Funny ELT illustrations

I picked up some interesting throw-outs from the British Council library here in Thailand. I’ve been flicking through Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language by Christine Nuttall (1996) this week. It’s clear, well-organised and has lots of practical activities for teachers to help them understand the skills or strategies they are teaching learners. But there’s something else you can’t miss in the book, especially in Chapter 1 – the illustrations.

This is a great illustration of a passive reader (see paragraph below image). For some reason it seems to induce post-nasal drip whenever I see it… (more…)

Flappy Drills – ‘Class, say after me…’

In this latest guest post, CELTA Trainer Nicky Salmon offers some tips for drilling pronunciation.

I watch a lot of teachers doing drills to focus on pronunciation.

Picture yourself drilling the following-

Teacher: OK class, listen….vegetable, vegetable

Students: Vegetable

Teacher: Vegetable

Students : Vegetable

Many teachers manage the turn taking (model, repeat, model, repeat) quite successfully but sadly forget to make it clear WHAT feature they want students to hear/identify and so repeat.

For example, with VEGETABLE,

-how many syllables are pronounced and which is stressed?

-are all the vowels full or is there a schwa sound in there somewhere?

If the teacher forgets to make it clear in some way what the features are, then this is a FLAPPY DRILL.

There are many times when we need to focus our students on making the sounds of the new language we are teaching them.

  • Maybe a consonant cluster in a new piece of vocabulary, for example, /br/ or /rts/.
  • Maybe the  schwa /ə/ sound or an unexpected pronunciation that doesn’t seem to mirror the spelling, for example, the varieties for the written ‘ea’,
  • Maybe the word has two or more syllables and the stress need to be identified.
  • Maybe the stress in a sentence is linked to the meaning or the intonation pattern is clearly linked to the feeling or attitude of the speaker.


Assessment Capable Learners in the primary classroom

In this guest post Kirsten Anne shares some great advice on encouraging self-assessment in the primary classroom. 

I am a primary school teacher and currently work in a year 3 classroom.  My students are between 7 and 8 years of age and attend an international school in Bangkok, Thailand.

I’ve been hearing the term ‘assessment capable learners’ used more and more frequently over recent years.  As teachers, we strive for ways in which we can assist students to have a sense of where they are now and where they are going.  Giving students the empowerment to do this and self-assess is an extremely effective teaching tool.  In our recent conversations between parents, teacher and learner, we asked students the question “why do you like reflecting on your learning?”  Unprompted, and about 85% of the time came the reply “because then I know what my next step is and how I can get better.”  Powerful stuff!

So, how do you go about helping your learners become assessment capable?

Primarily, they need to know what you are looking for in order for them to be successful.  There should be no second-guessing about this – learners need to know WHAT they are aiming to achieve, and HOW to achieve it. This takes on different forms depending on the subject. However, I’ll focus on Literacy here.

The ingredients learners need to include in their writing in order to be successful (the WHAT) depends on the writing focus, and will be defined by the teacher. Guiding the learners to include these ingredients – helping them realise how they can meet our ‘success criteria’, is something we’ve been working on at our school.

Marking codes

Colleagues of mine have discussed moving away from lengthy comments in books.  Who is it for?  Does it really have an impact on improving the learning experience for the student?  Not if the learner can’t read the comment—obviously not good for young learners or learners with only a basic command of English.  It’s also no use if the learner doesn’t bother to read the comments because they’ve switched off by the second line of the teacher’s feedback. (more…)

Quizlet Teacher account – worth it?

I’ve been using Quizlet in class for a while. This term I’m getting to grips with it a bit more as part of a project for my MA.

Huh, Quizlet?

Quizlet is a site which allows you to create your own online flashcards and games all for free. It’s really easy to pick up for both teachers and learners. Here’s what learners can do with it:

Flashcards – Learners can revise words from a lesson using digital flashcards made by the teacher. Flashcards can be words + meanings or words + images. You could also make question and answer cards. Students could also make their own flashcards if they want.

Learn – Read the meaning/look at the image and type the correct word

Spell – Type the target word you hear

Test – An auto-generated mix of written, multiple choice, and true and false questions based on the vocabulary set

Match/Gravity – a couple of games using the vocab set. Match works well on an interactive whiteboard

Live – play a live game with multiple participants


Classroom silence and digital natives

Svetlana Kandybovich recently wrote a post about allowing students thinking time. It’s full of useful ideas for the classroom and well worth a read.

Something else worth reading is ‘The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World’ by Laurence Scott (2015). I’m only halfway through, but it’s one of those social commentaries that has you nodding your head in agreement after almost every page.

One topic of interest in the book is silence. Scott dedicates a few pages to describing how, due to social media, the very notion of silence has changed. He states that ‘technological progress is, by all appearances, making life noisier…’ and suggests that the buzz of tweets, likes, status updates, etc, create some sort of ‘slipperiness between noise and silence…’. Even awkward silences between people are now filled with noisy, 4D silences in cyberspace when we hide behind our phones – something apparent the moment I walk into my adult classes! (more…)

Problems with images in ELT materials

Images in ELT coursebooks are often ambiguous. What might seem a fairly obvious depiction of an act or concept to us may be perceived as something completely different to our learners.

In an interesting, small-scale study, Hewings (1991) asked a group of Vietnamese learners in England to interpret various illustrations found in Elementary level coursebooks. For most of the images correct interpretation would require some culturally-specific knowledge, and written text around the images was removed so the learners weren’t given any support.

Hewings found many types of image were interpreted differently from what was intended. One example was with illustrations portraying people in certain roles, where learners failed to recognise certain stereotypes (e.g. rich/poor). He found, understandably, that culturally-specific job roles (e.g. a priest) were misinterpreted, as were situational images.

Maps like this room plan were also confused…

taken from Hewings (1991)

Some learners thought this was a view of a house from top to bottom rather than a floor plan from above. Symbolic representations like thought bubbles were also misinterpreted, and images like the ones below were seen as something different – the first image being a children’s slide, a reception desk, and ‘information’.

taken from Hewings (1991)

Interpretation of graphs also seemed an issue, particularly dealing with keys.

Hewings made some clear points in conclusion (mostly quotes here):

  • ‘we inevitably see illustrations from a culturally based viewpoint…’
  • We assume that everyone perceives images in the same way
  • ‘We assume that students have the necessary skills to make sense of information presented in the form other than a text’
  • Interpretations are unpredictable
  • Images are a chance to make learners aware of visual representations of a cultural group/target language


Lesson idea: Tomlinson’s text-driven approach

In Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013) Tomlinson introduces a text-driven approach to materials development. He goes into quite a bit of detail regarding text selection, offers a suggested framework for the approach and provides a practical example (pages 99-114). I won’t attempt to summarise, I’ll just say read the chapter! It was the most useful and applicable reading I undertook on my recent MA course.

For the purpose of this post, here’s the framework overview, taken from Tomlinson (2013:110, ©Bloomsbury)

click on the picture to enlarge

We had to plan a lesson using the text-driven approach for a unit assignment. I chose to use my favourite poem as the text – Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker. Here’s a nice dramatization of it (I think originally BBC):

You can find the full text here

These activities are pitched at upper-intermediate, for young adults/adults.

I’m based in Bangkok, hence the personalisation in the first activity… (more…)