Archive | November, 2011

Coming Soon!!! In December!!! The Twelve Days of Geekmas!

30 Nov

That’s right!  In honour of that special time of year, when morale starts once again to lift in anticipation of the holiday season, teflgeek is preparing it’s very own twelve days of geekmas.

teflgeek’s taken one of the most beloved christmas carols and tortured it beyond all reason to try and fit a mad teflesque version of reality in which, amongst other things “clutching” rhymes with “drumming” and “FCE” for…  well, you’ll have to wait for that!  Fortunately, I’m not the only one who’s seen fit to play havoc with the classics – the selection of you tube videos below should attest to that!

The basic plan is to release, between the 1st December and the 16th (when I go on holiday), twelve separate posts – one representing each of the twelve days.  Not that the posts are necessarily related to christmas at all, though they might be.

By the way – while I was doing a spot of research, I came across the Christmas Price Index – an economic inflation index based on the cost of purchasing the items in the song.  For this years’ figures – here’s the PNC Bank flash animation site with all the figures (Skip the intro).  An interesting one for anyone with business classes!

So stay tuned for more geekmas madness!

Here’s a traditional version of the original carol, complete with choir, orchestra and professional dancers:

Here’s the classic 1979 John Denver & The Muppets – sadly the quality isn’t brilliant.

Here’s a modern re-working:  Straight No Chaser do an a cappella version which includes at one point, singing the carol to the tune of Toto’s “Out of Africa”:

And finally, somewhat bizarrely, here’s an animated bollywood parody by boymongoose:


Say that again? avoiding repetition & developing paraphrase

25 Nov

Trying to come up with new and interesting ways of saying the same old thing is a skill that taxes most of us on a daily basis:  “I like your hair.”  “Your hair looks nice.”  “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  “That new style really suits you!”

For language learners, it’s obviously even more difficult.  For learners preparing for exam classes, where displaying a wide ranging linguistic resource helps garner improved scores – it’s an essential skill.  It’s useful for all those writing tasks (avoid using words or phrases from the questions) and particularly useful for CPE comprehension and summary tasks where the questions state “in your own words”.  But it’s also a handy skill to have for those speaking tasks, where demonstrating “range” is almost as important as actually having range.  After all, there’s no point learning all those different words and structures if you don’t actually use them?  Right?

So here’s an activity which needs no (only a very small amount) of preparation, but which helps extend and develop the paraphrase skill.  I call it “Say that again?”

Materials:  As much scrap A4 paper as you can find chopped down into either A6 or A7 sized slips – ideally it’d be about six bits of paper per student.

Students write a single (short) sentence on each bit of paper – ideally something they might say in everyday life.  You can model this with “I like your hair.”  or “Local football team played well/badly at the weekend.”  Students can work together in pairs during the sentence creation phase.

Collect all the slips of paper up and ask the learners to form small groups (three or four people per group).  re-distribute the slips of paper with the sentences on evenly between the groups, placed face down (i.e. sentences not visible) in a pile in the middle.

One learner takes a slip and turns it face up and reads the sentence.  They then have to produce a paraphrase of the sentence, as does the next person and the next etc, until someone can’t come up with something that hasn’t already been said.  So if we go back to our example:  Learner A turns over the slip of paper and reads out “I like your hair.”  Learner A paraphrases thusly:  “Your hair looks nice.”   Learner B comes up with “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  and Learner C with “That new style really suits you!”.  Learner D however can’t think of anything new, so gets to keep the slip of paper.

The winner is the person in each group with the fewest slips of paper at the end of the activity.

Feedback can be given on any errors that were overheard during the game, but also content feedback on any sentences they found particularly difficult to paraphrase.

As an extension, for those classes preparing for an exam, the teacher could take the input from one of the writing paper questions and divide it up into sentences on separate bits of paper and ask learners to come up with alternative phrasings.

“The candidate demonstrated an impressive range.”

(Bonus points for anyone who can identify the “impressive range” featured!  Post your answers below!)

The future of language schools?

24 Nov

While strolling gently through the internet this morning I caught a glimpse of the possibly chilling future of language schools.  And we were defunct.  Shabbily dressed individuals hanging around outside railway stations bearing signs reading “Will teach for food”.  Or worse,  hanging around outside playgrounds and shopping malls targetting the teenagers as they come past:

“Conditionals man, you need conditionals?  I got em right here.  What d’you want?  first, second third?  I got mixed, but they’ll cost you.”

“Hey!  Don’t go getting stuff from him!  He don’t know his pluperfect subjunctive from his past participle!  I got what you need – words man!  Thousands of them!  I’ll do you a deal – ten for a euro?  How’s that? No good?  How about fifty for a euro?”

“You leave him alone.  I’m talking here.  At least I know my third person agreement!”

At this point the scene degenerates into a scuffle and the shocked children run off wailing before the police arrive.

So why this scene of gloom and doom for the language school?

I suspect that as a business model, it’s time has come for a number of reasons.

(1)  Let’s face it – the teaching that occurs in the state sector, which the private language school essentially supplements, has improved dramatically over the years to a point where there is little differentiation of teaching materials and teaching practices between the state and private sectors.

(2)  Access to English language media has improved.  It’s not uncommon to talk to people with little formal language training but who have an extensive vocabulary and relatively strong grammar skills, purely because of their interactions with film, television, music and everything they find on the internet.  For academics, whose key publications are often in English, their working knowledge of the language is quite advanced.

(3)  Costs.  Language schools can be prohibitively expensive to run.  There are the teachers’ salaries, associated tax and social security payments, ancillary staff in administrative, sales and marketing positions.  Light, heat, water etc….   it all adds up.  And these costs then have to be represented in the price that is charged to the customer – the students.    Which makes it an expensive business, learning a language.  And if it can be done cheaper…?

(4)  The rise of online learning systems.  Which is where it can be done cheaper.  The systems are now in place, and are sufficiently reliable, that there is no real need for the learner to enter the physical building of the language school.  Even face to face time, that much vaunted ace in the hole of the real world, can be reproduced electronically with video conferencing.  Skype lessons anyone?

(5)  Language schools are the middle men.  This was the point that occurred to me this morning:  language schools essentially provide the interface between the materials producers and the materials consumers.  John and Liz Soars write their latest Headway book, CUP print it and distribute it, the school buys it and I teach it to my class.  Why?  Only because this has been the traditional model thus far and no-one’s come up with a better alternative.  Yet.

My prediction is the gradual death of the language school and rising costs and falling student numbers conspire to close us down.  Language teaching will continue as it ever has, but the model of the private language school will alas be no more.  The giant brands in the world of EFL will develop and maintain online educational platforms (most of them are already nearly there).  The publishers will employ the teachers directly to mediate the lessons in their online environments and will supply the materials directly to the learners, thus finally cutting out the middle men.  And we’ll all be out of a job.

See you down by the train station!

IATEFL BESIG – Lesson plan competition

22 Nov

Calling all Business English Teachers – this one’s for you!

The IATEFL BESIG, in conjunction with CUP’s Professional English Online website, are running a Lesson plan competition.

It’s open to all (as long as you haven’t had materials previously commercially published) and the deadline is 31st January 2012.

Thanks again to Cherry M. Philipose for sharing this on facebook.



From Riddle to Twittersphere: David Crystal tells the story of English in 100 words

22 Nov

Following on from the success of the recent Radio 4 series “A History of the World in 100 objects“, linguist and novelist David Crystal attempts to do the same for the English language.  An interesting read for any and all language teachers and language historians out there!

From Riddle to Twittersphere: David Crystal tells the story of English in 100 words – Telegraph.

If you were looking for a particularly challenging lesson for one of your advanced classes…..   you could give them a selection of these words as a spelling test!  And then divide the list and the class into four or five groups and set them off to discover what their words mean (and provide contextual sentences!).

Or they could just choose their favourites.  Mine are numbers 43 and 49 – BODGERY and FOPDOODLE respectively.



(Thanks to Cherry M Philipose for sharing this via facebook)

#ELTchat Summary: Dogme & Formal Assessment – the odd couple?

16 Nov

At first glance, the free-wheeling Dogme approach to teaching and formal assessment do not sit well together.  Rather they would appear to occupy opposite ends of the spectrum, representing as they do either “winging it elevated to an art form” or rigid rows of desks and standardized testing models.  The #eltchat on Wednesday 9th November 2011 tried to find out whether opposites might in this case attract, or at the very least whether this odd couple could form some kind of lasting (if uneasy) relationship.

If you’d like to look at the original transcript for this chat, you can find it on the #ELTchat wiki.

Dogme, like the term formal assessment, means different things to different people.  Dogme is NOT winging it (PatrickAndrews), rather it is teaching without materials but with preparation (the teacherjames).  You prepare your classes but go with the flow (esolcourses).  Experience and skill can help with this (Shaunwilden), though pre-service teachers can be trained (the teacherjames).  You should always remember the students’ needs and wants and not impose dogme(bethcagnol), and it works well with higher levels (rliberni).

Formal Assessment  could be achievement tests or proficiency tests (ljp2010), exams (rliberni) or portfolio based (esolcourses).  In general, people seemed to view “formal” assessment as tests or exams imposed on the class from outside, either by school management (e.g. end of year tests), national exam boards or student needs (e.g. IELTS / FCE / TOEFL etc).

Whether the two can co-exist is difficult to answer.  As ever with these things the answer would seem to be “it depends”.  The means of assessment (the testing tools) and the criteria being assessed both affect things (esolcourses), though if the test is a good one, it shouldn’t matter how the learners get there (teflgeek).  Tests, unfortunately, are not always very good (PatrickAndrews) and may require specific item knowledge that therefore must be covered in class (ShaunWilden), or development of a narrow range of skills (esolcourses).  Is the problem therefore the testing method, not the teaching method (teflgeek)?  The fact that most schools don’t actually test properly certainly doesn’t make it any easier (Shaunwilden).

A Portfolio based approach to testing would be a better fit with a dogme approach to teaching (PatrickAndrews) and has worked for some (esolcourses), but teachers don’t often get the choice of test type (rliberni).  Most testing is very “one size fits all” and there is a need for less rigidity and a more learner-centred approach to testing (esolcourses), though commercial realities make this difficult to implement (rliberni).  Overall, we seem to be stuck with whatever we’re given to work with / aim towards.

Given then, that formal testing is often prescriptive and imposed, how can we reconcile the destination with the journey?  Test / exam preparation often requires using past papers and extensive practice of task types (AlexandraKouk).  Task familiarization is important (rliberni) but there is a difference between test familiarization and test practice and most of the research suggests test practice only goes so far (teflgeek), which is why you might want to ditch the exam material as loads of past papers are unnecessary (ShaunWilden).  Though for learners who want to get through a test (e.g. IELTS et al), learner-centred teaching must by definition involve the test (rliberni).

Dogme and the Exam/Test Class:  Ideas for teaching, revision and background links & references:

Hopefully all this is an accurate reflection of the discussion that took place – if you have anything to add – just let me know.

David Petrie (teflgeek)

What to do with Wikis – an ELT perspective

9 Nov

The wiki can be an often overlooked teacher tech tool.  The piece below is (as you might be able to tell!) an adapted version of an assignment submitted for the Technology & Language Learning module of my MA.

This article provides an overview of the background and evolution of the wiki and examines some of the affordances generally associated with wikis.  It situates wikis in a clear educational context, linking wikis to social constructivist views of learning.  It examines how the implementation of integrated wiki use might best be approached and looks at how motivation of learners to fully engage in integrated wiki use might be maintained.  It clarifies three modes of integrated wiki use, administrative, referential and developmental, and provides specific suggestions for these.  It concludes that a general approach to integrated wiki use is necessary and that this should incorporate an implementation strategy, consider motivational factors and give ownership of the project to the participants. 


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Are you worth your learners’ attention?

7 Nov

One of the contributors to the debate on student fees in UK universities raised an interesting point the other week.  Roger Moss, in breaking down the fees students pay when compared to what they get, calculated that they paid approximately £92 per seminar.  What else, he wondered in his letter to The Independent, could they have spent the money on?  Tickets to see Rihanna live in concert?  Seats at a Premier League football fixture?

This made me think:  What do my learners pay per lesson and – more importantly – do they get their money’s worth?

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Ten Things worth Further Investigation (#01)

2 Nov

On my browser I have a folder marked “Further Investigation”.  In it are contained all the links from various sources, none of which I can remember (but which were probably sourced via twitter and facebook feeds)…

For what it’s worth – here’s ten things I meant to look into in more detail last month, but clearly never got round to….

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