Tag: summary

Teaching English in large classes: a sociocultural approach | Webinar summary

Large classes.jpg

Many of the teachers I work with have classes of between 40 and 80 students so I reckoned this would be a useful webinar to document. Jason Alexander has worked extensively with African teachers who are frequently required to manage large classes.  I did, however, envision something more prescriptive. After having watched the webinar recording, I see Alexander’s rationale for not presenting attendees with prêt-à-porter type strategies, as well as his interesting subtext – a sociocultural approach.

Alexander suggested that the challenge was not just teaching large classes but using an imported methodology conceived for small class contexts. He went on to expand these challenges with areas sourced from Shamim & Kucha:

1. Classroom management e.g. giving instructions, maintaining control and
discipline, organising groupwork)

2. Whole class teaching (e.g. explaining new concepts, question and answer
strategies, using the chalkboard)

3. Working with mixed abilities (e.g. differentiation, getting learners to help
each other, mixed-ability groupwork)

4. Conducting summative assessment (e.g. end of term exams)

5. Limited resources (e.g. coursebooks, posters, easy readers)

6. Providing opportunities for practice (e.g. speaking
practice, using audio equipment, library for reading practice, etc.)

7. Providing feedback/formative assessment (e.g. marking written work,
correcting spoken errors, giving individual help, etc.)

Teaching large classes.png
Teaching English in Large Classes: A Sociocultural approach. Jason Alexander (2016)

Alexander’s recommendation is to seek answers from other teachers within the institution particularly from non-language teachers as well as the larger community. He suggested that the most viable solutions might come out of the social and cultural context that the classroom sits within, rather than ostensibly expert advice from elsewhere.

He went on to outline an approach, a strategy and an activity that have worked in some contexts but pointed out that he wasn’t suggesting that these would be best practices for everyone’s classrooms.

An approach: Activity based learning

This approach was conceived in the Rishi Valley in India (I did not know that) and involves each student moving at her own speed through the curriculum, completing activities and learning completion tasks. ABL is really popular in some Indian states such as Tamil Nadu where children work autonomously using special activity cards. The teacher’s role is to monitor and support learning, rather than present content.

A strategy: think pair share

This strategy comes from non-language subjects. The teacher asks a question but doesn’t immediately accept answers. Learners think silently for a few seconds and tell their partner. The teacher then nominates learners to share their answers.

An activity: Back translation

This activity is inspired by studies into translation (I think Philip Kerr covered it in his insightful talk  – the return of translation) and is potentially useful for writing classes.

  • Learners study a model text in L2.
  • Learners translate the text into L1.
  • The model text is hidden and learners translate their L1 text back into English. If the text is on the board, ask learners to turn around so they’re no longer facing the front of the class.
  • Learners compare their English text with the original model text, noting differences, self-correcting errors and assessing work.


Two free booklets on the topic. Both seem really rich and interesting:

The webinar presentation  is available online and you can have a dekko at the presentation’s references.

Finally, here’s Alexander’s article for the British Council’s Voices magazine: What to consider when teaching English in large classes

Image attribution: Classroom by GioRetti | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Facilitating the development of a credible business-like persona | Conference talk summary


This was one of the simulcast talks from day one of the IATEFL BESIG 2016 annual conference in Munich. The speaker, Sylvie Donna, happened to headline my Delta Module 3 submission and why ever not – she’s so eminently quotable with respect to all things BE.

Her session yesterday was really rich and full of recommendations that some might frown at or find controversial. Donna argued that just as different business people have different business personas, we ought to help our learners develop an appropriate English-speaking personality. She asserted that our personalities differ when we shift between languages, providing her own example of how she exhibits varying behaviours and personality attributes in Japanese, English, German and French.

I know it seems a bit wacky but to her credit, she did support what she was saying with research. She suggested that there are prosodic differences between speakers (intonation, stress, rhythm, tone of voice, use of silence) and word choice; and that perhaps learners of English haven’t thought through how the use of these attributes in English may lead them to be perceived. Donna correlated this with what Silvana Richardson spoke about when she said that the goal was no longer near-native competence but pluralingual identity.

Some of the examples she presented of high competency learners being unaware of their persona in English included a Japanese student who spoke too directly only using simple forms such as imperatives; a German student who used ‘like’ far too frequently; and a Korean student who reckoned he’d developed an American persona but was actually completely unintelligible.

I think what Donna is proposing isn’t that learners ought to change their personality when using English. In fact, she presented research that she was horrified about where Chinese learners seemed to think that acquiring English required them to acquire a new culture and personality. She’s suggesting that learners may subconsciously project a very different persona in English as opposed to L1 and they may unaware of the unintended consequences of this persona.

In terms of how this could happen, Donna recommends a focus on the length of utterances, the use of lexis (level of formality, choice of words associated with specific socio-cultural groups) and features such as comment clauses, interjections and tag questions.

She also shared some awareness raising activities:

Activity 1: Visualisation

Visualise three people:

  1. one you think is similar to you
  2. one who is different in a good way
  3. one who is very different in a bad way

How does each person speak?

Follow up: Find an audio or video clip of each person

Activity 2: Word-association

Think of a situation for each phrase. Role play mini-dialogue for some or all the phrases:

  • perennial problem
  • absolutely wicked
  • you ain’t seen nothing yet
  • considering this from another point of view
  • I need to know
  • Would you consider

How does your accent or intonation change each time? What about other prosodic features (volume, pitch, speed of delivery)

Activity 3: Draw some pictures

  • the person you were when you were 13
  • the person you were at 21
  • the person you are now

Add some words and ideas in a mindmap of how you used to speak at these ages

Activity 4: Linguistic analysis

Record clips from a few soap operas/comedy series/films

Identify some of the key linguistic features. Look for:

  • prosodic features
  • body language
  • level of formality of the words
  • standard or non-standard forms used (slang, dialect?)
  • use of comment clauses (you know) or fillers (er, like)
  • sentence length

Activity 5: Sorry wasn’t paying attention for this one

Activity 6: Mindmap in L1

Draw a mindmap/diagram representing yourself.

  • Is there anything you would feel embarrassed to say?
  • Is there any language you would definitely not use?
  • How do you feel about swearing?
  • How do you feel about using slang or very colloquial language?
  • How do you feel about using language associated with a particular region or variety of English (not dialect)?
  • What impression do you want to make when you speak?

Activity 7: Vocabulary notebook

  • How do business associates you admire speak? (Record specific instances of remembered or observed speech)
  • How do they ‘do’ small talk?
  • How do they negotiate? Which specific phrases do they use?
  • How do they write emails? Keep some examples in a folder.
  • Review the notebook before meeting anyone or emailing.
  • Add to the notebook on an ongoing basis.

While I don’t think this concept is completely there yet, Donna is definitely on to something. Several years ago, I was asked to work with an Indian manager whose boss felt he was not very effective when presenting to and speaking with senior stakeholders from the US. Having worked with him over a few months, I knew the issue wasn’t language. It was something else that I couldn’t articulate at the time. I often found myself focusing on prosodic features while coaching him although in my mind I was thinking that this might have been snake oil because what he needed was to be perceived as more dynamic and engaging. I have experienced similar situations with others as well. I have also recommended activity 7 to my learners although I’m not sure how many of them have ever followed through on it.

Lots of food for thought in this talk. If you’re unfamiliar with Sylvie Donna, you might want to look up her seminal book on Business English.


Nik Peachey’s Talk on Online Learning at the LTSIG OLLReN Conference | Summary

Nik Peachey.jpg

This is a summary of Nik Peachey‘s talk titled “Learning a language online – How we can ensure quality?” where he focused on the challenges of learning and teaching online for the IATEFL LTSIG OLLReN web conference on Oct 7, 2016. The conference presented research into how teachers use technology.

Online learning and teaching are topics that often get discussed in terms of the challenges they pose. However, rarely do we get to hear robust solutions that respond to these challenges. In his talk on ensuring quality in online language learning, Nik Peachey presented challenges both from the perspectives of teachers and students and followed them up with some ways of mitigating them by sharing initiatives that he has supported or led at English Up, a 100% online school.

With online learning, students face a range of challenges, including the double-edge of experience where poor previous online learning experience can affect their perception of the course they are taking and those who are completely new to this mode of learning may lack the technical knowhow to navigate the course. Staying focused and motivated over a longer term may be challenging for students who believe the online format translates to quick results.  Lastly, the online environment can be very isolating.

It’s interesting how the challenges faced by teachers mirror those of their learners, pivoting on the very same double-edged sword of experience. Teachers who are often used to working within a larger physical space with the freedom to walk up to their learners, may feel constricted by the fact that they have to do all that and more seated in a chair.  Rapport and paralinguistic behaviours operate differently in the online environment. Teachers may also lack the technical toolset to be successful online and like their learners, feel cut off from their both students and other teaching professionals.

Nik placed the human element firmly at the heart of his solutions (Nik called this ‘human on board’). He suggested that early and direct teacher-student contact, learner training, and structured support through goal setting and period reviews could motivate learners to stay focused. He highlighted the first three months as a critical period for these pastoral conversations when students are most likely to drop out. For teachers, he proposed mentoring and peer support, regular sharing of anonymised student feedback, group action points derived from video observations, facilitating an online community for teachers, and providing training and development using the very same online platforms.

Using clean, simple, elegant slides Nik compellingly made the case for building a cohesive online learning community of teachers and students. These genuinely seem to be practical solutions because they leverage the affordances of the online environment, rather than resist them.

Using project management principles in the classroom | IATEFL webinar summary + reflections

The reason I’m singling out this webinar out of the eight or nine events that comprised the IATEFL online conference which took place last weekend is its title. Using project management principles in the classroom (with the subtext – bring out the team player in your learners) was certainly full of promise for someone like me who frequently works with organisations where everything happens through the all-encompassing framework of the project.

project management

The speaker, Nathan Arthur, described the gaps between university and work which EAP does not bridge. He suggested that project management principles could help resolve this through a “subtle paradigm shift”:

  • In the physical layout of the classroom to make it look more like a conference room
  • By using real plays (where Ss presumably play themselves or present their own views) instead of role plays
  • EPM (English for Project Management) in lieu of ESP & EAP.

He also discussed how current EAP objectives could be extended to make them address EPM needs:

Develop academic skills >>> Develop professional skills

Develop critical thinking >>> Develop team thinking skills

Guide Ss through realistic situations for university >>> Ss manage themselves through realistic situations for the workplace

Focus on the core skills for academic study >>> Focus on the core skills needed for workplace teamwork

Nathan went on to describe how Ts can run projects using the framework of a project cycle (Initiation, planning & design, executing, monitoring & controlling, closing) and offered an example of a task he’d conducted which involved revamping the university newspaper.  He imposed some constraints on the Ss in terms of cost, scope and schedule and expected them to work with a team of 10 to produce the first run of the newspaper in 3 weeks. He also assigned a project manager. There are some tasks associated with each of the project cycle stages (e.g., brainstorming during planning). Nathan explained that he didn’t correct them or provide language input during the activity (by which I assume he means over the course of the 3 weeks) but waited till the end to provide guidance on words such as milestones, green light or sign off. He also added that he observed some cultural issues (Chinese deference to hierarchy & French uncertainty avoidance) but it wasn’t entirely clear how he dealt with these.

He then mentioned four roles based on his observation of student participation in projects: dominator, shrinker, shirker and joker. He suggested that these transformed into four leadership types, dominator, supporter, delegator and coach (drawn from The Mindful International Manager, Comfort & Franklin, 2011). This mapping seemed quite arbitrary to me – for instance, why would it be natural for the humorous student to take on the role of the coach?

Nathan also coaches students on debating; he had an interesting idea around getting Ss to debate for and against two types of chocolate bars (Mars vs. Bounty). He also spoke about bringing team building activities into the classroom to bring out language and teamwork (spaghetti & lolly pop towers etc.) and made a brief mention of Kapla blocks for similar tower building activities.

Finally, he presented a list of ideas he hadn’t tried out yet but could be used for classroom projects:

  • Create your own start-up
  • Build an app
  • Publish a book of poems/short stories
  • Write an exam/syllabus and have Ss teach the first class
  • Go on field trips to film festivals and write film reviews

During the course of the webinar, there was an ongoing discussion in the chat box about whether the approach being discussed was really just a form or combination of TBL and PBL. One attendee in a way concluded this discussion when she stated “It is TBL, but I think the point is that EAP is sometimes too far removed from the actual target after conclusion of the uni course.” I agree that EAP is divorced from the real language needs that Ss face when they join the workforce but I also feel that Nathan’s suggestions, while undoubtedly interesting and potentially useful, don’t go far enough to bridge that chasm.

Several years ago at a BESIG event, Evan Frendo spoke about mirroring contemporary project practices in the tasks we design such as adopting the framework of agile methodology (popular in IT) and setting up scrum calls because these would better prepare Ss (whether they are already working or about to start work) for the actual challenges they face on the job. A key difference between agile and waterfall (its traditional project management predecessor) is the degree to which it is iterative and relatively egalitarian. Agile promotes a sense of ownership and a spirit of speaking up and sharing. These are invaluable skills for the modern workplace and if we can help shape the language that Ss use while enacting these business skills, they can potentially be more confident, fluent and accurate when it comes to the real thing.

To equip Ss to be successful team players in projects at work, we need to provide language input and feedback within the context of projects that attempt to replicate work patterns in the industries they are headed towards (not just generic college projects) where the T takes on the dual role of project delivery head and language coach.

Image attribution: Project Success by ken fager | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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.

TEC15 Day 2 | Video cameras in English language teaching | A quick summary

This talk was by Jamie Keddie who’s the author of Images (OUP, 2009) and Bringing Online Video into the Classroom (OUP, 2014). He is also the founder of two sites: Videotelling and LessonstreamJamie Keddie

Jamie spoke about how we are moving from video exploitation to video creation in English language teaching. So his suggestions for design tasks using videos seemed to end with productive stages that involve Ss creating their own videos.

He pointed out that Ts commonly assume that videos are only for listening but in fact videos are better used as vehicles for exploring language. Jamie illustrated this through an example. He played a mystery video i.e., a video played sans video and asked us to imagine what it might be. It sounded like someone walking on gravel with a bird-like shriek at the end. He recommended getting Ss to construct narratives around it. If Ss don’t have adequate language to talk about the clip, you could film your colleagues discussing the mystery clip and have Ss explore language in these clips.

Jamie’s mystery video happened to be the famous sneezing panda, which is the most popular video on YouTube with over 200 million views.

He then went on to talk about using video for teacher development, playing a video of his own lesson with two students in Barcelona. He asked the audience to review it and give him feedback. Using actual excerpts from the video, he suggested that as a T watching your own video, you become aware of little misses and opportunities. However, he also underscored the importance of the meta-information present in these recorded lessons which ought to be complemented by interviews with Ts talking about their videos.

His other suggestion included getting Ss to make in-video type commentary videos in the vein of PewDiePie to practise language. Jamie also seems to be inspired by an Indian YouTube director named Wilbur Sargunaraj who has some quirky videos on his channel. Lastly, he recommended using jump cuts to make video selfies by dropping the video into any video editor and editing out mistakes and bits you don’t want. The result won’t be one smooth flow but it’s got a certain appeal to it.

By the way, Jamie is doing a webinar over at IATEFL on Storytelling in the classroom on Mar 15, 2015 at 1500 GMT.

TEC15 Day 2 | Using the Collins Dictionary Corpus | Talk summary

This talk was by Dr. Elaine Higgleton who besides being measured, articulate and erudite, had whet everyone’s appetite with a quiz the preceding evening on Old and Middle English spellings and pronunciation along with lexis borrowed from around the world. Her talk was not so much an introduction to corpora as it was a look at how a corpus can help us understand shifts in language use and whether this language change matters to Ts and T educators.

She started off by asking for the different senses of the word “club” both noun and verb.  She elicited two responses for the verb form: to batter someone and to gather together. She then explained to us that the use of the verb club without “together” in the sense we clubbed money to buy him a present is only seen in Indian English whereas the British equivalent would generally be we clubbed together money …  A corpus that includes a wide variety of ‘Englishes’ from around the world could potentially help us recognize this variation.

Dr Elaine Higgleton corpus

While a concordance view can show us what’s around the target word, Dr. Higgleton suggested that it’s not actually very helpful and that a word sketch view (I think this might be an exclusive feature of the Collins corpus) can help us understand which words the word that we are looking at frequently collocates with. In the case of club, it most frequently collocates with “join” so we might prioritize “to join a club” for teaching depending on the level of the Ss.


In the next exercise, she had us looking at the distinction between trip and journey. The denotative meanings she elicited largely distinguished between the two seemingly synonymous words in terms of duration. However, the corpus suggests that connotations of trip are far more neutral than journey (e.g., arduous journey).

Dr Elaine Higgleton corpus 2

A corpus can also give us other insights about a word. For instance, when we consider adjectives used to describe “footfall”, we’d think of “heavy footfall” in the sense of “… increasingly heavy footfall at the Taj Mahal”. But, what is the opposite of heavy? Light? Not in this case as the corpus tells us that the opposite of heavy footfall is in fact soft footfall and in the middle somewhere is average footfall.

Corpora can also indicate language change such as the tendency to use the progressive -ing form in utterances such as:

But hang on a tick, I’m forgetting my manners.

Nobody is imagining that the Conservatives can win.

I’m wanting the film to be deliberately old-fashioned

Or “and I was like” (be like) as a reporting structure in examples such as:

We saw that and we were like ‘Oh my god!’

At first, I was like, no, what are you talking about?

They look at you like you’re mental and it’s like, “Chill out, what’s your problem?”


The corpus also tells us the use of the be like structure is more prevalent in US English and in conjunction with the first person. The other example Dr. Higgleton picked up was “mouse” whose dominant sense has changed in the corpus from rodent to computer hardware. Cloud has also undergone a similar change.

Dr. Higgleton, however, cautions against the taking these inferences at face value alone and demonstrated why we might need a lexicographer to help us analyse this information. She used a sketch difference view to suggest that clever and intelligent, despite being near-synonyms reveal something else on closer analysis. Clever tends to be used with adverbs that have a negative connotation and being clever has increasingly become a negative quality.

She saved the best for last though. A quick audience poll proved that nearly everyone was taught and currently teach the following rule:

I shall

you shall

you/he/she will

She explained that this was an 18th century rule that had long since fallen out of use but was regrettably fossilized in Wren & Martin. Wren & Martin or to use its actual title – High School English Grammar & Composition is a book that millions of Indians swear by and is used by a large number … perhaps even a majority of English teachers in India. It largely retains the same prescriptive rules that it contained when it was first published in 1935 and is still among the top selling books, year after year. Dr. Higgleton’s advice was to stack up our Wren & Martins and burn ’em. This obviously deeply traumatised one woman (who I discovered later in the conference guide under the list of organizers as serving on the teacher-training boards of two Indian states) who stood up shook a trembling fist at the speaker and proclaimed that no evil corpus would dictate circumstances that would cause language to change before she managed to teach it to students (no she didn’t say these words but I sense this is what she wanted to say). The fact that the corpus Dr. Higgleton was referring to had a large set of Indian English data made little difference to this woman.

I threw out or gave away my Wren & Martin when I was in my early teens. A pity because this low pressure system and unseasonal chill would have lent itself to some nice prescriptive grammar book burning.

Wren & Martin