Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The chasm and the colander

Colander in my ELT kitchen

Burnout, Biomimicry, use of students' first language, and future technology in teaching: like fresh
apples, they're filling the colander of my IATEFL Hungary Veszprém experience.
Struggling to shake the colander and decide what's good for my practice, I muddle off to my
lessons without even leafing through the handouts or browsing the IATEFL conference blog.
No time! Zero prep! Tired from schlepping my backpack between bus stops, office buildings, and
I am angry! What's wrong? Have I attended too many conferences? Am I just too nose-to-the-grindstone to change the way I apply materials? Why this chasm between the excitement of
plenary talks and the execution of (nonexistent) lesson plans?
No more! Change was in the slogan of Veszprém, so let it be mine as well.
Trying to get a handle on the colander
Two columns: ­ left column, conference topics; right column, my current students
Match the topics in the left column with the names in the right column. Rather arbitrary,
but at least it's a start, and it's familiar, like the matching exercises in ELT course books.

Concept questions (Rachel Appleby "The Joy of Discovery") --> ­ my pre­int systech learning present perfect
Green teaching (Jane Petring's plenary) ---> ­ my teenager heading for a school leaving language exam
Turnabout translation (Philip Kerr "Translate Your Coursebook") ->­ my internal auditors who are learning to translate their findings into English
Creating personalized google maps with students (Nagy Nóra - Digital Reading) --> my IT consultant making a map about his clients
YouTube genres (Barbara Bujtás) --> my logistics manager learning phrases for reacting to news ('DumbWays to Die')

After this, maybe I'll try to digest Clandfield's exposé on technology and Komlósi Edit's research in emotional intelligence. Then I'll feel I've done the 24th IATEFL Hungary conference justice!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reflecting about this week in teaching

This week I am reflecting about my teaching. Unlike most of my posts, which describe concrete activities, this reflection mirrors ideas.

Idea One: bring the concept of cautious, intelligent Internet usage into my own life and my lesson plans
Idea Two: keep the balance between print reading and reading online/onscreen. And: read, read, and read some more!

I attended the Loras Network 2nd annual workshop last Saturday, September 20, 2014. The topic was technology, and the presenters meandered through it, stopping on the way at
  • the beauties of blogging
  • digital citizenship
  • computer-based examinations
  • blended learning
  • how to read digitally
After absorbing abstract ideas, I carried out approximately 20 hours of teaching, but more thoughtfully than before. No sudden insertion of digital citizenship material into Tuesday afternoon's private lesson (at a shopping center). Instead, a new self-awareness is reflected when I teach my students.   

November event about edtech

This will be great!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Update on coursebooks

These are my notes from an IATEFL webinar by Lindsay Clandfield on 21 June, 2014

What's hot and what's not in coursebooks
An IATEFL webinar by Lindsay Clandfield, 21 June 2014
  1. Methodology

HOT: Integrated skills, lots of speaking, process writing, pairwork, study skills, multi-strand syllabus
Up to now: The „Big Books”. New English File, Face2Face, Language Leader, Cutting Edge, Speak Out etc.. old: Streamline, Headway (now breaking away from them)
NOT. Adherence to only one method, do the book only one way, minimal stimulus (dogme type), decontextualised drills
  1. Language Systems – Grammar and Vocabulary

HOT: linear grammar syllabus, lexical work, „extra” vocabulary sections, pronunciation suprasegmentals, pseudo-inductive grammar, text-based exercises, extra grammar at back of book, extra vocab exercises, rules, corpus-based
NOT: Culturally specific lexical sets, obscure lexical sets, grammar without context, input flooding (a text with far more of the target structure than would normally occur)
Very small changes in grammar
  • have got – is it worth it?
  • can for ability: corpora say can for permission is more common
  • past simple . how to deal with it
  • time expressions – as grammar/vocabulary overlap
  • keywords and patterns of gr/voc, e.g. not teach read, rather /read a newspaper/read a website etc.
  1. Skills

HOT: speak in every lesson, fluency in writing, integrated skills, developing skills
English as an International Language (EIL, ELF) International accents, authentic audio and video, spoken grammar, the corpus “stamp of approval” (on CB cover, proves they checked a corpus to be sure people really use the lexis in the CB)
Life skills, competencies, critical thinking
CEF still hot? - levels system used globally, can-do statements, self evaluation, outcomes based, learner autonomy portfolios, diaries
Digital – videos, support sites, eworkbooks, CD Rom/DVD Rom (but will disappear and be tablet-online based soon), exam generators, learning platforms, teacher resource CD, IWB software
  1. Coursebook topics

Around the world (weddings, birthdays, shopping etc.)
Health memes (GM, food, water)
Urban life
Lifestyle questionnaires
People who live long (Okinawa)
Busting stereotypes of the English
Mobile phones
The Internet
CLIL (watered down)
Still not allowed: PARSNIP (Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, Isms, Pork
Comics and funny drawings (because teachers hate bad drawings)
  1. The Future

See Knewton Education surveys – analytics. Future CB – gamification, Big Data, learning management, adaptive learning
6 Trends (see Philip Kerr in
  1. no more traditional CB – learning platforms insteajd
  2. increase adaptive learning technology
  3. discrete vocab-grammar functional language, phonology
  4. customizable content
  5. assessment will be major – but as discrete items, not skills work (this enables software)
  6. CEF level descriptors will be explicit
  1. Miscellaneous notes

Evan Frendo has a coursebook on Technical English about dark tourism and PARSNIP (Pearson)
Dogme vs CB debate – they have agreed to disagree
IATEFL's Learning Technologies SIG is worth watching
Notes by Mary Sousa

Friday, July 25, 2014

An effective vocabulary review activity?

I recently completed iTDi's course "Accuracy and Fluency in Vocabulary and Grammar" starring Scott Thornbury and Penny Ur.

Penny's lecture on accuracy and vocabulary featured these criteria for good review activities:

  1. validity
  2. quantity
  3. success-orientation
  4. heterogeneity
  5. interest (higher order thinking)
  6. simplicity (no fancy preparation)
I've come up with a review of irregular past tense verbs which I hope meets the criteria. The same activity could, of course be used for other groups of recently learned words. Judge for yourself!

Update (21 August 2014): So far, I've tried this with two students in one-to-one lessons. They liked the speaking approach to recycling the verb forms. 

Step 1:
Divide an A4 sheet of paper into four quadrants and label them NEWS/SPORT/WEATHER/ENTERTAINMENT
These are common sections of a newspaper.

Step 2:
Make irregular verb flash cards from the verbs your students have studied, base verb on one side and the 2nd and 3rd forms on the other

The activity:
Have students test each other with the flash cards - both for form and meaning. Go through the stack several times, eliminating cards everyone is comfortable with.
Give the quadrant sheet to the students and have them lay flashcards on the various quadrants according to consensus as to appropriacy, for example "shoot, shot, shot" could belong to a news story about a crime, but students might agree it belongs to sport, as in "shoot a goal/basket" Let the students judge for themselves.
Have the students assign all the flashcards to one of the four quadrants, if possible.
The activity could stop here for low levels.
For higher levels, have students pick up a flashcard and make up a radio report or newspaper article based on it - spoken or written.

Pitfall: there could be anxiety due to multiple meanings of some verbs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BESIG's summer symposium 2014 - Graz, Austria

Graz Art Museum by Marius Watz,
Special blend of professionals and easy atmosphere! The BESIG summer symposium held June 13-14, 2014 in Graz, Austria. I attended the following sessions:
  1. TIP means Task-In-Process, according to Simona Petrescu of Bucharest. She plans the syllabus around business English students' actual work processes. Example: an HR process-cum-syllabus - write a job advert, collect resumes, organize interviews, shortlisting, hiring etc. - each becomes a successive component of the language course, mirroring the hiring process itself.
  2. Basis for Business, a new advanced course book, was introduced enthusiastically by Anne Hodgson (based in Berlin). It's aimed at the German BE market, but she showed lots of ways to mix and match. I could use the book but dip in here and there - that's how it's designed, anyway.
  3. Olena Korol of Kiev, Ukraine, displayed the posters made by her university students during awareness-raising and learner autonomy activities.
  4. Evan Frendo showed us how to use the EnronSent email corpus, the only authentic collection of emails sent by real people in the business world. Search the corpus for examples to teach students better email writing. This was the big take-away for me - I'll use it right away.
  5. I watched round-eyed as Charles Rei demonstrated how he applied agile software development principles to evolve business English lessons and courses. The watchword is "sprint" - a phase in which only high-priority items are learned.
  6. Here's another exotic topic (for me, anyway): systemic functional linguistics, presented by Rob Szabó. He demonstrated how people from different cultures can misunderstand each others' emails, and gave practical solutions for teachers.
What I liked best: this summer symposium had the same professional level of presenters and topics you would find in a full conference, made more enjoyable by people in summer clothes enjoying a laid-back atmosphere.

Graz Railway Station, by Mattia Carnellini in

Friday, May 2, 2014

Summary of 30th April #eltchat, "Group Cohesion in the ELT class"

„How important is group cohesion in the ELT class? How can we best achieve it?”


As one participant expressed it: „Interesting topic...but BIG.” The 21 participants in this evening chat bravely dealt with numerous aspects of group cohesion in the ELT class.

The chat participants' comments are divided into two topics: theoretical and practical.

Theoretically speaking...

Cohesive groups learn more (according to Wikipedia, this is supported by research)
Cooperative learning -  an instructional approach which promotes cohesion
Building a sense of community and trust in the learners, a sense of building something together
Cohesion with adults, and with younger students
Group decision making, roles in groups, leadership, negotiating
Shared responsibilities, group roles and tasks
Dynamics of scapegoating in small groups
Feedback in a cohesive group is positive, constructive – not painful or demeaning
“A mistake is a gift to the class”
Cultural aspects
In the business world, team building is the concept...mostly the same as cohesion.
Business English students may be dour – can they be shaken? But some business groups are a blast – depends on the business people

Practically speaking...

Extremely mixed levels, company hierarchy, mix of students' ages, large university classes
Do learners actually want a sense of community? Sometimes they like to be individual.
Is it good to detect the 'leader' of a group and build a relationship?

  • there are really several roles in groups (artist, worker, ideas person etc.)
  • in-company adults – good to relate to the 'leader'
  • find out early who might be a problem student and win them over


  • Can you have too much collaboration and not enough competition?
  • Is competition being bred out of the classroom? Some is healthy.
  • Groups can compete with other groups
  • It disrupts cohesion if only the best are praised

Students being too similar

  • with teens it can lead to the kind of competition which is not conducive to group cohesion
  • less discussion, doesn't stretch them

Taking over an existing class
Weaker students
Teenage group too cohesive, turns against teacher, children can be cruel

Starting up
important to build cohesion early on, bad habits grow quickly
group negotiates class content for the week
start lesson with compliments, end with thank yous
write a letter for every new course
goal setting, class rules – sanctions for breaking rules
cohesion building not only a startup thing, must be ongoing

Cooperative learning activities
Name the group
Slogans, rhymes, raps
Stickers – adults love them, teens are too cool for them
Prizes, not only for right answers: for best drawing/most effort etc
Help students find things they like about each other
'Teacherless' tasks with feedback afterwards
'looking for the ideal language learner' (from the Hadfield book)

Online group cohesiveness
wikispaces classroom for writing course
email, Facebook (secret groups)
encourage them to share own lives, question and comment, create “bonds”
introduce themselves to each other via photos
Do a PLN lesson when many egotistical people in the group – they work out the benefits of group learning

Saying goodbye
finish gently, don't stop abruptly
remember good things, send thank you notes

When it comes to group cohesiveness, this chat was a winner! The atmosphere was characterized by comments like these:
Bring your food to the computer  :-)
...Can't stay away! This is addictive
Cool and grand to see you pls stay on
You're raring away there tonight :-))

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Report about a great lesson

I just had such a great lesson yesterday, I am writing it up here so I can remember it. Maybe some other teachers will find it useful, too.

Teaching points were:  pronunciation of /ae/, language of machines, passive voice in present simple tense for describing processes
Level: pre-intermediate
Students are two middle aged colleagues at a company that produces oil. One is a lab tech, the other is in finance/administration
  • Warmer. I made 3 columns on board titled nouns/ verbs/ adj and asked Ss to write appropriate words containing the ae sound in the columns. I had one example for each column already in.
    • Pulled up lots of language, eg seasons, months, days 
    • S at board, T out of limelight
    • They had to talk
  • Oil refining
    • Elicit steps of refining vegetable oils, T put up
    • Makes Ss experts, it's their field, speak confidently because know it
    • I got important details about their jobs, expertise eg office worker S knows oil
  • Create first step in passive sentence, The rapeseed is pressed.
    • Show/elicit form
    • Explain use, present simple passive to describe a process
    • Ss created further steps of oil refining T helped make passive sentences
  • Telephone listening - fresh topic, turn away from efforts with passive
    • Listen 2 times, let them panic, get 1-2 words
    • Read and listen
    • Read out loud to each other
    • Listen one more time
  • Close, next lesson repeat/revise/practice passive and telephone
    • "Repetition is the mother of all learning"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A "magical" warmer

Here is a great warmer for any level.
All I did was open my iPad, type "thought for the day (images)" and ask my student to choose one or two that appealed to her.

She chose
"If you're in your comfort zone, you're not really alive."
"If you can't explain something in simple terms, you don't really understand it." (Einstein)

Then we had an interesting discussion that went far beyond the two sayings.

This is a fantastically easy and stimulating warmer! Highly recommended!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I used video in Reflective practice, following on from TESOL Mentorevo

After the excellent webinars and discussions in Mentorevo, I started thinking about reflective practice. How did I get to that? Probably by the stepping stone  method. First stepping stone, mentoring topics got me thinking about specific points I'd like to mentor with somebody. One of those points was how the parts of my lessons fit together and follow on each other, and how I handle the "turning point" when a decision must be made what to do next in the lesson.

As I  was musing on these things, a workshop came up at my school, topic: video. Another stepping stone! During the workshop we discussed the value of recording yourself while teaching. I made a video of myself the very next day, and what a revelation! I give fairly good instructions, but I saw myself smiling at things that weren't humorous or positive, like when my student said she hadn't done her homework. I smile, and smile.

Next stepping stone: for a week of lesson plans, I wrote in red ink at the top of each one "fit face to context". As I near the end of the week, I find not only is my expression more natural and appropriate, I am generally more aware of exaggerated laughs, gestures, and so on.

Friday, January 24, 2014

EVO Mentoring blog post 2: bags of goodies

So far we have confirmed the symbiotic nature of the mentor-mentee relationship.

The following points have received less attention (again from "A Learning Guide for Teacher Mentors" from the State of Victoria Departrment of Education and Early Childhood Development)
  • post-modern teaching is different: teachers need much more emotional support because they're teaching the children of fractured, poor, or single-parent families
  • is this the future of mentoring? no more mentoring pairs; not only focused on classroom work; integrated part of "broader improvement efforts." I just wonder...
  • good answer to "What's the difference between mentoring, coaching, and counselling?"
    • (on page 20-21 of the Guide)
    • Mentoring: professional - the "critical friend"
    • Coaching: short term, performance oriented
    • Counselling: short term, "developmental, corrective objective."
  • Feedback
    • Warm feedback: builds on strengths
    • Cool feedback: sees what's not in the work and flags it
    • Hard feedback: promotes more global thinking
  • Reflective practice
    • So important! I've asked my DOS to do a workshop on it
    • So many ways!
      • journals, formal/informal conferences, observe each other
    • Reflective questions
      • What's working, not working?
      • How was your lesson?
      • What went as planned?
      • Why do you think the lesson went so well?
      • How can you use what you have learned in another situation?
This Guide contains bags of goodies! Thanks EVO leaders.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

EVO Mentoring blog post 1 of 2: Skills for Mentors

This is part one of a two-part post.

I have read the "Learning Guide for Mentors" assigned by the EVO 2014 Mentoring leaders.

These are the points that stood out for me; this isn't intended as a full summary of the Guide.

Key mentoring skills
  • I find the ideas of generative (Scharmer) and empathic (Covey) listening intriguing, but almost too abstract to grasp (page 4)
    • Generative listening seems to be about the future. How can I simultaneously listen and anticipate a mentee's (another person's) future speech? Why should I?
    • Empathic listening involves both heart and mind. Can it still be non-judgmental?
      • Covey says empathic listening figures when there is high emotion, stress in a relationship, low trust, etc.- this chimes with plenty of other sources on assertiveness, dealing with conflict, etc. It's good.
  • Observation (page 8)
    • Reflective thinking means slow down and be aware of your assumptions.
    • Reflective thinking is an important mentoring skill!
    • You have to be open-minded if you want to be a mentor: that's what reflective thinking does
  • Reflective questions (page 11)
    • plural forms signal there is more than one option
    • tentative language means ideas are open to interpretation
    • enabling language, for example "Given what you know about...."
    • empowering presuppositions, for example: "what goals do you have in mind?"
    • critical inquiry about a situation: a) what is true? b) what don't we know? c) what is impossible to know? d) what can we do to test our mental models? (page 24)
Sometimes the reflection is you!