Powerful tools for teaching and learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 3

This week’s focus was on creativity tasks and tools. The course facilitators spoke about how creativity is an important 21st century skill and that research suggests that there are long term positive benefits of fostering creativity such as the fact that creative people are more likely to get promoted, be satisfied with their jobs, be in better physical health and be more resilient.


As usual, the course recommends that Ts understand the nature of the task to select an effective tool and they offered a creativity continuum to do this.

word <-> visual <-> visual + word + sound

  • Word: Being creative with words such as using Visuwords to graphically show the relationship of a word to other words. Wordle create word clouds and Tagxedo allows you to create word images in different shapes. These tools are useful when you want your learners to be creatively engaged with words.
  • Visual: Students look at given pictures or collect pictures in bookr and use these as prompts to write stories which finally converted into a digital book. Sketchpad allows users to create sketches and drawings. Graffiti Creator lets Ss create text that looks like graffiti.
  • Visual + word + sound: Ss can use WeVideo to select pictures, text, video and audio clips to create a digital story. Alice allows users to learn computer programming in a 3D environment. StoryJumper lets Ss create stories in a comic-book style/format.

Using creativity tools to learn programming

Hour of Code is celebrated in classrooms every year to get Ss to see the creative side of computer programming but most Ss are usually not interested. Ss feel disengaged because they can’t visualize and hear the code which just remains lines of boring text of them. Scratch allows Ss to understand the basic concepts of programming by using ‘code building blocks’. As Ss select new pieces of code, there are changes to the object that they are programming. A similar tool is Squeakland which can be used for creative and critical thinking skills for programming through visuals, sounds and words.

  • Realtime Board: A shared whiteboard where you add can ideas, images and videos. Manage group projects and creative contributions – as an alternative to post-its.
  • Simple booklet: Ss select a layout template and add media to create an online booklet. It could be used for student-centred instructional strategy as an alternative to rote-learning and promote collaborative and deep learning. For example, a history class that’s learning about the US constitution.
  • Magisto: It turns video clips and photos into edited movies quickly. Review concepts and terms by getting Ss to create a music video where lyrics draw on study material.
  • Evernote: A tool for taking and organizing notes including stuff from the web. Here’s an example.
  • Thinglink: Creative interactive images – designed for classroom use so – Ss login IDs can be nested under the teacher. Here’s an example.
  • WeVideo: A cloud-based video editing tool. Ss can upload media from their computers or from cloud storage and edit these in a number of modes. Here’s an example.

The tools for exploration this week include:

My picks are Tagul which creates really nifty word clouds and Playir which seems to have some engaging features.

This week’s reading

Here’s one more video based on Chickering & Gamson’s principles specifically encouraging active learning. The video’s creators list a series of responses from educators: rewards & peer pressure, practical problems, assessments, academic rigour and feedback, games and fun, pacing Ss with quizzes, respect, building community through group discussions and posing challenging questions. They summarized these responses an androgogical approach to engaging Ss and relating content to real lives.

Finally, here’s a video about a primary school teacher who used free cloud-based apps to get Ss to work on creative digital projects for an authentic audience.

Image attribution: Flickr | Creativity is Not Device Dependent by eliztesch | CC by 2.0

The Melody of English | IATEFL PronSIG webinar summary

The full title of this webinar – The Melody of English: Research and Resources for Teaching the Pragmatic Functions of Intonation – is a real mouthful and it was the very first PronSIG event that I’ve ever experienced.  The speakers were Marnie Reed and Tamara Jones, both of whom seem to have written methodology books in this area.


Why teach the pragmatic functions of intonation? 

Marnie spent the first half of the webinar establishing the need for increasing learners’ sensitivity to pitch movements that lead to some sort of implicature – the speaker implies something through his or her intonation. She suggested that the way intonation is treated in language courses leads to it looking decorative and Ss come away feeling it has no particular meaning. She cited an example of a language lab that she observed where Ss practised intonation with decontextualised sentences and repeated it over and over until their intonation became increasingly target-like, in order to please the teacher. When Marnie asked these Ss whether they would use this native-live intonation in their everyday speech, they apparently suggested that only women speak like this and that it sounds silly and exaggerated.

Marnie went on to explain that her intention was not to force a speech pattern onto the learners and they had the right to reject it if they felt it was irrelevant to them. Her concern was about their ability to decode real world meaning and speaker intent because the Ss were not sensitive to the fact that we use intonation to provide extra meaning (the example she used repeatedly was the teacher didn’t *grade* the papers vs. the *teacher* didn’t grade the papers where the shift in the tonic word reveals more information than the words themselves state).  Marnie felt that the Ss’ beliefs about intonation were going to underpin their receptivity to it. In this case, Ss felt it was decorative, leading to gaps in their metacognition. She also suggested that teachers may also face these same gaps and NESTs are at greater risk because they use intonation unconsciously and are perhaps not motivated to analyse the theoretical basis for it and may not be equipped with dealing with it in the classroom.

What is intonation? 

Systematic and linguistically meaningful use of pitch movement at the phrase level or at the super-segmental level. Pickering (2012)

Marnie pointed out that English intonation is a bit of an outlier and we tend to use a wide pitch contour for everyday utterances and that if we’d  put languages and how they use intonation on a continuum, English would be at an extreme end. German, Turkish and Arabic would also apparently be in the vicinity but English tends to fall at the very extreme end in terms of its use of pitch movement for normal discourse and extra use of it to convey speaker intent where we are making an implication.

Unlike many other languages where grammatical inflection, word order or lexis is used to signal contrast or important information, English does this largely through phonology. Rogerson Revell (2012)

Problems with teaching intonation

Ts spend a lot of time on the attitude or affective areas of intonation such as being sarcastic and showing anger. I think Marnie was referring to that frequently used activity which involves decontextualised sentences being read out in conjunction with an emotion like anger. She suggested that we may working at a surface level producing or imitating intonation without compelling Ss to consider why the pitch range is so exaggerated compared to their L1 and what it might be trying to convey.

What would success look like?

Marnie seemed to describe two sides to this. The first was the ability to grasp implicature and be able to articulate it (in the sense of identify and respond to it). The second was the ability to predict the topic of the next sentence. She shared an example of this which I couldn’t quite hear but the gist of it was that the proficient English speaker is primed to know what to expect when he or she hears non-standard intonation which violates the norms. This might be an important skill in academic lectures where Ss are just following along without knowing what’s coming up.

Resources for teaching the pragmatic functions of intonation

Tamara handled this section of the webinar.  She focused on three situations where we’d expect to hear exaggerated intonation:

  1. Speaker attitude e.g., A: How are you today? B: *great* (with a sort of slow falling pitch movement)
  2. Contrasting information e.g., The *teacher* didn’t grade the papers vs. the teacher *didn’t* grade the papers
  3. Strong agreement e.g. She *does* have a good point.

I’m not sure why Tamara claimed that the utterance in number 3 is also an example of breaking a grammar rule by throwing in an auxiliary verb. Using do/does to add emphasis is generally standard usage.

There are no arguments for teaching intonation in terms of attitude, because the rules for use are too obscure, too amorphous, and too easily refutable.  Brazil et al (1980)

I recall Mssr Brazil being oft quoted in my Delta input lessons as evidence that intonation is a murky area of phonology that’s best left untaught. I could never agree with that perspective and I was happy to hear that Marnie and Tamara concurred. Tamara shared the following activities for focusing on the pragmatic functions of intonation:

1. Noticing: Ask Ss to take a passage and ask several proficient speakers to read it outside class time. Ask them to notice what happens to certain words or phrases and report back. Ss then notice that the proficient speakers all read these words or phrases in the same way or in Tamara’s words, they do something weird to it. Tamara suggested that this noticing is an important part of selling the idea to them – that the pitch change exists in reality and not just in the minds of their teachers.

2. Awareness-raising: Once Ss have noticed the pitch change, use awareness-raising activities to connect intonation to meaning such as:

Let’s conTINue our disCUSion of polLUtion

YESterday we deFINED polLUtion.

1. What will I probably say next?

a. Today we’ll talk about the IMpact of polLUtion

b. ToDAY we’ll deFINE acid RAIN

3. Assumptions understood: Use short dialogues which challenge Ss to interpret meaning or implicature such as this one:

A: Would you like to go skiing this weekend?

B: So you can ski?

What had the man assumed?

(a) A was a good skier.

(b) A was going skiing this weekend.

(c) A didn’t know how to ski.

(d) A did not intend to go skiing.

4. Matching activity: Ss look at a sentence such as “I took the 10:20 evening training from LA to San Francisco” and use the concept of shifting prominence to match it with a range of implicatures such as

a. Not John.

b. I didn’t drive it.

c. Not the 12.20 etc.

5. Quality choral repetition: Along with drills, get Ss to use paralinguistic cues to ‘feel’ the pitch movement in utterances such as “What’s the MATter?” and “You must be JOKing”.

  • Clap: Clap strongly and loudly on the stressed syllable. Clap quickly and quietly on the unstressed.
  • Eyes: Open your eyes wide. Relax them on the unstressed.
  • Eyebrows: Raise them. Relax them.
  • Get up: Stand up. Sit down.
  • Walk: Take a long step. Take a short step.
  • Dance: Take a long step. Take a quick step.
  • Shrug your shoulders: Raise them. Relax them.
  • Snap your fingers: Snap.

Tamara also suggested using rubber bands with words that have exaggerated intonation. I would caution against doing this. I’ve used rubber bands before and find that Ss end up altering the quality and the length of the vowel, reducing rather than enhancing comprehensibility.

6. Card matches: Similar to number four except that the words which have prominence are indicated in the text. These utterances and their implicatures are presented on individual cards.  Ss read and match the cards.

I want to learn to ski on my holiday

I want to learn to SKI on my holiday

I want to learn to ski on my HOLIDAY.

I WANT to learn to ski on my holiday.

My husband already knows how to ski.

I don’t have to learn to ski, but I am interested in doing it.

I am too busy with work to learn right now.

I am not interested in learning to swim or to surf

7. Marking the dialogue: Play short clips such as these ones from Seinfeld and Friends, provide a transcript and ask Ss to mark up words where they hear an exaggerated intonation.

8. Correct me if I’m wrong: Ss complete some sentences about themselves (My name’s … My first language is … My favourite food’s … etc.) and then exchange it with a partner who reads it out wrong “Your favourite colour is black” and then gets corrected “No, my favourite colour is WHITE.” (in the same vein as Mark Hancock’s Contradict me from Pronunciation Games, CUP)

9. What comes before? Provide statements such as “I’m afraid I see some DISadvantages” and Ss work out the preceding statement – “This plan has a lot of advantages.” And then Ss select a dialogue and present it to the class.

Are you sure? Maybe we need TWO new PCs.

I went to the lab on Saturday AND Sunday.

I agree. That IS an unrealistic deadline.

Frank, could YOU do the presentation?

No, the exam is on the FIFTH.

When I reflect on the way I’ve taught intonation, I’ve generally focused on getting Ss to work towards practising intonation that’s definitely not native-like but is easier on the ear either by not sounding too flat or too singsong. I never plan to teach the pragmatic side of intonation and if it happens, it’s usually in emerging language focus. The fact that Ss might be missing out on key aspects of real world communicative competence because of their inability to pick up something proficient English speakers subconsciously process all the time is truly food for thought. I particularly liked the example Tamara shared towards the end when she said that sometimes when she tries to highlight an error to Ss through intonation such as “Louis GO to the bank?”, her Ss use paralinguistic clues to perceive that their teacher is unhappy but miss out on the pitch movement on GO and instead focus on correcting the preposition or some other part of the utterance.

While the studies that were cited and the rationale around teaching the pragmatic functions were really interesting, I felt the activities that were shared were a bit of a damp squib. Most of these (save No.9) are ones that my peers and I have been using variations of for years. Linda Grant’s Well Said, a book that both these ladies seem very partial too was supplementary material for a course I taught with my former employer. Ss could get access to their own copies and they universally disliked doing exercises from it because they found it dry and disengaging.

Nevertheless, I’m grateful for this nice long list of references:

  • Gilbert, J. (2014). Myth 4: Intonation is hard to teach. in L. Grant (Ed.) Pronunciation Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • Levis, J. (1999). Intonation in theory and practice. Revisited. TESOL Quarterly 33(1), p.37-64.
  • Paunovic, T. & Savic, M (2008). Discourse Intonation – Making it work in S. Komar & U. Mozetic (Eds.). As you write it: Issues in literature, language, and translation in the context of Europe in the 21st century, V (1-2), 57-75.
  • Pickering, L. (2012). Intonation. in K. Malmkjaer (Ed.) The Routledge Linguistics Encyclopedia (3rd edition), pp. 280-286.
  • Vandergrift, L. & Goh, C. (2012). Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in action. NY: Routledge, P.22.
  • Wells, J.C. (2006). English Intonation: An Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Wichmann, A. (2005). The role of intonation in the expression of attitudinal meaning. English Language and Linguistics, 9(2), pp. 229-253.

And I think Olya from ELT Stories suggested Paul Tench  (1996, 2001) for functions for teaching intonation.

Image attribution: Flickr | Pronunciation by Steve Bowbrick | CC by 2.0

Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 2

This is a summary of week 2 of the Coursera MOOC – Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools. This week’s focus was collaboration (look up last week’s post to review the skill-lens used by the course to analyse and categorise Web 2.0 tools).

Collaboration tools

Once you’ve identified your instructional task or issue for collaboration, the next step is to discover the nature of the collaboration problem.  The course facilitators presented the categories of collaboration needs in the form of a continuum.

Collaboration continuum

project management  <->  co-creation <-> resource management

The continuum shows three forms of collaborative tasks. It’s also a way to group web 2.0 collaboration tools.

Project management (setting up projects and streamlining work)

  • Assign a day: a calendar that can be shared with Ss and their parents about latest assignemetns & due dates.
  • Doodle: an easy way to set up group meetings dynamically.
  • Todoist: allows you to manage tasks and then go about collaborating on setting and working on these tasks.

Co-creation (collaborating to create, edit & develop ideas)

  • Conceptboard: develop concepts for a group assignment.
  • Google drive: real time collaborative eding on documents, presentations and spreadsheets. A video example of peer-collaboration through Google documents.
  • Mindomo: allows for collaborative brainstorming.

Resource management (providing access to a communal resource page)

  • Symbaloo: a social bookmarking tool to share links
  • Dropbox: a shared storage space for documents and media
  • Wikidot: allows users to create real time editing space for both text and multimedia files

Some of these collaboration tools also serve as communication tools and indeed many of the tools suggested in this course could be used for multiple instructional issues. These include tools such as Google Docs, De.li.cious, Google Groups, Cacoo, PB works Wiki, Diigo and Creately. It’s critical to recognize the type or nature of the instructional task in order to choose the best possible tool for solving an instructional issue. Here are some more that were discussed:

  • Wikisend: A file sharing platform with a 100 MB limit. It doesn’t require you to sign up
  • Meeting Words: easy to use and doesn’t require registration. Ss can work collaboratively on documents.  Meeting words is a web based text editing tool that allows up to 32 people to edit simultaneously but no functionality for images or charts. Individual contributions to a project can be tracked through colour coding of user comments and a time slider. However, the tool requires access at least on a weekly basis or you will lose your work – you can however export in a variety of forms. Here’s an example. Google docs may be a better alternative because it has far richer features.
  • Cosketch: visually sketch ideas with the ability to document/track individual collaboration on an online whiteboard.
  • Stormboard: online brainstorming and collaboration for group projects with the ability to document/track individual collaboration.  Add sticky notes to a board which can have images, videos, documents or sketches. Users can vote to prioritize ideas as well as commenting on them. The final product can be exported in various forms. Here’s an example.
  • PBWorks: A binder where several people can contribute and edit content. It keeps track of all user activities and provides a mechanism for peer-feedback.
  • Creately: Collaboratively design flowcharts, idea maps and diagrams. Here’s an example.

The tools for exploration this week include:

  • Doodle (scheduling meetings collaboratively)
  • Trello (collaborating on and organizing tasks)
  • Zoho Docs (creating, storing and editing documents)
  • Wikispaces (communicating with Ss through a virtual classroom workspace for writing projects)
  • Mega (storing files on the cloud)
  • Wunderlist (organizing a shared list of tasks)
  • Papaly (sharing bookmarks)
  • MindMeister (brainstorming using mind maps)
  • Taskworld (tracking colleagues’ tasks and giving them performance feedback)
  • PrimaryPad (word processing collaboratively on the cloud)

Despite the annoyingly cheerful music, this video has some insights on meeting the challenges of facilitating online collaboration between Ss through one of the principles – developing reciprocity and cooperation among Ss –  in a framework of seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education by Chickering and Gamsom.

This week’s reading

Lots of tools this week that I’d never heard of before but what I really appreciate are the simple frameworks such as the collaboration continuum that can make edtech accessible to Ts in a more manageable way.

Image attribution: Flickr | LT – Google Drive- Collaboration by Matt Cornock | CC by 2.0

Free language learning resources | Mandarin

This post is going to be a slight departure from my regular blogging content. I am fulfilling a request (albeit tardily) from Iwona who is a prolific Tweeter of useful and fascinating PLN-related things.

Learning Chinese

I started learning Mandarin in 2012. I took a 30 hour weekend beginner’s instructor-led course with Inchin Closer. The teacher was a native speaker from Chongqing. When the course got over, I didn’t sign up for the next level and after a gap of a few months, I enrolled in the level 1 Mandarin course at Somaiya College’s Centre of Buddhist Studies.  The teacher was an Indian lecturer who had a PhD from China. Although both the courses were meant for beginners, they were extremely different. The first was ostensibly focused on functional vocabulary that would be useful for a businessperson travelling to China and the second emphasised learning radicals and characters. I was not very happy with both courses pedagogically but I’d been using a variety of self-access resources all along to supplement my learning.

All of the following resources are free except a few which may have some premium content, and the books at the very end.


Busuu: Although significant parts of Busuu are paid, its Chinese course is still worth checking out for its peer-feedback feature. You record or write something and the output gets sent out to Chinese speakers on the platform who’ll give you feedback on it. In return, you provide feedback to learners of languages that you have declared proficiency in. Busuu can also be accessed through an app.

Confucius Institute Online: Confucius Institute is the PRC’s version of the British Council. Their site has lots of free courses.

Video-based courses

FluentU: A lot of the stuff on this engaging platform is paid but it’s a really neat idea. Each lesson in FluentU takes a YouTube clip and breaks it down (dare I say lexically) and helps you notice and internalize chunks (although I doubt they’ve read Michael Lewis).

BBC Learning Chinese: The Real Chinese section is free video-based course. The rest of the site contains other kinds of resources. The content is a bit shallow and basic but engaging nonetheless.


Chinese Grammar Wiki: Sequenced using the CEFR, this site’s a lifesaver when it comes to trying to get your head around the vague bits and bobs of Chinese grammar.


Chinese level: An online tool that helps you evaluate how much of a Chinese newspaper you can read.


Memrise: Uses a sort of flashcard mnemonic format with spaced repetition to help you learn vocabulary. However, I find the visual ‘mems’ far more useful in learning Chinese characters. In fact, a lot of my current skill with recognizing close to 800 characters comes from becoming addicted (it’s gamified) to planting and watering my memrise sets. It’s also available as an app for both Apple and Android.

Anki: A flashcard application which uses spaced repetition. You’ll have to download this one and set it up, and then download sets of flashcards.

Chineasy: A fun way to get started with Chinese characters. The only problem is that they’re traditional (what they use in Hong Kong & Taiwan), not simplified (what they use on the mainland).


Line dict: A fairly decent dictionary which always provides several examples of usage.

MDBG: Don’t be put off by the stodgy interface. This is actually a really rich resource … worth exploring.


Hacking Chinese: This is a brilliant site with excellent tips to help you make and sustain progress on Chinese language learning journey (or ordeal :-)) Sign up for the insightful newsletter and explore all the resources available on the site.

Fluent in 3 months: Whether you believe in Benny or not, his posts are really motivating when you are down in the dumps about not making any progress with Chinese.

Online Pinyin editor: Allows you to type stuff like “wǒ yě hěn hǎo”.

Google Pinyin input for PCs: Install this package and switch easily between English and Chinese while typing in any application.

HelloTalk: Practice your Chinese on this free mobile app by ‘bartering’ with native speakers who want to try out their English on you; supports both voice and text in a format that replicates Whatsapp.


  • Hanyu Jiaocheng series from Beijing Daxue
  • Integrated Chinese series by Cheng & Tsui
  • Fun with Chinese Characters by Tan Huay Peng
  • Experiencing Chinese series from Higher Education Press
  • New Practical Chinese Reader series by Liu Xun (This textbook series along with accompanying audio and video is available for free on the Chinese Culture Centre site – not sure why they would offer it for free but appears to be legit)

Image attribution: Flickr | The writing on the wall by Brian Yap (葉) | CC by 2.0 

Upcoming webinars for educators | Feb-Mar 2015

A webinar a day keeps atrophy at bay.

I’m really looking forward to Divya’s talk on action research and the IATEFL PronSIG event. Some of these webinars were listed in an earlier post. New additions are in green.

1. Motivating teenage learners | Rebecca Robb Benne | Macmillan | Feb 11, 1500 GMT

2. Flip, Blend and Project: Technology for language teachers | Russell Stannard | Feb 15, 0900 GMT

3. Virtual Strategies for Social Learning | Tom Massato | On24 |Feb 17, 1400 EST

4.  The Melody of English: Research and resources for teaching the pragmatic functions of intonation | Marnie Reed and Tamara Jones | IATEFL PronSIG | Feb 17, 1700 GMT | Read the summary

5. Challenging students to think critically | Edmund Dudley | OUP | Feb 17 & 19, 2015, 1400 & 1600 GMT | Read the summary

6. Lesson flipping and creating video presentations | Thomas Healy | OUP | February 17 & 19,  1300 & 1200 GMT

7. Level-up Students’ Learning: Gaming the Blended Classroom | Jessica Anderson | Fluency MC/WizIQ | Feb 18, 2300 UTC

8. The power of pronunciation in business | John Hughes | OUP | Feb 20, 1000 & 1500 GMT

9. Reflections on why I wish I was a non-native English speaker teacher | James Taylor | TEFL Equity Advocates | Feb 22, 1700 CET

10. Solutions Writing Challenge* |  Olha Madylus | Oxford | Feb 24 & 26, 2015, 1400 & 1700 GMT

11. Cambridge English: Advanced – Reading & Use of English paper | Jacqueline Douglas | Cambridge English Language Assessment Feb 23 & 25 2015, 1400 & 100 GMT

12. Developing and Teaching Effective English for Specific Purposes Programs | Carol Derby | Tutela | Feb 24, 1800 EST

13. Technology Enhanced Language Learning | Aisha Walker | Oxford | Feb 25 & 26, 1000 & 1530 GMT

14. Appraisals | Jenny Johnson | IATEFL LamSIG | Feb 26, 1630 GMT

15. Play, learn & grow together: An after school language project’  | Nives Torres | IATEFL YltSIG | Feb 26, 1800 GMT

16. Get Them Speaking & Learning with Digital Icebreakers | Shelly Terrell | IATEFL | Feb 28, 1500 GMT | Read the summary

17. The transition from general English to business English training | Marjorie Rosenberg | IATEFL BeSIG | Mar 1, 1500 GMT

18. Informed learning activities in the Adult ESL Literacy context | Svetlana Lupasco | Tutela | Mar 3, 0000 GMT

19. Horrible History: Rising to the challenge of writing engaging materials | Genevieve White and Emily Bryson | IATEFL MaWSIG | Mar 7, 1200 GMT

20. Action Research: What yours might look like | Divya Madhavan | Belta | Mar 8, 1500 CET

21. Learning Orientated Assessment: a theory in search of a pedagogy | Neil Jones | IATEFL TeaSIG | Mar 9, 1700 GMT 

22. Moodle for Language Teachers: Increasing interactivity | Russell Stannard | Landesinstitut für Pädagogik und Medien | Mar 9, 1900 CET 

23. Teach Your Learners to Fish: How Holistic Learning Makes Performance Gains Stick | Alex Khurgin |  eLearning Guild | Mar 11, 1000 PST 

24. Thinking Through English | Alan Mackenzie | Cambridge English Teacher | Mar 11, 1500 GMT

25. YLT Webinar: Digital Marking and Flashcards to Motivate Learners | Andreas Molander  | IATEFL YltSIG | Mar 12, 1210 IST

26. Help Teachers Integrate App Building into any K-12 Class or Subject (It’s Easier than You Think!) | Michael Braun | Simple K12 | Mar 13, 1100 EDT 

27. Setting Up an Audio Project | Shelly Terrell | American TESOL | Mar 13, 1600 EST

28. 15 Free Mobile Apps to Promote Collaboration, Critical thinking, Creativity, and Communication | Lauren Boucher | Simple K12 | Mar 14, 1000 EDT 

29. 15 Free Mobile Apps to Support Struggling Readers | Jenna Linskens | Simple K12 | Mar 14, 1100 EDT

30. 15 Free Mobile Apps to Engage and Motivate Learners | Jayme Linton | Simple K12 | Mar 14, 1300 EDT 

31. teachSTEP 2015 | Carol Read, Ceri Jones, Scott Thornbury. Silvana Richardson, Jack Richards | Cambridge | Mar 13, 1500 – 1720 GMT & Mar 14, 1000 – 1240 GMT

32. E-merging Forum 5 online | Link to the live session | All times are per Moscow time zone

  • Mar 12
    • Herbert Puchta: Teaching Very Young Learners — What’s Hot, and What Not | 1400
    • Malgosia Tetiurka: Myths and facts about teaching Young Learners |1450
    • Vera I. Zabotkina: Essential skills for academic success | 1710
    • Steve Kirk: Teaching ‘EAP’: Enabling Academic Participation | 1800
  • Mar 13
    • Catherine Walter: Learning grammar and pronunciation: What do we know, and what can we do about it? | 1100
    • Svetlana G. Ter-Minasova: Teaching Language Issues in Todays Russia: to think about… | 1150
    • Jane Allemano: Authenticity in Speaking Tests | 1650
    • Thom Kiddle: Technology in Classroom-based Assessment: Friend of Foe? | 1740
  • Mar 14
    • Alla L. Nazarenko: The Power Of Technologies? The Power of a Teacher? The Power of a Learner? | 1100
    • Gavin Dudeney: Of Big Data & Little Data — How Numbers Have (Almost) Ruined Everything | 1150

33. Storytelling in the classroom | James Keddie | IATEFL | Mar 14, 1500 GMT

34. Barefoot with beginners | Ceri Jones | British Council | Mar 17, 0900 GMT

35. Engaging beginnings: Grab their attention & get them engaged | Andrea Langton | Oxford Professional Development | Mar 17, 1800 CET 

36. Young Literacy Day | Macmillan | Mar 18, a whole day of talks

37. Retro teaching techniques | Jamie Keddie | Oxford Professional Development | Mar 18, 1800 CET 

38. Thinking Inside the Exam Box | Andrew Walkley & John Hughes | Nat Geo Cengage | Mar 18, 1600 GMT

39. Solutions writing challenge #2* | Gareth Davies | OUP | Mar 19 & 20 | 1400 & 1700 GMT

40. Storytelling Projects | Shelly Terrell | American TESOL | Mar 20, 1600 EST

41. Spring Blog Festival | Various topics & speakers | WizIQ | Mar 21, 1100 to 2300 GMT

42. Computer-based testing for young learners | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Mar 23 & 25, 1400 & 1000 GMT

43. Increase Motivation, Understanding, and Participation with a Gamified Classroom |  Avi Spector | Simple K12 | Mar 24, 1630 EDT 

44.  Small steps to going digital in the Pre-Primary and 1st Cycle classroom | Jennifer Dobson | March 24, 18:00 CET 

45. Choosing your words carefully | Caroline Krantz | OUP | Mar 25, 0900 & 1500 GMT

46. How to get Kindergarten Children Speaking in English | Sandie Mourão | OUP | Mar 25, 1700 GMT

47. Oxford Discover: Getting students to speak* | Susan Rivers | OUP | Mar 26, 1700 GMT

48. Presenting with Digital Posters | Shelly Terrell | American TESOL | Mar 27, 1600 EST

49. How to get published in YLTSIG Children & Teenagers | David Valtente | YLTSIG | Mar 29, 1200 GMT

50. Must-See Google Tips and Tools for Teachers | Richard Byrne | Simple K12 | Mar 31 (A set of three hour-long webinars)

  • Going Google: The Quick Start Guide to Getting Started with Google Tools, 1300 EDT
  • Google Search Strategies You Probably Don’t Know, But Wish You Did! 1400 EDT
  • Save Time and Make Your Job Easier with Google Spreadsheets and Form, 1500 EDT

*Disclaimer: These look like plugs for course books.

I’ll keep adding to this list as and when I find more webinars for Feb-Mar. Do let me know if you know of any online events which I’ve missed out on.

Image attribution: Flickr | GDC Online 2011_Show Environment_Jesse Knish Photography | by GDC Online | CC by 2.0

Language-focused teacher development | Belta webinar summary

February’s Belta webinar was facilitated by Andrew Walkley who spoke about language-focused teacheAndrew Walkley Beltar development. Andrew runs an organization called the Lexical Lab that trains teachers to use the lexical approach. He spent the first two-thirds of the webinar building a case for why we need to prepare teachers for dealing with lexis and wrapped up by talking about vocabulary exercises for exploiting language more effectively.


In language-rich responsive approaches such as task-based learning and dogme, the T is expected to recognize, produce and help Ss notice language based on what she observes and hears. The T needs to be skilled in offering Ss examples of the target language or word or lexical structure that’s being discussed. Andrew questioned Ts’ ability to do this on the spur in an instructionally sound way. He refered to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow where the author discusses two types of thinking, one of which is a fast, in the moment, spontaneous sort of thinking. This is in fact a normal cognitive process but instead of thinking clearly, we often replace logical thoughts with heuristics – biases – generalized ideas about something.  Andrew connected this with language teaching through an exercise where he asked us to reorder the following words by frequency from most frequent to least:

ambitious / fun / serious / hard-working

arise / supermarket / store / blonde

banana / controversy / Christian / criticism

paramedic / contend / headline / whereby

after he / in terms of / singer / by the time

He then asked us to write an example (a sentence) for the following words and structures:

ambitious / beard / Christian / past continuous / whereby / arise / criticism / in terms of

Interestingly, beard, blonde and arise occur at a similar frequency in the British National Corpus (BNC) in the spoken component and in the the corpus as a whole – arise comes out on top.

after the (219) serious (122) in terms of (99) arise (96) store (93) Christian (68) fun (52) criticism (47) by the time (37) controversy (21) whereby (20) after he (19) singer (18) supermarket (17) ambitious (16) headline (16) contend (9) beard (9) banana (6) hard-working (2) paramedic (1)

Thinking Fast and SlowSo, we tend to misjudge frequency and according to Andrew we also place these words in examples that don’t reflect real use of language such as “He has a beard” and “She is a Christian”. The latter apparently only occurs once in the entire BNC. Linking back to Kahneman’s ideas, it’s difficult to think of truly meaningful examples on the spur. We place words like beard, blonde and supermarket higher up because we can think of examples more readily than arise. Andrew suggested that if we think of contexts where arise appears such as academic texts and business discussions – there are several more possible contexts than banana or beard. Authentic use of criticism might involve an example such as “The government has faced a lot of criticism concerning its education policy”. Therefore, actual use of these words involve sentences that are far more complex than the ones that readily come to us.

Andrew stated that there are three reasons underpinning this.

  • Availability bias: when we think of a doctor, we imagine a man in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. The examples that we provide to Ss are of a certain nature because they come quicker to mind. When we define words, we put them into the frames of ‘x is y’ or ‘x does y’ which may not reflect the real nature of the word.
  • Representational bias: we tend to exemplify words using the most basic representative structures such as “she’s blonde”.
  • Priming: When we think of the past continuous, we think of examples such as “I was having a bath when the phone rang (was doing, this happened)” because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in course books in typical contexts – we fail to use the wider context that could be used.

Andrew pointed out that sometimes, when we are trying to hear what Ss say in order to correct them, we are primed to hear basic and typical grammar that we’ve taught before. This is problematic in terms of responsive methodologies and can pose an enormous cognitive load for any teacher who is trying to follow TBL or Dogme (and perhaps one of the reasons Ts are apprehensive about these approaches). Language focus in teacher-training courses such as the Celta is on word phrases and tenses, not on lexis, and certainty not on how lexis and grammar work together. We have word forms and we slot stuff in, which again does not reflect real language use. Andrew also added that course book writers have themselves been similarly primed.


Andrew recommended adding these elements to teacher training and development to address this challenge:

Reflect lexical nature of language

Planning focus on lexis

Observation focusing on responsiveness and new language – not necessarily aims

T development on noticing and exploiting language

in vocab/grammar exercises

in reading/texts

in what Ss say

Andrew didn’t spend too much time on frequency training but he suggested some resources:

For exploiting vocabulary exercises, he suggested the following:

Single word exercises

Think of collocations to give/elicit

Questions to ask vocab

Collocation exercises

Collocates of the collocations

Examples sentences/dialogues

Stories based on one or more collocation

Whole sentence exercises

Think of before/after sentences (when? why? who to?)

Notice grammar or re-usable chunks

Notice other useful vocab

So, an example of a single word exercise from a course book might look like:

rebuild / reconstruct / remake / re-erect

reconsider/ recontemplate/ rethink/ re-examine

recopy / redraft / reword /rewrite

Where Ss are asked to cross out the re word that doesn’t exist in each set and then find more re words. Andrew talked about exploiting this exercise from a lexical perspective by getting Ss to think about what collocations they could create out of these words. Is reconsider the same as rethink or re-examine? Can we use these words in the same types of collocations etc.?  Andrew ran out of time but guidance on exploiting exercises is available on his site.

This was an interesting webinar that created a strong case for including a lexical focus on teacher-training. I do wish, however, that there had been more discussion around how to raise awareness of frequency. While there are tools available for frequency training, getting Ts to become habituated to using them is a persistent challenge.

Finally, here’s an insightful article by Andrew on the Belta site titled Lexical sets/Topic vocabulary.


Using iconography to teach idioms

I have been working with some chalk & talk (or is click & flick?) trainers and I observed one of them teach some English idiomsbusiness idioms by showing her Ss a slide with a table of some 15 odd idioms, reading them out one by one along with the definitions and ending the stage by instructing her class to try and use these expressions. Later, we discussed of ways of making this interaction more learner-centric. When I suggested trying to use visuals, she said she couldn’t draw to save her life and had also faced challenges in locating appropriate visual cues for these idioms.

I know Eltpics has some images for idioms but I wanted to give her a way of designing her own quickly without having to squirrel around the Internet looking for someone who may have possibly created an image for the idiom you want to teach. The net’s awash with iconography. I highly recommend Flat Icon and The Noun Project. The icons in this activity sheet were designed by Luis Prado and I’ve used them as is but if you take a close look at them or this one on the right by Aenne Brielmann, you’ll see that the icon is in fact a composite of other icons. Grab an icon of a dog along with a cat, position it on top of an umbrella in MS PowerPoint, add some vertical lines and it’s raining cats and dogs.

Of course the icons themselves won’t have made the stage more learner-centric, here’s how that missing bit could be addressed through an activity that could serve as a warmer or for speaking practice.


‘Idiom icons’ cut-outs with a set for each group.


  • Divide Ss into pairs or groups.
  • Distribute a set of icons to each group and ask them to describe a really strange day at work using the images in the icons as prompts.
  • Ask groups to share their stories.
  • Inform groups that each icon describes an idiom. Demo an example and ask Ss to figure out what the other idioms might be. If this is too challenging for your Ss, give them the idioms on slips of paper and ask them to match the words to the images.
  • Ss work with their group members to figure out the meanings of these idioms perhaps through a web quest or some other activity.
  • Check meaning and do form in whatever way makes sense to you.
  • Now ask Ss to go over their stories again in light of the new associations they have for each image.

NB: I chose the idioms in the activity sheet quite arbitrarily. You, hopefully have an instructionally sound way of grouping, grading and teaching idioms. The answers are (going clockwise from top-left) skeleton in the closet, hot potato, head in the sand, tread lightly, elephant in the room, helicopter parent, stab someone in the back and clip someone’s wings.