Welcome to my ELT blog

I am an ESOL teacher and teacher trainer in the UK: all the tools I'm looking at here are easy to handle and have lots of learning potential inside and outside the classroom. I hope you find this too.

Friday, 16 March 2012


These lovely pics are from the Flickr website. Bookr lets us choose photos from Flickr to make some highly polished publications and presentations. Bookr is another idiot friendly website where the book pages are waiting when you open the website and you simply type in a topic area in the tag box. You select from an array, or keep scrolling if you can't see what you want. Keep turning the pages with your cursor, add more pics and write in the text box on each page if you want to. Once you're happy, type in an e-mail address and copy the embedding code if you want it. The book is tagged in their archive.

I made these two books using some published students' stories. The first shows how bookr can be used as a speaking prompt - if you are looking for presentation-type practice and you have a large screen in the classroom. It would be more interesting for students to find their own pics of course and spend some time rehearsing. The second version shows how simple it is for students to add text. Although the boxes look small, they can write a considerable amount and add more pages. This is particularly motivating for beginners - rarely does the end result of 4 sentences look so impressive! 

However - problems?   There's not a lot to say here.  You can't save your products except in their archive.  You might find the Flickr archive a bit annoying.  It has a definite cultural skew.  But definitely worth exploring!


This is one of those multi-purpose tools not necessarily designed with learning in mind which seem to have "here I am, language teacher" written all over it.  As long as you have a webcam it allows you to record a video for up to 10 minutes, save it in a repository and e-mail it to someone else.  You can click and record as soon as you access the website, though there are three versions you can sign up for. I've tried the free one which gives you a repository to save your recordings to but doesn't allow you to embed.  It is ridiculously easy to use: one click and you are recording. 

My first thought was to use it to record stuff to take into the classroom.  Listening to teachers talking has now become acceptable practice again - teachers are great resources for authentic, but roughly tuned input and add a personalised and context-sensitive motivation for listening. HOWEVER, I find spontaneous, unscripted story-telling, for example, quite difficult to get right first time (and we often ask our students to do this!)   So I've made recordings at home, with an off-screen audience, and I was a lot happier with the result. Click this and see what you think?  http://ml.vu/yUBlvL It also meant I could think about some of the language I was using and decide which bits might be useful for students to notice.  Of course, the next step is to prepare students to make their own recordings and this needs to be done in the classroom.  The teacher's recordings can be used for more than one listening so students can be encouraged to notice the structure of the story, the tenses or typical narrative discourse markers.  Students need time to think about, prepare, elaborate, rehearse and correct: the classroom environment is ideal for this.  They have a critical but receptive audience for each stage in peers and their teacher who provide feedback about meaning, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.  All this and the prospect of recording should challenge students to 'raise their game' (as in the reporting stage of task-based learning) and develop greater accuracy and complexity. The actual recording, on the other hand, can ideally be done from the students' homes and e-mailed to their teacher and other students.  This enables the teacher to send back individual feedback, which is usually quite difficult to achieve for speaking activities.  You can imagine how much students might appreciate this as they approach their speaking exams.  Thinking of assessment in more formative terms, once students start saving their recordings, they are beginning to assemble a portfolio with evidence of their progress.  They should find this motivating and your quality assurance-minded managers would certainly be interested in this method of tracking. Once you have the students' recordings, there is more motivating learning potential in playing one or two strong ones and encouraging peers to analyse what makes them successful. 

It's difficult to find  any problems with this tool except where your classrooms or your students don't have webcams: this is certainly a problem in my own context.  It would also be ideal to be able to  save these elsewhere. 


Thursday, 15 March 2012

Learning Chocolate

This is a friendly little vocabulary site that obligingly offers you the same items in many other languages as well as English.  It seems to get updated - new items have appeared on the site recently.  For each vocabulary field there are opportunities to click a picture and hear each item, match sound and spelling (3 different ways) practise spelling and then do a dictation.  Each activity has a timer and a feedback button.  This is the key to its usefulness: it enables students to come across the same item in many different ways, links pronunciation, meaning and spelling, and provides the consolidation students really need to acquire a new lexical item.  The site has three  full pages of different vocabulary fields: what I also like is that they include collocations.  It has a dual language option for Spanish, Japanese and Chinese speakers (it has its eye on the big markets).  You can show the most IT timid students how to navigate this site and hope they will find this experience so easy they will go away and use it at home.  Your tech savy students will have found it already. 

Unfortunately for my students, the accent and variety is U.S. English, which UK-based beginners in particular find a bit confusing (period? - fullstop!).  I'm just waiting for the Brit English version.  Also, as you might expect with a site which is picture-based, it only offers a basic level vocabulary list.  A further thought - once your students start matching up randomly and then going straight for the checking button, it's time to think of more creative ways of using this site - there's not much learning going on.   


Sunday, 12 February 2012


 This tool can be found on the Pimpampum website, home of bubblr and bookr and, like them, draws on the repository of flikr photos.  It is ridiculously easy to use: it offers to find photos to illustrate any phrase you care to type in.  It tries to find a match for each item in the phrase and if you don't think much of any of the matches, you are offered others or the option of a blank.  Once you are happy with the collection of pictures, you write a title for your row of pictures and e-mail it to someone.
At first glance this is a dodgy idea, but as long as you remember this is not attempting to be an elementary photo dictionary then your learners can use it to explore their understanding of the meanings of new words and phrases.  If they type in a vocabulary list of concrete nouns, they will be presented with a straightforward collection of pictures to choose from.  With more idiomatic phrases the pictures start to become  more idiosyncratic.  Used in this way it becomes more challenging to find the best (sometimes quite personal) fit between word and picture.  Students could work in pairs with their vocabulary lists compiling then comparing their illustrations.  Successful acquisition of vocabulary requires a lot of recycling like this, and the process of making a personal selection of pictures can only help to make it more memorable.        

I typed in a number of phrases to see what it would come up with.



Some phrases and words will never trigger an acceptable match - the pictures draw from one repository.
YOu can't save the illustrated phrases: you can find them again in the website's public gallery or by e-mailing them.  



Webquests are task-based projects in which most of the input is sourced  from the internet. There are many free webquest banks on the internet or you can design one yourself using an on-line template.  Making your own webquest is technically straightforward because the templates found on websites like QuestGarden are user friendly and highly schematic.  There may be nothing stopping highly motivated students creating one themselves.  

There is much potential satisfaction and value for language learners in working through one of these internet projects.  If learners work collaboratively - and this may depend on the task design - there could be a lot of purposeful spoken interaction and motivational higher order level problem solving.  If the tasks are well staged and the links well chosen, learners will be able to engage with authentic texts without being overwhelmed by them.  


Finding the perfect ready-made webquest may not be easy.  Many repositories are of very mixed quality; be careful with quests designed for a content rather than language learning context; some of the websites aren't being maintained and the links remain broken. Making your own may seem the perfect solution, because you know your students and their context.  However, this is not a quick solution and it's rather like designing a good test, if you want a really motivating one, it's more difficult than you think.   


Friday, 10 February 2012

Listen a minute

This is another Sean Banfield site and, like his Breaking News English, you wonder how such a huge and well-designed bank of resources can be free.  As the title says, the listening texts are all short, though he must have forgotten about the one minute bit when he went on to develop all the gapped texts, word order, spelling and discussion tasks.  You print off the writing tasks (pdf) and download the listening file.  The listening titles cover a vast range of subjects and are arranged alphabetically, which makes them very user friendly.  He reads and writes the texts himself, so they all have a personal and slightly quirky spin - not your standard course book fare.  The printable format and the pair work speaking tasks mean they work for well for classrooms. However, there is also a nice, on-line interactive 'dictogloss' type activity with each recording which is very satisfying to do and would encourage students to do some intensive listening and language processing at home.   

Being read by the same 'sympathetic' reader, these recordings don't pretend to be 'authentic' conversations: they don't challenge students with a variety of accents, situations and speakers or with natural speed. 
 They are all roughly the same kind of level too, so perhaps not challenging enough for advanced learners.  Still, we teachers can get too hung up on levels: the more exposure learners get to spoken English the better.  So, if they find his topics and 'voice' attractive enough to seek him out at home, they are away! 



dvolver is one of the easiest tools you could introduce to your students in the classroom.  It's a simple movie-making website which you don't have to register with or log on to.  You choose from a range of settings, select two characters and a (very) simple plot, some music, a title and then start dialogue building in the speech balloons. Once done, you need to e-mail it to someone if you want to see it again, or embed it in a blog or website.  The choices are not infinite and the dialogues quite short so I thought it would be ideal at the end of a lesson where your students are practising functional or situational language (asking for/giving directions, inviting/accepting, etc).  Students could have quite a lot of fun after oral work, choosing (suitable or unsuitable)characters and settings and then having a whole class film show.  Errors can be corrected and language polished up while students are working on the dialogues before publishing them.  If your students feel fairly confident using this tool they could compose a dialogue at home and e-mail it to you for homework.

So, it's great if you have younger learners with five minutes' concentration spans.  If they are working in pairs, they will be motivated to negotiate as they compose their movies. In addition, the issue of choosing the right language becomes much more important if there is a 'polished' product and a performance at the end of it. 

The backgrounds, scenes, plot lines are limited and it would be nice if they kept expanding them.  Don't be tempted to overuse this tool.  To continue to be motivating it must used where it works best.   Finally, if you have everyone doing this in the classroom, the noise will drive you crackers once they have selected the background music.  Suggest the mute button, until the final performance.