for this and explain a few basic classroom activities that teachers can use to help their students be more intelligible in an international (ELF) context.

Why are you interested in the area you’ll be presenting on?

When we were researching ELF for our MA courses—and simultaneously teaching full timetables to learners in multilingual classrooms—we began to realise that these students were using English together as their lingua franca, and many of them would use English in this way outside the classroom, too; but it was very difficult for us to help them do this better when no bespoke materials existed for developing this use of English.

Though they have produced many excellent guides on different pronunciation varieties and plenty of resource books full of useful practice activities, ELT publishers are still quite conservative; and very little material exists for teachers working in an ELF context. Most material is based on ‘native-speaker’ norms, but ‘native’ speakers are hugely outnumbered in the world today and many of our students were/are unlikely to use English with native speakers. If they don’t want/need to sound like a ‘native’ speaker, but need to be intelligible to other ELF users, how can we help them do this when knowledge of ELF is still quite minimal among practising teachers and no suitable material exists?

What should your audience expect to learn?

Our audience can expect to take away some simple activities for developing and practising listening and pronunciation in an ELF context. They will learn why this is relevant for so many English language students in the world today, and how it does not necessarily require teachers to dramatically alter their usual classroom practice, but simply reconsider their notions of ‘correctness’ and ‘intelligibility’.

Do you blog? Could you tell us about your blog(s)?

We blog at We aim to make the theory and practice of ELF more understandable and accessible to teachers who are working in ELF contexts, and/or whose students use English as a lingua franca. There are a lot of misconceptions about ELF, which are only perpetuated if people can’t access information about it or have an informed discussion about its principles and implications.

What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

We are looking forward to the great number of other presentations taking place this year regarding the use of English as a lingua franca, the nature of ‘native-speakerism’ in ELT and the practice of teaching pronunciation. And Open Mic Night, of course!

Why did you sign up as IATEFL registered bloggers?

We always have such a great time at the IATEFL Conference and take away plenty of ideas to experiment with in our classrooms. This is the first IATEFL Conference taking place since we launched our ‘ELF Pron’ blog in November 2013, and there are many sessions in the programme that are relevant to this field. We hope to incorporate what we learn from those sessions into the wider discussion on our blog!

After the conference Katy and Laura posted a link to their slides and further resources on their blog.

A brief introduction to online professional development (IH DoS conference 2014)

I’ve just returned from my first International House Director of Studies conference, which I will hopefully write about later this week.

I did a ten-minute session as part of a ‘speed-dating’ format, where I presented the same idea five or six times – I lost count! Here are my slides, along with the associated links, with a commentary aimed at Directors of Studies, but which will hopefully be useful to anyone who reads it.

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Terrell

This is Shelly Terrell, one of the most prolific sharers of content online. Her blog is Teacher Reboot Camp, where she has a lot of information about using technology in class, along with other areas of teaching, as well as the 30 Goals Challenge. She also does webinars every Friday for the American TESOL institute. I chose this picture to start my presentation because it sums up why I love online CPD – great people, a caring community, and lots of ideas.


This is where my online professional development started. I like Twitter because it’s completely open – you can follow anyone, anyone can follow you. Although I use it less now than I used to, I still look at it briefly every day, and use it a lot during conferences.

A tweet is 140 characters, the same length as a text message. Here’s an example:


‘@’ introduces someone’s Twitter name (or ‘handle’). When it is blue, you can click on it and choose to follow that person or organisation, so that you can read what they are writing about. In this example @KatySDavies and @BCseminars are clickable.

‘#’ introduces a topic on Twitter (or ‘hashtag’). You can click on it to read everything people are saying about that topic. This example includes the hashtag #eltchat, which is one of the most popular hashtags for the English teaching community.

ELTchat tweet stream

ELTchat summaries index word cloud

Every Wednesday, at 12pm and 9pm UK time a one-hour conversation takes place using the #eltchat hashtag. The topic for each chat is announced beforehand, and anyone can join in simply by including the hashtag in their tweets. At the end of the chat, one participant summarises the conversation and turns it into a blogpost. The blogposts are collected in the #eltchat summaries index, one of the most useful resources on the web. #eltchat started in October 2010, and previous chats have covered an incredibly wide range of topics. Some chats that might be particularly relevant for Directors of Studies include:

For a more in-depth introduction to using Twitter, take a look at my beginner’s guide.


There are a lot of pages on facebook which are aimed at English teachers. Some are location-specific (e.g. Czech Republic, Turkey), some are by authors (e.g. Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley) and others are by publishers (e.g. Richmond ELT).

As far as I’m concerned, the most useful page is Teaching English – British Council, which has nearly 1.5 million likes as I write this. Ann Foreman, who runs it, posts a whole range of links, starts discussions, and shares ideas. It’s a thriving community.

Teaching English British Council

For many teachers, facebook is probably the easiest way of accessing online professional development, as if you already use facebook, it’s a simple matter of clicking ‘like’ on a couple of pages.


Since I started blogging about three years ago, I have changed dramatically as a teacher. While a lot of this is due to the fact I started using social media professionally at the same time and have now done my Delta, blogging has made me more reflective, and forced me to up my game in terms of the materials I produce, knowing they will be used by other people.

There are a huge range of English teaching blogs out there. You can find some of the ones I follow in my blogroll on the right of this page. I also have a Blog Starter List – if you think you should be on there, let me know!

Feedly blogs

To keep track of the blogs I follow I use a ‘reader’ called Feedly. It’s available online and as a free app. There are many readers out there, and this is just one example. You put the addresses of the blogs you follow into the reader, and it then becomes a one-stop shop, by automatically including all new posts from those blogs, meaning you don’t get a full email inbox, and you don’t have to remember to look at each blog individually on the off-chance there’s a new post. The image above shows you my list of posts to be read at the moment.

Two blogs which are particularly good for Directors of Studies are Be The DOS by Josh Round at St. George International, and The Secret DOS, which is incredibly funny, particularly his post about timetabling.


A webinar is an online seminar, normally videoed, which you watch from the comfort of your own home. A lot of organisations provide webinars, including OUP, Cambridge, Macmillan, Pearson and British Council. My favourite ones so far were the 10-minute webinars at the International House 60th anniversary online conference. Click on the picture below to see them all.

IH TOC 60 webinars


There are now webinars on an incredibly wide range of different topics, so if you have one or two teachers who need input on a particularly topic, but not enough to warrant a full CPD session, you could refer them to a webinar, which you can then discuss with them afterwards. If you want to find a webinar on a particular topic, use the #eltchat hashtag on Twitter or one of the facebook pages mentioned above to ask people to point you in the right direction.


The most important thing about social media is how supportive the ELT community is. If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this post, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck!

The chain of 11s

Two blog posts today, because I’ve seen this challenge going round for the last week, and don’t know when I’ll next have time to write for it! I love finding out more about the people I connect with online 🙂 Apologies in advance for the verbosity…I don’t know when to stop! I was tagged by Rachael Roberts and Adam Simpson, both of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and whose blogs are full of excellent ideas and resources.

My task is to…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 random facts about me

  1. I lived in the jungle for four months during my gap year. It was my first big adventure, and it definitely gave me the travel bug. It’s very nearly the 10th anniversary of the expedition, and I can’t believe how quickly time has gone past!
  2. I’ve done a parachute jump. It was part of my fundraising for the trip to the jungle.
  3. My dad used to have a pet shop, but before he opened it we already had over 100 animals at home…rabbits (he bred them for show), 2 dogs, a cat, a chinchilla, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, guinea pigs, budgies, cockatiels, canaries, finches, chickens, pigeons (for a very brief period, thank God!)…
  4. I love dancing, although I don’t have any particular skill at it! I took tango classes for a while in Paraguay, and did belly dancing in Czech Republic, something I was very resistant to at first, and ended up really enjoying.
  5. My whole family is English, as far back as we’ve managed to find out. Not British, English. No Welsh, Scottish, Irish, or anything else. Despite that, when I tan, I’m always very dark. This has led people to ask me, variously, if I’m Spanish, Argentinian, Brazilian, Indian… After I came back from the jungle, I lived in my aunt’s village in rural England for a month, and one of her friends asked who the foreigner was who was staying with her! 🙂
  6. Everywhere I go, I seem to meet, and normally become good friends with, someone with a name which is a variant on Katherine. My mum, my best friend, one of my best friends from uni and at least one person from most of the jobs I’ve done, generally the one I’ve stayed in contact with, all fit into this pattern.
  7. I think I was always meant to be a teacher, although it took me a long time to realise it. I’ve stayed in touch with one of my primary school teachers, and a few years ago she told me that when she was very busy my classmates would come and ask me for help. I don’t remember this.
  8. My original life plan was to work in business for about 20 years, then become a teacher when I was about 40 and had money. I came up with this plan when I was about 15, because I was worried I didn’t know what I would do with my life. I’m a forward planner!
  9. During my gap year, I did door-to-door sales, which I hated. It did, however, give me a lot of thinking time. It was at this point that I realised that TEFL was the way to go. “What, you mean people will pay for me to go and live in their countries? And I get to teach? Duh!”
  10. I really enjoy writing letters.
  11. Poor formatting frustrates me, and I will spend hours trying to sort it out.
Our chinchilla

Our chinchilla

11 questions from Rachael

  1. Why did you start blogging and how has differed from your expectations?
    I started blogging because I’d seen that lots of people on Twitter had blogs (I was still lurking at this point) and I thought it would be a good way of raising my professional profile. It’s ended up being something I HAVE to do – I wake up with ideas in my head I have to write about. When something goes well or badly, mostly in class but sometimes not, I write about it on my blog to get the thoughts out of my head. I love sharing materials too. It’s also been amazing that people come up to me at conferences or during courses and say “You’re Sandy Millin. I read your blog.” It’s very flattering, and has led to some very good friendships, but I also find it a bit freaky!
  2. What’s your earliest childhood memory?
    That’s a hard one. I think most of my childhood memories are connected to photos, so I don’t know if any of them are real or not. I can’t think of one particular thing.
  3. Tell us about someone you admire, and say why.
    Another hard one. I think it would have to be my mum and both of my grandmas. All of them had difficult times for various reasons and are very strong women. I don’t think I would be anywhere near as confident as I am without having the three of them as role models.
  4. What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?
    This morning I decided to give up reading The Brothers Karamazov after 200 pages (and about 6 weeks!). It’s a shame because I loved Crime and Punishment, but it’s just not motivating me. The last book I finished was Adventures of a Language Traveller by John Haycraft, one of the founders of IH. I wrote about it here. I’ve been reading A Dance with Dragons on my iPad for about a year now, and am a third of the way through. I’m trying to read it as slowly as possible in the vain hope that George R. R. Martin might finish the next Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) book before I’m done. I realise this is highly unlikely.
  5. Do you prefer walking or running? Why?
    Walking. I tried running for a couple of weeks a few years ago, and really didn’t like it. I have a dodgy knee, which doesn’t help. I love taking the time to enjoy the scenery (or people watching in a city). I’ve also been using a pedometer app on my phone for about a year, and when I realised how little exercise I was doing every day it really motivated me to try harder. Did you know that 10,000 steps is the recommended daily amount for a healthy lifestyle? It’s helped me to lose weight and to feel a lot healthier.
  6. What was your first paid job?
    I worked as a librarian doing cover work, which then morphed into three hours a week every Sunday for a year. My mum was a librarian, so I’d often gone there in the holidays and always enjoyed helping. It was nice to be paid for it 🙂
  7. What five famous people would you invite to a dinner party, and why?
    Stephen Fry – I could listen to him for hours.
    Terry Pratchett – I’ve read all of his books, and his documentaries about orangutans and Alzheimer’s are fascinating. I cried when I found out he’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. (On a side note, my first poster was an illustration of the Discworld)
    Dame Judi Dench – one of my favourite programmes as a child was As Time Goes Byand I always enjoy her films. She’s also a very funny woman.
    Bill Bailey – another fascinating man – he’s interested in so many things. I was lucky enough to see him perform last year, and it was brilliant.
    Douglas Adams – I’ve written before about how much he’s influenced me.
    It strikes me that these are all pretty similar people… 😉
  8. What’s the first website you check/go on each day? Why?
    Facebook. I can’t imagine having this lifestyle without the internet, and facebook has made it a lot easier to feel like I’m still part of people’s lives, even when my friends live all over the world.
  9. What can you remember about the first class you ever taught?
    I can’t remember a specific class, but the first time I was responsible for my own groups was in Malaysia, during my trip to the jungle (see fact number 1). I think the first group I had was two girls (I had three classes there – only 8 hours a week, and I was very bored in between!). I’d observed their class before teaching them, and their teacher would hit them behind the ear with his knuckle whenever they didn’t know anything. Unsurprisingly, they could never answer his questions, and they were petrified. We got into a routine of using a word monster. The final lesson I taught with that group was the first time I ever realised I’d taught someone something, and that what they’d produced was my doing. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.
  10. Flowers or chocolates?
    I would always have said chocolates before, but over the last year or so I’ve come to prefer flowers. They last for longer, and I’ve even started buying them myself.
  11. How do you feel about reality TV shows?
    I can’t stand them. I watched the eviction shows for the second series of Big Brother because it was between Friends and Will and Grace, and meant I could join in with conversations at school the next day. That was more than enough naval-gazing for my whole life. I don’t see the point in people putting themselves in situations where they are likely to be humiliated and mocked – I think it shows the mean side of humanity.

11 questions from Adam

  1. I am aware of the phenomenon called ‘twerking’ but I don’t really know what it is. Do you? Would you explain it to me in one sentence?
    Any kind of word which spreads like this and I don’t understand frustrates me, so wikipedia is my friend here. 🙂 Twerking is sexually provocative, completely unnecessary dancing, generally designed to annoy other women.
  2. The Soviet Union still exists. Why does this make you happy / sad?
    Since I’m living in the Russian-speaking remnants of it in Ukraine, echoes of it are very much still around me. I don’t particularly feel one way or the other for it though, since I don’t feel I know enough about it. The main thing that living in Paraguay, Czech Republic and Ukraine has taught me is just how many opinions there are about oppressive regimes.
  3. What did you eat for dinner last night?
    I’m currently on a dietary regime that requires me to eat every 3 hours, and I have to have 200-300g every time. This does not combine well with teaching. So dinner was either chicken, vegetables and rice from the canteen next to school at 4pm, or Tuc biscuits, cheese and a couple of cocktail sausages at 9pm. Neither of these meals was ideal.
  4. I’m new to this planet. Tell me what a dog looks like.
    About 80cm tall, about 1m from nose to the tip of its tail. If a cat can take it in a fight, it’s not a dog.
  5. Go to YouTube and basically surf around until you find a song that you’ve never heard before. Share that song with us here.
    Katy Perry – Unconditionally
    I first really listened to her music thanks to Mark Andrews, and think her lyrics are generally pretty clever, although this one seems to have dropped the ball.
  6. The 60s or the 70s? Why?
    Neither. I was born in the mid-80s, and am pretty happy with life right now 😉
  7. Invent a word for something that doesn’t have a word to describe it. Share your word and description here.
    Ermm…no idea!
  8. Would you prefer to be that guy from Memento who wakes up and can’t remember the previous day, or that guy from Groundhog Day who wakes up to exactly the same day over and over again?
    Groundhog Day, mostly because I’m a romantic!
  9. Go to this YouTube video. Be honest, how long did you last?
    About 10 seconds. The music was already annoying me 😉
  10. What are your thoughts on becoming one of the first Mars colonists?
    That would be amazing! I’ve always loved space. My second poster (after the Discworld) was the lifecycle of a star, and one of my dreams is to see the Earth from space one day.
  11. Based on the way things are going, which language should we learn to be a good world citizen by the year 2030?
    English and Chinese, but generally you should just learn any other language to make sure you don’t have an insular view of the world. One of my favourite sayings is the Czech proverb:

Learn a new language and get a new soul.

And the nominees are…

A lot of the people I wanted to nominate have already been tagged and written their posts, so I thought I would spread this challenge to a wider community, not just EFL people. You don’t have to respond to the challenge if you don’t have time. I’d just like to find out more 🙂

  1. Lizzie Pinard
  2. Fiona Mauchline
  3. Anthony Gaughan
  4. Mike Harrison
  5. Phil Bird
  6. Chia Suan Chong
  7. Mike Griffin
  8. Ceri Jones
  9. Kevin Stein
  10. Kate Millin (my mum!)
  11. Liz Broomfield (a great proofreader and editor)

My questions to the nominees…

  1. What advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?
  2. Are you a tidy person or a clean person, or both, or neither?
  3. How often do you go to the cinema?
  4. Do you have a favourite word (in any language)?
  5. What’s your favourite meal? Can you cook it?
  6. What’s the phrase you constantly hear yourself saying?
  7. What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
  8. What’s your favourite method of procrastination?
  9. Do you like classical music?
  10. I don’t know much about poetry. Is there a particular poem you think I should read?
  11. And, a little bit of advertising. 🙂 What’s your favourite eltpic? (You don’t have to justify it!)

Update: answers to questions posed by Sharon Hartle

  1. Have you ever wanted to have another name?
    My name is actually Sandra, and I was called that until I was 18. I used ‘Sandy’ in my first email address, and to this day I have no idea why. When I went to Malaysia, I met the people I was going with by email first, so naturally they called me Sandy, and I found I preferred it. Now I get confused when people call me Sandra!
  2. What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you when travelling?
    Having the same conversation again and again with taxi drivers in Patagonia after I fractured my leg, sprained my ankle, and ended up on crutches for two months:
    – What happened? (I was walking down a mountain in Ushuaia and tripped over.)
    – Why are you in Patagonia? (I’m working in Paraguay and have two months off)
    – Why would anyone go to Paraguay? (Because I’d never been to South America and wanted to go somewhere unusual)
    – Do you have a Paraguayan/Chilean/Argentinian boyfriend? (No)
    – Do you want one? (No!)
    This conversation was very good for my Spanish…Sandy with a fractured leg
  3. If you could change one thing about your house, what would it be?
    I don’t have my own house or flat, so that would be the main thing I would change! One day…
  4. What is your ideal holiday?
    One where I go somewhere new, with lots of interesting things to see and do, with people I can spend hours chatting to (either who I take with me or meet there!)
    On the other hand, a week of lying about by a pool reading now seems to hold an appeal it never did a year ago…
  5. What is your favourite moment of the day?
    I love being up early in the morning before anyone else is, especially in cities. One of the best times I ever did this was on New Year’s Day 2007, when I wandered around the deserted streets of Buenos Aires at about 9a.m. – it was like a different city. Something similar happened to me in London in 2012, walking through the city for three hours on a Sunday morning, starting at 7a.m. It’s quite magical, and I really should do it more.
  6. Where do you listen to music?
    Wherever and whenever I can, although I probably listen to more podcasts. When I’m doing mindless things like cleaning or washing up, I always have music on.
  7. What is your favourite classroom activity?
    I don’t really have one favourite, more a whole bank of them.
  8. What would the five things be that you’d take with you to a desert island?
    Ermmm…too difficult!
  9. Are you a lark or an owl?
    Definitely a lark, as number 5 will attest!
  10. What is one adventure that you’re planning for 2014?
    A trip to Kiev with my best friend and her fiancé, and learning to be a CELTA tutor (I hope!)
  11. What is the one thing you know you shouldn’t do, but… you do it anyway?
    Spend hours and hours and hours on the computer 😉

(And thanks to Ceri Jones for including me in her post)

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