Inquiries from the obverse side | A questioning activity


Last night, the Indian Prime minister in a televised address to the nation, demonetised our highest denomination currency notes: ₹500 and  ₹1000, in a bid to curb corruption, terrorism, and money laundering. It was really quite shocking and unanticipated, particularly because it was effective midnight and would affect ₹14,000,000,000,0000 (US$21,038,416,000,00) worth of cash in circulation.

So it seems an appropriate time to revisit an old activity for practising question forms using currency notes. I’m not sure who originally came up with this activity – it’s been around for a while as an ELT game as well as a soft skills activity. Here’s my version.


  • Form Wh or open-ended questions accurately
  • Probe more deeply to uncover information
  • Reflect on how routine might spawn mindlessness.


  • Each pair will need one currency note of any denomination between them which they’ll hopefully supply themselves. I like to get them to pull out a ₹10 note because it’s got really interesting design features on the reverse side such as some animals and the words ‘ten rupees’ in 15 of India’s 21 official languages. (BTW, did you know that the front of a note is called the obverse side?) 

ten rupees.jpg


  • Make two columns on the board and label them “Descriptive questions” and “Evaluative questions”.
  • Elicit question stems from students such as “How many … “, “What do you see …”, “Where exactly …” under descriptive; and “What do you think of… “, How do you find …”, “What’s your opinion on …” under evaluative.
  • Divide students into pairs.
  • Ask each pair to pull out a single note from their wallets and hold it between them. Students take turns to ask each other descriptive questions about what they see on their side such “How many animals are there?” “Which ones?” “Which way is the rhino facing?” etc.
  • Quickly get feedback on how familiar they were with the currency note. You’ll generally find people are quite ignorant about what’s on these notes despite handling them day in and day out.
  • Now ask pairs to flip the note over so each student is now looking at the side that they were questioned about previously. Have pairs ask each other evaluative questions such as “Which of the three animals do you like best? Why?”

Debrief & feedback 

  • Based on your rationale for using this activity, you might want to ask questions to elicit how we see things without really noticing them and how this observational blind spot might affect our work and relationships i.e., how routine might spawn mindlessness
  • You could focus on the students’ ability to probe and ask questions going from general to more specific, building on previous questions & responses.
  • Alternatively, you could simply highlight language issues with question formation or explore the ability to ask questions in a less interrogative, more conversational way.

I’m curious about which currency note or bill you’d choose to use if you were to conduct this activity with your students.

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.

Collaborative Activities in Advanced ESL Classes | Webinar summary

I was hoping for something really innovative from this webinar but it ended up being a presentation of fairly basic activities from a single coursebook using an information gap-type format. Nevertheless, there were some neat quotes and interesting variations on trusty old task types.


The speaker, Dennis Johnson, started off by sharing a quote about why you might want to include collaborative learning.

Cooperative learning has a dramatic positive impact on almost all of the variables critical to language acquisition.

Spencer Kagan (1995)

He then went on to specify how this might affect retention and use of lexis.

Before we ‘own’ a word, we need multiple exposures – for recognition around 20 times; for production, nearly 60 times. To provide that exposure to their Ss, Ts need a variety of activities.”

Paul Nation, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, 2013

Finally, here’s an interesting format for expressing future skills. Johnson suggested that 1, 2, 3 & 5 directly related to collaborative work.

7 Cs: essential skills for the future workforce

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity
  5. Cross-cultural understanding
  6. Computing
  7. Career self-reliance (lifelong learning)

Bernie Trilling: 21st century skills

Student interview

Johnson’s name for this activity is unfortunately not very exciting but the way he stages it make it a fairly interesting paired interactive lecture. 

Ss listen to a short lecture and then fill a form that contains 7 questions. However, they fill this form by asking a partner these questions and noting down their responses.  Ss can then rewrite these notes as sentences using academic language phrases for citing evidence and support opinion. The sample listening text he used to illustrate this activity is available here. So you could potentially use any short podcast or perhaps a TED clip.

Some phrases in the questions could be underlined to help Ss notice language that you would like them to use.

  • Questions that require citing evidence: What are the two purposes of small talk the speaker gives? Other phrases that might signal these sorts of questions include ‘how does the speaker define’ and ‘according to the speaker’.
  • Questions that support opinion: Do you agree that people should not start conversations about things that are too personal? Give a reason for your opinion. Other phrases include ‘based on your experience’.

You might also have a poster on the wall which supplies phrases for citing evidence:

According to the author …

________ pointed out that

The author states that …

In the text, ______ states that …

______ indicated that

______ emphasized that

______ concluded that

As feedback, you could call attention to register and style and get Ss to consider replacing ‘I think’ with ‘Based on my experience’ or ‘From my perspective’.

A variation: Group interview 

Ask a series of close-ended questions and tally answers; questions such as “can you tell me if you would permit your child to stay out late?” Ask Ss to then to draw a graph based on their findings. Johnson suggested that Ss would naturally ask follow-up questions such ‘why’ or ‘why not’ even though they are explicitly told to do so in the task. I’m not so sure about that. In my experience, Ss are generally focused on task completion rather than having a real conversation.


Partner dictation 

Ss work in pairs but are given very different worksheets. Pairs could be separated a folder or some such so they don’t see each other’s posts. The two sheets have different texts. Ss dictate the texts to each other and they take notes. Ss then check their sentences with their partners and then discuss a follow-up question which asks them to reflect on the ideas in their texts (perhaps a comparative question that bridges the two texts), relate it to their own experience, and share opinions.

Role play 

A really bland name for a not so bland activity. What I like in this format is the opportunity that Ss have to anticipate the content of the role play and plan (without realizing that they’re planning). 

Ss study a picture of a person at his cubicle and make some predictions (This is XYZ, what do you think he is doing?). They then read a short scenario written in the second person (You are XYZ … You call ABC to find out more.) The third part of the activity asks Ss to find specific details such as a deadline or requirements. Because this is essentially an information gap activity, half of the Ss will get a different worksheet but with the same staging where they make predictions about ABC, read a second person scenario which asks them to provide some information to XYZ. The twist in the third stage is when Ss who play the role of ABC need to read some information in the picture and frame sentences which they will then share with their partners.

Untitled picture
Source: Ventures Level 5 Transitions, CUP

Ventures, the coursebook that this webinar was a plug for, has a T’s resource site which may be worth checking if you like that sort of thing.


7 creative grammar activities | IATEFL webinar summary

Last week’s IATEFL webinar saw the legendary Charles Hadfield sharing some creative grammar activities. He did say he would share seven although my notes seem to indicate it was only six. I wrote to him but it seems he couldn’t find the mystery seventh activity either.
Activity 1: Platform 1
What?  Collaborative pattern poem describing people.

Language focus: Present continuous, describing people

Procedure: Use a picture prompt of a train station platform with people on it (Check Flickr for images). Ask Ss to use the following pattern to create a poem. You may need to demo an example.

Poem pattern

Line 1: Where are they? (is s/he)

Line 2: A (adjective) (woman/man) with (clothes or physical features)

Line 3: What are they (is s/he) doing?

Line 4: … and thinking of?


Sitting on the bench

a sad woman with a long nose

staring into space

and thinking of wasted time

Charles Hadfield webinar 1 Image attribution: Platform 4 by Brett Davies | Flikr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Activity 2. Preposition painting

What? A pattern for describing a picture

Language focus: prepositions

Procedure: Show Ss the picture and ask them to identify the different things in it. Then give them a decision tree like this one and have them craft a description of the picture.  They should create 5 lines plus an extra one starting with “lies a” which they don’t write but have their peers guess.


In                          table

On                        chairs

Near           a         sofa

Beside                   bookshelf

Under         the      fireplace                 lies a …

Next to                   tree



beach                     is a



moon etc.


On the bench

next to a tree

beside a lake

beneath the mountains

under a sunset sky

lies a …

Charles Hadfield Webinar 2 Image attribution: Peaceful mind by Peter Thoeny | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Activity 3. Maternal Advice

What? Advice from a mother animal to its baby.

Language focus: imperatives, infinitives & gerunds; remember, try to take care, don’t forget, be careful + full infinitive, avoid beware of, forget about, refrain from, resist + ing

Procedure: Do you recognize this passage? Listen carefully. Who is talking? To whom? Listen and then compare ideas with a partner.

“When in doubt, any kind of doubt, Wash!” That is Rule No. I,’ said Jennie … `If you have committed any kind of an error and anyone scolds you—wash,’ she was saying. `If you slip and fall off something and somebody laughs at you—wash. If you are getting the worst of an argument and want to break off hostilities until you have composed yourself, start washing … That’s our first rule of social deportment, and you must also observe it.

`Whatever the situation, whatever difficulty you may be in you can’t go wrong if you wash. If you come into a room full of people you do not know, and who are confusing to you, sit right down in the midst of them and start washing. They’ll end up by quieting down and watching you. Some noise frightens you into a jump, and somebody you know saw you were frightened—begin washing immediately … `If somebody calls you and you don’t care to come and still you don’t wish to make it a direct insult— wash. If you’ve started off to go somewhere and suddenly can’t remember where it was you wanted to go, sit right down and begin brushing up a little. It will come back to you. Something hurt you? Wash it. Tired of playing with someone who has been kind enough to take time and trouble and you want to break off without hurting his or her feelings—start washing …

Any time, anyhow, in any manner, for whatever purpose, wherever you are, whenever and why ever that you want to clear the air, or get a moment’s respite or think things over—WASH! `And,’ concluded Jennie, drawing a long breath, `of course you also wash to get clean and to keep clean.’ `Goodness!’ said Peter, quite worried, `I don’t see how I could possibly remember them all.’ `You don’t have to remember any of it, actually,’ Jennie explained. All that you have to remember is Rule 1: “When in doubt—WASH!” ‘

Jennie by Paul Gallico

Elicit that Jennie is a cat giving advice to Peter, a kitten. How many animals can you think of? Ask Ss to brainstorm. Then, ask Ss to choose one of the animals they brainstormed and write maternal advice from a mama animal to its baby.

Activity 4. Overheard in a cafe

What? Reporting on imaginary conversations.

Language focus: Reported speech, said, replied, denied, asked

Procedure: Show pics of people and ask Ss to select two and think of the conversation they might have. Ss then uses reported speech to describe the conversation the two people might have. Charlie had some paintings in this mix including Van Gogh’s self-portrait and some quirky ones such as a dog and a cat looking at each other.

Activity 5: The house that Jack built

What? Build progressively longer sentences.

Language focus: Relative clauses

Procedure: Show the Ss the following sentence pattern.

This is the house that Jack built. This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built This is the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.

webinar grammar Then ask Ss to construct their own from this photo. So their sentence would beging with “This is the photo that Jack took”. You may also want to to supply  words:

Man fish girl boat wind wave whale rod camera rock beach shark cook friend chips cat

Image attribution: Bass fishing by Eileen Jones | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Activity 6: How it’s done

What: Instructions for various topics

Language focus: Imperatives and sequencing words

Procedure: Run Ss through an example of how something is done.


How to make a cup of tea

Firstly, boil some water in a kettle

When it’s hot, pour a little in a teapot to warm it

Then throw out the water and put in two spoonfuls of tea leaves

Bring the water back to boil

Pour the boiling water on tea leaves in the pot

Leave to stand for two minutes

Serve in two cups

Ask Ss to use this template to write instructions for one of the following:

  • Eating spaghetti
  • Falling in love
  • Getting promotion
  • Bathing a dog
  • Going to a wedding
  • Looking after a two year old
  • Taking an exam
  • Having a relaxing evening

Charlie recommended using these activities in conjunction with the following:

  • Sharing session: Choose the best piece you wrote during the lesson and share it with others in a small group.
  • Student control: After doing a couple of these activities, hand over control to the Ss. Give them a particular grammar concept and ask them to come up with their own creative exercise around it.
  • Student ideas: Dialogues, sketches, poems, nonsense sentences, sabotaging the coursebook (playing around with sentences from the coursebook)


He had many other references in his list which had to do with the importance of creativity. Here’s a truncated list of language teaching references:

  • Nematis, A. 2009. Memory Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Long Term Retention. International Journal of Vocational and Technical Education 1 (2), pp. 14-24
  • Oxford, R. 1990. Language Learning Strategies. Newbury House
  • Schmitt, N. 2000. Vocabulary in Language Teaching. CUP

Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Jun – Jul 2015

It’s been an insanely hot summer in India this year with temperatures hitting a roasting 48 in parts of the north. Thankfully, things are a bit more reasonable where I live on the coast although the humidity is still suffocating. And what better way to bring in the monsoon than with a nice little bunch of webinars. Do let me know if you spot any online events that ought to be included in this list. Happy webinaring!

An asterisk (*) indicates that the event requires prior registration. A (+) means that it’s probably a plug for a coursebook or some such.


1. Cambridge English Empower: bringing learning-oriented assessment into the classroom | Stephanie Dimond-Bayir & Sarah Unsworth | Cambridge English Language Assessment | June 3, 1000 & 1400 BST*+

2. Personalised Learning Programs – a pick and choose approach | David Petrie | IATEFL BEsig | Jun 7, 1500 BST

3. #FlashmobELT: activities from classrooms around the world | Anna Loseva | BELTA | Jun 7, 1600 CET

4. An introduction to the Oxford Young Learners Placement Test | Hannah Ball | Oxford | Jun 9, 1000 & 1500 BST*+

5. Peer observation – how can we make it work? | Andy Hockley | IATEFL LAMSIG | Jun 10, 1200 BST

6. Exam classes: creating order out of chaos | Roy Norris | Macmillan | Jun 10, 1500 BST*

7. Where have all our textbooks gone? | Maria J Garcia San Martin | IATEFL YLT | Jun 10, 1600 BST

8. Tackling Native Speaker Favouritism Head On – PD and Classroom Ideas | BrazTESOL | June 12, 1200 EDT 

9. Planning a successful blended ESP course | Jeremy Day | IATEFL ESP | Jun 13, 1500 BST

10. Nativeness – a feather in your cap for language teaching? | James Beddington | TEFL Equity Advocates | Jun 14, 1700 CET

11. Developing functional language skills for Cambridge English: Key for Schools | Rachel Harding & Coreen Doherty | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Jun 15, 1400 & Jun 17, 1000 BST*+

12. Creating Creative Teachers | Marisa Constantinides | British Council | Jun 17 1900 EEST (2030 IST)*

13. Children’s apps you can trust | Tracy Dumais | British Council | Jun 18, 1200 BST

14. Teaching with Technology | EnglishOnline | Jun 19, 1900 CDT or Jun 20, 1000 CDT

15. Peer Interaction in the Foreign Language Classroom | Jenefer Philp | Oxford | Jun 24, 1530 BST & Jun 25, 1130 BST

16. Creativity in Teaching and Learning | British Council Seminars | Jun 24, 1730 – 2030 BST*

17. Self-publishing ELT Materials | Dorothy Zemach | IATEFL | Jun 27, 1500 BST

18. Life Skills Special | Emma Sue Prince| Macmillan | Jul 1, 1500 BST*

19. Business storytelling: Helping learners to create memorable stories | Dana Poklepovic | IATEFL BEsig | Jul 5,1500 BST

20. Issues and dilemmas in designing assessments and marking criteria for a module on MA in Professional Language and Intercultural Studies | Judith Hanks | IATEFL Testing Evaluation & Assessment | Jul 8, 1700 BST

21. Assessing reading comprehension with tips for classroom practice | Ivana Vidakovic & Nancy Sneddon | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Jul 13, 1400 & Jul 15, 1000 BST*

22. Creativity in the language classroom | Nik Peachey | British Council | Jul 16, 2100 BST*

23. Published Resources vs. Teaching Unplugged | Andrew Dilger | Oxford | Jul 23, 1100 & 1430 BST*

24. Managing YL Centres – essential training and preparation | Lou McLaughlin | IATEFL YLT | Jul 26, 1500 BST

Image attribution: I’m A Mac by Alec Couros | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 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.

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

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.


19 upcoming MOOCs for educators

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may have dwindled to a trickle over the Christmas-New Year period but they’re back with a vengeance. Here are 19 courses that are relevant to educators and ELT professionals. All 19 are free and many offer a signature track with a verified certificate for a fee that’s usually less than $50. Several of these courses started last week but I reckon it’s not too late to join.



1. English for teaching purposes | Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona – Coursera | Starts February 2 – 4 weeks

2. Introduction to Communication Science | University of Amsterdam – Coursera | February 4 – 7 weeks

3. Shaping the Way We Teach English, 2: Paths to Success in ELT | Univ. of Oregon – Coursera | Starts February 9 – 5 weeks (This is part 2 of the course they ran in January and has a different syllabus)


What is character? Virtue ethics in education | Univ. of Birmingham – FutureLearn | Starts January 19 – 2 weeks

5. Personalized and student centred learning | ISTE – Canvas | February 9 – 5 weeks

6. .Foundations of Teaching for Learning 6: Introduction to Student Assessment | Commonwealth Education Trust – Coursera | Starts January 26 – 6 weeks

7. Foundations of Teaching for Learning 4: Curriculum |  Commonwealth Education Trust – Coursera | Starts February 23 – 7 weeks

8. Reflective Practice for Adult Educators | Inst. for Adult Learning – Canvas | Starts February 23 – 5 weeks


9. Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools | Univ. of Houston System – Coursera | Starts Feb 1 – 5 weeks

10. Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom | Univ. of California Irvine – Coursera | Starts Feb 23 – 5 weeks

Elearning & Instructional design 

11. e-Learning Ecologies | Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Coursera | Starts January 26 – 8 weeks

12. Becoming a blended learning designer | UCF – Canvas | Starts February 23 – 12 weeks

13. Minecraft for Educators | Canvas | Starts January 26 – 6 weeks

Leadership & Behavioural

14. Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence | Case Western Preserve Univ. – Coursera | Starts February 2 –  8 weeks

15. Better Leader, Richer Life | Wharton, Univ. of Pennsylvania – Coursera | Starts February 8 – 10 weeks

16. Positive Psychology | Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Coursera | Starts February 9 – 6 weeks

17. Ignite Your Everyday Creativity | State Univ. of New York – Coursera | Starts February 16 – 6 weeks

For our learners

18. Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade (Fundamental English Writing) | Mt. San Jacinto College – Coursera | Starts January 30 – 5 weeks

19. Academic integrity – values, skills & actions | Univ. of Auckland – FutureLearn | Starts Feb 2 – 4 weeks

I hope to meet you virtually in some of these courses. Happy learning! 


Image attribution: Flickr | Danger Men Working Online by Cory Doctorow (yup the famous SF writer) | CC by SA 2.0