Archive | April, 2011

McKinnon Language Solutions » On Language Nerds and Nags

28 Apr

A nice piece from “Intelligent Life” on the changing nature of language – thanks to Rob Szabo for spotting it and posting it here:

McKinnon Language Solutions » Blog Archive » On Language Nerds and Nags.

Makes you wonder, just a little bit, whether what we try to teach is worthwhile or not?  And at what point does pedagogy catch up with reality?


Oil Stories

28 Apr

The Guardian newspaper recently ran a series of short stories related to oil, as part of a project to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster – (see BBC story for background).

Called “Oil Stories“, the Guardian project contains eight short stories from different authors that seek to examine our relationship with oil.  The stories aren’t particularly long and one of them comes in the form of a graphic novel.

This would be a useful opportunity for learners to access an authentic text (with all the implications relating to vocabulary etc that this carries) – perhaps more than that, it is a good opportunity for a group of learners to access a range of texts on the same topic (albeit, in one or two cases, somewhat obliquely).  If the texts were given out as a homework reading task, then perhaps learners could peer teach any useful vocabulary at the start of the next lesson, as well as sharing the perspectives on oil as apparent from their texts and of course their reactions to it.

The teasing out of the themes, ideas and perspectives contained within the short stories and the sharing of these within the classroom could also create optimal conditions for a summary type task, where learners work together to create a single text summarising (and possibly directly referencing) the eight short stories.

Having had the discussion in their groups of eight, learners with the same texts could work together to create a brief 50 – 75 word summary highlighting the main points in their texts.  They could then work back in their groups of eight to co-ordinate and organise the ideas into a cohesive whole.  This might be a good opportunity, for those with computer room access, to try one or more of the synchronous editing tools I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

The Oil Stories project contains work by the following authors:  China Miéville, Alain Mabanckou, Tim Gautreaux, Joanna Kavenna, Mohammed Hasan Alwan, Simone Lia, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Rose Tremain.  Even if you decide not to use these with your classes – they’re all well worth a read.  Enjoy!

Free Technology for Teachers: Trading Around the World – An Economics Game

27 Apr

Free Technology for Teachers: Trading Around the World – An Economics Game.

Spotted this on Richard Byrne’s blog and went off to play it!  A nice trading activity – though possibly limited language learning potential?  But it would make a nice ending to a lesson on international trade.

Pupils are not your Facebook friends, net privacy expert warns teachers | Education |

26 Apr

Pupils are not your Facebook friends, net privacy expert warns teachers | Education |

An interesting article from the Guardian on the perils of “friending” your students….  I have no comment on this particularly – just thought it was worth sharing.

Royal Wedding ELT Resources:

25 Apr

For those of us who’ve somehow managed to let the whole thing pass us by, probably by virtue of being busy and not living in England, there appears to be a royal wedding happening this week…

So – for those who think their learners might be interested, here are a few resources and sites that might be useful:

Simon Thomas reports on Sean Banville’s “100 questions for William and Kate” – an extensive and intensive role play scenario.

Breaking News English have materials etc on the Royal Wedding Stamps controversy and they also have a wealth of materials and resources on the royal wedding invitations / the wedding in general.

Michelle Henry seems to have managed to collect every single news story, picture, video that’s out there – including etiquette videos, spoof wedding films, protocols, wedding related promotional products and newspaper political cartoons.  You just need to scroll down the page when you get there to find the various entries!

Another Sean Banville site, Listen a Minute, has what appears to be a step by step text constructor game based on a royal wedding text.  But I didn’t actually finish the game, so I’m not sure.

Chris Speck has a royal wedding powerpoint lesson to stimulate discussion with intermediate level learners.  He also mentions that TES has some good resources for members, as does the Guardian Teacher site (also for members).  Thanks Chris!

NewsFlashEnglish has an extensive set of activities, materials and tasks related to the wedding, but again, I haven’t delved to deeply into them.

Sonya Horton has posted two resources on Promethean Planet:  one for older learners and one for younger learners.  These are “flipcharts” – which I’m not familiar with – I think for use with interactive whiteboards?  Not sure.  But they look really good, so hopefully there’s a way for you to use them!

Finally, the British news media are of course doing themselves proud – the BBC coverage is fairly extensive, but don’t forget that other news gathering organisations are available!  Late addition:  the Guardian, full of respect and admiration for the impending royal nuptials has this to add: “Not the Royal Wedding” – a nice selection of satirical takes on what is not going to be happening on the big day!

And of course, there’s always the official royal wedding website for your one stop royal wedding needs, including twitter feed, flickr pics, facebook groups, live video stream and all the rest!


FCE CAE CPE: Open Cloze Battleships

20 Apr

An alternative to the work through it together option…

Basically, you need two different open cloze tasks from a test book (or you can use the examples given in the exam handbooks available from Cambridge ESOL’s teacher support site).

You then need to make two different sets of handouts.  Handouts should contain both tasks, but different answer sets.  So for example – handout #01 would contain Open Cloze A and Open Cloze B and answer set B.  handout #02 would contain Open Cloze A and Open Cloze B and answer set A.  Alternatives – you could just write the answers in to one of the gapfills (but NOT on your master copy!).  or you could leave both cloze tasks blank (see variations on the task as below).

Split the class into two groups and give Group A one of the sample tasks and give Group B the other.   If possible seat them facing each other but on other sides of the room (to make sure they can’t see / show each other their tasks).  If not, try to seat them back to back, again so that they can’t see each others’ papers.

Each learner then circles five gaps on the task they have the answers for.

Learners are then paired with a compatriot from the opposing team.  Learner A nominates a gap and an answer (i.e. (3) “unless”) and learner B responds either with “wrong answer / Right answer but a miss / right answer and a hit”.  Then it’s Learner B’s turn…  and so on, until someone “sinks” their partners’ battleships.


(1) Don’t give out any of the answers.  Teams can then work collaboratively to figure out what the answers to their task are, before playing the battleship component of the activity.  in that scenario, I’d maybe not give out both tasks until learners have figured out the answers to their own, or a certain amount of cheating might ensue!

(2)  Not so much with an open cloze…  But I’ve done this with two short texts set into large grids with one word in each square.  Learners shouted words at each other, were given grid references for any correct guesses, filled in the words on a blank copy of the template and attempted to sink battleships.  It took ages…  but the aim was more to raise awareness that function words (like those generally tested in FCE CAE Open cloze tasks) are the easiest ones to guess, and also to develop awareness of text and sentence structure.

I think all that makes sense….  any questions?  Let me know!

Brave New World among top 10 books Americans most want banned

18 Apr

Brave New World among top 10 books Americans most want banned | Books |

This is a slightly misleading and somewhat patronising view of American life, when you consider, as the article states, that this list is based on a total of 348 “attempts” to remove books from American libraries.  But it still makes interesting reading – at least the article does – not sure about the books as I’m a little disappointed by the fact that I’ve only read one of the books on this list!

This could lead into a very interesting discussion with learners.  And quite possibly a very emotive one, so a certain amount of judgement needed as to whether this would be s suitable issue for your class!  But if learners wanted to express views on what was or wasn’t suitable to discuss in school, or topics that are inappropriate for the local library, then why not?  Or of course if they want to defend freedom of speech?

It is interesting to think about what is acceptable to talk about in the classroom and what isn’t – Scott Thornbury has an interesting perspective in “T is for Taboo“,  it might be fun to use some of his themes as a lead in with the class – challenge them to find a picture of a mother comforting small children, young hispanic people working on a car or an old lady with twenty cats.  And then ask them to think about why they might not have been able to find the images?

The alternative to choosing which books to ban, is to choose which books to select in….

David McCandless from informationisbeautiful created the visualisation below, of 100 books everyone should read (taking a composite ranking from a variety of sources).

Why not divide up the books amongst the learners in your class and send them off to wikipedia or amazon or even the local library, to take a quick look at their set of books and decide which ones to keep and which ones not to.  When the class reconvenes, they can, as a whole, decide on a top 50 books that everyone should read.

Macmillan English Dictionary: Glossary of ELT Terms

14 Apr

A very handy resource that I came across whilst trying to work out what was meant by “lockstep” in an ELT context…  The image of classes of learners marching side by side up and down the road didn’t seem quite right, and the definition of “A standardized procedure that is closely, often mindlessly followed.”, whilst probably closer to the mark, also seemed slightly off.  In any event, this handy glossary of all terms ELT will no doubt come in handy for those of us who want to make sure no DoS ever fully understands our observed lesson plans again or who want to blind the learners with science in an attempt to hide the actual lack of content in our lessons!  (Plus, handy for CELTA, DELTA and MA candidates who are trying to work out what the tutors are going on about this time!)

Macmillan English Dictionary: Glossary of ELT Terms.

And another added benefit – no need to fork out the fifteen quid for Scott Thornbury’s “An A-Z of ELT” – (sorry Scott!)

Speaking: “Just a Minute” Relay Race

13 Apr

If you’re not familiar with it, the “just a minute” game requires learners to speak on a topic for one minute, without hesitation, deviation or repetition.  It’s based on the BBC Radio 4 panel game of the same name.  Their webpage (see link) features more information on the programme and (via the UK only BBC iPlayer) the chance to listen to the most recent episode.

Also out there is is tribute website, where some extremely dedicated people have collated all the possible information you could need on former contestants, topics and even transcripts for the radio show.  Of them all, the topics could be a useful list for use with classes.  Equally, the transcripts might provide some useful language if “mined” appropriately, as well as demonstrating ways of avoiding repetition?

My contribution to all this is the “just-a-minute relay race”.  Basically you have the learners in two teams, and one person from each team comes up and sits in their team’s Hot seat at the front.  Toss a coin to see who starts.  Give the topic. As soon as the speaker is “buzzed out” for hesitation, repetition, deviation, the speaker from the other team takes over for the remainder of the time, as with the panel game.  BUT, the speaker from the first team who got buzzed out is also replaced by the next person from the same team.

Points are awarded for a correct challenge, and to be speaking at the end of the minute (as with the BBC version).

Speaking for a limited amount of time on “unfamiliar” topics and keeping it relevant are all useful “skills” for exam class learners – especially those focusing on FCE / CAE / IELTS / CPE.  A variation, to keep things a bit closer to the FCE / CAE / CPE, might be to use picture prompts & part two questions, instead of the more random topics.  (Though FCE speaking topics are fairly random at the best of times!)

Online Teaching Resource: Primary Pad

10 Apr

Thanks to Tommy Holt for spotting this and mentioning it on facebook!

Primary pad is an online synchronous editing tool – learners can access and edit the same document at the same time. This is the first tool I’ve come across that allows synchronous editing and as such is quite an exciting development!  It’s free and requires no registration, though “public pads” only last for 30 days, so longer term projects would require a sign up to the “professional” paid for version.

Take a look at it here:

There is a google docs presentation on the site by Simon Haughton, which lists five ways that you can use the tool – synonyms generation / sentence correction & development / online interviewing / task achievement identification / collaborative writing tasks.

I really like the idea of the collaborative writing task as it puts the learners in the positions of writer and reader at the same time, thus hopefully allowing for a peer teaching mode where good ideas are justified and bad ones discarded.  It could also work well with text organisation and structure as ideas would need to be grouped effectively and paragraphed.  I can see this being used with exam preparation classes a lot!

It would also be perfect for use with Grammar Dictation / Dictagloss tasks – if you’re not familiar with these, the basic premise is that the teacher has a short text (which can be littered with examples of the target language structure) that they read to the learners initially for a content reaction, then read again.  On the second reading the learners take notes on what was said.  They then try to recreate the text exactly as it was read out.  A common problem I find with this, is that the learners’ notetaking ability varies, and so different reconstruction pairs achieve the task with differing accuracy.  Bringing all the learners together to recreate the text using primary pad would solve this issue and might lead to a more effective collaboration and reconstruction of the target text!

Also, I like the idea of error correction tasks.  As it is a synchronous tool, learners could work together to correct a set of teacher generated sentences, before challenging each other by adding additional error strewn sentences to challenge each other with.  I really like asking learners to deliberately make errors – after all they have to know what the correct form is before they can make a deliberate error, and it can raise their awareness of incidental errors that creep in!

One further idea is in identifying the main ideas in a reading text.  Useful, again, for exam preparation classes, but with a target text uploaded onto the primary pad, learners can reach a mutual understanding of the text by discussing their ideas below it.

As far as I can work out, the system works with the teacher creating an initial “primary pad” and then simply sharing the URL.  So you just send all the other computers to the same web address and they should be able to simply get on with it!  And if they don’t finish in class, they can still access the primary pad from the comfort of their own home!  (for 30 days!).

Only one word of caution – it’s called “primary pad” – but personally, I think the “primary” is a bit misleading.  I can see chaos ensuing if this was used with a class of 24 six-year-olds…  and I’m not sure whether it’s bright and shiny enough for the younger end of the teaching spectrum!  But teenagers and adults could happily get into it and get a lot out of it.

It’s currently the Easter break with me, so no opportunity to use this with a class at the moment – any feedback from those of you who have tried it, and suggestions on what you did with it are gratefully received!


Other sites that do much the same thing:

A quick look through Larry Ferlazzo’s archive reveals The best online tools for real-time collaboration”:  where he lists primary pad alongside and and  Though pirate pad appears to be exactly the same as primary pad and typewithme.

Not used any of them – so again, any feedback appreciated!