April 29

Sleeping in

Or actually not, in my case!  It’s Saturday but I woke up at 6.30 so I figured I may as well get up and do something useful with my time and blog about yesterday’s lesson.

A bit of background to the lesson itself: we’re just starting TP2 with the part-time TESOL trainees and so yesterday the tutors were teaching.  Although I always feel nervous when being observed on the course, I generally feel better at the start of TP2 as I’m more familiar with the learners.  As such, I’d planned yesterday’s lesson with the original B1 group in mind and they were, generally speaking, a strong B1 group.  Unfortunately, as I found out when I arrived at the school yesterday, only three of the previous group were continuing and I had five new learners that day.  As soon as they walked in, I knew the material would be incredibly challenging for them, especially as a couple felt more like A2 learners.  But, c’est la vie!  We did the tasks a little more slowly and stronger learners were able to support their peers well and although the material was challenging, the tasks associated were simple, as you’ll see below.

We did some initial chat around the three questions below and a collocations task from the book which also provided space for learners to personalise the language and gave me further opportunity to gauge their level.

Do you find it easy to get to sleep?

Are you a heavy or a light sleeper?

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

We did this prediction task before watching the video – the first time they watched, I asked them to check their predictions, we did a quick pair-check, then I asked them to watch again and then tell a partner what they found interesting or surprising about the video.  The text is fast, but the predictions task was simple and the answers for those statements were clearly given.

For the next stage, I’d done a little crowd-sourcing and asked my friends in the UK what time they go to bed and get up – I mapped their responses onto a chart and then got all the learners (and trainees) to add their times.  I pointed out that the difference in the times that people in the UK and Spain get up was fairly minimal and asked them to discuss in pairs why they thought Spanish people go to bed so much later.


This then led on to reading a shortened, graded version of this text from The Guardian, which explains that Spain is in the wrong time zone.  There was an activity to match some tricky lexis from the text to definitions and while I’d originally planned for learners to share their opinion on the text (similar to the video – what did you find interesting or surprising?), I felt that because of the shift in level, the group would benefit from a more structured comprehension/reaction-to-the-text task, so I wrote some statements from the text on the board and asked them to discuss whether they were true.

The reading text led on to the final task – a debate.  I divided the group into two, mixing up learners a little so that a) the original three members were split up, b) there was an even number of stronger/weaker learners in each group and c) the stronger learners who had supported their weaker peers before were paired with someone different.  Group A had to discuss reasons why they thought Spain should change its time zone; group B had to discuss why they felt Spain should stay in its current time zone – I had prepared some points for each group to think about such as how the change might affect businesses or Spanish traditions, amongst others.  After a few minutes to get some ideas together, we did a quick task to look at language of agreeing/disagreeing and then mixed up the groups so learners could debate whether or not to change time zone.  Although I was happy with this final stage, I feel that it would have been more successful if I had made everyone in groups A and B to make notes as then I could have paired people off to debate.  As it was, in group B, only one person had made notes – as I felt that the weaker learners in that group would feel very uncomfortable doing the debate task with no support, I decided to have two people from each group against two from the other, which inevitably meant that some people spoke more than others.

So, what did I learn from this lesson?

I think the main tip I’ve taken away is to plan lower rather than higher for a first lesson with (what could be) an unfamiliar group as it’s much easier to extend simple tasks for stronger learners than it is to adapt materials on-the-spot for weaker learners.








March 1

An alternative to a board rush

For a recent trainee’s lesson, the TP points originally said to do a board rush to activate schema around the topic of jobs.  Unfortunately, between writing the TP points and talking them through as a group, we decided to change rooms and the new room’s layout meant that a board rush would have been a little tricky.  So, when we talked through the lesson, we discussed alternatives and settled on the learners writing down jobs starting with each letter in pairs and then a bit of feedback on some interesting jobs which they came up with.

In the end, the teacher decided to do feedback on all the letters of the alphabet which in many ways was fabulous as it gave the learners a chance to share their previous knowledge and allowed them to introduce new lexis to classmates.  However, it did make for a slightly longer engage stage which meant the teacher was left with less time for later tasks – this wasn’t a problem in terms of aims achievement, but he had prepared a wonderful picture dictation which there unfortunately wasn’t time for.

In feedback on the lesson, which is done online as it’s a part-time CertTESOL course, I asked the trainees what they would have done differently in order to maximise time and materials.  They came up with some good ideas and one trainee mentioned an alternative way of doing a board rush which I’m going to steal for this blogpost (thanks, Val!).

She suggested having the alphabet stuck up around the room, either with alphabet flashcards or on pieces of paper.  Learners could then move around the room and add jobs to each letter, either by writing them directly on the paper or sticking post-its on.  I think this is a great way to do an alternative board rush as it means that everyone is involved, rather than the two or three people who can squeeze up at the board on a good day, and still involves the kinaesthetic element of getting up and about.  You could still have the competitive element too – either assign certain pen colours to individuals on a team as you probably would in a normal board rush, or use differnt coloured post-its (though be careful of cheats who may remove words!).  Another bonus is that the lexis can be kept much more easily – often board work is fleeting, rubbed off in preparation for the next task – unless of course you’re a die-hard #ELTwhiteboard fan and take a photo of it!

February 19

What’s up with WhatsApp? – an #ELTchat summary

Slightly belated #ELTchat summary here – it was a really interesting chat back at the end of January and I offered to write the summary in full knowledge that I wouldn’t get around to it for a couple of weeks.

cecilianobreelt is a huge fan of using WhatsApp with her learners and she kicked off the chat sharing this thought and an image which she had shared with her learners to spark discussion:

I find it crucial that students immerse in the language outside lesson’s times. Due to that, I have created ( with their authorization) a Whatsapp group to share tips, interact, ask questions and challenge them. I have chosen Whatsapp because all my students use it often and we usually communicate through it.

In order to build good rapport and encourage them to use English, I try to use humour to get them motivated and willing to participate in the group. In this activity, I sang a few seconds of a song I was listening to on the radio and challenged them to tell me the name of the song. It was fun and interactive, they took part and mocked me, which was my original idea.

There were mixed experiences among the chatters of using WhatsApp – some had no experience, others had used it to varying degrees, for example to send messages or share information.  I’ve found it to be a useful tool for practising Cambridge Main Suite picture descriptions – learners google images and then send you the one-minute recording.  You can then respond with audio feedback which gives them good listening practice too.   Another option for using images is “phrasal verb photos” – nominate a learner to send an image and sentence to the group showing a phrasal verb.  Marisa_C said she liked the idea of “selfie” tasks – something which a learner could do individually and send for feedback (taking a photo – either a selfie or of something else and commenting on it, reciting a poem, etc).  Sue_Annan added that they could take photos of logos to kick off a debate about  business design – great for a business English class; cecilianobreelt suggested a caption-writing competition for a crazy photo and naomishema said that she’s sending learners superlatives and they need to respond with a picture for each.

Also, it’s great for sharing audio files – learners can listen at their own pace either during the class or at home; or for sharing tasks and/or audio with those who were absent.  And, on the topic of audio, it’s great for learners to send you snippets so you can correct their pronunciation, which is one thing DavinnaArtibey does.  teachingright shared an idea for learners to construct sentences from emojis – one person send four emojis and the others try to write a sentence with them.  You can also read about eltjam‘s Amé app via which learners can ask questions about English.

We talked about the ease of BYOD – learners can easily use their own devices for webquests and you can easily share links on WhatsApp which means you cut out the awkward moment of trying to copy a URL from the board or other source.  jorgeguillen also said that it can be useful for promoting learner autonomy if we send them answer keys and encourage self- or peer-correction and error analysis.  Furthermore, any platform like WhatsApp has the benefit of encouraging learning outside the classroom and it can be used to send daily tips for further development.

There were questions raised as to whether WhatsApp was any better than alternatives such as email, edmodo, padlet, Google Hangouts, GoogleKeep or facebook and we discussed how in some countires WhatsApp may be used more frequently and so it’s seen as less of a bother for learners to use a platform they are already familiar with, rather than asking them to sign up to another learning platform.  There were also queries over privacy and boundaries, with some teachers sharing stories of the platform being abused or the dangers a teacher could face having 1:1 contact with a learner.  naomishema said that some learners may protest if they are already members of various other groups.  We also talked about how many schools have strict no-phone policies and EdLaur added that WhatsApp is officially only for over-16s.  An option to combat misuse would be to agree the terms of use as a class when setting up the group, as we might do with a classroom contract to encourage good behaviour.

Some great quotes to end on:

I often feel that 21st c teaching is 20th c teaching with bells & whistles.  Little added pedagogical value. – GlenysHanson

Tuition on any platform is only as good as the thought, prep, delivery & relevance to Ss’ needs – tom_flaherty


You can read the full transcript here.

November 30

Fortnightly Focus #7 – Kahoot and Quizlet

There’s been a lot of discussion in the British educational press recently about the benefits of gamification – I particularly enjoyed this blogpost from The Behaviour Guru, Tom Bennett.  That said, in my last fortnightly focus, I decided I wanted to create more interactive resources for my teen and adult learners.

My adolescent B1 group really enjoy both Kahoot and Quizlet – with Kahoot, they use their own devices, generally in pairs and like the competitive nature of the game.  I’ve created a couple of Kahoots with them – one focussed on question formation, whilst the other mimicked a PET writing part 1 task in which candidates have to paraphrase a sentence.  They were engaged, focussed and everyone participated – though in all fairness, they’re a wonderful group and a pleasure to teach and generally appear outwardly content whatever the task!

They also enjoy playing the Match game on Quizlet in teams – we divide the class into two teams and write up the score of the first team to see if the second group can beat it.  This is an effective activity if you have sets with quite a lot of language in them – too few words/phrases and the same words crop up in both games, putting the second team at an advantage.

So far, with the teen groups, we’ve only used the sites during class time and one of the problems which I have with many edutainment/eduresource sites is that they require learners to create an account.  Even if this is free, I dislike asking people to create accounts because I know that even if your information isn’t sold to a third party, you’re still likely to receive the odd annoying message from the site itself.  So, for my adult B2 groups, I’ve created a dummy account for Quizlet, meaning that they can go in and use the sets I’ve prepared, without needing to worry about receiving spam messages or remembering yet another log-in/password combination.  My adults seem quite taken with Quizlet – I explained that I felt it would be more engaging than me simply giving them a list of topic vocabulary and we looked in class together at how they can use the sets.

However, I’m as yet unconvinced of the educational value of Kahoot for my adults – though this could be because I’ve only used it once, it took a while for everyone to log in (which felt like wasted class time) and, again, with a very motivated and engaged group it felt a little unnecessary – yes, it was a fun activity, but it took as long (possibly even longer) than it would have done had it been done on paper and, at the end of the task, they didn’t immediately have any tangible result of it.  Though we then went through the language which had been included (collocations relating to money), I noticed that they seemed less able to recall the correct answers – probably because they had played the game at speed and so hadn’t had the time to assimilate the collocations.

I’ll give it another shot though – I think the last time I was probably a little more focussed on the edutainment factor and had created the Kahoot without really thinking about how and when I would use it in class – staging is essential when we consider any material and I lost sight of that in my eagerness to use something shiny and new.

OK, my next fortnightly focus is on phonology – I need to be more proactive in my teaching of it as I’m very able to work reactively – correcting mispronunciations and writing up the correct transcription on the board, working on intonation with my VYLs – but I know I need to become more aware of it in the planning stage.  Also, have you seen the recent lesson plan posts by Sandy Millin and Elly Setterfield?  Sandy’s image of her plan for a single lesson has shamed me into rethinking my own planning style…there might be a blogpost in there somewhere in the future!

October 5

Fortnightly Focus #3 – Routines for older learners and higher levels

Before I get into the previous fortnight’s focus, here’s my focus for the next two weeks.  I’m struggling a little with a loud group of six-year-olds so I’m going to look into ways that I can control their energy levels a little better without simply resorting to more heads-down activities.

So, routines for higher levels and older learners.  Well, to be honest, I haven’t had many classes with my adult learners as yet as with one group we did start-of-the-year evaluations (this blogpost is partly a moment of procrastination as I don’t want to get back to marking their written tasks yet!) and another group only started on Tuesday so we’ve only had a couple of lessons.  However, I have put some routines in place with my PET group which I’ll adapt for the older learners too.

Weekly video – this is an activity which I successfuly used last year with my B2 adults and it’s working well so far with my B1 teens this year.  Each Thursday, one of the learners brings a YouTube video for the class to watch and prepares three comprehension questions about it.  The thing I like about this activity is that it allows the learners to share videos which interest them and can spark a lot of conversation as well

Quizlet – my colleague, Amy, introduced me to Quizlet last year and so this year I’ve started using it with the teens group.  I like the Scatter game, in which two teams compete to see who can match the vocab to the definitions more quickly

New vocab wall – I only introduced this to the B1 group yesterday, but with the promise of chocolate for participating, they seemed quite keen!  I stuck up a big piece of card to the board and made it look like a brickwall.  Learners can add new words or phrases to the wall (kind of graffiti-ing it)

Also, as I have two Cambridge preparation groups (B1 and B2), I want to work on the speaking exam more frequently, particularly the picture description and interactive tasks as I feel these are the two tasks which candidates struggle most with, but which they can easily do well in with a little training

And, speaking of exam preparation, I also have an ISE II group and with them I’d like to focus on using the different grammatical structures confidently when asking and answering questions, as one of the key points which has been raised in previous exam feedback is that candidates were often more than capable of showing understanding of different structures, but struggled more to produce them (either through a lack of accuracy or through offering more natural responses to the examiner’s questions)