All posts by laura

EFL trainer and materials writer, with teaching experience in Ireland, USA, Spain and Germany. I spent 7 years as the head of the English department at a large language school, where I developed an interest in teacher training. Today I teach English/ Business English to university students and adults, am involved in test development, and lead workshops on topics related to teaching languages.

Conference Triumph instead of Conference Fatigue*

Don’t lose your marbles!

Make the most of the ELT conference

With so many talks and workshops on offer, how do people decide which to go for? Do you choose topics that are within your field of expertise to find out what others are doing and thinking, or do you go for something you know absolutely nothing about? Do you choose talks that you think will present a solution to a problem you have in the classroom or something that will fill in a knowledge gap? Maybe you want to find new ways of doing or teaching something because you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut. What about choosing presentations because they have interesting or humorous titles? Or do you go to a talk because your colleagues are going too?

Looking at the conference programme or timetable, some talks may stand out as things you definitely want to attend. At other times, you scan the long list of options and become overwhelmed, and then later on realise you missed something you had earmarked as vital.

Conference survival tips 

books

What do want to know? 

Think about your professional goals before attending the event. Make a list of what you want to come away with, be it new ideas, skills or even contacts. Having some objectives in mind can really help when faced with choosing one out of 15 parallel presentations which all sound pretty interesting.

Have a look in advance at any conference materials that are available. When you find talks that appeal to you, research the speaker and find out what their background is. You may be drawn to the talks by the big names, without realising that there is something much more relevant to your needs going on somewhere else at the same time.

Add a bit of variety to your choice and consider how the information you’re hearing could be adapted to suit your context. Would that project with teens suit adults and what would you have to do to make it work? Note down the speakers contact details. You can also shoot off a quick question or comment to them via email or Twitter  when you are at home going over your notes or planning how to use their ideas with a particular group of students.

Presentations by first time speakers or on special interest topics might attract smaller groups which can mean greater opportunity for participation. So, participate!

Don’t be afraid of asking a question, making a comment or giving a suggestion. Conferences are about sharing knowledge and experiences, and interacting with speakers and fellow attendees is a great way of getting the ball rolling. It helps break the ice with others in the room and in general, I think most speakers appreciate the input.  The world of ELT is so huge and diverse, I try to remind myself that ‘we’re all in it together’ and that working in such different contexts, we can learn from each other regardless of whether we’re there as presenter, author or participant, native or non-native speaker, novice or experienced trainer, with a TEFL cert or PhD. It may sound obvious, but we can all find ourselves feeling a bit intimidated or shy outside of our own environment.

Say Yes to the social events. From evening events and dinners to concerts and city tours, these have been carefully planned by the conference organisers, who know what teachers are interested in. You have the chance to enjoy good food, a glass or two of wine, learn something about the city you’re in and get chatting to some new people. You may not know anyone there, but most people are in the same boat. Be prepared to make the first move and introduce yourself and see where it goes from there.

The food is great, isn’t it?

Keep in touch. 

When you get home, pull out the business cards you collected and send a nice follow-up email or make contact via social media. A short note to say how nice it was to meet them is all it takes. You can jog their memory by mentioning something specific such as the talk you attended together or the conversation you had. I’ve started making little notes on the backs of the business cards I’m given or in the notebook I usually carry round at conferences, and at social events I often take photos of the people I end up chatting to and add those to their contact info in my phone’s address book. The notes may be things like ‘Spanish man I met on bus to event’, or ‘works in London, has 2-year old twins’ – notes that only make sense to me, but it all helps later. You never know when your paths might cross again.

These tips are sure to help you achieve conference success!

who am i
conference confusion

Final thoughts: If, however, you’re someone who has ever secretly thought ‘Without my lanyard I feel naked’,  I can’t help you! What you actually need to take a break from all things conference related.

*Is ‘combat fatigue’ even a thing?

Thanks to everyone at IATEFL Poland, organisers and attendees, for making this year’s conference such a fantastic event. I’m looking forward to 2016 already.

The Game Show: notes for Iatefl Poland workshop

At the upcoming IATEFL Poland conference, I’m giving a workshop on games that can be used in class to introduce students to online materials. In this case I’m using telc’s (free) English Practice Material online, as I was part of the team behind it. This post is primarily created for the workshop attendees.

workshop objectives

Occasionally, when talking with EFL teachers about using technology with adult students, I’ve heard things like ‘well, I told them about a great website and suggested that they do the tasks there, but I don’t think they’re interested’, or ‘There’s a CD-rom with the coursebook, but they don’t seem to want to use it.’ In fact, I’m probably guilty of saying the same thing myself at some point.

When it comes to online materials, there’s a huge amount of stuff out there. We know what’s available, we may even be enthusiastic about the resource, but just directing the student to it usually isn’t enough. If we decide to use these online materials or tools, we should ensure that we treat them not simply as some add-on, but as part of the course. This means devoting some time to properly introduce and demonstrate the material before setting it as homework, and then expanding or referencing the content in the next lesson to show that we take the work seriously, value the time our students put into it and believe it to be really useful. Online tools for grammar and vocab practice or tasks on the cd-rom generally give automatic feedback, so it’s easy to think that once we’ve assigned the task, students do it and we all move on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, and students pick up the message that this is optional, you can get by without it. Which is a pity. If you’ve got this great material, why not get the most out of it!

Participant notes Poland iatefl

I’m adding a pdf with some of the activities and modules discussed in the workshop. Get in touch if you have any comments  or questions.

Video ‘How to use telc English Practice Material online’

This video explains where to go to sign up for access to the online materials and can also be used to help your students get logged on.

applause Have fun!

Padlet digital noticeboards: ideal for English teachers

As Business English teachers, travelling from company to company, we usually have to make do with the equipment available to us. In some cases, that might not even include a whiteboard or flip chart. If, however, you are lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard, or even just a projector to hook your laptop up to, you’re ready to make that move from course books and handouts to a more creative ‘connected classroom’.

The range of websites and apps out there is staggering. You can produce everything from podcasts and word clouds to infographics and videos, but what then? You need some way of bringing it all together, a place to save and share your students’ finished work. For this, Padlet.com is ideal.

Padlet lets you create a digital wall, similar to a noticeboard or pin board. You can post content for your students, adding documents, videos and links related to a topic being covered in class or you can create a wall for collaboration and allow students post their work, comments, questions there.

I love it because it’s easy to use and because students do not need to sign up to access walls. You can have multiple padlet walls, one for each group or project. You can customise your wall, make it public or private, pick an address or url for each one and share the link easily. You can choose to be notified when students post something, which is handy if you want to give feedback on homework. I could go on and on.

Watch this video on how to get started:

Some of the many ways teachers can use Padlet:

  • Share content with your students. Have a wall dedicated to each different group. Add anything you see that might be of interest to them, related to their business or the topic being covered in class. This can be used for homework or as a source of further reading for when they have some extra time on their hands and fancy some English practice.
  • Create walls for specific topics. I have walls for things like presentation skills or CV preparation. Students and teacher add relevant content. These walls could potentially be reused again and again.
  • Students create their own walls and use them as a digital portfolio. They save their finished work there. It’s a great way of charting their development and at the end of the course, they can present a selection of their work.
  • Use a wall for team work and brainstorming. The free flow layout allows you to move posted ideas around to categorise them as good, ok or impractical.
  • Have a wall for each course book or course book unit  – students add new vocabulary, links to extra grammar practice, additional texts relating to the unit’s content.
  • Display – photos of art projects, finished essays (stream mode works well for this also).
  • Discussion (stream mode). Post a statement and students give opinions and comment on the opinions of their classmates.
  • Students can each create a wall and use it as a learning diary, a language notebook, or a resource scrapbook. Save links to websites, notes on grammar, vocab lists, inspiring quotes. As walls have no limit to their size, this makes them a great bookmarking tool.
  • Use a wall for introductions at the start of a course. Students can share information about themselves, photos, even post an audio greeting. You could also collectively create a list of everyone’s contact details, so if someone misses class, they have the chance to get in touch with fellow-classmates to find out what they missed.

Go check it out! I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.

www.padlet.com

Business skills and cultural awareness: businessculture.org

Have you discovered the fantastic website www.businessculture.org yet?

If you are teaching Business English, or want to add something about cultural awareness to a general English class, you’ll find this to be an invaluable source of information.

Aimed at businesses wishing to do more business internationally, or students considering spending time abroad for work or study purposes, the site offers business culture guides on 31 European countries, in 9 languages. Each guide includes a short video with interesting facts about the country in question, as well as extensive information on business topics such as culture, etiquette, communication and social media.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 22.26.52

I built a 2-week intensive course around this resource, with students divided into regions, and each student taking a country within their region as their own area of expertise. Every day, as well as covering business skills, vocab and grammar, students used businessculture.org to research their country and then created or presented something.

Here are some of the tasks:

Presentation Skills. A mini Pecha Kucha presentation on their chosen country. (Instead of 20 slides with each shown for 20 seconds, they had 10 slides.) They were to include some general information (size, location, language etc), something about the economy, and something they thought really interesting about the country. Each slide was an image and if they really wanted to add text, they were limited to 5 words per slide. They presented these to the students in their regional group.

Report writing. Our ‘company’ is interested in doing business in country x, and the student has been asked to write a report on business etiquette and culture to help us understand our potential business partners better.

After learning about the concept of Nation Branding, and watching some example videos from different countries on youtube, students researched information about what makes their country attractive for business and investment.  Create a short video/ narrated slideshow.

Business Meetings.  Emailing / Interviews. The website gives a list of questions to be considered before organising or attending a business meeting. Students imagined they were on a business trip to their country and wrote an email to ‘colleagues’ at home telling them some things they noticed about how meetings are run there.

With another group, they created radio reports / podcasts where an ‘expert’ (student) was interviewed by the presenter on the topic of business meetings in Country X.

  • What are the local attitudes to business meetings?
  • How should you go about organising a meeting?
  • How do you greet people at meetings?
  • How should you run a meeting?
  • What do you need to think about when conducting negotiations?
  • What should you do after a meeting?

Other tasks, which involved looking beyond this site for information, included creating a flyer/ itinerary for a 3 day sightseeing tour of a region or city in the country, and researching a national product or brand and creating an infographic mapping out its history. The website always mentions something about the economy, and I found it helpful for students to begin there.

‘Cyprus exports primarily to European countries and, in particular, the UK, Greece and Germany. The main exports are manufactured goods like clothing, pharmaceutical products, wine, cement, furniture and agricultural products.’

It proved to be more fruitful to search online for ‘ Cypriot wine’ rather than a more general ‘products from Cyprus’.

Finally, to bring it all together, we held a ‘European Business Networking’ Trade Fair. The class was divided into 3 groups, and we had three 20 – 30 minute sessions. We had the use of a spare classroom and the first group had 10 minutes to set up. I gave them large sheets of paper and markers, and told them to set up their stands. Then the other students came in and went around from stand to stand, introducing themselves and using the language we had practiced in class to find out about the different countries. Afterwards, they had a few minutes to take down some notes about who they met and what they learned. Then we had the next session.

Later they wrote follow-up emails to 3 of the people they met to make suggestions for future collaboration and arrange meetings.

The trade fair idea worked far better than I could have ever imagined, and the students put more effort into it then they would have done with a standard role play. They actually were the experts, and were enthusiastic about sharing their research and creations (flyers, videos etc) with their classmates.

There are countless other lesson plan ideas that you could come up with using www.businessculture.org. It is definitely a resource I find myself going back to time after time.

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Gather online content with Bundlr

Bundlr.com is a web tool that has revolutionised my email inbox.  I was sending myself emails on a daily basis containing links to articles I’d found and thought might be good to use in class! The result was a crammed inbox and little thought put into a filing system to help me locate that great article when I actually needed it.

Bundlr has changed all that. It’s a web curation tool that allow you to gather online content into bundles which can be viewed and shared online.

To start creating bundles,  sign up via your Twitter, Facebook or Google account. Name your bundle and start adding any online content, such as links to websites, youtube videos, tweets and more. Add the content by pasting the link once you’re in the bundle or clip it by using the fantastic Bundle This! browser button, which also allows you to add a title, description and other notes to the clipped content. You can even clip sections of text from a site or article, such as a key quote.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 23.33.56

I’ve created a bundle for each business class, and add content I think the students would be interested in as I find it. Sometimes it can be something I intend to use in class, but often it is something I find online that reminds me of a discussion we had, or is somehow related to their industry.

I’ve also created bundles to accompany my course books or in one case, a bundle for each unit, where I save articles, youtube videos and links to sites with additional information. Things I can use as homework or in class, or material I can direct the stronger students to, if they need something more challenging.

All bundles are public, and you can share the links with students via email and a range of social media with the click of a button. And of course, the most important thing… it’s free to use.

All in all, Bundlr’s a quick and easy means of collecting potentially useful information in one place and a very handy tool for any teacher to have.

www.bundlr.com

Are you encouraging students to be late?

Evening classes with adult learners can be a real joy. Unburdened by the pressure of exams or a set curriculum, students and teachers are free to explore topics of current relevance or of interest to the individuals in the group. Class sizes range from 4 to 8 students, motivation is high and students share their own experiences adding relevance and life to the lessons.

There are, of course, some challenges. One common problem here is punctuality. As students are coming to class straight from the office, a meeting that overran, a last minute conference call or an accident on the motorway all cause delays. Teachers often start these classes off by asking students how their weekend was, if they are busy at work or what plans they have for the coming weekend. The logic is that it gives students a chance to warm up and settle in, while allowing time for late-comers to arrive before the real business of grammar or vocabulary begins. You go around the class and ask each of the 4 or 5 students present for their contribution. It might only take a few minutes, but it might also throw up some interesting vocabulary or grammar review opportunities.

I’ve seen the ‘How was your weekend’ Warm-up in numerous lesson observations and experienced it as a student in evening classes for Spanish. I do it myself from time to time. But if punctuality is an issue, you might have to reassess the impact this low-key, relaxed intro is having on your class. What message does this type of warm-up activity give?

Starting the lesson with general chit-chat can signal to students that it is OK to arrive late. If the actual ‘teaching’ does not start for 10 or 15 minutes, they may feel that being a little late will not hinder their progress. After all, they are not missing much.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.14.37

To counteract this, we should ensure that the content of the class is just too important to miss.

I read somewhere about a study in America which showed that introducing some type of mental warm-up at the beginning of every class increased the number of students arriving on time. An example would be a question or dilemma for them to work out alone or in pairs. This ‘Welcome – Get Working’ intro has more of an impact.

Here is a selection of easy tasks to get students working as soon as they sit down. They can be done as 5 minute writing activities or pair work discussions. Adapt them to suit your lesson objectives. If you choose the pair work option, assign students partners as they come in. ‘Hi Stefan, nice to see you. You’re going to work with Tina today.

This prevents them from all sitting in exactly the same seats every week,  working with the same partner and rolling their eyes in despair if you ask them to try out a different seat/vantage point sometime. (Do all adults do this or is it just a local phenomenon?)

1. What’s the question?

Students come up with inventive ideas for questions that can be answered with the word given. Write 3 ‘answers’ on the board, or give them one ‘answer’ and ask them to come up with 3 questions. The answer is ‘often’. What’s the question?

The answer is ‘before you go’. What’s the question?

The answer is ‘with a monkey’. What is the question?    

Suggested solutions: Have you ever tried kangaroo meat? When should you apply for a visa to visit China? How did the man get the coconuts down from the tall tree?

2. Dilemmas

Jot down some ideas and then discuss with your partner.

Would you rather be good-looking or rich?

Which is better: the power to read minds or the power to be invisible?

 

3. Brain teaser

There are a lot of sites dedicated to these online. Look for brain teasers, riddles etc.

What 5-letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?

The more you take, the more you leave behind. What are they?

It’s a stormy night and a plane takes off from JFK airport in New York. The storm quickly worsens and the plane crashes – half of it lands in the United States and the other half lands in Canada. In which country do you bury the survivors?

(Answers are at the bottom of the post.)

4. Review of last lesson

List three things you remember from the last lesson/ 3 key words from the last lesson. Share with your partner and explain why you think they are important.

5. Ideas for introducing the topic.

Pairs. Put 20 words on the board, somehow related to topic or taken from text you are going to read together. Students make as many pairs as they can in 2 minutes. Must be able to justify each pair. Justifications can be simple (both start with an s) or more complex. They then try to guess what the topic is.

Topic Test. A word or phrase related to the lesson on the board. Students have one minute to write down words related to the topic or facts they already know about it.

Missing letter note. Ask students to rewrite a note/sentence without using a particular letter. Example:

Rewrite ‘Your dinner is in the dog’ without using the letter ‘d’.

Rewrite ‘Don’t dare touch my pint‘ without using the letter ‘t’.

Suggestions: Your evening meal has been eaten by our canine pet. Rover, our animal pal, was scoffing your lovely supper.

Laying a finger on my lager would be a serious error. Hands off my beer.

 

These type of intros grab people’s attention, get them immediately interested and active, and show students that by being late they are missing out.

What kind of intro or warm-up do you do?

Post a comment to add to the list.

Punctuality never goes out of fashion.
Punctuality never goes out of fashion.

 

While I’m at it, here are some activities to end the lesson with. Continue reading Are you encouraging students to be late?

Aim high with your e-portfolio

Sometimes I get the feeling my students don’t feel as enthusiastic and passionate about English as I do!! For my students pursuing degrees in Marketing and Media, or Tourism and Event Management, English is a compulsory course. Some, while acknowledging that it is the language of business or travel, don’t see the immediate relevance for them and being first years, have yet to shake off the bad studying habits they may have picked up at school, i.e. do enough to get by and cram before the test. The language levels within the groups can range from those who say they’re not very talented at languages to those who’ve spent a year backpacking around Australia or have an English-speaking parent or two. This mix of abilities can have advantages as well as disadvantages, and of course, mirrors more accurately the situation they may end up working in once they have left university. In most cases, graduates in Germany applying for office jobs are expected to speak English regardless of the position they are interested in, and some companies,  particularly those with international teams, insist that formal meetings and presentations are carried out in English rather than German. This means English is likely to become an important part of their day to day working lives. How do we prepare these students for this reality? How can we make their English course more relevant, more engaging? How do we help weaker students while still challenging those with advanced or near native skills? Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well throw another challenge into the mix. How do we encourage students to take ownership of their work, to ensure that what they do in class is the best quality they can produce, rather than something thrown together in order to just get the task done? After mulling it over, I am going to give something new a try: An electronic portfolio. A space that allows students to record their achievements, display the work they have created or co-created and document their development. This e-portfolio can be shared with family and friends or kept private, but could also be used later when applying for jobs where English is essential, as a means of proving language skills by showcasing their original work.

Created using Pathbrite
Created using Pathbrite

I think students will be more conscientious if they see that, rather than just a text or task to be handed in, corrected and forgotten about, the work they do in class can be part of something that shows their language ability, allows them express their creativity and actually says something about who they are. (Am I being wildly optimistic here?!) I spent an hour playing around with Pathbrite and think it could work well for what I plan. It didn’t take long to figure out how to use it,  adding different types of media was easy, and I’m happy with the end result. I think it looks good, and can image my students feeling quite proud of their work when presented so stylishly. It will motivate many to take that extra step, be it one final edit or spell-check, having a classmate take a quick look over it and give feedback, or adding a nice concluding paragraph before submitting a text. At least that’s the hope… let’s see how it works in practice! If anyone has experience using e-portfolios with EFL students, I’d love to hear about it. We create podcasts and infographics, digital posters and presentations as well as writing various types of texts. The e-portfolio can link these things together and serve as a record of the hard work and effort the students put into their work. www.pathbrite.com

How to: Facebook groups EFL. Videos

How to: Facebook groups for EFL/EAP.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on EAP 2014 at the University of Potsdam and my Facebook groups for EAP presentation, here are 2 videos to give details of how to actually go about setting it all up. This first tutorial outlines the steps you take to create a Facebook group to use with your English students. The focus is on creating a space for sharing and collaborating, while encouraging students to use English outside of the classroom using a tool that they are familiar with. All this is possible without teachers or students needing to ‘friend’ anyone.

This second tutorial gives you some quick ideas for getting started. You can post pictures, questions and tasks, create polls or add a document.

Here is the presentation as a PDF. I have included a number of suggestions that I found helped the project really get off the ground. Copy FBshort

Good luck!

 

Facebook Groups at University. (Presentation- EAP2014)

Facebook? I know, I told you I didn’t have an account. Well, that wasn’t exactly true…

I was fortunate  to attend, and also to present at, the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Conference on May 10, in Potsdam, not far from Berlin. The event was hosted by the University of Potsdam, in partnership with the English Language Teachers’ Association Berlin-Brandenburg (ELTABB). My talk was called Expanding the ESL classroom with Facebook Groups.

There was a range of interesting workshops and presentations taking place all connected to English for Academic Purposes. The conference was very well organised and I particularly liked the fact that there was plenty of opportunity to meet and chat to other participants.  The day was not spent rushing from room to room as can be the case at such events. Instead, there were coffee breaks, a long lunch and a post conference Korean-American Barbecue, all of which encouraged conversation and helped spread the relaxed, friendly and supportive vibe.

I took part in a workshop by Julie Moore (@lexicojules) on How to create effective EAP materials, and later a presentation by Laura Adele Soracco (@LauraSoracco) on Exploring Ways of Using Flashcards to Learn Vocabulary. Both were enjoyable as well as being incredibly useful, and I really felt I was coming away with practical ideas I could immediately put into practice. I have experience creating test materials, yet Julie’s presentation gave me a different perspective, as writing for teaching is different from writing for testing, and one word I’m keeping in mind is ‘Scaffolding’. (For more information, I recommend her ebook How to Write EAP Materials.)

Laura made me realise how much more I could be doing to help my students master new vocabulary. I must admit, I had not been using flashcards with my university groups, something I am definitely going to change. (Quizlet seemed to be a popular tool. When Laura mentioned it, many heads nodded in recognition.)

She also introduced me to just-the-word.com, which I think my students will find really helpful, particularly the ‘show combinations’ feature.

Both speakers mentioned the Nottingham Academic Word List highlighter (AWL Highlighter) which I am using daily- at the moment more for my own amusement than anything else – but it is really a great tool for identifying key academic vocabulary in any text, and one I will be taking advantage of next semester.

With all these great tips and tools, it’s no wonder I came away so inspired!

Link to Julie Moore’s blog post on EAP 2014: http://lexicoblog.blogspot.de/2014/05/eap2014-potsdam-berlin.html

Link to Laura Adele Soracco’s blog http://tesolthoughts.wordpress.com

 

Let's connect!
Let’s connect!

Despite being slightly nervous beforehand, my talk ‘Expanding the ESL classroom with Facebook Groups’ went very well. I really enjoyed it, particularly the Q&A session afterwards.

I’m posting a shortened version here, with some additional notes posted on the slides. It is based on my experience teaching English to Media and Marketing students at a private university here. The students are grouped by subject and their levels range from B1 to C2 – yes… C2!  I’ve complemented students on their accents or vocabulary, only to hear ‘Oh, my mum’s from Manchester’, or ‘Well, I lived in Chicago for 11 years.’  I tried Facebook groups as a means of keeping everyone motivated, encouraging students to use English outside of class, allowing for differentiation, and getting them sharing and collaborating. I’m still learning, but so far it has been incredibly helpful and something that has become an important part of all my EAP classes.

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Making the most of course book images

Making the most of the resources we have: Images in course books 

Let’s start by looking at the materials we all have to hand – course books. They are filled with photos, cartoons, graphs and charts. But do we actually use them?

If there is no specific task in the course book connected to the image, do you create your own?

 

A study looking at the purpose of images in Business English books, revealed that 73% of the images in the texts were decorative and not linked to any task.  (Romney, 2012)

All these great images being practically ignored! What a waste of a valuable resource!

Continue reading Making the most of course book images