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 ūüôā


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! Рfor 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 ūüôā

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  Рfor 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 Andaluc√≠a: 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?

October 18

RetroTEFL – Dictation

There’s been a change in how teachers’ professional development is covered at our school. In previous years, everyone got together every couple of weeks and we had a session on a particular topic – which mean that you could sometimes feel that content wasn’t immediately relevant to your teaching environment or, in some cases, that familiar content was being revisited again.

I’m really excited about the change for this year – today we had the first meeting and could choose one of three threads that we wanted to look at this term,¬† These fell into the categories of The Language (specifically phonology), The Classroom (with the funky term “tissues and issues”) and The Bigger Picture…which this term also had a funky title “RetroTEFL”.¬† (Aside: Aaaah, yet again phonology is the Cinderella of ELT.¬† However, despite lacking a funky title, it was the most subscribed to thread for this term!).

A really engaging first session today – we identified why we had chosen that threads and set ourselves SMART goals to work on during the next few weeks.¬† I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see from my handwritten notes, but I’m planning on turning the tasks I try into blogposts, as well as jotting down my thoughts in my journal.

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 Рthe 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 Рa 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 РI 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 Рas 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.








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 Рwe 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 Рtoo 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!