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

Posts tagged ‘presentation’

Cambridge Exams: The Writing Paper (IH Bydgoszcz Cambridge methodology day 2016)

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.

Potato talks was taken from Thinking in the EFL Class by Tessa Woodward (published by Heibling Languages – affiliate link)

FCE essay to put in order (via Pavla Milerski):

For more on linking words of contrast, please see my Contrast Linkers post.

Telescopic Text is a way to get your students to play with language and experiment with writing longer stretches of text. Here’s the example I shared.

The other links I shared were my Useful FCE websites page, flo-joe, Cambridge Write and Improve and my student’s guide to Quizlet, including the link to my B2/FCE Quizlet group. While the last link may not seem so connected to writing, a) it’s amazing, and b) it’s great for practising spelling as well as expanding the range of vocabulary students know.

Cambridge exam writing IH Bydgoszcz Sandy Millin 13th February 2016 (presentation title slide)

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!

Activities for Christmas and New Year (BELTA webinar)

On Sunday December 13th 2015 I did a webinar for the Sundays with BELTA series from the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association.

Sandy - Sundays with BELTA square poster

Here are the slides from my presentation, including links to all of the activities.

All of the links are below, just in case you can’t see them or click on them on the slides:

Many of the activities should be self-explanatory, but if not, you can watch the recording to find out how to run the activity. If you’re a BELTA member, you can watch recordings of webinars from the past six months. Anyone can watch older webinars from the series. My recording should be freely available to all from July 2016.

I’d be interested to hear how you use the activities in your own classrooms, and what adaptations you needed to make to fit your context.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Arabic students and spelling (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

At IATEFL Harrogate I watched a presentation which went a long way towards answering a question I posed on this blog a while back: How can we help Arabic learners with their huge problems with spelling in English? It was given by Emina Tuzovic, and she kindly agreed to write a guest post sharing her tips for my blog. What with one thing and another, it’s been a while in coming (she finished it for me 6 months ago!) but I hope it was worth the wait!



A couple of tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic learners

Any TEFL teacher who has experience teaching Arabic learners is acquainted with the difficulties they face when it comes to spelling. I would like to share some spelling tips which helped my Arabic students improve this skill.

First of all, I would pre-teach what vowels, consonants and syllables are as well as highlight the difference between sounds and letters. This is important for Arabic learners as when they learn English, they need to deal with the following:

  • a new script;
  • numerous spelling patterns;
  • a complex and very often unpredictable system of mapping sounds onto letters (Arabic has a regular 1-1 sound-letter conversion);
  • a different reading direction (Arabic is written from right to left).

Therefore using the appropriate ‘labels’ will make your explanations much clearer. Also don’t forget that a phonemic chart looks like another script for this group of learners. Therefore I tend to avoid it if I can, especially transcriptions of whole words. Instead of writing a phonemic on the board, I prefer writing another, high-frequency word with the same pronunciation of a sound in question, e.g. moon; rude (/u:/).


As you have probably noticed it is the spelling of vowels that creates most difficulties for Arabic students. One of the most effective tasks for this group is simply gapping the vowels:   e.g. _xc_pt (except)   vs   _cc_pt (accept).

‘Problematic vowels’ are down to L1 interference. Firstly, in Arabic short vowels are in most cases not written down but only indicated by diacritics. For that reason, they are frequently glossed over by the students when they read in English (which consequently results in the poor spelling of vowels). Secondly, Arabic only has three long and three short vowels in comparison to English (5 vowel letters and 20 sounds!).

Therefore when I board new vocabulary (especially multi-syllable words), I mark vowels with a colour pen and break the words down into syllables which I subsequently drill in isolation. This is very important as many Arabic students will otherwise either guess the vowel or simply omit it when trying to read a new word.


Breaking down words into CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) patterns is also important as it helps students visually memorise lexical items. I try to encourage my students to practise words by writing them down, not typing them up on the computer. This will help them consolidate the visual form of the words which is absolutely vital if you want to be a good speller! (e.g. they need to see how differently words such as play and blue look like). I also try to get the students not to only copy the word but use the Look, remember, cover, write, check method. I get them to look at a word for about 20 seconds and try to memorise it before covering and then trying to recall it. In this way you know the students have used their processing skills to retain the item instead of just copying it.

Noticing patterns

As teachers, when we teach spelling, we tend to focus too much on spelling and pronunciation irregularities (e.g. plough, cough, etc.) rather than teaching spelling patterns. If you need to check these and the rules associated with them, I suggest using the guide on the Oxford Dictionaries website. In relation to this, I try to get my students to notice the most common letter strings (e.g. sh, ch, spr, ure, etc.) and encourage ‘active reading’ where they look for letter strings and spelling patterns. When they record vocabulary, encourage the use of spelling logs as a separate section of students’ vocabulary books (based on a spelling pattern, e.g. ie vs ei, rather than just randomly recorded vocabulary).

When revising new lexis, I sometimes use magnetic letter strings (rather than only letters) which I simply ordered off Amazon! Here is the link if you’d like to buy your own magnetic letters [affiliate link, so Sandy gets a few pennies if you order here!]

Magnetic letter strings

To get a closer insight into spelling games based on spelling patters, I would recommend Shemesh & Waller’s Teaching English Spelling [affiliate link].

[Note from Sandy: another good spelling book is Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners by Johanna Stirling]

Building up confidence

I have noticed that my Arabic learners are well aware of their poor spelling. In order to build up their confidence, they need to be shown that they have made progress.

I usually set up a routine: for the first or last 5 minutes of the class we revise vocabulary from the previous day (e.g. spelling bee) or I might give them a spelling test either every day or every other day. In this way they will soon get the sense of achievement.

I also try to praise my students for using a correct pattern (e.g. *reech, *shef, etc.) even though the word might not be spelled correctly.


When it comes to spelling, morphology plays a very important role, too. Highlight the root, suffixes and prefixes of a word and encourage students to create word families. Based on their L1, Arabic learners will be familiar/will be able to relate to this concept/aspect of learning the new vocabulary.


Avoid the following…

One of the common spelling activities you find in various coursebook is unjumbling letters (e.g. *fnsniuoco-confusion). However I would not advise these exercises for Arabic learners. Individual letters shuffled around might only confuse them as these exercises do not contribute to consolidating the visual form of a word.

Another exercise which particularly lower-level Arabic learners might not find useful is crosswords for the same reason as listed above (words are often presented vertically and in divided block form).

Spelling games on the computer

Students can check the following useful websites if they want to practise spelling in their own time:

This task is particularly of interest for Arabic learners as there are a lot of vowel changes between the three verb forms (e.g. drink-drank-drunk).

The first two tasks in the next group are very useful for consolidating the visual form of the word:

If students enjoy playing spelling bees, is an option. However, you need to register.

In terms of spelling software (which has to be downloaded on your computer), there is a lot to choose from. However, the vast majority is designed for native English speaking children and is therefore not the best tool for ESL learners. After having done some research into those, I’d recommend ‘Speak n Spell’. Although there are some issues with the audio, it’s still worth having a look.

Other useful websites

This is an excellent website by Johanna Stirling which gives tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic as well as Chinese speakers.

THRASS chart (phonics chart): Although this chart is not free (from £2), it’s a very useful tool to memorise phonics and consequently spelling patterns.

Thrass chart

To my knowledge not much has been published to solely cater to Arabic learners’ difficulties in spelling. In the classroom I frequently use Harrison, R. (1990; 1992) Keep Writing 1 and Keep Writing 2, published by Longman [affiliate links]. These books are specifically aimed at helping Arabic learners with their writing. At the end of each chapter you can find spelling exercises.

By incorporating the things mentioned above in my lessons, my Arabic students managed to considerably improve their spelling in a fairly short period of time. I hope you find these tips useful too! You can write to me on


About Emina

I’m currently teaching at the London School of English

I’m Delta-trained and doing my PhD in visual word recognition and recall in Arabic ESL learners at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Making the most of student journals

Two teaching organisations, TESL Toronto and BELTA (Belgium) joined together for a free online conference on the topics of reading and writing on 8th-9th August 2014.

TOBELTA conference logo

I was very happy to present on an area I’ve been experimenting with for a while, both as a teacher and a Russian learner, that of writing journals.

Here are my slides. Please let me know if any of the links don’t work.

All of the slides and recordings from the whole conference are available via the conference programme.

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

Reading for exams

This presentation was part of the Tip-Top local conference in Sevastopol which took place on May 10th, 2014. There’s a video from the conference, with photos from my presentation from about 1:00-1:30.

I shared activities to help students prepare for the KET, PET and FCE reading exams. If you have other activities you like using, why not share them in the comments?

There is a recorded version of the presentation here:

Here is the handout with all of the reading texts referred to during the presentation:

They were taken from the official Cambridge handbooks for Key (KET), Preliminary (PET) and First (FCE), which are all free to download from the Cambridge ESOL site.

The listening book mentioned on the third slide is ‘Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action‘ by Larry Vandergrift and Christine Goh.

The signs used for KET and PET were taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license. ELTpics is a collection of over 18,000 images (as I write this) shared by teachers and other education professionals from all over the world. They are arranged into categories, for example ‘Signs‘, ‘Rooms and Furniture‘ and ‘Every Picture Tells a Story‘. The photos used in the presentation were taken by Scott Thornbury, Victoria Boobyer, Mike Harrison, @silpico, Adam Simpson, and me!

The extra links I shared at the end of the presentation were:

  • Cambridge English‘ on facebook;
  • 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.

I’d like to thank David Dodgson, Hada Litim, Maria Theologidou, Olga Stolbova and Damian Williams for their help in putting together this presentation.

Five ways to raise your professional profile (IH TOC6)

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.

IHTOC May 2014 Raising your professional profile Sandy Millin

Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

This is the recorded version of a presentation which originally took place on Friday 4th April 2014 at IATEFL Harrogate 2014.

The abstract

“I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from my students on arrival in the UK. 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.

The summary

Listening is the skill we use most in a second language. We have to understand speakers in many different contexts, of different ages, genders, levels of education, and with a range of accents, both native and non-native. However, this is rarely reflected in the classroom, where listening tends to be focussed on other students in class or on scripted coursebook recordings in ‘standard’ forms of English, mostly spoken by young to middle-aged adults (or overly excited children in the case of young learner materials!). Teachers also tend to focus on testing comprehension, rather than on teaching better listening skills. This results in students lacking confidence in their listening abilities and/or lacking knowledge of how to approach listening in the real world.

The aim of this workshop is to introduce and try out a range of activities and materials which you can use in your classroom to teach listening, rather than testing it. Some of the principles discussed will be based on John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom (Cambridge 2008), as well as my own experience in the classroom and as a second language learner. The workshop will also look at how you can make the listening you use in the classroom reflect the real world as much as possible. Finally, participants will be given the chance to share activities and materials which have worked for them, as well as discussing how to apply the activities from the workshop to their own contexts.

The presentation

You can watch the full presentation in this video:

The books I recommended are:

(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.

I’ve previously shared resources related to weak forms, including more word clouds like the one in the presentation.

The audio tracks are not included in the presentation, so I’ve uploaded them to audioboo so you can listen to them and/or use them in class. No copyright infringement is intended.

Slide 6, audio 1

Slide 6, audio 2

Slide 12

Slide 13, audio 1

Slide 13, audio 2

Slide 16

From another perspective

Lizzie Pinard wrote a summary of my talk as it was happening

Andrea at Anglolang including a summary of my talk in her review of IATEFL 2014

Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson look at the talk from the perspective of English as a Lingua Franca

James Taylor wrote a one-sentence summary which made me laugh 🙂

Christmas activities

Here is the collection of Christmas activities which I presented at the International House Sevastopol seminar on Saturday December 21st 2013.

Some of the activities are available on the web, some I have created, and some are versions of time-honoured none-Christmas EFL activities adapted to the festive season. If there’s no link, click on the picture within the presentation and it should take you to the activity. Hopefully the slides are self-explanatory, but if not, feel free to leave me a comment.

In addition, here are some photos from Christmas 2010 which my family gave me permission to take and share. I talked about one of them using fotobabble.

Lights on a garden tree Snow on Christmas Day! Barrel organ as part of Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Red phone boxes in the snow Stuffing the turkey Pigs in blankets Part-cooked turkey Table set with crackers Table set with crackers Turkey in the oven Fully-cooked turkey Ready to pull crackers Eating Christmas dinner, wearing cracker hats Christmas pudding in the microwave Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) Evening meal of Christmas cake and leftovers... Christmas cake IMG_4106

I realise that this is a bit late for many of you, but you can save it for next year 🙂

Online Professional Development

Today I have done an updated version of my Twitter for Professional Development seminar. I have now decided to focus on:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Webinars

…as the Twitter site has improved a lot, although it can still be difficult to follow chats on it, and I now find that I get a lot out of facebook and webinars in terms of professional development.

You can still find my complete introduction to using Twitter for Professional Development, although the information about Google Reader is now outdated as it no longer exists. I have started using instead.

Here is a complete recorded version of the presentation:

If you do decide to start using online professional development, I’d be interested to hear from you. I am also happy to answer any questions about it which I can.

Good luck!

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