Tag: Webinars

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

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 | September – December 2016

Have you attended any interesting webinars lately? I’ve been missing all the good stuff and turning up for the crap ones because let’s face it, it’s not all insights and epiphanies. Here are some webinars to keep you (hopefully) engaged till the end of the year. An * marks webinars that require registration.




TEFL Equity 

Teacher development 

Pedagogy & niche topics 


Online conferences 

Corporate topics

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



Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Jan – Feb 2016

I wove a wrap for you with some webinars, using disparate threads I found across the net. I realise it’s a bit late in the month but as they say better later than never.


Here are some upcoming webinars on teaching, research, and learning related topics. An * that you need to register for the webinar.



Do let me know if I’ve missed any. 

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