Tag Archives: technology

IATEFL 2014: Linguistic landscapes, lexical sets, and recording students

The next series of sketchnotes from the 2014 IATEFL conference in Harrogate is in fact a set of 3 different talks: “Linguistic landscapes” by Stephen Greene, “Lexical sets, texts, and vocabulary choice” by Andrew Walkley, and “Recording students to raise awareness of pronunciation strengths and weaknesses” by Lesley Curnick. All of the talks provided practical ideas: ways to get students noticing and questioning language around them in the real world, ways to help them manage and acquire vocabulary in texts, and techniques to help learners become aware of their own issues in pronunciation.

Linguistic landscapes by Stephen Greene


Lexical sets, texts, and vocabulary choice by Andrew Walkley



Recording students to raise awareness of pronunciation strengths and weaknesses by Lesley Curnick


If you’re interested in materials writing, you may find the notes from the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event useful:

And if you want to try your hand at sketchnoting (and who doesn’t??), the post “For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…” may help you get started! Have fun!


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IATEFL Harrogate and MaWSIG PCE: Laurie Harrison’s “Writers in the digital age”

This is the third and final set of notes from the MaWSIG PCE event at IATEFL 2014. Laurie Harrison, in his talk “Writers in the digital age”,  shared lots of practical tips and things to keep in mind when being (or becoming) a writer in the digital age. The three main aspects he focused on were digital trends that writers need to be aware of, the skills sets that we as digital writers need to develop, and the sticky question of fees vs. royalties. Laurie gave us a talk chock full of practical information and insights–have a look for yourself!



And if you’re interested in some of the other talks at the MaWSIG PCE 2014, you may also enjoy:

If you want to try out sketchnoting for yourself (and yes, you can draw!), you may want to check out “For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…” It got a few tips and resources on how you too can start creating your own sketchnotes, if you want 😉



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IATEFL Harrogate and MaWSIG PCE: Jeremy Day’s “Experiments in self-publishing”

Here’s the second in the series of IATEFL 2014 sketchnotes. This set comes from Jeremy Day’s high informative talk on self-publishing. I especially like the idea of creating your own materials that can be sold directly to the students 😉

Again, do let me know if some text explanations are desired!



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iTDi + Shelly Terrell: Learning to go, webinar notes 1

At the beginning of March, I signed up for one of iTDi’s Advanced Teaching Skills Courses: Language Learning to Go, led by the brilliantissime Shelly Terrell, who is probably about as near to a living encyclopedia of apps, mobile learning, and the joys of Web 2.0-based learning as anyone’s ever seen.  Shelly and iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) have set the course up on a private Google+ community (the course is not free, but for what you get out of it, it’s a steal at $50) and during the week the learners (me and about 30 other teachers in various places around the world) have “missions” to complete, consolidated by weekly webinars hosted by Shelly and iTDi faculty member Barbara Sakamoto.

Continuing with my experiment in sketchnoting, I’d like to share some of the tips and tools we learned about in the first weekly webinar. I have to admit I’m struggling to keep on top of teaching work, association volunteering, incoming projects and preparing for IATEFL Harrogate (in just one week!), so I’m a bit late with the notes. You’re all busy, busy teachers too, so you know what I mean!

Anyway, here are the notes–hope you get something out of them! (Disclaimer: I’m no artist, so apologies for the AWFUL drawing of Shelly–it looks absolutely nothing like her!) These are from the webinar back on March 9, 2014 but hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with the our “missions”! As you’ll see, we’ve already learned a lot in just the first week!

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p. 3-4


p. 5-6


p. 7-8


I’ll try to catch up and post notes from the other webinars if possible!

I’m really enjoying the course and have already started using some apps with a group of my clients, who have agreed to be the guinea pigs for the experiment. After seeing how engaging it can be to learn as a group on the Google+ community, I’ve set up a private Google+ for a group of 5 A2-ish level learners. I’ve also started giving “missions” for learners to do on Audioboo to help them practice their speaking skills outside of class. They can then post their Audioboo recordings to the Google+ community and comment on each other’s work. The group has just started, so we’ll see how they take to it. I’ll be blogging about that project as well in the near future, hopefully to encourage other teachers to try setting up something similar with their learners if they want to try!

And while working together in a virtual learning environment (VLE) is just plain fun, it is also based on sound theory. Here are a few resources that Shelly shared to help us understand how VLEs take advantage of social learning theories:

Howard Rheingold’s Peeragogy and Co-learning theories

Siemen’s Connectivism Theory

Vygotsky’s Social Cognitive Theory

To be continued…


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2013 IATEFL conference in Liverpool: Blog post round-up

To make it easy to find all of the posts from the 2013 IATEFL conference in Liverpool, here’s the linked list of posts published on this blog :

Steven Bukin’s The Flipped Classroom – From Theory to Practice

Nicky Hockly’s Mobile Literacy & ELT 

Mike Hogan’s Becoming More Successful Workplace Communicators While on the Move

Cecilia Lemos’ Reflections from a Recovering Recaster

Colin MacKenzie’s 59 Seconds to Professional and Personal Development

Pete Sharma and Louis Roger’s Dealing with Differentiation 

Barry Tomalin’s “Make Meetings Work”

Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley’s “From Preparation to Preparedness”

Catherine Walter’s How to Give a Presentation at an International Conference

Lindsay Warwick’s Flipping the Classroom and Student Attitudes

See you next year, for the 2014 IATEFL conference in Harrogate!


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IATEFL Liverpool: Pete Sharma and Louis Roger’s Dealing with Differentiation

Pete related to the audience immediately by presenting a typical business English class: several learners within a company, several different needs, varying levels of attendance, motivation, and effort. Meet Ursula, Leandro, Dieter, and Daphne.

We looked at a few scenarios, or case studies, typical of the business English classroom and how they would suit (or not) our four learners. Louis reminded us that when working with case studies, it’s important to choose situations that learners can relate to, situations that become meaningful to the learners.  These could be sharing office space, work-life balance issues, planning meetings, etc. as long as they are situations that can appeal to your learners. Often though the case studies found in business English training materials may only appeal to one learner in the group. If the others can’t relate to the scenario, they’ll likely be less motivated.

The speakers then asked us to reflect on how we engage our business learners to read. In reality, we don’t always do as much extensive reading as we could in the business classroom, perhaps for time reasons, perhaps for learners’ desire to do as much speaking as possible.

They suggested business mazes for reading in business contexts. A business maze is an interactive paproach to reading and Business Mazes by Jone Farthing and Hart-Davis (1981) is one way to do this. Learners read a short passage, and then must make a decision to know what part of the book to go to next. Basically they can’t continue until they’ve read and made a decision.

Doing this in a more modern form, a digital business maze, which is available from Richmond ELT. These activities allow learners to recycle language, practice functions, and and enagage extended reading. Much research has suggested that extended reading is crucial for building one’s vocabulary.

To support this claim, Louis cited several studies that mentioned focal and perifpheral attention, deliberate and incidental vocabulary learning opportunities, the notion that explicit focus on learning vocabulary doesn’t impact learners’ retention, and the role of reading in second language aquisition. 

Virtual Learning Environment

These are web-based, password protected virtual spaces that host course materials and allow asynchronous and synchronous interactions. You can often customize them and make them look like the product that you are offering. VLEs also allow you to get into deeper conversations with your students (or encourage these among students), perhaps better so than in the classroom. Students can read the question, think about it, maybe even do some research and then respond. This stimulates more critical thinking than simply asking a question and expecting a student to respond immediately.

Teachers can deliver course elements appropriately and better handle differentiation. Students can study at their own pace, wherever they like, and personalize their study.

Going back to our hypothetical group of learners, we saw that only one person needed English for emails. The VLE gives a platform outside your email inbox where email communication can be had. In business English, this means keeping in contact with learners who may not make it to every class or who schedule one class every month.

VLEs also give students the opportunity to work on listening skills at their own pace. Rather than listening to an extract twice, it may be more effective to let listeners hear fast speech with the possibility of pausing it to have only short extracts. 

They offer interesting components in a blended approach in which we can monitor who has done what and when. VLEs and blended learning can offer the best of both worlds–face-to-face and online learning. 

However, we have to be careful of avoiding the eclectic mish-mash of multimedia mayhem. Pete pointed out that he’s rarely seen good blended courses. It’s often a bit of this, a bit of that, an app here, and app there. 

The teacher also has to be sure to have a positive attitude to the blended aspect of the course. Enthusiasm will carry over to the students. At the same time, it is important to integrate the VLE into the course so that learners (and teachers) can concretely see how the face-to-face element supports the online element and vice versa.

To conclude, Pete advised us as teachers to take a blended or online course to find out what learning online is all about. For example, a school could create an online training day where the teachers are trained how to use a platform via a platform. 

You can read the blog  of Pete Sharma Associates at


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IATEFL Liverpool: Mike Hogan’s Becoming More Successful Workplace Communicators While on the Move

This was Mike’s second presenation at this year’s IATEFL, after his early-morning “How to” session on becoming a successful freelancer.

He started by challenging us to get our learners to think about what they can do outside the lessons to become better business English communicators. Business learners tend to be very busy people, which often means that English lessons may not necessarily be their priority. To manage this conundrum, we can give them ways to optimize what little time they have.

We need to consider two questions:

  • What are the key functions learners need?
  • How can business learners autonomously improve their skills while on the move?

In Business English, we often get what Mike calls “the big six”–presentations, negotiations, phone calls, meetings, small talk, and e-mails. Most learners need all or some of these in their English training course, but that doesn’t tell us enough. Charles Rei blogs about communicative needs analyses (among other business English-related topics) at Mike mentioned his blog in discussing why just asking learners what they want to cover in English training isn’t enough. We often get answers like “I want to improve my grammar” or “I need to give presentations.” Sound familiar?

We need to focus on key functions rather than the medium of communication–how to present data, give updates, express doubt and concern, respond to requests, network, and so on. We also need to know in what contexts, on what topics, and with whom.

Once we know why they’re taking lessons, we can find out what “communicative events” they’re likely to deal with. Then we can also start to find solutions to help them improve these skills in the little bits of time they have between their professional duties.

Mike suggested that we can flip our classes, not in the sense of recording all our lessons for them (because teachers are busy people too!), but by giving them other ways of engaging in independent learning. This way, we can optimize the time spent in the face-to-face lesson.

Where to start

WIth all that’s out there, teachers and learners may feel lost. So where do we start? We need to consider:

  • relevance to learners
  • return on investment
  • learner motivation
  • their dead time
  • when and how they’re on the move

By turning language learning into a hobby, learners will make time to do it because they like to do it. “Homework” can be a challenge, but by giving them something that aligns with their needs, they’re more likely to do it. This means that our proposed “homework” needs to take into consideration the criteria above.

Building on the success of Macmillan’s Global series of coursebooks (which I highly recommend, and I’m a Dogme person!), Mike showed us how the new Global business class eWorkbook offers busy learners the possibility to continue learning on the go.

The eWorkbook comes in CD-ROM format and thus works on a computer, but the exercises can also be printed. The kicker is that it is also accessible on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

The “work globally” unit focus on functions such as expressing doubt and changing the subject. There is also vocabulary focus modules as well as business listening, reading, and writing modules. Rather than focusing on grammar, it is structured into functional chapters and activities.

For learners traveling in places where there is ot a dependable connection, the activities can be printed out and packed in the suitcase. These exercises look much like standard worksheets. There are also reading and writing files that can be printed and done on the plane or train, for example.

The “On the Move” section offers tutorial videos on how to perform typical business functions with example dialogues, opportunities to practice, and tips. These can be viewed on tablets and devices, perfect for when learners are on the move.

In sum, programs like the Global Business Class eWorkbook can help us as business trainers respond to the realities of our business learners. We need to give them content and activities that allow them to learn things through English and at the same time learn English.

Mike left us with a key message–get our trainees learning autonomously outside of class to make the time we spend in class as effective as possible.

You can connect with Mike on twitter: @irishmikeh


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IATEFL Liverpool: Nicky Hockly’s Mobile Literacy & ELT

Digital natives. mLearning. The connected classroom. These seem to be some of the hot buzzwords at this year’s IATEFL conference. I was thrilled to be able to attend a talk by Nicky Hockly, one of the founder’s of The Consultants-e, an online training and consultancy company. She started by telling us all sorts of information she found about Liverpool on the Uncyclopedia, a site for glaringly false information that is the exact antithesis to Wikipedia.

We started with a letter-by-letter dictation on our mobile phones: Whatdoyouuseyourmobilephonefor? Wheredoyouuseit? This could be a really fun way of practicing the alphabet as well as spelling, then getting a short discussion going with the answers to the questions. It can also help students build prediction skills. So, a little fun to get our brains going.

Nicky shared an infographic revealing that most people used phones for texting, taking photos, and internet browsing. Funnily, phoning didn’t even make the list! Most people also use the phone lying in bed, in the bathroom, in meetings or class, and while playing golf! 

She then reminded us that mobile literacy means using mobile tech to communicate through the web. She added a quote by David Perry: “Teaching mobile literacy seems to me as crucial as teaching basic literacy;” Something to think about and its implications for our own practice. 

We then tried another hands-on activity to get to know our neighbors and challenge us: open your photo album and find pictures of all of the following:

  • a pet
  • a grandparent, child, or parent
  • a celebration
  • a holiday photo
  • a photo taken in nature
  • a photo of you doing sport

This is a classic speaking activity, but one that can be modified in lots of different ways to suit your context.Think about different variations on this theme that could work with your students.

The SAMR model

When it comes to mobile technology, we have different levels of task type:

  • Substitution: doing an activity with tech that could just as easily be done without
  • Augmentation: doing a standard activity but to which the tech element adds something
  • Modification: tech allows for significant task redesign
  • Redefinition: tech allows us to create new tasks that previously weren’t possible

QR codes

Nicky then flashed a QR code on a slide and invited us to flash it, get the instructions it then provided, and follow them. This was a really fun activity in fact, one that could be replicated in the classroom provided enough students have smartphones and have been told to download a QR code reader (Nicky recommends iNigma because it is incredibly efficient.)

You can easily create QR codes with Kaywa, which is available on the web. The QR code then leads to a URL, a bit of text, a phone number, or an SMS. For teachers, the link and text will probably be the most interesting options.

Nicky and audience members suggested using QR codes to do treasure hunts with clues in the form of QR codes pasted on the walls. She cautioned about over-using them though, which is sound advice for any tool or technique that we use in the classroom.

Augmented reality & geo-tagging

Augmenting reality means adding extra information to what’s available in the real world. She showed an example of taking a photo of the Sydney Opera House, which the phone recognizes and flashes information about the monument on the phone’s screen. This is great for visiting new cities.

She recommended Wikitude, which links to Wikipedia.

She also recommended Woices, which is a smartphone app. It figures out where you are through geotagging and it gives you a series of voice recordings with information about places in your surroundings. 

Students and teachers can create their own recordings about a place. You simply click, record, save and pin it to a map on the phone. You don’t have to be near the place that you are recording about. You can also add tags to your recording to help people know the subject of your recording. 

This takes the classic voice recording activity and puts it on this open-source platform. You can also upload the text that goes with the recording if you so desire. This can greatly motivate students to get it right because the recording is not simply going to sit on a hard drive. 

Q&A challenges

Several audience members put forth their ideas on challenges we could meet when trying to integrate mLearning. 

  • Classroom management:

Students being distracted by other apps, such as Facebook. WIll they do what they’re supposed to do or will they just start surfing? This is a question of classroom managment. We must clearly structure the task and make sure the task is interesting enough to motivate them.

We must also build up interest in the subject. Taking the example of the Sydney Opera House, we wouldn’t just go in and say “OK, go to Woices and record something about the Opera House.” That’s rather boring and difficult to do. We would build up to the “project” of the lesson–the recording–just like we would build up to any other project. First introduce the subject, have students to a bit of research and learning, then at the end, use the technology as a tool for the lesson, not as the aim of the lesson.

  • Platform compatibility:

Sme applications may be only iOS, only Android, or only computer-based. You’ll need to make sure that the apps you want to use are compatible with whatever devices your students may have.

  • Connectivity:

Make sure that the school you’re working in has the wifi connection and the power to allow many students to connect simultaneously.

All in all, this talk was an excellent blend of practical information, a bit of rationale behind technology use, user-friendly demonstrations, and exchanges between Nicky and with the other audience members. Clearly, Nicky and the Consultants-e are the people to go to if you’re looking to develop your own digital literacy.

You can follow them on twitter: @TheConsultantsE or visit their website



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IATEFL Liverpool: Lindsay Warwick’s Flipping the Classroom and Student Attitudes

Lindsay looked at the practical issue of getting unmotivated students to join your flipped classroom community. You know, those students who don’t do their homework and who just show up for class if you’re lucky.

She compared a traditional classroom and a flipped classroom to show how much time can be devoted to practicing language in a flipped classroom—about 45 minutes of an hour lesson. In a traditional lesson, that might only be about 25 minutes of an hour lesson. The rest of the time may be taken up with a warmer, homework review, and then time where the teacher presents the target structures. In a flipped classroom, the presentation part is done at home via video.

She came back to a situation that seemed to resonate with attendees—students who want to learn English, but who don’t want to put in the effort. Or those who think that just coming to class once a week is sufficient.

Like Steven she pointed out the benefits of flipping. Students involved in flipped classroom experiments in the US have said that they really learned how to learn. Research is now starting to come through to support the idea that test scores improved by 67% and student attitudes improved by 80%. The benefits particularly impacted students with learning difficulties or special needs.

Lindsay admitted that her first experiment in flipping failed. The students were unmotivated and didn’t know how to learn for themselves. Reflecting on this, she compared the differences between state schools to adult education when it comes to flipping the classroom and brought up some things to consider.

State schools

  • Weekly objectives
  • Online task/check notes
  • ‘Naughty students’ watch the videos in class
  • Teacher sets individual deadlines for students who still have difficulties. She pointed out that it’s important to let students fail so that they learn to overcome their failure and improve.

Adult education

  • Objectives per lesson rather than weekly objectives
  • Can it be patronizing to check learners’ notes and tasks?
  • Will some students just think watching videos is the easy life?
  • Will learners who don’t watch the videos withdraw from the groups?
  • Will learners feel patronized when the trainer sets individual deadlines for lagging learners?

Lindsay recommended being explicit about the objectives, explaining their relevance to learners’ lives, getting them to think about what they can do to achieve their goals, and informing them of the teacher’s/trainer’s expectations.

In her school, she also allowed students to choose between taking the final exam or finding some way to show that they have understood the lessons thanks to the videos. Offering students a choice can indeed increase their motivation, plus it also accommodates students who may not be good test-takers.

Lindsay also gave some clever tips for making students want to watch the video.

  • Send them something before the lesson, perhaps by email. This could be an email, a screenshot of a video, or a puzzle to solve. The students will find the answer in the video. She used an example in which she sent an email to a student
  • Videos need to be concise—5 to 10 minutes is sufficient.  Students often go back and watch the videos over and over again, so make them watcher-friendly.
  • Videos also need to be simple so that students can understand them. Surprisingly, students learned better when they watched videos that they felt were more confusing. Let me (or Lindsay rather) explain. Students who watched a video of a person simply talking and using correct target structures felt the video was clearer, yet on tests, they retained less. Students who watched a video of a native speaker and a non-native speaker talking (complete with communication breakdowns, corrections, and mini explanations) felt the video was more confusing, yet on tests, they retained more.

In flipping, it is important to spend time showing students how the whole system works. You’ll need to figuratively hold their hand at first and lead them to more flipped autonomy. Don’t just throw them into the system. It also takes practice to train them (and possibly yourself) to work in a flipped classroom. Getting into a good pattern is key to the success and it takes time to build new habits.

One issue is that the videos work better is they are personalized. However, this can mean a lot of extra work for the teacher if they have to create new videos for every class or every learner if your students are in 1-on-1 lessons.

This talk nicely complemented Steven’s. While he showed us the tools to flip, she showed us some things to think about to help us flip effectively. This does indeed sound like something to experiment with!


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IATEFL Liverpool: Steven Bukin’s The Flipped Classroom – From Theory to Practice

 Steven started off with references to a few resources to back up flipping the classroom: Jonathan Bergman’s Flip Your Classroom and the success of educator Salman Khan, who began by simply making educational videos for his nephew and has since gone on to speak around the world the Khan Academy that he created based on his success.

 According to Steven and his resources, flipping the classroom can help struggling students with poor outcomes as well as those whose schedules are so cram-packed with assignments from all of their other teachers.

He advanced the controversial idea that much of what we do in class leads only to superficial learning. By flipping the classroom, we can help deeper learning take place within our students. I suppose that if flipped learning gives learners the chance to access our classes multiple times (rather than in a single session) and via a medium that they call their own, he’s not entirely wrong.

‘Flipped classrooms’ are one of those trendy terms at this year’s talk. I didn’t know exactly what a flipped classroom was, I must admit, but found out at the talk. You can find out (better than I could describe it) here.

Did you know that the most common model for classrooms today—a teacher working on the same thing at the same time with a big group of students–dates to the 19th century industrial revolution, when society needed similarly-trained workers? Flipping speaks the language of today’s students, and even today’s teachers (Russell Stannard’s anyone?) Steven also reassured us that flipping is rather easy to do given the right tools and a bit of training.

Benefits of flipping

  • Continuous enrolment greatly benefits from flipping. New students can catch up on what’s been done without the teacher having to repeat the same lessons.
  • Flipping supports differentiation as students can go through the lesson as much as they need.
  • Flipping allows teachers to better support students in person in class rather than doing all the teaching and support in the class time slot.
  • Flipping provides ready-made review and consolidation as well as being student-centered because the students take responsibility for their learning.

Some tools for flipping your classroom

Paid tools

Steven’s talk was one of the short 30-minute sessions, as it was paired with Lindsay Warwick’s talk which looked at flipped classrooms and their impact on motivation. This meant that Steven had to flip through the slides on various resources available for flipping the classroom, but here’s the list that is a good starting point for further exploration.

Paid tools

 Knowing that teachers always prefer freebies, we didn’t spend much time on these two.

Free tools

• Jing: free, web-based screen-capture , 5 min. per video, no webcam

Screencastomatic: free, web-based, with a webcam

Brainshark: free, web-based, 100mb limit, easy to use, upload many document types, no webcam 15-minute limit, 3 free videos per month, upload a power point to go with the webcam presentation

Apps for flipping

Educreations: This free app is like the modern version of the etch-a-sketch. It’s multi-platform, meaning it is usable on a computer or on an iPad, for example. You can record the audio and write at the same time, then save the files and share them with students.

 Explain everything: an incredibly powerful iPad app for creating visually interesting and animated lessons. You can cut and paste pics, manipulate and move them around for a fun lesson. Steven also suggested getting students to create lessons to share with their classmates.

He ended by saying that the video itself is not the important thing. What’s important is the time you free up for real interaction and connectivized (which I just invented—it’s as in connectivism– to avoid “connected” and its tech connotations) learning inside the classroom.

Steven also pointed out that a flipped classroom does seem to lead to better retention. The student can watch the video the night before the lesson, which gives more time to mull over the lesson and reflect on it. By slowing down the learning, it helps to speed up the acquisition.

Yes, it will take a time investment on the part of the teacher, but the return on investment looks promising.



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