Hey all,

I’m preparing a session on using technology in ELT and I wanted to ask my fellow English teachers what technology you use on a daily basis. The variety of tools and services out there is absolutely daunting, and I wonder which ones you find useful across a broad range of topics, levels, groups and learners, and which resources you often recommend to your learners.

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Here’s my current list of top tools:

  • A file sharing  service (I use dropbox) to share all kinds of files with the learners. I have a dedicated folder for every group and basically upload everything that we’ve used (audios, videos, presentations, the documents that were created in class and so on) to that folder for them to access at home or on the go (all documents are automatically synchronized and accessible from any device anywhere). The learners occasionally upload there their homework, e.g. audio recordings.
  • A way to share links and get in touch with the learners out of class. I teach in company, so I use instant messaging, since all my learners have Skype accounts. So I create a Skype chat for every group – it’s used to remind the learners of the homework, share useful links related to the topic of the lesson, and so on. The learners use it to ask occasional questions, post their writing homework there before class, so I can print it out and come to the next class with marked assignments. As an alternative with teens, I used social media (when I was teaching groups in which all learners had an account) – this did wonders to their motivation to do writing assignments. Not sure what I’d use with learners who don’t all have accounts on the same service.
  • Microsoft Excel to maintain a log of learners’ emerging language / language feedback and to generate revision cards.
  • Google image search to look for pictures. Occasionally, Windows Snipping tool to instantly copy those images. Microsoft Power Point to show those images in class.
  • Youtube videos. My own tool Hydra to look for youtube videos with target topics / grammar / lexis (unfortunately, it’s not working properlyl at the moment) and as a corpus of spoken English when questions about usage arise in class.
  • Online dictionaries, especially Oxford Learners’ Dictionaries to help write definitions for worksheets. A collocations dictionary to check my own writing and to show the learners how their word choices could be improved.
  • A laptop to have access to all of that in class.
  • My wordpress and twitter feeds and especially Teaching English – British Council web page to get new teaching ideas.

When I was teaching teens, I also used to use

(This is all that came to mind, but if I think of more, I’ll update the post.)

So, could you possibly share your favourite tools that you would recommend to teachers who are starting out?

A lot of posts on this blog are listening lessons and worksheets. In this post I wanted to share a story that is related to listening, but doesn’t involve teaching any decoding skills, or actually any language teaching at all.

A while ago I was teaching an A2 group of IT professionals. One of the learners had just joined a project with a British customer, and the customer was visiting the office, giving several hours’ worth of presentations every day. We’d done a couple of lessons on authentic listening with that group, but of course the task of following several hours of presentations every day would be exceptionally challenging at A2 level and I seriously doubted that the learner would cope.

At one point I met him in the corridor and asked how he was doing. He beamed and said, ‘Thanks! It worked!’ At first I was at a complete loss what he meant, but then I remembered that I’d met him a couple of days before and he’d complained that he was getting extremely tired in those meetings and couldn’t follow at all after about 30 minutes. This was only to be expected of course, but I thought of some finger fitness exercises that I had used in order to relax while I was preparing for my Delta exam, and so I showed them to my learner on the off chance that they would help.

And apparently they did help. Actually, it’s pretty obvious that for that learner the 2 minutes that he spent learning those exercises were a lot more useful than the two 90-minute lessons on authentic listening that he’d had, and I don’t quite know what to make of this fact. I’ve taught a few courses devoted exclusively to listening, and among all the decoding and meaning-building work it had never occurred to me to teach my learners anything of the sort, although I know that a lot of them have to listen in on long meetings and that they must get extremely tired. It’s almost like, no matter how principled the approach and how comprehensive the syllabus, there will always be a gaping hole in it which I might only notice by chance. Also, one of the reasons I avoid showing these finger fitness exercises to my learners is that I fear to be thought a complete freak. I guess at least this problem is now solved, as next time I teach a group, I could simply tell them this story and let them decide for themselves if they’d like to try out ‘the freaky finger yoga’ or not..

 

I’ve posted quite a few listening lessons on this blog, and up to now they were all worksheets meant to be used by a teacher in class. This time I’m sharing an online self-study lesson, for B1 level and higher, that allows learners to explore the features of connected speech and train listening decoding at their own pace. The lesson is based on a snippet from an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, an American journalist, at Toronto Public Library.

Lesson_gladwell

The web tool that I used to build this lesson is still in a bit of experimental stage (e.g. unfortunately right now you can’t save or print out your answers, and there might be other minor snags). Still, I hope that it will be useful for learners who need to train themselves to understand fast authentic speech.

If you try the lesson, I’d be very grateful for your feedback.

IATEFL Business English SIG are running their 1st Online Symposium today – a day of pecha kuchas, talks and workshops on Business English topics.

Here’s a summary of a Pecha Kucha presentation by Rachel Appleby (@rapple18): The Confidence to Stand Up and Talk!

Abstract:

Presentations are common in business contexts, and yet, regardless of age and experience, even the most senior in the company can find this challenge nerve-wracking. Course materials provide long lists of “useful phrases”, how to use visuals effectively, and so on, but still many of our clients lack the confidence to do this well. What clients specifically need is how to get started, engage their audience, keep them involved, and, not least, how to end effectively. This pecha kucha will take the fast-lane approach to hooks and tools to help clients not just survive but succeed!

For some people presenting in English is more nerve-wracking that meeting a spider. How to help our students?  Rachel is going to present 7 ideas to help the learners build up the confidence to present in English.

Slides

1. A good idea: if you don’t have a new idea, tweak it and provide a new a new angle on the topic.
Examples:  ‘Recent Sales Figures’ >> ‘The key points about recent sales figures’ or ‘Something you didn’t know about..’; ‘Update on a project’ >> ‘Three features about the project’ / ‘What no-one else has done’.

2 How to start? if the beginning doesn’t make a good impression, you’re doomed.From the very beginning, get attention of the audience, e.g. through a quote / a fun fact (‘Did you know?..‘). Rachel’s favourite is a hands-up question (involves the audience and no-one needs to speak).

3 Have a ‘take home’ message. We could change the audience’s knowledge, attitude or behaviour – all three could be the ‘take-away’.

4 Also, establish your credibility (say a few things about yourself).

5 Provide direction: organize content to have clear structure, e.g. have three WH-questions on the first slide that you answer during the presentation, or organized it around a problem>> solution.

Involve the audience (e.g. get them to discuss a question, ask Yes/No questions).

7 Plan the end in advance. This is an invaluable opportunity to make your points again. Get the learners to write down ~3 sentences they’ll end their talk with. Some options: come down to the beginning? Summarize?

This was a very enjoyable and useful session: I feel that these seven key points would make a great check-list for anyone preparing to give a talk. 

This blog has been quiet for a while, because life really got in the way.

I spent the bulk of spring finishing my Delta Module 3 assignment (the mammoth of a text had over 200 pages of appendices by the time I sent it off to Cambridge), and then three weeks ago I had a wonderful baby daughter, who’s been amusing and occupying me ever since.

This post is a bit of a diary entry, actually. Normally I don’t create any materials when I’m not teaching, but this post will be an exception. Right now I’m doing an iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far (and a nice change from the stress and toll of Delta), and I thought I’d make a note of some of the things that I’ve learnt on the course and post some of my assignments here.

My biggest takeaway from the first life session was the idea to bring together the materials writing principles that I adhere to and use this list as a checklist to proofread the worksheets that I create. When I started writing down the principles, they were an incoherent mess, but after a while some logic emerged:

Autenticity
Materials should

  • have clear aims that are authentic (real-world outcomes that the learners desire to achieve);
  • focus on language points/sub-skills that are key to achieving the aims (as opposed to ‘shoe-horning’ pre-chosen language points with no regard for discourse). To achieve that, they should be informed by insight into language in authentic use, e.g. be researched through a corpus or use authentic texts, and insight into performance of competent speakers);
  • stimulate genuine communication/authentic use of language, empowering the learners to get across the meanings they want to get across and, more generally, achieve the outcomes they want to achieve.

Methodology
Materials should

  • be informed by insight into language acquisition;
  • cater for the learners’ learning needs (e.g. stimulate and sustain interest, stimulate motivation e.g. by providing the learners with the opportunity to notice the gap between their performance and target performance; be cognitively engaging; elicit emotional response; be aesthetically pleasing; build the learners’ confidence; promote learner autonomy);
  • provide the learners with sufficient support through a well-designed sequence of tasks, e.g. focusing on Meaning/Form/Pronunciation of language or targeting specific sub-skills (this also means that they should not be overloaded: LESS is MORE);
  • provide opportunities for feedback.

The assignment for the first week was to create a worksheet based on a very short authentic text. I chose this 40-second video:

Lesson Overview
Level: B1

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fjYeUHGLw (from Google Developers Youtube channel);
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 60-75 minutes 
Lesson aim: the learners will improve their ability to understand a British accent and get practice talking about what they love about their job and/or hobby.

The course has a thriving Google Plus community where course participants share their material writing assignments, leave feedback and share tips, and for me this has been a great opportunity to hear suggestions how to improve the listening worksheets that I have been creating – something that has never really happened with materials posted on this blog – and I found the feedback from the course participants and Katherine immensely valuable.

Here’s the summary of the feedback that I got so far:

  • For key elements of the lesson, don’t rely on the Teacher’s notes and the teacher. Most of my lesson plans have an element of decoding work, but up to now I never actually wrote any information about the features of connected speech in the worksheet explicitly, leaving it for the teacher to cover. This is bound to be confusing for the learners, so in this worksheet I summarized the key points in an information box.
  • Teacher’s notes: first, explore teacher’s books and look for good instructions to steal. Second, choose a style of presentation and stick to it, e.g. how will the Keys be highlighted? Will I use bullet points or paragraphs of text to present longer procedures? Third, use simpler language both in the teacher’s notes and in the instructions (one way to do that is to run them through a vocabulary profiler, aiming for A2 vocabulary).

So, here’s the resulting worksheet. I would be thrilled to hear any other tips how it could be improved. Any thoughts?

 

Update

If you attended my session, please leave your feedback! https://goo.gl/VkjZXw 

Excel templates: 20 cards out of questions; Randomizer (20 cards out of a long list of questions)

Links to all board games are in the slides (view below or download .pptx from here):

dropbox.com – file sharing
https://tekhnologic.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/tic-tac-toe-setting-discussion-goals/ – the template by Tekhnologic for gamifying discussions
quizlet.com – ready-made card sets, interactive games
If you have any questions, please email me at: olyaelt@gmail.com

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Just a quick post spreading the word about an online CPD event taking place this coming Sunday (20 March). A group of teachers in Russia is organizing a one-day online conference focusing on Technologies in teaching English, as well as a range of ELT topics. The abstracts look very exciting, and I’m really looking forward to the event (also very happy to have been invited to give a workshop). Check out the abstracts at the conference website (below is a quick overview of the sessions). If you find something that’s of interest to you, see you there!

Schedule

Time /Stream Technologies in teaching English

09:00 – 09:15 Msk time (06:00-06:15 GMT)

Welcoming

09:15 – 09:55 (06:15-06:55 GMT)

Nik Peachey “Tools for exploiting digital video”

10:00 – 10:40 (7:00 – 7:40 GMT)

Russell Stannard «What role can the flipped classroom play in teaching English»

10:40 – 11:15

Coffee Break

11:15 – 11:55  (8:15 – 8:55 GMT)

Sara Emin E-assessment: How technology can reshape our assessment practices

12:00 – 12:40 ( 9:00-9:40 GMT)

Mike Harrison “Six-second stories: deconstructing and understanding narratives in short form video”

12:40 – 13:15

Coffee Break

13:15 – 13:55 (10:15 – 10:55  GMT)

Sylvia Guinan “Engaging Young learner online”

14:00 – 14:40 (11:00 – 11:40  GMT)

Vanja Fazinic “Learning Language through creative process of filmmaking”

14:45 – 15:00 (11:45 – 12:00  GMT)

Yulia Belonog: Vimbox ecosystem for online language teaching

15:00 – 15:30

Coffee Break

15:30 – 16:10 (12:30 – 13:10  GMT)

Angelos Bollas «Speaking Homework using VoiceThread for Intermediate Students»

16:10 – 16:50  (13:10 – 13:50 GMT)

Olya Sergeeva “Creating games with technology – a real time saver”

17:00 – 17:15

Thank you
Time/Stream ESOL

 

9:45 – 10:15 Moscow time (6:45 – 7:15  GMT)

Tatiana Odintsova «Russian State Exam (EGE) speaking: effective preparation strategies»

10:20 – 10:50 (7:20 – 7:50  GMT)

Natalia Kachan “Dogme: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats”

10:55 – 11:25 (7:55 – 8:25  GMT)

Elena Peresada How to Gamify your English Class

11:25 – 11:45

Coffee Break

11:45 – 12:15 (8:25 – 9:15  GMT)

James Egerton «Examining obsessions: Exam preparation classes, their effects on the individual and society, and what we can do to reduce the negatives»

12:20 – 12:50 (9:20 – 9:50  GMT)

Marina Kladova “Designing Creative Tasks to Develop Language Proficiency within the TBLT Framework”

12:55 – 13:20 (9:55 – 10:20  GMT)

Anna Pochepaeva “Last-minute solutions for successful preparation for Russian National Exam”

13:20 – 13:40

Coffee Break

13:40 – 14:10 (10:40 – 11:10  GMT)

Mike Astbury “Grammar Games: practice and production of the target language”

14:15 – 14:45 (11:15 – 11:45  GMT)

Lizzie Pinard “Developing learner autonomy”

14:50 – 15:20 (11:50 – 12:20 GMT)

Valeriya Meshcheryakova “How to speak English to a 3-year-old.” Talk in Russian!

15:25 – 15:55 (12:25 – 12:55 GMT)

Duda Costa “A Taste of Dogme for Young Learners”

16:00 – 16:15 (13:00 – 13:15  GMT)

Zoltán Rozgonyi “Why do learners _________ exams?”

 

Ever since I read the great Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field, the book on developing listening skills, I became quite passionate about the need to consistently help learners cope with high frequency grammar structures in authentic speech, incorporating authentic listening work into grammar work. In the previous lesson on this blog the focus was on the way modals are pronounced.

In this new video-based lesson based on an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, the learners practice their speaking, grammar for story-telling and again practice listening decoding, focusing on target grammar.

More specifically, the learners

  • [listening: gist] listen to scary stories that happened to Leonardo Dicaprio;
  • [grammar] explore the ways Present Perfect, Past Simple and Continuous are used in stories (Present Perfect typically comes at the beginning of the story to describe or ask about general life experience; Past Simple is used to describe a sequence of events; Past Continuous, for background information);
  • [listening: decoding skills] notice the way these tenses sound in authentic speech (some sounds get dropped from the verbs and linkers, which might make this grammar problematic for listeners);
  • [speaking] tell each other stories about the scariest/funniest/saddest things that have happened to them;
  • [spoken grammar, optional] explore using Present Simple/Continuous in stories to achieve a dramatic effect and using ‘He goes’ to report what someone said.

Videos used in the lesson:

Story 1 (Tasks 1 – 8)

Story 2 (Optional task 10)

Level: Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate (B1/B2)

Time: 90-120 minutes

Materials:

  • an editable Microsoft Word worksheet (docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download the .pdf file from Slideshare:
  • [for listening decoding work] A power point presentation (zip) where the words problematic for listeners are isolated, so that the learners can really hear what sounds are dropped. To play the audios, unpack the archive.

 

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One of the questions that my learners (who are IT people) are very likely to be asked during interviews and promotion reviews is ‘Tell us about your favourite technology’. But, whatever their profession, Business English learners need to learn to speak fluently and persuasively when presenting the advantages of products, tools and options.

Here’s a ‘geeky’ lesson plan in which the learners

  • watch a video of a developer talking about the features of his favourite browser (activities: gist listening, listening decoding skills)
  • analyze linkers used for listing ideas
  • briefly revise modal verbs (could, (don’t) have to)
  • talk about their favourite tools, apps and technologies

It worked very well with my learners, who spent more than fifteen minutes discussing the relative merits of file managers and development environments. For learners who are less geeky, I included a range of other websites and apps to talk about, e.g. social networks, messengers and and to-do list apps.

Level: Intermediate (B1)

Time: 90 minutes

Materials: an editable Microsoft Word worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you could download the .pdf file from Slideshare:

feedback-520527_1280

Every teacher has their own favourite activities and methods, and the thing that I’m very passionate about is language feedback (or ’emerging language’, as it is sometimes called): capturing what the students say, upgrading it, and revising it extensively (I guess up to 20-30% of most of my classes are spent working with the language earlier ‘captured’ during the students’ production). I’m a big fan of the posts about error correction by Jonny Ingham (e.g. this one and this one) in which he shares his highly visual way in which he approaches feedback. But I personally do it slightly differently, using a few software tools.

A couple of months ago I learnt from this post of Tekhnologic how to consistently approach revising a database of questions in a fun way that involves no extra effort in terms of lesson preparation, using an Excel template that produces revision games. I wrote a post about the template, but what I’ve since found talking to colleagues was that most of them prefer to hear about the template and the games from me, and see an example of how to use it, and not read an email or a post. So yesterday, after I actually chatted about it three times with three different people, I got the idea to record a video showing how to work with the template and how I personally approach feedback. I’m not sure it wasn’t a disastrous idea, but it has been made, so here it comes!

Part 1 (~15 mins) basically just summarizes the previous post (how to produce cards for games using the Excel template, how to import flashcard sets from quizlet, and the rules of the games themselves).

Part 2 (~15 mins) is about my way of dealing with feedback consistently (I show what my feedback database looks like, how I share it with the students using cloud storage, and how I approach revision). My routine is pretty basic. I think some people will recognize what they are doing, and probably others will think it won’t work because it’s boring. Regarding this second point, it seems that at least my learners (adult Business English students) find it not boring but predictable (which is good) and, going by the surveys that I conducted, most of them see this work as the most valuable element of the course.

If you watch the video, let me know what you’d do differently and why, and how you personally approach this issue in class.

Today I’m sharing a lesson based on four video snippets with Google employees describing their career paths and how they got to Google. Although this topic is covered extensively in every Business English course, I wanted to give my group (which is a very strong Pre-Intermediate group about to finish the course) exposure to authentic speech, and this material seemed both interesting linguistically and not too challenging. The learners revise past simple and present perfect (time adverbials used with those tenses), practice listening decoding skills (listening to verbs in past simple and present perfect), focus on vocabulary to talk about educational background and career paths, and finish the lesson by speaking about their own career paths.

I must admit I was very unsure that the learners would cope well with the listening tasks, because my previous attempts to introduce (tiny bits of) authentic listening in that group had caused a lot of frustration. But this time they did all right. Apart from Task 2, all they needed to do was to discriminate between Past Simple and Present Perfect – the ‘secret reason’ for the task was to get them to notice how Past Simple is pronounced (very often it sounds very close to Present Simple, as the ending /t/ is barely pronounced, which might be confusing for the learners). NB For the tasks in which the students listen to sentences one by one to check their answers, it’s better to open the videos on youtube and use the interactive transcript feature to replay sentences.

One thing that I noticed while working on this worksheet that I had never noticed before was that speakers tend to use vague language with periods of time (‘a little over a year ago’, ‘for about four and a half years’, ‘for a bit’ – other examples that didn’t make it into the worksheet were ‘for quite a number of years’, ‘for close to six years’). This definitely sounds a lot more natural, but I’d never thought to teach this little trick to my students who were preparing for exams.

Anyway, here’s the worksheet – let me know if you use it or if you see how it could be improved.

career-247299_1280

Level: Intermediate (B1)
Time: 90 minutes
Materials: a worksheet (feel free to edit and adapt).

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare:

Extract 1:

Extract 2:

Extract 3:

Extract 4:

NB These videos come from Google Developers Youtube channel.