Dip Tip: Phonology review quiz on PlayBuzz

I’ve had a few emails from people studying the DipTESOL saying that my old review quizzes have disappeared! Turns out that Qzzr is now a ‘paid for’ site. Boooo!

I’ve been working on alternatives. Here is a phonology review quiz I’ve made using PlayBuzz. Actually, the questions are copyright Marks and Bowen (2012), I’ve just chucked them in a more interesting format 🙂

Click here to try the quiz!

(note: I only tried PlayBuzz after Svetlana at ELT-cation adapted one of my own posts into a PlayBuzz quiz… see here for that post.

Dip Tips: Phonology and you

I sometimes hear from DipTESOL trainees who are finding it hard to get to grips with phonology. Common problems include:

  • Arrgh! I just don’t know where to start with it? What should I learn about first?
  • It’s not the learning about phonology, it’s how to integrate it

A good way to approach either of these points is with a bit of reflection.

I did my Dip with TLI Europe, who were really good. Before we started the module(s) on phonology, our tutor sent us a few diagnostic/reflection questions. These helped us understand more about our current practice in this area, the needs of our learners, our attitudes to teaching pronunciation and our areas for development.

If you are mentoring a trainee I recommend going through some of these questions with them. These are mainly exploratory and designed to prompt discussion.

If you are a trainee then feel free to respond to any questions in the comments and I’ll offer some advice if needed/if I can! (more…)

Lesson idea: Kahoot! for word stress

Just a quick idea for using Kahoot! here. I found I was using it for the same purposes – grammar meaning/form checking, gap fills, consolidation at end of lesson, etc. I wanted to branch out. Turns out it works well for reviewing word stress too. Here are a couple of screen shots from our food-related word ‘stress check’ the other day…

The good things about using Kahoot! for this were…

  • the students repeat the word (sometimes a lot) to check the stress
  • it turns out that it was a good way to highlight the use of epenthesis among Thai learners (see my post last week). Adding the decoy of 3 syllables for ‘spicy’ was a good way to do this
  • about the above – students genuinely wanted to clarify why they were wrong – they actually cared about pronunciation! Cool…
  • it mixes things up for the students/for me as we were getting bored with these same old ideas
  • it took like under 5 minutes to make (12 words) and could be reused/tweaked and reused

That was it. Give it a go if you haven’t already 🙂


I really like the #ObserveMe movement (see Robert Kaplinsky’s post here or the hashtag). However, I’m going to have to tweak things to make it work.

Gone are the days of LTC Eastbourne. My two years at that school were highly collaborative and peer observation was commonplace. It wasn’t an open doors policy, but a fair few teachers were happy for me to drop in and observe at short notice, some extending the open invitation (like Sketch who blogs here). There was a time at LTC (admittedly when I had more time myself) when I’d observe another teacher at least once, often twice a week. Teachers welcomed feedback but, unlike much of the #ObserveMe tweets I’ve seen, I was rarely directed to focus on a specific feature or skill – ‘i.e. how do I vary interaction patterns?/How can I do a better job of keeping learners engaged?’ etc.

The ‘free-for-all’ approach had its perks for me – I could focus on whatever I wanted. I often focused on how teachers gave instructions and also on the correction techniques they used – that’s really interesting to observe in a language classroom. Whiteboard work was also a favourite! For the teachers I observed, I guess the feedback topic was a lottery. It’s not the most effective/focused way of doing things but hey, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of observing experienced teachers. Post-observation feedback still led to some interesting discussions – it was sometimes just good to download about issues that emerged during the lesson!

Fast-forward three years and my experience of observations has changed a lot. My two observed lessons per year (one developmental, one evaluative) are thorough and quite stressful. They are fairly by the book (i.e. this book!) and my performance is now linked to my pay, so giving the observer what they want is the priority, rather than giving the learners what the need. Sniff. I’ve frequently been the observed teacher in my current job rather than the observer. In my first year I was observed either formally or through drop ins about 12 times (!) by line managers, trainers and sometimes sales staff getting to know the products. Most observations were top down, which is sad. The only teacher who asked to observe me (rather than a manager who told me they were observing) has moved on, and I’m really lacking someone to bounce ideas off and who I trust to offer objective and informative feedback.

I want to change this, and to do so I think I need to change our teachers’ perception of observations. Given the formality and rigidity of our current observations, my approach here is the opposite. Complete freedom – no guidance, no specific focus (which I would have liked for my own benefit), nothing but allowing other teachers to come in, observe and comment. Breaking the invisible barrier between colleagues and just getting the dialogue going. It doesn’t matter what about to begin with, just… tell me what you think of my teaching and we can take the discussion from there!

Here’s the poster I’ve put up on my door. I hope someone pops in. *Anyone but the boss, ANYONE BUT THE BOSS!*

Feature image: TonyCrabbe

Correcting pronunciation errors from Thai speakers of English

There are plenty of posts online explaining typical pronunciation errors from Thai speakers of English. Most seem accurate, and are a good starting point if you don’t have a copy of Swan’s Learner English to hand.

Knowing what the problems are and why learners might make them is very useful. However, I’ve found less info on how teachers actually address these errors in class. With this in mind, here are a few of my reflections on a handful of those errors – what I do that works ok, plus what I don’t do and why. I’m hoping that Mark over at TESOL Toolbox will write a follow-up post on this, and between us we’ll start getting a bit of an ideas bank together.

The missing S

Sammy the snake for correcting the missing /s/

Learners often omit the /s/ in plural forms or verbs in 3rd person, even when they know the grammar rules. I find myself eliciting things like ‘I work, you work, he/she….?’ on loop, although I reckon this is a fossilized error for a fair few of my learners…

Still, one thing has helped addressed this. I’ve found Herbert Puchta’s snake visual very useful in both adult and young learner classes. Board or display a visual somewhere of a colourful looking snake. Inform the learners that if you hear the ‘missing s’ error you’ll point to the snake. Do so as an on-the-spot correction as you monitor speaking activities. Make the snake a commonplace visual in lessons and learners will hopefully start to self-correct more.

Good for… YLs. Better once they start to point to the snake to peer-correct

Downside… Using the visual as a reference without reiterating the correct form can lead to exaggerated responses… ‘workssssssssssssssss’. Expect that!


Tech tips for new materials writers

These tips may sound simple to some, but useful to others! As a new writer I reckon you’ll have to do some of the things below, so this primer could help you hit the ground running…

note: instructions for Word based on Office 365

Tips for using Word… because we are all lazy until we actually need most of the cool functions!

Applying a template to a Word document

A publisher might send you a Word template to use and you need to upload it. Google how to do this if you don’t know, but it’s fairly straightforward (for me: Developer tab – Document template – Attach… that’s it really).

Changing the author name

Sometimes a publisher, or particularly an agent outsourcing work for a publisher, will ask you to alter author names in a document. That’s actually quite easy: File – Options – Personalise your copy… and you’ll see the options there.

Styles and the navigation pane

How often do you use Styles in Word? I’m lazy, I never used to bother….

Most materials writing I’ve done has been on Word using templates. These templates range in complexity, but the basic premise is the same as the Word Styles – it’s just applying a particular format to a body of text. Give yourself a refresher on using/changing these. Press Ctrl+F to open the navigation pane in Word. This will show you how easy it is to find your way around a document that uses Styles formatting. (more…)

Developing into a materials writer

Here are a few general tips for skills to develop if you’d like to write for publishers or big teaching organisations.

This is not a ‘How to become….’ post. You can find good tips about how to actually get into materials writing here and here. Also there are more general tips here.

Making the transition…

Going from teaching to materials writing is just a mindset thing really. Teaching and writing require a lot of the same skills anyway (see below). If you write your own materials for class now and then, well that makes you a materials writer.

‘Yeah, but I’m not… you know… paid to… or a professional materials wri-‘

Ah come on! Let publishers be the judge of that. What’s the worst they’ll do? Tell you that you don’t have the right experience? You might get lucky – they might ask you to write a sample of work for them… who’s gonna feel like a writer then, hey? Hey?!

Dealing with feedback

You go all out to write an awesome, engaging text only to receive tonnes of negative feedback. Sometimes feedback is constructive, sometimes it’s really blunt. You certainly need to develop a thick skin. Also, don’t assume that feedback is always scathing. Once, I received feedback on a grammar task that simply read ‘Why have you chosen this task?’ You can take that a few ways:

  • What on Earth are you doing?
  • This is the wrong task, you should choose something else
  • What is your logic here? I’m genuinely interested… If you explain it I might see the value…

Some inferences are more positive than others. Go with the positive spin – not everyone is out to put you down!

Incidentally, some of the best feedback I’ve had on materials has also led to changes to my own lesson planning/teaching practice. Just because an editor is sitting in an office all day doesn’t mean they’re not a practitioner too. (more…)