Archive | May, 2011

ADHD and me

31 May

This is a BBC Radio 4 documentary by Rory Bremner on how ADHD affects adults as well as children and what it can be like for all involved.

Compelling listening and required material for anyone involved in education!

The one section that particularly stood out for me was when Rory Bremner talks to a mother about how her son was eventually diagnosed with ADHD and the reactions she got from her son’s school and doctor prior to the diagnosis.

Makes you think…

If you’re in the UK you can still listen to the programme via the BBC iPlayer – there’s more information on the program and addititional related links available here.

If you aren’t in the UK, then it’s also available to download via the Radio 4 podcast “Documentary of the Week” series for the next four days.

If you want to listen to it after the 3rd June, the only other way I can think of is to subscribe to the Documentary of the week podcast via iTunes, as sometimes when you do this you can “get” older editions of the podcasts still stored on the iTunes server.



CAE: Writing Part One overview / revision

30 May

It’s almost exam time again – hence the recent trend in teflgeek posts!  So here’s a lesson on CAE writing, (though with some slight adaptation it’ll work for FCE / CPE as well).

At this stage, it’s probably best used as a general organisation and presentation review lesson, reminding learners what the different text types should look like and what, in general, they are trying to achieve with their writing.  It’s a little prescriptive and reflects my beliefs about what learners need to do.  My obsession with presentation and leaving one blank line between paragraphs is included here because, as someone who is not an examiner but who has nonetheless had the privilege of marking thousands of practice scripts and mock exams, I believe the psychological impact of a nicely presented piece of writing cannot be underestimated.  Plus there’s that target reader person to consider too….

Anyway – the lesson asks learners to consider the purpose and impact of what they’re asked to write and includes a matching task based on task descriptions adapted from the CAE Handbook (link to pdf) before including a diagramming and labelling task for the organisation of the four text types.

You can download the lesson plan and materials in pdf form here:  teflgeek – CAE Writing Overview lesson.

One further note on the lesson – it ends shortly after the feedback on the labelling task, which might be a little abruptly for some tastes?  If you have access to a test book or coursebook with a selection of tasks (or you could use the sample tasks from the handbook) a little further discussion on what learners feel their strengths and weaknesses are, followed by a learner choice writing task for homework might be an option.

Open Source Learning?

28 May

A lot of teachers think about education from the point of view of what needs to be changed and how we can make both the teaching and learning experience better.  In recent years paradigms of education have altered, flexed and evolved – I say recent years but I guess the big changes in language teaching at least have arisen every fifty years or so as the paradigm establishes itself, expands and then provokes a reaction against it.

You could argue a potted history of ELT has run from Grammar translation in the 1800’s to the Direct method in the 1880s, Audio-lingualism in the 1930s and the communicative approach in the 1970s.  Which isn’t to deny or omit additional theories of language teaching or learning (TBL / TPR / lexical approach (don’t say it – I know) / Dogme), but these have been the biggest paradigm shifts.

We are, I think, due for another.

Again, it’s possible to suggest that the rise of Dogme represents this but as I haven’t yet read Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury’s book “Teaching Unplugged” – I couldn’t say for sure.  My understanding of Dogme is perhaps a little dated as it relates to some of Scott’s earlier articles on the subject.

But I think the one thing that has fundamentally changed in teaching, even in the nine years or so that I’ve been doing it, is the sharing of ideas, support, materials and resources, what works and what doesn’t.  The seed for this post was planted after listening to a podcast that was discussing open source hardware – the ability for example to download open source blueprints to build yourself a house, or a boat or a replacement circuit board for your printer.  They even discussed a 3D modelling printer that could “print” replacement parts for itself (though if it needed a replacement part, how would it be able to print one?).

Anyway, it occurred to me then that as teachers we are fortunate to live and work in an open source learning environment.  it is essentially what we do anyway – we share ideas and materials and resources.  And we take them away and we make them better (at least for our situations and contexts) and we share some more.  Isn’t that what the whole open source movement is about?

And leading out from that, if the community of teachers at large is in a position to create and share language learning resources for any languge point, any vocabulary set, any aspect of any skill development – the question has to be do we really need coursebooks anymore?  And how many of us would shout a big hurrah at the thought of the ensuing bonfire?  (Now that really would create a roaring in the chimney….)

The problem with the idea of open source learning is – how do we know how good the stuff really is?  For example, if I download a lesson plan and materials and use it and my learners end up even more confused than before……  well, I don’t think too many people would disagree with the caveat emptor policy here – and how many teachers go into their lessons without having looked at the lesson plan?  But this is the nature of open source.  The bad stuff either gets deleted or upgraded.  More enlightened minds fix the bugs in the system.  Eventually, the system works…

Now I’ll confess that when I had this idea I was enthused with the fact that I might have come up with something new and inspiring….  but no.  Someone else got there before me…..

I took a look 

at the Connexions website and the first thing to say is that of course it is not aimed predominantly at language learners or teachers – possibly better for secondary / university educators.  I did try looking at the English language related content, at the time of writing, it still hasn’t finished downloading, so we’ll maybe come back to it towards the end of the post!

There is also a 2002 article by Anne H. Moore, “Lens on the Future: Open Source Learning” which looks at the background of the open source movement and initiatives in open source learning, that include the MIT OpenCourseWare project.

Again though, the criticism is that these initiatives have arisen out of the university campus and tend towards the university level course, for example it is possible to “teach algae to make fuel” or to discover the “philosophy of quantum mechanics“.  But developing learners’ ability to listen to a lecture on how to teach algae the philosophy of quantum mechanics is slightly lacking.

But I’m fairly sure that somewhere out there, between you, me and everyone else who does this English language teaching thing, it must be possible to create a set of high quality free lesson plans and materials.

This is an exploratory post – I’m really keen to get some feedback and some ideas here – so if anyone has any feel free to comment, email, facebook or tweet!

The revolution begins here?

Exam Classes: Gapless

27 May

Another really simple idea for all those use of english papers….  just remove the gaps.

For exam classes this works with the following areas:


  • Use of English Part One – multiple choice cloze

  • Use of English Part Two – open cloze

  • Use of English Part Three – word formation


  • Reading Part One: multiple choice cloze

  • Use of English Part One: open cloze

  • Use of English Part Two: word formation

Simply take the target text and re-type it but without the gaps given in the original.

The idea is that first of all the learners work together to figure out where the gaps are.  Having done that, they can then work out what is possibly missing, before comparing their ideas with answer options (for multiple choice cloze) or the root words (word formation).

You can then give full feedback.

Teflgeek on Scribd

26 May

I’m not sure how this happened – I think I was trying to download something, but anyway I ended up with a Scribd account that I promptly forgot about.

Until I started trying to download something else. At which point I found I was “following” nine people on Scribd or that they were following me or possibly that we were all peeping our from behind virtual shrubbery at each other…

Anyway. I thought I should probably use this wonderful Scribd account. I say wonderful, I’m not really sure what it does, but I have a vague suspicion that you have to upload in order to download.

So the upshot is that I’ve put a bunch of pdf files up on scribd – these are the pdf versions of lesson materials etc that I’ve already posted up on the blog.

You can find them by either going to Scribd and searching for teflgeek (you have to search “people” not documents).

or you can click here:

Have Fun!

teflgeek on twitter?

26 May

Oh I so have no idea what I’m letting myself in for….

Yep – a number of people have suggested that teflgeek should twitterise itself and I’ve been meaning to do it for a while….

OK – if I’m honest there’s a certain amount of twitterphobia involved here.  I’m sure this post will come back to haunt me, but I’ve really very little idea of how twitter does it’s thing and what the twitterquette is and all that sort of thing.

But anyway, I felt pretty much the same way before the blog started and that seems to be going ok, so I figured I might as well jump in the deep end and learn to swim…

So if there’s anyone out there who knows more about this than me (which let’s face it is everyone) and doesn’t mind giving me a helping hand then I think you can tweet me @teflgeek.  Though if that turns out not  to be the case, then someone just carve a message in stone and have a horse and cart haul it over my way so that I can figure out where I went wrong.

30 topic cards for IELTS / CPE Speaking

25 May

I don’t think this needs much in the way of explanation!  If you click the pdf link below, I’ve put together 30 different topic cards for IELTS speaking part 2 / CPE speaking part 3.

I wrote most of these over seven years ago when I was teaching IELTS on a more regular basis (though it looks like I might be again soon – looking forward to it!).  So I’m not sure how up to date the topic cards are and they might also be a little “low” for CPE learners – though if that turns out to be the case, think how much fun your CPE learners can have “upgrading” the vocabulary, question types and topic areas!

Also, they were written with a view to not only giving learners a chance to practice a two-minute-talk, but also to develop topic awareness and general knowledge a little bit.  Some of the cards therefore don’t accurately reflect exam tasks (for example, one asks learners to comment on a recent event in “international politics” and another asks them to compare two musical styles – neither of these are representative)

Anyway, they’ve all been collated into a handy ten page pdf download available here: teflgeek – 30 IELTS CPE speaking topic cards.  It’s also available for download via my Scribd account if you prefer that.

They’re presented in a handy cut out, laminate and keep format – my suggestion would be to have a lucky dip box from which learners take a card at the beginning or end of the lesson, as part of a classroom routine?

Zip Zap Boing (I think?)

24 May

I blame that Simon Thomas over at efl-resource.  It’s all his fault.  And I’m still not sure whether it’s “zip zap zop” or “zig zag zog” or something else entirely!

I’ve inherited a class, which Simon once taught back in the misty dawn of time, of 12-year-old pre-intermediate students.  When I walked in the classroom the other day, they were all so keen and motivated to begin the lesson that they roundly rejected my fun warmer and started going on about this bizarre pointing game.  With some careful misunderstandings on my part, it took them ten minutes to explain the rules to me, all of which they did in extremely fluent English (which only goes to show if the motivation is there, the language will follow).

As far as I can work out, everyone stands in a circle.  Someone starts things off and the game runs as follows:  if you point (in a sort of two handed gun gesture) to the person on your immediate left or right you say ZIP,  to anyone else in the circle you say ZAP.  To deflect someone’s pointing at you back at them, you hold both hands up (as if in surrender) and say “BOING”.

It’s meant to be a fast paced, rapid fire game and if you get it wrong you’re out (though I’m not sure how you then declare a winner?).

To give this a larger linguistic focus or to work with higher levels, you could do this with parts of speech:  Nouns to the left, verbs to the right and adjectives down the middle!  A colleague, Alexis, also does this with vocabulary categories:  learners have to precede their ZIP/ZAP/BOING with a vocabulary item linked to the target category.

A nice way to start the lesson – or a fun way to finish it!

Blog Challenge: A Disabled Access Friendly World: Lessons for the ELT Classroom

24 May

This post has come out of a challenge posted by Marisa Constantinides on TEFL Matters:  namely “to contribute lesson ideas for the foreign language classroom which will be aimed at younger learners and teens and which will promote the concept of a disabled-friendly world where people who have mobility issues can have easy access to services, places of learning, public and private spaces easily and safely.”

It raises some interesting questions.  I remember a tefl training course where the 25 participants were asked whether their schools had a disability access policy.  Three of us put our hands up and we all worked for the same school.  I’ll be honest, I can’t now remember what that policy was in specific terms, in general terms it was one of inclusion and support for the learners and I think relevant teachers would have been given additional development and support.  Only once in my professional career have I encountered a learner with a disability – I placement tested a man with severe hearing loss and subsequent speech defect.  For the record, he tested into a B2 level class – and I wonder now why it is that I’ve only met one disabled learner in a nine-year teaching career.

So some initial questions to think about, and before I get started on answering Marisa’s challenge fully, might be as follows:

  • What is our school policy on disabled learners?
  • What do I know about teaching disabled learners?
  • What does everyone else in the staffroom know?
  • Where can we find out more?

Some answers to the last question might be found in Marisa’s blog which has a guest article by Dr. Luke Prodromou “From Critical Pedagogy to Disabled Pedagogy” to kick off the challenge.  A full description of the challenge is given here:  Blog Challenge – A disabled-access friendly world: Lessons for the ELT Classroom. It’s worth reading the comments section here as there are some interesting perspectives and some useful links.  In particular a comment from “Phil” sends us to the UK government DfES (Department for Education and Skills) “Excellence Gateway” which has a downloadable pdf file on ESOL access for all.  I haven’t read it yet, but it looks extremely useful for anyone wishing to influence policy in their institutions.

At the time of writing I think two people have risen to the challenge thus far:

So finally – my idea?  Well, I can’t claim complete originality for this as the basic idea came out of a coursebook reading text.  (Natural English Upper Int – somewhere around unit 10).  But basically, the idea is that you put the learners in someone else’s shoes for a bit.

So – pop down to your local shop of junk and cheap plastic goods and acquire some really cheap ear muffs / sunglasses (you’ll need to paint out the lenses) – or you can make blindfolds out of cardboard.  Borrow some gloves from friends and family (or better yet ask the learners to bring them in).  Acquire some surgical tape (the kind that allows the skin to breathe and doesn’t rip ALL the hairs off when you remove it).  Write the words SIGHT / SPEECH / TOUCH / HEARING on enough bits of paper so that you have one per learner.

Learners then choose random bits of paper and have the relevant ability removed / reduced.  (The surgical tape goes over the mouth in an “X” fashion).

The teacher then conducts (a) a normal lesson with all the usual games, dictations, reading tasks, writing games etc OR (b) devises a selection of everyday tasks that you then ask the learners to complete.  For example:  making a sandwich / taking a telephone message / texting (try it in gloves….).

At the end, learners report back to each other on what it was like to have the ability removed and what the implications are for life in general.  What needs to be changed?  How could it be changed?

This could, with the learners’ co-operation (and that of their families and schools), be extended and learners could attempt to live like this for 24 hours.  That would be a really interesting dissection of local society…

I realise this doesn’t really work towards raising awareness of mobility access issues and I hope therefore doesn’t miss the point entirely.  With any luck though, it should go some way to helping learners be more aware that world needs to be more geared towards inclusiveness, not differentiation.

Multiple Choice Cloze

23 May

A relatively simple way of dealing with multiple choice cloze tasks in the classroom:

Take one multiple choice cloze task, possibly one like this FCE style task found via a google image search, or just one from your coursebook.

Before the class, you’ll need to type out the multiple choice possible answers onto A4, print a single copy and then chop them up so that each word is on a separate bit of paper.  These can then be stuck up around the classroom, under the learners’ chairs, or even one the backs of learners.  Maybe even all three?

In class:  Tell learners you’ll read them a text with (12?) gaps in it and when you get to a gap, you’ll say the word banana.  They should write down the word they think should be in the gap.  (See also “Activity Reference” – Banana Dictation).  For stronger classes, read it once only.  For classes that need more support, read it twice.  You might also want to read it through beforehand so that you can identify and if necessary underline key content words that will require additional emphasis in order to signpost key information.

Learners can then check their ideas with each other in pairs or small groups.

Once they’ve decided on the words they think should go into the gaps, they can wander round the room writing down all the possibilities that have similar meanings / might also fit the gaps, from the words you previously distributed.

As a consolidation stage, you can refer learners to the relevant page of the coursebook / test book / copy of the handout to check and confirm their ideas against the options given.