Thursday, 22 December 2011

Technology without technology

I've been meaning to put together a session on this for a while but haven't had chance to here are 4 or 5 ideas that I have put in other sessions that I would put in this session.

We all know that technology is THE buzz word in teaching at the moment. We are told that not using technology means we are not allowing our students to reach their full potential. Which is frustrating because the classrooms I have used recently do not have the equipment to allow me to incorporate technology into my teaching.
But that does not stop me ... so here are my ideas.
1. Text speak. All our students use mobile phones so how can we get mobile phone language or text speak into the lessons?
After a reading or listening put some sentences on the board written in text speak - ask the students to work out which character from the story wrote them. Then ask them to rewrite the text speak into proper English.
Some examples of text speak can be found here.
Alternatively give the students each a character from the reading or listening and ask them to write some texts as that character. Put the texts on the walls and allow the other students to read them and say which character wrote them.
2. Facebook.
In an early lesson in the year ask the students to make a Facebook page on a piece of paper. They can add a photo or draw themselves, they can add some status updates and write who their friends are.
Pin these up on the wall. Encourage students during future lessons to write up dates on their posters, to change their pictures and encourage them to comment on other peoples updates etc. (Thanks to Travis Rout for this idea.)
Facebook Roleplay
A lot of course books have photo stories, Project 3rd Edition levels 3 and 4 for example. This is a listening Roleplay using the idea of Facebook updates.
Ask the students if they use Facebook and what they write in the updates. Give each student a role from the listening. (it helps if there are 4 or 5 people in the listening).
Play a part of the listening and stop it. Ask the students to go into character and write a Facebook update for that character based on what they have heard. Then ask them to look at each other's and comment.
Then play the next part of the listening, and repeat.
(If the student's role has not appeared in the listening, ask them to imagine what that person is up to.)

Twitter - 140 character or fewer (A character is a letter a number punctuation and gaps.)
Twitter summaries
after a reading or listening ask the students to summarise the text in 140 characters or fewer.
I often make a grid of 140 squares for them to do this. I find it really fixes the mind and gets them to concentrate on clarity of message.

Writing Brainstorm.
If you have a writing task in your course book ask students to answer it in a twitter style 140 characters or fewer.
Then ask them to swap and read each others and reply in 140 characters etc.
At the end put them on the wall and allow everyone to read each other's.
What you have effectively done is a brainstorming activity, the students have new ideas to write about, have shared ideas in a fun way.

These are just a few of my ideas ... I will add more here as I think of them.
Please try them out and let me know how they go.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Integrated Skills Integrated Learning

We as teachers often say, Oh I am doing a reading lesson today. This makes it sound like, the skills, reading , listening, speaking and writing are discrete items that do not link with each other. But we all know that these skills are interlinked and reliant on each other. As I type this handout, I am also reading my notes. When I delivered the session I was speaking and listening to your input, reading my notes and making my own notes, engaging all four skills.

Just consider what skills we use when we do the following –

  • open a bank account
  • go to a supermarket
  • go to a lecture
  • read a novel

Why do we teach the skills?

When I used to train completely new teachers I was asked this quite often, the question would be surely people can already read, write, listen and speak in their own language, why do we need to reteach these skills. The problem is that transferring the skills from L1 to a foreign language is often not a natural thing to do. In our own language we don’t worry if we don’t understand a word or miss something someone said, we can piece together the meaning but in a foreign language we become more obsessed with understanding every word or getting a sentence exactly right.

In class then we should be concerned about the process of developing the skills as much as the final product. Learning a language is like doing a jigsaw, putting together a picture in a holistic way rather than building the picture like a brick wall in a linear way. Exposing students to reading and listening texts will allow them to put together that picture for themselves.

English is more than an academic subject, it is a real life tool, so students need to see it as such and be exposed to it in meaningful and communicative ways. We also want out students to develop their critical thinking skills, moving from understanding and remembering to analysing and applying their knowledge.

Of course the skills can be broken down into sub-skills. these are some of them .

Top down processing – bringing your own knowledge and expectations to a text to help get meaning.
Bottom up processing – using the words and structure to decipher meaning.
Editing – reading and analysis what you have written or spoken in order to improve the message.
Circumlocution – the ability to talk around the subject if you don’t have the ability to say exactly what you mean.
Skimming – reading a text without understanding every word to try to get the general meaning or gist.
Scanning – looking at text for key information, the way one might read a pizza menu.
Summarising – reporting what you have read or heard to others in either written form on spoken form.
Negotiating meaning – being able to ask questions to find out what the speaker or writer means, and being able to ask questions to ensure the listener, reader has understood.
Structuring – knowing about the structure of different genres of writing or spoken text.

Stress and rhythm – a listening and speaking skills, hearing, understanding and producing the punctuation of spoken text.

How can we help?

The instructions we give are incredibly important, if we tell students why we are doing something, how we want them to do it, why we want them o do it in that way, etc then they will develop the skills they have in L1.

Letting students know that reading and listening are natural ways of acquiring language and just because the isn’t a grammar focus doesn’t mean they mean they are not learning is worthwhile.

Encouraging students to speak or write with confidence, not being afraid of making mistakes can also help students to develop their English skills.

Giving students a realistic, communicative, reason to speak, read, write, listen can help them feel the activity is worthwhile.

So teaching the skills allows for natural, communicative input that helps students develop their language knowledge and their linguistic and communicative competence.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Culture Vulture

There is a debate as to whether culture has a role in the English Language classroom.

If we are teaching English as an international language, a lingua franca, then we do not need to learn about the culture of the target language community , the UK / the USA, as the real target language community is the world.

However, so much of the language comes out of the culture that developed it, so in a way the two are intrinsically linked. Also looking at culture gives us interesting topics to contextualise the language in.

I have 7 reasons for including culture in my lessons. They are:

Usage – so much of English has connotational nuances or subtle formality shifts that an understanding of the culture that developed the language helps with an understanding of the meanings.

Holistic Learning – some students love to study grammar rules and construct sentences using them. Some like to see the language being used in context, in meaningful situations. Learning about culture contextualises the language. It means that students can use other knowledge not just the knowledge of English.

Extended Skills work – learning about culture helps us to focus on reading writing listening and speaking skills in the language classroom. These skills are essential life skills that are not automatically transferred from L1 to a foreign language.

Understanding – if we want students to study outside the classroom we might ask them to read or watch films / tv programmes, listen to songs etc in English. These will have cultural references that students need to be aware of.

Travel – if students want to travel to English speaking countries they need to be aware of the customs and cultures of those countries.

Critical Thinking – discussing cultural differences , comparing your own culture to different cultures ca help students develop their reasoning skills and help them move beyond the remembering and understanding stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.

How to teach culture

If you take my reasons and shuffle them around you will find they spell culture.

So another acrostic can you think of reasons how to teach culture using letters from culture.



These were some of the ideas you came up with around the country.

Course book, comparison cinema. computers card, cds, cartoons customs, creativity, communication
Understanding. unabridged books
Listening, literature., learning., language
Tales, text. teacher, technology, traditions travelling tastes textbook
Universal unique information usage useful knowledge
Reading, riddles, radio role-play realia, rumour and gossip, religion
Entertainment, extracts, etiquette

And some others that didn’t quite fit:


yoU tube

An acrostic is one way to teach culture. In the session we also looked at the traps formal / polite language sometimes has.

We used the mind map and sounds to help brainstorm ideas before a reading or listening and we used a joke to get students thinking of the language.

So what do you think? Does Culture have a role to play in the ELT classroom. Leave your comments below.

Making the most of Project - Serbia December 2011

Making the most of your course book.
Course books are only as good as the teachers who use them and the students who study from them. A good course book should be part of the teaching process but should not dominate it. As my friend Matt Barnard told me, you teach the students not the course book.
Below are some ways to adapt and use the course book to bring variety to your lessons.
Put the students into small groups, give them a list of words and ask them to put them into categories. You can tell the groups or ask them to come up with them. You can have words from one lexical set or different lexical sets.
Random Associations
Put two lists of words on the board from two different lexical sets. Ask students to make associations between words from each set.
Back to the boards
One student sees a word the other doesn’t. Then –
- the students who sees the words describes it so the other one can guess.
- the student who sees the word draws it so the other one can guess.
- the student who sees the word acts it so the other one can guess.
- the student who doesn’t sees the word asks yes or no questions to try to guess the word.
Dictate a text at a normal speed, (don’t slow down). Students write down the key words. Ask them to compare and then read text again, students again write down key words. Students then work in groups to rewrite the text trying to get the same meaning.
Simple use the questions to encourage students to predict the answers before they read.
Twitter Summary
Ask students to write a summary of the text in 140 characters or fewer. A character = a letter, a number, a punctuation mark or a space.
Ask students to write a Epitaphs (a rhyming tribute to a dead person) of one of the characters in the story.
Here lies the body of Jonothan Blake, he stepped on the gas instead of the break.
Here lies the body of the king of rock and roll, all those burgers took their toll.
Grab game
Students have words from the listening on the desks in front of them, as they listen they try to grab the words they hear. The one with the most is the winner. (repeat it immediately for more fun).
Song to Project
Use any some, ask the students to imagine who the band are, what they look like, how they feel etc etc. You can then ask them to make a project around the band they create.
Singing in Rounds
Reuse a song by getting students to sing in rounds, e.g. one group starting, the next starting after the first two lines etc.

I asked the participants in Novi Sad to write the Epitaphs, the Twitter Summary or the Dictogloss for homework, if you did please leave your attempts here.
Feel free to leave comments to let me know how the activities worked with your class.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

B1 or not B1 and other Speaking Issues

B1 or not B1

How do we know what is really B1? The CEFR descriptors are long and complicated, the Maturita criteria are confusing so how can we judge what is B1?

Here are some on the CEFR descriptors for speaking that I believe are best suited to what we are looking for.

And here is my opinion of what B1 is

  • Not perfect – will make mistakes but will be understandable
  • Will be reasonably easy to listen to
  • Will be able to negotiate meaning
  • Will be able to interact with other speakers.
  • Go here for more details -

The link above will take you to a website with speaking samples, it is a nice way to practise getting used to the different levels.

Listen to your students not your student’s mistakes.

4 reasons not to over-correct your students

· students will become demotivated and fear making a mistake

· communicative accuracy is as important as linguistic accuracy.

· being listened to and getting a message across is motivating

· errors can be learning steps, we don’t want to make students think making mistakes is wrong.

4 Reasons to correct your students.

  • if mistakes are learning steps then error correction and coaching is important to help students see the problem and improve.
  • students perceive the teacher’s job is to correct, they will feel like they are learning if they correct.
  • students are passed the natural age for learning language so coaching and correction are important to help the students develop.
  • it is a way to deal with language the students would like to be able to use but can’t. (emerging language)

Golden Rules of Error Correction

  • Don’t correct all the time.
  • Remember what is being said is as important as how.
  • Echo rather than overtly correct.
  • Don’t interrupt… go back to correct.
  • If error causes breakdown in communication negotiate meaning don’t correct.
  • Use errors to help you plan
  • Think about the needs of your students, are they confident, can they handle correction.

This will make the students more confident so they speak more. So they will make more mistakes.

Helping our students make better mistakes.

My tips for helping students make better mistakes

  • The more they speak … the more mistakes they make.
  • Give time to prepare and plan.
  • Encourage a friendly, supportive environment.
  • Allow for lots of variety.
  • Allow chance to repeat the activity.
  • Favour pair and group work rather than whole class.
  • Pick topics that will interest and won’t embarrass.
  • Don’t make them do what they don’t want to.

Making Speaking Fun

Some principles for making speaking fun

  • Make sure there is a task.
  • Make sure the students know what they are doing.
  • Give students freedom to express themselves.
  • Make sure there is a reason to speak and to listen.


  • B1 isn’t Picasso
  • Errors are learning steps
  • Error correction needs to be supportive
  • Students need to feel like they are being listened to
  • Variety is the spice of life.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Speaking Samples

I've been running a teacher training session around the Czech Republic called B1 or not B1.
In it we listened to the 2 of the 3 recordings on this page and discussed if they were CEFR A2 B1 or B2 based on a truncated version of the CEFR descriptors found here.

Please could you listen to the records and comment on them in the comments below saying what you think the level of the student is?
Thank you
Boy 1
Facebook boy1 by @reasons4

Girl 1
Facebook girl1 by @reasons4

Boy 2
Facebook boy2 by @reasons4

Friday, 11 November 2011

Sing and Your're Winning Plzen and Zlin


          Songs are fun, lively ways to present and practise new language.

          Don’t only use a song once, use them frequently for lesson warm ups or endings to help students remember the language.

Warmer – Song titles

          Think of all the songs you can with _____ in the title.

        a girl’s name

        Day of the week

        A colour

Or whatever the topic of your lesson is.


·         Respond to the song - Play two or three songs ask if students would, turn up, or turn off radio, why? 

·         Respond to the song 1 – ask students to do certain action when they hear words that are in a specific category.

·         Respond to the song 2 – ask students to do mines when they hear words that can have mimes.

·         Singing the song  - always great to get students to sing the songs, try taking out words each time they sing it or try singing in rounds, one group starts singing The next group joins in after the first line etc.

·         correcting the mistake – give the students the lyric of the song with some mistakes, they listen and correct the mistakes, a nice way to reuse gapfills.

·         draw the song – students draw the meaning of the song and describe their pictures to their partners.

·         Grab Game / Bingo write words from the song on pieces of paper. Listen to the song and when you hear the words on the paper try to grab  the piece of paper. The person with the most pieces of paper at the end of the game is the winner. Or Draw a bingo grid, students write in words. Play song, students cross off words they hear.

·         Respond to the song - Listen to the song and imagine...The group who is singing, how many, male or female, ages etc. How are they feeling? This can lead to a ‘book ‘ project or a ‘poster’ project about their imagined band.

·         Respond to the song - Listen to the song and think about what advert / film it comes from. A Again this can lead to a poster or project  work.

·         Matching  songs and pictures – find some pictures and display them, play some songs and ask students to match the song to the picture. You could use countryside scenes, towns, people etc etc etc.

·         News Song – a homework task, ask students to find sings that go with news stories in the news at the moment. get them to devise a radio station running order, summary of news then song then another news point then song.  

Plzen - Use adapt extend


  • Dictogloss – read part of the text at normal speed, ask students to write down key words. Compare with a partner, repeat if necessary, ask students to reconstruct the text. (It does not have to be word perfect just get the same meaning.) This shows students how they can reconstruct meaning from key words. Use the information in the text to predict what comes next and then get students to read the rest.  
  • Running dictation – put lines from the text around the room. Students read the text and come back to their partner to dictate it, they then swap roles. Once they have all the lines they try to put them in order to recreate the text. This helps students to thing of the order of the text. Use the information in the text to predict what comes next and then get students to read the rest.  
  • Correct the errors – revisit the text in a future lesson by reading a part of it with mistakes the students need to correct the mistakes. Ask students to put their hands up when they hear a mistake and award a point for the one who can correct it first. If you want you can ask the person who put their hand up if they want to answer themselves or nominate someone else to answer from a different team.


  • What do you know? –Before students listen (or read) ask them to read the comprehension questions and work out what they already know about the text from the information contained in the questions.

§  What questions would you ask? – Before the students listen (or read) ask them to write their own questions they would like answered.

  • Stop  - during the listening allow students to ask you to stop the recording when they feel a but lost. Stop it, give them a minute in pairs and then start again.
  • Sentence Finishing – have the ame first clause 5 times but each time end it with a different conjunction, although, however, so etc. Ask students to finish the sentence.
  • Text language – use mobile phone speak in your lessons. Have students work out what the sentences mean and then rewrite them in proper English.


The idea of twitter in the classroom interests me. 140 character or fewer is quite challenging. IT makes students really think about how to say something clearly and concisely. Try it.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Gareth's Speaking CEFR A2 B1 B2


  • Can initiate discourse, take turns when appropriate and end conversation when he/she needs to, though he/she may not always do this elegantly.
  • Shows a relatively high degree of grammatical control. Does not make mistakes which lead to misunderstanding.
  • Can correct most of his/her mistakes
  • Has a sufficient range of language to be able to give clear descriptions, express viewpoints and develop arguments without much conspicuous searching for words, using some complex sentence forms to do so.
  • Has a good range of vocabulary for matters connected to his field and most general topics
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without imposing strain on either party.
  • Can pass on detailed information reliably


  • Communicates with reasonable accuracy in familiar contexts; … Errors occur, but it is clear what he/she is trying to express.
  • Can initiate, maintain and close simple face-to-face conversation on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Has enough language to get by, with sufficient vocabulary to express him/herself with some hesitation and circumlocutions
  • Can keep going comprehensibly, even though pausing for grammatical and lexical planning and repair is very evident.
  • Knows enough vocabulary to talk about family, hobbies and interests, work, travel, news and current events.
  • Can make the other person understand the points that are most important.
  • Can correct mix-ups with tenses or expressions which lead to misunderstandings provided the interlocutor indicates there is a problem.


  • Knows enough vocabulary for familiar everyday situations and topics, but need to search for the words and sometimes must simplify what is said.
  • Has a limited repertoire of short memorised phrases covering predictable survival situations; frequent breakdowns and misunderstandings occur in non-routine situations.
  • Uses some simple structures correctly, but still systematically makes basic mistakes - for example tends to mix up tenses and forget to mark agreement; nevertheless, it is usually clear what he/she is trying to say.
  • Can use simple techniques to start, maintain, or end a short conversation.
  • Can construct phrases on familiar topics with sufficient ease to handle short exchanges, despite very noticeable hesitation and false starts.
  • Has sufficient vocabulary to conduct routine, everyday transactions involving familiar situations and topics.
  • Can communicate what he/she wants to say in a simple and direct exchange of limited information on familiar and routine matters, but in other situations he/she generally has to compromise the message.

    Friday, 14 October 2011

    Main blog

    Welcome to the handouts branch of my EFL blog.
    Find the main blog at for lots more.
    Or have a look around here.

    Primary Homework Session

    Ok, So who's done their homework

    Homework! Groan work! Put it down and moan work!
    (Homework, Oxford Resource Books for Teachers. Lindsay Painter)

    Why do we set homework?

    Of course a simple answer to this is ‘because we have to’ but actually homework is really important for both us and our students.

    We have to remind students that they can’t just be taught English they have to learn it. And they can’t do that just in 90 minutes 2 times a week. Homework is about using the language and learning the language outside the classroom. It is not an assessment it is something that helps students get exposure to English.

    Homework can help us as teachers to diagnose the students need and also prioritise classroom time; setting the students things to do that they don’t need support on.

    But we need to be careful when we set homework, we need to make sure we are consistent.

    These are the golden rules of homework that people suggested as I went around Poland.

    1.Students should see the usefulness of homework.
    2.Tasks should be relevant, interesting and varied.
    3.Different tasks may be assigned to different ability/learning style groups.
    4.Homework should be manageable in terms of time
    5.Homework doesn’t need to focus on a written product.
    6.Increase learner involvement and motivation by encouraging students to contribute ideas and design their own tasks
    8.Tasks should be challenging but achievable.
    9.Find out how much time, what facilities they have, and what their preferences are.
    10.Homework should consolidate classwork, it should not replicate it.
    11.Home is the outside world and tasks which are nearer to real life use of language are appropriate.
    12.If homework is set, it must be recognised, and feedback given.
    13.Motivating students to do homework is an ongoing process
    14. Don’t lose the homework
    15. Reward students who do their homework so it is clear that homework should be done.
    16. Homework can look forward to the next lesson as well as looking back.

    The Homework Book by Lesley Painter, referred to earlier, has some nice questionnaires about homework that you can ask your students to do as homework to find out about them.

    Lindsey Painter’s book I mentioned earlier has a rich seam of ideas for homework, such as the photographing English idea or the Dog Ate it idea.

    So when we set homework we can look forwards and prepare students for the next lesson... or look back and review what we have already done in class.
    We could use the OUP website  or the multi-rom to give interesting homework or set little research projects that would interest the students.
    Remember how self study differs from Homework. We suggest rather than set self study.
    But we can encourage it by using the website or multi-roms in class... but introducing readers or using dictionaries... either the books or the discs.

    So remember…
    · Homework is a chance to practice English outside the classroom
    · Homework shouldn’t be assessment
    · It should be a chance to consolidate what’s been done in class
    · It can be chance to look ahead and prepare for future lessons
    · We hope that it isn’t something copied from a classmate 3 minutes before the start of class.
    · We hope the students think it isn’t pointless
    · It is a chance to diagnose the needs of students
    · Sadly it is something that is done on the tram on the way to school but we’d like it not to be.

    Cyprus Speaking

    Testing or assessing learners can be very useful, it can provide teachers with useful feedback on the abilities of their class, inform their choices on how to develop the syllabus and allow teachers to reflect on their own teaching. This formative assessment can be a beneficial part of the teaching process. However students often see tests as negative and cause stress, this is because they receive a grade and everyone from their peers to parents can see how good or bad they are at a subject. If we are assessing just to award a grade it is known as summative assessment, to see what the students have achieved.

     (18 out of 210 teachers said they liked doing tests when they were in school, and about 7 said only in the subjects they liked.)

    Another problem with testing is the affect the test has on our approach to teaching.

    Testing for young learners should reflect the teaching methods developed for young learners or the washback of the test.

    ·         In class we tend to use a range of different activities to reflect the different learning styles in the classroom.  Yet test still seem to be based around pen and paper task such as gap-fills, dictations and translation. Therefore testing we should think of how we can change our assessment process not our teaching techniques.

    Testing should not negatively affect the methodology used in the class.

    ·         The danger of testing is that it can dominate our classroom teaching. If the end of course test is a multiple choice test then the classroom could become dominated by multiple choice activities, taking away the creativity of the teaching and learning process.

    What to do with the results?

    In my opinion, students should not be compared to other students in the class. Their results should reflect what they can do and what they need to work on rather than how well they did compared to Jiri or Eva etc.

    Test should be fair and should be measured against a set of criteria (criteria referencing), so the students can understand the results in terms of their own strengths and weaknesses.

    If we compare students with other students in the class (norm referencing), we are giving the message that they are not as clever as someone or cleverer than another which fails to celebrate an individual’s achievement. Even a student with a low mark has achieved something and can be told what they can do.

    How do you assess?

    If we test we need to make sure we have clear criteria we are testing against. I find that the CEFR provides good ideas to help us.

    We need to make sure that our tests are not too broad, if we pick up on every mistake then the students will end up on minus marks. A more global approach is needed, based on task achievement and communication.

    In the session we assessed Martina and decided on the criteria ourselves. In almost all the groups we decide on the following things.

    Did the student complete the task effectively?

    Did the student use appropriate language?

    Was it easy to listen to or did it put a strain on the listener?

    Did the student have effective coping strategies?

    Was the pronunciation clear and effective?

    For practical activities just think about what makes a good speaking exercise. If it generates language and allows students to speak then it is an effective testing task. What we want are tasks that involve the students so they are thinking about that and not about the test.

    So sorting things into categories, saying if you agree or disagree with something, comparing pictures, etc. are all good ways of generating language.

    To conclude  a quote.

    ‘Assessment should serve teaching and learning by providing feedback to you and the students, encouraging a positive classroom atmosphere, and promoting and maintaining a strong motivation for learning English.’

     Assessing Young Learners, Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou and Pavlos Pavlou, Oxford Resource Books for Teachers.


    Assessing Young Learners, Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou and Pavlos Pavlou, Oxford Resource Books for Teachers.

    Teaching Young Learners , Ana Maria Pinter Oxford University Press.

    Listen Carefully

    Use pictures to introduce main characters

    Ask students questions about the characters, how they feel, are they good or bad, what noise they make?

    Use pictures and ask students to predict the story

    Use words and phrases from the story and ask students to predict the story.

    During Listening

    Ask students to make noises or do actions connected with the character.

    Stop regularly and ask students questions about what they have heard.

    Allow students to stop you and ask you questions.

    Play bingo or grab games to encourage students to listen for key words.

    Have students listen with their eyes closed. when you stop ask them  to draw what they heard.

    Read the story with mistakes, ask the students to correct the mistakes.

    After Listening

    Have students create one scene from the listening – a photograph.

    Have students make a poster from the point of view of one of the minor characters.

    Use text speech or Facebook statuses to review the story.

    Ask students to bring story up to date – Cyberella  William Twitter etc.

    Ask students to recreate the video by acting it.
    Watch out on the blog for a glossary of text speak.

    Monday, 26 September 2011

    Extend adapt use - making the most of your coursebook.


    Read some of a text to the students at normal speed, they write down the key words then compare what they have written with their partner. Repeat. Then ask the students to try to reconstruct the text

    Ask some students to read out what they have or go around and help / error correct.

    Use: this can be used with the first paragraph of a long reading or listening to break it up. Have the students predict what comes next using the info from the completed paragraph.

    Aim: this practises listening skills, listening for key words and reconstructing meaning from them. It also practises writing skills as students are trying to recreate a model.

    Running Dictation

    Put each sentence from a paragraph on a separate piece of paper and post them on the wall around the classroom.

    Put the students into pairs. O)ne student goes to one of the sentneces, reads it and comes back and dictates it to their partner. The other student writes it down. They swap roles and the second student goes off to find a sentence.

    Use: this can be used with the first paragraph of a long reading or listening to break it up. Have the students predict what comes next using the info from the completed paragraph. Once they have dictated all the sentences ask them to put the text ion the correct order.

    Aim: this practises listening skills,.reading skills and writing skills as the students have to think about reconstructing the text.

    Predicting from the questions

    Ask the student to read the questions for a reading or listening and then discuss with a partner what they thing is happening in the text. This works really well with multiple choice questions. When they listen they not only answer the questions but see if their own version of events were right.

    Use: can be iused as a prediction task before any reading or listening.

    Aim: we often encourage students to read the questions this actually forces them to read them. It engages the students and personalises the activity.

    Activity Listening

    1 Give the students some information about the reading or listening text. Ask the students to write their own questions that they would like to find the answers for. Elicit some and put them on the board. Then ask the students to read or listen and answer their own questions.

    Use: This works well if it is a personal anecdote or a person giving information about themselves.

    Aim: this becomes more like real life because we listen or read things for information that we want to find out ourselves rather that information a course book writer thinks is relevant.

    2 Allow the students to put their hand up if they want to pause the listening at any stage. Pause the recording and ask them to discuss what they have so far with their partners.

    Use: with any listening especially a long one.

    Aim: in real life we tend to interrupt if we are talking and we don’t understand what the other person is saying. When listening in the classroom the students can’t do that, if they get lost they are powerless and that just causes panic and causes them to miss more.

    3. Ask the students to prepare questions for you about the listening after they have finished. Doing the task.

    Aim: this reflects the idea of asking someone we are talking to to clarify their position. A classroom tape can’t do that, it is always the same. So this is a way for students to deal with that problem.

    Complete the sentences

    Put the same clause on the board 4 or 5 times but each time change the conjunction at the end of the sentence. Ask the students to complete the sentences in different ways depending on the conjunction.

    Use: this can be used to check comprehension of a text.

    Aim: this shows how important conjunctions are, it will help students to realise the meaning that the conjunctions carry and so will help their ability to decode a text as well as an ability to create a text.

    None of us.

    In order for speaking tasks to be real communication their needs to be a reason to communicate, to not only speak but to listen too. When doing speaking tasks it often seems that students are taking it in terms to deliver little monologues.

    The simplest way to add a task is to create a ‘me too or me neither’ feeling. So students have to find things in common or differences with colleagues. The example we saw in the session was getting students in groups of four and ask them to find things that was true only about 1 person in that group, true about 2 people, true about 3 or true about all of them.

    Paper Twitter

    Twitter is a social network site where people post update using 140 characters or fewer. Then people comment on their updates. Whole rafts of communication can take place in spouts of 140 characters or fewer.

    In the classroom set a writing question, and ask the students to try to answer it using 140 characters or fewer. Then ask them to pass their ‘tweet’ to another group, who reply using 140 characters or fewer, then they pass their reply back to the original tweeters, who also write a reply.

    I have used this as a way of brainstorming ideas, and then asked the students to do the proper writing task for homework.

    I have found that it helps students to focus their mind and to develop ideas.

    Please let me know if you use these ideas and how they go.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking – Preparing our students for academic life

    This is a handout to the session I did in Prague and Brno in Septemberber 2011.
    Thank you all for coming and participating. I hope you found it useful.

    How do we think?

    Critical thinking is the ability to critically analyse information rather than accept information unconditionally. That is, not to accept information we receive as fact but to question what we hear, to evaluate against what we know and then to use that information to draw our own conclusions.

    Let’s think about the way we think, look at these true or false questions.

     Cows are grass eating animals

     Cork is the capital of the Republic of Ireland

     Vocabulary is more important than grammar when teaching English

     Shows like X-factor are good for society

     My grandfather married my mother

    The first two sentences we can answer easily and quickly, why? It is because they are universally accepted facts and if we were to question them, then we could find evidence from credible sources that would back up the facts. Those sources might be our own eyes or a biology text book etc.

    It is worth remembering that credible sources can sometimes let us down. Anyone who has seen the BBC TV show QI will testify that a whole range of widely held truths have been proved to be untrue or only partially true.

    Extreme critical thinkers (often known as conspiracy theorists) will not believe anything until they have seen concrete evidence but most of us accept these universal truths without needing to see proof.

    Sentences three and four are beliefs. There is no right or wrong true or false answer for these. Scientists, grammarians, pedagogues or psychologist can put forward arguments and counter-arguments, can produce evidence that ‘proves’ their assertions but others might find evidence to refute their claims.

    This for me is where we need to apply critical thought. When we read articles in newspapers, see documentaries on television or read books we often think that what we are reading is fact. After all they appear to be credible sources.(It must be true it was on the BBC.) But we should recognise that the creator has an agenda, and that they are using their facts to create an argument that fits their agenda.

    The final sentence shows how sometimes we need to think differently. For all intents and purposes the answer should be false. But it is in fact true. The reason being is that my grandfather married hundreds of women in his role as a vicar and my mother was just one of them. So it also follows that my grandfather married my father too!

    Thus sometimes we need to look at things and then look at them differently to find the answer.

    Why do we need to encourage Critical Thinking in our lessons?

    When we are preparing students for exams such as IELTS or TOEFL, which students are taking to allow them to enter into university, or if we are preapring them to write, read or sepak English for University study, we need to not only teach the English they will need to know to pass the exam and the exam skills they will need, we can also encourage them to think critically in preparation for their future studies.

    By this I do not mean getting students to question why the present perfect is used etc. but setting exercises and tasks that get them to form their own opinion and express them effectively and also to develop skills that will enable students to evaluate information against what they know and then to use that information to draw their own conclusions.

    Two questions that arise from this; why do students need to be trained to think critically and why is it our job to do it?

    Educational approaches in many countries require students to memorise and then regurgitate facts, there is very little evaluation or interpretation of what they have learnt. This means that student are ill-prepared for the challenges of further education .

    It could be argued that this is not our jobs, we are English teachers and not teaching further education study skills, but I would argue that by encouraging more analysis, more questioning, more evaluation, we are improving their English language skills.

    Of course students might have barriers to this approach. The most common barriers are:

    • Cultural or personal barriers. – a common example of this is that the student believe something because their teacher told them. In some cultures it may seem rude or impertinent to question a figure of authority.

    • Mistaking information for understanding – students might think they understand because they have been taught the facts but might fall down on questions like why or how?

    • Lack of methods, strategies, practice or encouragement – students may never have been asked to read between the lines, to look for flaws in an argument etc. so might not know how to do it or might be reluctant to do it.

    This means that when you ask students for opinions or to speculate they might say things like:

    • My teacher said it, so it must be true.

    • I know it is but I don’t know why

    • But what’s the right answer?

    • What do you think teacher?

    • I don’t know! (meaning - I can’t be bothered to think about it so I will say I don’t know, or I am worried my view will be controversial so will not say anything.)

    • Is this going to be on the test?

    Practical Ideas

    Some ideas to introduce an aspect of critical thought into lessons.

    Find a link

    Give students groups of words and ask them to find a link.

    For example – salary, staff, maternity leave, occupation.

    Remember that even if you have an answer in your mind, you should accept any reasonable answer from your students. In this example the link in my mind is work but students might come up with other answers. Ask students for their reasons and praise them.

    Odd one out

    Give students a group of words and ask them to find the odd one out.

    For Example - sabbatical, maternity leave, long weekend, a sickie

    Again be willing to accept any answer. It is a good idea for this activity to make it ambiguous. SO in this example all these words have a link, there is not an obvious odd one out, you might argue that sickie is the odd one out as it is not planned, or long weekend because it is a holiday.

    Encourage the students to discuss and share their ideas, trying to convince each other.

    Remember to remind them there is no right answer.

    Other activities such as categorising words, or choosing the three most important things can also help students realise that there is no correct answer and that valid answers are ones with good reasoning.

    Reading for Gist (or Listening)

    We set our students gist reading tasks to help them to practice their skim reading skills. But these tasks can also help students to critically analyse the text they are about to student.

    Consider these three gist reading questions, what are they designed to help students to do?

     Who is the author? (job, age, political viewpoint)

     What was their motivation to write this?

     Do you agree or disagree with their point of view

    This type of task encourage students to see the text as an opinion not as a fact. Other question you could ask include:

     Do you feel the facts are accurate? Why or why not?

     Is the author or reporter giving equal attention to all sides of the issue?

     How does this piece make you feel personally?

     Do you agree or disagree with the author?

     Do you believe the ‘facts’ in this article?

     How do you feel others (from other countries, cultures, political groups, etc.) would feel about it?


    Einstein said that ‘education is what is left after you forget all the things you memorized in school’. While this might not strictly be true it is something to ponder. What are our roles as teachers? Do we imagine that our students will go away remembering all we have said to them or is it more realistic to assume that all we can possible do is give students the tools with which they can build their own knowledge. As Michael Baker, President of said if we teach students everything we know, their knowledge is limited to ours. If we teach students to think, their knowledge is limitless.

    Thursday, 15 September 2011

    3 Keys to Success in ESP Teaching

    The three keys to success are ...
    • the student - what they bring, and are willing to bring to the lesson is so important. They have to understand that they need to bring their work to English and take their English to work.
    • the teacher - we might not be subject specialist but we are language specialist. We can help them to improve their English but they will need to help us. Remember they should know what things are they might not know the English, that is where we come in, but really our job is to develop the enabling English.
    • the materials - we need to make sure it is relevant, interesting and motivating.
    SOme of the ideas I showed you in the session include.

    SMS Text Speak-
    GIve students sentences in text speak
    CU L8R
    W8 4 me
    ask them what it says, then ask them to write it in full English.

    Dictionary Race
    Give students some of the technical vocabulary.
    Give them a dictionary or the internet.
    Tell them they have xx amount of time to find the definitions.

    Functions Consequences
    Give students a problem. ask them to think of advice.
    get them to write the advice under the problem then fold the paper over so they can't see the problem but can see the advice.
    pass the paper on to the next student... who reads the advice; and then tries to refromulate it, saying the same but with a different form, they then fold the sheet over so the first person's advice is hidden and pass it on again.
    Keep going until they have written 4 or 5 things. Then they open up the sheet and try to correct what has been written.

    Word of the Day
    Teacher gives each student a word at the beginning of the lesson.
    Students don’t show each other the word.
    Give students time to look up word.
    Student has to try to use the word as many times in the lesson.

    The other ideas were all taken the Oxford for Careers series and involved getting students interested and motivated with quirky but thought provoking activities.

    Enjoy your ESP

    Monday, 12 September 2011


    A good dictionary is…….like a good friend: helpful, useful and always there when you need it.

    But how can we get out students to love a dictionary in the way we do. Below are 7 activities that help with training the students to use a dictionary.

    • Speed dating

    Open the dictionary at a random page.

    Find a word you like the look of.

    Walk round – tell everyone your word and listen / write down the words.

    Decide which word ‘partners’ with your word.

    Tell the class.

    • Flick Quiz

    Give students a list of words in alphabetical order

    If using Oxford Studijni Slovnik ask them to find translations, if using a mono lingual dictionary ask them to find definitions.

    Tell them it is a race.

    First to finish wins.

    • Quiz

    Give students a quiz that will help them notice the features of a dictionary.

    Put them into groups and ask them to find the answers to the quiz.

    (See below for ideas of questions)

    • Spelling

    Get participants to draw the table in their notebook.

    Tell them we are going to do a spelling test. they need to try to spell the word in one of two columns sure / not sure.

    Don’t worry is not a real test

    compare their answers with a partner, if there are any differences, look up the words in the dictionary.

    • Find the…

    Put students into 2 groups A and B

    Give the As some nouns and the Bs some adjectives from the same root word.

    Ask them to look the words up, As find the Adjective Bs fine the nouns.

    Pair an A with a B to check their answers.

    • Beginnings and Endings

    Give students a list of groups of root words

    Each group all have the same prefix or suffix

    Ask students to use the dictionary to look find the affix.

    • Thesaurus

    Give students some sentences, ask them to go home and use the dictionary CD-ROM to look up the words in the sentences and use the thesaurus feature to find synonyms.  Rewrite the sentence with the synonyms.

    Don’t forget our students are less interested in books and more interested in computers. Maybe we can encourage them to love their CD-ROMs as much as we do. All of these activities could be done on CD-ROMs rather than with books

    Examples of Quiz Questions

    • How many nouns can the verb produce make?
    • Why is ‘pick up mushrooms’ incorrect?
    • What’s the difference between shovel, spade and hoe?
    • How many meanings / sense / parts of speech  are there for the word process?
    • What word collocates with prodigy?
    • What is the difference between orchards and groves?
    • What does ‘to be ahead of your time’ mean?
    • Which of these words is not in the Oxford 3000 ahead /  music / naughty?