A Systematic Pattern – material considerations online and off

7 Mar

Image Credit: Pixabay

A Systematic Pattern. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

In many respects, the regular occurrence of systematic features is what makes a course a course.  It is these features which tell us that we are moving from one section to another and thus that we have indeed “moved on”.  Whether anything has been learnt is another matter, but from course design perspective, the impression of progress is important.  There are pedagogical and administrative concerns as well – you select material to help you fulfill the course objectives and you then group that material into thematically linked modules – the systematic features tell us that we are at the beginning of a module, half way through the middle or approaching the end.

The advantages are then that the systematic features orientate us to our position within the module.  When we encounter a particular feature we know (a) where we are and (b) what is expected of us (at least after the initial stages).  The unfamiliar then becomes familiar and allows us to function and contribute effectively, thus adding to our own feelings of accomplishment and learning.  The disadvantages are that these features can act as a bit of a straight-jacket – they might constrain learning by not allowing for experimentation beyond the task or they might constrain the teaching by not allowing the tutor to do something innovative.  Plus, it might all get a bit boring.

This is just as true for face to face courses as it is for online – coursebooks in fact make a virtue of their systematic features (or try to).  An example of this is Cutting Edge if you find your copy of the book and flick through it, you’ll find that the format of each module is broadly similar – some variation in layout and sequence perhaps, but the sections and design of the tasks is pretty much the same throughout.  I think where F2F courses differ from the online is that the F2F teacher is freer to just throw their hands in the air and say “You know what?  Today we’re going to….” – an online teacher, I don’t think, has that liberty.  The units and materials are very often “up there” and the tutors and participants simply access them as they get to them, though obviously the tutors control the rate of access and when materials get released.

There is then, much more reliance on the course materials in the online world.  The teacher is not so much of a resource as they are in face to face and the learners, who are often pushed for time and have busy lives elsewhere, tend to prefer only to do those tasks that they feel will be of benefit to them passing the course.  Very often what happens (and here I speak from experience of both a teaching and learning perspective) is that participants log in, cut and paste their answers into the forum and log off again.  There is reluctance – but not always – to engage in anything that doesn’t meet the course requirements and building the interaction between participants is therefore more difficult in the online world than in the offline world,

But you could also argue that the lack of rigidity and possibility of variance is a weakness in face to face teaching – the students are at the mercy of the teacher and have no choice but to participate in the lessons the teacher has provided.  If the teacher doesn’t really feel up for it that day and decides to put on a movie / documentary / episode of The Simpsons and ask a bunch of content questions at the end to justify showing the thing, what else can the students do?

It seems that the course itself is a thing that needs to have a programmed rigidity, or perhaps certainty would be a better word.  Whether it is online or offline, teachers need to know what they are going to teach and students need to know what they are going to learn.  Within that though, there needs to be flexibility to deal with matters arising and the opportunity to dive off into something useful and interesting that isn’t on the original program.  This is an area where I think online courses are lacking at the moment, but perhaps this too, as the medium develops, is beginning to change?

Image Credit: Pixabay

An Unsystematic Pattern? (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Note:  I originally wrote parts of this post as part of my training to tutor online, when I did the IHCOLT in 2o13 and I had a reflective blog related to my training.  I’m now rationalising that blog and am migrating some of the content here, rather than lose it all.  Since I did the IHCOLT, I’ve been working as an online tutor with IH OTTI and I have updated this post to reflect this experience and my changing thinking.


The Interview Round

29 Feb

Job interviews are fun things to prepare learners for.  A colleague and I once prepared a student for a job interview as a hotel receptionist by sitting her in the director’s office and making spurious phone calls to her in a variety of comedy accents with demands ranging from the mundane (clean towels) to the ridiculous (arranging a private jet to pick the children up from school).  I never found out whether it helped her or not….

More recently, my FCE class did a module on the working world and to finish it off we did a job interview task.  It went really well.  They really enjoyed it, there was loads of great language and some truly brilliant questions which, given that they are teenagers with no experience of the job market, made me very happy.  So I thought I’d share it!

Image credit: Pixabay

Image credit: Pixabay

I divided the class into two groups.  Group A were the interviewers and Group B the interviewees.

Group A worked collaboratively to decide which jobs they were interviewing for and what questions they would ask.  Each interviewer had to recruit for a different job, so we had John recruiting for an astrophysicist and Mary recruiting for a babysitter and Anne for a stage prompter.

Group B worked collaboratively to think of what kind of qualities and experience might help them to get different types of jobs and to think of questions to ask about the terms and conditions, working hours etc.

The key is that Group B doesn’t know what jobs they are interviewing for, so group A have to keep it a secret!

In the interview stage, group A were sat separately around the edges of the room and paired off with someone from group B.  Each pair had two or three minutes to interview / be interviewed and then the students from group B rotated to the next interviewer.

At the end of the activity, Group A got back together and decided which candidates they would hire for their job – and they had to hire someone, so there was a bit of additional negotiation going on there!  Group B had to work out which interviewer was interviewing for which job – piecing it together from clues obtained during the process.

Because of time constraints, I stopped the interview process about two thirds of the way through, so that everybody had only spoken to about four or five other people.  I think that also worked quite well because it added a bit more of a jigsaw element to working out the final task.  I also liked that the interviewees had more of a task to do than just compare questions, which is a problem I’ve come across in the past.

Try it out yourself and let me know how it goes – or if you have any variations on the theme?


Moral Dilemmas – Book Review

22 Feb

Imagine you are teaching a group of business people, all of whom work for the same company.  They have been told that their eligibility for the next round of promotions depends on their achieving a certain level of English.  All of them are busy and none of them have much time.  Over the course, there have been quite a few absences and not very much homework.

It’s now the end of the course and the students are doing their final evaluation tests.  As they do, you notice one of the students is referring to a piece of paper they have on their lap under the desk.

What do you do?

Does it make any difference to you what happens?  What about the student?  Is it fair to the other students?

Welcome to the world of Moral Dilemmas!


Moral Dilemmas is a new mini-ebook from Lindsay Clandfield and published by The Round that explores issues like this and more.  The example above is my own and is not from the book, but is an example of the way such ethical conundrums have to grab us, take us out of our comfort zones and force us to re-evaluate our value systems.

It is this ability that makes these situations such universal constants.  It doesn’t really matter where you are from or what belief system you have, issues like this cause us to stop and re-evaluate our relationships with the world around us.

That said, these dilemmas tend to work better in contexts where there is a more relativistic approach to morality and less absolutism.  I can see that in some contexts the dilemmas as presented may not be viewed as dilemmas at all, but more as a logical progression of “if that, then this”.  This potential problem is addressed though, with the author suggesting a more nuanced critical approach of exploring the alternatives in terms of their implications on the individuals and wider society.  In short, if the students all agree that (to take our example) cheating is wrong and the HR department should be notified within 30 seconds of presenting the problem, that the teacher draw out all of the possible courses of action and ask the students to think about what they might mean.

The dilemmas themselves are very usefully presented:  the dilemma itself is described, along with brief teaching tips on how to adjust each dilemma to a local context.  Avenues of further exploration are suggested as well as vocabulary areas that might come up in discussion.

There is also a very useful “What if…” section, which considers some of problems that might arise when using the material with a class and suggests some strategies for dealing with them.  These range from looking at relevance and appropriacy to immediate agreement, slipping into L1 and when things get too up close and personal for everybody’s comfort!


Who should buy this book?  It’s aimed at teachers working with classes of B1 ability and above, but beyond that I would think is quite a useful resource for anyone teaching English.  It’s the sort of book that would sit easily alongside titles like the Discussions A-Z series, or Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking, on the staffroom bookshelf – something handy to dip into and find a useful activity as when is needed.  Though obviously as it’s an ebook, a more recent comparison would be the Parsnips series (see elsewhere on this blog) and we should be talking about a staffroom Kindle instead!  Definitely a keeper, I look forward to trying some of the activities with my own classes!

Moral Dilemmas” by Lindsay Clandfield is available for  £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.




Getting to know you: teaching on and offline

15 Feb

I have mixed feelings about Getting to Know you tasks in real world teaching.  I do use them, but it really depends on the class, their age and ability.  For example, if you walk into a corporate client, where all your students have worked together for years, the only person who’s a stranger is you – the teacher.  Many of my real world classes have come up through the levels together and they all know each other for the most part and this is why what I tend to do in my first lessons is more about rapport building than “Getting to know you” per se.

So with that caveat in mind…  when I do feel the need to introduce myself I often use the True False Sentences about teacher routine: e.g. I give the class the following information (or dictate it, depending on age & ability):

  1. I’m Canadian.
  2. I’m 28 years old.
  3. I’m married and I have a young daughter (called Gillian).
  4. I have been a teacher for five years.
  5. I lived in Poland for two years.
  6. I speak Chinese.
  7. My favourite football team is AC Milan.
  8. My favourite rock group is Pink Floyd.
  9. My ambition is to write a successful novel.
  10. My parents own five dogs.

The learners, in pairs, decide which are true and which are false and then ask me questions to ascertain the answers.

They then write their own list of true / false statements which are posted round the room and the other learners decide which are right and which are wrong.

Adapting this for an online environment is somewhat tricky as the interaction would largely be uni-directional (i.e. T-SSa / T-SSb / T-SSc etc) and probably not even that, because after all if you do this on an asynchronous board, you only need one person to ask the initial questions and then the answers are there for everyone else to read…

So to adapt….


You could turn the tables and rather than provide ten sentences, get participants to create their own list of ten true false sentences for you – though this makes the focus very teacher centered and defeats the purpose somewhat.

I think the best way to do it would be to ask participants to post one truth and one lie about each of the other participants on the course.  This would involve information discovery via private messaging and some degree of creativity and humour which would help to engender the right kind of atmosphere.  The people can respond to each other’s posts and say which they think is the truth or not.

I can see this getting very fragmented and unwieldy though.

So a possible variation might be to ask people to post two or three images, one of which should reflect something of importance in their lives and the other of which should not.  The rest of the group can then speculate on which things are more important to the poster or not.

However, this last one is the one I think I like most – it is relatively simple, introduces participants to a great online tool and should be (a) revealing (b) fun (c) easy.

  • Send participants to http://www.wordle.net/create
  • Ask them to cut and paste the contents of their CV into the wordle and click Go.
  • Suggest they play around with the formatting until they find something they like.
  • Get them to post the wordle image in the forums
  • Ask them to visit each others wordles and then make predictions about their lives based on the information they see there.
  • They can then also confirm or deny the predictions made about themselves

This has nothing to do with the original activity that I  thought of, but now that I’ve come up with it, I’m going to adapt it for use in the real world and try it with my next set of new classes!  This would be great for business groups!

Image credit: pixabay

Image credit: pixabay

Note:  I originally wrote this post as part of my training to tutor online, when I did the IHCOLT in 2o13.  I’m currently rationalising some of my other blog projects and migrating some of the content here rather than lose it entirely!

Brainstorming – Book Review

8 Feb

The process of brainstorming in the classroom is often a rather haphazard and stilted affair.  Learners are coming into a topic area they know little about and feel uncomfortable in, they might feel that they don’t have the language to express their ideas as fluently as they would like, and when ideas do get produced – they immediately get shot down as impractical or unrealistic.  The confident and extrovert students dominate and the weaker or more introvert students sit there quietly not really saying much, so that the teacher ends up getting feedback from only a couple of the members of the group.  Fortunately, however, there is another way….

In their new mini ebook, “Brainstorming”, from The Round, Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston take us back to basic principles and the origins of brainstorming in the world of 1950’s advertising.  The focus here is non-judgmental idea generation – it’s not about quality, but about quantity and where all ideas have equal value and where one idea from one person sparks a thought elsewhere in the group and where participants feed off each other’s energy and creativity to generate the largest possible set of ideas in the time given.

Which you can totally see working at half past four on a Friday afternoon with a group of tired teenagers, right?

This is where the book comes into it’s own.  Erasmus and Houston run through a series of clear procedures for working with idea generation that attempt to mitigate some of the issues that might arise:  setting the stage, focusing the activity, avoiding negative feedback, guiding the discussion and remembering the objective.  It occurs to me that there are some groups where this might take some initial learner training, possibly particularly with teenagers, before they understand how the ground rules work here and what the constraints are, but where perseverance would yield huge benefits in terms of the directed creativity that the learners could then bring to the class.

I found the section on “problem statements” to be a useful way of looking at generating ideas for specific issues and the re-formulation of the “problem” into a “how can I…” question seems like it would be a great way of looking at things for students in an EAP context as well as students preparing for writing tasks in ELT exams.  Re-focusing the problem statement is essentially the same thing as refining your research question into something that you can actually answer, or it represents a useful “way in” to some of the exam writing tasks – getting students to move away from simply producing writing for you the teacher and into thinking about the purpose of their exam writing by asking questions like “How can I get the editor to publish my review?” or “How can I get the principal of the college to upgrade the sports facilities?”.  This would almost certainly lead to an improvement in their written work!

brainstorming cover

Three other activities that I particularly liked in the book – and I’m limiting myself here because otherwise I would basically be copying out the whole thing – are:

The problem skeleton:  I think this would be another one that is great for writing tasks and analysing questions, especailly in the way that it breaks larger tasks down into smaller more manageable chunks.  Writing an essay on “the environment” is quite a daunting task, but using the problem skeleton to identify sub-topics and then sub-sub-topics would be a great way of making the tasks more accessible.

Rolestorming:  a brilliant way of extending out of the typical role play scenario.  Even in the most engaging of role plays or mingle activities, there is always an element of the learners essentially reading the information off the little piece of paper in front of them and basically comparing notes as opposed to taking on the role of the person they are meant to play.  Rolestorming is a great way of getting the students to think about the background, motivations and emotions of their characters and to really give them the chance to step outside of themselves for the task.

PMI:  A great follow-up activity for working with the ideas that you have generated in an initial brainstorming task, the PMI process lets you grade and select the ideas that you want to take forwards.  In essence it is a format for critical reflection and evaluation.  Again, I can see this being excellent for writing tasks where the learners need to decide what is relevant to the question and what ideas slot together most effectively.



Who should buy this book?  I don’t see this book as having a limited audience in that way.  I think there as much in there for teachers who have been teaching longer than they care to remember as there is for teachers who are just starting out.  It is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, it gives you the tools you need to achieve a goal and in its own way, it is the spark that will lead you to you own lesson-based light bulb moment.

Brainstorming” by Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston is available for £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.

Using Visualisation for the Present Continuous

1 Feb

This is an idea I tried out with an elementary group of young learners the other day.  The focus in the coursebook was on teaching the present continuous for actions that are happening now and at the book had very helpfully provided a recorded phone conversation between two people meeting at a railway station that went something like this:

“Where are you?”

“I’m standing on platform nine and three quarters.  Where are you?”

“I’m waiting under the big clock.  What are you wearing?*”

“I’m wearing a red t-shirt.  What are you wearing?”

“I’m wearing a yellow t-shirt.  Ah!  I can see you!”

“Hello Frank.”

“Hello Matilda.”

* And are we really sure we want to be teaching our learners the phrase “What are you wearing?” in the context of telephone conversations?  

Having achieved “presentation” we then moved onto “practice”, which involved a nice un-jumbling word order task, because apparently putting words into the correct order helps the learners to process the meaning and use of the present continuous.  Or something.  I don’t know.  You may be able to tell that I don’t really like this particular book very much.

In any event, before the class died of boredom I thought it might be useful to get them to try and use the target language meaningfully.  The trouble is, that unless you’re prepared to have the learners go round the class and say what they’re doing, there isn’t a lot you can do with the present continuous for actions happening now:

 “I am sitting down.”  “He is learning English.”  “I am also sitting down.”  “She is losing the will to live.”

So I thought that using visualisation techniques might work better.

I asked the learners to get a pen and paper ready and have it in front of them on their desk.  I asked them to sit back in their chairs, close their eyes and relax.

I played them some “Visualisation music” I found on You Tube.  The purpose of the music from my perspective was three fold; I wanted to give them something to focus on, I wanted there to be something different going on that was “taking them away” from the normal environment, and I wanted to use the music to cover some of the mundane and distracting sounds from outside and from other classes that were going on.

 While they were sat there, I guided them through this visualisation process:

Look up at the sky.  What colour is it?  Can you see any clouds?  Look down and you start to see trees and buildings. What kind of trees can you see?  What kind of buildings? Are there a lot of buildings or a few?  Are they old or new? In front of one of the buildings, you see a person.  Do you recognise them?  They are doing something.  What are they doing?  You look left and see a tree.  In front of the tree you see an animal.  What kind of animal?  What is the animal doing?  You look right and you see someone near you.  It’s a friend of yours.  Who is it?  What’s their name?  They are doing something.  What are they doing?

And then I brought them back out of the visualisation and asked them to write down what they had seen in their notebooks.  While they did that I wrote up on the board:  “In my dream I am standing ………   In front of me I can see ……”  I asked the class to reformulate their ideas into a more fluid description, using the present continuous where possible.

It was a nice activity and the learners seemed to like it, though being a class of young learners there was a little bit of resistance and messing around with the idea of sitting back and having your eyes closed.  In general the output used the target language and there were some nice opportunities to provide relevant language.  I think this made it more memorable and personal for the class, so hopefully it will stick a bit more strongly.


Image Credit: Pixabay

What should Advanced materials involve?

25 Jan

I was recently asked what features I thought good C2 materials should have.  It’s quite a good question, especially because there aren’t any good GE materials at C2 level.  There are a number of books aimed at preparing students for the Cambridge English: Proficiency exam and of those, there are two that I rate highly:  Objective Proficiency and Proficiency Expert.  However there is, as far as I know, nothing for the more generally focused student and so that is an obvious, if somewhat niche, area to move into.

So what would my ideal book contain?

(1) Cognitive challenge

These are high level learners.  You don’t get to be a high level learner unless you are already pretty good at the language and unless you already have a relationship with the language that exists outside of the classroom context.  Most higher level learners engage with English by watching TED talks, films, listening to music, engaging with literature or by using English in some way for their jobs or studies.  Asking them to come into the classroom and read a text and answer some questions or to listen to a text and answer some questions is pointless – it doesn’t reflect what they do in real life and at this stage of their learning is probably of very limited use developmentally anyway.  What would be nice to see is to engage the learners in some kind of issue or problem that they can “solve” in class and where the input, text or audio, provides further food for thought or further content input (NOT solely linguistic) in relation to completing the task.


(2) Authenticity and Analysis

A shift in focus from input based language tuition to analysis and emergent language.  Again, at higher levels, the learners are probably more familiar with the standard grammatical syllabus than their teachers are (!) and they don’t really need to look at the meaning form and pronunciation of mixed conditionals for what is probably the fourth year in a row.  What they do need, is to develop meta-linguistic skills that will help them get the most benefit from their exposure to English, wherever that might come from.  So this would involve working with authentic texts/audio and then looking at these texts from an analytical perspective, possibly involving aspects of socio-linguistics, so that the learners are looking at what speakers choose to say and why.  Confrontational interviews (e.g. BBC Hardtalk) are quite good for this…  But the idea is that the learners look at what is said, try and determine the function or purpose of what is said and then look at the language patterns that emerge.

A structure that might exemplify what I mean here is something like:

  • Work in pairs. Think of five different ways of apologising to someone.
  • Feedback – T focus on intonation and pron – sounding sorry as well as saying it!
  • Input – watch Basil Fawlty apologising sarcastically to customers
  • Assess Basil’s performance – effective, why? Why not?
  • Listen again – note phrases for use.
  • Look at language patterns – modal distance / past tense distance etc
  • Analyse intonation
  • Students create some kind of apologetic role play


(3) Production and feedback

My single biggest issue with the majority of ELT materials is that there is often very little opportunity for the learners to DO anything with the language they’ve been learning in the class.  The learners may or may not choose to actually use the language from the input or analysis, but the opportunity should be there for them in every lesson.  This means a well-designed, engaging, productive task.  And it also means opportunities for feedback where the teacher is helping the students to notice what they could be saying better (or differently at least), either by using ideas from the input/analysis, or just in a more general sense (i.e. feedback doesn’t need to be limited to a focus on the lesson content).


(4) Proper topics

At this level, students should not be treated like they are imbeciles who can’t cope with the cognitive or linguistic nuances of expressing themselves on uncomfortable or controversial topics.  At this stage of their linguistic development, these are some of the few areas for them left to cope with.  Materials should move away from the “safe areas” and should embrace the real world.  There are ways of dealing with PARSNIP type topics so that they don’t cause discomfort with teachers and learners and these are aspects of our world where it can be difficult to understand alternative viewpoints.  With language and culture so tightly bound together, learners need the tools to discuss the differences between their own cultures and those around them, even if they don’t agree with the choices that other cultures make.


(5) Taking learning outside the classroom and bringing the outside world in.

Again, many higher level learners will probably do this already as this seems to be a habit they have.  Materials need to reflect the ways in which learners might engage with the language outside the classroom and where possible should bring the outside world into the class.  This represents language exposure and encounter in the real world, and the classroom is then a place to explore and analyse real world language use and a way in which the class can use real language to extend and develop their own lexical and grammatical resource.

For example:  If the materials are presented on a double page spread, the final section can be a “task for next time” which either asks learners to go off and research an aspect from that lesson’s materials which they can bring back for the start of the next lesson – OR – can be a task that asks learners to pre-explore a topic and to come back to class next time with the information and language they encountered in their research.



Shouldn’t ALL materials involve these criteria?

Answers on a postcard please!  wish you were here postcard

(Or failing that, in the comments section!)

Processes and Passives

18 Jan

This is a lesson I did with my advanced class the other day as part of a review of passive structures.  I’ve typed it all up into a full plan and procedure which you can download in pdf through this link:  teflgeek – A lesson on processes and passives

It is based around a short advert that I found on Larry Ferlazzo’s site from the company Target:

In the lesson, the learners listen to the video without watching it, and predict what they think is happening.

They then watch it and extract as much language out of it as they can, before using the vocabulary they collected to write up a description of the process.  As it is a process, there is a nice mixture of active and passive structures that can be used and the lesson also contains some input on using the passive.

They can then use these skills to describe other contraptions and processes for homework, such as the image below.

I used this mostly as a vehicle for working with the passive, but it should also work quite well as a lesson for teaching IELTS part one writing.



An Introduction to Teaching the Unteachable

4 Jan

I wonder how many people who are looking at the title of this post, and indeed the title of the upcoming webinar on this topic, are wondering what constitutes “unteachable”?  It’s a tricky concept to grasp, not least because it is so heavily context dependent.

My personal view is that nothing is unteachable and that teachers shouldn’t shy away from difficult or uncomfortable topics because they might offend.  The ability to talk about and examine our differences is what makes us able to rise above them and if we refuse to talk about them we start existing in insular little pockets of ignorance, bounded only by the things we believe and a self-destroying fear of The Other.  Now more than ever, when so much of the world is being defined by its support for and opposition to sets of beliefs or practices, we should be trying to break down some of these barriers and trying to understand each other just a little better.

In the world of ELT, topics that are considered “unteachable” are largely defined for us by other stakeholders in the process and without reference to the local context.  These are commonly known by the acronym “PARSNIP”, which stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, and Pork.  Some versions of the acronym also include another S – for Smoking.  These then are the topics that tend to be considered too controversial for the classroom and are therefore left out of most materials and coursebooks.   It is not completely clear to me why this is or when it started and I would welcome any information that sheds light on this – my instinct however, is that it comes down to economies of scale.  The costs involved in producing a coursebook are not inconsiderable and if you had to produce a series of different editions of coursebooks based on different contexts, it would increase your costs exponentially.  Imagine though, the differences that might exist between a Brazilian edition of Headway Intermediate and a Jordanian edition.  And where do you stop?  Do you differentiate between continents?  Regions?  Countries?  What about Basque, Catalan and Galician editions?  It is a lot easier from a production point of view to avoid the question entirely.

The problem then is not that these topics are “unteachable”, it is more that they get left out because leaving them out is easier to do than putting them in.  Yet as teachers, we are always choosing what to leave out and what to put in – we make language choices about what our students need (or don’t need) to focus on, we make skills focus choices and we make topic choices based on what we think our students will find interesting or not.  Hands up if you have supplemented your lesson with a TED talk or other short videos?  Decided not to bother with a page of the book?  What about a unit of the book?

We frequently carve up our coursebooks like the proverbial Christmas turkey and add lashings of side dishs to make the meal tastier and more memorable.  And of course it is traditional (in the UK at least) to serve Parsnips as well.

Sundays with BELTA

On 10th January, I’ll be hosting a webinar for BELTA on looking at ways to do just that.  For all that I believe in free and unfettered discussion of any topics in the classroom, I also believe there has to be a modicum of principle, professionalism and planning involved!  There is no point in walking into the classroom and saying “Right – today we’re going to talk about drugs.  Who here has smoked crack?  Anyone?  Anyone?”

The webinar is structured around a blend of the theory and the practical.  It looks at some of the key principles for ensuring a safe and sensible discussion of sensitive topics, approaches and techniques for dealing with contentious issues in the classroom when they come up, and will also present a few practical activities that you can take away and try with your classes.


One of the reasons that this webinar is on the topic of Parsnips is because when I was asked about taking part in the Sundays with BELTA webinar series, a few friends and I had just published a free e-book of Parsnip themed lessons.  This was about six months ago, but parsnips were very much on my mind and I thought it would be an interesting topic to explore in more depth as an aspect of teacher development.  Completely co-incidentally, the second free volume in our Parsnips series has also just been released!  I should stress, it is an accident of good timing and the webinar is not a promotion for the book or vice versa!  It’s just turned out to be a bit of a Parsnips based week!

The BELTA webinar will be on Sunday 10th January at 1600 CET –  for more information

I hope to see you all there!

To access the free e-books, follow these links to download from Smashwords:

parsnips vol 2 cover

Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol. 2)

Parsnips in ELT Cover

PARSNIPS in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol. 1)


Four “must have” activities for digital teachers!

24 Nov

The title of this post is an example of Clickbait – something that is designed to get you clicking the link to look at the seemingly impossible / brilliant / hilarious story behind the headline.  Something eye-catching that makes you feel as though you’re going to miss out by not looking at it.

Clickbait headlines are a far cry from the traditional news headlines that you see in more traditional newspapers and magazines, though some would argue the trend in the less serious press has always been headed in that direction, and these are the sorts of things that people have to navigate their way through everyday.  Recognising this kind of vague salacious enticement, and knowing how to deal with it, is becoming a core skill in navigating our way through information to find things that we actually need.

In a recent post for the British Council Teaching English blog, Gavin Dudeney offers up a “Digital Literacy Primer” that talks us through the four core digital literacies of focusing on connections, language, (re)design and information.  It is an excellent overview of what these concepts mean in theory and practice and at the end of the article he argues that teachers should be incorporating these ideas into teaching as a way of helping students, particularly younger students, develop these skills.

In my recent post for the British Council Teaching English blog, I present activities and a lesson plan for teachers to do just that.  In Clickbait, Memes and Sharing the Truth – activities for digital literacies, I offer activities that look at building skills in each of the areas that Gavin Dudeney outlines.  Four areas, four activities – you see, my clickbait headline wasn’t lying at least!

In brief:

  • Language –  looks at reworking “traditional” headlines into clickbait speak
  • Remix /Redesign – looks at using meme generators to practice language points or explore an idea
  • Connections – presents a downloadable handout to engage learners with texts and web content, thinking about how they react to texts and what they do with the information afterwards
  • Information – presents a lesson plan for introducing students to the Pacific Northwestern Tree Octopus.  I’ll say no more at this stage, you’ll have to read the post!

I’d be really interested to get feedback from people working with these activities, you can do that either by leaving a comment here, or at the original blog post on the Teaching English site.

Let me know how it goes!