Listen up | An evidence-based activity

listening skills.jpg

A couple of months ago, I was doing a classroom observation as part of an audit and found myself in a session on listening skills. At one point, the trainer said something to the extent of “to show the customer you are listening actively, nod your head vigorously and use verbal nods, okay?” To *show* the customer you are listening?!  This phrasing and the inane suggestion that followed really troubled me, particularly because I think I too am guilty of handing out prescriptions like these about listening.

What behaviours actually constitute effective listening? This evidence-based activity explores the results of a study done by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman into listening, summarized in this HBR article. While the context of the research and the context I envisioned for this activity both relate to business, I believe it could  also be used in teacher or mentor training situations.


  • Explore perceptions of effective and poor listening and contrast these with the results of research.


  • None but you might want to project key insights from the article on a slide or distribute the article as handouts. Alternatively, you could share the URL of the article in a QR code and ask participants to access it on their phones.


  • Divide participants into pairs.
  • Ask participants to take turns talking about how the week’s been so far at work while their partner listens. Each partner should speak for a couple of minutes.
  • Draw a 1-10 scale on the whiteboard.
  • When participants finish talking, have them secretly rate each other on a scale of 1 to 10 on listening where 10 means that the partner listened to them really effectively. They should draw and mark up the scale in their notebook. They should then evaluate themselves on the same scale. Ask participants to think about the ‘why’ behind their scores.
  • Partners should now share their scores with each other and explain for example why they might have evaluated someone at a 7.
  • Seek whole class feedback and board behaviours participants seem to be associating with what they perceive to be effective or poor listening.


  • Present Zenger & Folkman’s research into listening behaviours among managers.
  • You might want to highlight the three attributes Zenger & Folkman suggests people perceive as good listening. Contrast these with behaviours with the ones participants came up with:

Not talking when others are speaking

Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)

Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word (“So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is …”)

  • While these tips often form the basis of listening advice in management resources, Zenger & Folkman’s research identified very different conclusions:
    • Good listeners don’t silently nod. They engage the other person in a two-way active dialogue.
    • Good listeners make the other person felt supported and communicate their own belief in them creating an environment where things could be discussed openly.
    • Good listeners are cooperative, not competitive. They “may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.”
    • Good listeners offer feedback or suggestions at opportune moments.
  • Ask participants to consider how frequently they practise these behaviours when they listen. What could be the benefits? What might be the challenges in using these strategies?

Action planning 

  • Time permitting, you could ask participants to review the six levels of listening listed in the concluding section of the article and evaluate at which level they generally listen with different audiences (direct reports, senior stakeholders & leaders, reporting managers, customers etc.)
  • Ask them to discuss what it would take for them to get to a higher level.


Image attribution: I listen by Olaf Meyer | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Culturestorming | An evidence-based intercultural activity

Brainstorming culture.jpg

Brainstorming is better suited to some personalities and cultures than others. Extroverts who “think out loud” and Westerners who have grown up in educational environments where classroom participation is required, usually thrive in brainstorming sessions. But others around the world grew up in classrooms where they were taught to think before speaking and to avoid standing out with unique ideas. As a result, many individuals in the global workplace dread brainstorming sessions and say very little. Livermore (2016)

They say diverse cross-border teams have the greatest potential for innovation. But this isn’t always true in practice. The work horse of innovation is idea generation and the strategy that we reach out to most frequently for idea generation is brainstorming. We treat brainstorming as if it were a universal technique but it’s one that grew out of North American cultural preferences and business norms. There are many cultures that find group brainstorming unnatural, intimidating, and uncomfortable. This activity adapts ideas from this HBR article and helps participants explore the issues surrounding the use of conventional brainstorming in intercultural settings.


  • Develop an awareness of the challenges of brainstorming in cross-border teams.


  • Flipcharts and markers
  • Printouts of a list of idea generation strategies (alternatively, you can project this on a slide)
  • Printouts of the article in its entirety or sections.


  • Divide participants into groups of four.
  • Ask them if they use team meetings and other group forums to generate ideas. How do they normally go about doing this? Participants will generally explain that they use brainstorming.
  • Get groups to create a mindmap with as many team idea generation strategies as possible. You’ll generally find that they articulate different versions of a conventional brainstorming activity.
  • Have groups take a look at each other’s mindmaps and note any differences.
  • Distribute or project a list of idea generation strategies like the one below and ask participants if there are any new techniques in the list. Quickly get feedback on how familiar participants are with these ideas.

1. Group brainstorming: Team members generate as many ideas as possible at a rapid pace by shouting them out while a scribe notes them down on a whiteboard or flipchart. Evaluation of these ideas is not immediate, and occurs after they have been generated.

2. Individual brainstorming: You come up with ideas on your own and send these to your team via email or share them during a meeting.

3. Group mindmapping: A graphical technique for creating a web of relationships between ideas. Team members shout out ideas while a scribe draws a mindmap on whiteboard or flipchart.

4. Individual mindmapping: Team members create a mindmap individually before coming together as a group to uncover insights.

5. Visual storyboarding: Often used by product teams for innovating, team members collectively view visual stimuli in the form of pictures, photographs and customer quotes to identify relationships and generate ideas.

6. Role playing: Team members play different characters such as customers in specific scenarios to discover ideas.

7. Attribute listing: Team members list all the attributes of specific components of a product or service to identify if there is any way to improve them.

8. Visualization and visual prompts (e.g., problem trees, fish bone analysis etc.): One of the team members draws a graphic organiser on the whiteboard and the others suggest ideas that can be populated within it to explore causal relationships.

9. Questioning assumptions: After determining a problem statement, team members come up with as many assumptions (valid and false) about the situation. They then collectively analyse each assumption to uncover insights.

10. Research: Individuals are allocated a problem statement or topics to research which they do by reading or consulting with others. They then bring these ideas to a meeting.

  • Distribute flipcharts and ask each group to divide it into three columns. Label column 1 – US team; label column 2 – Indonesian team; and label column 3 – cross-border team. You can select any other North American or Northern European culture for column 1 and most Asian and Latin American cultures will work for column 2.
  • Ask participants to imagine that they are responsible for facilitating idea generation sessions with three teams (An American one, an Indonesian one and a diverse cross-border team with people from different countries). How would they rank the idea generation strategies that they have just reviewed (where one is the strategy that would probably work best)?
  • Get groups to put the flipcharts on the wall and encourage them to do a wall crawl. Ask participants to defend the strategy they have at the very top and very bottom of their list.
  • To validate the rationale that participants suggest, ask them to either read printouts of the entire article or excerpts depending on their level.
  • Ask participants to compare their own ideas with the research presented in the article by discussing findings in groups.


  • Nominate participants to report back to the whole group.
  • Ask questions to elicit the following insights:
    • Although the article is about brainstorming, many of the other strategies work on similar principles. People come together to spontaneously assert their ideas in an environment that can be quite competitive.
    • Research suggests that in a brainstorming session, the first idea is likely to be the one that people are most receptive to. First ideas tend to be expressed by the most assertive in the group. Cultures like the United States tend to reinforce this kind of behaviour whereas cultures like Indonesia tend to be more reticent about being a first mover.
    • Team members’ level of fluency with English can hamper their ability to participate actively.
    • Asian cultures are often collectivistic, and consequently tend to value harmony and convergent thinking. Brainstorming was conceived by individualistic, competitive Western cultures which value divergent thinking. This behaviour of voicing contrarian ideas in an open forum can seem quite unnatural to many Asian cultures.
    • Whether the team members involved in an idea generation session have a preference for big picture or holistic thinking or a more detailed oriented approach can also affect the dynamics of brainstorming (The article suggests that Americans are big picture and Germans are detail oriented. This is both true and false. Americans are more holistic in their thinking than Germans but when compared to Japan, they are quite detail oriented. Cultural preferences are all fairly relative)

Action planning 

  • Ask participants to think and discuss how they can meet the challenges of brainstorming in a cross-border team (some suggestions are given in the concluding section of the article)


Image attribution: Brainstorm by theimagegroup | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) 

Frugal Edtech | A speaker named Mike

Earlier this month I blogged about a teacher training project I’m currently contributing to. Last week, I returned to Aurangabad, a city in the middle of the western Indian state of Maharashtra to train government officials whose role in the project is to offer administrative and logistical support to the Teacher Activity Groups.  This time round, a colleague and I were training at an old teacher development institute. As is often the case with government colleges, they have very elaborate but dated microphone systems for their lecterns but no way of connecting the existing speakers to a laptop if you want to show a video.

Frugal edtech.jpg

As we pondered over this conundrum, help was at hand. One of the staff at the institute simply stuck the mike under my colleague’s laptop and voila – we had the audio projected through the speakers.

I’m really amazed at this little example of frugal or juggad innovation or making the most of what you have. What would I have done if I hadn’t had help? I would have probably whinged & whined and cursed my karma. I would have wondered if it would be possible to pop out during the lunch break and buy a pair of speakers. I might have come up with ineffective alternatives like having 25 people crowd around a tiny laptop or perhaps had them view the video in batches.

I really value the time I spend on government education projects because of what it teaches me about scarcity and resourcefulness. I hope one day I’ll be able to develop a mindset of making the most of what I have.

A task-based approach to reading | Module 3 Reflections

This is the third in a series of posts I’m writing to review and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This week’s materials analysed the application of insights from task-based learning to reading.

Task based reading.jpg

(Intensive reading is) the type of reading that happens in class, directed by the teacher using a text that learners would be unlikely to read successfully without assistance.  Macalister (2014)

The course suggests that we do too much intensive reading and often unsuccessfully, solely focusing on the linguistic aspect. And that by doing so, we imply to the learners that we read to mine for language i.e., the sole purpose of reading is learning a language, ignoring the fact that reading could potentially be an enriching and engaging activity from a non-linguistic perspective.

Building on concepts in module 2,  5 principles were introduced for effective reading.

1. Reading is a communicative act

2. Reading must be fluent and fast

3. We need to reach some sort of authenticity of task

4. Different learning objectives require different tasks (reading to learn a language,        learning to read, reading to learn content)

5. We must take into account the reading that learners already do

It was suggested that these result in a set of implications for how we ought to plan and teach reading lessons. We need to

1. Choose interesting texts

2. Make learners want to read a text

3. Focus on meaning

4. Focus on reactions

5. Offer choices to the learners

6. Provide narrow reading

7. Use electronic sources

8. Present text and activities that learners can cope with

At first glance, these implications make sense – who’d disagree right? But, I continue to see a paradox (see my post from last week) in what the course is discussing from a pedagogical and theoretical perspective and what it’s recommending in terms of practical classroom approaches. Last week was all about agency and letting learners bring in their own texts but implication one seems to do away with that. Take a look at this:

So we really need to make sure that at least at the beginning of a course, or the beginning of a year, we choose texts that are interesting and relevant to our learners. From there, we can move to texts that we think our learners should be reading and which are about topics that have values in themselves

… so we can move to texts that *we think* our learners ought to be reading!? Wherefore art thou, agency?

While I feel this is somewhat incongruent with what they’ve been preaching, the others seem reasonable and perhaps even pedagogically sound. For instance, the rationale for number four is that we often wait until after long drawn and inane comprehension questions to ask learners to react to text, and only when we’re not running behind time when we subject the reaction stage to the old skiperoo. The course recommends that we focus on reactions immediately after learners read a text.

Apropos principle 5, I recently ran reading circles at a teacher training program where participants were offered a choice from a bank of curated articles and they had to develop consensus among themselves for which text they wanted to explore. I thought this was very empowering. These democratic reading circles were with a group of teachers; I’m not sure how well it would work with learners.

I found the idea of narrow reading, implication 6, quite interesting. In narrow reading, learners read a series of texts on the same topic. As they go from text 1 to 2 to 3, they spend less trying to understand its content (because they’ve already done that in text 1) and can do a more nuanced reading and focus on how they might feel towards it. The course rationalised this by stating:

Outside the classroom we do this all the time by choosing what we read or following a news story over a few days. Or we have our own interests and we often read about a particular topic.

It was also suggested that narrow reading facilitates the learning of language because the learners don’t need to focus so much on meaning so there’s allegedly more incidental learning of grammar and vocabulary. Implication 8 is critical because apparently a reader requires knowledge of between 95-98% of the words in a text to achieve comprehension (not sure where they got these stats from) and that we ought to rein in our tendency to include or replace words to bring in our target language because it can be very frustrating for learners.

Intriguingly the course presented research that urged greater authenticity in task design but also suggested cases for avoiding it because some inauthentic tasks such as reading aloud, and re-reading multiple times have been found to be effective.

Subsequently there was a discussion about how the stages of a reading lesson (pre, while and post) seem to deceptively mirror a task-based learning sequence. However, there is usually no real life task, and if there is one there may still be multiple issues. The comprehension questions may focus on meaning but in a decontextualised way. There may be no communicative problem to solve and there is rarely a non-linguistic outcome.

Nevertheless, the course proposes that it;s possible to adapt a conventional reading sequence for TBL, illustrating this through an example from Reading Links by Marion Geddes and Gill Sturtridge.

The ultimate task which the learners have is to design a flag for an imaginary new nation … The initial groups receive different texts with different information about this new nation, its history, its geography, its people, and customs … Once they have read and reached an understanding of their text, new groups are formed with one person from each of the original groups. And the task is now to design a flag that will represent this new nation, based on the information from the different groups.

It’s a task/problem I suppose and a seemingly engaging one but how authentic is it? I dunno.

This week’s assignment involved constructing a jigsaw reading task where learners works in groups of three to read three different tasks on the same topic. I cheated a wee bit because I couldn’t find three texts on the same topic at a similar language level so I conveniently retrofitted my target learners to the text. A lot of the assignments I peer assessed stuck to largely conventional reading approaches and I questioned the authenticity of the task that their activities culminated in.

I am still waiting for a shift in focus from the status quo in terms how we deal with reading to a more thorough examination of how reading would work as a task-based strategy. Hope to see that in next week’s materials.

Frugal edtech: Document camera

Frugal edtech.jpg

Do you know India is famous for frugal innovation? It’s a phenomenon born out of poverty, systemic issues,  environmental problems, and a really resourceful attitude coupled with homegrown ingenuity. There’s even a name for it in Hindi – Jugaad.  My teacher training projects take me deep into the hinterlands and I’ve been observing some examples of frugal education technology that I’d like to document.

This first one, though, is from my own repertoire.

When I first laid eyes on a document camera – I was instantly smitten. The participants in the workshop I was attending were producing written work which was then being projected for everyone to read. The whole group could follow along as the participant or the facilitator discussed this work. I could see lots of potential for applying it in my own classroom. At that point the cameras were really expensive. While they’re a lot more reasonably priced now (between ₹5490 and ₹18105 on Amazon), it’s an added expense that an educator can do without.

You can, however, replicate a document camera using a free Chrome app called the Overhead Projector. To use this app, you need to have a laptop with a webcam (I suppose it could work on a tablet as well although I haven’t tried that yet) and an LCD projector.

Overhead projector.png

Downloading the app

  • Open up a New Tab in Chrome
  • Select Chrome Web Store
  • Search for Overhead Projector (or click on this link)
  • Click Install
  • The projector will now sit within your Chrome apps. To access it, go to a New Tab and then select Apps.

Using the Overhead Projector 

  • Connect your laptop to the LCD projector.
  • Place the document you’d like to project on your keyboard.
  • Open up the Overhead Projector app. It uses your webcam so it will display whatever’s in its direct line of sight.
  • Bring your laptop screen about half way down.
  • Now look at the document being projected. You may need to adjust its position on the keyboard to ensure that no portions are being cut-off.


Here’s a non-exhaustive list of activities you can use the overhead projector for:

  • Display mindmaps created by participants in small groups which they then share with the whole class using the app. If the mindmap was done on a flipchart, this wouldn’t be a problem. But in my lessons, mindmaps are often created in notebooks and participant guides.
  • Project a list of ideas after a brainstorming task.
  • Share peer feedback notes. Get participants to note observations within a graphic organizer which you can project when they report back to the whole class.
  • Display participant responses as an answer key. While monitoring, make a note of a participant who has got most of the answers to a controlled task correct. Project this page from his or her book and ask other participants to check their answers.
  • Annotate, correct, elicit, and/or give feedback on written work.
  • Project keys from teacher or trainer material.
  • Display model texts.
  • Share utterances for emerging language focus or error correction towards the end of a lesson.

Do you use any frugal edtech in your classroom? I’d love to do a post on it so do share your ideas in the comments section.

A task-based approach to reading | Module 2 Reflections

Task based reading.png

This is the second in a series of posts I’m writing to consolidate and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This module’s content explored reading as a cognitive, communicative and strategic activity as well as looking into areas such as background knowledge and promoting reading fluency. The lead-in was an interesting online activity which asked course participants to post a picture of something we had read on that day or the day before in L1 or L2, on a Padlet wall. See if you can spot mine – it’s towards the bottom.

Reading as a cognitive activity

My own definition of reading was the ability to parse letters as words, phrases and sentences and interpret meaning from them. The course defined the core meaning of reading as “the activity by which we interpret language messages in written or printed form.” It was suggested that readers need to able to decode words and comprehend the connection between them and that the relationship between decoding and comprehension was not additive but dependent, i.e., strong decoding skills can’t compensate for weak comprehension skills or vice versa.

We read text through a sequence of eye movements that involve fixations and sacchades. The eye is still in a fixation and information is extracted. During a sacchade, the eyes move to the next point of fixation.

We can only extract information from the page while the eye is fixated. And we can only identify with certainty and clarity about seven to nine characters. This is because of the way in which the eye is structured and the structure of the retina, the part of the eye that receives this visual information … The average fixation time varies from reader to reader and from text to text. Some researchers suggest that it is about 200 to 270 milliseconds, although more recent estimates suggest that it is maybe 300 to 330 milliseconds … This means that we read at the rate of about 180 to 240 words per minute. So reading is a rapid process and it also needs to be an efficient process. During these very short fixations, there is a lot of work that our brain needs to accomplish.
Consequently, reading in L2 can be challenging because the nature of reading requires the process to be fast and fluent, with some automaticity in decoding text, “to leave cognitive capacity for comprehension.”
This point is conceptually explained here and here.

Reading as a communicative activity

While I focused on how reading provides the input for communication, in hindsight I realized that my thinking was constrained by the classroom. The course was more interested in how reading operates, to use the popular social media short form, IRL.

They suggest that reading as a process within and outside the classroom are very different. In the real world, the reader determines what he or she reads for the most part. They also get to decide the purpose for reading. We may also process the text in a very non-linear way, skipping, stopping and/or revisiting sections. Post-reading, there may or may not be a follow-up. We may frequently decide to do nothing after reading a text. If we do decide to respond, this response is usually in a spoken format and we often have conversations with people who may not have read the text, in which case we may present a short summary. For example, you read a news article and comment on it to your partner who hasn’t read the article. The follow-up may also be an action such as instructions for taking medicine, following a recipe, or responding to an email or text message.

The situation is completely inverted in the language classroom. While reading in real life is marked by a strong sense of agency on the part of the reader, reading in the language classroom is characterised by a loss of it. While students may be expected to do an initial reading to get a sense of the text, the principal objective is to “dissect it linguistically.” This is referred to by Tim Johns and Flo Davies as the text as a linguistic object (TALO).

The process of reading in the classroom is also highly linear. Students are required to read the entire text. They are not allowed to stop or skip. Skimming and scanning almost always prepare the way for a more detailed reading. We have been indoctrinated to believe that the extension task that follows is sacrosanct because we must the skill into production. Where follow-up is mandatory in the classroom, things are not so rigid in the real world.

Reading as a strategic activity

The strategies I teach are really the usual suspects: pre-reading, skimming, scanning, intensive reading, and critical reading, mostly in a highly stylised sequence which I haven’t actively questioned.

Reading skills are “information processing techniques that are automatic, whether at the level of recognizing grapheme-phoneme correspondence or summarizing a story.”

Reading strategies are “actions selected deliberately to achieve particular goals.”

 Paris, Wasik & Turner (1991)

The course suggested that skimming, scanning and guessing words from context were the most common strategies used by course books but that they present an incomplete picture of reading. Unlike some ELT colleagues who are skeptical about the value of skimming and scanning, the course doesn’t downplay their importance but proposes their utility is in very specific contexts.
They also implied that guessing meaning from words is treated too simplistically in the language classroom, suggesting that it’s a far more complex process dependent on multiple factors. They evidenced this using research from Margot Haines who found that readers were able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words more accurately “if the clues for the meaning were local, near the unknown words.” Research by Paul Nation proposed that the frequency of the unfamiliar word in the text, the proximity of the occurrences to each other, the number of clues, the density of other unknown words, familiarity of content, among other factors all contributed to the ability of the reader to guess meaning from context.
Grabe’s 14 strategies were introduced as a richer range of processing techniques with the caveat that they may not be as specific or well-defined as the ones we are familiar with in terms of classroom procedure.
Strategies used by engaged readers

1. Reading selectively according to goals

2. Reading carefully in key places

3. Re-reading as appropriate

4. Monitoring reading continuously, being aware of whether or not they are comprehending the text.

5. Identifying important information

6. Trying to fill in the gaps in the text (through inference & prior knowledge)

7. Making guesses about unknown words

8. Using text structure information to guide understanding

9. Making inferences about the author, key information, and main ideas

10. Attempting to integrate ideas from different parts of the text

11. Building interpretations of the text as they read

12. Building main-idea summaries

13. Evaluating the text and the author and as a result forming feelings about the text

14. Attempting to resolve difficulties

Grabe (2009)

This section was concluded with the disclaimer that effective readers don’t use strategies in isolation, as they are often encouraged to do in the classroom. “Instead, they use multiple strategies in a flexible manner, choosing from their repertoire of strategies to make sense of the text according to the purpose of their reading.”

The role of background knowledge

A lot of the approaches discussed so far have been bottom-up but we have to acknowledge the role of compensatory processes as well. If you have some degree of familiarity with the topic, you may be able to compensate for a lack of linguistic knowledge
In this respect, schema are claimed to help readers in the comprehension, retention and inferencing of texts. Schema are

Previously acquired knowledge structures. Carrell and Eisterhold (1988)

Related sets of knowledge linked together in an established frame.  Grabe (2009)

Background knowledge could take the form of:

  • general knowledge of the world
  • topical knowledge
  • cultural knowledge
  • specialist expertise knowledge

However, background knowledge can also cause interference. This was attested to referencing a study where American and Indian test subjects were asked to read two letters, one about an American wedding and an Indian wedding. The readers misunderstood, mis-remembered or forgot facts and details from the wedding whose cultural context they were unfamiliar with.

Background knowledge interacts with other areas such as language proficiency, motivation and purpose to enable the reader to process texts more effectively. However, the significance of background knowledge is currently underplayed among researchers but the course seemed to suggest that we ought to be paying it more attention. In easing learners into a text, we often focus on linguistic scaffolding through the pre-teaching of vocabulary. However, preparing learners to face unfamiliar topics is done minimally through brief pre-reading discussions.

Automaticity and word recognition

The module started off by suggesting that automaticity is critical for effective reading and concluded by focusing on some research in this area. Akamatsu (2008) conducted a study in which she presented participants with word strings, each containing 5 words with no spaces:




In each training session, participants were exposed to 150 words or 30 strings and they had 90 seconds to recognize individual words. There were seven sessions over seven weeks with one session a week and students were able to improve their word recognition ability significantly.

Greta Gorsuch and Etsuo Taguchi focused on the effectiveness of repeated reading in their research. Participants were asked to read a section of a short story while timing themselves. They then reread the same section two more times while listening it to be read aloud. They then read the section silently two more times, once again timing themselves. Lastly, they wrote a brief report on the text they’d read.

This week’s assignment sought four specific actions for improving reading at your institution based on this week’s material. Here’s my submission:

A lot of the concerns with reading as it is currently taught and conducted, are issues that I am familiar with and have discussed and debated with peers. While I acknowledge the problems with the linear, stylised way in which we treat reading activities, I continue to use the often seemingly mindless sequence of prediction, gist reading, specific reading and extension task. Why? I’m not really sure but I suppose it’s all boils down to what’s practical. Of course, I want my learners to read things that they select for themselves. But that sort of Dogme-style approach doesn’t always work out IRL! Only 4 out of 10 will bring in a text and of the four at least one might be inappropriate for whatever reason. And what about the fact that not all learners want to bring in texts. Providing choice in how learners to process a text sounds great conceptually but in practice may lead to readers who lose attention and might not get the maximum value from the lesson.

Paradoxically, the assignments that I peer-assessed prescribed actions from the standard ELT guide to reading … from now on, at my school, I will do a prediction exercise, then make my students skim the text, then scan … You see this where this is going. It felt like we were on different courses. I suspect this might be because a plurality of language teachers use an even more traditional approach to reading such as the one that’s prevalent in Indian schools: one student reads aloud while others follow along with their finger (the finger is very important). Then, students work individually to answer comprehension questions. If this constitutes a reading lesson, a more conventional ELT approach is perhaps quite innovative. However, the course seems to be suggesting something completely radical. It remains to be seen if this theoretical direction will be translated into realistic task types in the upcoming modules.

Three vocabulary games | A guest post

Clarissa Macdonald.jpg

This is a guest post from my friend Clarissa MacDonald who has used these three games with her learners and found that they are engaging and offer lots of practice.

Game 1: Word volleyball


  • Any level


  • A ball


  • Divide Ss into two teams.
  • Each team needs to pass the ball three times within their own team and then the ball is thrown to the next team. The second team passes the ball three times within their team and then throws the ball back to the other team
  • While passing the ball each player needs to say a word that starts with the letter that was the final letter of the previous word.
  • You can start the game by letting the Ss use any word and then increase the difficulty by limiting the words to specific lexical groups.
  • For example, Team 1 > Player 1: team > Player 2: Meat > Player 3: tax.The ball needs to be thrown to the next team now. Team 2 > Player 1: Xylophone > Player 2: Emerge > Player 3: Egg. The ball needs to be thrown to the next team.Teams lose a point if they:
    • throw the ball too quickly to the next team i.e., they haven’t passed it three times within their own team
    • drop the ball
    • use the wrong word
    • throw the ball too low or too fast.

NB: Ensure the Ss say the words out loud.

Game 2: Taboo 


  • Intermediate & above


  • Download two apps from Play Store: Taboo (which is easier) and Party Game Taboo (which is easier)


  • Divide the Ss into teams with at least two Ss in each team.
  • The participants are not allowed to use actions or use any word they see on the card in the app. They can use other words to get their teams to guess the main word. They can use stories, paint a picture (with words) or fill in the blanks to get their teams to guess the word.
  • Their team needs to guess as many words as possible in 60 seconds.
  • Each team gets 60 seconds to play their turn.
  • They aren’t allowed to use opposites or part of any on the words mentioned on the card. The student can’t use any of the words below the main word even if his team has used it. NO ACTIONS or pointing out.
  • For example, in the following image the student has to get their team to guess the word “Crack”. The student cannot use the five words mentioned under “Crack”. The student can say – If a ceramic plate falls on the ground, a crooked line is formed on the plate. What is that line called? Or If the ceramic plate falls, what will happen? His team may say break but the student cannot use the word break even if his team uses the word. So the student should say no not that something else happens?


The app keeps score, however the trainer must ensure the student clicks on the right option.

  • Taboo – Yeah: if guessed correctly (add one point)
  • Taboo: if the student used a word mentioned in the card (minus one point)
  • Pass: The students get only three passes in case the word is difficult
  • Party Game Taboo – Correct: if guessed correctly (add one point)
  • False: if the student used a word mentioned in the card (minus one point)
  • Pass: The students get only three passes in case the word is difficult

Game 3: Password 

Adapted from the Jimmy Fallon show. 


  • Upper Intermediate & above



  • Divide the Ss into two teams.
  • The participants aren’t allowed to use actions or point.
  • Each team sends a member to the front of the class.
  • T gives those Ss the same word.
  • They have to get their team guess that word by using only one word.
  • They can make a sound but no actions.
  • Their team needs to discuss and then give the trainer one word they think relates to the word given by their team member. The first word that’s given to the trainer is considered. They can only say one word so their team needs to discuss first.
  • In case the first team doesn’t guess the word the next student from team 2 can say “Add” or “Subtract” and then give their word. Now the second team has two words to guess the word.
    • Add: if they would like their team to include the previous student’s word
    • Subtract: if they don’t want their team to include that word
  • There are four passes till the word is guessed correctly.
  • For example, if the T gives both the student the same word – “Secret”. Team 1 player says “Diary”. Team 1 discusses and says “School”. Over to Team 2. Team 2 player says “add write”. Team 2 discusses and says “story”. Back to Team 1. Team 1 player says “add shhhhh”. Team 1 discusses and says “Secret”.  If team 1 didn’t guess the word, the last try would have gone to team 2. Team 2 could have also said “Subtract Victoria’s”. Team 2 discusses and says “Secret”.
  • If team 1 starts and gets the word right, then team 1 gets 10 points. If it passes to team 2, then they get 8 points. If it goes back to team 1, then team 1 gets 6 pointsThe last pass to team 2 and if they get it right, they will get 4 points. In the next round, team 2 starts the game. Team 2 then gets a chance to score 10 points.