Category Archives: Tech Ideas

You, the expert (2). How the project worked out

You, the expert: An experiment in constructivist, technology-enhanced teaching


So we negotiated the syllabus, planned our tasks, and started working on the different stages. As I had expected, attendance proved to be the biggest issue. Because of holidays and international projects there were a lot of absences and the project had to be extended by 2 weeks. Of the 6 students in the group, four participated, but by week 5 only 2 had finished their e-book. Despite this, everyone felt very positive about the project and they said that knowing their work would be used in the future made them more attentive to what they were doing.  I was delighted with their enthusiasm and the quality of the work they produced, having had little success with writing tasks in the past, particularly those presented in the course book. We also spent a lot of time talking about learning in a way we hadn’t done before.


For this project I chose tools I was familiar with, which require little digital expertise, but what I hadn’t considered was accessibility. When the students wanted to carry out their interviews they couldn’t access the audio recording site I had asked them to use from their laptops. The problem was easily overcome. None of the students had their phones with them, so we used the voice recorder application on mine instead. It allowed us to make the recordings, but having to use my phone instead of their laptops removed some of their control of the task. When using with other groups, I saw students listening to their recordings in class, analysing the results and in some cases, re-recording them. They discussed pronunciation, pace and delivery, as well as vocabulary and grammar, and decided on ways of improving different elements. Being in control of the tool allowed them to do this, and as a result, the process of recording themselves became an important part of the experience.

In this situation neither set of students mentioned or asked about listening to their recordings there and then. They did give each other feedback immediately after the interview, listened to the recordings when I sent them by email and spoke the following week about how useful having the recording was when editing their texts. However, I feel that one important element of the process was lost.

The situation also shows that what works in one environment may not somewhere else, and that for this type of project to succeed, teachers need to be flexible with regards changing or adapting their plans on the spot. As Harmer (2015, p201) reminds us, ‘technological malfunction’ is in itself nothing new, cd players and overhead projectors often broke down at inopportune moments, leaving teachers to improvise or revert to their backup plans. I would argue, however, that in these cases, teachers chose to simply continue with the unit in the book they were working on or wrote up the grammar explanations on the blackboard instead of displaying their pre-designed transparency. The technology was a tool the teacher controlled, in a lesson the teacher planned. The goal of this project was to hand over control to the students, from negotiating the syllabus to creating content future lessons would be based on, and technology was central to that process. If the technology breaks down, the Plan B could lead to the loss of the key characteristics of constructivist instruction. In this case, the alternative available limited reflective practice.


‘A good teacher will exploit to the fullest extent all knowledge already available in the classroom’  Clarke, 1991, p18

In the post-project interviews, students mentioned choice as being a key factor in motivating them to carry out the task.

‘I chose a topic that interested me (Iran) because of my business trip in September. I have a personal connection to the topic and this motivated me to do research and share the information with the group.’ Student M

Ryan & Deci say that ‘intrinsic motivation will occur only for activities that hold intrinsic interest for an individual—those that have the appeal of novelty, challenge, or aesthetic value for that individual’ (2000, p60) and choice and self-direction play a huge role in intrinsic motivation. This project was a classroom task set up by the teacher and therefore, involved extrinsic motivation. Ryan & Deci (2000) would, however, class this as integrated regulation. This is the form of motivation closest to intrinsic, for while the push to action comes from an external force, the students evaluate the task or action required of them, and begin to see it as compatible with their own desires or needs. However, unlike intrinsic motivation, the reason for carrying out the task is other than enjoyment in the task in itself.

M was first to perceive the personal value the task would have for him. He referred repeatedly to the fact that in carrying out this task he was simultaneously preparing himself for his upcoming business trip to Iran, a country he previously knew little about.

With participation optional to a certain extent and no grades being awarded, successful completion of the task was dependent on students’ own interest. In this project students played an important role in motivating other group members.

When J joined the class, having been absent for a number of weeks, M was presenting the first draft of his article on Doing business in Iran. J’s role was to read M’s draft, offer feedback and then interview him on the topic. She was very enthusiastic and asked many questions, referencing the nuclear agreement and future trade possibilities between Germany and Iran. After the interview, she told us that as a student she had a professor from Iran who often spoke about life before and after the Islamic Revolution.

M later said that J’s questions helped him identify background information or more detailed explanations that needed to be added. Moreover, taking on the role of editor and interviewer had a motivating effect on J, who immediately decided on the topic she would focus on. She asked if the project deadline could be extended, as although she would be away on holiday for a few weeks, she was eager to participate.

This example shows how the actions and attitudes of group members had positive effects on others. This ties in with Ryan & Deci’s (2000) notion that relatedness, the need for a sense of belonging and feeling of connected-ness, is of vital importance in the case of extrinsically motivated actions.

At the end of the 5 weeks, students returned to the CEFR descriptors they had initially chosen to discuss how they felt they had improved.  Breen & Littlejohn (2000) encourage teachers to see communication with students about learning as an essential component of the communicative classroom, and in this case, it was a positive experience, enhancing students’ feelings of competence.  In the coming school term, the students will create activities around their projects, using their course book as a model. They could create comprehension questions to accompany the recorded audio, or a follow-up writing task linked to the text. Returning to their work in this way will give them an opportunity for further reflection on their abilities while also supporting their competence.


While the promise of collaboration and deeper learning is appealing, incorporating constructivist practices into the classroom can be daunting. It requires a complete change of role for teachers, less about providing information and more about creating an environment that supports students in exploration and meaning-making. Despite any difficulties, the outcomes of this project have definitely encouraged me to continue on the constructivist path.

Example e-book, Iran – Chance or Change or both?  (shared with student’s permission)


Breen, M.P. and Littlejohn, A., 2000. The practicalities of negotiation. Classroom decision-making: Negotiation and process syllabuses in practice, pp.272-295.

Clarke, D.F., 1991. The negotiated syllabus: what is it and how is it likely to work?. Applied Linguistics, 12(1), pp.13-28.

Harmer J. The practice of English language teaching. Fifth ed. Harlow: Pearson Longman; 2015.

Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L., 2000. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), p.68.

You, the expert: my experiment in constructivist, tech-enhanced learning. Part 1

Blogging has taken a backseat in the last year as I’ve been focusing on being a student again myself. Today my post is an outline of my last assignment, which actually came about through my interest in blogging and the role it can play in learning English.

The project, called ‘You, the expert’, was designed to help students develop their writing skills by producing a short e-book. Different digital tools were used for support during the writing process and to create finished texts which could be used as resources for later lessons. The group I worked with consisted of 6 students at level B2 to C1, consultants in the energy industry. They have weekly lessons of 90 minutes at their office, but attendance is irregular, with 2 or 3 students present each week.

Unable to find a course book linked to their business field, the students had been choosing news articles relevant to their jobs, which we read and discussed in class. To help them develop a wider variety of skills, we decided to use the ‘can do’ statements from the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), to discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and needs. They then chose a number of C1 descriptors to work on, identifying the types of real life activities that they were likely to engage in. In one example, the students linked the descriptor ‘Interviewing and being interviewed’ to situations where they are required to advise international colleagues on topics related to the German energy market. For ‘Turntaking’, one student mentioned an upcoming project with the European Commission and the types of meetings he would be taking part in. The result was a list of descriptors, tasks and situations suggested by the students. In this way, we created a type of negotiated syllabus.

One advantage of the negotiated syllabus approach, as mentioned by Nation and Macalister (2009), is that when students have greater control over decisions about what and how they learn, their motivation, satisfaction and commitment to the course is enhanced.

We planned a 3-week project where each student would write a report on a topic of their choice related to their job or industry, be interviewed on this topic by a classmate, and finally use the text and audio recording of their interview to create a short e-book. The multimedia materials they created would be presented to the group at the end of the project and used as content in future lessons.

Digital Tools

1., a corpus tool useful for checking collocations and how specific vocabulary is used. Students could refer to this site to find out how to use some of the language they discover when doing their research. Chambers (2005), in a study on the training of language learners in corpus consultation, notes that students reacted positively to concordancing tools, believing that discovering lexical or grammatical patterns by themselves could be more effective for retention that explicit teaching in traditional textbooks.

2. Students could use this simple voice recorder to record themselves and save recordings as mp3 files. Students can listen to the recorded interview to help them produce their final draft, and can later add the recording to their ebook.

3. Students would use Atavist to create a simple e-book or long journalistic essay, integrating their audio and images. To find images, students could use (or similar sites). This website has thousands of images free to use for educational purposes. The terms of use are read and discussed in class to ensure that everyone is clear on correct usage.

Every stage of the project is carried out in English, including any training in the use of tools. Students read guidelines and FAQs on the websites, watch video tutorials if needed, ask the teacher or classmates questions, and give each other feedback. This focus throughout is on the process rather than the end product, with students learning new skills as they go along.

Project Design

The type of course I describe does not fulfil all the requirements of a negotiated syllabus as set out by Breen (1987). Clarke (1989) admits that in most teaching situations achieving a fully negotiated syllabus may be impractical. However, he asks educators not to reject the concept entirely, but instead to consider introducing an element of negotiation into each stage of course design.

One disadvantage of the Negotiated Syllabus is that without guidelines as to which types of skills or tasks are available, students’ choices may be restrictive from a learning perspective (Nation and Macalister, 2009). As Clarke says ‘few learners, indeed, would have any clear awareness of what they need or want to learn, let alone how they would wish to go about it.’ (1991, p19)  This is particularly a danger when working with adults returning to education after a longer absence, as their knowledge of activities derives from language learning experiences in their own school days, and methods may have changed since then. I believe the CEFR level descriptors can alleviate these problems as they clearly set out competencies in different skill areas (e.g. addressing audiences or sustained monologue) and also include descriptions of the strategies language users can utilise to achieve these tasks, such as planning, compensating, and monitoring and repair. With this information at hand, negotiating a syllabus becomes a less daunting and more satisfying process.

Nation and Macalister (2009) mention a major obstacle to implementing a negotiated syllabus from the teacher’s standpoint, that is the fact that creating individualised lesson plans and resources requires a greater investment of the teacher’s time than if a course book was used. Clarke (1991) also discusses the difficulty in finding sufficient materials, stating that it would only be possible if there was a large selection of local resources available combined with ‘ideas books’ of ready-made modules that could be used as required.

These authors focus on the challenges a teacher faces in creating or locating adequate materials. However, if we take a constructivist approach or the constructionist approach advocated by Papert & Harel (1991) which links making or developing a product to deeper learning, then the problem of insufficient materials is eliminated as students create their own. The act of creating something becomes part of learning and the process, rather than the end product, takes the spotlight.

Having read about the benefits blogging has on language learning (Sun & Chang, 2013; Bloch 2007; Sun, 2009), I wondered if a similar type of task would be possible with this group. Would producing and publishing shorter stand-alone texts be feasible and if so, would this have the same effects on learner motivation and language development as blogging?

Although previously this group had shown little interest in writing tasks, writing ‘reports and essays’ was something they identified as requiring attention. Bloch (2007) says that instead of wondering what we can do with blogs, we should consider what problem might blogging be the solution for. With this in mind, I hoped that a writing project involving research and peer feedback, with a published product at the end, might encourage student participation and perhaps even have a positive effect on attendance.

What happened? Well, there were highs and there were lows, but I’ll have to wait for another post to fill you in on all that.

To be continued…


Bloch, J. 2007. Abdullah’s blogging: A generation 1.5 student enters the blogosphere. Language Learning and Technology. 11(2), pp.128-141.

Breen, M., 1987. Learner contributions to task design. Language learning tasks, 7, pp.23-46.

Chambers, A. 2005. Integrating corpus consultation in language studies. Language Learning and Technology, 9(2), 111–125.

Clarke, D.F., 1991. The negotiated syllabus: what is it and how is it likely to work?. Applied Linguistics, 12(1), pp.13-28.

Nation, I.S.P. and Macalister, J., 2009. Language curriculum design. Routledge.

Papert, S. and Harel, I., 1991. Situating constructionism. Constructionism, 36, pp.1-11.

Sun, Y.C., 2009. Voice blog: An exploratory study of language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 13(2), pp.88-103.

Sun, Y.-C. and Chang, Y.-J. 2012. Blogging to learn: Becoming EFL academic writers through collaborative dialogues. Language Learning and Technology. 16(1), pp.43-61.

Why I’m using Chat tools in face-to-face ELT

Online tutorials are a weekly fixture on the distance learning MA  I’m currently doing. Contrary to my expectations, these are not carried out in a video conferencing setting to replicate a face-to-face environment. Instead, a synchronous chat tool is used. Students and tutor are online at the same time, in a ‘meeting room’ where they discuss a topic by typing out their comments to each other.

My initial feelings towards chat were very mixed.  The approach is very student-centred and I was at times frustrated by the slow pace of discussion and the tendency of the participants to go, as I felt, off topic. I enjoyed the interaction and felt it was a nice way of getting to know classmates, but was sceptical about how beneficial it would be for me from a learning standpoint.

I quickly noticed that my class mates didn’t feel as I did. Some of the benefits they mentioned were

  • there’s a written record/transcript of the tutorial (useful if a student is called away)
  • the transcript can be used for revision or to help you catch up if you missed a discussion
  • non-native speakers of English may feel more confident about participating in writing
  • multiple people can ‘talk’ at the same time

Within a few sessions, I’d completely changed my mind. Two factors I found particularly impressive were increased participation and inclusion. Because communication is being carried out via text, participants don’t have to wait for their turn to respond. So there’s no real limit to the number of comments they can make within the hour-long tutorial. As more people are commenting simultaneously, participation is higher than it would be in face-to-face tutorials.

Many students mentioned that they feel more confident making a written contribution to the discussion, as they have time to formulate their comments and reflect on grammar and vocabulary choice. As a result, chat tutorials are more inclusive than tutorials where spoken communication is required. This was really something I had never thought about and it encouraged me to assess how I facilitate communication in my own classes, with the realisation that, be it through the context I work in or an unconscious bias based on learning styles or preferences, oral communication is prioritised over written communication. So my new goal is to try to introduce text-based communication to some of my lessons to see if it could help increase participation and ensure all students have a voice.

Of course from using chat weekly, I see that there are some disadvantages. Due to the fast pace of participation, there are often spelling and grammar mistakes, from native-speakers as well as non-native speakers. As many people are communicating simultaneously without the presence of turn-taking conventions typical in face to face communication, the discussion can be hard to follow.

This means the tutorial scripts can be confusing, particularly to those who didn’t take part.  However, I think that errors in syntax and spelling, and confusion arising from comment overlap can become valuable learning opportunities, especially as students are analysing their own mistakes. So this main disadvantage is actually a benefit in a language learning context.

After some research, I have found the site a free site that allows you create ‘rooms’ for chat comments and discussions.

So far I’ve used it with a group of six B2-C1 business students in an advertising agency, as a backchannel for comments and questions while we watched a TED talk (I paused at regular intervals to allow them to read and comment on what the others had written).

I also tried it with a group of 20 university students (mixed levels B1- C1) studying tourism. I created 4 rooms, assigned 5 students to each room and with the students scattered around the room, gave them a problem to solve. No speaking, just typing. Of course, the silence was broken by occasional laughs, but all in all, I was very impressed with how they got stuck in. With the adults, on the other hand, all aged between 30 and 50, a few had to be ‘disciplined’ for messing around (which I admit was funny in itself, especially their expressions when I gave them homework as ‘punishment’. They had to write up a summary of the discussion using the transcript, which surprisingly for this group, most of them did!)

I intend to do more experimenting with this tool now that I have realised the benefits chat can have and plan to write up some lesson ideas soon. In the meantime, if anyone tries or has tried this out, please let me know how you got on.

I know the link is weak, but it’s about chat communication too! 😉

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, 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.

Business skills and cultural awareness:

Have you discovered the fantastic website 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 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 It is definitely a resource I find myself going back to time after time.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 23.49.31

Gather online content with Bundlr 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.

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.

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, 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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