Category Archives: Teaching Tips

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, 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:

Link to Laura Adele Soracco’s blog


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?
7 votes · 0 answers


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

Word Clouds: Endless Options

A word cloud is a visual representation of a text. The tool I usually  use is Word it out (  Not only do word clouds look good, they are easy to make and fun to analyse.

What can you do with a word cloud?

  • Create a word cloud of class vocabulary to be practiced or learned
  • Make a word cloud of a text you have written to see which words appear most often
  • Make a word cloud of adjectives or verbs to display as a poster
  • Use in class before reading a text to pre-teach unknown vocabulary
  • Generate interest by having students guess what topic of the unknown text is
  • Use after reading as revision
  • Tell the story of the text
  • Use word clouds to help students create summaries of the information
  • At the start of the course, students could create word clouds with words and phrases about themselves to use as introductions
  • Create a word cloud with words in two languages, English and that of the students (if working with a monolingual group). Students try to match the words.


How to: a quick youtube tutorial on using

Word it out is great to start you off. There are other sites, but this is my favourite. It takes no time at all to get to grips with how it works, sharing is easy, it’s fun and the end product looks good. You have the option to choose different settings, such as removing specific words or making your chosen words larger or smaller, but even without that, the images look good, grab students’ attention and create opportunities for discussion. What’s not to love!!!


Vocaroo. Think it: Say it: Share it – Podcasting

Despite the great success I was having podcasting with my university students, I hadn’t made much effort to introduce the idea to my adult business classes, being put off by the numerous obstacles I imagined would come up. While some students admit to being tech addicts, there are others who happily leave all thoughts of internet and computers behind them as they close the office door at the end of the working day. Even if I could tempt them to give podcasting a shot, the tool I usually use requires a log in, which for some people is a deterrent.

Then I happened upon – the perfect solution! This site lets you record and share voice messages over the internet in a variety of ways. No software downloads or log ins needed.

Vocaroo page- ready to start podcasting
Vocaroo – ready to start podcasting

Once you have recorded your message, you can listen to it and re-record it if you’re not satisfied. When ready,  save it and share.


Ready to share your finished audio message.
Ready to share your finished audio message.

On I recorded a message for the group outlining their homework task and played it at the end of class. Their job was to record themselves talking about the topic, which I chose depending on what we were working on at the time. In one class I asked students to talk about an experience they had speaking in front of an audience, as presentations was the topic coming up next in their course book.

I gave a few options as to what they could do with their recorded message.

  • Record it, listen to it and reflect on how they could improve.
  • Email me the finished recording for one to one feedback.
  • Allow me to share the recording with the class (for discussion on content) once I had given one to one feedback.

I asked them to share it via email as I felt that was the easiest for everybody. I also recommended that they each download their message as the site states that the recordings will not be saved indefinitely. The students may enjoy listening to themselves again in the future, hopefully marvelling at the progress they’ll have made in the meantime!

Audio and voice recording >>

So far, the podcasting experiment has worked very well. I found that some students, in particular those who I’ve worked with for a while, were more confident about sharing their finished recordings than others and were eager to discuss the experience with the group.  Everyone, even those who hadn’t made or shared a recording, got something out of the exercise and I felt slightly guilty that I had rejected the idea of podcasting with business groups for so long.

Vocaroo has helped me see the error of my ways and allows me to podcast merrily from classroom to boardroom!

Chirp yourself Happy. Easy info sharing for teachers

Have you tried the Chirp app? It’s all about ‘singing’ information from phone to phone.  It’s a great way of sharing – fast, fun and most importantly, simple to use.

I think there is huge potential for using Chirp in the classroom. The idea of sending links, messages and photos  to students in seconds is quite exciting. It takes a lot of hassle out of sharing information. I don’t need to waste time emailing 30 plus students, and they don’t need to write anything down, friend me or open an email – the other methods I have used for sharing articles, links and other information with them.

So far, students have reacted positively towards Chirp, mostly because it’s a novelty and admittedly, very cool.

I’m planning on utilising it further in the coming semester by doing some of the following…

  • Role play task instructions  – 2 chirps, one for all the As and one for the Bs
  • Divide students into groups of 3 and assign each a number. Chirp 3 different images, one for each ‘number/group member’. Students take it in turns to describe their picture to their partners, and then try to decide what the link between the pictures is.  They could then try to write a story which includes their pictures.
  • Chirp Homework information. No need for them to write it down,  and no chance of them saying they ‘couldn’t remember where they wrote it/ lost the page/ wrote it down wrong’ or whatever inventive excuse they usually offer you.  (Some of my students have wild imaginations and think I’m incredibly gullible.)
  • Chirp out a funny message at the end of class as they go home for the weekend, or a group photo of all the students at the end of a course.
  • Send a chirp with an extra task for students who finish their work early.  Something to read, or a link to a site with grammar ‘games’ would work well.
  • Give students the homework task of taking a photo somehow related to whatever topic you are working on in class. They chirp it to the group and take a few minutes to explain what the picture is, where they took it and why they feel it relates to the topic. What a great idea for ‘show and tell’!

This would also be great during a lecture, staff meeting or presentation. And of course, it doesn’t just have to be the teacher chirping. Students can easily share with friends. One idea would be to have students take a screenshot of their homework or project to share with the group. Everyone could discuss the work and offer feedback without having to email it to everyone or use a projector.

We’ll all soon be chirping away happily!

Role Play with Confidence

I know many teachers who are hesitant about using role play with adult  EFL classes, and some who avoid it altogether. They worry it may be perceived as being too childish, too frivolous, a waste of time. Another issue for some is that it can be hard to control, especially in larger classes where role plays are taking place simultaneously. The teacher has to take a step back, circulate and observe, offering assistance when needed. Mistakes will be made, you won’t catch them all. Additionally, the students may not be practicing the target language or structure as much as you’d like. Keep reminding yourself that they’re practicing a variety of skills, and that the goal is not perfection!

For role play to succeed, the teacher needs to believe that it will. You need to be convinced of its value, and be able to communicate the purpose, relevance and benefits of the task to your students.

Adult learner theory says that activities that allow adults to bring their own life experiences to the learning process are the most successful. In this way, role play is ideal. And it is not just important for low level learners to practice asking directions or buying a ticket. With a bit of tweaking, the same tasks can be used with more advanced levels. Some element of conflict can be easily introduced to make the task more challenging. Continue reading Role Play with Confidence

'You what?' Name game with follow-up interview/introduction task.

Icebreaker/ Name game : Dialogue : Introductions

I often use this ice-breaker activity on the first day with a new class. I’ve used it with university students, business classes and even at a teacher training workshop. It makes a change from the usual introduction round of ‘name, job, hobby’ and while there is a bit of fun to it, its educational enough for students who baulk at the idea of ‘games’ in a lesson for adults.

1. The name game.

Write your introduction on the board and highlight the alliteration.

‘I’m Lonely Laura and I like limes’ or ‘I’m Lazy Laura and I lived in London’.

Give students a minute or two to come up with their sentence. Each student will re-introduce the person who went before them, and then add their own introduction. If they are stuck for ideas, allow them to ask their neighbour. Begin and go around the circle.


Student 1 – ‘She’s Lonely Laura and she likes limes. I’m Fit Frank and I fry fish.’

Student 2 – ‘He’s Fit Frank and he fries fish. I’m Courageous Caroline and I cuddle cats.’

There will be a few laughs, particularly if people have been especially creative or the participants know each other.  When everyone has spoken, you can point to a few different students and ask the group ‘who’s this?’ Continue reading 'You what?' Name game with follow-up interview/introduction task.