It’s an Anniversary!

Some of you might be wondering why I have suddenly changed the layout of my blog.

Well, it’s been a year.

Courtesy of #ELTpics. Photo by @mkofab

April 30th 2011.

The day I started blogging. The day I started this blog.

I started this blog because I love writing.

Through writing, I am able to organise my thoughts because I am given the opportunity to articulate them.

Through the banter you provide me with, I am able to decide on what I believe in because I am allowed the chance to challenge the attitudes and views that I encounter.

Through the support of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I am able to find the courage to say the things that are not necessarily popular or cool, to write about issues I really care about, and to express a part of me.

I would like to thank all the people who have viewed these pages and watched the videos, the people who have read, commented and like the posts, the people who have tweeted, shared, and used the ideas and articles here.

Thank you all for your support.

Courtesy of #ELTpics


To celebrate, here are some facts and figures to help recap the year:

Total hits: 62,950

Views on Busiest Day: 976 (25th April, 2012)


The Top 5 Most Commented on Posts are:

1.    The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebooks and Uncount nouns  (51)

2.   Why are Business English Teachers paid so badly?  (50)

3.   10 Things Teachers Should Never Forget  (48)

4.   Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF  (42)

5.   The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1  (36)


Aside from myself, the Top 5 Commenters (and their respective twitter handles) are:

1. Phil Wade @phil3wade                 (53)

2. Chiew Pang @acliltoclimb                      (27)

3. Varinder Unlu @varinderunlu             (26)

4. Dale Coulter @dalecoulter             (23)

5. Mike Hogan @irishmikeh                (20)

Thank you so much for taking time to comment. You have contributed more than you can ever imagine!


Excluding the Home Page, The Top 10 Posts (according to hits) are:

1.   Intercultural Dining Etiquette and Table Manners

2.   Devil’s Advocate versus Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

3.   Why I brought back the foreign language lesson to the CELTA

4.   Learning English Through a TV Series

5.   Dogme in Exam Preparation Classes

6.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 1)

7.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 3 – The Experiential Metafunction)

8.   10 Things I do with my mini-whiteboards

9.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 2 – The Interpersonal Metafunction)

10.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 4 – The Textual Metafunction & Conclusion)


The Most Watched Videos (according to hits) are:

1.   IATEFL 2010 Presentation on Dogme

2.   BESIG 2010 Interview on SFG

3.   BESIG 2012 Interview on Politeness and Pragmatics

4.   Chiew’s 2011 interview with me on IaskU

5.   IH DOS Conference 2012 Presentation on ELF


My top 5 personal favourites are:

1.   In defence of Callan (and other behaviourist methodologies)

2.   Making student-centred Dogme student-friendly

3.   11 things I learnt in London – a pseudo-ethnographic exploration of British vs Singaporean culture

4.   Gaellic – To save or not to save?

5.   Cringing at Cheese this Christmas?


There has been 4 series on this blog thus far.

The first was a series inspired by a conversation with Mike Hogan, and still continues till today.

Devil’s Advocate is now at its 6th instalment and they are:

1.   Devil’s Advocate versus Mike Hogan on Business English Teaching and Training

2.   Devil’s Advocate versus Dale Coulter on Dogme for Newly Qualified Teachers

3.   Devil’s Advocate versus Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

4.   Devil’s Advocate versus Anthony Gaughan on Lesson Aims & Plans in Teacher Training

5.   Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF

6.   Devil’s Advocate versus Rakesh Bhanot on Non-Native Speaker Teachers of English

There will be more Devil’s Advocate instalments to come right after the Teach-Off is over!


The second was a series of posts about my Pre-Advanced Dogme classes:

1.   MLearning, Mini-Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

2.   Only in a Dogme Class

3.   All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You

4.   I left my head and heart on the dance floor

5.   Wham! Vroom! And things that jet setters do…

6.   And then my students said…


The third was a series of posts about the IATEFL Glasgow conference 2012:

1.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 1

2.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 2 – PCEs

3.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 3 – Adrian Underhill’s Plenary

4.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 4 – Dave Willis on Grammar

5.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

6.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 6 – Jacket Potatoes, MLearning, ELearning & Skype

7.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 7 – 52 Subversive Activities & lots of parties

8.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

9.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 9 – A Smorgasbord of Prezi, Metaphors, Drama and the Passive Voice

10.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 10 – Willy Cardoso on Sociocultural Perspectives to Teacher Training

11.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 11 – Steven Thorne’s Plenary  THE ONE THAT GOT ME MY BRITISH COUNCIL AWARD!

12.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 12 – Digital Devices, Digital Storytelling, and the NNS Teacher

13.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 13 – Pecha Kucha Evening


And the fourth, as many of you might know, is the Teach-Off that is taking place as we speak:

1.   The Teach-Off – The Premise

2.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 1

2.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 2

3.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 3

4.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 4 

5.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 5

6.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 6

7.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 7

8.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 8

9.   The Teach-Off – The Dogme Observer’s POV

10. The Teach-Off – Introducing the Coursebook Round

11.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1

12.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 2

13.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 3

14.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 4

15.  The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebks and Uncount Nouns

15.  The Teach-Off – Coursebook Day 5


Thank you so much for reading and for being a part of this blog…even during times when I was unable to blog regularly.

Thank you for an amazing year.

And here’s to the next!


Now, pardon me while I go off and sing Happy Birthday to myself…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 13 – Pecha Kucha Evening

Thursday, 22nd March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

IATEFL Day 3 – Pecha Kucha Evening (Hosted by Jeremy Harmer)

Since my first encounter with it in IATEFL Exeter, the Pecha Kucha Evening has always been one of the highlights of every IATEFL conference for me. It embodies the love and passion we have for our jobs, the wit of the conference speaker, our self-deprecating humour and the ability to not take ourselves too seriously, the camaraderie of the online PLNs and the spirit of community…and we don’t have to sit through any of it because at 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide, the speakers have no choice but to get to their point skillfully and quickly, without fear that anyone would wax lyrical for too long.

Thanks to my increased use of Twitter and blogs this past year, I am proud to say that I actually knew the featured PK speakers this year, and felt sincerely emotional about each of their contributions on stage.

As the PKs are available to watch on IATEFL Glasgow online (see below), I will avoid spoiling enjoyment of it, and so will not describe each of the slots in detail. But just to whet your appetite, I will give you a brief outline of what each presenter spoke about.

Vicki Hollett

Who?              Famous for writing multiple groundbreaking Business English coursebooks, Vicki is British but based in America and is an avid blogger about discourse and pragmatics.

What?                         How to speak ‘Merican

My Favourite line?  To all the British speakers in the audience, I need to say, ‘I’m sorry I’ve gone on for a little bit long; and to all the American speakers, ‘You’ve been great! Thank you, thank you, thank you!’

Link? : The IATEFL Glasgow BESIG PCE

Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF

Vicki’s blog – How to Speak ‘Merican


Willy Cardoso

Who?              Famous for speaking about sociocultural perpectives in language education, Willy is a teacher/teacher trainer and ELT writer based in London.

What?             Teaching at the Edge of Chaos

My Favourite line? If you kick a giraffe, the giraffe will react according to internal, external factors, and everything around it. So, if you kick a student, oh…I mean, if you teach a student, the output is highly predictable, just like when you kick a giraffe…Get over that crap and come out into the real world where things are unpredictable!

Link?              Willy’s blog – Authentic Teaching


Shelly Terrell

Who?              Famous for being a techno-evangelist, inspiring and changing lives of educators and learners around the world with her ideas, her webinars, her blogs, and her challenges.

What?             I Wish There Was an App for That!

My Favourite line?  Our family gets neglected because we’re always lesson planning, and if you’re on Twitter and Facebook, then you’re always on that as well, and so with this app, it automatically makes dinner, it washes, it cooks, it cleans…

Link?              Shelly’s blog – Teacher Reboot Camp


Barbara Sakamoto

Who?              Famous for creating the Let’s Go series of books for YLs, Barbara is an American-born English teacher based in Japan with an award-winning blog with influential guest educators around the world.

What?            Life, the Universe and ELT

My Favourite Line? There is an inverse relationship between the number of books sold and the respect you receive as an author. Since you have a high-paying university position, you don’t care about money, I know. So what you want to aim for is the serious resource book that hopefully be only purchased by libraries and read by no one.

Link?               Barbara’s blog – Teaching Village


Geoff Tranter

Who?             Famous for writing ‘Using Humour in the Classroom’, Geoff is based in Germany and was involved in developing the revised specifications for the European Language Certificates.

What?             AlcohoLinguistics

My Favourite Line? There are too many…but here’s one… Suggest-a-beer-dear – The essence of this method is to utilize both the left and right side of the mouth in order to increase both intake and output. One disadvantage of this method is the need for multi-media preparation because baroque drinking songs are required for classroom success.


Vicky Saumel

Who?              Famous for being an EdTech guru, Vicky is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Argentina.

What?             The Power of Choice

My Favourite Line? You tap into their creativity and you get amazing results. And the students feel empowered because they take responsibility. So it’s time you made a choice about how you want to introduce choice in your classroom.

Link?             Vicky’s blog – Educational Technology in ELT


Helena Gomm         

Who?              Famous for being the editor of English Teaching Professional and editor and writer of multiple ELT books, Helena started teaching English in Japan.

What?             Don’t Shoot the Editor

My Favourite Line? So what are the men doing while the women are operating, greasing the wheel nuts and fixing the plumbing? You’ve guessed it. Or you may do. They are doing the typing, and best of all, they are doing the housework. In Market D, however, women can’t have jobs at all, and so they want a book in which women stay at home. In actual fact, they’d really rather have a book in which women don’t appear at all, but they can’t say that.


Herbert Puchta

Who?              Famous for being an ex-president of IATEFL and author of multiple ELT coursebook series and methodology books, Herbert has a PhD in ELT Pedagogy.

What?             The Real Secrets of Teaching Teens Successfully

My Favourite Line? Ah, the white slide. You may think something is wrong here. It’s actually a photo of white poodle eating vanilla ice-cream in a snow storm.

Link?              Herbert’s page


Watch the video on IATEFL Glasgow online here:

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 10 – Willy Cardoso on Sociocultural Perspectives to Teacher Training

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


If there was one session that I went to this IATEFL conference that really pushed me to think, if there was one session that I went to that made me want to stand up and cheer by the end of it, if there was one session that I went to that I think no one should have missed, it’s Willy Cardoso’s ‘Dialogue in Teacher Training: A Socio-Cultural Perspective’.

Exploring the way teachers learn to teach and the theories behind them, Willy reminds us that nearly everyone has ideas about what teaching should be like because we all have had experience of being a student at some point in our lives. It is such Apprentice of Observation (Lortie, 1975), alongside theories that show how cognitive development is mediated by social activity (Vygotsky), that clearly point towards the fact that learning (whether learning a language or learning to teach) is a dialogic experience, i.e. I cannot make sense of anything unless I am in co-existence with someone else.

Quoting the following, Willy demonstrates the connection between the socialization process, one’s cognitive processes, and the way they conceptualise teaching and what one does in the language classroom:

‘The socialization processes prospective teachers experience during practicum can have a powerful influence on their conceptions of language teaching and of what it means to be a language teacher.’ (Borg, 2006:57)

‘It is not that social activity influences cognition…but that social activity is the process through which human cognition is formed.’ (Lantolf & Johnson, 2007:878)

‘how external forms of social interaction become internalized psychological tools for thinking.’ (Johnson, 2011)

Teachers are learners themselves, and they should always be constant learners of teaching. Their epistemological stance is therefore important in determining what underpins their classroom practices and even the meta-language used to describe what they do. Take for example language like ‘The learner is slow’ or ‘the teacher is dynamic’. Such discourse has a history of usage in our field and it is vital that we examine what we mean when we use them, and how the acquisition of such discourse fits our social contexts.

Such is the discourse that we export to the rest of the world when we export our teaching methodologies and approaches through teacher training courses. Yet, teachers are clearly NOT contextually isolated technicians. They are not machines that copy techniques they have learnt in one context and apply them without regard for the appropriacy of such practices in a different culture or context.

So if we do agree that social processes and cultures could influence cognition, which in turn could influence the way we learn or expect to learn, surely, reflective practice is the key to continual professional development?

Surely, the deepening of knowledge and understanding of the applicability of the techniques and discourse we acquire can only take place through having space for reflection and examination of our beliefs?

Surely, reflective practice is itself learning how to teach?

If so, then, why do we spend hours upon hours on input and planning in teacher training courses?

How often do we expect our trainees to simply ‘copy and paste’ the techniques and discourse into their teaching practices (regardless of the contexts they will teach in)? Is that why we do demo lessons?

Why do we spend such little time on feedback and reflection?

Why is the feedback session to teaching practice lessons only 30 minutes long?

While Dogme is a way for us teachers to allow for more reflective practice and adapt content and structure to context, what about teacher training?

Do we build upon the prior experience of our trainees as learners and as people?

Do we allow space for them to adapt and reflect?

Are we training them to be technicians? Or reflective practitioners?

Encouraging us to use the following framework suggested by Borg (2006), Willy pushes us to ask the following questions as trainers:

  • What are the characteristics of trainee’s classroom practices during the training course?
  • What influences underlie these practices?
  • How do trainees’ exit mindset, pedagogical principles, and scientific concepts compare to those they entered with?

Without doubt, a session that has left us trainers breathless and inspired.

In the communicative era of teaching, we constantly preach a student-centred approach to teaching. We constantly preach that context is most important. We constantly preach that student talking time is what matters.

Hence, when it comes to teacher training, should we not push for a more trainee-centred approach?

Should we not focus our attention on ways our trainee teachers can adapt what we give them and shape it into what would suit different contexts while making it their own?

Should we not allow for more trainee talking time where they could engage in dialogue with not just their tutors, but their colleagues and their students, to help them make sense of their learning process and mediate their development?

Maybe it’s time for a communicative approach to teacher training.

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 9 – A Smorgasbord of Prezi, Metaphors, Drama & the Passive Voice

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The post-lunchtime fun started with Hakan Senturk’s ‘Zooming into the Reading Class- Prezi’ which combined an introduction tutorial of the use of Prezi (which was priceless to someone like myself who has never heard of the tool) with ideas and suggestions as to how to make Prezi work for a reading class.

Using a text about Vikings, Hakan suggests activating the students’ schema by show a part of a picture of a Viking ship as a prediction task. Since Prezi offers a view not unlike the zooming function of a camera, it allows the user to control the way the objects/pictures are viewed by swiftly zooming into the part specified by the user. This works well not just for the prediction task, but also while reading, where Hakan shows the audience how to zoom into the text to show the embedded answers, definitions and pictures planted cleverly there.

Suggesting that we start by experimenting with blank prezi documents (and not the templates), Hakan shows us step by step how to work ‘the camera/view’ on Prezi, demonstrating how Prezi is like a canvas on which we can place anything (text, pics, embedded vids, etc) and move them around. It is easy to upload and insert anything.  To lighten the mood and illustrate his point, he shows us an embedded video of the Muppet Show’s Vikings singing In the Navy on Youtube.

Aside from the teacher using Prezi to present reading tasks to students, Prezi can also allow participants to edit documents together and therefore can be used for class projects. When the Prezi presentation is done, you can even download, or embed it on your blog. For iPad users, there’s also a Prezi app.

Well done, Hakan! A convincing presentation! I’m off to experiment on Prezi now!


After Hakan’s presentation, a few of us Tweeters made our way towards my IH London colleagues – Richard Chinn and Marie Willoughby’s session, ‘Making sense with  metaphor in language teaching training’.

Starting by dividing the audience into 2 groups of trainers and trainees, and then asking them to complete the following sentences in pairs – ‘A training course is like…’ and ‘Trainers are like…’, Richard and Rie immediately make their point about how metaphors can create a relaxed and personalized atmosphere by making a serious or unfamiliar topic area more accessible and less intimidating, when they get tongue-in-cheek answers like ‘Trainers are like gods’.

Quoting Lakoff and Johnson as saying that we seek out personal metaphors to make sense of our experience in life, they explain that metaphors can be used with trainees to process their feelings and experiences during what might be quite an intensive training course, while allowing time for playful work. Also, metaphors provide a way of accessing the subconscious and the feeling that are occurring below the surface.

Thus, getting trainees to voice their thoughts and feelings in metaphors can help us better understand how trainees feel and this can better provide us with a way of guiding them to seeing things in a different light. A clear example of this was when one of Richard’s trainees who initially said ‘A teacher is an instructor’ ended up saying ‘A teacher is a facilitator’ by the end of his Celta course.

In this way, the use of metaphors can develop awareness of teaching and learning and also help address the trainees’ previous learning experience and their expectations. It can also help trainees deal with complex concepts by relating them to things and concepts that they are more familiar with.  In TP feedback, metaphors can depersonalize the ‘criticisms’ and enable people to explore the issues with feeling the sting of the ‘attack’.

The audience had some fun working out and relating some metaphors to different areas of the CELTA course and…

Finally, some tips about using metaphors:

  • Metaphors need to connect (emotionally) with trainees. Just because they understand a metaphor intellectually does not mean they feel it.
  • ‘To make a difference, we to reach the gut and touch the hearts of our participants’ (Malderez and Wedell)
  • Get your trainees to make their own metaphors – ones that they can connect to.
  • We all understand the world differently, and cultural factors and personal interest can hinder our understanding of metaphors.
  • Use metaphors by all means, but don’t overegg the pudding!

Richard and Rie’s presentation balanced theory and practice in a non-threatening yet useful way that inspired the audience to try implementing some of their ideas while maintaining a level of audience participation that was perfect for that time of the conference where we were all just starting to feel the tiredness creep in.


Another session I attended that was also pitched well to the fatigued conference goer was Eugene Schaefer’s ‘Teaching with Spontaniety : Using PDL in the classroom. Allowing the audience to close their eyes and relax was certainly a welcomed exercise after a long conference day as we were guided into drifting away into tranquility. An expert in the techniques of Psychodramaturgie Linguistique, Eugene this time showed us how ‘mirroring’ and ‘doubling’ could help learners to explore the language and to put the vocabulary they already know into coherent sentences.

In ‘mirroring’, the teacher pretends to talk to an imaginary object and the students mirror his actions and his words (intonation included). In ‘doubling’, the teacher sits behind the blindfolded student, sometimes offering a mask for the student as a symbol of recognizing that speaking in a foreign language can sometimes be like putting on a different mask and taking on a different identity. The teacher then tells the students to think of any word they feel like saying in the foreign language (Eugene uses German as an example here). The teacher now says words in response to the students’ words and the students can choose to repeat them or not.  In what seemed to me as techniques reminiscent of Community Language Learning, PDL adds a significant element of taking the students’ state of mind and psychological and emotional relationship with the new language very seriously and accommodates it to create a learning advantage.


The final session of the day for me was my colleague Danny Norrington-Davis’s ‘Don’t tell the police – they are not important’, where I overheard someone saying that this is definitely up for a ‘Best title of the conference’ award. The talk was certainly one of the best grammar talks too.

Ok, let me first admit…I had previously given  talk at IATEFL Brighton on Systemic Functional Grammar, and when Danny mentioned that (and our multiple conversations following last year’s IATEFL) as being one of the reasons he embarked on looking into this topic, I was beaming…so I might be biased…

When Danny’s students were asked for reasons why the passive is used, they often give the same abstract descriptions that they are fed from the coursebooks. Descriptions and rules such as ‘Because the doer is unimportant’ (Is the title making more sense now?). Such rules are not only hard to apply and make sense of, but also largely inaccurate. Yet, coursebook audaciously use the ‘royal we’ and the present simple tense (suggesting it is a FACT) when giving these rules, e.g. ‘WE use the passive to…’

As Batstone states, ‘Broad classifications bring a sense of security but we are being economical with the truth’.

Mentioning Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics where ‘given and new’ and ‘theme and rheme’ (of the Textual Metafunction) is used to explain the use of the passive, Danny expounds on the clash between pedagogic grammars, descriptive grammars, and real texts and contexts.

In order to make his point, Danny gets the audience to read a newspaper article in which an animal smuggler has been caught by the police. He then divides the audience up into journalists, police officers, and suspects, so as to get us understanding the perspective from which the newspaper article was written. Using such awareness-raising and consciousness-raising activities, learners would be able to consider the writer/speaker and the intentions or interests behind their use of certain tenses or language features (in this case, the passive).  The use of texts can guide students towards noticing why certain language is being used and renders the provision of generalized rules unnecessary and even simplistic. Ending his session with the suggested reading ‘Holistic Grammar’ by Rob Bolitho (ETP Issue 75, July 2011), Danny wows the audience into pondering over the valid points that he made about grammar teaching.

The resounding message that keeps getting air time this IATEFL conference:

Move away from over generalisations!

Use the discourse and the context and raise students’ awareness of how language is really used!


…There’s one more important talk on Day 2 coming up…watch this space…

…to be continued…


My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL Day 2 Plenary Speech by Diana Laurillard

The day began with a plenary by Diana Laurillard, a professor of Learning with Digital Technologies, who started off her presentation ‘Supporting the teacher as innovative learning designer’  by highlighting how we can learn through technology. Combining digital tools with what we already know about the learning processes, Diana Laurillard shows us the available technological resources that spur us on to look to technology, allowing for a shift from classroom teaching to personalized learning, and making learning more productive. After all, as she says, teaching is not telling people stuff, but engaging them in activities.

Learning through…

discussion can be done through synchronous webinars with chat and playback, and asynchronous chat forums;

practice can be done through digital interactive tools with meaningful feedback on actions;

collaboration can be done through roleplay simulations with user-generated scripts in interactive games;

production can be done through user-generated digital multi-media combinations of film, animation, sound, images, captions, etc.

Reminding the audience not to let technology wag the dog, she asserts that when we use technology, we should always think of the educational requirements and what it takes to learn, and ask ‘What are we trying to do?’. Then we can challenge the technology to produce that for us. And if technology is doing its job, we hope this might mean less admin work for all of us.

As a professional learning community, we teachers can also make use of technology to:

  • Build on the work of others;
  • Articulate our pedagogy;
  • Adopt, Adapt, Test, and Improve Learning Designs
  • Sharing learning designs
  • Comparing conventional with digital teaching

(These are things that teachers are now using Twitter, Facebook, and even Second Life for these days)

Diana Laurillard then goes on to make some lucid points about the learning process, showing how technology could better suit the learner.

  • Learning isn’t a one-way process from teacher to learner. The learner must be required to think, to be asked to do something, and be given feedback on what they have done.
  • Meaningful feedback doesn’t always have to be from the teacher telling the learner. They can review themselves and their peers can too.
  • Teaching is neither a science nor an art.

Below are the learning cycles that take place.

And here are the tech tools we can use in those learning cycles, and a significant advantage of digital tools is its ability to help the learners do their own reflections, generate new concepts and modulate their own actions.

Diana Laurillard then goes on to show the audience a pedagogy patterns collector, that could possibly collect lesson frameworks to suit different contexts and students…something that for some reason reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator… or should it now be called the Great Automatic Lesson Plan Generator…?

Regardless of one’s biasness towards or against such a tool, one has to admit that digital technology is here to stay and can become a huge advantage to not just our learners but to us educators, and our own continual professional development.

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 7 – 52 Subversive Activities & lots of parties

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The last session of the day was one that everyone had been waiting for – Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield’s 52: A year of subversive activity for the ELT classroom. Fearing a repeat-scenario of Anthony Gaughan’s talk where the majority were left unable to enter the jam-packed room, some of us literally ran (yes, I mean it literally. We legged it!) at the end of Bruno’s session to Luke and Lindsay’s (as fast as the conference wind would take us!).  Thankfully, the room was big enough to house those that wanted in, and there was no scary bouncer/prison warden/riot control police-like presence in sight (Oi! @Scotchbouncer! Stop tweeting us! It’s scary!).

After the Twitteratti made neat little rows with their iPads and iPhones ready to team tweet and blog (@sandymillin, this was the moment I realized we worked fantastically as a team! Looking forward to more!), Luke and Linsay start their talk by roasting each other. Lindsay, being a famous coursebook writer, and Luke, being a famous founder and advocate of Dogme, were indeed an unlikely collaboration. However whether it be for coursebooks or for materials that act as a departure point for Dogme lessons, it was important to have topics that are stimulating and activities that engage and challenge our learners.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Introducing the concept of the book 52, Luke and Lindsay get the audience to break down the famous acronym PARSNIP, i.e. topics that publishers would like writers to stay clear of.

P is for Politics

A is for Alcohol

R is for Religion

S is for Sex

N is for Narcotics

I is for Isms (some said Israel)

P is for Pork / Pornography

While 52 is about subverting the norm and embracing the PARSNIPs, the co-authors warn that it is not necessarily for everyone and neither is their presentation.

Here are some ways to be subversive:

Subverting dress codes: Teachers could come to class wearing what they don’t normally wear. See if students notice and use that to stimulate discussions. Often, this could lead to conversations about expectations regarding what people wear, e.g. hoodies, veils, etc.

Subverting language points like ‘present simple for daily routines’ could be presented in a subversive and memorable context, e.g. a daily routine of an innocent person in jail, or a corrupt civil servant.

Subverting the special day: Discussion topic – What is a ‘Hallmark holiday’? It is one that exist only for the purpose of selling greeting cards or flowers. Do you agree?

Subverting the typical business coursebook activity: Telephone roleplays – Student A is the vice president and calling his company. You have been kidnapped and you need to speak to the president. Student B is the receptionist. The president is unavailable at the moment.

Subverting expectations using visuals and images: Use this to teach the 2nd conditional!

You can also:

Practice comparatives by asking the following questions –

Which is better? Love without sex? Or Sex without love?

Which is better? Money without love? Or love without money?

Love, sex, money. You can only choose two. Which would you choose?

Or get students to notice the chunks of language used on protest signs! Talk about the lexical approach!

52 is available as an E-book on Amazon for 5 Euros or you can go to and search with the word ‘subversive’.

If you prefer the T-shirts that Luke and Lindsay revealed to us in their version of a semi-striptease, they are available on the Round’s website in 2 colours: black and white.

Photo by Mike Hogan

But what is the Round?

The Round was formed to produce books that might not otherwise get published. Books like 52.

And offers writers more autonomy (and a bigger cut too!) over their books, while providing careful assessment and professional editing for projects.

For more information about the Round, click here.

Leaving the crowd cheering for more, Luke and Lindsay end their presentation with a little book trailer for 52 and getting teachers all excited about being subversive…

Photo by Mike Hogan

And so ends Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow…

Or maybe not!

That evening saw the International House 50th Years of Teacher Training Anniversary Party.

All week long, International House had been giving out wonderful little blue badges at their stand at the exhibition hall. Badges that said ‘I trained with IH’!

(I sneakily wore two because I figured I should have one for my Celta and one for my Delta!)

The TEFL celebrities present at the party certainly spoke volumes about the results of the IH teacher training courses and the evening was spent amongst delicious nibbles and wine nostalgically reminiscing the days gone by in the different locations that International House London occupied and the memories of the people there. Simon Greenhall introduced the audience to three speakers, Ken Wilson, Susan Barduhn, and Jeremy Harmer, each of whom shared with us a memory of IH London, including the one where Luke Meddings apparently forgot to hand in his assignment on coursebooks.

After a fair bit of catching up with IH colleagues and ex-colleagues based in different IH schools around the world, a few of us proceeded to the ELTChat party where champagne and good vibes filled the room. The best news of that evening was of course the fact that ELTChat has been nominated for the ELTons.

Congratulations, @ShaunWilden, @ShellTerrell, @barbsaka, @rliberni and @Marisa_C ! You deserve every bit of this!)

As we drank the night away (some of us more than others…oops!), we came to the end of Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow…

Watch this space for Day 2…

…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 6 – Jacket Potatoes, MLearning, ELearning & Skype

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


Part of our amazing Twitteratti queueing for jacket potatoes

Lunch on this day was quite an experience.

First, we had to round up the Twitteratti after Anthony Gaughan’s talk, including those that didn’t manage to get past the surly female ‘bouncer’.

Then, we had to decided what our lunch options were. It turned out that we only had a café Costa that served sandwiches, a bistro/restaurant that was already full, and a jacket potato stand to choose from.

Next, we had to painfully recognize the fact that there was no way 50 members of the Twitteratti would fit in any where and that we had to split into smaller groups.

A group of us decided to go with the jacket potato option and after braving the long queues, we ended up sitting on the floor with our lunches. (not realizing that there was a hall full of tables that we could have sat at!) In any case, we certainly enjoyed bonding in front of the vending machine and feeling like the hippies that we were. Carol Goodey and I even attempted to go to the exhibition area to ‘score’ some desserts (in the form of boiled sweets) from some of the stands, before heading off early to all the respective rooms our talks were being held in for fear of being confronted by scary Scottish bouncers again (Fiona Mauchline, are you sure that was Genghis McCann’s mother?)

Not all teachers are champagne socialists! Some actually walk the walk!

Most of my afternoon was an exploration into technologies for learning, an area I must admit I know very little about (hence, the curiosity).

The first was the Learning Technologies (LT) SIG’s presentation by Maria do Carmo Ferreira Xavier of Cultura Inglesa – Ideas to implement mobile phones in the English classroom. In a very practical session where Maria talked of the project she has been working on over the last 18 months, where she used different types of mobiles, including smart phones, to motivate and engage her learners, allowing them to interpret the materials in the coursebooks in a personalized way.

Here are some of the ideas she put forward:

Get students to…

…use their mobiles to take photos of objects in odd positions and get to work in pairs guessing what each other’s photos are of.

…send a text message to their classmates inviting them to a party.

…actually have that party, take photos of it with their mobiles, and describe the party the following day to those who couldn’t make it.

…take photos of someone with piercings, with tattoo or body art, and bring it to class to talk about.

…bring photos of their holidays or places they have travelled to and talk about it.

…take photos of what they think represents the world’s biggest problems and or problems with their local area, and use the photos as discussion prompts.

…use iPods, smartphones, and iPads for vocabulary lists, and for Twitter/Facebook contact with native speakers.

Following in the theme of technology and learning, I then headed to Przemyslaw Stencel’s Which is better? F2F or ELearning? Apples or Oranges?

International House London, partnered by Cambridge, launched the Celta Online about a year ago, and more and more teacher trainers are making that move into online distance learning and teaching. I myself did the Distance Delta many years ago and had a great experience on it despite having initial reservations of there not being a Face-to-Face (F2F) element. I was thus curious what Przemyslaw had to say on the topic.

At the start of his talk, Przemyslaw introduces the audience a website called (no this is not one of those comedy hashtags, James…it is an actual real website with real statistics and stuff…) and it showed that there was in fact no statistical difference between distance learning and F2F.

Learning is after all the result of motivation and of opportunities, and learning happens best as an active process where there is interaction with others.

In ELearning, we can invite all kinds of people, including those outside the group, to join in and this allows for more interaction with a wider variety of people, hence increasing motivation. An example of this is MOOT (Massive Open Online Course) where the platform is opened to the public and anyone can join in.

Przemyslaw goes on to assert that unlike in F2F where we prefer to have a small number of learners/trainees, in ELearning, the more the participants, the more interesting the experience. We use Moodle or Blackboard because it allows us to retain control and assign tasks, but in fact we should get rid of the limitations and use ELearning to let students guide their own learning.

Often, a criticism of using online forums is the lack of immediacy and the delayed responses, but this could be seen as a good things as this means allowing for thinking and pondering time for the learner. Recommending the use of online tools such as Edublogs, Glogster, Youtube, etc, ELearning can be made an active process, and online projects can be bigger and involve more people than any F2F project can.

We tend to peg F2F as more ‘real’ and ELearning as ‘artificial’, when in fact we often create artificial environments in the classroom to teach students what to do in real life. Such classroom tasks are often artificial. On the contrary, we can give authentic real life tasks online, such as using google maps to teach directions, getting students to plan their holidays by using websites, etc.

A convincing talk by the end of which it is clear which of the two Przemyslaw is biased towards…and it’s certainly not Oranges.

Next up was another very exciting and popular event, especially amongst the Twitteratti. LT SIG Scholarship winner Bruno Andrade (Cultura Inglesa), also known as ‘That amazing guy who is running the Brazil #ELTChat?’,  presents ‘Technology speaks volumes: Enhancing Integration, Participation, and Speaking Activities’.

Bruno’s digital immersion project started off with him offering his students a range of tools to choose from, allowing them to select what they felt comfortable working with. When Skype was chosen, he gave the students further responsibility by asking them when in their lessons they would like to use Skype. In a presentation-style that was inspiring enough to make us go forth and try and move mountains, Bruno says, ‘When students are given responsibility, it becomes a driving force for them, and amazing things happen.

In their 1st Skype session, students simply exchanged trivial conversations, but by the 2nd session, they started to talk about the geographical and cultural aspects of their area.

In their 3rd Skype session, students started to play drama games, e.g. where they were only allowed to carry on a conversation with only 1 word at a time, or by only making questions.

By their 5th session, there was evidence of the encouraging of critical thinking through the discussion of violence in schools.

Here are my top picks of Bruno’s wise words:

  • Skype could make the class less teacher- and coursebook- centred.
  • Do not forcefully stick to the plan but take advantage of teachable moments and go with the flow (or what Dogmeticians would probably call ‘Dogme moments’?)
  • Encourage critical thinking in the classroom.
  • Play back the conversations for the students as this can help them with self-awareness, self-correction and increased self-confidence with talking to others.
  • Remember that when working with YLs, ensure you ask for authorization from parents when embarking on such digital immersion projects.

However, my favourite part of Bruno’s passionate presentation must have been when he played us videos of his learners, some of whom were too shy to even make a sentence in English prior to his project, talking about their learning experience with Skype in perfectly intelligible communicative English on camera.

But the best part wasn’t just what the learners were saying…

…but that big smile on Bruno’s face when that video was playing.

It was a smile that could have lit up a thousand Skype screens!

We know that look Bruno…and that is why we teach!

Thank you, Bruno, for reminding us of that!

(I feel all warm and fuzzy inside just recalling that moment…but Day 1 is not quite over yet…watch this space…)

…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The first coffee break was spent gawking at the size of the exhibition hall this year, and greeting old friends and online friends who were not at the PCE or Karaoke event the night before (Hi @SandyMillin !). In fact, we got so caught up by it all that we had not noticed that all of us were heading in the same direction for the next talk: Anthony Gaughan’s The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.

The room was full by the time we got there, and many of us experienced our first conference disappointment. Thankfully, Mike (@irishmikeh) had reserved two seats and we managed to get in…I then came out two seconds later to loudly announce to James (@theteacherjames) that Mike had reserved him a seat too (it was my first ever conference lie!), thus getting him past the ‘bouncer’ who clearly had missed a huge career opportunity in riot control. This very same scary ‘bouncer’ came in several minutes before Anthony’s talk to chase out the couple of people who were sitting on the floor (What kind of TEFL conference is it when no one’s allowed to sit on the floor???) and lecture us on how we are not allowed to ‘reserve’ seats by putting our belongings on them. James, Mike and I simply kept our heads down and hoped that she wouldn’t notice that the 3 of us were sharing 2 seats…

I certainly felt like a schoolgirl, hoping, with all fingers crossed behind my back, that the discipline master wouldn’t find out that we had been eating in the classroom…

Now, back to Anthony Gaughan’s talk.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Anthony starts by telling us the 3 things he was not going to.

He was not going to tell us anything we don’t already know;

He was not going to ask why we were there;

And he was not going to get us to agree with him.

This set the relaxed mood for his entire talk, in which he skillfully went through the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT (as shown below) and debunked each of them, always reminding us never to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Photo by Mike Hogan

1.    Repetition Drilling

Starting with espousing behaviourism and reminding us that language is much more a habit than we realize, and that we can make what we drill meaningful by utilizing substitution drills etc.

2.    Translation and the Use of L1

One common criticism is that L1 can’t be used in multilingual classes, but a quick show of hands immediately showed us that monolingual classes are in fact the majority.

Another criticism is that translation does not encourage students to think in English. Anthony goes on to question, ‘But who says your students are thinking in English anyway?’

He then goes on to suggest ways of using L1, e.g. mini-text translation, asking ‘fifth skill questions’ and using the L1 to contrast with L2.

3.    Students using dictionaries in class

Is using dictionaries time-wasting? Anthony wonders why some might feel that teaching learners to work things out for themselves is not time well-spent.

4.    Teacher explanations

There’s nothing wrong with explanations, Anthony asserts, saying that students would feel cheated if they paid you, the expert, and instead, you try to constantly elicit from them, leaving them unclear.

The issue here is the quality of the explanations. Students stop listening when the answers are unclear, too long or abstract, or when it is not answering their question. Perhaps learning to give good explanations, rather than getting rid of them completely is key.

5.    Reading texts aloud in class

Anthony’s 3 commandments for reading aloud:

  • Insert lines to show breaks and pauses in text (to help with phonological chunking)
  • Bold fonts for main stress (or nucleus)
  • Mark parts of text where students can give attention to weak forms and linking.

6.    Telling students they are wrong

Correcting mistakes upsets students? Anthony blames Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis for teachers tip-toeing around students and being afraid to correct them. He maintains that it is all in the approach (can we correct them in a supportive and gentle/friendly manner?) and that all learners want feedback.

7.    Teacher talk time

Just as there aren’t any issues with teacher explanations as long as they are good ones, there are no issues with teacher talk time as long as they are good quality ones.

Photo by Mike Hogan

All in all, one of the best talks this conference! Thought-provoking, attitude-challenging, and definitely full of great teaching ideas!

It of course didn’t hurt that these were 7 points that I totally agree with Anthony on.

Perhaps potentially 7 more Devil’s Advocate installments with Anthony that are possible here? *wink*

Click here to have a read of my Devil’s Advocate (DA) with Anthony Gaughan on teacher training.

For more updates on Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow, watch this space…

…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 4 – Dave Willis on Grammar

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.



After Adrian Underhill’s plenary, the thousands of TEFLers filtered out of the auditorium towards the different talks.
The first I went to was Dave Willis’s ‘Focus on Grammar: learning processes and teaching strategies’. Dave Willis had come to my IATEFL talk last year on Systemic Functional Grammar and through the Q & A session, it beame obvious that we had similar views on grammar (if I had read his book ‘Rules, Patterns and Words’, I really would have noticed that sooner…what kind of teacher am I?) and the way they are oversimplified and dealt with badly in most ELT coursebooks.

In his 2012 IATEFL talk, Dave Willis highlighted that current pedagogic methodology often focuses on ‘recognition’ but only touches lightly on ‘systems building’ and often even neglects the ‘exploration’ stage of the learning of patterns. With specific reference to the English verb system (tense, aspect, modality), Dave asserts that making contrasts, e.g. between the present continuous and the present simple, can lead to false generalisations. Using examples of the present continuous for daily routines and habits, e.g. ‘We are usually having breakfast around then’, he warns against the overgeneralization of grammar rules that gives rise to students saying ‘English has so many exceptions’.


Another issue contrastive teaching (What is the difference between the past simple and the past continuous?) is that it ignores the major useful generalisations and uses of the aspect, e.g. the interrupted-ness as a feature of all progressive aspects. Other useful generalisations about the progressive aspect might include: something temporary, something new, describing of something changing or developing.


Many coursebooks tend to look at specific tenses, but fail to look at the aspect as a whole. Dave then goes on to recommend that coursebooks start with the present continuous, avoid contrasting it with other tenses, but instead feed in slowly the different features of the aspect.  Here are some useful generalisations of the tense and aspect system.


Present tenses often used to :

Talk about the present and future;

Talk about the past when we are telling a story;


Past tenses often used to:

Talk about the past;

Talk about hypotheses;

Be polite.


Perfective Aspect often used to:

Look back

i.e. present perfect shows how something continued to the present,

past perfect shows how something continued to a particular point in the past.


Although general guidelines are worth giving to students, Dave Willis cautions against offering precise rules and tells us that successful pedagogic grammars are good at constructing examples (clearly contrived ones to boot) that fit the rule of the language they want to have. Instead he suggests that we get students to look at authentic texts and examine the choices made in real contexts, while considering the contextual features that are motivating that choice the speaker/writer makes.


Here is an example of a text that he uses. Notice how there are no correct answers and the options given can all be correct depending on the point of view of the speaker/writer, and the emphasis they want to give the different subjects and themes of the text.

Stating that we need to expose our learners to the different genres of texts in different registers, and get our learners to see how time is talked about with different tenses, Dave provides a viewpoint of language that seems to be continuously echoed throughout the rest of the conference, a viewpoint that I have expounded on in my talk about politeness and pragmatics as well, and that is:


Stop overgeneralizing and offering fake formulae to learners. Instead get them to discuss and notice the patterns of language use.


Raise their awareness of pragmatic/discourse issues and allow them to understand that it all depends on the context and the intentions of the interlocutor.


For more updates on the rest of Day 1 at the IATEFL Conference, watch this space…


…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 3 – Adrian Underhill’s Plenary

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


Plenary Speech by Adrian Underhill

After a series of opening speeches, including IATEFL President Eric Baber thanking the coordinating committee, and the audience giving a big wave to the online audience, Adrian Underhill came on for the opening plenary, speaking on the topic of ‘Mess and Progress’. He started off by ‘singing’ ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ by Portia Nelson, reminding the audience to learn from the problems they encounter and make the necessary progress.

Photo by Mike Hogan

In 1974, systems thinker Russell Ackoff differentiates ‘difficulty’ from ‘mess’. A difficulty is often clear cut, explainable, labellable, and solvable with current thinking. A mess is extensive, boundaryless, uncertain, ambiguous, resists change, one where there is no correct view or quick fix, and we often hardly know where to start when trying to deal with it. Often, when there is human behaviour there will more than likely be a mess.

However, a systems thinker sees relationships as primary, and things (changes and progress) spring from them. This is in contrast to the traditional view that things are primary and relationships spring from them. Systemic thinking therefore sees connections and relationships rather than isolated entities. Yet, traditionally, our tendency is to default to ‘control’ rather than trying to ‘connect’. ‘Control’ might work with ‘difficulties’, but not with ‘mess’.

Thus, traditional, hierarchical top-down approaches are obliged to change because such traditional approaches tend to see decisions that are based on incomplete data, where cause and effect are disconnected and where there are often unintended consequences. As complexity (in companies and in societies) is increasing, such approaches that demand that leadership serves the people and that our jobs has significance (we all want to work because it has meaning for us) no longer work. Instead, we need intelligence dispersed throughout the system and not only at the top.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Adrian Underhill  then continues to assert the importance of realizing that a leader’s work is essentially very different from the past ideas of heroic leadership, suggesting that we are conditioned to think of the male archetype when thinking about leadership traditionally. After most leadership books are written by men for men. Instead a new field of ‘women’s leadership’ is developing – one which is relationship-based and involved systems thinking.

Hence, leadership should be about the activity, and not the person. With this attitude in mind, leadership could in fact come from anywhere. We are all leaders. Then there are leaders of leaders that help the leaders to get on and do it, but not to try and control and do it themselves.

Quoting Heifetz’s Adaptive Leadership, Underhill talks about the two kinds of problems: technical ones which can be fixed with our existing knowhow, and complex ones which show a gap between values and reality: gaps that can’t be closed with existing knowhow) and how the essence of leadership is to either help people to adapt values, or to adapt reality, or both. When people are aligned to their purpose, when the gap between values and behaviours closes, what people experience is a stream of ease (Lewin). By aligning purpose and values, and creating a transparent system, we can more easily get useful feedback from the people that we impact on.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Underhill then moves on to talk about the learning organization, one that facilitates the learning of all its members ad continues to transform itself (Pedler and Aspinwall). Individual learning can in fact be wasted unless harnessed at organizational level, thus expounding on the fact that a company that does lots of training is not necessarily a learning company. While learning leaders (who continue to learn) lead through their learning, a team of committed managers with individual IQs of 120 could have a collective IQ of 63!

In one of his several true-TEFL ‘work-in-pairs’ moment, Underhill gets the audience to rate these following statements from 0 to 10 regarding their organization.

  1. It’s easy to get people to listen to and experiment with new ideas and suggestions.
  2. When one person learns something new, everyone hears about it.
  3. Making mistakes is part of learning. You can be open about it. It is not career limiting.
  4. Staff members of all ranks give each other quality feedback from above, below and sideways
  5. Everyone is involved in discussing school policies before adoption.
  6. People in one department know what people in another department are thinking, and they help each other.

Underhill then reminds us that systemic thinking requires ‘slow knowing’ (Claxton) where the more patient, less deliberate modes are better suited to making sense of situations that are fleeting, messy and ill-defined, thus allowing for different ways of knowing: cognitive, artisitic, imaginative, emotional and intuitive.

Learning to think systematically means encouraging connectivity, not control. (Give up trying to be interesting. It is only another way of trying to control!)

Learning to think systematically means seeing more points of views, seeing the whole school as an adventure park for your learning.

Thus, our learning mantra should be : See what’s going on, do something different, learn from it.

It is after all professionally exhausting to maintain the pretence that messes are difficulties…

I want to face the problems – unclear, vague and messy that I have discovered to be real around here.

Photo by Mike Hogan

To end the talk, Adrian Underhill treats us to a song on the guitar – Reflective Blues.

Here’s link to the video…but unfortunately the sound gets a bit muffled in the middle verses (not sure what happened there…I’m really sorry but it gets better again at 2.00mins) but it would at least give you a feel for the relaxed and inspiring atmosphere of the opening plenary, and if this has whet your appetite for more, don’t forget that you can watch the actual talk by Adrian Underhill here at IATEFL Online.

For updates on the rest of Day 1 at IATEFL Glasgow, watch this space…

…to be continued…

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