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
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?


Most of the ideas for this session were taken from an OUP pdf puclication called using video in the classroom.
I was sent this by a colleague some weeks ago, but I cannot find where it was published or who in fact was the author, please if you know can you tell me so I can give this the full referencing.
Anyway below find these excellent 10 ways of using video in the classroom by person unknown and poublished by OUP.

10 ways to use video clips in class

With today’s classroom equipment, it’s easier than it’s ever been to use video when we teach. TVs and DVD players are well established as class resources, but we can use other equipment such as data projectors and interactive whiteboards to play video clips too.

Projecting clips onto a whiteboard or using an interactive whiteboard is very similar to how you would use a television, but the great advantage is that you can write on it while the video plays! So don’t forget about these as options for your class.

In this article, I’ll give you 10 different activities for using with video in your lessons – but first, a question:

Why use video?

The obvious answer is that it’s enjoyable. Watching TV or a video/DVD

is familiar to most of your students, so you can probably expect them

to look forward to watching a clip in class.

However, there’s much more to it than simply enjoyment. Here are

some more reasons why video is a useful tool for the classroom:

Provides a different focus, which motivates students

Rich source of language

Lends itself to many activities

Reinforces language

Helps develop listening skills

Provides exposure to culture, cultural gestures and so on


Unlike listening to a CD, a video clip provides visual clues - students can see gestures accompanying speech, and this helps to understand meaning

Video clips set their own contexts both for a topic and (in terms of the classroom) for


Visual content provides a shared common knowledge – not all students will understand a

listening the same way, but everyone can see if the man’s coat is blue

Now let’s look at ten simple activities that you can use to exploit video clips in your lesson. I hope you find them useful, and I’d love to hear your feedback. Good luck!

Tip Tips

1. The Name Game

Aim: to practise and revise vocabulary

Play a DVD clip and pause it.

Ask students to shout out the things they can see on the screen.


If you wish to do it word by word, point to the things (i.e. words) you want to revise

This can become noisy, so an alternative is to ask students to write a list of what they see.

If you are using an IWB, you or the students can write the words on the paused video clip, labelling the clip like a picture.

2. Run and touch

Aim: to practise and revise vocabulary

You will need plenty of space for this activity!

Ask students to come to the front of the class

Put them in teams, ask each team to stand in a line.

Play the DVD and pause it.

Shout the name of something that appears on the screen.

Students at the front of each line have to come and touch the word. The first student to do it gets a point for their team. The students then go to the back of the line and the game repeats with the

next students from each team.

To give the students more control, get them to say the words they’ll run for.

3. Covered screen

Aim: to set the context of the lesson, or for language work such as models of deduction

If you are not using an IWB, you will need something to cover the screen (paper, card etc.)

Paused Picture

Find the piece of the DVD you wish to use and pause it. Don’t let students see it.

Use the spotlight feature in the IWB to spotlight an area that makes it hard to guess what the whole picture is.

Ask the students to guess what they are looking at. This is where the target language can be used, e.g. ‘It could be a restaurant.’

After the students have guessed, move the spotlight to another part of the picture and ask the students again.

Repeat until the students guess correctly, then reveal the picture.

For follow up, you can do ‘the name game’ activity above.


Use the screen shade feature in the IWB to cover the screen.

Tell the students you will play the DVD and they have to listen and guess where the DVD clip is set.

Play the DVD - screen shade hides the picture so the students can only hear

Stop the DVD and ask the students to think about where the DVD is set (or who are the people, how are they feeling, what the place is like and so on).

As with Paused Picture, you can ask students answer using the lesson’s target language.




Aim: to encourage speaking (or you can use it for a specific language aim)

Play the DVD and pause it before something ‘important’ happens.

Ask the students to discuss questions such has what they think is going to happen, what is the person about to do, how it will end and so on.

Play the DVD for the students to confirm their predictions.

If you are using an IWB then you can prepare the questions before the lesson and then display them on the board as a visual reference.


Aim: Similar to Prediction 1, but students see the beginning and end of the clip –

not the middle. This way they have to predict (speculate) what has happened.

Play the first part of the clip then stop it. Ask students to discuss what they’ve seen.

Fast forward the DVD (preferably so the students cannot see).

Play the end of the clip.

Ask the students to guess what happened in the middle – elicit some ideas.

Play the whole clip for students to confirm their predictions.

6. Make your own quiz

Aim: to practise questions

 Students watch a DVD clip.

After it has finished, ask them to write questions about the visual content of the clip,

e.g. what colour was the man’s sweater?

Students share their questions.

 Students try to answer the questions from memory, then by watching the clip again.


7. What are they thinking?

Aim: to test listening comprehension (students react to what the characters say)

Play the DVD and pause it when there are a few characters on the screen.

Ask the students to think about what the characters have said and what they might be thinking.

Write down their suggestions on the board.

Ask the class to discuss which are the best suggestions and why.

Draw ‘thought bubbles’ from the characters’ heads - ask students to write their ideas in the bubbles

If you play the clip without sound, you can draw speech bubbles instead of thought bubbles.

8. Body language

Aim: to show the importance of body language in communication

Choose a clip where there is a lot body language – an argument, for example.

Make sure the sound is switched off.

Play the clip and ask the students what they think is happening, what the characters are saying.

Remind them to look at the body language of the characters.

Students share their ideas.

Play the clip again with sound to see if anyone is correct


9. Overdubs

Aim: to practise understanding functional context

An overdub is when we ask students to replace the video dialogue with dialogue of their own. To do this you need to play the clip without the sound.

The students watch a clip and make notes on what they think is happening.

After the clip, students work together to decide on the dialogue (the size of the group depends on the number of characters in the clip).

When students are ready, the clip is replayed and the students ‘act out’ their dialogue.

Students decide which group has the best dialogue.

Play the clip again with audio so students can hear the original dialogue.

Check your IWB for a recording facility – students might be able to record their own dialogues

Try the internet to find a free voice-recording program

10. Subtitles

Aim: to test comprehension

You will need an IWB for this activity.

If you do not object to using L1 in the classroom, you can ask students to translate the dialogue in the clip, then write the translated dialogue as a subtitle.

As with overdubbing, your students can use subtitles to present an alternative dialogue.

There are a number of websites that can help you to add subtitles to video clips found on

the Internet.

Final tips for using video clips in class

Keep extracts reasonably short

Encourage active viewing through tasks

Prepare appropriate tasks for before, during, and after the clip

Play the clip before the lesson so you know how the technology works

Remember that video clips can have a cultural bias

Remember copyright – if you are using a clip from the Internet, it may be illegal to download it


Thank you to those of you who chose my brains session at the recent 'Signposts' conference.
I hope you enjoyed it, I think it is a fun session to deliver but I also think it has a very serious message.
Here are my thoughts.

Different people do the same task in different ways. In the session we tried the memory activity, the colours activity and the maths. It was interesting to observe different facial expressions and the different way people wrote lists or the way they read the colours from board. It shows that we all have different ways of doing things, but do we remember this as teachers. When we give a activity to our students we tend to expect them to do it our way.

Remember how you felt doing the maths or the second memory activity, that stress can lead to disruptive behaviour.

The brain is a complicated organ, it works in a myriad of ways and although different parts are responsible for different things the brain work bests when it is asked to interact. In general we can say that:

1. Limbic system - emotions, survival instincts

2. Cerebellum - movement, posture, balance

3. Brain stem - breathing, heartbeat, etc.

4. Frontal lobe - reasoning, planning, emotion

5. Occipital lobe - visual processing

6. Parietal lobe - movement, orientation, recognition

7. Temporal lobe - auditory, memory, speech

So I asked you if you had ever

 been told off for chewing gum in class

 fallen asleep in class

 felt an urge to run out of a classroom

 had an argument with a teacher

 been told off for daydreaming

 been told off for humming or singing in class

 been told off in school for the way you look

But I also wonder if you have ever had it happen to you as a teacher, so have you

 told off a student for chewing gum in class

 had students fall asleep in class

 had a student run out of a classroom

 told off a student for daydreaming

 told off a student for humming or singing in class

 told off a student in school for the way they look

Obviously there is nothing wrong with telling students off for these thing but we should probably consider why they are doing it.

The brain needs oxygen to help it work, therefore we need to air our classrooms, and encourage good posture and movement to help the brain process oxygen.

The brain needs security, we need to feel safe and comfortable, if we feel threatened we tend to respond either with flight or fight, we either run away or cause trouble. Therefore the classroom should be non-threatening, encourage students by saying things like it is not important if you don’t get it right, just have a go! Award students for trying as well as succeeding, see previous blog.

Some learners need visual stimulus, when they don’t get it they tend to go it alone and lose themselves in their own worlds. So we need to ensure we have visuals, visualisation exercises, drawing activities etc.

Teachers tend to like students working in silence, personally I can’t stand it as a learner. So I tend to hum to myself. Teachers can occasionally play music in the class to encourage those more musical learners.

I have only touched on a few things here, but it is interesting to think how we can feed the brain with different activities to encourage a holistic response.

So these are the basic ingredients to a brain friend lesson

Our frontal lobe is longing for logical organised lessons and courses. That means a logical structure in the lesson, rues and formulas to analyse and recycling in the lesson

Our Occipital lobe is longing for visuals and a chance to visualise.

Our limbic system wants to be able to express itself in a safe environment whcih values the input it can make

Our brain stem, cellebrium and parietal lobe movement to keep us awake and alert

Finally we need variety to allow us to stimulate our brains in a range of ways that will aid learning and kep us awake and keep us from running away.