Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Apr – May 2015

GDC Online 2011_Show Environment_Jesse Knish Photography for GDC Online

O Webinar, Webinar, wherefore art thou Webinar?

Worry not because they’re all right here in this post! Here’s a list of free online events for ELT educators between April and May 2015. April is going to be an exciting month with the IATEFL annual conference livecast sessions from Manchester. However, I’m going to be teaching, training and travelling through the month… I do hope I get time to attend some of these events. An asterisk indicates that the event requires prior registration.

If you know of an online event that’s relevant to ELT educators that’s missing from this list, please let me know by leaving a comment.

1. Fostering Global Competency and Leading Change Throughout Education Systems | Fernando Reimers | Harvard | Apr 1, 0900 EDT

2. Make Blended Learning Work for Leaders | Sabrina Leis | Kineo | Apr 2, 1300 CST*

3. Teaching presentation skills in a digital age | Elena Matveeva | IATEFL BeSIG | Apr 5, 1500 BST

4. Multiple choices – A Conversation about Language Testing, Teaching & Learning | David Dodgson | British Council | Apr 7, 1000 GMT*

5. How to Develop Great Online Video Training Programs | Maria Chilcote & Melissa Smith |  Training Magazine Network | Apr 8, 1000 PST*

6. “Make Learning Visible – Connect with parents using social media” | WizIQ | Paul McGuire | Apr 9, 1400 EST

7. How to Jump Start Your Video-Focused Learning Strategy | Chris Osborn | Training Magazine Network | Apr 9, 1000 PST*

8. 49th Annual IATEFL Conference, Manchester | Livecast plenaries & sessions by various speakers | Apr 11 – 14 | Live plenary schedule

9. Study Skills | Dorothy Zemach | Macmillan | Apr 15, 1500 BST*

10. Positive Psychology in Language Learning: The Role of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience in Learners’ Stories’ | Rebecca Oxford | IATEFL | Apr 18, 1500 BST

11. How to Develop Great Online Video Training Programs | Chris Osborn | Training Magazine Network| Apr 19, 1000 PST*

12. Setting up communities of practice | Katerina Kourkouli | Apr 20, 1200 BST*

13. Writing A1-B1 | Urs Kalberer | Cambridge English Teacher | Apr 22, 1500 BST*

14. Solutions Writing Challenge #3 | Elna Coetzer | Oxford | Apr 22 & 24, 1400 & 1700 BST*

15. Making the most of classroom management | Veríssimo Toste | Oxford | Apr 23, 1800 BST 

16. Negotiated interaction in the foreign language classroom: Theory, research and teaching practice | Mirosław Pawlak | IATEFL Teacher training & education | Apr 24, 1300 BST 

17. Planning Teacher Professional Development | Marie Therese Swabey & Liz Robinson | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Apr 27 & 29, 1400 & 1000 BST*

18. Inductive & deductive grammar teaching: pros & cons | Jon Hird | Oxford | Apr 28 & 30, 1000 & 1530 BST 

19. Video in the Classroom: From exploitation to creation | Jamie Keddie | Oxford | Apr 29, 0800 BST*

20. Making the Most of Kindergarten Classroom Management | Sandie Mourão | Oxford | Apr 30, 1800 BST 

21. Teach like TED | Paula Mulanovic | IATEFL BeSIG | May 3, 1500 BST

22. Storytelling Special | Chris Rose | Macmillan | May 5, 1100 to 1600 BST

23. Supporting primary and secondary teachers in CLIL and bilingual contexts | Kay Bentley | Cambridge English Language Assessment | May 18 & 20, 1400 & 1000 BST*

24. Business English & General English: Never the twain shall meet  | Marjorie Rosenberg | BELTA | May 24, 1600 CET

25. Creative Grammar | Charles Hadfield | IATEFL | May 30, 1500 BST

+ every Friday at 4 PM EST, Shelly Terrell does a webinar for American TESOL

Image attribution: GDC Online 2011_Monday_Show Environment by Official GDC |  CC BY 2.0

Storytelling in the classroom | Webinar summary

Jamie KeddieThis is a summary for a webinar that took place a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t find time to write up but it deserves to be written up so I’m squeezing out some time for it now. The webinar was hosted by IATEFL and the speaker was the ever-charming and innovative Jamie Keddie.

Jamie asked attendees if they’ve ever used these seven magic words in their classrooms

I want to tell you a story

Well most of us have probably used these words and don’t feel very enthused by them because our Ss are generally not very excited about listening to stories.  Jamie explained that we often see stories as monologues and associate them exclusively with young learners. However stories need not necessarily be about the “there and then” but could be about the “here and now”.  So, the webinar was specifically about the mechanics of dialogic storytelling.

Jamie told us that his own favourite genre of stories were personal anecdotes and he demonstrated his approach to dialogic storytelling through an example. He showed us the following text on a slide and read it out to us:

When I was at school, we used to think it was hilarious to leave notes on our T’s desk. We would wait for the T to notice the piece of paper, pick it up, examine it, unfold it and read it. We would then wait in anticipation of a reaction. The best note we ever left was this: there is a piece of cheese on the classroom ceiling. Of course the reaction that we expected was for the teacher to look up at the ceiling and try to see the fictitious piece of cheese. At that moment, everyone would have to do their best not to laugh. Laughing would demonstrate that you were involved in the joke.  I don’t remember how many teachers we played the joke on. But I remember very well the day we left the note on the desk of Mr. Francis, our cool history teacher. The lesson was almost over and we were starting to think that Frankie was not going to see the note. But then he did. He hesitated for a moment and then, very slowly, opened it. There was a silence. His eyes stayed fixed on the paper. Then he stood up, walked over to the corner of the room and dropped the note in the bin. He looked at us and said, as calmly as possible, “Of there is – I put it there.” We all looked up.

Jamie pointed out that what Ts are effectively working with are not the words on a piece of paper but 106 internal narratives i.e., one story on paper but 106 stories forming in the minds of those who were attending the webinar. As we are working with internal narrative, what can we do better exploit it?

He invited us to participate in a thought task. He asked everyone to imagine that they were going to use this story with their Ss but pretend it was their own. He asked us think about how long we’d take to get through it. Answers varied but Jamie suggested that he would probably take about 15 minutes because he would turn the story from a monologue into a dialogue – a whole class communicative event.

I want to tell you a story but first let me ask you a question. The question is this. Have you ever played a practical joke on a teacher or has a teacher ever played a practical joke on you?

Jamie suggested that this type of commentary is important because you are signalling that the narrative is about to start and there’s a beginning, middle and end. If I reflect on the stories that I have narrated in the classroom, I usually try to cut back on commentary to keep TTT low. He stated that it would be critical to also consider the language in the story that you want to draw attention to or teach, as well as be prepared for language from Ss that you want to reformulate or correct. As you narrate the story, you can do a number of things to make it a dialogic experience which is interactive and useful for teaching language:

  • Ask Ss about their own experiences.
  • Correct their language.
  • Teach the Ss phrases like practical jokes, to keep a straight face and hesitate (although these may not be explicitly present in the story).
  • Ask them guess when the story took place and speculate what was written on the note and guess how Mr. Francis might have reacted based on their experiences with teachers like him.
  • Set up an environment such that Ss want to ask questions.

He underscored the importance of preparation, rehearsal and identification of  language in the story text that may cause problems.

Jamie’s second example was really brilliant and I think it quite effectively demonstrates how powerful this technique is. I’m going to try to recount it the way he ran this dialogic storytelling activity. At the end of each utterance, he elicited responses which then informed the next set of questions.

The story could be called the box or a miniature model replica. What do you want to call it?

What’s a miniature model replica?

Who makes miniature model replicas?

This story takes place in a room. What kind of room does this story take place?

It’s a room with very little light. The walls have nothing on them.

Bare. What else can be bare?

A prison cell with very little light and bare walls. What else would you expect to see in a prison cell?

Did you used to have bunk beds when you were children?

My sister and I used to sleep in a bunk bed when we were kids. I used to sleep in the top bunk and my sister in the bottom bunk because she was scared of falling out. What’s your bunk bed story?

What else is in this prison cell?

A bucket. What would the bucket be used for?

This prison cell has a bucket in the corner, a window with bars and a bunk bed.

This story starts with a man named Alexander. He is alone in the prison cell.

What do you think he did? Why is he there?

What is he doing?

Right now, he is sitting at a desk, reading.

And on the desk there is one of these (shows a matchbox and rattles it).

What’s the difference between a matchbox and box of matches?

And strangely the matchbox is moving.

Why is it moving?

Alexander puts his finger on the matchbox, why does he do that?

To stop it moving OR to stop it from moving?

He picks the matchbox up and opens a drawer and puts the matchbox inside and closes the drawer.

Behind Alexander is the prison door and the prison door is unlocked. Not the state of being unlocked but the action, it’s being opened

And Adam is pushed in or thrown in and the prison door is closed.

Who is Adam?

What is the relationship between Alexander and Adam?

So you think they’re brothers, that’s interesting, how have two brothers come to be in the same cell?

Could Adam be a policeman?

In this story, he’s Alexander’s new cell mate

There they are, Alexander and Adam, looking at each other for the very first time.

They greet each other. What do they say?

They say hello to each other. Alexander says hello, Adam says hello.

Adam is quite surprised by Alexander’s next action. What do you think Alexander does?

Alexander turns around so that he has his back to Adam and he starts reading his book again.

So Alexander has his back to Adam reading his book, he’s more interested in his book than in his new cell mate so Adam is left in silence.

How would you feel if you were Adam? What would you do next?

Adam looks around the cell room? What are the things he sees? (this becomes a revision of the ideas gleaned from each other)

He sees all these things and what does Adam do?

He walks over to the bunk bed and sits on the bottom bunk and notices something.

He notices the bed is sagging and he notices something beside him

He notices a red box.

And he puts his hand on the red box and that immediately gets Alexander’s attention who turns around and says … What does he say?

He says “no lo abras”. How do you say that in English?  Don’t open it. To which Adam says “Porque no” “why not” to which Alexander says “Porque puede arrepentirse”. Because you will regret, it is that the modal auxiliary I am looking for? No, because you might regret it.

So what does adam do? Does he open the box?

He opens the box. What does he see? Well, what could have been another title for the story?

He sees a model miniature replica of the cell – all the objects. And he sees two figures, one sitting at the desk and another whose legs are sticking out from under the top bunk.

You want to know what happens next but I’m not going to tell you. You have to retell the story from start to end and narrate how it ends.

Here’s the really interesting bit. Jamie got this entire story from a YouTube video and refers to this technique as videotelling. This is the subject a new book he’s written called Videotelling.

Some of his tips while using a videotelling activity include:

  • Ask open questions (What’s your bunk bed story?)
  • Don’t be precious about the answers you want to elicit. If you don’t get the targeted response, cell mate, use it as an opportunity to elicit more language.
  • Don’t be teachery. If the T gets an answer she doesn’t like or want, she might say “yes” in a very peculiar tone and imply through paralinguistic means that this is the wrong answer. For example, if the Ss, say Alexander and Adam brothers, ask “Could you explain how two brothers come to be in the same cell?”
  • Give Ss some space to elaborate and justify their answers. Be open to Ss’ ideas.

While doing the extension activity for this exercise, you don’t need to necessarily have Ss write their stories down. Instead, you could have them create video selfies where they speak in front of a camera using all the language you gave them as well as the story text and you challenge them to complete the story.

I’m really excited about trying out videotelling with my Ss and looking forward to Jamie’s new book.


Finally, here’s a post from last year on interactive storytelling activities.

Get them speaking & learning with digital icebreakers | Webinar summary

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato

This is a round-up of activities shared by the ever-prolific and resourceful Shelly Terrell in last week’s IATEFL webinar. Shelly suggested that we spend over 4 hours a day on our devices, perhaps writing more than Jane Austen ever did, and that digital icebreakers are a natural extension of this trend while allowing Ts to guide Ss towards a more mindful digital presence.

Shelly recommended digitizing icebreakers to teach good digital citizenship because iour digital behaviour influences our rituals, customs, values, learning and communication. Most significantly, she told us that digital cultures are causing language to change. For example, selfie was the Oxford word of the year in 2014 and selfie stick was the gift of the year. Ss are creating and developing language every day through technology and once a word or a phrase becomes accepted and incorporated into the dictionary, as Ts, we become responsible for it.  So beyond, getting Ss to know each other better, Shelly explained that some of these activities are designed to get Ss to think about their digital actions. Essentially, they are introductions to both Ss and digital cultures.

Digital bingo 

Works along the lines of conventional bingo with Ss mingling to get three facts validated down, across or diagonally from their peers.  However, the contents of the bingo handout are digital in nature. She did say that she uses it mostly with teachers. You can either print it out or have them do it on their devices with a stylus.  Beyond helping Ss cultivate relationships, Shelly stated they’re also learning new digital words, forming questions and responding in English during this activity.

digital bingo


Get them to create a digital representation of themselves. They then need to explain to their peers the rationale for creating their avatar in a certain way.  There are range of avatar creation tools for different ages as some people may find some of the avatars a bit childish. With younger learners, get Ss to think about the fact that their avatar is like a real person in the digital world and consider the things they should or should not do. Ask Ss questions about why they chose to have their avatars look a certain way and get Ss to think through the choices they have for how they can portray themselves online.

See Shelly’s curated samples of avatars here.

Emoji introductions 

Show statements about yourself in Emoji and ask Ss to guess what it means. Then, ask them to create their own emojis and have other Ss guess. There’s an Emoji translation app as well as a Emoji dictionary. This could work well for virtual classes.

Shelly emoji

Participant map

If you teach online, you could use participant maps using Thinglink. Here’s a sample.  Ss create videos introducing themselves which are then placed on an interactive participant map.

321 introductions

An activity that was originally designed by Nicky Hockly where Ss use any tool they want to share the following information:

  • 3 things we should know about you
  • 2 places you love to visit
  • 1 job you wish you had

About me poem with word clouds 

Generate a word cloud that highlights things about yourself using sing Tagxedo. Here’s a sample. You could also generate word clouds using a mobile app like Image Chef.

Digital goal collages/vision boards

Use any of the following tools to create get Ss to set goals and create a visual collage to represent them: Buncee, Canva, Tackk, Piktochart, Biteslide, Smore, Glogster, PicCollage, ImageChef and Muzy. More details of this activity are available on an old post by Shelly.

About me pictionary 

Get Ss to make a deck of cards on their mobile phones which would say something about them such as their likes and dislikes.  They could use any free drawing tool to do this.


Challenge Ss to get their friend to smile and laugh by taking creative selfies on their phone.  Shelly then introduced the idea of the epic selfie and this guy who travels the world taking epic selfies. She talked about how most people take selfies in their bathrooms in a suggestive manner and that kids tend to replicate this behaviour. She suggested that we need to encourage Ss to think about how these selfies portray who they are in the digital world.  Ask Ss to make the epic selfie their goal for the day and the week – with interesting locations and non-conventional angles. Younger learners may not be able to take selfies so instead show them Animal selfies and have them explore language related to animals.

I spy with my device 

Ask Ss to take a close up shot of an object for a peer to guess. (I really like this one) 

Animate a bucket list adventure

Get Ss to use a mobile app such as BuddyPoke 3D Avatar creator to video-narrate their bucket list adventure.

Digital interviews 

Ss use GoAnimate or Buddy avatar to interview each other

Share a picture

Ask Ss to share an image on their image from their phones with their peers.

Recreate an image

Challenge Ss to collaborate with each other to recreate an image from the net. (A fascinating idea)

Mingle activities

Ss mingle using questions from the Icebreakers app. The advantage is that only the T needs to download the app. Instructions for this activity are provided here.

Draw your favourite 

Use a drawing app to draw your favourite cartoon character. Show the drawing to peers and have them guess which Ss share the same favourite cartoon. As a follow-up task, Ss they share some information about the cartoon character.

Match the joke & punchline.

Generate QR codes for jokes and their punchlines in different colours and get Ss to match ’em. Ss will need a QR scanner on their phones. You don’t need connectivity for the QR scanner to reveal the text. Ask Ss to tell each other the answers.

Create trading cards

Ss use the iOS Trading Cards app to design their own cards which they then trade with their peers.


  • Shelly’s webinar slides are available here.
  • Community building activities  (a curated gallery of Shelly’s ideas – enough stuff to keep you occupied for hours)
  • 30 goals (a fab initiative that Shelly came up with in a book of the same name)

I highly recommend having a dekko at the Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 tools MOOC over at Coursera which actually covers a lot of the same territory as this webinar.

The little people | An art inquiry creative thinking activity


This activity is inspired by an idea shared by Edmund Dudley in a webinar on creative thinking. There’s an English artist named Slinkachu who creates surreal imagery of little figurines in outdoor scenes, a project that he aptly calls The little people. I felt some of his art could be used as interesting prompts for encouraging creative thinking and speaking practice. I won’t get to try it out till April so if you give it a go before then, I’d love to hear from you.



You’ll need colour printouts of Slinkachu’s little people either from the ones that I’ve selected or from a larger collection of his work. You’ll also need slightly vague descriptions of each of the artworks like the following with language graded to your Ss’ level:

There are two people in this picture, a woman and a boy. They could be mother and son. The mother is wearing a red blouse and a yellow skirt. The son is wearing a white t-shirt and beige shorts. They are walking along a road, which is in pretty bad shape. The road seems to be passing through a poor neighbourhood, perhaps a shanty town. The mother is holding the boy’s hand. With her other hand, she is balancing a large number of objects on her head. In fact, there are nine objects stacked one on top of each other. Some of the objects are circular, some are oblong and others are capsule-shaped. The objects are in different colours, white, blue, yellow and orange. A couple of the objects are evenly divided into two colours: blue and white, red and white. 

Copy the descriptions onto slips of paper (make multiple copies if you have a large number of Ss).  Get a hold of two types of envelope which either differ in shape or colour (you’ll need four of each). Put each of the artworks into one type and the descriptions into the other (So you’ll have four sets with 2 envelopes each). Ss will also need A4 sheets to draw on and crayons or colouring pencils. An on-screen timer.


  • Divide Ss into four groups and organize them on four tables or in four corners of the room.
  • Distribute one set to each group and instruct them not to open them until you tell them to.
  • Use the on-screen timer to keep Ss on track.
  • Ask Ss to open the envelope that contains the descriptions and individually draw the scene that’s being described (3 min)
  • Get Ss to compare their drawings with others in their group (2 min) and notice the differences.
  • Have Ss open the other envelope and compare their drawings to Slinkachu’s original artwork (2 min).
  • Have them discuss what the artist was trying to say through the artwork and how he expected his audience to react. Ask Ss to also share their own thoughts on the artwork and whether they believe it’s a true reflection of what’s going on in the world (3 min).
  • Now, ask Ss to to put all the descriptions and pictures back into the envelopes while giving their drawings to you.
  • Get them to move clockwise so they’re in a different corner of the room. Repeat this procedure so Ss get an opportunity to think about and discuss another artwork. Depending on how much time you have, you might want to get them to move again so they get to experience all four artworks. If time’s an issue, run it just once although I like the idea of having Ss repeat the activity and perhaps work on some automaticity.
  • Wrap up the activity by getting Ss to share their thoughts on all four artworks and segue into error correction if required.

I’ve been trying incorporate art into my lessons ever since I took two MOOCs from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). You can read up about some of the activities I gleaned from the second MoMA MOOC here.

Challenging students to think critically | Webinar summary

This is a summary for a webinar by Edmund Dudley conducted several weeks ago which I never got around to finishing. I found some of the activities quite interesting. Everyone’s jumping on the critical thinking bandwagon and it looks like OUP too has included some stuff on the skill in their newer course books.  Most of the activities seem to be drawn from OUP Insight but I reckon you could use the ‘frame’ of some of these activities with your own texts and materials. The basic premise of these activities is that Ss are used to having too much information at their fingertips and tend to consume it without scrutinising it.

Activity: Mystery animal

Show Ss the following facts and ask them to guess which animal it might be. Then show Ss pictures/screenshots from the Tree Octopus website.

Lives in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington state.

Amphibious – spends early life and mating season in the water.

Solitary cephalopod, 33-35 cm from arm-tip to mantle tip.

Can survive on land thanks to specialized skin adaptations and moistness of the rainforests.


The creature is in fact the Pacific North-west Tree Octopus and there is a website dedicated to its preservation. But and there’s a big but, if this remarkable animal is so threatened, why don’t we hear more about it?

The website on the tree octopus was actually created by educators who wanted to get people to think about the difference between information and knowledge – that just because a website exists doesn’t mean that its contents are true. Some lessons that can drawn from the tree octopus include:

  • Information is not the same as knowledge
  • Comprehending a text is not the same as understanding it
  • The key to understanding is thinking about what you read

Activity: Health facts 

Look at these 5 facts and identify which one would be the most important one for you to let your Ss know:

1. You should drink eight glasses of water a day.

2. You can treat the flu with antibiotics.

3. Chicken soup can help you when you have a cold.

4. You shouldn’t drink cold drinks when you have a cold.

5. It isn’t dangerous to go swimming immediately after a meal.

They’re in fact a combination of facts and myths. The manner in which information is presented sometimes leads us into believing things that may not be true. An activity like this could challenge Ss to think about the way they accept information.

Answers: 1.False (you get liquid from all sorts of sources including coffee and fruit) 2. False (influenza is a virus) 3. True 4. False 5. True

Activity: Steve?

Inform the Ss that you’re going to tell them about an American named Steve. He’s been selected at random:

Steve has been described by a neighbour as follows: ‘He is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in the people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail’.

Ask Ss if they think Steve is more likely to be a librarian or a farmer? What led them to this inference?

Steve is in fact 20 times more likely to be a farmer than a librarian because there are 20 times more farmers than librarians in the US. All of the characteristics described are completely irrelevant to the decision making process – a computer would disregard these details but we are influenced by it. This activity was apparently adapted from Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnmann (and this is the second time in the recent past that Kahnmann has cropped up in an ELT webinar).

Activity: Discerning intent

Show Ss the following text and get them to respond to it.

Like most sixteen-year-old teenagers, Amar Latif loved riding his bike. He’d often fall off, but undeterred he’d always get right back on. Then one day, after yet another accident, his parents decided that enough was enough, and sold it.

Then, present the second part of the text and ask Ss to discuss how their opinions may have changed.

The reason was his eyesight. At the age of four, Amar was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye condition. By sixteen, his eyesight had deteriorated so much that he couldn’t’ ride his bike. Today, Amar is blind – and Traveleyes organizes holidays for visually-impaired people.

What might have been the writer’s reasons for narrating the story or writing the article in this way? Elicit that the writer withheld some information that led us to think in a certain way.

Activity: Flame challenge 

Edmund asked the audience to consider the difference between comprehending something and understanding it. He challenges his Ss to take a text and go beyond merely comprehension using the principles of the Flame challenge. The Flame Challenge is a competition for scientists run by the Center for Communicating Science. The winner is someone who can explain an answer to a question such that an eleven year old can understand. The judging is also done by eleven year olds. The original challenge involved explaining a ‘flame’ to a child.

Instead of getting Ss to merely  answer some specific reading questions on a text, have them explain the main idea of the text so an intelligent child could understand it.

Activity: Critical thinking for language

Ask Ss to consider the commonly confused verbs say, speak, talk & tell and have them use dictionaries to produce flowcharts as responses to guided discovery type questions:

Which two verbs can be used to report someone else’s words?

Which verb is always followed by a noun or a pronoun?

Which verb can be used to give orders and instructions?

Which verb shows two or more people having an informal conversation?

Which verb shows that one person is communicating with a group of people in a formal situation?

Which verb collocates with the following nouns: truth, lie, story, and joke?

Untitled pictureThis flow chart only has three of the questions and I think Edmund provides partially filled versions for Ss to complete. He then challenges them to produce their own flow charts using the remaining questions.

Activity: Visuals 

Describe the picture to Ss without showing it to them (It’s a mysterious dramatic picture. I can see a man, wearing a dark coat and jeans, walking away from me on a ramp that’s going up towards a door in an object. This object is large and has four legs. It’s standing in the middle of a forest. There’s a light coming out from the open door. The man is standing half way up on the ramp. The object is kind of square and red. On the front of it is a symbol and if you look closely, it looks like the letter M) Ask Ss to think about what this object might be and what the light might be. You might want them to draw i.e., a picture dictation and compare their drawings.

Then show them the image and ask them to work in small groups to describe the photo, what the object is normally used for and how the artist has repositioned it. Ask them to discuss their thoughts on the artwork and how the artist might expect his or her audience to react. Then get Ss to decide a title for it and explain why they chose it.



This artwork is by an artist named Slinkachu (who creates startling works full of miniature people) and comes from an Insight course book for upper-intermediate learners.

Activity: Student newspaper headline  

Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund “Pat” Brown.

Write the headline for this story.

Some Ss may not see through to the actual idea of the text and may come up with titles such as “New teaching methods” but others may understand its actual intent “School is ours” and “Liberty has arrived”. So this task could be used for reading comprehension but also to encourage Ss to read critically by evaluating how that information might be significant to them.

Activity: Halo effect

Ask Ss to read the following descriptions and decide what they think of Alan and Ben? Who do they prefer?

Alan: intelligent – industrious – impulsive – critical – stubborn – envious

Ben: envious – stubborn – critical – impulsive – industrious – intelligent

Alan begins on the positive end of the cline and Ben is the exact opposite but the adjectives are the same. Many Ss may prefer Alan because the first piece of evidence we are presented with may influence how we perceive something – this is called the halo effect. Edmund’s suggestion is to use an Alan-Ben type task to introduce a course book vocabulary exercise; for example get Ss to explore the personalities of Alan-Ben using the following adjectives before doing a more conventional antonym-matching exercise.

Match these adjectives to their antonyms

1. dishonest

2. extroverted

3. hard-working

4. unkind

5. mean

6. serious

7. talkative

8. cowardly

Activity: Persuasive writing

This activity from Insight Upper Intermediate has some strategies for using the language of persuasion.

Repetition: repeating key words and ideas for emphasis

Word order: put information you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of the sentence

Sentence length: shorter sentences are more emphatic. Use them for points you want to emphasize

Examples from real life: giving real examples can make your argument more compelling

Edmund suggested that not all Ss may be ready to think critically and these strategies may go over their heads. Instead, he gives them a simpler format in a sort of planning rubric which seems simple and quite handy. No. 2-4 can be actually be used as sentence stems.

1. Introduce the topic

2. What most people think

3. What most people forget

4. What you need to remember

5. What we want you to do

Activity: Paying for milk 

eye flower weeks

Show Ss these pictures (and not the line graph that accompanies them) and tell them these appeared on the door of a fridge and each week the picture would be different. The fridge was located at a university faculty building where people shared milk for their tea and they were asked to put some coins into a bowl to contribute towards the next bottle of milk. They could contribute as much or as little as they wanted or they could avoid contributing altogether. Would the pictures influence people to put money in? Ask Ss whether the eyes or the flowers would influence people to contribute more money?  The results show that in the week, when there were scary eyes, people gave more money and less money for non-scary eyes and the least for flower weeks. Ask Ss to consider whether scary eyes in other situations would compel them to behave differently.

If you want to know more about critical thinking in the ELT classroom, I highly recommend the free booklet that John Hughes has written on the topic. I know this webinar was a bit of a plug for a course book but I’m genuinely curious about Insight because my Ss will find many of these activities interesting and engaging.

Image attribution: The images in this post are sourced from the slides that were used in the Oxford Webinar Challenging Students to think Critically by Edmund Dudley. 

TEC15 Day 3 | How to write papers for publication | Talk summary

This is the last of my TEC summaries and it’s from a session facilitated by the hugely entertaining George Pickering who’s worked extensively with IATEFL and is currently involved with the Leadership & Management SIG (LamSIG).

George shared some practical advice for people who want to write a paper, particularly for those who’ve never written one before.

George Pickering

There was only standing room during this talk. It seemed like George’s reputation had preceded him or perhaps word had gotten out that he was going to distribute some chocolates. 


1. Write about something you’re passionate about.

2. Source information for your paper from your own research as much as possible. Quotations are illustrative not demonstrative and you shouldn’t get carried away with merely rehashing the comments of others.

3. Garbage research, garbage paper – action research is the best possible approach for Ts.

4. Find out about publications you can write for like the IATEFL SIG Newsletters, English Teaching Professional, ELTAI Journal, ELT Journal, IATEFL Voices and the TEC15 publication.

5. Research the specific requirements or guidelines of the publications you’d like to target such as word count, referencing conventions, format etc. One way to do this is to read papers from that publication.

6.  Plan & start your article as early as possible. The creativity cycle takes time (i.e., decision, opening the file, incubation, illumination, implementation & evaluation). Break down your writing into specific objectives and tasks, use a check list.

7. Audience before content. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader.

8. Structure your article properly.


9. Use appropriate language. Be formal but not overly so. Don’t overuse the first person. Use tentative language when describing the implications of your research.

10. Include all the references you need to include.

11. Find yourself a critical friend to look over your draft. Someone who’s honest.

12. There is no failure, only feedback. If you are asked to rewrite your paper, pay close attention to any comments .

13. Don’t plagiarise.

14. Celebrate your successes.

It was somewhat unfortunate that George threw in a couple of NLP references into what was otherwise a fabulous talk. I was also puzzled by the reference to ‘Mehrabian, A. and Weiner, M. (1967) Decoding on inconsistent communications. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 6: 109-14′ which he used to support tip no.2 on making “sure whatever you write is evidence-based, not based on unsubstantiated rumour or hearsay”. Surely, the irony of quoting the infamous Mehrabian in an exhortation of writing evidence-based pieces couldn’t have been lost on someone conducting a session on writing papers for publication!

So, I fear I must add an additional piece of advice.

15. Don’t succumb to the logical fallacy of appeals to alleged experts by referencing discredited and dated academics. 

TEC15 Day 3 | Why is English so difficult? | Talk summary

The subtitle of this talk – Empowering teachers through a better understanding of the history of the English language – was also ostensibly its objective.  This talk was also by Dr. Elaine Higgleton, who by then had become our favourite speaker at TEC15.

Elaine Higgleton TEC

She explained that her talk was drawn from the questions that were asked of her in workshops across India. English is different based on geography, generation and context and she pointed out that the language couldn’t be placed in a box for the purpose of claiming that there’s one definable entity called English.

Silent letters

  • Chaucer and Shakespeare pronounced the K in words such as knee, knight and knife, the last of which was pronounced /kni:f/ in Old English. The GH that we see in words such as rough was originally a sound from the back of the throat which became /f/ through contact with old Norse in words such as tough, and became silent in a purely native development in a word like through.

Spelling reformers 

  • These folks added letters to up the prestige quotient of words. For example, the word doubt was originally spelt ‘dout’ and pronounced /du:t/ mirroring French spelling and pronunciation where it was borrowed from. However, they added a B to make it look as if it was directly borrowed from the Latin ‘dubitum’.
  • The spelling reformers added the apostrophe to show the genitive because they felt ‘book s’ would be confused with ‘book is’ and thus added an apostrophe to fill the space in between ‘book’s’.

The great vowel shift

  • A phenomenon that affected words that were already present in English before 1400 and altered the pronunciation of long vowels. For example, /hwi:l/ in Old English become while /wɑɪl/ and /hwi:t/ became /wɑɪt/ as well as /u:/ to /ɑʊ/ as in doubt.  Interestingly, the vowel shift affected words that were a part of English before 1400 so words like ‘soup’ which were borrowed from French in the 1700s were not affected.
  • In Northern English, good and flood rhyme. In Scotland, good and food rhyme. Shakespeare, on the other hand, would have rhymed good, food and flood using /u:/ for all three.
  • Meat and meet are homophones today but in Shakespeare’s time, they were pronounced /meɪt/ and /miːt/. In the 18th century, the ea and ee words started to assimilate in pronunciation except words such as break and great due to phonesthesia (which Dr. Higgleton pointed out was somewhat controversial).
  • Similarly, yea has retained its pronunciation despite its spelling due to its association with nay (as is yea and nay in Parliament).

The Norman Conquest

  • One of the reasons English is challenging is its wide vocabulary which it borrows from other languages. English has had this acquisitive quality for yonks. In 1066, the Norman Conquest brought Norman French to England. Some French words completely replaced Old English ones such as fruit instead of wæstm. Other French words allowed English speakers to make semantic distinctions that they couldn’t make before. For example, at the table, the Norman aristocracy would ask for boef, porc and mouton and their servers who were probably English came to associate these words with the meat as opposed to the animal. So, before Norman Conquest both the animal and the meat were called cow. However, after the Conquest, the following distinctions emerged: cow-beef, pig-pork and sheep-mutton.
  • We also have many word pairs where the original English word has been retained such as begin and commence. However, the words that have come from French often have a different meaning, register or prestige. In the case of begin and commence, the former is neutral and the latter formal. With stop and arrest (from the French arreter), arrest has evolved a special meaning which is different from stop.
  • Phrasal verbs are often perceived as difficult because of the grammar that accompanies them. However, we often fail to realize that the alternative to a phrasal verb is usually a French/Latin equivalent which completely changes the register. Using ‘extinguish’ or ‘eliminate’ in place of ‘put out’ or ‘take out’ can make Ss sound inappropriately formal depending on the context.

 Residual plurals

  • Some residual plural forms go back to Old English. Boc-bec (book-books) fell out of use but we retain tooth-teeth.  Old English used mous-mys for mouse and mice where mys was pronounced very differently. This sound, i-umlaut, comes from proto-Germanic and according to Dr. Higgleton, this  /i/ back vowel in inflections caused vowels in preceding syllables to be fronted. Mys then become meece in early Middle English which ultimately transformed into mice after the vowel shift. The i-umlaut is also a contributing fact to the man-men change.


  • This is a really intriguing one.  The British English past tense of the verb dive – dived was formed through the merging of two Old English verbs: dufan (a strong verb that meant to dive) and dyfan ( a weak verb that meant to dip) with a weak verb ending (-ed). However, in American English, the past tense of dive is dove. This emerged by analogy with drive-drove and its first documented use was seen in Hiawatha (Longfellow, 1855).

An understanding of residualisms may enable teachers to talk with more confidence in the classroom. Dr. Elaine Higgleton

I learnt a lot of things that I’d never known before in this hour long talk. Whether you agree with what the speaker said about how this knowledge will make Ts more confident, the evolution of English is definitely intriguing stuff. Here are Dr. Higgleton’s suggestions for further reading:

  • Andre Martinet, Economies de changements linguistique (1955)
  • M L Samuels, Linguistic evolution with special reference to English (1973)
  • J Aitchison, Language change: progress or decay? (1986)
  • JJ Smith, An historical study of English: function, form and change (1966)
  • JJ Smith, Old English: a linguistic introduction (2009)
  • C Barber, J Beal, P Shaw, The English language: a historical introduction (2nd ed 2009)