Posts Tagged ‘IATEFL2015’

This year I was very lucky to go to Manchester to attend the IATEFL Conference. While there, I wrote up summaries of over 20 talks and workshops – I’ve decided to sort them by topic area and put the links in one post to make them easier to navigate.

Apart from reading summaries on blogs, you can watch lots of interviews and some of the sessions that were recorded and will be available on IATEFL Online site for at least a year. I would especially recommend watching the incredible plenary by Harry Kuchah. I missed the plenary by Ann Cotton, but judging by what people who’d seen it said, this was also one of the highlights of the conference. Another unmissable talk was Appropriate strategies for teaching grammar – a Dave Willis retrospective by Jane Willis.

So, here are links to my summaries.

Materials writing

Most sessions I attended on material writing were part of The Material Writer’s Essential Toolkit – MaWSIG Pre-Conference Event). The event featured eight information-packed sessions and workshops focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer, no matter how experienced you are.

Sue Kay: ‘Writing multiple-choice questions’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Sue Kay gives a checklist of potential pitfalls to avoid when writing multiple-choice questions and shares several very useful slides with suggestions how to reformulate language from the text in the questions.  

Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones: ‘Maximising the image in materials design’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones show that images can be used a lot more productively than just as a pretty picture displayed next to the text. They also share lots of image stocks where you can find different types of images, as well as tips how to navigate those stocks to get exactly what you need.

Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher: ‘How to write ELT activities for authentic video and film’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher explore the changing role of video in ELT and share lots of ideas for activity types that can be used with video content.

John Hughes ‘Writing ELT audio and video scripts: From basic principles to creating drama’ (MaWSIG PCE)
John Hughes shares insight into writing scripts for videos,  focusing specifically on the ways to make them sound natural. He also shares some techniques for making scripts interesting, referring to none other than Kurt Vonnegut and his 8 tips for writers. Material writers are writers too!

Sheila Thorn: Practical advice on creating authentic Medical English listening materials  (recording)
Sheila Thorn, who previously produced a wonderful listening coursebook series aimed at general English students, talks about how she successfully created authentic Medical English materials in the situation when it’s virtually impossible to obtain recordings of medical interactions between patients and doctors. She also shares insight into the exercise types that students need to fully benefit from authentic listening materials. 

Julie Moore ‘Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Julie Moore demonstrates how indispensable a corpus is for creating grammar and vocabulary materials – and also talks about the limitations of corpora.

Evan Frendo ‘Tailor-making materials from an ESP author perspective’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Evan Frendo talks about what an ESP materials writer must do before creating materials. Materials in this context will aim to enable the learners to become successful communicators (as opposed to ‘improve their language level’), and, since ‘successful communication’  means different things in different settings, materials needs to be informed by the conventions of the company/field and by top sources of difficulty in intercultural communication. 

Christien Lee ‘Adventures in self-publishing’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Christien Lee tells us the story of his (mis)adventures in self-publishing. Along the way, he shares some very useful tips and tools for creating practice tests for high stakes exams – specifically, how to make sure that they are close in difficulty to the original tests. 

Technology for materials writing

Nick Tims: ‘A technological toolkit for material writers’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Nick Tims gave a wonderful, lively session in which he makes a very strong point that whenever you find yourself frequently doing a certain action in several clicks, you should find a tool that does that action in one click. He also shares some great browser extensions that allow you to control and analyze your time spent online.  

Paul Sweeney: Course (be)ware: key lessons in online course development
Paul Sweeney asked people who had created 13,000 hours of online course content between them: ‘What were the five biggest problems you faced?’ If you are starting out on the path of creating online courses, you should really read his paper when he writes it – but for now, check out the summary of this talk. 

Humanistic teaching

Lizzie Pinard: Fostering autonomy: harnessing the outside world from within the classroom (though better read Lizzie’s own write-up of her talk on her blog).
In her great talk, Lizzie Pinard shares her top seven tips for how to win the students over to the idea of practicing language outside class, support them, and really make them feel in charge of their learning, both in and outside the classroom.

Kirsten Waechter: Your class is your resource – making use of learner styles
Kirsten Waechter talks about the dangers of ignoring the learners’ learning preferences, and shares ideas how to find out learner styles and what activity types to use with learners of different styles to really help them to learn. 

Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney: Lessons learned as a language learner
Madelaine du Vivier and Jo-Ann Delaney share how their language learning experience made them question their assumptions about what should be happening in classroom and made them much more aware of their learners and their individual preferences. 

Jason Anderson: Lying is the best policy… to get learners speaking! (Update: Jason’s own write-up is available here.)
Jason Anderson shares lots of game-like activities that involve deception, and also reflects on how ‘lying activities’ benefit learners in general, e.g. by developing higher order thinking skills and learning to adjust and read intonations and body language.

Robert Zammit: Structured spontaneity. Unleashing participants’ spontaneity and creativity for role playing
This was a workshop on psychodramaturgy during which we created human statues and shaped invisible people with their lives and histories and emotions, and then became those statues and people and talked through them. It was a hopeless idea to capture that session, but it was a very different experience, so I wanted to share it. 

Luke Meddings: People, pronunciation and play
Writing this workshop up was an even more hopeless idea than writing up the workshop by Robert Zammit. We laughed (and laughed and laughed) and played and relished language. Still, maybe this post will inspire you to play too, so I’m sharing it anyway. 

Continuous professional development

Dita Phillips & Ela Wassell: Better together: peer-coaching for continuing professional development
Dita Phillips and Ella Wassell share their experience peer-coaching each other and the benefits this brought to their professional development. They share lots of tips for how to set up a similar project with a colleague you trust. 

Marisa Constantinides: Evernote for teacher observation and teacher development
Marisa Constantinides shows how she uses technology to capture and convey her lesson observations a lot more powerfully than mere notes ever could. 

See also Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney: Lessons learned as a language learner above.

Language & methodology

Candy van Olst: How does just chatting become a purposeful conversation? (recording)
Candy van Olst outlines a list of skills that skillful conversationalists employ and translates those skills into specific grammar areas that learners need to learn and practise in order to be able to have purposeful, rich conversations of the kind they might be having in their mother tongues. 

Chia Suan Chong: The pragmatics of successful business communication
Chia Suan Chong shows examples of how different cultures may read different meaning into the same language and interaction patterns and gives examples of activities that language trainers can use to sensitize learners to those differences and thus help them become more successful communicators.

Pamela Rogerson-Revell: Research into practice: revisiting some ‘old-fashioned’ notions in pronunciation teaching (recording)
Pamela Rogerson-Revell draws on phonological research to formulate some concrete tips for how to create successful drills, minimal pairs activities and target intonation in class.

Paul Davis: Grammar: deixis – pointing this way and that
Paul Davis points out that a handful of grammar areas account for a vast majority of learner mistakes, and therefore those areas need to receive a lot more attention in class than they might currently be receiving. He also suggested some activity types to nail those slippery areas.  

My workshop: Authentic listening: stepping from bottom-up decoding to understanding
We started by listening to examples of features of authentic speech that may cause language learners a lot of listening difficulties, even at post-C2 levels. I then show how to use free technology (youtube and Aegisub) to help learners cope with those features and share my typical listening lesson plan. In my slides you’ll find the audio and video snippets we listened to, and a link to a wide range of videos that this lesson plan can be adapted to.


Christina Rebuffet-Broadus: Market smarter to sell higher as a freelance trainer
Christina Rebuffet-Broadus pinpoints things that freelancers often say to potential clients which hurt them by sending the wrong message, shows how small differences in the way you market your services might have a big impact on how they are perceived, and shares her experience creating value for potential clients so that they want to hear from you when you are ready to offer them a service. 


Lots of people blogged about the sessions they attended this year. Here are a few great sources (please feel free to share other links in the comments):  

Lizzie Pinard wrote up over thirty sessions – indexed in this post on her blog.
IATEFL online roving reporters Csilla Jaray-Benn and David Dodgson shared their impressions from about ten sessions here.
Mark Hancock shared some reflections on the pronunciation sessions he attended on his blog.


Abstract: In the competitive training market, it is crucial for freelance trainers to prove their added value and differentiate themselves if they want to ask for higher prices. This talk presents proven tools and techniques to do just that. We will also identify common marketing practices to avoid if you want to increase your chances for successful sales.


Christina is going to focus on the following three topics:

  • Common practices people use to mark themselves as TEFL trainers that are not very effective.
  • Pricing strategies that are based in psychology
  • Techniques to build trust and promote yourself without screaming ‘please buy my product’ – by showing them rather than telling them.

Do you use any of these arguments? 

They all might hurt you!

  • ‘My charge is €.. an hour’

Formulating price in contact hours hurts you because HRs don’t take into account all the other work you have to do (lesson preparation, drawing up contracts and so on). ‘€30 per (contact) hour’ might mean that in fact you get €3 per hour.

  • My training is customized to your needs’

Of course it is! It’s your job to customize – everyone’s doing that so that doesn’t differentiate you.

  • ‘Covers grammar and vocabulary that you need to [do such and such things]’

This only reminds your clients of traumatizing experiences trying to learn English at school

  • ‘Best prices on the market’

If you think of food, who has the best prices on the market? Not high quality restaurants. This is not the message you want to send out.

  • ‘Hi, would you be interested in training?’

The answer is always ‘No’ or ‘We’ll get in touch’. Asking an HR this question e.g. at a conference out of the blue scares them and this produces lizard brain reaction: ‘can I eat it?’ (no) ‘can I ignore it?’ (not polite) ‘can I run away?’ (yes, and that’s what they do).

Psychology of pricing 

How many packages to present? Christina showed us a little experiment on how the number and prices of packages may affect your perception.


Option 1.A: online subscription €29
Option 1.B: Print & web subscription €64


Option 2.A: Online subscription €29
Option 2.B Print subscription €64
Option 2.C Print & web €64

The second way is a lot better because just two products at random price are difficult to compare. The point of having option 2.B is to make customers see the value of 2.C. Shops use these principles in the same way: if you see a dress at €200 you might think that’s too expensive, but when later you see a product (e.g. a bag) that’s very expensive (€1140), this anchors the customer’s idea of what’s an acceptable price for other products.

Also, when you present your products in three different packages, people normally go for the middle one. This means: the one you really want to sell more should be in the middle!

Presenting a discount also makes things attractive: Reg €54 > €40 is more attractive than €39. Prices that end in 9 or 7 are also more attractive.

Finally, package your offers as products with names! Christina offers their clients three courses called ‘On the go’,’Half and half’ and ‘The total package’. Everything you normally do as part of the training product (needs analysis, etc) has to be listed in the product description.

Build before sales 

Build media presence (e.g. newsletters, etc). You need to be in regular contact with your marketing base to reduce the ‘lizard’ reaction. This can be done by regularly providing content that’s useful for your clients (e.g. share or create videos / share tips / e-books and pdfs). Set yourself a schedule. Christina sends out a newsletter every Tuesday – this has become part of her job. She also produces videos (ideas for what topics to address come from her clients’ typical difficulties, but she also sends new subscribers of her blog a questionnaire in which they write areas they need to practice).

(video from Christina Rebuffet-Broadus’s youtube channel Speak Better Feel Great)

Managing subscriptions

  • MailChimp is free up to 2000 subscribers.
  • SumoMe is a plug-in to collect internet addresses. If you don’t collect the addresses of your visitors, your really have to start. They are the people who’ve heard of you and when you’re ready to present an offer, they will be willing to listen to you.

Comments from the audience:

Don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn (build up your profile, create a blog, think about keywords, etc).

My takeaway from this session, apart from all the great tips? In our work teachers have to perform a lot of diverse functions and we really should draw on expertise accumulated in other professional fields. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus successfully uses insights into marketing and psychology when marketing her services in the same way as John Hughes uses Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writers when writing his coursebooks and Nick Tims uses technology to save himself time. Probably there are a lot more very relevant ideas to explore in books which it had never occurred to me to open. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract: This talk reports on a project that two experienced teacher trainers undertook to inform what they tell their pre/in-service trainees about the language learning process. We studied elementary Spanish for a term and documented our findings on a weekly basis. You’ll leave the session with practical ideas of how you can use this experience in your teaching and training sessions.,  jo-ann

As a result of their experience as language learners, Madeleine and Jo-Ann’s attitudes and beliefs about what should happen in classroom changed.  They had skype discussions of their experience after each class and altogether there were about 30 things that they saw differently in the end. Also, sometimes they had quite different perspectives on what was happening in class. For this presentation they chose what they felt were the ten most important issues, so this session is a summary of key perceptions that changed for Madeleine and Jo-Ann.

But first, what are your beliefs on these issues?


1. Learners should engage with the meaning of a written or spoken text before they do any language work. 


2. Teacher should provide controlled practice of pronunciation through repetition or drilling.

Both Madeleine and Jo-Ann felt desperate to use controlled pronunciation practice through repetitions / drilling (they even noticed other students trying words out under their breath because they wanted to try them out so much, but didn’t get enough opportunities in the lessons).

3. Classroom tasks and resources should be authentic.

When they started out, they felt that authenticity was very important. However, when she was taking classes, Jo-Ann felt happy practicing language asking partners about things she’d never speak about in L1, like in this exercise:


4. Learners should work in different pairs / groups in a lesson.

Not Imp >>>>> V important.
Both Madeleine and Jo-Ann really recognized the value of re-grouping students. They got incredibly bored sitting next to the same person.

5. Whole group questions should be asked randomly. 

What they mean was checking answers to exercises: should the teacher nominate random people, or use a predictable pattern of nomination?
Madeleine: Not imp >>>> V imp – she wanted to prepare her answer and really didn’t want to be put on the spot.
Jo-Ann: V imp >>>> Not – she felt predictable patterns were bad for her learning missed questions 1-5 because she would be number six.

6. It’s good for stronger and weaker learners to work together to encourage peer teaching.
Madeleine V imp >>>> Not – she wanted to work with same level or lower to feel safer.
Jo-Ann: ‘explaining helps you’ is rubbish. I want to learn, I don’t want to explain.

7. Praise is important for motivation.
fenomenalJo-Ann Imp >>> V Imp. Before taking lessons, Jo-Ann thought it’s not that important and she had a worry that sometimes teachers overpraise.

But when she had ‘Fenomenal!’ on her writing, it had enormous impact on her motivation. When she came to work, she couldn’t stop talking about it and worked really hard to get that again.

  • 8. Be aware of physical features of the learning environment. E.g. heat, light, furniture layout.
    Madeleine: Not >>> V Imp. Before the experience, Madeleine hadn’t realized how much being uncomfortable would affect your learning. You should really think about how the classroom is laid out and the temperature.

9. It’s important to always use the target language even with a monolingual group. 

Jo-Ann: V Imp and stayed that way (the classes were 99% in Spanish and Jo-Ann really valued that).
Madeleine: V Imp >>> NOT. She wanted more English because she didn’t understand grammar explanations.

10. There should be a variety of tasks and input.

Madeleine Imp >>>> V Imp.
Jo-Ann – wasn’t an issue.

Other issues included listening – too fast and the teacher didn’t play them enough times; the amount of time spent on correcting homework in the lesson, etc.


The experience (and the fact that they had different attitudes to what was happening in classroom) made Madeleine and Jo-Ann more aware that they need to question their assumptions. They became more aware of their students (and, for Madeleine, especially their comfort).


  • all teachers should get involved in an L2 course (even 5 lessons would tell you a lot);
  • keep a diary and if you have someone to compare, draw a scale.  t’s the scale that makes you realize how different your reactions are;
  • they feel that in a teacher trainer course week 3 would be a good time for a foreign language lesson;
  • it’s a great idea to do a foreign language lesson in a Delta / in service courses

Here’s the handout that Madeleine and Jo-Ann shared (the last page comes from The Developing English Teacher by Duncan Foord).

_handout1 _handout2 _handout3


Tim Lo, IH Learning Chinese  – this is an article that I wasn’t able to locate
Scott Thornbury, The (De-)Fossilisation Diaries.

This session was one of the ‘unmissables’ for me, because I’m very interested in lessons that teachers draw from their language learning experience. It was also quite surprising: I had expected the presenters to talk about some aspects of language acquisition or learner strategies, because those were the kinds of takeaways I drew from my own recent language learner experience (I was teaching myself German and also took two dozen Dogme-type skype lessons). But Madeleine and Jo-Ann’s experience was in a class, so it was a lot more similar to that of their learners, and their top takeaways were about classroom management and the teacher’s decisions. Two most important things I took away from this talk was (1) it’s extremely important to survey students’ perceptions about 5 lessons into the course (2) things important for the students might be things that have never occurred to me – so it’s important to make sure that feedback I get isn’t too focused – e.g. simply a questionnaire might be a poor choice. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Chia Suan Chong (York Associates)

Abstract. Many Business English teachers often worry about their knowledge (or lack thereof) of the business world. But aren’t we already well-equipped as language practitioners to understand the delicate and ever-so-interesting nature of discourse in business and how it differs amongst different speech communities? This workshop explains how we can use these instincts to help our clients become more successful communicators.

The title says ‘pragmatics’. What is it? The way meaning of an utterance is negotiated by people in the context.

Terms: utterance (the words that were spoken); locutionary force (surface meaning of the utterance); illocutionary force / function (the intended/negotiated meaning of the utterance).


The function here is probably ‘advice’.

What are the functions here?
Emma: Can you find out if the train is running? (locutionary force: ability; illocutionary force: a request)
Tom: The internet is down. (illocutionary force: No)

How do you know that these two utterances are even connectedThe listeners make Tom’s answer relevant through making all kinds of references. But imagine the listener is from a country with no internet or no trains?

Another example:
Dawn: The phone is ringing. (= an order)
Jay: I’m in the bath. (= I can’t)

In coursebooks often we see

  • decontextualized utterances (which in fact could mean anything, given the right context);
  • exponents that aren’t synonymous but which are labeled under the same category. Some functions, at least on the surface, lend themselves to such categorization (e.g. with requests / commands). However, language is difficult to categorize – e.g. the examples below were presented in one coursebook together labeled as ‘praise’, But the intentions of people who use those exponents are probably very different.
    My manager speaks very highly of you //could be used to try to established good relationship
    I don’t mean to brag but..

    You have outdone yourself this time. //could be sarcastic
    …if I do say so myself

Another example: exponents for adding a point and contrast:
Adding a point
On top of that
Having said that,

On the other hand

(Adapted from Prof. Henry Widdowson).

However, what could they mean in context?
Jen: He was on social welfare but was not lazy. (‘but’ says a lot about what Jen thinks about people on social wellfare)
Casey: She wore flat shoes to the job interview. On top of that, she wore trousers.
Beth: We are totally underpaid, the offices are overcrowded, and the directors are completely out of touch with the staff. Having said that, I do love working here.
(implies ‘I’m just venting‘. Compare what happens if you substitute for ‘But then again?’ implies more equal weight).

Implications: the simple categories are not enough. There’s really meaning in everything.

Illocutionary forces. What do the following utterances really mean?

  • It’s stuffy in here, isn’t it? (probably: could you open the window?)
  • Will you be passing the supermarket on your way home? (probably: a request)
  • That curry smells really good. (probably:=I want some! How could this dialogue develop> Oh really? I’m cooking it for a fundraising even> Oh really? How good of you! = let’s pretend I never asked – because I never actually said that.) – so it’s a great face-saving device

In business every sentence also has meaning

  • Are your busy? (could you help me? can I talk to you?)
  • We need to get this proposal in by Friday. (you need to get it in)
  • I hear what you say (what’s going to follow is …but + disagreement or critism)
  • That is a very brave proposal (you’re mad).

Intercultural communication

The fact that there’s meaning in everything may create great difficulties in intercultural communication, when different people read different meaning into the same words / behaviour patterns / body language etc.

Example 1

What is the context? Who are Sarah and Aki? What does Aki really mean?
Sarah: We could inject another $50k for 15% of your business.
Aki: That’s interesting.

‘That’s interesting’ might mean ‘I need to think about that’ or ‘I need to discuss that with my boss‘. However, in Japanese ‘That’s interesting’ means no’ (and Chia Suan Chong has never heard the actual word ‘no’ in Japanese).

Example 2. Adjacency pairs

How would you reply to those greetings?

Hello! How are you? > Fine! Yourself?
Lovely weather today. > Gorgeous, isn’t it?
That is a gorgeous dress you have on! > Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages!

How about these greetings?

  • How’s your wife and children?
  • Have you had lunch?
  • How’s business?

In some cultures they are standard greetings (and require standard responses). In China, you have to say: fine/yes to all of them (when used as greetings). E.g. if you reply ‘no’ to ‘Have you had lunch?’ I’m obliged to bring you up for lunch.

Implications: the need to attune to the culture of the other person.

Example 3. Formulaic responses that draw on cultural inferences. 

Deb: Is the meeting going to overrun again?
Rachel: Is the pope Catholic?

Sandy: What did you think of their new offices?
Josh: Well, the carpet was a nice colour.

Lucia: Did you understand his explanation?
Steve: It wasn’t exactly rocket science, was it?

Example 4. Interaction patterns. 

Allyson: You won’t believe what happened to me today!
Jun Sook stares at her and doesn’t say a word.
Allyson: Right, if you’re not interested, then I’m not going to tell you!
Jun Sook: Huh?

But Jun Sook

  • was just waiting – she didn’t recognize that she was supposed to show encouragement;
  • in her culture, it was impolite to interrupt.

Example 5. 


Students who received this notice were very offended because in their culture, this handout would be an accusation – it read like ‘you ARE going to smoke and take illegal drugs; you ARe going to tamper with electrical equipment, behave aggressively and fight’ etc.

Things to do in class

We’ve established the need to attune to the culture of the other person. But: you can’t accommodate what you don’t see.

Activity 1. 

Students work in pairs. Student B has a task and a secret emotion. They should talk with that emotion; Student A guesses the emotion.

Examples of tasks:
You’re an employee. Show a new employee around the office. (Emotion: e.g. jealousy)
You’re a sales representative. Promote a new course on intercultural communication. (Emotion: love/adoration)
Your partner is going to tell you that they’ve been promoted. (Emotion: disappointment)

This activity attunes learners to a range of cues:

  • Body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Words they used / eye contact
  • Repetition – agenda comes out again and again

Activity 2. Hot Seat + idiosyncratic behaviour.

Students work in groups. The student in hot seat has an idiosyncrasy (e.g. starts each question with So, ..?) Other need to

  • spot the idiosyncrasy
  • then imitate it

Trains s/s to become sensitive to idiosyncrasies and accommodate them.

Such activities help to ground real-life situations where things are not what they appear to be.

An incredibly useful session – I especially loved that it was so practical. Lots of examples that can be brought to class, and great activities. I teach in monolingual context so the first activity probably needs to be adapted – I think I’ll start collecting film scenes where characters project strong emotions, e.g. boredom with the conversation, envy, etc. I think activity 2 is also ideal for practicing interaction patterns that are different between L1 and L2 – e.g. for Ru/Eng that would be backchanneling, using expressions like ‘Well’ and ‘Right’ and so on. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract: “I’m not creative”, “I hate role-plays”, “I’m not spontaneous”; a common reaction to the roleplaying activities offered in many a classroom. Using techniques and methods from PDL (psychodramaturgy for language acquisition), we’ll see how easy and fun it can be to set up role plays that feel authentic, using nothing but the resources every teacher has – the participants.

Bernard & Maria Dufen

This was a great (and very unusual) workshop in which we created human statues and shaped invisible people with their lives and histories and emotions, and then became those people and talked through them. I’m not really sure whether it’s possible to make a write-up of this workshop. Can one write up a theatre performance? A game? Written down, will the questions that Robert asked us sound right? But it was a very different experience, so I will try to share some impressions. 

Premise: Being spontaneous – is being here and now. And being relaxed about it

Part one 

Relax, close your eyes and imagine that you’re another person. Are you a man? or a woman? what is your hair like? where do you live? what do you do? What is your name? …
Follow-up: Now open your eyes, say hello to the person next to you and talk (being that person you’ve imagined).
Comments: For me, it’s always difficult to find a voice to ask these questions in. I really like the way Robert talked – softly, going up – and down.. His voice and particularly intonations reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman – I’ll take the liberty to insert a clip. It seems to be very fitting anyway. 🙂

Regarding the second part – the conversation – we got stuck a bit, mainly because we didn’t know where we were supposed to have that conversation. I think setting up the scene would’ve helped.

Part two

Next, we started playing ‘human statues’: participants get into groups and one volunteers to be a ‘marionette’. The others pull them by invisible strings – changing the gestures, creating a smile – or a grimace, moving them, etc. There’s only one rule: if someone did something, you can’t just undo it, e.g. put the marionette’s hand back, etc. But you can develop other people’s actions.

Follow-up: Two participants who were statues from different groups face each other, get into the position they were in at the end, say something and see what happens. Sometimes they have a whole conversation, sometimes it’s just a two lines – that’s fine.

Part three 

Participants sit in circles in groups. There’s one empty chair. There’s an (invisible) person sitting in it. Your group decides – who is this person? Again, you can’t undo what someone has said! Be careful, if you say ‘It’s a hundred year old blond prostitute’, you’re stuck with it! Start with simple things: is it a man of a woman? What do they look like?

Comment: I wrote up the first half of our group’s conversation, because I wanted to see what language and interaction would come up. Here it is (new lines represent a new person speaking).

It’s a she? She looks a bit old. Like, grey short hair? Glasses?
Glasses. She’s wearing read.
Yeah, I was thinking.
Actually, me too!
I think she’s got beads. 
IT’s made of something like… pearls but very big. I think they’re made of wood.
She looks a bit nervous, I don’t know why.
She’s holding a book.
And fiddling with it.
What book is it?
The Bible. Or Quran? 
She crosses her legs.
She checks her watch. Maybe she’s waiting for someone.
She wears lipstick.
Very red.

[At this point Robert came up to our group and suggested we can go into the history of the person: problems, secrets, dreams]
Maybe she’s waiting for her lover or something.
I think though that she’s going to tell him that being a religious woman she can no longer cheat on her husband.

… and so on.

Follow-up: One of you is going to sit in that chair and become that person.

Do we have a volunteer?

Have this person take that role by asking questions. Start by asking the questions that you know answers for to help them to get into the role – but then new questions will come up. In this position you’re always entitled to say ‘no comment’ or ‘I’d rather not say’.

When volunteers were in their chairs, Robert first asked them to say their new names. ‘Rachel, you’re going to meet Alice. And the rest of you sit behind. You’re assistance – they can support you with ideas, but they’re also linguistic supporters. At any time you can turn back to them and ask: what the hell am I supposed to say?

Next Robert elicited

  • where they’re going to meet
  • what time? …

(Have a look at the photo on this page to get a feel of what this looked like).

Where does linguistic input comes in? 

The technique that Robert demonstrated next, reminded me of Community Language Learning. To make the experience more vivid, he demonstrated the technique as if we were learning Italian and Maltese (it’s difficult for English speakers to experience an English lesson).

Robert asked Alice, ‘Can you think of one thing that you wanted to say to this person’ (in her L1)?
A: I’m very happy to meet you here cause I was feeling a bit lonely.
R: I’m going to sit behind you and I’m going to say what you said in Italian, and I’m going to say more. And you repeat what I say.
2015-04-14 12.51.14
R: Grazia A: Grazia.
R: Que bello. //Quite long monologue followed, with Alice repeating utterance by utterance. 

Questions from the audience:
1. If it was an English language classroom, would the participants be proficient enough to build a personality?
Robert has tried this with beginners – they cope, they can always code switch (ask for vocabulary). In the last activity, he adjusts what he says depending on what she can repeat – following the learner! The principle is: create the desire to say something; then say it; and after, they repeat.

2. A question to the person who was repeating utterances in Maltese:  how did it feel repeating things you didn’t understand?
Comment: it’s stressful. The trainer might have to say the utterance 2-3 times before they can repeat. Tip: get them to look at your lips.

3. It’s almost impossible to speak Maltese without gesticulating. So, you (the trainer) were speaking with your hands but she couldn’t see your hands.
Comment: There are a range of different activities. They also worked a lot with hands – lots of exercises where you have to mirror what T does. The whole point is going from the physical aspect to linguistic.

Final notes:  Robert tried this with most of his groups, in different contexts, including Business English. One great experience was when they did an intensive weekend of this work with beginners. By the end they all could understand: had basic vocabulary and understood words. When Robert wrote them a follow-up email, he realized that he didn’t even have to translate it.

Often in coursebook you get the task, ‘Speak about your hobbies,’ but it’s impossible to start speaking. Using the techniques Robert showed, because you help the person say what they want to say, they’ll remember it.

Comment from Paul Davis: he has been using similar techniques too. In multilingual groups where you can’t use translation, participants try to say something and he elaborates it. Also, Paul Davis thinks that it’s ideal for ESP. He did this with medical groups. Half of them were bacteria and half of them were viruses and they argued. Or half of them were scalpel and the other half cancer.

One sentence summary. This is pedagogy of being: your participant is an individual human being, and if you respect that, they will want to say something.

A very interesting session.I don’t think I’ll have the courage to bring this to my Business English class, but I might try it as a fun evening event in my school.

Also, I think when we left that room we were a group of smiley people who all liked each other. And Evan Frendo also had lived the unique experience of being ‘the man in a hole on a hill’. 🙂

P.S. While I was googling pictures and videos for this write-up, I found another great workshop on integrating improvisational theatre activities in the business classroom by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus at IATEFL Hungary. And this one actually was videotaped! Really enjoyed watching it.



Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract: A tutor, colleague or supervisor with a notepad taking field notes during a lesson is a common sight on teacher development courses. In this talk, I want to show how the use of Evernote can make teacher observations more effective and create an impact that can last longer, leading teachers in training to further reflection and development. Twitter: @marisa_c; slides will are available on Marisa Constatinides’s slidebean. Video is the most reliable way to capture a lesson. There’s technology allowing to easily videotape the class, e.g. Swivel – the teacher is wearing a device, which allows the camera to follow them. But that’s very expensive. What are some cheap alternatives? A lot of observers take detailed notes of everything that happens, what the students and teachers are doing and saying – essentially, becoming a ‘human video’. Typical notes could have three parts: what happened / what you did well / what you didn’t do so well, advice, suggestions. _notes1 Trainees learn to read those notes, but Marisa isn’t convinced they are ideal. There’s a sense that they are judgemental.  Another problem is that if you don’t capture the lesson it’s easy for the trainer to remember an aspect of a lesson they’ve observed but confuse whose lesson that was. To illustrate, Marisa shared a story: at one point Mario Rinvolucri got his trainees to observe ducks to practice observing objectively and by the end of the day everyone had mixed up their ducks. Marisa Constantinides’s approach Technology stack Marisa uses a tablet with an external keyboard and Evernote. On Evernote, you can include photos, videos, notes and tables very easily. _notes2 This allows Marisa to use the power of images to convey her observations in an objective way and to get a very accurate record of the lesson. Your notes are synchronized with any device – you can get them in your phone, anywhere. Photos Marisa’s reply to the problem of being judgemental is to use the power of images. When you just look at pictures taken during the lesson, you get a good sense of what kind of lesson that was. So e.g. instead of writing ‘you spent the whole class with your back to the class‘, convey that by taking five pictures of that. You could also take pictures of students’ reactions (e.g. when they’re confused) – this is very telling for the teacher who might not have seen this reaction during the lesson. Videos Also, on a tablet you can take a quick video (esp. if you know what part of the lesson you’re looking out, if they are issues that arose from previous lessons) and it’s very easy to share them – done through an ‘attachment’ button. Marisa records the lesson in small chunks (a chunk for an activity). Having smaller chunks and not the whole video allows Marisa to choose what chunk to focus on. Then she might get the trainees to e.g. transcribe the chunk, see what patterns of interaction prevailed, or focus on particular aspects, e.g. ask them How many times did you ask a question when you knew the answer? How many times did students ask questions? Count the number of words in your instructions and rewrite/simplify them. Go through your talk and analyze: instructional (I), directional (D) or eliciting (E). Get trainees to analyze the number of Is, Ds and Es to identify their talk profile. Is there enough I..? Also: see the book on classroom discourse by Sinclair referred to at the end. _notes3 You can also videotape the feedback session with the trainee – both for herself and the trainee. This has been proved very useful (e.g. for report writing) – doesn’t allow you to forget things. Notes – ‘the story of the lesson’. _notes4 Things to discuss with the trainees:  Which bits of the lesson / instructions / … would you omit? What would you do differently? Where do you feel the lesson was thin and you could have added something to make it work better? References John McHardy Sinclair, Malcolm Coulthard Towards an Analysis of Discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London, OUP Marisa’s day started badly as slidebean, the service hosting her slides, was down! But the technological glitches didn’t make this session any less valuable, and we also got to see Marisa actually interact with this software. That was an incredibly informative session, packed full with great advice and I’m really really glad to have been there.  ___________ Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract: I present a summary of lessons learned from the development of a wide range of online courses for teachers and learners in ELT. An experienced developer of ‘e-learning’, I will identify key lessons for the successful development of online courses. This is based on my own experiences and those of a survey of seasoned practitioners in the field of online course development.
Slides available from; white paper coming in about a month from the same site.

Nowadays more and more people are moving into creating online courses.

A lot of people run into problems:

  • publishers – with course delivery
  • teachers – novices to creating content professionally

This talk is based on interviews with people experienced in online course delivery (who have created over 13,000 online course hours between them).


They answered the following question: what were the five biggest problems you faced?

Paul Sweeney decided to categorize the issues by where they happen in the process of course development – issues at different stages might have different impact.


Paul Sweeney decided to use the metaphor of a river:



  • Senior managers (who commission those courses) lack knowledge about them. Vendor surveys are not very informative and don’t give you a good picture of the composition of the costs, especially the ones related to technology (also, vendors have very different goals – e.g. selling a one-off package or continuous support – or simply taking you for a ride).
  • E-learning is not content. It’s a tutorial experience. 95 percent of your effort may go into creating content, but the main question should be in what ways is the used going to interact with this context? E.g. how many learners are prepared to go self-paced, or are they a lot more likely to need teacher support?
  • e-learning content is not ‘copying’. It is very difficult to create content and this difficulty gets vastly underestimated.
  • Some projects are just too ambitious. You can hear, ‘We want a course that would involve 100 hours and we’re aiming to launch in 12-18 months.’ Well, that’s just not realistic

Upper course 

  • Envisioned timescales
  • Reversioning (putting offline content online) – beware! Even if you’ve already got content and don’t plan to change it (which is very unlikely), people often underestimate that content has to be completely broken apart, and this editing is very complex.
  • Scoping: begin with the end in mind. What often happens is writing content that can’t be turned into online content because the tools do not allow that. Also often course developers don’t know what countries / context they have in mind. You need a good developing story and use cases and an understanding in what context / countries /… the content will be used.
  • It’s improtant to keep the following elements in balance: tech / UX – user experience / pedagogy / marketing / operational. Getting excited about one bit of technology isn’t good for pedagogy.
  • Going mobile: many people assume that using HTML5 is the simple answer because it works on all devices. But devices have different screen sizes – small screen experience is completely different etc. You need to ask yourself questions like ‘How will this text be laid out on a small screen? Do questions for the text go after the text? Do they pop up?’
  • The pernicious single platform fallacy
  • DIY authoring platforms – might be extremely difficult to use for writing and everything takes twice as long than it should for writers.

Upper course 

  • Planning & syllabus. Planning, planning, planning. People under-estimate how much planning is needed. It takes weeks.
  • Editors are often not seen as essential part. The thinking goes, ‘Let’s give it to writers and then to technical people’. When there’s no editors, no training of writers (who are often creative responsive classroom teachers, which is not the same thing as ‘a good writer’), no standartisation – this always go wrong.
  • Roleplaying: technology vs. content vs. UX. Content writers need to think through the process of putting it online: the person building the exercise won’t have teaching background / or this will be done automatically.
  • Prototyping. It’s important to develop a proof of concept before creating the whole course.
    20-30 minutes of learners, representative content, sampled in representative context

Middle course

  • Welcome to the sausage machine! How to keep track of hundreds of texts, images, audio clips? Develop naming conventions!
  • Content put together by distributed team – how to build the team and get them to work together properly, especially at the opening stages?
  • Testing & piloting
  • Learning analytics – not only for learners and teachers, but what about from development perspective – what was clicked, etc?

Lower course

  • Product support information & training. Again, it’s wrong to think of a course as ‘content’ or ‘a box’. People buying it need excellent overview information of how this product is put together. How can they flick through it and analyze whether that meets their meets?
  • Testing (you fail). One of the misconceptions about testing is that the developer is a good tester. But you know how it should work. Give it to someone who doesn’t have a clue – you’ll realize what features they’re not using, where they’re missing out etc.

Final notes

Lots of products fail to exploit the potentional of e-learning. We see PPP again, etc. The interactivity isn’t in clickability of the content – it’s about how the users interact with what’s on the screen. How to differentiate between the core content and extra content?

I don’t want to write the platitudes that this was an incredibly useful session (although here I am writing it). What a treasure trove of insight. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract. It is widely acknowledged that language learning requires use of the target language outside the classroom as well as inside it. However, learner autonomy is often expected rather than fostered. This talk looks at what can be done in the classroom, to help learners harness the rich resources of language accessible outside, with greater confidence and effectiveness.

Slides and Lizzie’s own write-up will appear on her blog.

What is learner autonomy?

Problems with learners’ autonomy

  • How can we talk about giving students control over decisions of curriculum when even most teachers don’t have control over what they teach?
  • Learners lack understanding how to learn
  • Time – there’s never enough time – how to use that time? and how to help use the time outside the classroom better?

Solutions and ideas (Lizzie’s 7 top tips)

  • Find out as much as you can, as soon as you can. Then keep finding out. 
    What do they do to learn English? What do they do outside classroom already? What resources (films? books) do they use? What sites/technology – and how technologically literate are they?
    The starting point is not ‘an ideal learner in your opinion’ – it’s their current state.
  • Plant ideas. Lizzie’s context: students have to compete 10 hours of autonomous study. How do students approach that? Watch six 90-minute films! This time could be spent much better, and that could be their chance to find out what works for them. To scaffold this, Lizzie gives students ‘a menu of ideas’, with space for comments.
    There’s a range of different ideas – there’s balance of challenge (ease to complete) and skills; each idea has focus and clear goals; promoting intrinsic interest; sense of control over task process.
  • This takes time – not only for students to try things out, but also for the teacher to persuade the students to even start trying. Even if some people are not into that at the beginning that doesn’t mean that’s not worth doing. Give the students a chance to discuss (regularly, 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the class) – reluctant ones will get to see how others are benefiting. Get students to share both successes and difficulties. If that doesn’t work in the beginning, that doesn’t mean that that’s a failure and you should give up on it. 
  • Engage metacognition. In real life, they make choices. In classroom they tend to switch off. Get them to think why are we doing this activity? Often the students go ‘To improve our English, teacher!’ If there’s no reason to do an activity other than ‘because the teacher tell you to’, they won’t apply that outside classroom or make connections between what they do in class and their life. Great references: The Autonomy Approach
  • Encourage goal setting. If the students don’t know where they’re going, why would they be doing anything to get there? ‘Learn English’ is too massive. Short terms: identify what you’re going to achieve this week. The principle: (a) identify their goals (b) voice that to somebody. In a subsequent class, they can discuss that. They’ll need to figure out the right challenge – ask them to discuss how challenging that was.
  • Don’t forget about it! If you don’t bring it back to the classroom on a regular basis, that won’t last. The teacher has forgotten about it, so that’s not important, so I can forget about it. If you bring it back, it becomes a part of the course. Example: Lizzie’s students recorded their listening logs. First time half the class didn’t touch them. A month in they all were losing the log.
  • Promote sharing. (E.g. through technology – blogs etc).

I was slightly dazed after giving my own workshop earlier in the day, but Lizzie jerked me back to reality with her concise, insightful talk. I had been looking forward to her talk because recently I’ve become increasingly aware that I need to do *something* to motivate my students to do more (any?) self-study. However, I haven’t got down to researching and devising a coherent scheme – and if my previous initiatives are anything to go by, I’ll make half a dozen mistakes when it comes to putting the scheme to practice. Actually, I’ve already made some glaring mistakes – for instance, I ran a workshop on some (highly effective) vocabulary learning techniques but didn’t follow up on that, and as a result the students in my school didn’t really start using them (and this very fact probably also discredited the technique). The same thing happened when we started out a course by discussing language learning advice from polyglots. Again, there was no follow-up (largely because I saw that the students didn’t do anything, so I was discouraged to do a follow-up which would only have highlighted that the idea had failed), hence there was no chance for the students who did try some ideas out to share their experience, and hence there was very little uptake. So it was great to get this chance to hear about Lizzie Pinard’s approach, to learn what pitfalls to avoid and to get pointers to good books.

P.S. About a year ago I wrote a post with some thoughts how to help learners acquire language through extensive reading and listening – I’d love to discuss that topic with someone, so I’m adding the link to the post here in the hope that someone interested in the topic will want to swap ideas. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract This workshop takes a fun look at accents and a serious look at speaking skills. How do actors find the ‘key’ to a new accent? How far does speaking another language involve playing a role? And can’t pronunciation be just a bit more fun? We’ll explore these questions, experiment with classroom activities – and learn how to impersonate the Queen.

Learning a language is learning to speak a language and speaking a language is a physical thing. If there’s anxiety, you get frozen – and learners start speak with frozen expressions. Let’s get learners to ‘let it go’ – get them to play with pronunciation – for this workshop, with the title!

Say the title of the the workshop

  • as if it were the most serious and intelligent thing you’ve ever heard // in pairs –
    Comment: You might want to struck your chin there. Your own chin! 
  • you’re at a party. Imagine that you’re telling to someone at this party what the title of the talk is.
    Comment: This time I want to hear some noise!
  • in the strongest L1 accent you can think of
    Comment: Helps students to think about identity and what they bring into the classroom. 
  • a nice exercise for a multinational classroom: You’re at a bus stop. Buses are late. It’s starting to rain. Speak in your L1 – how would people in your L1 behave? What would be the body language?
    There were some people looking at their watches; some people were tapping on their watches; some groups cursing, animated Maltese with a fight breaking out and an English person doing very little indeed. Luke Meddings thinks that English is a ‘hands in a pocket’ language and a rain face. Play with this stuff in class and exaggerate. Get students to be even a bit more hunched when they take on the English identity. 

How do actors get into the skin of famous people? 

Try to impersonate the queen! Physical tricks: teeth (impersonating the queen, keep your teeth together). What can she actually say? What would be the register?
Try to impersonate the Beatless! (You’ll need chewing gum for John Lennon.

Tip: check youtube for recordings of actors impersonating people.

One-sentence summary: Get to play with language, try things out, relish language – this is not about the result, this is about the process.


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract. In this talk, I will argue that there is still a need for closer links between phonological research and pronunciation teaching and that an understanding of key issues and relevant research can help teachers prioritise pronunciation content and select relevant teaching approaches. To illustrate, I will revisit some well-established notions in pronunciation
teaching, such as drilling, dictation and stress-timing.

Key areas

  • Drilling
  • Minimal pairs
  • Stress timing
  • Intonation and yes/no questions


Types: discrimintation / oral production (listen and repeat),
Sources: printed materials, online apps (‘Sounds’ App created by Adrian Underhill; Pronunciation Power App, Sounds of Speech – university of Iowa – allows to hear minimal sounds – decontextualized – and see lip movement

Benefits and dangers:

🙂 – immediate feedback, develop ‘muscle memory’ (Underhill), develop confidence because they’re so controlled; focus on form  – removes the necessity to think about meaning, freez
😦 – boring or meaningless if decontextialized, exasperating / too difficult

Implications? Don’t decontextualize too much and make sure they’re not too difficult.

Good example: Jazz chants (not boring, memorable, not too decontextualized, the context is not distracting)

Minimal pairs

words that are distinguished by one phoneme (thin/tin)

How to use: to diagnose what problems students have with sounds; listening practice; speaking production practice

In this case /θ/ causes miscommunication. Or does it?

Which minimal pairs to focus on? In other words, when can they lead to misunderstanding?

  • In most cases they are different parts of speech: thy/thigh; sink/think/ sit/seat; fill/feel; through/true
  • Also, different frequencies (Levis and Cortes 2008:1997)
    think 133 / sink 0 – different frequency => less likely
    three 68 / tree 14 / free 13; leave 12 / live 14; peel 0 /pill 1
  • And they’re not equally likely in context ‘Look out for that sheep/ship??’
    ‘What lovely cheeks??/chicks.
    He’s going to live??/leave
    Throw out that bean??/bin.

Implication? Minimal pairs need to be same word class, frequency and imaginable in the same context. 

Stress vs syllable timed rhythm.
In theory: there are different types of language. English is rhythmical, French is less.
Problem: research hasn’t been able to prove it. No variation between Eng and Fr in terms of syllable length.
So we do feel there’s something specific about English in terms of stress, but there’s no binary contrast between languages.
Contexts: political speech, sermons, poetry – more rhythm; everyday speech – less so.
In English the important feature is the distance between stressed syllables and unstressed syllables. 


Common misconception: yes/no – falling intonation, wh-questions – rising intonation.
Research: we can both falling and rising intonation on all types of questions – despite what textbooks tell us.

Importance of communicative intention. Tones in themselves don’t carry meaning but they help signal meaning. Falling tones in question that the speaker is ‘finding out’. rising tone indicates that the speaking is ‘making sure (Brazil; Cauldwell).

Rogerson, Gilbert (1990) Speaking Clearly, Cambridge.

To teach or not to teach?

  • teachable
  • focus on typically English features (e.g. rising intonation in ‘yes’)
  • meaning is in context, not tone
  • no clear-cut relation between grammar and intonation.


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.