Posts Tagged ‘books’

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight.

Below are my notes from the mini-workshop on How to write writing activities by Rachael Roberts, who has also written a book with the same title: 


Rachael started by pointing out that writing activities are often left out or ‘done for homework’. In one-to-one context writing is also ‘weird’ because it’s silent. But increasingly more and more communication is done through writing, and so Rachael is passionate about teaching writing.

Sometimes when the learners are set a writing task, they aren’t given any support and so they have to ‘take a plunge’. In contrast, Rachael is going to focus on how to make the task manageable, i.e. scaffold the learners.

To break down the writing task, we need to think about the ‘ingredients’ of a piece of writing and

  • select which ingredients are key for the task;
  • decide in which order to approach them.

Key ingredients

Example: for a letter of application key ingredients would be the register and set phrases. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a report, it’s extremely important to think about the organization.


Regarding lexis, there might be two ‘kinds’ of vocabulary that are key to the task:

  1. language to help organize the text and
  2. topic-related language.

For (1) the best thing to do is to have a model. Possible scaffolding: highlight the key expressions in the model and set the task for the learners to sort the expressions.

For (2), Rachael looks at samples of texts on the topic and puts them into a word cloud. This might reveal some vocabulary that isn’t obviously associated with the topic E.g. in this example you see that climate change is related to migration and crisis.


Logical order

To help us explore the typical order of a writing lesson, Rachael invited us to order the following stages of writing an essay:


Here is the ‘key’ – a layout of a writing lesson:

  • Tasks to activate schemata and, possibly, introduce some language
  • Read a model essay.
  • Start analyzing the essay: identify the thesis statement; identify the topic sentences;
  • Focus on grammar: identify the passive statements (focus on grammar after focus on meaning and context); practice passives (rewrite a set of sentences, using passives where appropriate);
  • Do the actual writing: the plan, a draft, check against a checklist and revise the draft.


It seems that in this session Rachael has achieved the impossible and distilled the nuts and bolts of teaching writing to a fifteen minute workshop that included a practical element. An extremely useful, clear and concise framework to keep to hand.

As I mentioned above, this workshop was based on a module that Rachael wrote for ELT Teacher 2 Writer. It’s now also a chapter in a print book, which was great news for me, because I vastly prefer hard copies to ebooks – so I grabbed the book the moment it came out. I’ve just finished reading the chapter written by Rachael, and I really really enjoyed it.


In the book, it’s a 38 page chapter (in other words, quite manageable for even a very busy teacher), and just like the workshop that Rachael gave, it’s an extremely clear, concise and hands-on take on creating writing activities. About a quarter of the module is devoted to an overview of activities and task types that might be used to help learners with the different ‘key ingredients’ of a writing task. Rachael also touches on the practical consideration of

  • how to choose which approach to teaching writing to use
  • how to analyze and write model texts
  • the ways writing for digital might be different from writing traditional activities, and more.

She mentions a lot of pitfalls to avoid, and also includes over a dozen practical tasks for the reader that really help process the ideas in the text. All in all, I can recommend this module not only to teachers who actually create writing materials, but also to anyone who teaches writing and wants to gain deeper understanding of how coursebook materials on writing work. 


The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight. Below are my notes from the first of those mini workshops. It was delivered by Evan Frendo and focused on one of the topics that he addressed in his book on writing corporate training materials: 


Evan started his workshop by looking as some of the reason that might motivate a company / training department to commission in-house materials:

  • current materials are inadequate
  • company enters a new market / launches a product with specific language needs
  • a request from in-company language trainers
  • feedback on current materials from learners might trigger a request for company-specific materials
  • it can be as simple as a new HR manager
  • or you sell them the idea

Next he shared two examples of timelines for material writing projects that he’d done, the first one for a ‘traditional’ set of materials and the second one for an e-learning course (his e-learning courses are show-cased here):



Next Evan asked us to imagine we are sitting down for an initial meeting with your potential client. What do you want on the agenda? Here are his points that he recommended discussing:

  • Objectives: what do they want out of the project? Often this is not done well and this is revealed half way through the project.
  • Approach: are you going to adhere to the approach they want or will you try and insist on your approach?
  • What human resources do you need? Who is the team on your and their side.
  • Timelines: milestones, etc.
  • Risk management. ‘What happens if’-type questions. Rarely done well – but up to a third of projects might not see the end due to force major factors like the change of company management, acquisitions, etc.
  • Communication with stakeholders: face to face? online? Evan recommends doing at least a couple of face to face meetings to build rapport and relationships – if things start to go wrong, it’s the relationship that was forged during those meeting that will help you to weather the storm.
  • What are the constraints? What happens when there are changes – and there are going to be changes?
  • Access to places and people: you do need a corpus. Unless this is put this down in writing, you’re unlikely to get this access.

I found this mini session very interesting and informative. I’m currently enjoying the security of writing materials for a company where I’m employed full time, and the reality of writing in this setting is obviously a lot less harsh than writing as a freelancer. So I can see how I might start taking some things for granted and so, when I venture ‘out there’, it will be all too easy for me to overlook some crucial things that need to be discussed. For instance, I would never expect up to a third of projects to never see completion. So for me Evan’s checklist of things that need to be discussed at the start of the project is simply invaluable, and so are the other tips he gave, e.g. how to actually land a project. But the real gem of the session for me was the two project timelines that Evan shared. I’ve never participated in creating an e-learning course, and it was very interesting to sneak a peek at a real project with its stages and the associated timelines.

Also, as Evan’s session was related to his book ‘How to write corporate training materials’, I just have to mention that I can’t recommend this book enough. In this book he offers a very clear framework for creating a company-specific course and liberally supports it with examples from his own experience and from research (I particularly enjoyed the case studies at the end of the book).  This title was an invaluable resource for my Delta Module 3. It’s also short, which means it’s an ideal starting point for someone who teaches general or exam English but is thinking of venturing into business English, so I’ve been recommending it to my friends who’re thinking of taking that step. 

I’m enjoying a Saturday lie-in with Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis, a great new book which arrived in my mail just yesterday. It made me think of a quick exercise that can be used as a follow-up to any reading or listening activity. 2015-07-18 17.52.12It’s really simple, but since it takes a bit of technology to create it quickly, I thought I’d write a quick post.

The book overviews the insights into language achieved by corpus linguistics and discusses their implications for the ELT classroom. I’m currently reading the chapter called Corpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a number of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

I’m thinking of giving my students an occasional gap-fill exercise based on the reading and listening texts that we are working on, with these verbs gapped out (their frequency is said to be higher in conversation than fiction, news and academic texts, so probably the task will work best with listening transcripts and informal writing, e.g. forum posts).

Finding and replacing the various forms of these verbs could be time-consuming, but there are tools in which one can make such a gap-fill exercise in one click. The first one is a free nifty little text editor called Notepad++.

notepadThe trick is that the editor uses so-called ‘regular expressions’ to allow you to search for more than one expression at once. So, if you open your text file in Notepad++ and type in (some|any) in the search box, you’ll see all occurrences of both words in your file and will be able to replace them with gaps in one click. The following search will find all verb forms of the 12 verbs mentioned above:


(If you want to know why this expression matches all forms of those verbs, scroll to the bottom of the post).

Here’s how to create a gap-fill using Notepad++ in a bit more detail:

  1. Insert your text into Notepad++, select the text (on my system, by pressing CTRL+A),  and open the search window by pressing CTRL+H.
  2. In the search window, click the ‘Mark’ tab. Ensure that Search mode is set to ‘Regular expressions’ and that the ‘in selection’ check box is checked. Insert this into the ‘Find what’ box:

    Click ‘Mark all’ to highlight all occurrences of these words, so that you can look through them and check how many there are and how they’re used, and that nothing unrelated was accidentally found. In the example below there are 14 matches.

  3. Go to the ‘Replace’ tab, type in ‘________’ into the ‘Replace with’ box and click ‘Replace all’.
  4. Finally, insert the gap-filled text alongside the initial text into a word document. Voilà!

As an alternative to installing Notepad++, use the web-based Find and Replace tool – thanks to Mura Nava for the heads up! It’s even quicker and you don’t have to install it on your computer (one possible drawback is that you can’t highlight and check what you’re going to replace).


I’ve tried this activity with a few transcripts from youtube, and I found it doable and enjoyable. I think I want to try to use it on a regular basis with my Upper-Intermediate students, encouraging them to note down interesting chunks with those verbs.

Let me know what you think.


Biber, D. and Reppern, R. (2002) What does frequency have to do with grammar teaching? Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24/2: 199-208

Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice. Routledge

A bit on regular expressions

If you want to create your own regular expression searches, you might like to figure out how the one in this post works.

  • | stands for ‘or’. So (say|said) will return all present/past/past participle forms of ‘say’.
  • ? stands for ‘this part is optional’. So, (say|said)(s|ing)? will return all the forms from the previous example, plus ‘says’, ‘saying’, ‘saids’, and ‘saiding’. Only the first two words exist, but that doesn’t matter.
  • Some instances might be ‘false positives’. For example, ‘essays’ contains ‘say’, but that’s clearly not what we need. So, we need a way to show the tool that we’re only looking for full words. This is done by wrapping the search expression into ‘\b’ tags (they stand for ‘word boundary’).

So, in order to find all verb forms, I list all present and irregular forms, separating them by ‘or’, add possible endings (ed|ing|s)?, account for the fact that (e) will disappear before ing (hence, mak(e)?) and add \b at the beginning and the end:



Function words, such as pronouns, auxiliary verbs and conjunctions, can be frustratingly difficult for learners to make out in fast unscripted speech. Not only can diphthongs get reduced to monophongs (that  is, I can sound like u in ‘cup’) and not only can vowels get dropped (that is, ‘does‘ can sound like ‘dz’ and ‘any‘ like ‘ny‘), but whole high-frequency combinations of ‘grammar’ words can blend together. While some such blendings, e.g. ‘cou ja’ and ‘wou ja’ are well known and routinely taught, others go unnoticed and as a result can lead to listening difficulties. 

To make matters worse, in my experience as a language learner, massive exposure doesn’t always help, probably because it’s quite hard to guess what it is that you’ve missed. This might be because there’s not enough thinking time, the average function word being so short, or maybe because as soon as it becomes clear that you’ve missed a whole stretch of words, your mind reflexively focusses on the surrounding lexical words in an attempt to compensate. So, unless you stop the recording and replay it/look at the script (I’m too lazy to be bothered 🙂 ), you get no feedback and hence do not learn.

As a very concrete example, I’d watched a season after season of Jonathan Ross’s show without perceptible gains in comprehension, but as soon as I learnt a few (infinitely surprising) facts about connected speech, like

  • /aʊ/ may get reduced to /ʌ/
  •  /ɪ/ may get dropped at the beginning of a conditional clause (so ‘if I’ might sound like /fʌ/),
    I immediately started getting ‘aha’ moments listening to his speech (e.g. making out his extra short ‘out’s and ‘our’s).

There has recently been published a groundbreaking book called Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field on how to treat this and other aspects of listening systematically. Field starts out with a controversial claim that all traditional listening practice effectively tests listening rather than teaching it. He then goes on to give a comprehensive analysis of the sub-skills involved in listening, first dividing the skill into ‘decoding’ and ‘meaning building’ and then deconstructing these two processes into the constituent micro ‘building blocks’. For each of these ‘blocks’, he describes concrete, tangible learner problems and gives plenty of suggestions for classroom activities addressing each of those problems. This book was a revelation to me and I’m quite sure that Field’s ideas will be commonplace in language coursebooks in 10 years’ time, just as work on collocations has become commonplace over the past couple of decades.


One of the general guidelines that the author gives is providing students with regular short intensive decoding practice through gap-fills that focus on just one feature of connected speech (e.g. ‘t’/’d’ being reduced to a glottal stop at the ends of words). He doesn’t go into detail on why practice should be intensive and not distributed, but this is not the first time I’ve come across the idea that intensive practice in key to skill development, so I’m guessing this must be insight from  some theory or another (one of the disciplines John Field teaches is psycholinguistics).

So I’ve been looking for ways to provide students with such practice without spending hours editing audiofiles, and as it turns out there are quite a few videos produced by language teachers that are just perfect for this. I can’t imagine how much work went into this, but they produced compilations of 3 to 10 second extracts from films featuring a particular grammar structure. These videos have subtitles and could simply be shared with students via a group blog, but I’d suggest taking this one step further and creating gap-fill exercises, as this would expose the problem of decoding function words  much more effectively and target the students’ attention towards the problematic area. I feel that the video on ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ could be particularly valuable, as it really highlights the impact sentence stress has on meaning. I’m still looking for a nifty free tool to hide the subtitles.

Was/were: was/were

1. Spider-Man ________ hero.
2. ______ ready? ______ born ready.
3. A hundred years ago, ______ one and a half billion people on Earth.
4. Exactly! ______ a worker, but now _______  war hero!
5. Oh, right! _______ my sister.
6. But ______ young and proud!
7. Yesterday, _______ such an easy game to play.
8. _______ asleep!
9. ______ your mistake.
10. Ben, ______ born for this.
11. ‘I can’t believe it!’ ‘Oh Mike..’ ‘_______ on TV!’
12. ______ accident. A tragic accident.
13. My ________ born today.
14. _______ name?
15. A long time ago, when we first came here, ______ so different.
16. ______ as popular at university as ________ at school.
17. Your _________ fighter and a patriot.
18. ______ mine and ______ sweethearts.
19. ______ married to a beautiful woman who had family money.
20. Do you have any idea _______ behind this attack?
21. And yes, ______ little drunk.
22. ______ a mistake to bring Shreck here.
23. ______ best thing that ever happened to me.
24. That relationship ______ complete waste of time.
25. I never said ______ innocent.
26. His resignation ______ his confession.
27. Thanks, guys. Thanks for the party. _______ great. Really!
28. ___________ last night? I told you, ______ sick.
29. I knew ________ real.
30. For once, the gossips __________.
31. _________ a time ______ everything and nothing all in one.
32. ______ the star in the 1973 hit film Zanjeer?
33. __________ the last time _______ home? Two years, two hundred sixty four days and this morning.
34. ______ that? I didn’t say anything. Okay. Alright. Good night. Sleep well.
35. On Sunday you went home along. _______ tears in your eyes.
36. Edward Perriman Cole died in May. ______ Sunday afternoon and ________ cloud in the sky.
37. ______ on the floor. I didn’t know ______ state secret.

am/is/are 1

1. _______ you name? Leon.
2. _______ okay?
3. _______ still here!
4. _______ a good soldier.
5. _______ possible.
6. _______ Holly Hills.
7. _______ proud of you.
8. _______ machines! _______ cattle! _______ men!
9. _______ okay, _______ here.
10. _______ busy.
11. _______ careful. Even in defeat Saruman is dangerous.
12. Their secret _______ teamwork.
13. _______ my older brother.
14. _______ not human, _______
15. This house _______ hundred and fifty years old.
16. _______ serial killer.
17. _______ a problem, William. _______ solution..
18. Commodus _______ moral man.
19. The fate of Christopher Robin _______ our hands.
20. Oh my god! _______ miracle
21. _______ always on my mind.
22. _______ impossible. _______ in prison. _______ impossible.
23. _______ like you. _______ murderer.
24. But your business _______ a little dangerous.
25. The spirit of Troy _______ that sword.
26. _______ not different. _______
27. The cub _______ year old and still dependent on its mother.
28. _______ beautiful
29. _______ real?

am/is/are 2

1. ________ insane?
2. To them ________ just a freak, like me.
3. ________ the thief. ________ face familiar to you.
4. ________ challenge?
5. Uh, whose car ________ out front?
6. ________ mother alive?
7. ________ best part of my day.
8. ________ about you. ________ about us!
9. ________ sorry about your grandson.
10. ________ amasing.
11. The planet’s indisputable super-river ________ Amazon.
12. ________ pregnant!
13. Whose sword ________? Mine.
14. ________ very god, very loyal. ________, boys?
15. ________ an alient, ________ legal alien, ________ Englishman in New York.
16. ________ my classroom, boy!
17. ________ genius!
18. ________ father here?
19. ________ the last hope left.
20. ________ satisfied.
21. ________ sorry.
22. This Canadian bear ________ special.
24. ________ crazy, ________ crazy!
25. ________ nobody’s master, got it?
26. ________ sign fromApollo
27. ________ completely terrified.
28. ________ power, not love.
29. ________ here, ________ nothing I fear.
30. ________ unacceptable.
31. This guy ________ crazy.
32 My father ________ different than any other powerful man.
33. ________ good idea.
34. ________ here because ________ free. ________ here because ________ not free.

am/is/are 3

1. _______ profitable.
2. See, _______ monster!
3. _______ father.
4. Wow! _______ spaceship!
5. Ahh, change _______ good! Yeah, but _______ easy.
6. _______ most responsible man I’ve ever known.
7. Well, well, _______ historic day.
8. _______ good papa, Papa.
9. Lucy _______ very special person, very different from other people.
10. _______ perfect.
11. _______ happy for you. _______ honorable man.
12. Yes, _______ clumsy, _______?
13. Okay. _______ free to go.
14. Four weeks old and the cub _______ blind.
15. _______ real. _______ here.
16. _______ wrong with you.
17. _______ interesting. That ground _______ wet.
18. _______ disrespect, master. _______ truth.
19. Hi. _______ for me?
20. _______ beautiful writer.
21. _______ good to be home!
22. Life _______ bigger.
23. Robert _______ overprotective because _______ doctor.
24. The point _______ fear is natural.
25. _______ still alive.
26. Oow! _______ problem.
27. For some women, beauty _______ only talent.
28. _______ today?
29. _______ good news!
30. _______.
31. Christopher Robin! _______ there?
32. _______ about you.
33. _______ wrong with my future?
34. Because _______ special and unique!
35. Okay, look! _______ sorry! Alright?

present continuous in films

1. _______________ now?
2. Charlie _______________ on the wall. What? Charlie. ________________ on the wall.
3. Dexter, _______________ to me? Yes, _______________ .
4. _______________ you, _______ ? A little!
5. I know _______________. _______ breakfast?
6. Merlin, _______________ ? _______ for a book.
7. Carey, do you have a second? Sure, what’s up?
_______________ about me? _______________ about you? Are you Upriser 7? _______________ about? _______________ online about me.
8. I know _______________ . _______________ anything.
9. ______________________?
10. ______________________.
11. Yes… me. What? Cary? Kalinda? ________________? ________________? ________ omlette, what do you think? Where are you? I need some help. OK, now?
12. Hey guys, _______________? Chemistry.
13. ________________ at? You, Eli. ________________ at you.
14. Mum! Phineas and Ferb ________________ a title sequence!

future simple

1. ________ remember your name.
2. Oh, young master, one day ________ king.
3. ________ you my whole life.
4. ________ this house today.
5. ________ ask again.
6. Now, ________ ever fall in love with somebody else’s lover.
7. Please come home. If you come home, ________ protect you.
8. ________ see you again, Michael?
9. ________ join you? ________
10. The problem is that Portugal ________ more money.
11. ________ come back and free you, Mom. I promise.
11. ________ you what you want.
12. ________ not tell anyone.
13. ________ never be on the wrong side again.
14. And I know ________ no more tears in heaven.
15. Maybe ________ his mind. No, no, I don’t think so.
16. ________ never let anybody hurt you.
17. ________ easier than I thought.
18. ________ always be Spider-Man.
19. There ________ a war.
20. In time ________ to trust your feelings.
21. ________ you again, ________?
22. If you really love her, ________ her go.
23. ________ marry me?
24. ________ this.
25. So ________ try to come?
26. ________ trouble for you. I just want the truss.
27. Kludd, I promise ________ anyone what you’re doing.
28. ________ my best.

Can or Can’t?

1. ________ follow me?
2. Sorry, ________ answer!
3. ________ find all this in London?
4. Listen! ________ help you!
5. ________ breathe!
6. Lady Arwen, ________ delay.
7. Nothing ________ permanently.
8. ________ see me now.
9. ________ trust you?
10. ________ sleep.
11. ________ do for you?
12. ________ move! ________ talk! ________ walk!
13. ________ save hundreds of them.
14. ________ stay here.
15. ________ forget the day you left.
16. When ________ see you again?
17. ________ fly!
18. ________ believe it!
19. ________ survive without you!
20. I believe ________ fly!
21. Please forgive me, ________ stop loving you.
22. Its skin ________ change colour.
23. Oh my God ________ believe it!
24. Father , ________ win this war.
25. ________ see things before they happen.
26. This lake ________ be a dangerous place.
27. There’s nothing ________ do.
28. ________ describe.
29. ________ cook, ________?
30. ________ do it, Ned.
31. ________ be 4:30.
32. If there’s anything ________ do, please call.
33. ________ repeat the question?
34. ________ find food.
35. ________ do this my ourselves.
36. Because there’s nothing ________ do.
37. ________ go now?
38. ________ trust me.
39. ________ wake him up?
40. ________ see!
41. ________ ask you something? Yeah.
42. ________ lose them both.
42. ________ change the past!
43. ________ leave here!

why: (ALL question types)

1. Why, why _______________ lie to me?
2. But why _______________ do it?
3. Why _______________ here?
4. If you believe that, why _______________ come back?
5. Why _______________ look so impressed?
6. Why _______________ read so much?
7. Why _______________ that?
8. Why _______________ love me, Jenny?
9.Why _______________ be the first man in your family not to use that word?
10. Why _______________ trust you?
11.Why _______________ tell me?
12. Why _______________ suspect me?
13. Why _______________ talk it over?
14. Why _______________ spoil everything?
15. Why _______________ you’re here together?
16. Why _______________ ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours?
17. Why _______________ tell me what everyone else seems to know?
18. Why _______________ change your mind?
19. Why _______________ release me?
20. Lady, why _______________ so interested in what I read or what I do?
21. Why _______________ try again A little harder. How’s that?
22. Why _______________ just sit back and relax?
23. Why _______________ wake me, smee?
24. Why _______________ nice people choose the wrong people to date?
25. Why _______________ looking at me like that?
26. Why _______________ follow the simples orders?
27. Why _______________ going to Washington DC?
28. Uh, but I don’t know if I can. Why _______________?


Just the list of links:

am/is/are 1
am/is/are 2
am/is/are 3
am/is/are 4

present simple voscreen
songs with present simple

present continuous in films
simple continuous

past simple
songs with past simple

present perfect in films

past perfect in desperate housewives
in desperate housewives (careful!!! sex)

why: (ALL question types)


future simple
will and going to


0 and 1st conditional:

2nd conditional in films
all conditionals in films

modals in films
modal verbs of obligation in films

songs with superlatives
the passive in films
the passive with modals

Update. A year after writing this post, I came across a resource that allows you to search in movie subtitles and play the extracts, so now exercise of the type described in this post can be created ‘on the fly’: 

Update 2. Two more years on, together with my partner Kirill Sukhomlin we’ve created Tubequizard, a resource that allows to make interactive quizzes like the ones I wrote in this post, based on Youtube videos. Here’s an example quiz.