Archive | October, 2013

The Reading Teacher

19 Oct

Today I gave a presentation at the APPI / British Council BritLit 10th Anniversary celebrations in Coimbra.

You can see the presentation slides below – and in due course I’m planning to do a you tube 15 minute version of the talk and I’ll post that below when I can.

The presentation is based around two main ideas:  (1) the fact that I don’t like teaching reading – at least not in coursebook contexts, (2) my contention that coursebook reading tasks, in the main, fail to develop the reading skill in learners.  Obviously, this latter point is contentious and it would depend on the text, the learner and of course – the teacher.

The presentation therefore looks at the difference between a typical coursebook treatment of a text, and how we access and react to texts in real life – it goes on to look at useful reading sub-skills and strategies and finally suggests some activities to use in class to help learners develop these sub-skills and strategies.

I know that as I post this, there’s no explanation of the activities towards the end, if anything is unclear (and it will be!) please feel free to leave a question in the comments and I’ll try and explain.  Or you can wait for the video version!



ELT Materials Writing Competition

9 Oct

Not a teflgeek competition I hasten to add, but a competition sponsored by the Disabled Access Friendly Blog.
If you are a budding materials designer / ELT writer – then this competition will be  good way to get a great start in the game!  
All the information on the competition now follows:


The Disabled Access Friendly campaign has teamed up with ELT Teacher 2 Writer and Burlington Books to bring you this opportunity to use your worksheet writing skills to inform students about issues affecting people with mobility disability.
All suitable entries will be published online on Disabled Access Friendly’s site, which is visited by ELT colleagues from over 120 countries
There will be three prizes: 
  1. 200 Euros towards the cost of professional development, such as an online writing course or participation at an ELT event (kindly sponsored by Burlington Books)
  2. 100 Euros towards the cost of professional development, such as an online writing course or participation at an ELT event (kindly sponsored by Burlington Books)
  3. A set of six ELT Teacher 2 Writer modules:
  • How To Write Vocabulary Presentations And Practice
  • How To Write Reading And Listening Activities
  • How To Write Critical Thinking Activities
  • How To Write ESP Materials
  • How To Write Graded Readers
  • How ELT Publishing Works
Disabled Access Friendly is a voluntary campaign that provides ELT teachers with online material that raises awareness about mobility disability. All this material is completely free.  The site has lesson plans, reading texts and video clips at all levels that can be used as supplementary material, for projects and examination practice.  The material allows teachers to provide insight and information about life as a person with a mobility disability, thus building pathways for caring and action.  By stepping into someone else’s shoes, the students explore their own and other people’s attitudes and become aware while learning English.

ELT Teacher 2 Writer is a database of ELT teachers who want to write. Publishers search this database when they’re looking for writers.  It is also a series of training modules designed to help teachers write better ELT materials, either for publication or to improve the quality of their self-produced classroom materials.
What are the competition guidelines?

1. You choose the mobility related topic, language area and level.   For ideas we suggest you look at  Disabled Access Friendly’s reading textsvideo clips and lesson plans, and read disability blogs and published articles.
2. Find the full writing guidelines here.
Who are the judges?
  • Adir Ferreira, teacher, teacher trainer and content writer
  • Disabled Access Friendly campaign
  • ELT Teacher 2 Writer


How to submit your entry

Entries should be submitted electronically as a word doc. attachment to:
Please save your file as follows:

Your surname, Your first name.  Title of worksheet e.g.
Smith, Susan.  My wheelchair friend



Entries to reach us by the closing date of 16th December 2013

DAF website capture

Virtual Learning Environments and Learning Management Systems – an #ELTChat Summary

1 Oct


What’s the difference between a VLE and a LMS?

Nothing – apparently.  There was some confusion over the terms and whether there was a difference between them or not, whether they might represent the difference between synchronous (live interaction) and asynchronous (delayed interaction) systems, or whether they might represent a difference in function.  @ShaunWilden linked to the “Virtual Learning Environment” Wikipedia article, which looks at what both terms mean and what the differences are (there aren’t any, it’s basically a geographical difference).

Why use a VLE / LMS?

One of the initial questions here was whether VLE/LMS is intended to replace the real or not.  While there might be more of a move towards 100% online learning (@theteacherjames) and you can use a VLE with one-to-ones or small groups in an exclusively online capacity (@cioccas), the general consensus was that a VLE serves as a complement or supplement to existing classes in the real.  It supports classroom learning (@mattellman), and can replace some aspects of it (@Marisa_C) – in other words it becomes a great example of blended learning (@idc74).

There are activities that you can do in an online environment that you can’t do in the real and vice versa (@Marisa_C), and @mattellman suggested that online is good for delivering seminars but that language learners need the face to face contact – though @Marisa_C rebutted this by saying that you can teach how you like, online or not, it’s what you do that matters.

@HanaTicha provided one of the best reasons for using a VLE – it brings teachers and students together and takes the learning process outside the classroom.

What can you do with a VLE?

@MicaelaCarey asked the question, to which @shaunwilden replied (very much in the spirit of Marlon Brando) – what do you want to do with them?

There seemed to be three main strands – administrative functions, pedagogical functions and as a feedback channel.  @Julian_LEnfant talked about using VLEs with EAP courses and Writing courses, and with teachers for course announcements, administration and documentation.

@cioccas made the point that it’s very helpful if you’ve had some training in course design – as online courses need to be as well designed and facilitated as face to face courses do

The discussions and reflections that can ensue in online courses, whether purely online or blended, were one of the things that @Marisa_C most enjoyed about Moodle courses.

How do you do it?

Many of the VLEs that are available are relatively easy to pick up and you can learn a lot by just playing around with them (@shaunwilden & @Marisa_C), though if you’d like a bit more guidance there is often plenty of help available via the internet or You Tube.  If that doesn’t work, you could always hassle people who have more experience than you do!

Or, you could follow @Ven_VVE’s example and sign up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Here’s the record of the MOOC, though motivation to see a MOOC through to the bitter end can sometimes be a problem.  @Julian_LEnfant used Lynda to train up on his VLEs.  @cioccas rated Jeff Stanford’s Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching as being excellent and a great source of ideas, even if slightly dated now.  @Ven_VVE mentioned Matt Bury’s page as a good source of information on Moodle

Two things to keep an eye on when using VLEs are:  numbers and motivation.  Numbers can be a big problem – the more people, the more posts, the more the tutor has to read and react to (@cioccas), and motivation can wane, especially when the delivery is asynchronous and people aren’t getting instantaneous reactions to their input (@subnuggurat).

@Marisa_C suggests a multi-platform approach – not limiting yourself to one VLE as one VLE very rarely does everything you want, but instead using different systems for different purposes:  (1) delivery (2) resources (3) communication.

While not every VLE has everything you need, it is possible to add things in.  @shaunwilden highlighted the Vocaroo widgets page, which allows you to embed vocaroo on your own webpage and @Marisa_C mentioned a free (but limited) video-conferencing website called Tokbox, which she had in one of her wikis.

What to use?

The big question…

Lots of different systems were mentioned, with varying degrees of comment, expansion and recommendation.  This next section is basically an alphabetical list, with a precis of any comments as attached:

  • Adobe Connect:  ipad app
  • Blackboard / Blackboard collaborate:
  • Canvas: free trial, then pay?
  • Edmodo:  free, good for YLs (has badges, registration, clear roles, is a closed and safe environment), not so good with very large groups, not exclusive to YLs though, a bit of a mixed bag – some bits are good / some not so much.
  • Moodle:  free to download, complicated to set up (You Tube tutorials available), includes wikis and blogs as a watered down version of themselves, need add ons for audio etc (though could embed vocaroo etc as above).
  • OLMS (Oxford Learning Management Systems):
  • PBWiki:  (editors note – this now seems to have mutated into something called pbworks…)
  • wiggio: has meetings availability, allows voice / video messages
  • Wiki Matrix – an overview of different wikis and what they can do
  • Wikipsaces: good for basic contact with students, uploading files, has some forum functionality
  • WiziQ – has a free version for teachers, ipad app,
  • Writing Skills Interactive – a software package you can use with Blackboard.

In Conclusion:

I was the one who originally suggested the chat topic, as it’s something I’m interested in experimenting with this year, and I wanted to know what #eltchatters (who are generally fairly clued up about all thing edtech) used, what they did with what they used and ultimately, what they recommended.  I think I got an answer to that question – at least I have chosen a VLE from this chat that I’m going to try mucking about with this year, so my thanks to all the chatters involved.