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Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

10 Aug

most requested ebooks

The concept of Parsnips in ELT has always intrigued me.  These are the things that you’re not supposed to talk about with your classes, the taboo topics that might get you into trouble or which your students might protest at.  These are the topics that mainstream coursebooks leave out.

And for a very good reason – coursebooks are market dependent and they rely on economies of scale to make a profit.  A coursebook that cannot be used in an entire region of the world because it touches on political issues that might offend ruling regimes means potentially losing money in sales.  But this leads to some interesting omissions and to a one size fits all policy that essentially has us teaching to the lowest common cultural denominator. And to what someone once described as “in-flight magazines for the grammatically challenged” (Scott Thornbury I think…?).

Personally, I see no problem in touching on Parsnip topics in the classroom.  The acronym stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, Pork.  I think I’ve probably done lessons on all of these at one point or another and you can find at least two lessons on this blog involving pigs….

The key with anything like this is (a) common sense and (b) sensitivity.  If, for example, you happen to be teaching English to the highest cadre of the ruling junta in the benevolent dictatorship of wherever, then a lesson on freedom of speech and the democratic principle might not be advised (although some would argue that it was the perfect opportunity).  Equally, if you are teaching a lesson on a topic and notice the students are unusually silent, be prepared to ask them if they would prefer to do something else instead.  It is not our job to force our opinions upon our students, but we are not doing our jobs properly if we deny them the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day.

If you do enjoy spicing up your standard ELT menu with the odd root vegetable, then help is at hand in the form of a new e-book:  Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone (vol. 1).  This ebook is free to download and is available in multiple formats (epub, mobi & pdf) and contains one lesson on each topic from a collection of authors including myself.

Parsnips in ELT Cover

Not everything in it might be to your taste and if so, you can do what my children do with their vegetables – push it to the side of your plate and leave it for someone else to deal with!  There is, however, enough in there for you to find something you like or to at least start you thinking!

The book has an accompanying blog where you can find some of the ideas from the book as well as a range of shorter ideas to stimulate discussion on the Parsnip topics with your classes:

If you try any of the lessons in the book, do let us know how they go!  We’re always keen to get feedback on the ideas!  Either leave a comment here or on the Parsnips blog.

Above all – have fun!


Ten Things Worth Further Investigation (#03)

20 Jun

More items emerging from the black hole of the internet that is my “Further Investigation” folder.  These are the links to various interesting things I’ve saved to look at later and which have languished there unremembered until today.

Where remembered, the original sources are credited – apologies if you spotted this first and I’ve forgotten where I found it – let me know and I’ll update!

If you liked this post – why not take a look at the first two posts in the series:  #01 or #02 ?

(1) Spotted via Nik Peachey’s Daily English Activities – “The 100 most common words in English” game.  This is a time limited challenge game where you have 12 minutes to find and enter the 100 most common words in English.  This would be excellent for any exam group, particularly those who need to do a Cambridge Use of English paper  (open cloze tasks!).  It would also be good for anyone teaching with an interactive whiteboard – particularly as motivations and attendances drop towards the end of the year!

(2) Another Nik Peachey spot – this time from Nik’s Quickshout – is free online video conferencing rooms.  I haven’t tried playing with it in any great depth, but it looks like it would be an invaluable tool for anyone working with distance lesson provision, business classes, or of course – meetings!  Nik has a range of suggestions to further exploit this tool, so check out his post.

(3) Not so long ago I wrote “In defence of: The Test” – Annie Paul has written a similar piece for TIME Magazine: “In defence of School Testing” which takes a similar line to my own – don’t blame the tool for the way that it gets used!

(4) How many ways are there to plan a lesson?  More than five according to Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, who summarises and links to posts describing five different approaches to lesson planning from herself, Anna Loseva, Steven Herder, Cecilia Lemos, Yitzha Sarwono & Scott Thornbury.

(5)  I spotted my colleague Neil doing another one of his fantastic computer room lessons, learners all fully engaged, all using English, all working to task (and not looking up dodgy videos on you tube) – in short the opposite to most of my computer room lessons.  On this occasion his secret appears to have been Comic Master – an online graphic novel creator.  I think, having experimented with it myself, I would probably pre-print a layout page and get the learners to storyboard it before they hit the computers as I think this would reduce faffing around time later on.  But a great resource to get learners, especially younger learners, writing.

(6) Arising out of the Comic Master, by way of an accidentally clicked link, are the “Read Me” Resources.  Aimed specifically at 11-14 year old boys, this site includes ten different lesson plans and downloadable materials to encourage reading “in and outside of the classroom”.  It is aimed at native speakers in the UK education system – but I don’t think it would take much to adapt things.  Definitely worth a look if you have recalcitrant readers!

(7)  Copyblogger has a nice looking infographic with some of the more common mistakes found on the internet “15 Grammar Goofs that make you look silly“.  I can think of two ways to use this – firstly you could just print it out and stick it to the wall of the classroom.  Secondly, you could send your students on a “grammatical fail” webquest – get them to find one example of each error from the internet, but no repetition of websites allowed.

(8)  Three typing games from – which also, as you might imagine, has a free typing speed test available.  The games are relatively simple and are designed to encourage keyboard layout knowledge – the better a touch typist you are, the better you’ll do in the games.  So not strictly language learner related, but possibly worth exploring as part of digital literacies?

(9) Another one for the digital literacies folder – I’m not sure where I came across this, so apologies to whoever should really have the credit – The Gwigle Game.  The game asks you to guess the missing component of the search term – as the game progresses the player learns more about how to make most effective use of the Google search engine – and no doubt many others.

(10)  Finally – Chris Tribble reflects in The Guardian on the discussions in India arising from his latest BC publication “Managing Change in ELT: Lessons from experience” – education reformers or those interested in the process should read this.  The BC publication is available as a free download on their English Agenda portal.

From #CLIL to CSI?

23 May

I was quite impressed to spot, as a student in my class took an interminable amount of time to remove a pencil from her bag, that the science book she’s currently using was called “CSI“.  An inspired piece of textbook titling, though I do wonder whether they should have used a slightly different font…

Anyway, also leading on from Dave Cosby’s latest post, there are a few science based web resources I’ve been meaning to share, but haven’t quite got round to yet.

What you might do with them in an EFL context, I leave up to you!

An Illustrated Visualisation of what can happen in a single second:  a Maria Popova “Brain Pickings” post that reviews and contains illustrated excerpts from Steve Jenkins’ book “Just a Second”.

Leading on from what can happen in a single second, to “How far is a single second?” – from the MinutePhysics You Tube Channel.  Some great RSA Animate style illustrated examples of aspects and issues within physics (and by extension the world).  Somewhat fast paced and maybe not quite suitable for the lower level learner…



Here’s a BBC infographic on the history of cloning, another recent BBC article of note looks at colour perceptions and tries to work out why it might actually be imnpossible to agree what colour to paint the spare room…

If infographics are your thing, then take a look at the Nik Peachey curated “Pinterest” on Infographics.

But finally…  two truly jaw dropping tools that are really the reasons for this post, both of which try to put a bit of perspective on humanity’s place in the universe:

ChronoZoom looks at the scale of time involved in the history of the universe – you can zoom in and out from the earliest known events to present day, or at least events from the modern human era.  It’s a fantastic tool – if you can actually find the modern human era, it’s a bit small in comparison!  (It’s easier to find if you navigate via the “threshold” markers in the scale across the top).

Size, physical size in this case, is what is compared at “The Scale of the Universe“.  Your starting point is humanity and using your mouse or trackpad, you can zoom in to the see the smaller stuff – or out to see the larger stuff.  Click on any image you see to get more information about it.


Two late additions to this post:

Larry Ferlazzo has just posted about “Pearls of the Planet” live webcams – these are webcams that are set up in various locations around the world, some wild places and some zoos, aquariums etc, where you and your classes can watch live streams of polar bears, pandas and the northern lights.

Richard Byrne has also just posted about Learners TV – a vast collection of video lectures on a wide range of subjects from psychology to dentistry to accounting from what appears to be a range of Universities and colleges, mostly from the USA.  Well worth checking out for your ESP students.

Earth Day – Online Teaching Resources

30 Mar

Earth Day 2012, where we consider our impact upon the planet and variously decide (a) to do something about it (b) gee that’s terrible but what can one person do? (c) It was like that when we got here – is almost upon us, falling due as it does on April 22nd of this year.

Predictably, there’s a wealth of teaching resources available to exploit with your students – here are some of the ones I’ve come across:

The Earth Day network website – has a wealth of information, of particular interest to educators might be the “Green Schools” initiative (how to make your school greener) and the “Ecological footprint calculator” – though the number of countries the calculator works for is limited.  Their educators network has downloadable lesson plans (native speaker K-12) on most environmentally related topics.

The Great Green Web Game is probably suitable for younger learners (who won’t worry about the relative lack of sophistication) of intermediate level and above.  Learners answer questions to progress around the game board.  (Spotted on CristinaSkyBox).

Another younger learner resource comes via funschool which has various “Earth Day” related resources – though the language element present here is rather limited – check them out before using them in class!

Linda Starr & Gary Hopkins have collated a great range of resources for educators at Education World – these are aimed more at native speaker learners, so might need some adaptation for English Langauge learners, but there’s a lot of interesting looking stuff there that would be suitable across age ranges – and very suitable for anyone into CLiL.

A fantastic option for adults, particularly in the business sector is the Environmental CEO game:  CEO2.  In this one you take on the role of the CEO of a major corporation, working in either the insurance, automotive, chemical or power industries.  You’re presented with certain targets, balancing the needs and wants of a number of stakeholders and given a range of decisions to make in order to achieve these.  A certain amount of text, reading and analysis is required, I’d suggest B2 level learners and above should be fine with it.  (again – thanks to CristinaSkyBox for the spot)

National Geographic have a beta version of their education site up and running at the moment – including a teaching resources section that looks promising.  I found the navigation took a little getting used to, but the content seems spot on.  Again, aimed at native speakers, so probably more useful at higher levels than lower levels and probably better with teenagers rather than the younger learners.

The Best Earth Day Sites” is Larry Ferlazzo’s collection of Earth Day resources – a list he started work on in 2009 and which he updates annually.  There’s a lot there, all of which is accessible for English language learners.

Michelle Henry’s Earth Day resources is another great collection of lesson plans, interactive games, webquests and printables relating both to Earth Day and also to wider environmental issues.

The “Go Green!” section at Teach Children ESL has fantastic downloadable pdf flashcards, worksheets and activities, including an “Earth Day Poster” lesson plan which might be nice to use in the build up to Earth Day.

If you have, or if you know of, any related resources you think should be included in this list – why not leave a comment and let me know?

TED-Ed – ten minute lessons from TED

12 Mar

A new initiative from the TED talks team, TED-Ed works with teachers to distill a great lesson into 10 minutes, animate it and put it up on youtube.

Watch the introductory video here:

And check out the TED-Ed youtube channel, with links to all the lessons already posted,  here:



Web tool recommendations #eltchat summary « Sandy Millin

9 Mar

Following the #eltchat on 29th February, Sandy Millin has put together a brilliant summary of web tool recommendations for teachers:  Web tool recommendations #eltchat summary

Categories that come up include:

  • Voice Recording / Video capture
  • Bookmarking / Link Organisation
  • Ready-Made materials
  • Online activity/material creation tools
  • Learner creative tools
  • Conglomerating tools
  • Self study tools

Plus Sandy goes on to highlight the why’s and wherefore’s of using tech in the classroom.  A must read piece for any teacher that likes incorporating technology into their classes!  Here’s the link again:  Web tool recommendations #eltchat summary.

#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.

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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?

All is not what it seems – The Little People Project

9 Jan

Back in December I posted on “nine pretty pictures” – ways of exploiting images with learners.

I recently came across “The Little People Project” – though unfortunately I can’t remember where – it might have been The Guardian, but I’m not sure.

I really like the images – the composition is quirky, the use of every day materials is inspired and the locations are very unexpected.  The initial images, the close ups (as above), will no doubt provoke lots of speculation amongst the learners – but in many cases other images, showing the works in their wider settings are also included.

A great collection of images that can be used for most of the purposes in the “nine pretty pictures” post – story prompts, caption competitions, role play prompts, mind-mapping & speculation tasks all spring to mind!

The World in 2012: Predict this!

3 Jan

It’s that time of year when the media maelstrom coalesces around a single topic – the future!  What’s going to happen in the next twelve months?  What can we all expect from the next year?  Will we face triumph or disaster?  And when we look back on it all in December, what will we have achieved?  And just how many “future forms” can you cram into a short paragraph anyway?

Rather than just asking your learners to “predict” the future, which let’s face it is difficult enough at the best of times, let alone in another language…  it’s probably best just to discuss the future for two reasons:  (1)  you immediately broaden out the number of possible “future forms” that you can focus on  (2)  you open things up to discussing the implications of events – so not only “what will happen?”  but also “and what does it all mean for us?”

Over at Slideshare, they’ve collated “12 presentations with predictions” which could form the basis of useful discussions (or comparisons with learner predictions?).  Their 12 presentations are aimed more at the business / tech crowd.  Probably not so good with younger learners

Here’s their top pick – Ross Dawson’s “What to expect in 2012”:

The Economist publishes an annual magazine “The World in … ” which is divided up by topic area and by geographic location.  This year’s copy has a lot of online content here: – though some of it may be premium paid for content – check before using!

The biggest / oldest prediction concerning 2012 is of course the Mayan calendar:  for more info check out this wikipedia article.  Two further websites that focus specifically on the forthcoming end of the world that might be of interest (though I don’t vouch for their accuracy) are :  and

The BBC has a nice review of the best of the British Press predictions for 2012 here:, while they include the thoughts of their top correspondents on the likely big stories of 2012 here: