Friday, 23 March 2012

From Twitter to Glasgow (IATEFL 2012)

Barbara Sakamoto may be a familiar name in the international social media but she isn't usually present in the European conference circuit, so I was curious to hear what actually brought her over.

Barbara, in her interview with Nik Peachey and Kirsteen Donaghy, recalls how Twitter had brought her to Glasgow and how she got into Twitter in the first place. She believes that it is important to do things that makes us feel really stupid just to remind us of the feeling so that we know how it is to feel lost in a language learning class. According to her, she knew doing anything related to technology will make her feel stupid! Who would have guessed, right?

So, she got into Second Life and learned to become a webhead, got into Twitter, and to cut a long story short, Glasgow here she is!

You can watch her interview here:

Also, don't miss her interview in iasku:

IATEFL 2012 Glasgow

James E Zull on Friday morning's plenary
It's been a fast week, and Glasgow is preparing to say goodbye to those fortunate enough to be there. I must admit that I haven't been able to follow much of what's been happening this year although I hope to go through some of the archives in the next few weeks. You can see the interviews here and the recorded sessions here.

I did manage, however to watch (on and off, although I had my wireless headphones on) yesterday's opening plenary by Steven Thorne entitled "Awareness, appropriacy, and living language use". What I kept saying during his talk was "Hell, I can't even think this fast! How can this guy speak at this speed... and without notes, too?" You can watch it here. His presentation  examined out-of-school L2 digital engagement in environments such as social media, fan fiction communities, and online gaming.

The highlight of the evening was, undoubtedly, as it was last year, the Pecha Kucha. If you still haven't heard of it, it's basically a presentation of 20 slides of 20 seconds each. These evenings tend to be rather light-hearted, so a lot of us were waiting anxiously for it. The eight presenters, led by the always-funny Jeremy Harmer, including such PLN favourites as Shelly Terrell and Barbara Sakamoto, didn't disappoint us. You can watch it here:

Part One:
Part Two:

I won't say much so as not to ruin your fun!

Monday, 19 March 2012

46th Annual IATEFL Conference aka Lonely Teacher Blues Part 3

Unless you're living in the woods - but even the woods are "connected" now - you must have heard about the IATEFL conference currently going on in Glasgow (19-23 March). We ought to be thankful that we're living in the age of miracles. Conferences are no longer the domain of the rich and the privileged - poor people like you and me need not miss out on what's going on in them.

If you've read my Lonely Teacher Blues Parts One and Two, you will have read that I strongly recommend conferences as part of the cure. I "attended" Brighton last year and I was hooked. Thanks to Brighton, I got to know people such as Anthony Gaughan and Dale Coulther, who, of course, later appeared in iAskU interviews.

This year, I'm a little busier, but still can't afford to go to Glasgow, and I can be seen running around the house with my wireless headphones on. Today, I managed to get a glimpse of Andi White, Nik Peachey and Kirsteen Donaghy (I fell in love with Kirsteen last year...her accent, I mean!); I also managed to catch Andi & Rob interviewing Chia Suan live. Chia was asked about her talk on English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in the BESIG pre-conference event.

You might want to catch up on some spicy talk on ELF here and if you don't know Chia, I'd suggest you watch her iAskU interview.

The Glasgow IATEFL Conference will be broadcasting live each day (09:00-17:00 GMT) from the Glasgow Online studio. They'll be showing interviews with presenters and visitors, and general coffee talk. There's also a back-channel (or side-channel, more like it) chat going on at the same time. Interviews can be watched again later. Unfortunately, we can't watch the presentations live, but they'll be showing some plenaries and the Pecha Kucha!

After several days of waiting, I'm still unable to embed the video, so here's the link to watch Chia's interview:

Grammarly Blogathon: How to be a "superb" writer

These helpful hints are brought to you in partnership with the Superb Writers' Blogathon by Grammarly grammar checker. Grammarly understands the importance of the written word.

ELT EFL ESL CLIL Writing skills how to be a superb writer

When Grammarly first approached me and asked if I would like to contribute a short post to the blogathon, my first thought was, “Mmm… so I’m a superb writer, am I?”

I know that not to be true, of course, although I have to admit that I do spend a lot of time mulling over words and sentences. I accepted their offer, the sucker that I am for such things, and here then are some of what I consider essential ingredients of good writing.


Primordial. I’ll include spelling and punctuation under this section, too. Bad grammar makes reading difficult, worse, if your readership is likely to include teachers! A grammar checker, such as Grammarly, can help you sometimes, but you must know your stuff first, to be able to decide if the corrections are right or wrong. I’ve seen typical bad errors such as you’re-your and their-there-they’re even in professional writers’ blogs, and that’s just so embarrassing. These errors are common because the signal connecting the fingers to the brain sometimes fails, which is why it is imperative to proofread over and over again - see below.

Contentious issues such as split infinitives, or beginning sentences with a conjunction, are fine, in my opinion; if you know what you’re doing, they may mark your style and they are not necessarily wrong. But where mistakes are glaringly obvious or when they affect meaning, then they are definitely a no-no.

If you know that you make the same errors over and over again, it’s useful to compile a list of such errors so you can check your drafts against it. Here are some common ones:

  • subject/verb agreement
  • incomplete sentences (fragments can be all right, but you’ll have to be sure)
  • prepositions
  • tenses - be consistent
  • collocations (a good collocation dictionary is useful)


It helps to have an extensive vocabulary. By this, I don’t mean you need to know “big” words which will send most of your readers diving into their dictionaries, but rather so that you don’t use the same words repeatedly. In any case, in these days of free online dictionaries and thesauri, it takes only a matter of seconds to look for alternatives. Having said that, there are times when words are repeated to create impact, especially in speeches. A good writer knows when to employ this technique.

Who’s your audience?

Knowing who your audience is important because it will (or should) affect how you write. Should you be writing in a formal or informal register? Longer or shorter sentences? Are you too technical or are you too condescending? Do you use too much jargon? Do you know what they are expecting to read? Is the language level appropriate? Will they find it interesting?


“Style is a simple way of saying complicated things” -  Jean Cocteau

Bear in mind the pace in which we live. Most of us don’t spend much time on detailed reading, especially on the web. We mainly skim through lots of material until we find something that catches our eye, something that is of interest to us. So, be clear and concise. Are you saying something to the point or are you being excessively long-winded? Is your use of language and content correct? Is it easy to understand?


Is your material well organized? Is there variety in sentence and paragraph lengths? Does it flow smoothly? Have you made good use of strategic linkers?


Proofread your output over and over again. Sleep on it. Read it again the next day. Read it aloud. I do this all the time because often when we read silently we miss certain things as the eyes seem to register what the mind wants to. Reading it aloud has always thrown up weaknesses I’d failed to spot while doing it silently. This is especially true with repetition.

Though by no means a comprehensive list, nor are these innovative ideas, I nevertheless hope that they will put you on the right path towards superb writing!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Project 366: Spring is in the air, so let the fun begin!

Spring is in the air for those of us lucky enough, I guess. In any case, I suspect even our cousins far up north can feel it after the cold spell that had hit most of Europe recently.

So, we're three-and-a-half months into Project 366 and I'm still hanging in there. So far, I've managed to snap at least one photo a day and with the warmer weather, the gardeners have been out and flowers are mushrooming all over the place. It's hardly surprising, then, that I've decided to focus on flowers in this post, is it?

ELT CLIL EFL ESL idioms flowers free interactive online game resources

Pre-lesson task: Ask students to take a photo of a flower or flowers and send them to you. Mount a mosaic like you see above.

Level: Any. Ideas have to be adapted to the level, naturally.

Lesson ideas

1.  Brainstorm names of flowers.

2.  Show mosaic. See if they can guess who took which photo. Language: I think... it can/could/must be... the reason why... I'm sure it's...

3.  Try to identify the flowers. It doesn't matter if you don't know them - perhaps some of the students do. If, at the end, some of the flowers still remain unknown, set it as a task - see who succeeds in identifying them.

4.  Discussion:
  • Do they like flowers? Why?
  • Why do people like flowers? (eg appearance, colour, smell)
  • What's their favourite? Why?
  • What colours do they come in? Which is the most common? Which do they like? Is that their favourite colour?
  • Does it smell? Can they describe it?
  • Do they have a garden? Would they like to have one? What would they do with it? If they have one, what is in it? Describe their garden.
  • When they think of flowers, what springs to mind?
  • Why are they regarded as romantic? Why do women appreciate flowers more than men?
  • Ask the men - do they often buy flowers for women? When was the last time? Have they ever received any flowers? From whom? When was the last time they received any? Ask the women similar questions - if they often buy flowers for men and so on. What about buying flowers for someone of the same sex?
  • Would you buy flowers for someone you consider just a friend? If no, why not?
  • If you could only buy one for a partner, which would you choose - flowers or chocolate? Why?
  • Brainstorm uses of flowers: births, christening (note pronunciation: /ˈkrɪs(ə)nɪŋ/), corsage or buttonhole, tokens of love, expression of sympathy or grief (as in funerals), worship (the Hindus, for example, offer flowers as gifts to the temple), home decoration, food, drinks and spices, health (medicine, essential oils), beauty (perfume and other beauty products), and the list goes on...
  • Symbolism: do they know of any?
          - Red rose for love, beauty, passion
          - Poppies for consolation
          - Lillies for life or resurrection
          - Daisies for innocence

  • Religion and culture: Different religions or culture may attach certain importance to certain flowers, eg the lotus flower has special significance to the Hindus. Do they know of any others?
  • Morphology: Do they know the parts of a flower? Teach them by playing the games below.
  • Quotes: Do they know of any flower quotes? Arguably, the most famous is from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
  • You can find more flower quotes from here.
  • Idioms: Do they know of any idioms? Teach them by playing the game below.

Click on the image below to start the labelling game.

ELT CLIL ESL EFL Parts of a flower game activity

Click on the image below to start the alternate labelling game.

ELT CLIL ESL EFL Parts of a flower game activity

Click on the image below to start the idioms game.

ELT CLIL EFL ESL idioms flowers free interactive online game resources