Archive | June, 2011

The disabled access friendly world blog challenge: Creature Discomforts

29 Jun

Following on from the recent blog challenge on raising awareness of disability access issues, I came across the Leonard Cheshire Disability campaign whilst watching Shaun the Sheep dvds with my daughter.

The campaign is called “Creature Discomforts” and has very similar aims to the blog challenge – namely to get people to think about the way they see disability.

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A film or DVD based lesson (any film)!

24 Jun

It’s the end of the school year at the moment and most of my classes have been badgering for “Movie, teacher! Movie!” for some time.  Resistance would seem to be futile….

Basically, what they want to do is sit down and watch a film for the entirety of the lesson, “practising” their listening skills, but otherwise doing nothing.  The pedagogical conscience within me rails against this – no!  they must do something useful!  But let’s face it, at the end of the day, sitting around watching subtitled movies but otherwise doing nothing is how most of them will use their English as time goes by….  so you could justify doing just that?

Or not, because of course our role as teachers is to help learners access the content of movies in English, and just sitting their watching them isn’t necessarily going to help them do that any better!

This lesson won’t necessarily help learners do that any better either, though it does contain a prediction task and a comprehension check at the end, so it stands a better chance of doing that than doing nothing….

And it’s incredibly simple and can be adapted to use with absolutely any movie at all!  So go for it!

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Online Game: The Curfew

22 Jun

I spotted a colleague (Thanks Neil!) using this with a class the other day and it looked brilliant and so investigated – it is really impressive work!

Turns out Neil spotted this on Larry Ferlazzo’s site.

The Curfew game is aimed at young adults / older teenagers and is set in a dystopian Britain, some 16 years in our future.  It aims to raise issues related to civil liberties, human rights and authoritarianism, though it does this not by preaching, but merely by putting the game player in situations where these rights have been removed.

From a language learners’ point of view, the dialogue is relatively authentic (obviously it’s scripted) and therefore might be difficult for lower levels to access.  Dialogue is subtitled though, so I think CEF levels B2 and above would be able to cope with most of it.

I used the game last night with a class who really got into it and refused to leave the room at the end of the lesson…  The mix of character interaction, point and click adventure game discovery and the occasional arcade game style task clearly winning them over!

I used this as the second half of a lesson that looked at civil liberties and human rights in fairly broad terms – asking learners to list the rights they had now and then running a mini-pyramid discussion to decide which rights they thought they could live without.  This was also a handy way of making sure that the basic concepts and vocabulary of game were pre-taught.  We also discussed Martin Niemoller’s “poem” – first they came.  Obviously some of these issues may be sensitive topics for your learners, so some discretion is advised!  I’d also suggest that you have a go at the game yourself beforehand, just to check over the suitability of the content – and also so that you can help any students struggling with what to do next!

To go and play the game click here:  The Curfew Game.

The only caveat is that the game is too long to play in a single lesson (as it should be?) – and it doesn’t “save” (though if you don’t clean down your computer it might remember where you were the next time you try and play it).  But I’m fairly sure my learners were happy enough to go home and work through it all again!

Happy Game play!

Exam Class: FCE Report Writing

17 Jun

Here’s another overview of an FCE Writing lesson:

The lesson is based around the idea of a model text – in this case a “bad” model (which I really enjoyed writing!).

In brief:

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Free Technology for Teachers: 77 Web Resources for Teachers to Try This Summer

13 Jun

Free Technology for Teachers: 77 Web Resources for Teachers to Try This Summer.

There’s really not much to say about this, except to refer you to Richard Byrne’s original post (see link at top).

Most of the resources are categorised by subject, so might be good for anyone doing cross-curricular work, and it might well be that you recognise some of these from previous posts or your own web-savvy brilliance!

In any event, it’s well worth a look and many thanks to Mr. Byrne for putting it together!

Twittercordances? – Tweetolife stats

9 Jun

There’s a new twitter based application on the web that you don’t have to sign up to twitter to use:  Tweetolife.  The software is one of the outcomes of a study carried out by researchers at the Language, Interaction and Computation Laboratory of the University of Trento, who were working with data gathered for the Edinburgh Twitter Corpus, on which more background information is available to read as pdf.

Tweetolife can show you which genders use words more frequently (percentage statistics) and interestingly, can also show you at which times of day certain words peak or trough in frequency.  For example the word “class” peaks at just before 8.00am.

Of most use though is the gender differences “detailed query” which shows you which other words are most commonly used along with your search word – split by gender:  so for example, more men (@70%) use the word “replacement” than women (@30%) and with men it collocates most with “battery” while with women it’s “valve”.

Gender differences aside, it’s quite a useful mini-concordancer that could be used for collocation work with classes as it’s a bit more accessible than the Collins Co-build, which I’m not sure is still available anyway…  My only minor quibble is that there seem to be words that don’t register in the database – is this because people just don’t tweet them?  If so, it raises the interesting question of how and why we alter our language use when tweeting…..

Acknowledgement:  this was first spotted on Larry Ferlazzo’s site – thanks to Larry for that.


Correction:  when this was first posted, the initial paragraph read as follows:

There’s a new twitter based application on the web that you don’t have to sign up to twitter to use:  Tweetolife.  It’s the outcome – well, it’s one outcome of the development of Twitter corpus data by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, whose paper on the subject is available to read as pdf.

This has now been updated and corrected – thanks to Amaç Herdagdelen for providing the feedback on this!

The Accessibility Audit: The disabled access friendly world blog challenge

8 Jun

A couple of weeks ago I posted in response to Marisa Constantinides’ Tefl Matters Blog Challenge – an awareness raising lesson on disability access for EFL/ESL learners.

What I have here is possibly more in the spirit of the original challenge, as it looks more specifically at mobility access issues.

Lead In by asking learners about their days, how were they, what did they do, how do they feel about their day?

Ask learners to jot down an overview of what a typical day represents.  You may want to model this, by describing your day (e.g. My baby daughter usually wakes me up early, so I go and get her up, change her nappy, dress her and then go and give her some breakfast and make myself some coffee and toast.  Then I shower and dress, get ready for work.  Go downstairs open the garage doors, put my daughter in the car, drive to the creche, drop my daughter off….)

This stage has some great opportunities for language input / extension or development, or reformulation of learner utterances.

Once learners have done this, they can mingle or compare in small groups to see who has the most interesting day (content feedback)

If you have the capability, the following YouTube video gives a two minute glimpse into the life of a wheelchair user on her way to work (or a job interview).  A pre-viewing (gist task) might be simply how does the woman’s journey to work differ from your own (to work / school)

(The same film makers have also created videos that examine what it’s like to be either hearing or visually impaired.)

A detailed follow up task (which might also require some vocabulary input/feedback) could be to ask learners to watch again and list all of the obstacles the woman faces in her journey.

Extending out of this, learners can generate ideas in pairs, small groups, with feedback to the board of additional accessibility issues that wheelchair users might face.  These might include:  the height of light switches, work surfaces, desks, drawers and cupboards.  Door sizes and manoeuvrability.  Steps, stairs, drains, ditches, culverts, ramps.  Washing lines?  Where is everything in your house / flat?  DVD player, above or below the TV?  Showers, baths, toilets, bidets, sinks and basins?  Car or public transport?  Hills, slopes, lifts?  There are probably many, many more that I’m missing.

Having thought about the challenges that wheelchair users face, learners can then do an accessibility audit of their lives.   This can either be done with learners auditing their lives and then comparing the results, or with learners interviewing each other and then collating the results.  With lower level classes, you might want to generate a questionnaire to scaffold the interaction.  Results collation could be presented in poster form, charts, graphs, pie charts maybe?

If time, a further discussion could then occur as to what, if any official policy learners’ workplaces or schools possess relating to disability access.


Since Marisa set the original challenge, the following bloggers have contributed lesson ideas and materials:

Vicky Loras has a lesson based around a poem about mobility by A.C. Leming.

Claire Hart has a lesson for business learners about what they can do to make their companies more accessible

Naomi Epstein has a lesson on a poem by deaf poet Curtis Robbins.

Eva Buyuksimkesian posts on a lesson examining what it’s like for disabled people to be “the other” and their dreams.

And of course – here’s my earlier post.

Anyone else feel like giving it a go?  Check out Marisa’s initial post for some background and inspiration.

Phoning it in? An m-learning experience.

7 Jun

It’s early evening on a Friday about 7.30pm and the end of a long week both for me and the poor student who’s ended up scheduling her lessons at a time when the only other person in the school is the receptionist who has to lock up after us.

We’ve been talking about presentations and leadership and the board is covered in useful expressions, reformulations, explanatory diagrams and the odd stick figure cavorting across the board an attempt to convey meaning.  And now, having moved on to the next bit, I need some more board space so I ask “Is it OK if I clean the board?”.  “Uh, can I write it down first?” she asks.  Part of me thinks – well that’ll take us to the end of the lesson quite neatly.  And the other part thinks – but then we won’t get to finish up this bit of the task.  I think for a moment.  “Have you got your mobile with you?” I ask.  “Does it have a camera?” and we experiment with open and closed shutters, lights on and off, but we get a nice clear readable shot of the white board in about a minute and on we go.

Next lesson, the learner brings her notebook and pen, uses them intermittently, but clearly prefers to continue the discussion, using the board as support and occasionally taking a photo to record board work for later review.  I become much more aware of the haphazard approach to boardwork that I’m currently using.  After one photo and board cleaning, I divide the board up into clear sections.

“What do you do with the pictures?”  I want to know.  “I bluetooth them to my computer and then make a neat version in my notebook.” She replies.  I wonder if this is what is truly meant by blended learning….

Next lesson we work on supra-segmental stress features in a presentation delivery.  Out comes my phone this time and I record her delivering the introduction to her presentation.  We examine stress and pause in connected speech and rhetorical pauses.  We record a second attempt and play it back.  She doesn’t like it, so we go for a third attempt.  We listen to the first and last attempts and she sees where and how she’s improved.  We bluetooth the mp3 files from my phone to hers so she can take them away and listen to them later.  Homework is to work out the next bit of the presentation and record a version for review next class.