Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

World Teachers’ Day

6 Oct

It was World Teachers’ Day last Sunday – and there is a certain irony in celebrating the teaching profession on the one day of the week that no-one’s in school, but never mind!

As part of the celebrations the Teaching English | British Council site asked their blogging team:  “What does being a teacher mean to you?”

You can read all of our responses by clicking on the picture:


But it made me wonder.  I know that I’m in a relatively privileged position; I work for a private language school, I get paid relatively well,  I’m supported and offered development, and I’m plugged into a network of schools that allows me to connect with like-minded colleagues across the globe.

So my comment (in the post via the link)  that if I’d won the lottery I’d still teach is probably a reflection of the working environment that I find myself in.

My question is this:

You should be able to add your own answers if you don’t agree with any of the options.

Let me know what you think!


Guest Post: Living and Working with Diabetes

14 Jul

Being ill is never nice.  Being ill in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and maybe don’t know how to ask for help is really, really tough.  For all those language teachers around the world who have medical conditions that need constant managing, Lily-Anne Young recounts her own experiences and offers her advice for those who, like her, are

Living and Working with Diabetes


Around 8 years ago I was getting really tired and missed a few classes. I put it down to being an idiot and alcohol. (I was living in Poland after all). Several years later there came a time when I was throwing up regularly and feeling exhausted.

By that time I was in the Czech Republic – another country which loves alcohol. After 1 month of drinking 10 litres of water per day and one final morning of not being able to get out of bed I was forced to go to the doctor.

He sent me straight to hospital and they kept me in for 10 days. I was furious until they pointed out that I would have died if I hadn’t been treated.

It turned out I was diabetic. In my innocence I thought it wasn’t a problem until, as mentioned above, they warned me again that I would die very soon if couldn’t control it.

My control now is not perfect but it’s good. I know that a lot of advice is superfluous or seems obvious but here are some simple things. (For the diabetics too).

All diabetics should admit it. We have to live with it but at the same time we can help educate others as well as ourselves. I had a very steep learning curve.

All diabetics should carry sugar or some form of glucose for emergencies. Our staffroom has emergency sugar supplies and all our teachers have had a little training session on how to recognise and deal with hypoglycemic fits. Therefore they know (hopefully) how to react.

One of the biggest questions is whether to tell your students. After all, I am there to help them. Why should they have to help me?

The very simple answer to this is that you must tell your students. If a teacher has a hypo (low sugar) in class the students have to know why and how to help. As well as being bad for the teacher it can really damage your own reputation and whichever school/company you work at. I could suggest that the teacher should control their sugar better but, unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

Personally, I have used my diabetes to help educate my students (and myself) while, at the same time practising listening, vocab, comprehension skills. All of my students are aware that I have to eat in class sometimes or check my sugar. It’s pretty amazing how quickly they become used to me stabbing my finger and grabbing sweets when necessary. J

On a more serious note – healthcare for diabetics is generally lacking in most countries. Working in TEFL can be stressful and that means more volatile sugar levels. I am lucky in that the Czech doctors are providing me with excellent care. Check the healthcare system before you go to a country if you are a diabetic. It is one of the main reasons that I am reluctant to move country.


Lily Anne Young Profile PicLily-Anne Young is a teacher and teacher trainer who has been working in ELT for 13 years.  After doing her CELTA in Budapest, she moved to China and taught in private schools and universities.  After that she moved to Katowice in Poland, and is currently based in Brno, Czech Republic where she does freelance teaching and teacher training, mainly connected with IH ILC Brno.
She was diagnosed as a diabetic type 1 while working in Brno and, after considerable thought decided to publish her experiences with diabetes to try and help raise awareness of what it means for those living and working with the condition.

A lesson on Reported Speech

31 May

This is a lesson that I did with my intermediate level students this week.  I particularly like the freer practice task, which is a “Find Someone Who” type task, where the students have to communicate via an intermediary (hence the need to use reported speech).

The language input stage owes a huge debt to the excellent grammar teaching resource book “Teaching Grammar Creatively” by Günter Gerngross, Herbert Puchta and Scott Thornbury.  The structure of my input stage is borrowed from page 224, though in my plan below, the materials are my own version for obvious copyright reasons!  This is one of those books I think should be on the shelves of every teachers’ room!

So the lesson is essentially a simple dialogue build to lead in, a conversation sequencing task, followed by guided input converting direct to indirect speech, a controlled practice task and then a flexistage where learners can put their initial dialogues into reported speech, or you can move straight onto the communicative practice task.

To download a full plan and materials in pdf form, click the link here: teflgeek – A lesson on Reported Speech




The Future of Language Teaching – a reply to my critics

30 Apr

divided brain

About a week ago, I wrote a piece on “The Future of Language Teaching” for the Teaching English blog.  It seems to have been slightly controversial.

In it, I tried to paint a picture of what language learning might look like in twenty years’ time, drawing largely on themes and ideas I had come across in various talks and presentations at the IATEFL conference, as well as my own experiences as a teacher and learner.  In short, I argued that students of the future won’t need to learn languages at a language school as they’ll be able to do it all online.

You can read the full piece here: “The Future of Language Teaching – a case study from 2034

It was a deliberatively provocative piece which I wrote with the intention of opening up a debate on where we think language teaching should be going, rather than prescribing its demise.  Nonetheless, some of the comments and criticisms made, suggest in some cases a misunderstanding of my original post, or in others possibly the positing of a point of view without actually having read the subject matter at hand…

At the other end of that spectrum is the informed and ever eloquent Lizzie Pinard, who questions the role of the social side of language learning, and the lack of it as described in my post.  And she’s right.  I don’t mention it in my post, but that isn’t because I don’t think it’s important, it’s mostly because the picture of how my mythical student, Monica, was learning, was largely in my head and I just didn’t express it clearly enough.

Lizzie mentions three things that I’d like to pick up on:  (1) the social and communicative nature of language, (2) Young learners and the state school system (3) creating a classroom culture (after Holliday).  These are also things that arose in the different comments and discussions that arose on the Teaching English Facebook page after Lizzie and my posts were featured there.

So – point by point then:

(1)    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that language is anything but social or used for anything other than a communicative purpose.  I don’t see, though, how this belief mitigates against learning in an online environment.  People do, after all, communicate quite effectively online.  We are doing so now.  The conversations, discussions and chats that occur through social media sites like facebook and twitter are a testament to how technology, far from destroying the communicative imperative, has in fact enabled people to communicate with like-minded individuals around the world.  I didn’t describe this kind of scenario in my original post, but I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility for my fictitious employer, Camsonford ELT, to create forums and chat rooms for their students to socialise in.  I have a number of friends on facebook and twitter that I have yet to meet in person and I communicate with them well enough.


(2)    Young Learners and the state school system – fun in the classroom.  Like Lizzie, I work for a school that prides itself on the combination of fun and learning that we provide to our young learners and I think we broadly succeed in our goals.  And I agree that there are additional benefits to young learners learning in a classroom than purely developing their language skills.  And, like Lizzie, very few of our students are “remedial” – most are incredibly bright, switched on kids who aren’t in our classes because they are behind, but because they are ahead of the game.


But I don’t think this suggests a flaw in my premise, just a shift in the current dynamic.  Lizzie is right to point out that much of the business in young learner teaching is in making up the shortfall (perceived or otherwise) between what the state school system provides and what the private sector promises.  But the state sector is reaching across that gap and this is in part driven by better access to better teaching materials which are being pushed into the state sector by companies like my imaginary Camsonford ELT Ltd.  How many state schools still teach using grammar translation based materials?  I’m sure that in some countries, some teachers are still required to use such materials, but this is changing, and as the quality of state provision of language teaching increases, there must be a corresponding drop in demand for private sector services.


(3)    Creating the classroom culture.  Again, I don’t disagree with the point being made, but I don’t see why this can’t also happen online.  One of my more recent learning experiences was doing an online course and I felt it was actually one of the best collaborative learning experiences I’ve had.  All of us came together for a shared purpose and I felt that the way in which we helped each other to forge an understanding of the material was the first real demonstration of how the “Communities of Practice” principle actually works in the real world.  Now obviously, this is only one experience amongst many, but it demonstrates to me, at least, that it is possible to develop a shared communal culture in an online environment.


Other Points that arose in the various comments – both on Lizzie’s blog and in various places around Facebook – and my somewhat cursory responses:

  • Technology replacing teachers:  I don’t think teachers will be replaced, but I think the role of the teacher in 20 years will be quite different to that of today.  Also, I don’t think there will be many teachers left working in language schools
  • They said that back in the (insert decade here) about (insert technological innovation here).  And I’m sure they’ll say it again about something else!!!  Just because a technological innovation doesn’t bring the changes that were predicted doesn’t mean change did not occur.  Think about the ways in which we interact with other today and ask whether we did that ten years ago…
  •  Schools will never die.  Probably not, governments need to keep the kids off the streets somehow otherwise they might start thinking.  Language schools on the other hand? 
  •  Students gain confidence from talking to each other.  True.  And they can do this online quite happily, possibly even more effectively as they don’t have the embarrassment of making mistakes in front of people they know.
  •  Babies learning sounds from real humans, not the TV.  Child directed language is how babies gather their first language, this is true.  And as the commenter pointed out we’re talking about adult learning of L2, not infant acquisition of L1.  I don’t mean to suggest that computers will replace the role of caregivers in L1 acquisition, but I think it is a viable mode for L2 learning.
  •  You can’t get speaking from an online course:  Are you sure about that? Vocaroo is an online voice recorder, but live video and audio chat functions are also now a large part of social media trends, for example Google Hangouts, Skype etc.
  •  Focusing on students’ needs.  In many respects, an online course where the learner can choose exactly which parts of the syllabus is most relevant to them and interact with like-minded people from all over the world, as opposed to being forced into a compromise with imposed materials and content, focuses more accurately on learner needs than a school based class ever can.
  •  Being part of a neo-libertarian agenda.  I don’t know what that means, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and I’m not sure that isn’t the definition of every language school ever?  But in terms of promoting a free-market / laissez-faire capitalist ethic, I fail to see how my post gets anywhere near that.  Perhaps the commenter could clarify.
  •  Learners need guidance and direction.  And why should an online course not provide that?  Being online does not mitigate human contact, it just changes the parameters of how you define human contact.  Equally, anyone who’s used a course book will know that very frequently the materials provide a certain amount of guidance and direction, but online courses which involve mediators (or teachers) should also be in a position to provide such help as the learner needs.


But to come back to the problem of the baby and the bathwater,  I think any parent knows what the real procedure is:  you take the baby out of the bath, dry her off, blow raspberries on her tummy, fit a clean nappy and dress her back up – and you do all of this before you go anywhere near the bathwater.

The baby is the most important thing in the bath.  It’s what you love and hold dear to yourself, it’s what you choose to protect above all else.  What goes down the plughole is all of the stuff you don’t need.  Perhaps as we all negotiate our way into an uncertain educational future, what we need to do more than anything else is decide what it is that we wish to hold close and what we’re prepared to let drain away.

Update notes:  Updated 30/04/2014 to fix broken links, correct a comment on “babies learning L1” and add content to “You can’t do speaking online”.

#IATEFL 2014: Together in Electric Dreams – Pondering the Future of EdTech

5 Apr

Gavin Dudeney’s talk took a quick look at the possible future of technology in ELT – pulling out a number of technologies and trends and asking the audience to think of them in terms of whether they represented a Strength, a Weakness, an Opportunity or a Threat.  Towards the end of the talk we then compared our ideas before he opened things up to the floor.

He mentioned the following areas:

  • Self study
  • Personal publishing
  • Disruption
  • Learning Analytics
  • The Digital Divide
  • Resusable Learning Objects
  • Teacher Collectives
  • PLNs, Connectivism and crowdsourcing
  • Digital Skills teaching
  • The Flipped Classroom
  • Wearable Technology
  • Multi-Sensory Computing
  • Internet Freedom
  • SOLES (Self Organised Learning Environments)

All of which are quite complex ideas, concepts and technologies that require a lot more time and exploration than was available in the talk – so Gavin ended up giving us quite a brief overview of what each one entailed.   If you want a bit more detail on what he said, be sure to check out the recording of his talk:

I was interested in his off the cuff claim that the Interactive whiteboard has already had it’s day – on reflection I think he’s probably right.  The IWB seems to be mostly used as a display function and really has only limited interactivity.  Why, when students can bring their own devices to the classroom and everyone can interact synchronously, do you even need an IWB?

I also appreciated the SWOT analysis approach that he took to the talk, because it did give us a framework for our discussion, and for some contexts it is possible to see these things strictly within this sort of framework.  But.  Imposing a framework like this is quite limiting in some respects and it would have been nice to be able to think about these things in more detail.  Not that there was much time for him to fit everything in.

Threat and Opportunity are, in this sort of context at least, two sides of the same coin.  Mostly I think that what all of this new technology represents is a threat to the established order – this is a natural evolutionary process and also represents an opportunity for the new way of things to get a foothold and become the established order for the next generation.  The key skills here for the individuals and organisations affected by these changes are flexibility, adaptability and agility.

Gavin Dudeney’s slides for this presentation are available to download via this link – they also contain clickable links which take you to further reading and additional websites with a broader overview of the topic areas discussed:


You can watch his talk here:

If there are any problems with the video, just follow this link:



#IATEFL 2014 Talk: Chalk and Cheese – Equivalency Issues with IELTS and TOEFL

3 Apr

So this is the talk that I gave today – thanks to everyone who attended – I hope you enjoyed it!

For anyone who wasn’t there, here’s the blurb for this talk:

IELTS and TOEFL are widely used as equivalent determinants of English language ability by higher education institutions.  This talk reviews equivalency research and draws on a contrastive analysis of the two exams to suggest that the disparities between them mean we should avoid viewing them through the same lens, and questions using them for the same purpose.

And here are the slides from my presentation.  They should be available to download via slideshare if you can’t see them clearly:  some of the slides have quite a lot of data on them.  And I’ve just noticed that slideshare clearly doesn’t support the font I used and has replaced it with something quite different…

And here, in the second slideshare box below, is a pdf copy of my slide notes / a transcript of pretty much what I said, though it might not be exactly the same, the main substance should be there!

If you have any questions or would like to know more about this talk, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!




#IATEFL First Impressions

1 Apr

It’s been an interesting day.  I’ve learnt a lot about things you should and shouldn’t do with regard to conferences.

One of the things you shouldn’t do is pack your suitcase literally as you’re walking out the door to get into the car and go to the train station.  I have no idea where my phone is – I hope that geeklet number two took a liking to it this morning and has carefully stowed it with the other toys.  But I can’t say for sure.

This leads me to the second thing you shouldn’t do with regard to conferences – involve toddlers in any way shape or form.  Getting from geek central to Harrogate has been a four day event in itself which had two main highlights:  geeklet number one refusing to sleep the night before we flew, resulting in geeklet number 1 and myself traipsing down to the hotel bar, which was then used as an impromptu obstacle course for approximately an hour and a half before geeklet number 1 announced that she was tired.  She duly fell asleep ten minutes before we had to get up.  The second main highlight was geeklet number two’s refusal to wear a seatbelt during the landing from the Gatwick to Newscastle portion of the trip and the stewards’ somewhat pointed announcement “Passengers are reminded that they should remain seated with their seatbelts fastened and that parents of small children should ensure their children do the same.”  As the parent of the only toddler out of their seat, screaming fit to burst and attempting to launch himself over the back of the chairs and charge the cockpit, I rather felt this may have been directed at us.  Stewards are reminded not to be such sarcastic sods and should ensure toddler valium is readily available in the event it is needed.

One of the things you should do is write your presentation well in advance.  I had hoped, of course, to get it done months ago, but here we are with the conference due to start tomorrow and as yet my talk remains unfinished.  I’m led to believe, through careful questioning, that I may not be the only one in this particular boat.  When I say “finished” what I mean is “written” – and I really shouldn’t be writing this post right now, I should be writing the presentation.   But it’s late so…

One of the other things you should do is put yourself about a bit.  This is my first IATEFL and while I know a lot of the people here, I only know them through social media connections, mostly being Twitter and Facebook.  I am however, fortunate to be good friends with the inestimable Andreas Grundtvig, who has this amazing technique of actually introducing himself and talking to people!  Whereas I tend to hover on the periphery thinking to myself “Is that so and so?  It looks a bit like them, but maybe it isn’t so perhaps I shouldn’t bother them.”  Andreas just says things like “Hi” and “I’m Andreas”.  This is a revelatory technique and one I hope to adopt in full force tomorrow.

Three things I learnt today:

(1)    Not to drop your laptop in front of 500 people queuing for a free lunch.

(2)    You can take the teacher out of the Young Learner classroom, but you can’t take the young learner classroom out of the teacher.  Carol Read’s welcoming comments this evening were a masterclass.  I think she could convince us all to go to war for her.  You know,  just in case TESOL invade or something.  You can watch an interview with her here:

(3)    Everyone here is genuinely trying to help.  I mean everyone really, really, really wants to make tefl better.  At least I think everyone I’ve met so far does.  Tomorrow of course, we get into the violent disagreements as to how….

Finally – it looks like the online portion of IATEFL 2014 is getting up and running – I think some of the sessions are going to start going up tomorrow, but check out the interviews with some of the key speakers that have already been done and posted on the website:



Six Great Vocab Games

19 Mar

Here’s six online vocabulary games I’ve been using with my classes recently:

teflgeek word games

Test Your Vocab:  Not – strictly speaking – a game, this website seeks to measure the number of words you know and then tells you the size of your vocabulary.  If the learners are honest and don’t cheat, this could be a useful tool in helping them measure their progress, though presumably the more often they do it, the more familiar they’ll become with the test words.  And of course they could go off and research the test word corpus….  Play the game here: – and thanks to Dave C for the spot!

Free Rice:  matching words to definitions is the name of the game, but with Free Rice, every correct answer donates ten grains of rice to the World Food Program.  This one has been around for a while but is really good for broadening vocabulary out a bit as it’s based around matching synonyms.  Play the game here: – and I think Neil told me about this, but it was a long time ago…

Root Words is an affixation based set of games that is great for First, Advanced and Proficiency students.  Either split the prefix or suffix from the rest of the word, or match them to their meanings (e.g. pre = before).  The use of terminology is a bit confusing (I understand something different by the term “root word”) and it seems aimed at native speakers, so do check the game out yourself before asking your classes to play!  The website has a lot of other vocabulary based games available, but I’ve not experiemented with any of the others yet.  Play the game here:

Knoword gives you the definition and asks you to type in the target word.  A really nice spin on the traditional meaning matching task – answer as many as you can before the time runs out!  Can be quite challenging – probably intermediate levels and above?  Play the game here: – and thanks to Jenny for demonstrating it in her recent seminar!

Whack Attack lets you choose between English, Science or Maths options (good for the CLIL crowd!), you then choose from multiple choice questions be whacking the correctly coloured characters parading across the screen.  The English questions are mostly about the language (e.g. choose between metaphor, simile or idiom) and aimed at UK students rather than being about vocabulary per se.  Try it and see:  Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for this one.

Only Connect is part vocabulary game, part general knowledge and part sheer torment that is based on a BBC gameshow.  I can just about manage one “wall” in every ten.  You get presented with sixteen words and you have to put them into the correct four categories.  There’s a screenshot below so you can see what I mean.  I think it depends on the individual, some of my students loved it and kept at it even though it was stupidly difficult – others got bored quite rapidly.  What I think would work quite well is that after the students have played it online and understand how it works, they can create their own versions using chopped up bits of paper and can then challenge each other.  This would be perfect for work with collocations, phrasal verbs or topic themed vocabulary revision.  You can try and play the original game here:  And thanks again to Larry Ferlazzo.

Only Connect

Screenshot of the answers to an “Only Connect” wall.

Why Brain Gym is a load of rubbish

14 Mar

I can’t claim any credit for this – the original article is by the excellent debunker and Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre:

Banging your head repeatedly against the brick wall of teachers’ stupidity helps increase blood flow to your frontal lobes

February 16th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad sciencebrain gym | 105 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday February 16 2008

As time passes, largely against my will, I have become a student of nonsense. More importantly, I’ve become interested in why some forms of nonsense can lucratively persist, where others quietly fail. Brain Gym continues to produce more email than almost any other subject: usually it is from teachers, eager to defend the practice, but also from children, astonished at the sheer stupidity of what they are being taught.


To read more, either click the title above or follow the link here:

It’s well worth reading.  Thanks to Paul Read for the spot!



When Language teachers do romance…

14 Feb

Teflgeek Valentines Day

Pronunciation matters people!   Happy Valentine’s Day.