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Listening to the Experts – Podcasting in the Business English Classroom

(Recorded during Audacity demo)

In just over an hour my colleague Mia and I will be presenting here at   the IATEFL conference in Glasgow.

Instead of pacing nervously, I’m spending my lunch break writing this post. What a great distraction!

Here’s the link to our prezi presentation

We talk about the problems we have as ‘English Experts’ who are sent companies in different industries and expected to create very specialised courses and lessons, when we may have little understanding of what it is our students actually do.

Podcasting is one idea we use to get them to teach us about their jobs, industries and the challenges they face, while giving them opportunities for creative communication.

We look at examples of professional and semi-professional podcasts available for those learning English and discuss some typical features of podcasts:

We talk about different ways of doing it ourselves, or more importantly letting the ‘business experts’ do it.

What tasks can you give your students to get them started with recording themselves to share in class or with the world?

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We talk about practical ways of setting this up – how to plan your lessons and how to get real use out of the finished products.


We created some easy screencasts on how to use Vocaroo and also Audacity (but there are hundreds of excellent tutorials on youtube to really get to grips with it.)

And how to publish a file on Podomatic.


So really, there is no excuse not to at least give it a try!

Best wishes from IATEFL 2017 in Scotland

Keep your fingers crossed for us! 😉

Negotiating a task-based syllabus – ELT Ireland talk

A brief post to share some slides from the talk I gave today at the ELT Ireland conference. I spoke about my experience trying to work with various ESP / business English groups to negotiate their syllabus and go coursebook free.

The conference itself has been fantastic so far, well-organised with a great atmosphere and a real mix of topics being talked about.

After talking about my context, teaching business in Germany, and my goals as a teacher, I once again declared my love for the CEFR and spoke about my attempts at using the descriptors as guidelines to help me ditch the coursebook, and create a course with my students that was relevant, authentic, learner centred, task-based and communicative.

The following slides show the different steps I took the first few times I tried this process.

Then I tried to simplify it and instead of using the full Eaquals list of descriptors for the appropriate level, I chose 8 and cut up a few sets and asked the students in pairs to rank them in order of relevance.

All in all, the project is definitely paying off. My students have fully taken to the idea and are providing me with fantastic ideas and more material than we could ever use. So I will keep working on it, perfecting my system and then I’ll post another update.

Link to my talk

Negotiating a task-based syllabus – my experiment with adult learners

Thanks to everyone who came and all those who messaged me. As nerve-wracking as it can be, the feedback and support from peers makes presenting at these events such a wonderful experience.

Websites with  CEFR resources:

Photopeach – Get creative with slideshows is an easy-to-use website that allows you and your students to get creative, producing attractive photo slideshows, with the option of adding text and simple quiz questions.

It doesn’t take long to get the hang of so it’s suitable for school-aged students as well as adults and because it is so simple to use, students can focus on the story they want to tell rather than getting bogged down figuring out how it all works.

You can choose music, the  number of slides you want to have and  when to add vocabulary, information or quiz questions. It is very engaging and really grabs students’ attention.

You have to sign up to create slideshows. However, if you are sent an invite to view a specific slideshow, you don’t need to log in to access it. The final product can be downloaded and shared via email and social media.

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Photopeach- ideas for teachers or students

Vocab: Photos grouped by a topic, such as relationships, animals, places in the city.  Label all the photos.

Grammar: Photos with people carrying out different actions to practice tenses. He is running to catch the stick. The man is flying a glider.


Visual Stories: Add photos with words or expressions to be used as the basis for creative writing or story-telling. Talk about how the images make you feel.

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Projects: Create photo slideshows to present class projects. Add text and even quiz questions. This might be an interesting activity for adult learners after the summer holidays. And because there is a limit of 30 slides, you’re saved from having to look at hundreds of very similar shots of beaches, cocktails or whatever it is your students like to take photos of. Very tall buildings, in my case!

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Click the links to see two quick examples.

Ideas for ELT 1

Chicago with quiz

It’s a great way of personalising the course and giving the reins to your students for a while.  And it’s always interesting to see what people share. So give it a shot and put your holiday snaps to good use!

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! 😉

Learning to appreciate Quizlet Flashcards

Adaptive Tutoring Systems – Quizlet  

I’m busy being a student again and now half way through the first year of an MA in Technology and Education with the University of Leeds. As part of the module ‘Learning with Digital Technologies’ MA, I had to reflect on my experiences with different tools and learning theories. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on the flashcard tool Quizlet.

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Quizlet allows you to create flashcards, games and quizzes which can be used to learn vocabulary, definitions, historic dates and so on. Progress is assessed automatically, giving students feedback as they make their way through the activities.

After logging in for the first time, I typed ‘English’ in the search function and found numerous flashcard sets, created and shared by users.  Many consisted of image and word combinations suitable for lower ability levels. Others sets such as ‘Junior College English Vocab’ contained words like nebulous, fetters and truculent, which would be too advanced for most ESL (English as a Second Language) students. Many sets were simply titled English and, although hovering over the title presents a view of the contents, it was often unclear what the connection between the words was. Without proper naming or tagging conventions to clearly identify the target group and type of the vocab, finding suitable sets to practice with is time-consuming and I feel this reduces the value of the set sharing function.

However, when I started practicing with a flashcard set I found the tool to be very engaging and was impressed by clever additions such as the option to listen to the words, the choice of displaying either the term or the definition first and also the fact that tests can be printed. The games are timed and once your score is revealed, you are encouraged to repeat the activity to beat your time and improve your position on the score board. Motivating messages, such as ‘Yipee, you beat your previous record’, are also given.

Having assessed Quizlet from a learner’s standpoint, I followed the steps to create a set of flashcards on English financial terms with definitions. This was very easy and, as the tool gives you the option of importing your own lists, very quick.

Quizlet does not ‘teach’ the user, being limited to simple repetition of words to help memorise spelling and meaning. However, I feel the key to its appeal is the individualisation aspect, as students can choose the type of activity they want to try and can repeat it as many times as they want, therefore defining the pace of the progress.

I had heard of Quizlet prior to this, but had assumed it would not be suitable for advanced-level adult learners. I worried they would see it as game-like or frivolous, and I also felt that prescribing lists of words for students to learn goes against the type of student-centred learning I try to practice. Having to try out different tools as part of the MA course has made me aware of the need to reflect on my own bias or preference regarding learning strategies, and now having tried Quizlet, I feel that, ironically, the tool I dismissed as being too teacher-centred could have great potential in a constructivist classroom. Allowing students to choose the vocabulary and definitions they want to practice or encouraging them to create sets themselves, which they could then share with classmates, would give them a central role in the learning process.

Chirp it out loud!

Here’s a chirp I made earlier…