Embassy English Guest Speakers

How can we get new ideas into the staff room and bring our teachers in contact with what is happening in ELT beyond our school? Well one way that Embassy English has been doing this recently is by bringing in guest speakers to our central London centre, and we’ve been fortunate to have had workshops from Jason Anderson, Danny Norrington-Davies, Gillian Cunningham and Emina Tuzovic recently.  If you have the chance to attend any of their workshops, I’d highly recommend it, or perhaps you can catch Jason or Danny at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow.

A short take away from each talk: 

Jason Anderson: Sharing our intentions with our learners
How explicit are we in sharing lesson aims with learners? Do we believe more in procedures or outcomes? Learner autonomy or teacher control? Flexibility or clear structure? Are we ‘freedom fighters’ or ‘control freaks?’

As a ‘freedom fighter’ myself, it was interesting to hear the majority of my more ‘control freak’ colleagues’ opinions.  One thing that stuck with me from the discussions with other teachers was as Fiona Thomas said, I like to know the purpose of a workshop I attend, so maybe I should show the learners the purpose of our lessons more explicitly at the end as well as the beginning of every lesson.

Danny Norrington-Davies: From Rules to Reasons

I’ve been reading his new book, and have been trying to take on board his approach to getting students to notice why a grammatical structure is used rather than presenting rules that are simplufied, have exceptions and at worst are untrue. Even if this is an approach I already believed in, it is not necessarily what I do in practice when relying on the course book grammar activities tends to be my default just because it’s easier and I’m lazy. 

I’ve had students write why a verb is used on mini white boards and they have been able to do so successfully at both elementary and intermediate level.  In fact my elementary students were better at explaining the difference in meaning between future forms (e.g. future plan, I know) than the intermediates who tended to say the name of the form (eg present continuous) and needed more prompting to think about why a certain expression was used.

Gillian Cunningham: Play it again and again Sam

Memory is so important in learning new vocabulary and we must remember that, and we must remember to help our learners remember new expressions. Revision doesn’t always have to come from students; it can come from the teacher repeating or previewing new lexis to get it in their brains.  And memory activities could be as simple as having students write down all the words they remember from the lesson.

Some theories:

Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve says that we forget 50% after an hour, 60% after 9 hours and 80% after a month.

The von Restorff effect says that something unexpected or exciting is more memorable.

Primary and recency theory says we remember best what comes first and last.

Trace theory: the more often and intensely a memory condition is traced, the easier it is to remember.

It’s easier to remember chunks that having meaning, than isolated words in a list.

Emina Tuzovic: Teaching Writing to Arabic Learners

This was a brilliant talk I also went to at IATEFL 2016. I don’t have very many Arabic learners but one thing I’ve incorporated into my own teaching with them include being more tolerant and aware when they confuse vowels and helping them to notice the vowels and write them in a different colour. Also I’ve been more explicit in pointing out sentence structure and given them paragraph dictation to separate and punctuate sentences.


How to share videos, photos, movenotes, etc. quickly using Padlet

One website I find invaluable for sharing my students’ work is padlet.com.  This site allows you to create a webpage with its own url.  When students access this site, they just have to click on the background and they can upload their projects.  They can share photos, videos, text, anything really.  I used it today after my class created news report videos on Movenote.  It is so simple and easy to use, and most importantly for time-starved teachers, fast.  (And it embeds in wordpress:  see below for my intermediate students’ padlet.)  I have tried many ways of sharing our class projects, such as blogs, social media and moodle, but padlet is by far the most user friendly and quickest.

Made with Padlet

EnglishUK Conference 2016

On 12 November I had the pleasure of attending the English UK Conference here in London.  It was an inspiring day, opening with Laura Patsko’s insightful plenary on English as a lingua franca (ELF) in the multilingual classroom and finishing with the entertaining Ken Wilson and 10 quotes to make you think.  Here are some highlights from the day.

English as a lingua franca and the multilingual classroom–Laura Patsko

I could spend many words trying to recap Laura’s brilliant talk, but you can watch it yourself and check out the slides on her ELF Pronunciation site.  Lucky you.


two LaurasWhen I was sitting in her plenary, I was reminded how the last time I attended an English UK conference, which must have been about 5 years ago or so, I went to see someone speak about ELF (unfortunately I have forgotten who).  At the time, I was quite interested in the talk because I was doing a lot of ELF research for my MA, but was so disappointed because it wasn’t a very well-attended talk and at the end the feedback towards ELF (not the speaker) was quite negative with a heavy native-speaker bias.   It is fantastic to see how things have changed and are moving forward with ELF being featured in the plenary and many talks featuring various aspects of inclusivity in ELT.


Physicality of pronunciation–Marie Pettigrew

Marie demonstrated how to show students physically how to make the sounds on Adrian Underhill’s pronunciation chart and some practical classroom activities.  One activity that was quite useful was silent dictation using lip reading YouTube clips because students really have to notice the placement of their mouths.  Turn down the volume and have students notice which word was said.  We did our own mini-dialogues only through lip reading where we were given celebrities’ real names and had to ask our partner’s name and how to spell it.  It was hard!

One of the best moments of this session was when we imagined the sound we’d make stepping on something disgusting /ɜː/and it turns out this is not the same in all languages.  For example, in German it’s /iː/. What a beautiful teaching moment this could be using the phonemic chart.

I was really interested in attending this talk because pronunciation is an area I’d like to teach better.  When I was learning Spanish, I realised how much I really wanted someone to show me how to move my mouth to produce sounds.  I already do this with my own students, but am always looking for new techniques.  I was also intrigued because I often struggle to use the chart effectively because it does not match my own vowel sounds.  Even though I can see a lot of benefit in the chart, it perpetuates the idea that there is only one way to pronounce vowels in English.  At the pub after though, I heard about a more dynamic chart that I’m interested to explore which includes the /r/ that features after many vowel sounds in my accent.



Moving from general to academic English–Fiona Aish

Fiona, of Target English, got us thinking in this session:  What do students need to be able to do differently in an academic context compared to in a general English class?  How can I as a teacher prepare them?  She pointed out the thing I always find about my own students, that they are completely unaware of the complexity of language they will need to use when they get to university.  They tend to think that once they have IELTS, that’s enough, when it’s really only the beginning and IELTS is only the bridge to where they need to get to.  They need more precision, accuracy and subject knowledge for Academic English.

target-englishIn terms of writing, it’s important for students to stop writing about the topic and actually answer the question, a problem I find often with my own learners.  I found this slide particularly useful in getting students to notice and really understand the question.  I’ve been getting my students to notice what the topic (e.g. technology) and what the task is (e.g. give advantages and disadvantages) in their essay questions, but this takes it even deeper (topic, restriction, focus and action) and the colour-coding makes it clear, so I will definitely be stealing it to use in class.

In terms of listening, students need to be ready to listen to lectures and deal with different accents, different speaking speeds, and be ready to process a mix of fact and opinion, hedging, noun phrases, idiomatic expressions etc.  For example, if students hear ‘according to…’ they should know their lecturer is going to quote someone else.  Students need to be ready to predict what they are going to hear in a lecture based on previous lectures and background reading.

Fiona’s talk wasn’t just about students, but also for teachers on the path transitioning from teaching general English through to IELTS to more academic contexts like EAP courses, university foundation programmes, pre-sessionals, and in-sessionals.  She recommended https://www.baleap.org/ for more info and job postings.  I also noticed the blog section of her website http://www.target-english.co.uk/ has some nice writing tips.

Teaching grammar for all the right reasons–Danny Norrington-Davies

Danny started by quoting his colleague Andrea Borsato who said:

‘We try to contain the language with rules but the language keeps running away.’

I love that quote.  We should get students to really discover the reasons why somebody would use a certain grammar item in a written or spoken text, rather than give them rules which are often too abstract, hard to apply, qualified with the word ‘usually,’ confusing and at worst wrong and untrue.  Language is too dynamic to capture with rules.

grammar reasons For example, why do we say, ‘I’m loving my job’ when it doesn’t fit into our ‘rules’ about state verbs and the continuous aspect?  Well, take away rules and explore reasons, and we can easily understand why we say that.

Danny’s approach to teaching grammar is to look at a text and ask, ‘Why does the writer or speaker use this form?’  He showed us an example with restaurant reviews taken from London-eating.  First ask students if they would eat there.  Then get them to notice specific examples that include present simple, past simple and present continuous.  Ask students why the writer used those words.  His low-intermediate students were able to come up with reasons.  These reasons might be different or imprecise, but he guided them as their teacher to refine and co-construct reasons together as a class.  Students can see how tenses interact together in a text, which is much more beneficial than the isolated view of tenses usually presented in coursebooks.   Students then replicate the task by writing their own review.

grammar reasonsHe also showed us an example looking at newspaper articles, which raised awareness of relative clauses, and was followed by a transposition task of a role play.  Just a side note, he used http://www.classtools.net/ to create this fabulous slide.

By looking for reasons after understanding a text, students are really using guided discovery, not the usually coursebook version of guided discovery which is really a test or led-discovery to ‘discover’ a pre-decided rule.   This way avoids artificial simplification because students can simplify it themselves.  Students are taking ownership of the language.  Also, it can be more satisfying to come up with reasons and explore similarities, rather than be given lots of exceptions to rules.

I’m really looking forward to checking out his new book when it’s out as well as exploring a Diane Larsen-Freeman (2003) book on grammar he highly recommended.

Ten quotes to make you think–Ken Wilson

I think Ken probably had over 20 quotes from celebrities ranging from the very famous like Socrates, Einstein, Mark Twain, etc. to the not so well-known Tallulah Bankhead who said, ‘If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes…only sooner.’  It was very entertaining, but one quote that stuck with me was actually something he had said.  He asked us how long it took us to identify our best student, and then pointed out that maybe they were the best only because they responded to our way of teaching.  There are some students who don’t get the way we teach but we need to find a way to reach all of our students.  People have a very basic desire to express who they are, what they want, etc. and if we allow students to do this, it’s a good lesson.

He also presented a simple, but extremely fun warm-up activity that could be useful with students.

A:  You’re so (an adjective that begins with the letter a)!

B:  Really?

A:  Yes.

B:  Well, you’re so (an adjective that begins with the letter b)!

…and so on through the alphabet.

And at the drinks reception and pub

The problem with all these events is that there are always interesting speakers that you don’t end up seeing because their talks conflict with the ones you did see.  I was lucky enough to chat to some really interesting people, doing some interesting work.  Just to name a few and share some of their websites if you’re interested:

Adam Scott who is doing some really interesting work with synthetic phonics.  I’m looking forward to finding out more.

Marek Kiczkowiak who runs TEFL Equity Advocates to promote equality in TEFL.

The always inspiring  Jason Anderson .

Simon Dunton who talks about LGBT inclusivity.  If you ever get a chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it after attending his presentation at the last IATEFL conference.

A final thought…

Thanks everyone for all the great conversations and inspirations at English UK 2016.  Ken ended his talk by saying that there are three kinds of teachers, ones that inspire, ones that frighten and ones we don’t remember at all.  So I’ll leave you with the though, which kind of teacher do you want to be?

Reflection from a learner’s perspective: my experience learning Spanish

At IATEFL 2015 I went to a workshop entitled ‘Lessons Learned as a Language Learner’ by Jo-Ann Delaney and Madeleine du Vivier (see previous blog post) and was inspired to reflect on my own experiences learning another language, namely Spanish.  I actually wrote most of this post over a year ago but just haven’t got around to finishing it until now.

A bit of background

I’ve been wanting to study another language for years so I could better relate to what my students go through, as well as, of course, learn another language.  I’ve been meaning to study Spanish for various reasons, but being the lazy person that I am, have always managed to find reasons not to.  I often get sent to Spain to do Trinity exams, and every year I think, ‘I really should’ve brushed up on my Spanish before I got here.  Next year, I will for sure…’  So in January 2015 when I found out I was going to Spain the following May, I thought,’ yep this is the year…’ and then preceded to do nothing for months.  Until I went to the session at IATEFL.  I said ‘brush up’ because technically I have studied Spanish before, but 20 years (!) ago when I was in high school, which basically means I have studied numbers and a few present simple verbs, all of which I have forgotten.  This makes me a false beginner, more or less the same level of my beginner/elementary communication skills students.


So using Delaney and du Vivier’s trainer beliefs as a framework and adding a few of my own ideas, here is what I learnt as a learner:

1.  Engaging with written and spoken text

Essential!  I really wanted to know about Spanish culture in coursebook readings, understand song lyrics, express my own experiences of Madrid when we watched a video clip, etc.  I really didn’t care about the grammar point.  I got it; grammar is easy to understand–let’s move on to meaning.  I wanted more speaking and more chance to practise using the language.  The pace of the course is such that we learn a new language point in every lesson, but never really get a chance to use it in speaking.  In fact, I’m starting to feel that I am learning a lot about Spanish, and not a lot of Spanish, and this was especially true the higher up I went in level.  Also, I needed more listening.  When I saw something written down, I could understand most of it, but listening tasks were really hard for me to understand.  And I needed to listen many times (not just once or even twice) before I could decode meaning.

2.  Pronunciation

I really, really wanted more pronunciation.  Even if I could say the word ‘correctly’ (or so my teacher said–I’m not convinced), I really needed more practice to feel confident.  And just listening isn’t enough; I needed someone to show me how to move my mouth, how to say it.  More than anything else, I realised the value of pronunciation for learners’ speaking confidence.

3.  Authentic material and tasks

I like authentic material like songs and youtube videos, but I also find them too difficult and thus de-motivating.  As far as tasks go though, I really only want anything that I can instantly perceive as useful, like anything that I will need when I travel in Spain.  I was really frustrated in my first lesson because we had to speak about someone else’s likes (He likes…  She likes…).  I didn’t care.  I wanted to say what I like and ask my partner using ‘you like.’

4.  Learners should work with different pairs

My view didn’t change, but was confirmed.  I like working with different people.   I think it has contributed to the good rapport we have in our class.  I don’t mind getting up and moving to talk to someone new.  I think I’d be disappointed if our teacher didn’t mix up our groups and make us move.

5.  Whole group questions should be asked randomly

I really don’t want to volunteer to speak if I don’t have to.  I don’t feel comfortable shouting out the answers.  But I like it when my teacher nominates me and I’m forced to participate.  I now think nominating students is really important.  Randomly helps too because if I know when it’ll be my turn, I do shut off and only focus on that answer.

6.  It is good for stronger students to peer teach weaker ones

My class is pretty evenly mixed, but if I feel that if I know something one of my classmates doesn’t, I’m not likely to volunteer it so I don’t seem like a know-it-all or make them feel bad.

7.  Praise is important for motivation

Absolutely!  My teacher is very positive and that contributes to my motivation.

8.  The physical environment is important

I work at a very nice school and the school I study at isn’t nearly so nice, but to be honest, I’m not that bothered by the Spanish classrooms.  I guess it’s just me.

9.  It’s important to always use the target language

I really wanted my teacher to only use Spanish or at least use Spanish most of the time.  I wanted the listening practice.  I could understand most things and so I didn’t want translations and I wanted to pick up the expressions I didn’t quite catch.  It was reassuring that she could speak my language and I could ask for help if I needed it, and besides, I’m not sure we could have developed the same good rapport only in Spanish.

10.  There should be a variety of tasks and input

I agreed–I enjoy a variety of tasks.

Other points I noticed:

11.  Personality goes a long way in a teacher especially for motivation

I didn’t realise how important my teacher’s personality would be in motivating me and making me feel good about my learning.  It’s really hard to keep up motivation after the initial excitement of starting to learn a language wears off, so having a teacher who cares goes a long way.  Even if I didn’t agree with all of her teaching methods, or the overall grammar McNugget (Thornbury) syllabus of the courses, I wanted to learn and come to class because I liked her.  She was positive and enthusiastic about teaching and that made me positive and enthusiastic about learning.  One day I had a different teacher and even though she was ticking all the ‘good TEFL-y teacher’ boxes, I just didn’t like her and so didn’t want to learn.

12.  Error correction

My teacher didn’t do very much error correction, but actually I really liked that.  I knew I was making mistakes, but just speaking was so difficult.  If I was speaking, I didn’t want to be interrupted.  More often I needed help finding the right words.  When I had the other teacher, she did whole class correction and I just felt like I was wrong.  We didn’t have a good enough rapport built up that I could accept her corrections.   Another teacher I had pointed out ‘potential errors’ rather than specific ones we had made, and I found that far more useful.  He also helped correct our pron, which I found far more useful than correcting grammar, maybe because I knew the grammar and just couldn’t use it fast enough in speaking but didn’t know how to say the words correctly.

13.  The importance of collocation for fluency and speaking

It’s very useful to hold languages as chunks in order to use them, and the larger the chunk, the faster it will come out in speaking.  I knew this, but it is a different thing to know and another to experience.

14.  Homework and testing

Homework checking is so time-consuming and tedious.  I felt like we wasted so much of our lesson going over grammar answers, most of which I was able to get right when sitting at home thinking about them, and yet none of them I was able to use in speaking.  I wish we had spent more time on speaking activities and less time correcting homework and talking about grammar.   Also, I really wished we could check homework in pairs before going over the answers as a whole class.  I feel like that would have given me more speaking time and built up my confidence a little more.  It made me realise how important pair work was and reinforced why I do it.

I was able to do grammar exercises quite well and so got very good marks on our end-of-course tests.  I stopped taking Spanish lessons after I got to B1, and although I passed that test, my speaking and listening could barely be described as A1.  There is very little connection between how well you can do grammar exercises and how well you can communicate.   Class time and even homework is better spent doing something communicative.  I really found listening homework the most useful, even if having CDs often made it difficult to do.  It was always best when were assigned something on youtube.  I wish I had a wider bank of resources to give my own students specific links for homework.  It also makes me see the value in a flipped class.

15.  Reading and processing time

When we got to B1 level, we were reading longer texts in class.  My teacher had us each read a paragraph aloud.  I hated this activity so much that it practically had me in tears every time we had to do it.  I really emphasize with how much time my learners need to process things, and also how a seemingly benign activity could set someone off.  I hated having to read aloud because then I wasn’t taking in any of the text.  I was only trying to pronounce the words, but it wasn’t helpful for pron as it was so unnatural.  I couldn’t concentrate when others were reading either because then I was distracted by the speaking.  So either way, I wasn’t taking in any meaning and needed to go back and read the text to understand.  The texts were actually really easy for me to understand, but when we were reading orally as a class, I got so completely blocked I felt like I couldn’t do anything.  It was a bit more helpful when my teacher was reading and I could start to map sounds and words a bit better, but still I felt like I needed to read silently to really understand.

Which means, maybe not only with reading, but with other activities as well, students need more time to process.  Quiet time doesn’t mean students aren’t learning.


So the thing I’ve learnt most is just to have more empathy with my students.  It’s hard to learn a language as a false beginner.  It’s hard to keep up motivation.  It takes time and effort, so what can I do to help my learners?  More speaking.  More pronunciation.  More listening, many times if needed to decode.  More pair work.  More fun.  More caring.  Do things to build good rapport.  Spend less time checking homework and talking about grammar, and give more time for processing, like in a reading text.  Be positive and don’t give up on my learners, even if it feels like they are lacking motivation.  It hasn’t changed my teaching as much as just made me more aware–aware of what I do and why I do it, aware of my learners.  It’s helped me try to put myself in my learners’ shoes and think about their perspective.  It has confirmed a few of my own teacher beliefs.  It has also helped me in doing observations of other teachers and thinking more about what the learners are taking away from the lesson.

Fiona’s SEN workshop, irregular verbs

Today we had a workshop on Specific Learning Differences (otherwise known as Special Educational Needs) by Fiona Thomas.  She presented many good ideas to help people with learning differences, like dyslexia or AD(H)D, but mostly she put forward ideas that could just be thought of as good practice.  Like TALK to your students.  Ask them what works, what doesn’t, what strategies they use.  But one interesting idea that she got from IATEFL last year was how to present irregular verbs in a more memorable way.

irregular verb images

Group them into categories with a visual image:  hamburgers, peas, a mother and twins, and a mixed bag of sweets.  I know this works because one of the few things I remember from my high-school Spanish is ‘shoe verbs,’  irregular verbs that has the pattern of a shoe when conjugated.

Just in case that image is too small:

a hamburger verb: 








a mother and twins:




a mixed bag of sweets





Thank you, Fiona, for another fabulous workshop 🙂

Error Correction

Today we had an INSET with a guest speaker Gillie Cunningham entitled ‘Erors are ok, or are they?’  It was a very insightful session, and she was a very entertaining speaker.  This is not a summary, but just a few things I have taken away.

  • We need to have a clear idea of what we are correcting and why.  What is acceptable to some people might be considered incorrect by others.
  • We should involve the students in error correction.  Do they want to be corrected?  When?  What are their goals?  Are they trying to achieve ‘perfect’ pronunciation?  Do they just want to communicate their ideas even if they aren’t ‘correct’?
  • We should take a principled and consistent approach to error correction, and we should make students aware of our approach.  This could be influenced by previous methods and reflect our beliefs on teaching and learning.
  • We should test and compare different techniques.

Some techniques she mentioned that I would like to try:

  • Silent correction of pronunciation.  Gesture how you want vowel sounds made, don’t voice them because students often try to copy the sound (unsuccessfully) when they need to change the movement.  Show them mouth movements and create a gesture for short and long vowels.  Get students to put a finger up to their lips so they can feel their tongue when pronouncing ‘th’ sounds like they’re thinking.
  • When correcting in freer practice, use ‘quotation’ gestures with your hands so it’s clear you are correcting not communicating.
  • Teach all the verb tenses with a gesture.  Then when students make mistakes, they can self-correct with just a gesture from the teacher.
  • Only correct certain mistakes.  Say at the beginning of class, ‘Today I’m only correcting the past simple.’  Or prepositions, or pronunciation, or whatever.  Students will be aware and so errors will drop.

I loved the way she delivered this presentation because I really did reflect on my own beliefs.   A few things she said about past approaches to errors that really resonated with me, and may explain why I could be seen as taking a ‘lax’ approach to error correction:

  • Teaching is subservient to learning–give learners more credit and let them work things out themselves (Silent Way).
  • Keep stress levels down to improve learning (Suggestopaedia and TPR)
  • In order to access language faster, how often and frequently we ‘trace’ a memory connection matters.  Doing something physical, like doodling, helps reinforce connections.  (TPR)
  • Students learn from their mistakes (Communication Approach) while behavioral theory suggests students learn their mistakes.
  • Students are more likely to learn if they can self-correct.

The thing I liked most about her talk is that it was so student-centred.  I was worried it was going to be a very error-centred talk, taking a very narrow view of ‘correct language, ‘ but I was pleasantly surprised.  Students do often ask for more correction and so I’ve been really trying to incorporate more explanation of when and why I’m correcting them, and when and why I’m not.  To end the talk, she gave us her three personal guidelines:

'Learning is experience.  Everything else is just information.'  -Einstein
‘Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.’ -Einstein

I loved that quote.  Here’s another good one:

‘Our ability to learn is far greater than our understanding of how we learn.’

To be honest, I might have misquoted that because I was trying to take down notes fast before the slide changed.  And to completely paraphrase her other guideline:

Set the bar high, and they will perform.  If you expect them to be good learners, they will be.  

Bringing English to Life

The language school where I work in London, Embassy English, has developed an approach to integrating technology into teaching called Bringing English to Life. Students use apps and websites, mainly on their own devices, that help them develop and document their language production. Students are given projects that not only focus on language being produced in the classroom, but also allow them to interact with people in the local community.   These projects are then shared through class blogs and individual e-portfolios.  Our school has developed a list of suggested projects and web 2.0 tools for us to use with our students.  Last month we trialed some of these and fedback to other teachers in our monthly INSET session.  Here are some of the ideas we shared.  Thanks Luke Fletcher, Sarah Wakefield, Nathalie Barclay, Ella McCall, Melissa Threadgill, Jessica McDermott, Andy Navedo, Fiona Thomas, Kezzie Moynihan and Kallie Watters.


This site allows you to create animation videos and was used with Ella and Nathalie’s Pre Int students to create a list of cultural tips.  The final products look amazing, but they were a bit tricky to set up, for example, you have to remember to slide times for when the animation appears.


Movenote allows you to record a video of yourself speaking to a slideshow created from images or powerpoint slides.  Sarah used it with her students to create news programmes.  They were really impressive.  Students wrote news stories, then found pictures from google and saved them as jpegs to use in their slide show.  When they started their news report, the theme tune from BBC news was played in the background by opening it up in youtube in a separate tab.  Other teachers, like Luke, have also used Movenote but said they had trouble when they had their students use the free apps on their phones, so it was better to use laptops.  (Note: only computers with webcams will work.)  I have also used it to encourage spontaneous speaking by having a pre-made powerpoint slideshow (e.g. a day in the life in London) and having students record themselves describing what they see as they see each image for the first time.

D Film

This is my go-to site.   Students can write a dialogue and turn it into an animated film.  It’s really easy to use and it works with all levels.  I usually set it up as a way to revise vocabulary.  First I give students only 3 minutes to work in pairs to write a 6-line dialogue incorporating a new expression.  Then I stop them and say they are going to turn their dialogue into a film and we do an example together as a class.  Then they work in pairs to create their own films.  They have to collaborate to choose setting, characters, background music etc.   They email me the films and we watch them together in class.  I usually get the other students to notice the key lexis and also if there is anything they would change about what they read (i.e. correct any mistakes).

Using a Class Blog

A few of us have blogs with our students and we were discussing some of the best ways to make it work.  I mainly moderate my class blog and add students as contributors.  Jessica has made hers much more student-led, with one student in charge each week.  All students don’t have full access as administrators, but take turns.  They don’t post everything they do, but when they have a project, the class will vote for the best one and that one will get to be put on the blog.  For example, when they did class presentations, they were recorded on their phones and then the best one was put on their blog.

An issue I’ve had with my class blogs are how to give meaningful feedback.  One suggestion was to corrects students’ work in draft mode before they are posted to the blog for everyone to see.


This is a good site to add text, sound and video to an image.  It’s worked really well for me with low levels.  For example, to learn vocabulary for things in the house, students can take a picture of their flat and label everything.  Or for vocabulary about shops, students went out and took photos of shops where they could buy specific things and recorded themselves having a transactional conversation about these.  Some advice about Thinglink from Jessica:  it seems to work better in Firefox than Explorer.  You can now set up a teacher’s account and link your youtube account to upload videos and Soundcloud to upload recordings.

Future Me (Fiona)

This website could be used to get students to write a letter to themselves in the future.  It could be interesting to do at the beginning of the course so they can see how much they improved by the end.

Newspaper Stories, Speed Dating Style (Andy)

Students are each given a news story.  They take notes on it and then have to tell their story to a classmate.  They take notes and then tell a new classmate the new story they have just heard.  This continues until everyone has listened to and told every story.  It’s funny at the end to compare the story to the original as a whole class because the stories will have changed so much.

Using their phones

There are many ways students can use their phones without downloading apps or accessing websites.  For example, Andy recommends that they record a role-play and then after transcribe and correct it.  Or Kezzie recommends setting a weekend homework task for students to take a photo of some bit of new vocabulary.  Students email these photos to their teacher and this creates a warmer for Monday morning.


Kallie presented a few ideas of how she takes students out when teaching IELTS.  For Task 1 writing, students go to a supermarket and take photos of fruit and note where it’s exported from.  Then they use this to create a graph.  Fiona also suggested personalisation to create a Task 1 graph.  She gets students to map their energy level during the day.

To get students to practise maps and process writing, first students have to write out instructions how to get to a local park.  Another group writes instructions to a different park.  Then the groups follow instructions and when they get to the park, they have to take a picture of a natural process. Their homework is to write up the task.

Also, to talk about changes in cities, Kallie gives students old pictures of London and they have to compare.

I found these ideas particularly interesting because I’d like to develop ways to incorporate more technology into my IELTS teaching, but in a meaningful way because I find students can be quite resistant because they don’t see its relevance to the exam.

Ones that didn’t work so well for us (at least this time…)

Melissa tried E-maze with her elementary class but it was very difficult for them.  It was difficult to see on their phones, so she switched to laptops, but the amount of effort didn’t seem to warrant the final output.  It might have worked with a higher level class or with students who are better at using computers.

I had a similar issue with Canva.  I gave my students a homework task to write a question about wishes (our topic for the week) and interview at least three people on the street (for example, some choose their host families while others asked people in Trafalgar Square).  Then they had to make a Canva poster and put it on our class blog.  Some of them made the posters using Canva, while others just posted on the blog.  I don’t think the effort it took for them to use Canva was worth it, as the posts on the blog were just as effective.  The other problem I have with Canva is that there isn’t a way for them to go back and correct their mistakes, whereas they can edit their blog posts.  They now have a beautiful poster, but one that is full of mistakes.  This also brings up the issue whether it is better to set these tasks for homework or to work on them in class time.  Working on them in class gives more opportunity for error correction, but it also takes away from time that could be spent learning other things.  Some of the more successful projects took three to four days:  one to set up and study the language, another to go out and interact with the community, a third to create the digital project in class and a fourth to present it.

Another issue that came up, was the need for a model.  One of the reasons I think the Powtoons and Movenote projects worked so well is because the teachers had created a model themselves for students to see what is expected of them.  It also meant that teachers were better able to assist their students in using the websites.  The downside of this of course is the amount of extra prep time for the teacher.