November 4

ACEIA virtual conference

A couple of weeks ago, I ‘presented’ a session at the ACEIA virtual conference. I say ‘presented’ as my session had actually been recorded back in August – it certainly helped to get rid of conference-day nerves though!

Here are some of the ideas I shared, with the idea being that you moving into an online teaching environment shouldn’t mean changing the way you teach but rather adapting the things you already do to a new environment or expanding your repertoire of teaching techniques if you feel comfortable doing so.

I talked about the features on Zoom as this is the video-conferencing software which I’m most familiar with and started off by looking at how you can use the whiteboard feature. However, I know many people, myself included, feel much more comfortable jotting things down with pen and paper than tackling a virtual whiteboard. Here’s a simple hack I shared for setting up a whiteboard beside your computer:


Sign in to Zoom from your mobile phone as well as from your computer – remember to mute your mobile audio so you don’t get weird echoes. Standing your phone on a glass means that you can set it up on top of a piece of paper or your own mini-whiteboard, enabling you to write by hand and for it to come up on the screen. Another thing I love about using mini-whiteboards (which can be a laminated piece of paper or just a piece of paper in a slippery fish / plastic pocket) is that you can use a wider variety of colours than on a standard whiteboards, as most schools tend to supply your basic black, blue, red and green.

A benefit of using the Zoom whiteboard is that learners can also annotate it and you can have the settings so that you can see who’s writing, should you want to. The annotate feature is also useful for getting feedback on tasks. For example, you can screen share a task which the learners have completed, such as a True/False activity, and learners can use the stamp feature to show whether they think each statement is true or false.


Another area I looked at in the session was brain breaks – quick activities learners can do to refocus. Depending on energy levels and how easy it is to get your learners back on task, you might like them to do an activity up and out of their seats so they get a bit of movement during the lesson. However, here are three simple activities learners can do sitting down:

Ear-nose switcheroo

You can increase the challenge by having learners extend their arms in front of them when they switch.

Breathing ball

Put the palms of your hands together and as you inhale, move your palms apart to create a ball, keeping your fingertips together. As you exhale, push your palms back together again

Breathing shapes

This last one doesn’t get learners moving so much, but it helps them to focus on their breathing and it’s a great resource for anyone who needs a few minutes to do nothing

September 21

The imposter phenomenon

It’s been a busy few months – doing webinars for Active Language, tutoring on the OxfordTEFL DipTESOL course, setting up an online Young Learners course for Active and prepping my mini-plenary for the Innovate ELT conference which took place this weekend. As it took me ages to prepare, I’m putting it on the blog for posterity!


I’d like to start by explaining a little about where this talk and the title came from. I was originally going to give a mini-plenary at a TEFL del Sur conference in March. TEFL del Sur is a teachers’ organisation which I’m very proud to have cofounded (I’ll come back to that later). As a small, local organisation, we tend to get local speakers – people like Ceri Jones, Dan Barber, Chris Roland and Michelle Worgan…and me, and it tends to be the same people who often speak at our events and so we wanted to try and encourage more people to get involved and so I was going to do this mini-plenary at our event in March to try to boost our speaker pool. I was going to start with a little survey type thing using Mentimeter with sentences such as “I currently teach Cambridge prep classes” or “I currently teach VYLs” and so on, to lead on to reveal that I actually currently did none of that but often do practical sessions with tips for these various different classes.

And the fact is, I’m a bit of a conference junkie and I do love speaking and attending events, but recently, I’ve definitely been feeling like a lot of the practical ideas I’ve been sharing are more based in theory (as in, I believe this would work) rather than actual practice.

And this is one aspect of the imposter phenomenon – this feeling that you’re a bit of a fraud and at some point somebody’s going to turn around and call you out on it. For me, that fear manifests itself in dreams of being heckled by the audience during a talk when someone says, “You haven’t actually tried this with your own students though, have you?”

My anxiety dreams around this mini-plenary have largely been about turning up without my notes and a weird, socially-distanced hybrid event where I had to deliver my talk to you whilst a room full of people in front of me watched, wearing masks. However as well, when I started to research more about the topic of the imposter phenomenon, I even began to question whether I was an imposter, as I don’t suffer from the debilitating effects which others can experience and I started to feel like a bit of a fraud for deciding to talk about it. But one thing I read is that it’s more frequently called the imposter phenomenon or imposterism than the imposter syndrome for that reason. Organisational psychologist Rob Yeung wrote:

…syndrome implies that people either have it or not, whereas the reality is that such thoughts and feelings of imposterism tend to affect people on a spectrum.

And there is more to it than just this feeling of being found out. Dr Valerie Young who’s an expert on the topic, has identified five types of ‘imposter’. Have a listen and see if you can relate to any (or all) of them.

Firstly, the expert. This is someone who doesn’t feel content until they know everything about a subject. They’re also the type of person who won’t go for a new job if they don’t meet ALL the criteria listed, which is something which can hold people back in their professional trajectories.

Secondly, the perfectionist. This is the person who focuses more on their flaws when completing a project than their successes to the point that they may not even be able to see the success of a project because of a minimal flaw in it. They can also veer between over-preparation and intense procrastination – putting off completing a task as they fear they won’t complete it to the highest standard.

Next up, the soloist – a person who prefers to work alone so they can show they don’t need the help of others for fear that asking for assistance will be seen as incompetence.

The natural genius is the fourth type – someone who has always been naturally good at things and so feels frustrated when they can’t do something well immediately, rather than identifying that we all build on our skills throughout life.

And finally, the superhero, who tries to juggle everything and excel in every role: as a worker, friend, parent, volunteer. They are likely to be a workaholic who will experience burnout as they push themselves too hard professionally, whilst simultaneously trying to succeed in every other area of life.

I was chatting to a friend about the imposterism we can all feel in this globalized world: the feeling that we’re not doing enough to combat the various social, economic and environmental injustices that are occurring around us, the feeling that now we have access to news and information from around the world that we should know more about them all, know everything about them all, and take action. Also, the feeling that each and every one of our decisions should be environmentally sustainable and the terrible guilt we feel when we buy something in plastic packaging with the realisation that we’re contributing to the problem. It’s great that there are so many talks this weekend to help us become a part of the solution but I’d like to hope you go away with a sense of ‘I could do that’ rather than feelings of ‘I should be doing so much more!’ and an anxiety-fuelled determination to single-handedly change the world.

Worrier Girl, by Gemma Correll

We aren’t superheroes and in fact, (geek alert), many of our favourites in the Marvel and DC Universes suffer from feelings of imposterism, including Spiderman and Captain Marvel.

Incredibly though, it’s thought that about 70% of people will experience a feeling of imposterism at some point in their lives. Whilst it was originally identified in the late 1970s by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes as a syndrome affecting high-achieving women, over the years, research has shown that it affects men as much as women, high-achievers as much as average Joes and, listening to those five types of imposter, I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t identify with at least one of them at some point in your life.

One more point to add is that I think in the world of ELT, we’re particularly likely to get a sense of imposterism because – ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ – we are so often thrown into a new environment: the teacher who has years of experience with Cambridge exams may feel hesitant when they start teaching a Trinity ISE class; the early-years teacher might feel nervous when they suddenly face a class of adults for their DipTESOL teaching practice; teachers who have worked in mainstream education in their own country for years often get that self-doubt when they step into an ELT classroom for the first time and, of course, it would be an oversight not to mention the concerns many competent, experienced teachers faced when they were thrown into the world of online teaching earlier this year.

So, what can we do about it?

Firstly, identify if you are suffering from the imposter phenomenon and, if you think it’s influencing you negatively – stopping you from going for new opportunities, having an impact on your work-life balance or affecting your mental health – seek help. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague, or look at professional help. However, unfortunately, admitting you feel like an imposter won’t stop you from feeling like an imposter. Dealing with imposterism starts with you because, as psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden says:

To attain ‘success’ without attaining positive self-esteem is to be condemned to feeling like an imposter anxiously awaiting exposure.

So something more concrete you can do is identify and catalogue your successes. We are our own worst enemy and we all know that for the twenty, fifty, one hundred positive comments we get, that one bad comment will keep us awake. Tip the scales in your favour and force yourself to outweigh the negative with the positive by documenting all your achievements.

Thirdly, as I said before, we learn through experience and we all work hard to improve our skills, albeit with the phrase ‘fake it til you make it’ ringing loudly in our ears. So, step out of your comfort zone every once in a while: take on an IELTS class, write a guest blogpost, lead a CPD session at your school, submit a proposal for a conference (another plug there for TEFL del Sur – we’re a very welcoming bunch!). You could even start your own local organisation – as any good imposter knows, “If I can do it, anyone can!”

But seriously, the last piece of advice? Own your successes. Now, this can be tricky as you don’t want to sound boastful and many of us don’t like to feel like we’re in the spotlight so, as Dr Young says, we will often “diminish or discount obvious evidence of our abilities”. So, although it has less impact during an online conference, I’d like you to take ten seconds to complete the sentence I’m proud… and when I count to three, say what you’re proud of.

1, 2, 3… I’m proud of cofounding TEFL del Sur.

Big yourself up this weekend – hopefully everyone you talk to in the Zoom Garden will have listened to this talk and will know that you aren’t bragging! You’re surrounded by people with a passion for ELT who will be happy to share in your successes.

March 24

Zoom: The Basics

Yesterday I gave a webinar with the basics of using Zoom for Active Language. Unfortunately, the recording of the session is too large to upload here, but you can find it on the Active Language Teacher Training page. On that page, we’re also posting daily teaching ideas for those of you who are now working online.

The webinar explains how to set up your classes and shows the information you need to pass on to parents; it explains how to enable breakout rooms, polling and a customisable waiting room; it shows some of the features of Zoom, such as screen sharing and annotating; and it provides solutions to the problems our students have had when logging in this week.

I’m certainly no expert in Zoom, but if anyone has any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to help out.

November 15

For EdTech’s Sake!

Created on

Welcome to my session on using EdTech in the ELT classroom.

In all my excitement and nerves on Saturday, I forgot to highlight some of the pros and cons of the different tech and also to provide non-techy alternatives. I’ve added some more notes below. Thanks for coming 🙂


Plickers – for device-free interaction

You can sign up for a free account which allows you to prep sets with up to five questions in each. You’ll need to download the app to your phone as well. The cards are free to download and if you laminate them, remember to use non-glossy sheets. If there are any privacy concerns in your school, you can ask students to hold the cards in front of their faces although the app doesn’t actually record images.

One thing which I didn’t mention in the session is that you can assign each student a specific card as they’re all numbered. This means you can track their progress if you decide to use them for assessment. It also means that you can easily identify who in the class you haven’t scanned – I know I didn’t scan everybody all the time on Saturday!

A non-techy alternative? Have students put their hands up, although a benefit of Plickers is that it gets responses from everyone at the same time and it’s difficult to see which option the person next to you has chosen.

QR Code Generator

This is a handy way to share online content with your students rather than having them type in the URL. It does require students to have a QR code reader on their phones though. If you’re looking for another way to easily share URLs with students, you can use a site like bitly which enables you to shorten a URL.

To be honest, there’s not really a non-techy alternative to this as it’s for sharing online content and one aspect where I think it’s useful, as I mentioned in the talk, is for doing reading activities paper-free. Go #ELTfootprint! – for both dictation to text and text to speech

As I said at the weekend, I thought this could be a useful tool for students to work on their own pronunciation as they could dictate a phrase and then see if there were any sounds which they’d said incorrectly. However, voice recognition software is still in development: there are times when it’s too forgiving and times when it’s frustratingly stubborn.

We’ve been doing dictation in class for years so the non-techy alternative is easy enough. However, one way that the online tool can be useful is in ensuring your students aren’t dictating ‘in Spanish’ to make the words easier to understand for their partner (I e-at to-ast for bre-ak-fast).

Vocaroo – for recording audio

This can be a fun tool to use for pronunciation diagnostics at the beginning of a course, particularly if you’re teaching multilingual classes. It’s also a good way to ensure that you hear all your students speaking – even in a class of eight or ten, you won’t hear all the students, all the time and so having them record a short mono- or dialogue means you can provide feedback on the task each one does.

You need to check your school’s policy on allowing students to connect with you digitally for this one, as they would need to share the audio with you (similarly for the dictation site above they can email you their completed text if you wish). And, it does mean that you’re making a bit of extra work for yourself outside the classroom to listen to each track and provide feedback on it.

A couple of people mentioned to me in the session a similar site called voki, which students can use to create mini animations, either with a bot reading the text or their own recording. Speaking of which, check out the link to Voicery at the bottom of the page to see if you can distinguish between a human and a bot speaking.

Jing – for providing audio feedback on written work (download required)

If you want to go à la Chris Roland and allow your students multiple drafts before submitting a final piece of writing, this is a very tree-friendly tool to use. Students can send you through their text digitally and using Jing you can make a screencast and record audio as you provide feedback on the text. Then share the video with the student and it provides them with listening practice as well as the opportunity to self-correct their mistakes.

Non-techy alternative? Grab your pencil and get correcting 🙂

It’s also handy for providing students with instructions if you want them to do something online. Students are much more likely to use and continue using an online language-learning tool if we provide them with clear instructions on how to do it, rather than giving them the URL and expecting them to intuitively know how to use the site.

To use Jing, you need a computer as the tech currently isn’t available on mobile devices and keep an eye out for whatever TechSmith are replacing Jing with early next year – they say it’s going to be better and still free to use.

Mentimeter – for interactive quizzes and surveys

For those of you who have used Kahoot in the past, Mentimeter is very similar. However, with Kahoot’s growing popularity, a number of features are now only available in the pay-for-use version, whereas Mentimeter is still all free and there’s a lot you can do with it (and without the annoying music).

Students will need to have their devices in order to participate and also be aware that when you create a presentation, the code is only valid for two days so double-check the code on the day of your lesson so that students can easily access it.

Newsela  – for graded news articles (sign-up required for both teacher and students)

Newsela #1 – Newsela #2 – Newsela #3 – Newsela #4

This is an example of a site which you might like your students to access outside the classroom. Teachers and students need to sign up for an account; this then allows you to assign texts to your class and supposedly tracks the progress of your students in order to grade the text to their level as they become stronger readers.

In the free version, there’s access to recent US news articles and if you choose to pay for further access there are articles on lots of diverse topics.

One thing I was less convinced by on the site was the quiz which goes with the article – they seemed poorly-written and linguistically challenging.

In terms of providing a non-techy alternative, the best I could come up with for this would be for the teacher to produce their own graded texts – which is very time-consuming.

Also, one thing to add about this is that the texts are graded 1-6 but these don’t necessarily coincide with the CEFR and so there might be higher-level lexis and structures in a text than you would expect.

FluentKey – a competitive video-viewing game

This has its pros and cons as it does encourage students to listen to the video carefully and means they can’t really be misusing their devices at the same time. However, at the same time it makes the video-viewing a little disjointed. One option would be to watch the video all the way trhough first and then watch it again through Fluentkey.

Explayn – for revising vocabulary (enter code 213343)

The tech alternative to a vocab box. On the plus side, it’s an engaging way for students to review lexis and wouldn’t be distracting in terms of mobile phone use as only one person in the group needs to have their phone out and once you’ve played the game, the phone goes away again. It looks as though you can have up to three sets, though with as many words as you like in each. As we said in the session, an option could be to have a class member responsible for creating a set at the end of each unit.

ClassroomQ – for asking questions (enter code QE6JC1)

As I said on Saturday, I feel the original concept of this site was developed for classroom environments different to what we’re used to as ELT teachers in Andalucía: large classes in which each student has a device is very different from my experience of working with groups of eight sudents sitting around the table. So, for use as a classroom management tool, I feel it’s less pertinent. However, I love the way it can be used in quizzes for the teacher to easily see who got the answer right first. With the free version, you can only see the first five people on the list; however, as you clear people who get the wrong answer, the next in line will pop up.

A tech-free alternative would be to have students write their answers on mini-whiteboards and then to get around the problem of who’s who in order, have them run to the board and stand in a line while you check their responses.

Padlet – for exit tickets and message boards

A tree-friendly alternative to using post-it notes or some other physical exit note. It’s an easy way for students to share either what they’ve learnt or enjoyed from the lesson and could also be a useful way for students to reflect on things like emergent language: when you have a list of twenty-odd words at the end of the lesson, have each student identify which are the three most useful for them OR divide the words between the students and have them post a definition of each one on the message board.


Thanks again for coming to the session

…and I hope you enjoy trying out the tech you found interesting in your lessons. All the sites I showcased required minimal prep – Mentimeter would probably be the most time-consuming but you can use it to make presentations to use more than once, the same way you might plan a lesson for two or three groups and tweak it accordingly. However, I do think the quote from Steve Wheeler below is particularly important and really believe that we shouldn’t include tech just for the sake of it.

Further reading

“…we should only use technology in the classroom if it adds something to learning. If it can extend, enrich or enhance learning, or if it engages students more, then use it. If not, ditch it and try something else. Seriously.” Check out Steve Wheeler’s Twisted Tropes

Anything teachers can do – tech can do better? – from Cambridge English

Technology and teens – do’s and don’ts – from Cambridge English

Technology post-CELTA (3) – Technology and Teaching – from Tom Walton

Voicery – can you distinguish between human and machine?

May 20

An interactive adventure

Thanks to everyone who came to my session at Innovate on Saturday. I’m currently in the process of working out how I can share the story with the audio as part of it. I realised after doing the session that obviously the audio wasn’t working because it wasn’t saved on my pendrive – I did warn you all I’m not particularly techy!

Anyway, a quick recap of some of the tips and thoughts from the session:

* You can download the Plickers app on your phone and get the cards here. As I mentioned, it’s better to cut the cards a little bigger than I had them as it’s important the whole square of the QR code can be seen when scanning. If you decide to assign each student a card, you can set up class groups – this means as well that you can use one set of cards across multiple groups. I’d definitely laminate them and the site recommends using non-glossy laminating sheets so there’s less reflective glare when scanning.

* Here’s a very quick video of how to insert action buttons into a Powerpoint in case you want to make a similar story (if you do, I’d love to see it!). This was created using Jing – great for when you want to make videos of what’s happening on your screen.

* I’m going to (hopefully!) upload two versions of the story – one with the productive speaking element and the other without. As I said in the session, I wasn’t sure whether the questions broke up the flow of the story too much.