Archive | February, 2012

FCE online resource directory

27 Feb

For all those of you that teach FCE preparation classes – here’s a list of the best stuff I’ve found online for FCE prep.

Most of the resources can be classified as either “online practice activities” or “teaching ideas” – but if you need somewhere to send your students for self-study or if you’ve run out of interesting ways to work with a key-word transformation – there’ll be something in there for you:

FCE Online Resource Directory

Let me know if there are any problems with links etc – and if you have anything you think should be added to this page?  Definitely let me know!



Cambridge English Teachers’ Competition 2012

24 Feb

If you help learners prepare for one of the Cambridge exams, then you might be interested in their new competition: Cambridge English Teachers’ Competition 2012.

All they want is one practical exam preparation idea, succinctly expressed in 300 words, for one of the following exams:

BEC (Preliminary, Vantage or Higher), ILEC, ICFE, YLE (Starters, Movers or Flyers), KET, PET, FCE.

Deadline for entries is April 16th 2012.

More details (including prizes!) from their website:  Cambridge English Teachers’ Competition 2012.

Time Time Time

23 Feb

I once observed a colleague, also a great friend, who was possibly a little paranoid about running out of material in his classes, particularly the young learner classes.  Before the class he gave me a copy of his lesson plan, complete with stages, aims, procedures, timings – the works.  Then I noticed that all his timings were estimates:  “5-10 minutes”.  Not really a problem as activities never take exactly the time you expect…  until I added them all up.  In the short version of the timings, he’d over-planned by about 15 minutes.  In the long version, it was about another hour…

I mention this both as a salutary warning to anyone currently scratching their head over an observation and because I realised a moment ago that I’ve just done exactly the same thing…

I was just trying to figure out a necessary weekly time commitment for a course I’ve foolishly just started doing and I started thinking about “how much time things should take” vs “how much time things do take”.  You know, like “Job:  40 – 50 hours per week”…

So I got to the end of my list and worked out that in the short version, all my various responsibilities add up to 137 hours a week.  In the long version – 184.  Not too bad I thought.

Then I worked out how many hours there are in a week.


The only reason this video’s here is for the classic line “you run and you run to catch up with the sun but’s it’s sinking” – I’m sure we all feel a bit like that at times….

Plus – when this video was shot?  I was there.


The Star Wars Guide to ELT

17 Feb

Well, it had to be written.  You can blame the excellent “Behaviour management: what can we learn from Darth Vader and Yoda?” – a post by Simon Thomas on for the inspiration.  Simon examines the lessons that the conflicting characters of Darth Vader and Yoda have to teach us, particularly as their wisdom and world views apply to classroom management.  As I read his post I wondered – what would it be like to be in a classroom with Darth Vader as your teacher?  And once you start thinking along those lines, it’s a slippery slope…

So without further ado – I present to you:  “Approaches to ELT Explained – The Star Wars Guide”


It is perhaps unfair on both the Emperor and on Grammar Translation to lump them together like this.  Neither deserve approbation for each others’ crimes (so to speak), but there is, rightly or wrongly, a certain degree of negativity associated with them both.  I’ve chosen to place them here together because I feel that they are both the main driving forces of their universes – everything else arises up around them, either because of them or in direct opposition to them.  What arises later defines itself by not being what came before.  Thus, in Luke’s rejection of the Emperor’s blandishements in Return of the Jedi we can see the rejection of the Grammar Translation method in every approach that has appeared since.

If the Emperor represents Grammar Translation, then Darth Vader must surely represent Audiolingualism.  Here, we’re not so much interested in creating independent linguistic beings as instilling a set of desired behaviours.  Mimicry and repetition, endless drilling and processes of input rather than exploration.  Positive feedback reinforces the desired behaviour and negative feedback corrects the behaviour.  Those still living learn from the mistakes of their peers….

R2-D2 goes through every single film without saying a word, affording all of those around him the autonomy to do as they wish, make their own mistakes and to learn from their experiences.  He observes all, knows everything that’s going on but doesn’t interfere – making only small, timely contributions to help everyone get where they’re going.  The only thing missing from R2-D2’s masterclass of the “Silent Way” is a set of Cuisenaire rods…


“Ability with language not paramount it is.  Sentences of Yoda good for correction they are.”  Yoda’s English language ability has been long noted for it’s word order and sentence structure issues – classic examples of fossilised errors…  However Yoda’s teaching style borrows heavily from the Task-based-learning stable.  “Try not!  DO!  Or do not.  There is no try.”  The emphasis here is on the practical applications and learning by doing, with a model demonstration of the task and subsequent analysis.  Prabhu would be proud.

C-3PO is happy doing role plays, interviews and surveys, is one half of the ultimate pairwork duo and possessor of the largest information gap in history.  He’s familiar with “over six million forms of communication” and if the purpose of Communicative Language Teaching is to develop people’s ability to interact with foreign language speakers, then C-3PO must surely be the poster boy.


“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”  If ever there was a perfect example of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, then Ben Kenobi’s finger wiggling would appear to be it.  This is not to suggest that NLP is some form of mind control and while Obi Wan could possibly represent many different aspects of teaching, this seminal scene represents the ability to put yourself not only in the same shoes as the other person, but the same mindspace.  To know how best to help people to think and act the way you want them to.  Which isn’t so far away from NLP….

“Winging it elevated to an art form”?  Hans Solo typifies the Dogme approach. Let’s all just go with the flow and see what happens and I wonder if we can’t maybe tweak things to our best advantage?  At least on the surface.  A set of principles does exist under there somewhere, but few are prepared to delve that deep to find out what they are and nobody fully understands them anyway.



Purists are no doubt bemoaning the absence of some of their favourite characters here – Luke, Leia and Chewbacca not having made an appearance.  I must confess that within the metaphor of Star Wars as ELT I’ve always really seen Luke as the student in all this – encountering all these different teaching styles and trying hard to develop an identity of his own.  But if you disagree with any of these or have any additions to make – feel free to let me know!

The Future of English – English in the East (BBC Podcast)

16 Feb

For anyone interested in the future of the English language, a fascinating BBC documentary is currently available to download here:  BBC – Podcasts – Documentaries.  Titled “English in the East”, the first episode of a two part series focuses on whether the role of the English language is changing.  From a nine-year-old boy whose daily commute to school lasts three hours and crosses an international border to a trader who believes that the decline of the US dollar and the rise of the Ren Min Bi heralds the end of language dominance as well as economic dominance for the English speaking nations – definitely worth listening to.

It’s also being broadcast on the World Service – check out the schedule here: BBC – BBC World Service Programmes – The Documentary – Episodes coming up.



#ELTChat Summary: Teaching at a Discourse Level

15 Feb

How can we focus language teaching more at discourse level rather than sentence level?

The first #eltchat of 2012 attempted to answer this question!  I wasn’t actually there and didn’t take part in the chat and I’m still not quite sure how I’ve ended up writing the summary except that Marisa_C possesses remarkable powers of persuasion and as someone who teaches higher levels this is an area of interest!  Hopefully, this captures the key points, but I’m not a “discourse specialist”, so feel free to point out any errors or omissions.  I haven’t cited individual contributors, but the transcript is available if you’d like to know who said what.

“Teacher, what mean “discourse”?”

The initial question makes the assumption that discourse works at a higher level than merely the sentence thought the Wikipedia entry relating discourse analysis to “approaches to analyzing written, spoken . signed language use or any significant semiotic event” – which I interpret broadly as meaning “if something attempts to convey meaning, it can be analysed to see how it does so”.  A more accessible overview of discourse suggests that discourse analysts are concerned with “the construction of meaning throughout a text”.  (it should be pointed out here that the word “text” is used more to mean a linguistic event than a written document).

Thus discourse can apply to patterns of interaction, “text” structures, communication events, language within a text – usually occurring within a context of authentic language use.  There are no set “rules” of discourse per se, because discourse examines everything and the rules change depending on the context.

Stuck at the Sentence?  Problems with discourse:

Receptively, learners simply may not know enough vocabulary to access texts effectively – to fully understand a text learners need to be able to recognize 95% of the vocabulary used in the text (Laufer, 1989).  Additionally, the mechanics of textual cohesion devices like referencing, linking expressions and paragraphing need to be understood.

Receptive knowledge of these devices also form part of language tests, like FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS (etc), and within fields like EAP.  Often these tests also require learners to demonstrate productive knowledge of these devices in structured, genre specific writing tasks.  While genre is an aspect of discourse, genre familiarity is a separate issue for learners to grapple with.

Where learners are preparing for a language test, classes tend to become very test focused, very accuracy focused and very form focused – developing a test dependency that can be difficult to move away from.  This may account for the amount of language teaching conducted at the sentence level within test preparation classes, though this is not ideal.

It isn’t helped by the general trend within published ELT materials for decontextualized, fragmented, sentence based language presentations.  Grammar teaching in particular tends to be conducted at the level of the sentence and examine items in isolation and without reference to a wider context.  The natural fluidity of language would seem to predicate against this.

Problem?  Solution! – what a bunch of Hoey!

(Bonus points to those who got the discourse analysis joke there….)

The simplest responses to the issue of isolated sentence based grammar teaching would appear to be just to teach grammar in a wider context and by making learners aware of functional aspects of language and their use – aspects of Speech Act study (which is only possible in context).  This could be facilitated by more use of authentic materials or by use of digital coursebooks (this latter point wasn’t fully expanded upon – I’m intrigued and would welcome comments!).

The other key suggestion is to move learners from receptive awareness of discourse patterns, for example making them aware of such patterns as they occur in listening and reading tasks, through to productive acts that feature and practice the target discourse structures.  This would seem to favour a product approach to writing – the exposure of learners to a model text before asking them to produce something based on that model.  There is often a reluctance amongst learners to “do writing” in class, but while instruction could take place in class, the actual practice of the writing skill need not.

(An authorial aside – just from reading through the tweets as they related to discourse and testing, in particular the learners desire just to “get through the test”, I think it’s worth pointing out to learners that often with testing, there is no “quick fix”.  Discourse features occur in many language tests precisely because they are skills to be developed and rather than something that can be sidestepped.  There are task strategies than can help fine tune learner performance, but if the underlying skills aren’t there, neither will exam performance be! )

In conclusion – Do Learners need Discourse Analysis?

A good question – do learners really need discourse analysis skills or is it just the teachers who do?  There was a general consensus that the main goal is to have learners working and using “real language”, which would seem to take us back to using authentic materials as part of the input process, both to serve for language development and provision of exponents, but also to raise awareness of discourse structures and patterns as they arise in the target texts.

Teachers therefore need training in discourse analysis so that they can effectively instruct the learners, and be able to evaluate published materials more critically.  Thus they can help the learners to not only look at language performance but also to reflect on the language they encounter, to think about aspects of discourse such as audience and purpose – to be aware of the patterns rather than actually conduct a discourse analysis.

Further Reading, References and links from the chat:

(Links given where possible)


An apology on behalf of #eltchat – Raquel_EFL appeared to make a large contribution to the chat with people responding with phrases like “brilliant” and “Good point!!!”  but unfortunately for some reason these contributions didn’t show up in the transcript and I fear have been lost to history….

#eltchat takes place on twitter every Wednesday at 12 noon and 9.00pm London time.  Simply sign in or sign up to twitter and search for the hashtag #eltchat.  For more information, check out the website.

#IHPortugal Training Day: Facebook in the Classroom

7 Feb

This is the second of a series of posts reflecting on seminars I attended at the recent IH Portugal Training Day.  Click the link to read the first post on “Class Management by Carol Crombie“.


Robert Dickson & Stephen Wardle

IH Lisbon

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with a number of web tools, attempting to create an online environment for my learners – an extension of the classroom, an alternative channel of communication, a shared resource….  and the conclusion I came to fairly early on was that facebook was probably the best means of achieving this.  After all, why reinvent the wheel?  Everyone’s already on facebook – so it should be easy!

Robert & Stephen’s seminar looked at the “whys” and the “hows” of using facebook, but perhaps more importantly, it also looked at the “should we-s” – the things to think about before connecting with your learners outside the classroom.

Continue reading

The Best Education Articles From “The Onion” | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

7 Feb

If you don’t know The Onion – you should take a look – it’s a satirical newspaper that sometimes hits the nail on the head.  It’s also a great source of articles for use with classes – the occasionally puerile sense of humour appeals to teenagers, whilst the (not always) sophisticated parodies of mainstream news events makes adults smile.  Also some great stuff for business English classes and I think they now have short videos which could be used for listening tasks.

Anyway – this was all prompted by a post from Larry Ferlazzo – The Best Education Articles From “The Onion” – with well – these are Larry’s picks for the best education related Onion material.  My favourite is the cost cutting decision to remove the past tense from school curricula….  after all – who needs to talk about yesterday?