Reading skills for the selfie generation | Webinar summary

This OUP webinar was facilitated by Thomas Healy. He suggests that the reading skills required by the selfie generation are different than what we traditionally identify as important attributes.  He envisions this dichotomy in this way:

20th century learners  >>>> Selfie generation

Text >>>> Picture, sound, video

Single task >>>> Multi-tasking

Independent &  individual >>>> Interactive, networked

The physical world >>>> The digital world

It’s not just millenials who are selfie-obsessed. Here are some of my enthusiastic participants from a recent teacher training program. I quite dislike selfies and am grateful this one has come out a bit blurry.

Healy asserts that this presents a double challenge for our teaching because Ss are required to read both traditional print and digital text. Some of the other challenges he identified include skimming, scanning and all the other traditional skills in a digital environment, dealing with proximity issues (scrolling to find information as opposed to having it within frames in print), dealing with ‘rabbit hole’ issues (getting distracted by hyperlinks and wandering away from the text), and dealing with cognitive load.

He proposes interactive PDFs as a solution. Have you ever filled a PDF form before?  PDF forms are a type of interactive PDF. An interactive PDF allows users to do more than just read information; there might be hyperlinks, embedded audio or video clips, and text boxes to type information. When I was with Deloitte, there was a top down imperative to reduce the number of handouts used for courses and since all the employees had laptops, we created interactive PDFs. The rationale was to save paper rather than address the needs and affordances of millenials. Although there was WiFi everywhere, my colleagues and I were a little skeptical of creating activities that would have the Ss wander away from the PDF … they certainly didn’t need encouragement to multitask.

Digital reading activities 

Here are some of the ideas Healy shared for creating an engaging interactive PDF:

  • Hyperlink pictures within the text to existing YouTube videos and ask Ss to watch the video and answer questions.
  • Hyperlink to a private Facebook group and ask Ss to do a discussion activity there, for example, share some ideas about a topic. Ss are then required to report back in the interactive PDF by answering a question such as “Which of your classmates’ ideas do you agree with? Write them in the box below.”
  • Include text boxes within the PDF. Ss don’t have to write in their notebooks or in MS Word. Their responses are captured in a single PDF document which they could save and share with you.
  • Use screen capture tools like Camtasia to annotate text. Record yourself visually demonstrating to Ss the process of reading a text. Use different colours to highlight the different pieces of information a reader would typically look for and find. Upload the  instructional video to Youtube and create a link in the interactive handout. Ss watch the instruction video before they attempt the same process for the text in the PDF. I thought this was a particularly interesting idea – ties in with the popularity of ‘how to’ and encourages learner autonomy
  • Highlight structural or lexical elements in the text which could help Ss identify information such as using conjunctive adverbs or conjunctions – in contrast – to recognize contrast. This could be done through an instructional video using a screen capture tool or more simply, using an annotated image of the text.
  • Annotate to demonstrate scanning; for example, show Ss how they can quickly look for proper nouns, dates, and italics.
  • Give Ss a number of sources (URLs) on Facebook as a sort of webquest activity and ask them identify the source that would be appropriate for academic research. Ss must also explain why.
  • Share signposts such as words like ‘however’, ‘yet’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘whereas’ and punctuation marks like ‘?’ and ask Ss to use the search tool within the PDF to find information these signposts might be connected to. I thought this was a very relevant technique which genuinely considers the affordances of the digital medium.

Digital tools

Healy recommends Adobe Acrobat Pro for creating interactive PDFs and Camtasia Camtasia for making instructional videos. They’re both paid software but you can try out them for the first month for free.

Here are some free tools for creating interactive PDFs:

Copyright issues

As I was watching the webinar recording, I kept thinking about copyright issues which Healy addressed just before he concluded. Obviously, a lot of his suggestions for working with digital texts and media can only be executed if you own the copyright or if the text is in the public domain or you’ve got permission from the copyright holder.

Embedding video 

While Healy suggested adding YouTube links, I would recommend embedding the video within the PDF in order to limit reliance on external links. This shouldn’t be a problem if it’s an instructional video that you created – it’s quite easy to embed the video using Adobe Pro. The file size bloat a bit but then there are so many ways to share files these days so I don’t see that being a problem.

Have you used these or similar ideas for enhancing digital reading skills? Do you create interactive PDFs? What’s been the learner experience?


Upcoming webinars for educators | June – August 2016


This post’s a long time coming but here are some upcoming webinars.

Lesson ideas & activities 

Learning management 



Business & corporate topics



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.


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

Narrative Seeding | Videotelling activities from Jamie Keddie

Jamie KeddieEach time I hear Jamie Keddie speak, I get fantastic, practical ideas that I can use with my learners. I must confess that while I’ve been using his video exploitation ideas for storytelling lessons focused either on storytelling as a skill or spoken fluency … I still haven’t been able to work out how to focus on planned target language as opposed to emerging language which is something he also seems to be using videotelling activities for.

In a webinar titled ‘Video in the Classroom’, Jamie described narrative seeding, a type of activity where you seed the Ss with elements from a video, while withholding others and then ask them reconstruct the narrative collaboratively. In a sense, narrative seeding is what we call a frame game in business training – a template that allows you to easily load and reload content – in this case videos of your choice.

Here are the three variations of narrative seeding that he spoke about:

Variation 1: Audio but no video

Play a video from YouTube without letting Ss see the visual. Get Ss to work collaboratively on reconstructing the narrative underlying the sound. Depending on the video you use, identify target language or feature that you want to draw Ss’ attention to.

Example: Play the famous sneezing panda video allowing Ss to only hear the audio not the video. Ask them to work in pairs and speculate as to what might be happening. Jaime suggests that the the sudden noise in the audio might be a good way of demonstrating the difference between present simple and continuous in narration (insects are making noise and then something happens etc.). A variation on the sneezing panda video is to play this video of a couple of girls watching the sneezing panda video and ask Ss to work out what the girls are watching.

Variation 2: Video but no audio

Play a video without audio. Jamie suggests taking screenshots of the video instead of showing Ss the video because this allows you to have greater control over how things play out. For each screenshot, you need to plan a series of questions that will prompt Ss to flesh out the narrative.

Example: Take screenshots from the short film Conversation Piece that establish the setting and convey the action.

T: This video is called conversation piece and the story involves a man, a woman and an object in which you put flowers in.  What is that object?

Ss: Vase

T:  This story involves a man, a woman, a vase and a problem.

Picture 1

What is this man doing?

Where is he sitting?

Guess what time it is.

Why is it the morning?

How do you know?

What day do you think it is?

Picture 2

What do you think the relationship of this woman is with the man?

Where is she?

Which room is she in?

What do you think she’s doing in the kitchen?

Picture 3

Where is she now?

Picture 4

She notices something.

What does she notice?

Picture 5

She notices the vase is broken.

What is she going to do?

Picture 6

When she notices the vase is broken, she says something to her husband.

By the way, her name is Linda. And his name is Jeff.

Linda says something to Jeff. What does she say?

Picture 7

To which Jeff replies … ?

Picture 8

Linda says something back to Jeff.

Picture 9

Then Jeff says something back.

Picture 10

Linda walks over and puts the vase in front of Jeff.

Picture 11-12

… and says something. What does she say?

Picture 13

Jeff says something back.

Narrative seeding

Ask Ss to work in pairs and create a dialogue (3 turns each for Jeff & Linda) and have them think about how they would continue or end their dialogue. Invite Ss to perform their dialogue for the class while you play the video and they provide a sort of imperfect dubbing.

3. Variation 3: No video, no audio

Dictate or show the following phrases to the Ss.

Two Japanese girls dressed up as tourists

Two elderly Japanese men also dressed up as tourists

Several hidden cameras

An unsuspecting passer-by (the victim)

A van to create a distraction

A Polaroid camera

If you run it as a dictogloss, show them the actual phrases on the board and correct errors if required. Tell the Ss that these six things appear in a video. Ask them a genre question: what type of video do these items come from? Elicit that these videos are called prank videos and the people who make the video play practical jokes on unsuspecting people.

Ss get into pairs and use these clues to create a narrative. They have to say what they think happens in the video from beginning to end.  They can ask questions of the teacher. This also involves narrative seeding.

Jamie’s recommendations

  • Avoiding winging the questions. Instead plan them carefully so they are targeted at getting Ss to explore something specific.
  • As in his session at TEC in Hyderabad and his webinar for IATEFL, Jamie suggested having Ss video record the narration that they have reconstructed and using these videos later for in-class feedback.

Additional resources 

Personalised learning programmes | A BESIG workshop summary in 3 activities

Last weekend’s BESIG workshop, facilitated by David Petrie, was titled Personalised learning programmes – a pick and choose approach. David touched on issues such as personalised learning, differentiated instruction and teaching the student instead of the lesson. Towards the end of the webinar, he shared three activities for using students as resources and offering personalised learning:

1. Office modals 

Ask Ss to make three lists:

  • Things my boss makes me do
  • Things I think it’s important to do
  • Things it would be a good idea to do around here.

Personalised learning

Ss explore the items in these lists by reframing them using some suggested modals.

2. Office gossip

Ask Ss to work in pairs to share some hopefully innocuous gossip. Then put Ss into new pairs and have them share the gossip they heard using reported speech.

3. The meatloaf game 

Ask Ss to write down ten things that are a part of their job role that they like doing and ten things that they hate. They should write each item on separate piece of paper. I think ten’s a bit much for even a medium sized class – five might be more manageable. 

Have Ss crumple the chits and play snowball fight with each other. Call time after a minute and have them collect chits so they are all equally distributed. Ss spend a couple of minutes reading through the chits – there’ll probably be some items that they dislike doing. They should negotiate with other Ss to trade job responsibilities so they have a list of things that they more or less like doing.

Techtip: Appgesyer 

David, like many of us, uses Google Forms to collect data during the needs analysis phase. He suggests distributing the form through a web app so it can be accessed easily on mobiles using a tool called Appgeyser which reformulates your web-content for the mobile device (Here’s an example he’s created). I’m not sure I see the point of doing this. Google Forms accessed via a normal mobile browser seems to display content fairly well and it makes sense to pin a web-app to the user’s mobile screen only if you want her to repeatedly access the link. David uses QR codes to share the Appgeyser URL (but you could do this with a normal URL as well) and Appgeyser offers a short URL. I see two issues with this: QR codes cause more problems than they solve especially when Ss are expected to use their own devices (and they’ve really not taken off in India); and the Appgeyser short URL is really not very short and would benefit from additional shortening using  Appgeyser is worth exploring but I think there are far simpler and more efficient ways of distributing surveys created in Google Forms.


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

Action Research | What does yours look like?

Divya Madhavan has been inspiring teachers around the world through her personal action research journey for several years now. I first experienced Divya (and action research) for the first time a couple of years ago while watching a livecast talk from the ISTEK conference in Istanbul. Her talk, punctuated by incisive quotes, really struck a chord with me and I’ve been interested in action research (AR) ever since. While Divya’s talk in Istanbul was largely focused on the ‘why’ of AR, she facilitated a webinar for BELTA in early March which explored the ‘how’.

Diyva and I co-wrote this post, and it’s based on the ideas, questions and steps that were explored in the webinar – Action Research – what does yours look like? I’m guilty of dawdling and not publishing this post when it was ready to go online. The webinar this post is based on might be slightly old but the ideas and questions Divya laid out are fresh, relevant and practical for any teaching professional who is interested in starting their own AR journey. You might also want to check out Divya’s blog – Unwrapping the Education Box, an extraordinary collection of critical reflections about our profession. My favourites include What if teaching became a prestigious profession? and How do you draw a line so fine?

action research

Written with Divya Madhavan. 

What does Action Research look like?

 Where is the book in which we can read what teaching is. The children themselves are this book. We should not learn how to teach through any other book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves. In order to read this book, however, we need the widest possible interest in each individual child and nothing must divert us from this.

 – Rudolf Steiner     

This is a useful quote for framing an exploration of Action research and we can unpack three ideas from it:

  1. -“the one lying open before us”- The most important source of improving our practice is the one we physically engage with every day… this goes all the way back to the work of John Dewey, who said things like, education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living – we have, before us, in classrooms every day, what we call our practice, what we do, how we do it, our moments of requisitioning why we do it, this is a process that’s very alive and constantly changing in very organic ways. It’s about rolling up your sleeves, getting involved, getting messy and learning within and with a community, this doesn’t just happen with books, it happens by doing, being and living.
  2. -“In order to read this book”: Connectedness is a not given, not something automatic. Being a teacher doesn’t automatically put you in a position to research your practice, there is a whole mental make-up that goes with having a research mindset, understanding what you’re looking for, and it is something that requires a certain amount of preparation.
  3. -“widest possible interest, nothing must divert us from this”: AR is quite dependent on the amount of discipline and rigour we apply to it, and so not being distracted when we’re in ‘research mode’ is fairly important. One of the most important conditions for research is the attempt to understand and document everything that the scope of research demands.

Questions to consider in your Action Research journey

  1. Research question
  • What sort of a critical lens do you have?
  • What’s happening in your classroom?
  1. Plan, plan, plan: You don’t need a hypothesis, but you do need a plan. Your plan comes from your research agenda and from your world view.
  • What kind of information are you going to get or excavate from the context?
  • How do you see this information as being available to you?
  • Do you have a very scientific mindset? Do you think this information will be black & white or testable?
  • Are you of a much more a participative mindset? Do you prefer to engage with the social reality of the classroom, finding out things as they emerge?

It’s not that you can’t ever have a hypothesis in action research, but that’s just not where your thinking starts.

  1. Action & observation
  • How will you document? Will you keep a journal? Will you use Evernote where you can capture both audio and written notes?
  • What exactly are you going to do?
    • You’ll find that once you start, everything happens quite quickly because you’re right there in the classroom with both your teacher and researcher hats on and the multi-tasking is quite overwhelming if you don’t have enough clarity with what you are doing.
  • When will you reflect?
    • Reflection time is something that we might initially cut back on. However, it’s important to give yourself more time before re-engaging with the context. Practically speaking, you could time it so that your project would end just before the holidays if you teach in an educational institution so you would have some time to digest how it happened.
  • What are you trying to change?
    • What are the individual changes?
    • What are the social changes?
    • What are you trying to deal with?
    • Are you comfortable with talking about these changes?
    • Are you comfortable with doing so in academically responsible language free of unnecessary hyperbole?
  • How will you report?
    • Are you comfortable with going public with what you’ve done, flaws and everything?
      • It’s quite rare for research projects to be perfectly flawless but what matters is how responsibly we report it. When you report something as inadequate, you explain how you would do it differently the next time round and then apply it in the next cycle.

Don’t we plan, act, observe and reflect in our everyday lives as teachers?

The difference is the rigour we impose on our documentation and analysis. We might test drive new things in the classroom all the time. However, we wouldn’t necessarily document, analyse and look up theory.

“Action research is a form of collective self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own social or educational practices, as well as their understanding of these practices and the situations in which these practices are carried out … The approach is only action research when it is collaborative, though it is important to realise that the action research of the group is achieved through the critically examined actions of the individual group members.”

– Kemmis and McTaggart

Three important attributes

1. Reflexive

Give yourself adequate time for self-reflection where you have opportunities to think through what’s happening at each stage. The reflexive critique also requires an awareness of your own biases, cultural, linguistic and administrative, in perception. The important thing is not the absence of bias but how you take ownership for them and report them. You recognize who you are as a researcher and are aware of how you are about to engage with the context. Therefore, you take responsibility for the impact you create in that context and how that in turn has an impact on your thinking

2. Dialectical

These are dimensions of thinking where you notice the relationship between all the different phenomena in the structure and the context. Upon analysing the data, you can infer that X relates Y because Z happened or identify single events that might have changed the course of the project.

3. Plural structures

It’s crucial to get a rich description of your data so you can analyze several threads from it. You will have a problem when you document your data from just one perspective and then reconstruct inefficiently it from memory. One way to overcome this is to video students or use a dictaphone, after having them sign consent forms. In this way, you can take your time with analysing the interaction. Additionally, while writing up parts of subsequent cycles, you may want to revisit what happened before. Instead of going back to your notes which represent just one version, you study the original in the form of audio or audiovisual media

Demystifying research

Research is a powerful tool.

     Research is a tool of power

                         Research says

Research is used as a tool of power in everyday discourse and  the phrase “research says” skews the general opinion of what research is.

Research becomes the yardstick by which we measure all professional practice with often insufficient regard to context. Throwing in a comment about research shuts up a conversation because we perceive research as the outcome of hard academic labour and many of us don’t have access to it as it might sit behind pay-walls as is the case with most journals.

Research becomes a tool of intimidation however well-meaning. It raises a barrier between those who can and those who can’t. While this might distance academic practice from teaching practice, action research is very elegantly situated between the two. To tell a teacher who is in a classroom every day that they must do research in order to become a better teacher is patronizing. It reduces research to yet another badge on your CV. Not every teacher needs to do research and many teachers have perfectly happy and fulfilled careers without being researchers. However, certain reflective processes in a lot of teaching practice could benefit from research.

We often perceive research as a tool but the only limitation with this line of thinking is that we see it as a fairly nuts and bolts process. So, it becomes quite dull and therefore untenable whereas you could be doing far more interesting things with your time. If we start with the view that research is an end defined by data collection, we miss the wider complex structures of research being a means through which we understand our scientific, social and critical realities.


Image attribution: Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO) 2012 by Center for Teaching Vanderbilt University | CC BY-NC 2.0

Challenging students to think critically | Webinar summary

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

Activity: Mystery animal

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Activity: Health facts 

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

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

2. You can treat the flu with antibiotics.

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

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

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

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

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

Activity: Steve?

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

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

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

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

Activity: Discerning intent

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

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

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

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

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

Activity: Flame challenge 

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

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

Activity: Critical thinking for language

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

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

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

Which verb can be used to give orders and instructions?

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

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

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

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

Activity: Visuals 

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

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



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

Activity: Student newspaper headline  

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

Write the headline for this story.

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

Activity: Halo effect

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

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

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

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

Match these adjectives to their antonyms

1. dishonest

2. extroverted

3. hard-working

4. unkind

5. mean

6. serious

7. talkative

8. cowardly

Activity: Persuasive writing

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

Repetition: repeating key words and ideas for emphasis

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

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

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

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

1. Introduce the topic

2. What most people think

3. What most people forget

4. What you need to remember

5. What we want you to do

Activity: Paying for milk 

eye flower weeks

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

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

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