IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing PCE Session 3

Are you writing for all learners?

– Romulo Neves

The most unequal thing is to treat unequal people equally.

Romulo did an activity to demonstrate how students may feel in the classroom when they are finding something harder than others. (We had to say the alphabet and follow instructions, allocated by letter, to lift our left or right hand – harder than it might sound!) The goal for today is not to suggest that materials writers are doing the wrong thing but to show us some ideas to help certain types of learners so that we could take one or two forward when writing the next course book/set of materials.


difficulty with social interaction, limited or inappropriate interactions, robotic or repetitive speech. Also love repetition and structure, if they can’t predict what is going to happen, they feel anxious/nervous and start to daydream/escape. Lowering the bar is inappropriate as they may be as  bright as others.

Romulo did an activity in which he read a sentence and we had to write down certain words. The goal was to show us how easy it is to get lost and switch off. Then we looked at a page from a course book in two different versions – the more inclusion friendly version looked less “pretty” but had the capital letters at start of sentence in bold to draw attention and boxes to write the answer, as well as less content on the page/more white space. No Picture. The names of the characters in a dialogue are in a different font and colour to differentiate between the names and the speech. If you have a choice of words to fill in a blank, have a blank box to write the answer and the choice words after it. Every unit should follow the same pattern i.e. what you are going to do in each activity – a “map” of this is helpful.

Reduce instruction words and teacher talk by including cards at the back of the book for “Feeling great” “Have some doubts” “Need help” so they don’t have to interrupt to communicate. With speaking, give an example of what they are going to say so that they have something to guide them to know how to work together.


They do pay attention but they pay attention to many things at the same time so it is hard to focus. They have no idea of time management, they are always moving. Matching is easier than writing an answer, as no scope for misspelling. Two questions rather than three – same amount of time, do it better. Separate texts, e.g. if there are two postcards, don’t have them together on the page, and use less imagery. Mini-whiteboards are calming as they write rather than speak. Emphasise good behaviour not bad behaviour – give a sticker for good rather than chastising for bad.


Letters, numbers, right/left, rotation problems.

Visual dyslexia – need to listen to the information in order to understand completely as the letters rotate.

Auditory dyslexia – need to read the information as short term memory disorder.

Reading rulers are useful. OpenDyslexic in a new open source font created to increase readability for dyslexic students. Record as much as of the course book as you can in audio that students can access online. Use visual aids (e.g. arrows) to show where to get the information from and vocabulary tables with “I know this word”, “I recognise this word”, “I don’t know this word”. Provide templates and examples for them to follow.




IATEFL 2018: Materials Writing PCE Session 2

The second session was led by Laura Patsko, talking about…

Creating effective pronunciation materials.

  • Why include pron in materials and classes?
  • Market demands vs market needs (not always the same thing!)
  • Principles for designing useful pron activities
  • Mini-workshop


Research says it works – controlled practice carries over to other contexts. Helps intelligibility and listening, but also improves reading speed for example, spelling, writing, grammar and vocabulary. Students may avoid structures because they can’t pronounce them rather than because they don’t know them. Teachers around the world often lack confidence and training (related – training and confidence go hand in hand!) Students and teachers want help with pronunciation. Laura has done lots of training with different teachers, in different places, they often say the want it!

Market demands vs market needs

When teachers look for pron in materials, they are looking for activities that will help students get rid of problematic pronunciation and sound more native-like. Worth reiterating that the vast majority of English users do not speak how materials suggest they should. “We are already living in a world where most of the varieties we encounter are something other than British or American English” (Crystal, 2000) so we are not helping students if we only teach them using British/American models. Research also shows that accent and intelligibility are not the same thing. They are related (Derwing and Munro, 2009 or anything they have written is worth reading on this issue) but they are separate phenomena. Communication and pronunciation is a two-way street. A listener’s expectations of what they are going to hear will impact the extent to which they find someone intelligible. Ample research suggests that monolingual native speakers are often the most difficult to understand in international settings.

Market demand that requests native speakers is largely our own fault as an industry as ss are stuck in a vicious circle that we perpetuate. “All varieties are equal but some are more equal than others” is the message if the only variety they encountered in their materials is a prestigious minority variety (which has been the case for many years). We need to bear in mind how much of what markets say they want vs what they need (what they will encounter outside the classroom or even inside the classroom). Realistically and psychologically we are also asking for a leap of faith, we are trying to get students to leap into the 21st century – even if we are convinced, students need convincing. So materials need to be high quality.

Evolution not revolution with regards to approach: we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Principles for designing effective pron materials for an international world:

  • identify appropriate priorities for the syllabus (nothing new but we need to consider what these are in an lingua franca English setting, what we are preparing students for)
  • identify the key markets for the course – cover the needs of speakers from those L1 groups. The strongest influence on L2 pron is L1 pron. Important to match areas of ease and difficulty. Hard but not impossible for a global market. You may need to research the L1 if you don’t know a lot about it.
  • Distinguish between productive and receptive focus in activities. Issues in listening can arise from pronunciation. Make it clear why activities are useful, what they are focusing on, for both students and teachers.
  • As a general rule, start productive tasks by raising receptive awareness, within a syllabus and within activities.
  • Include a variety of authentic accents not actors doing voices. Hard if writing for a publisher, hard to find actors etc from all over the place but if you have a voice actor putting on an accent, it’s false and defeats the object of what you are trying to do – raise awareness of the diversity of accents.
  • Pronunciation can and should be integrated with other skills. E.g. in guided discovery of grammar, include some pron questions. Developing phonological awareness can improve all four skills.
  • Repeat key features across multiple levels. Repeat, revisit, revise, just like you would with anything else.
  • Include pronunciation in revision/review sections – not only grammar and vocabulary. Don’t give them impression that it didn’t really matter or you justify skipping it.
  • Be careful in the rubric about how you present information about accent and voice. E.g. “we say” – who is we? There are ways of grading that avoid that kind of possessive language. E.g. “some speakers say”,  “clear.
  • Ensure design is consistent with other important sections. Don’t make it look expendable. No smaller font size or different heading. It makes it look less important. With bigger publishers and extensive teams, designers may not know this so have that discussion. If it looks missable, it will be skipped.

Principles for supporting teachers through materials. (Research suggests that published materials could do more to support teachers.

  • Offer guidance in how to evaluate and assess students’ pronunciation. How do they know if the students achieved it well? Explain it clearly.
  • Include clear explanations of pronunciation features – don’t assume teachers know. Otherwise they will skip it because they won’t know how to answer student questions.
  • Remind teachers of other points in the course that it might be useful to refer back to. E.g. “We’ve seen this in unit three” or “See explanation in unit 3” i.e. where they can find the information elsewhere.

The rest of the session was spent on the practical workshop aspect, in which we were applying these principles through looking at tasks in Laura and Katy’s new book:

Click to find out more…

Based upon this talk and the tasks we looked at, I would highly recommend having a look at it!

IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing PCE Session 1

Here I am again at a MaW SIG PCE, which no doubt, going on past experience, will not disappoint!

The theme of today is Writing for the World, based on the realisation that a lot of writers are writing for specific situations/populations with unique needs. Mainstream materials are not sufficient, so something else needs to be done. Tania gave the example of writing for aboriginal students in North America. Who are they? What do they need? How can we give them that? The PCE will be looking at situations where English is a lingua franca, writing for refugees, writing for ESOL learners (who have spiky profiles) and writing for students with special educational needs.

The first session of the PCE is by Marek Kiczkowiak, the founder of TEFLEquity Advocates:

ELF and materials writing

There is a huge problem when it comes to job ads, many still require native speakers only and tehre is a widespread belief that NS speak with the “correct accent”, have a feel for the language that NNS can’t have etc. Debatable. What is important for today’s talk is that these beliefs don’t just lead to discriminatory hiring policies but also influence how materials are written. When we write materials for EFL or ESL, we are quite likely to emphasise conformity with a standard model, there has also been emphasis on “target culture” (often British/American). This would be fine if it were like Polish, if you were learning Polish it would be because you wanted to learn about Polish culture and interact with Polish people. English however is now a global language so why would we focus on native speaker culture and norms? We need to prepare learners to use English as a lingua franca, which requires a different approach to materials writing. Such a change would help the profession move away from the damaging beliefs around NS-NNS and reflect the global nature of the language.

How can we make this transition from writing materials for EFL to writing materials for ELF?

  • What is ELF?
  • 7 assumptions behind writing materials (not an attack but a call for change, a suggestion for change, to move from writing materials for EFL to writing for ELF)
  • Three practical activities that could be included in coursebooks, could be used by materials writers.

Definition of ELF – a context where lots of people speaking different languages use English to communicate as the only common language between them. E.g. in business meetings. Business is primarily conducted in English. Also in conferences, lots of different L1’s, but English is the common language of communication. Higher education is another context, as well as tourism. ELF is a 3rd paradigm, distinct from EFL and ELF.


The more native-like the pronunciation of a student, the more intelligible they will be. However: it is not proximity to NS model that makes a speaker intelligible in an international setting. It can actually make you less intelligible in a LF setting. A study took over 1300 people from 11 different countries and had to listen to recordings of different speakers, only one spoke a standard variety (American) and he was judged as least intelligible across the board (second only to one from Hong Kong).

Frequently focus on NS models of culture – British or American typical. Tomlinson and Masuhara (2013) concluded that materials predominantly focus on British or American culture. Another study found that when other cultures were introduced, it was done in a very simplistic way that resulted in stereotyping other cultures and critical reflection on other cultures was not encouraged.

The language that students were taught in coursebooks analysed by T and M, standard middle class British English was the target. However proximity to a standard model is not what makes ELF communication successful, it is particular communicative skills. A study looking at students from various countries studying in Italy, analysed 120 hours of communication, one of the communicative strategies that helped communication be most successful was paraphrasing.

We also need a wider variety of authentic non-native accents. Exposure to lots of accents helps students understand those accents. We do a good job of helping students understand standard native speaker accents, we need to extend this.

Authentic English examples are taken from corpora but they are native speaker corpora. What is authentic language for non- native speakers? Language used in multingual settings, between non-native speakers. We need to use ELF corpora e.g. VOICE, ACE, ELFA, to tap into authentic language.

If you are multilingual, you know that when you speak the language you will use words from other languages. That doesn’t mean you don’t necessarily know the word but you want to facilitate communication, or to signal identity, or it’s just easier. Marek uses Polish, English and Spanish interchangeably. At his hotel, speaking to a Polish speaker, the hotel clerk used words like checkout and checkin.

We also need to raise students’ awareness of all the issues talked about in this session, about the global nature of the English language. They don’t need to agree but it is important that they consider the issues critically.

Focus on 3 areas and 3 activities to use in materials writing

Intercultural skills

List three things that define you as an individual and three things that define the people in your country:

Me: Vegan, teacher, gay

People in this country: ???

We then had to discuss some questions which had us compare lists with a partner, see if there was anything surprising in the country lists and suchlike. The final question was: What does this tell us about culture and identity?

Promote multilingual English use

We looked at a dialogue with some code-switching in it – réunion vs meeting (building rapport?) – and parfait/buenìsmo (could be signalling identity). Shouldn’t assume they don’t know the English words.

  • In a course book in Germany – 25/29 interactions were only between native speakers of English.
  • When NNS appear in dialogues, often they are not successful ELF users, they are someone struggling to buy a ticket for example.

Marek has developed an easy to follow step by step guide for teaching and writing for ELF (see flyer – can also download the slides) – prerecorded sessions, reading suggestions, forum – with special offers for IATEFL week: plus free teaching ELF pronunciation course plus pronunciation interviews with experts plus teaching ELF interviews with experts.


Preparing for IATEFL 2018 (paragraph blogging)

I first came across the idea of paragraph blogging because Sandy Millin gave it a go and I read her blog regularly. Given I am using bullet points, this isn’t technically a paragraph BUT it is a much shorter post than I am usually given to writing, so I think that is in keeping with the general concept, one which I may revisit post IATEFL as it is about the only way I will have time to publish anything for the next couple of terms!

Usually my preparations for IATEFL include asking and answering the following questions:

  • What will I see (peruse the programme and highlight far too many things – how many can I squeeze in?)
  • Who will I see? (make plans to catch up with a bunch of people)
  • What/where will I eat? (are there any eateries that are me-friendly i.e. cater for vegans? If not, where is the nearest supermarket? Thank goodness for self-catering.)
  • How will I decompress? (Any nice spaces for walking or running to alleviate the effects people-heavy nature of conferences on an introvert?)
  • How do I get from my accommodation to the conference centre and back again? (study Google Maps and pray)
  • Who is covering my classes at work? (Make sure they have everything they need to do it easily)
  • Have I packed my data cable? (Where did I put it after the last conference???? In a safe place…)

This year, I am adding the following questions:

  • How many essay outlines can I give feedback on via Turnitin while I am at the conference? (There are up to 30 – if all my students submit – being submitted on Sunday and I have two weeks to mark them in. One of those weeks is IATEFL. The other of those weeks is one in which I will need teach all my classes, mark up to 80 listening exam scripts, or two groups worth + double marking, and do all my ADoSing duties as I have been made an ADos for this term and next term.)
  • Can I finish marking all the reading and writing practice exam scripts (x30) on the train on the way down South? If so, will there be time also to look at the conference programme and my talk (which I prepared, thankfully, late last year but need to review)?
  • How best to organise my time at the conference to maximise on good sessions, catch up with people, keep up with marking and decompress as needed (and ideally fit in some eating and sleeping too!)?
  • How much extra admin (e.g. tutorial timetables, speaking exam timetables, meeting notes, checklists, draft emails) can I do this week to save myself a few headaches in Week 3 (a.k.a. the crazy week awaiting me on my return)?

To anybody attending IATEFL this year, or to anybody who has attended IATEFL in the past, what questions do you ask and answer in preparation? 🙂


IATEFL 2017 – In one ear and out the other: does feedback work? (Lorraine Kennedy)

You’ve got to love IATEFL Online! This year I didn’t make it to IATEFL for both personal and professional reasons; the first time since 2012 that I haven’t attended for at least some of the days. I wasn’t able to follow IATEFL Online at the time of the conference, but I think it’s marvellous that all that footage is stored for so long, giving teachers across the world the chance to access it when they are able to. As for me, finally I am addressing the “IATEFL 2017” gap that is no longer in the conferences category of this blog!

I decided to start by watching Lorraine Kennedy speak about feedback as it is something that I think about a lot in my professional day-to-day life: I am currently working for the ELTC at the University of Sheffield International College and the teaching here is focused on academic skills for students who hope to start an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in the following academic year. The academic writing strand is built on the process of drafting work, receiving feedback, reflecting on it and responding it, in order to develop sufficient skills to survive and hopefully thrive in the university environment. The question of how to improve the quality of my feedback, both written and spoken (in tutorials) is one that I continuously ask. While this talk focuses on giving feedback to in-service teachers rather than students, some of it is bound to be transferable with a little thought!

Lorraine starts by pointing out that we are all both givers and receivers of feedback. She also reminds us that feedback is prominent in the world today, so much so that we often ignore requests to give it (e.g. your hotel, the flight you travelled over on etc, all of them apparently want your feedback!). In one ear and out the other. She describes an article based on research done back in 1996 that says that 1/3 of feedback has a positive result, 1/3 has no result at all and 1/3 has negative results. So that means 2/3 of feedback has no effect or a negative effect. To Lorraine this means we need to take a step back and think about it and review our thinking on it. She informs us that Deloitte Consulting Company are trying to take performance management out of the workplace, as it isn’t working.

Her first main question is: What is the point of feedback and does anything change when we give it? We need to stop and think about some fresh questions – what will I achieve by giving feedback? Does the person I’m speaking to want my feedback? Have they requested it? How can we explore the issues that we want to discuss in feedback effectively? – and we need to start with the assumption that people will not necessarily accept feedback. Giving feedback is not by definition positive or constructive, it is just an act or a form of communication. Only feedback that is accepted is likely to have an impact. Lorraine’s focus is in-service feedback for growth and professional development.

Having raised these questions she moves on to provide a definition for feedback:

Nobody is questioning that feedback done the right way is a good thing. The Hattie definition has a broad range of providers for feedback – reading a book is a form of feedback, rather than the stricter definition of expert to novice feedback. The traditional format for feedback is the sandwich approach – good, bad, good. She wonders if it has any impact on teaching practice rather than documentation just being put in a drawer and kept for inspectors to look at. She also remembers what it was like first and foremost to receive feedback – terrifying to be observed and receive feedback on that. Then she became more confident receiving feedback and also became better at assessing herself and less bothered about someone else’s opinion. She wonders how many other people experience that. The same went for giving feedback. She was uncomfortable initially and then through becoming a coach it became a more positive experience.

Lorraine is interested in 3 areas.

1) Which is better positive or negative feedback? The research will say things like if someone is a novice, focus on their effort/commitment/progress but if someone is quite experienced, you need to be more ‘brutal’ – are you successful all the time? If not, come on, let’s look at the constructive things we should look at and focus on that. It depends on the individual, the context and whether the person is listening in the first place.

2) Mindsets – growth mindsets and fixed mindsets:

Everyone likes giving feedback to the “growth mindset” people, the fixed mindset not so much. The idea is that we should work towards developing a growth mindset in everybody. What do you do with people who have been around for a while as vs children?

3) Feedback styles – there is a lot of work out there on communication styles and feedback is one aspect of that. One of the most difficult conversations to deal with is giving feedback. How to make it palatable and make people listen? Some people like it direct, no touchy feely stuff, some are the opposite. But how helpful is that? We can’t read other peoples’ minds to know if they are open to feedback and what style they appreciate unless we know them very well and even then they may change depending on the day.

Lorraine puts forward the following:

If it is unwanted or not valued, perhaps you are wasting your time. So the starting point is to be with the receiver mentality and think how does the receiver want feedback and who from? Perhaps it is not you.

She then makes some suggestions:

  • remove the word feedback from the language – has negative connotations and teachers tend to become weary of receiving it. “Really? Am I still not good enough? Do I still have to prove myself through an observation?” Instead, talk about “insight” into working performance – as a more neutral/positive term/concept.
  • use a coaching conversation technique. It doesn’t matter if you are the boss or a peer, this approach dictates that the person who has been observed takes the lead. The assumption is that if they are engaged and leading the conversation, then they are much more likely to engage willingly in that professional conversation. It could be “what would you like to talk about? what aspect of your development would you like to discuss?” (This does not apply to substandard performances but people who are well-established in the establishment).
  • coaching should lead to mentoring: the conversation should lead to your input as “giver of feedback” being requested e.g. “what would be your one suggestion to improve what I have done?” to which you could respond: “which bit would you like me to focus on?” So it is specific and requested by the individual.
  • more self-assessment should be used, so that teachers can start to lead on their own self-assessment more (performance management or observations). Very little need to tell people what to do different For this to work you need SMART objectives and it needs to be clear how progress is being measured/looked at. Encourage people to watch other people so they have benchmarks and point of comparison.
  • explore teacher beliefs about teaching and learning: it’s an important place to start. What is good classroom management? How do teachers teach well? What is a good teacher? What is effective learning? When you start with these kinds of questions you find common ground or differences of opinion to build the conversation, so that you know what perspective they are coming from and how to reach them.
  • focus on development not evaluation: if people are developing then quality results and evaluation will happen. Development is a better starting place. Goal-setting is a priority – future focus not past focus and goals need regular review. Takes the emphasis off process and puts the emphasis on results. Focus on how to impact positively on student progress and confidence? View the principles of teaching through that lens.
  • a variety of observation practices: video, audio, camera focused on the students, followed up with a coaching conversation is also valuable. Peer observation is also valuable but only when it is well set up and when people doing observations have been trained in having the post-observation dialogue. People do appreciate professional dialogue with their peers and also from managers who take the role of a peer.
  • encourage teachers to get feedback from students directly: what worked for you today? what did you find challenging? what would help next time? Five minutes at the end of a class. You can make it more formal if you wish. If we can get teachers to engage with student feedback then you won’t need to go through the managers – the teachers can report to the managers what they are learning from the students. It should be a regular part of teaching and learning.
  • establish learning culture led by teachers: creating collaborative opportunities, positive culture of growth and development. (I think my workplace does this well, with teacher-led scholarship circles)

In conclusion:

The progress being made by students doesn’t just mean results or what students got in a test, but many useful formative mechanisms in place to look at effort, confidence, support, growth, engagement etc.

Lorraine finally changes Stephen Covey’s quote to: “Begin with the students in mind” when you think about feedback in that line, greater impact on teaching and learning will result.

Here are the references she used:

Just a reminder that you can watch the full talk here.

I found this a very interesting talk and while it is focused on in-service teacher development, I wonder how I could incorporate some of what she has discussed into the feedback tutorials I have to give students based on their academic writing. As I said at the start of this post, I have done a lot of thinking about feedback, and giving feedback, since I have been working here and giving it on a fairly regular basis.

I think the process of reflecting each time on what I do, and what I could do differently, has helped me improve a bit each time. Partly I have become more confident about delivering the feedback (mirroring what Lorraine said) and so rather than being nervous I enjoy the experience of working with the students to help them improve. This is connected with increased confidence in being able to identify key areas for students to work on, that will have the most impact on improving their academic writing, and point them towards resources to help them with those. I know I used to give too much feedback initially, out of a desire to help the students as much as I could, such that it was nigh on impossible for the students a) to take it all in and b) to respond to it all in the time frame available to them. I think both the quantity and clarity of my feedback – or feed-forward if we must – has improved in this respect. Students receive the written feedback in advance of the tutorial, so they have time to look at it before they come and see me. To capitalise on this, where I used to launch straight into what I wanted to say, I now start the tutorial by asking the student if they have any questions about the written feedback or if they have any issues with their writing that they particularly want to discuss with me. Nine times out of ten, they do. Hopefully once these are dealt with,  this means they are more receptive to the rest of what I have to say and are less distracted by what they may have been worrying about up till that point. 

This term I intend to read up on and implement relevant coaching conversation techniques in my tutorials, to see if I can continue to increase their effectiveness for my students. I suspect there may be more posts in future relating to feedback!

Questions for you, if you got this far: 

  • How do you feel about giving feedback?
  • What kinds of feedback do you have to give in your job?
  • How has your style of giving feedback changed over time?
  • How would you like it to change in future?
  • What resources have you found useful in helping you with giving feedback? (Blog posts, journal articles etc)

(Feel free to pick out any of the questions that interest you and ignore the rest, or answer them all, whatever suits!)

Chatting in the academy: exploring spoken English for academic purposes (Mike McCarthy)

Another addition to my collection of write-ups based on the talks recorded by IATEFL Online and stored on the website for everybody to access. What a wonderful resource! This one is by Michael McCarthy, and, as you would expect, is based on corpora and vocabulary – this time in the context of academic spoken English… 

MM starts by saying it is easier to study academic English in its written form and much more challenging in its spoken forms. His main point is that there is no one single thing that we can call Spoken Academic English. His talk will draw on information from corpora and show how it can be used in materials. He is going to use a corpus of lectures, seminars, supervisions and tutorials from the humanities and the sciences, the ACAD, and a sub-corpus the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English, MICASE. He is also going to be using from the CANCODE corpus the sub-corpus of social and intimate conversations. This is the data that MM used.

Corpora are widely known and accepted in our profession, so MM didn’t need to introduce what they are and why we use them. He looked at a frequency list of words, the simplest job you can do with a corpus. You can also do keyword lists, which tells you more than just if something is frequent: it tells you whether it is significantly statistically frequent or the opposite, significantly statistically infrequent. We can also look at chunks and clusters, the way words occur together repeatedly. We rarely go beyond 5 or 6 words, due to the architecture of the human mind. Chunks are most common in the 2-4 word chunk-size. Dispersion is another thing to consider, in terms of the consistency of words being used, to know whether a particular text or genre is skewing the data.

In the spoken ACAD, in the top 50 frequency list, there are lots of the usual conversation markers, lots of informality, lots of you, I, yeah, er, erm. There are lot of familiar discourse markers, such as right and ok, and response tokens, i.e. the words or sounds used to react. The most frequent two word pragmatic marker in ordinary social conversation is you know – 66% of the occurrences of the word ‘know’ are in the form ‘you know/y’know and the picture looks the same in the academic corpus. This, however, is not the whole picture. We have something like everyday conversation but when we go into the keyword analysis, things become a bit more interesting. The top 20 keywords in spoken academic data are:


Now, a lot of familiar conversational items are present but also some that if your friends used them with you in everyday conversation over a cuppa, you’d lose the will to live. So there are words here that don’t have the informal conversation ring. Not least the preposition within which is right up there in the top 20. We will come back to which, terms and sense later.

Keywords tell us more than just what is frequent – they enable us to have a greater, more nuanced picture of how words are functioning in the data. We can find some interesting differences between conversational and academic spoken English: If we do a straight frequency count, the discourse marker “ok” comes out higher in a keyword list than the frequency list, in the academic spoken English corpus.


MM found that 95% of the “ok” in the data are either response tokens e.g. that’s ok, well, ok or discourse markers signalling phases e.g. “ok let’s go on to look at <something else>“. They are used overwhelmingly by the lecturers or tutors. MM had a PhD student with an annoying habit: after exchanging pleasantries, the student would say “ok, now I want to talk about…” and then once they had, he would go “right, ok..”  – MM thought it should be HIM saying those phrases. Students very rarely respond with “right, ok“. So in academic speaking, we are looking at a different set of discourse roles than in conversational English, that is what the corpus is showing us. The roles are directly related to the language. Some items that are present in the frequency list disappear in the key word list, i.e. fall too far down the list for MM to be prepared to go through and find them e.g. well, mm, er, you. This negative result says that these words do not distinguish academic speaking from any other kind of speaking. However, some of the language is particular to the roles and contexts of the academic set-up.

MM says it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to actually interpret what the computer is trying to tell you. It is dispassionate: no goals, prejudices, aims or lesson plans. It just offers bits of statistical evidence.


What struck MM when he looked at this list is that on the conversational side, at least 3 and possibly more of these are remarkably vague. It surprises people that there is a great degree of vague category markers that come up to the top of this spoken academic discourse, but it shouldn’t because the student is being nurtured into a community of practice and in any community with shared values/perspectives/opinions, you don’t need to specify them. You can simply say x, y, etc or x, y and things like that. This presence of the vague category markers is crucial – not only do you have to hear and understand them but you have to be able to decode their scope, and know what the lecturer means when they say them. Vague category marking is something that is shared with everyday conversation but the scope is within academic fields.

At no. 18, “in terms of the” – not surprising because in academia we are always defining things in terms of something else, locating pieces of knowledge within other existing/known knowledge – the discipline as a whole or a particular aspect of it. It is much more widely spread in academic spoken discourse compared with conversational:


MM goes on to look at the consistency, or spread of items across data – looking for things that occur in a great number of texts. In social conversational data, the dispersion of I and you is consistently high. The picture in academic spoken English is different:


The pronouns are reversed – you is more frequent than I. This brings us back to the fundamental business of roles: most of academic discourse is about telling “you” how to do things and become part of the community of practice. Thinking back to the chunks “you can see” etc. A transmissive you. However, we do notice there is quite a bit of I in the academic spoken, it’s not remote. I is generally used by lecturers and tutors. But if we look across events, there is great variation. Even within two science lectures, in one there is a personal anecdote, so more use of “I” (more, even, than the informal guest speaker), in another not:


Here is a summary of the tendencies MM has covered:


The remainder of the talk is an advertisement for Cambridge University Press’s Academic Vocabulary in Use book, which draws on what is learnt from the data, trying to capture the mix of chatty conversational items and items that are very peculiar to the academic discourse. The best grip on spoken academic discourse is through understanding the discourse roles of the tutors and the students, which influence how they speak – i.e. differently. They will use certain keywords and chunks, but the labels (e.g. lecture, seminar, supervision) used for speech events are a very imperfect guide of what will be included there.

This was a fascinating talk, one I’m glad I’ve finally caught up on! I always find it interesting to see how corpora are used and what is discovered in the process. Nice to see the “in terms of” chunk in there – it reminds me of my first year at the Sheffield University International Summer School, where during the induction Jenifer Spence – author EAP Essentials  and leader of the theory side of our induction programme that year – spent a fair bit of time hammering the importance of “in terms of” into us: we were always to be asking, and encouraging students to ask/consider, “in terms of what?” in relation to whatever it was that they were writing or saying! I had never considered how odd it would sound in an informal chat though, as per MM’s example “How was your holiday?” “Well, in terms of the accommodation…”  – not really! Unless you felt like being particularly pompous, I suppose… 

IATEFL 2016 Online: Enhancing writing and speaking outcomes using Google Apps (Joe Dale)

Joe’s session was…fast. In keeping with my approach to blogging about these online sessions, I will just share a few things I learnt together with my comments on them. I recommend that you watch the full recording to find out more!

The first thing to say is that I am already familiar with some Google Apps. However, that that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something from Joe’s session.

Google Docs

I’m guessing you all know what Google Docs is? Most people do, it’s been around a while. Basically it’s a web-based version of Word that enables multiple editors to make changes to a document simultaneously and comment on each others’ changes. This makes it perfect for collaboration. Students can work together to produce a piece of writing, teachers can comment on it, other students can comment on it and everybody can respond to everybody else’s comments on it. (If you want to know more/see it in action, watch Joe’s session!)

A simple yet excellent tip from Joe, that I will use when I next use Google docs with students:

  • If you are having multiple students edit one document at once, insert a table so that the document is divided up into sections. This way, each student, pair or group can take one section and you eliminate the potential issue of students writing on top of each other!

I did a lot of collaborative writing using Google Docs during my two summers teaching on Sheffield University’s pre-sessional programme and this did not occur to me! The students did manage to sort it out themselves (by using enter to find a space further down the shared page to type on) but this would be a much quicker way to do it. Another potential option is to use Google presentations and then each student/group gets a separate slide. However, by using Google Docs in the way Joe suggests, the editable space is unlimited and the Document expands to absorb any extra room needed by the editors.

Chrome Extensions

I didn’t know about these! Hopefully the link should take you to Chrome Store where you can download them for free, otherwise put the name in your Google search bar and it will give you the appropriate link! Once you have installed them, your browser bar will look like this:

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After Diigo and Evernote (the “d” and the elephant respectively), you will see Tab Scissors, Tab Glue and Voice Notes.

  • Tab Scissors: This splits a window containing multiple tabs into two equal screens side-by-side with the split occurring at the tab you are on when you click the scissors. It basically means you can quickly have a look at 2 screens at once, without needing to create multiple windows by extracting the tab you want to see and resizing both new and initial screens. Like the Word keyboard shortcuts I wrote about here, this is  a nifty little time-saver!
  • Tab Glue: This basically undoes what Tab Scissors does! So once you no longer need to see two windows at once, you click on the Tab Glue icon and it puts all your tabs back how they were to start with.
  • Talk and comment: This enables you to make a voice note at any point when you are in a Chrome browser window. Once you have installed it (at which point you will see it in your tool bar as above), you will see a little microphone at the righthand edge of your browser window. Click on this and it pops up a little time counter with a red cross and a green tick beneath it, which is your recording. Speak and then once you have finished, click the green tick. It then generates a link which you can share with others. As far as Google docs is concerned, you can paste it into a comment and the student will see the link in the comment with “Voice note” in brackets after the link. So it’s a little bit like Jing except voice only!


This is an app that enables you to make and edit voice recordings. (Much like Audacity, Wavepad or Garage, for those you familiar with any of those) If you google Soundation, and go to the first website that appears, you will see at the top of your browser window “Soundation Studio“, which you need to download and register to use. However, if you scroll down a little, you will see Soundation for Chrome. If you click on this link, then you can use Soundation within your browser window without registering or downloading anything.

In Soundation, you can create multiple audio channels, into which you can directly record yourself and/or others speaking:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 15.34.33


You tell it which audio channel to use by clicking on the one you want it to use, thereby selecting it. If you use Tab Scissors to split your windows, you can look at Google Docs with your Voice Notes comments and Soundation at the same time. You can hit record in Soundation, then play on your Voice Note and Soundation will record your voice note:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 15.45.39

In this way, you can create a single sound file that knits together a series of comments, making it into a dialogue. So, students could create a dialogue in Google docs using the Voice Notes app and then you could turn it into a complete file and share it, for example using Padlet. You would have to first export it to your desktop as a .wav file (which you can do without registering still – just File -> Export) and then upload it to the platform e.g. Padlet that you are using to share it.

Gotta love technology! This stuff all has tons of potential! I like how simple Soundation is to use. I didn’t manage to follow Joe’s explanation but a minute or two of clicking around and I had the hang of it. I also love the Scissors and Glue thing for viewing two tabs and then putting things back how you had them in the first place in a couple of easy clicks. Time-savers are always a win in my book! I do question, though, with the Talk and Comment, just as with Jing, exactly where all these files that you get links to end up?! You know, you get the link to them so the link links to somewhere out there in the big interweb world, but where? And can I ever delete them? Answers on a postcard! Anyway, again, I recommend watching the recording – it’s literally 24 minutes long. And you get a lot for your minutes!! 

IATEFL 2016 – Q and A follow-up to David Crystal’s plenary

Thank you British Council/IATEFL Online for enabling me to catch up with the follow up Q and A session for David Crystal’s fantastic opening plenary. Seeing David talk is always a treat.

I am not going to write up the whole session – I recommend that you instead spend half an hour watching it here. You might want to watch the recording of his plenary here first, though, to contextualise the Q and A!

Instead, I am just going to pick out a few things and comment on them:

  • Language play is taking place in all languages not just English – students are aware of that, whatever their age. They know that people play with language. The teacher’s job is to somehow grade their encounters with variety in both spoken and written environments. This enhances the standard learning experience: standard is standard because it is not non-standard and vice versa. The two things are always playfully interacting with each other. A teacher doesn’t teach standard English alone, or non-standard English as a separate subject, but somehow the interplay between the two so that one learns when one is learning a standard feature of the language that there are also non-standard variants.

I love this idea of teaching the interplay between the two! I think it’s important too – teaching standard English alone wouldn’t prepare students for the reality of English as it is used in the world today. 

  • The most popular component of the A-Level English Language course is language change. Both dimensions: language development (in the sense of a child learning to speak) and the deterioration at the other end of the spectrum, but also the change in trends of usage through the centuries and through living memory. The students love it because it gives them a sense of ownership of the language. They can discover for themselves the changes that are taking place. Last week’s cool words are not this week’s cool words. E.g. text messaging, of the “C U L8R” variety. Used to be popular, in 2003/4/5, messages were full of abbreviations. It was fashionable. (David always gets the teacher to get the students to collect text message data in advance of his visits). Last year, there wasn’t a single abbreviation to be seen. Not even an “lol” to be seen. They are not cool anymore. Why? Because adults started doing it! “I stopped doing it when my dad started” David predicts the same thing will happen to emojis. He gives them five years. Language change is happening now, as well as being something that has happened.

I feel old… Also, for anyone who, I was, is unsure about the difference between emoticons and emojis, here is a Guardian article that explains it! I wonder what will come after emojis? Am I old if I still use emoticons rather than emojis unless they auto-convert? For example, in WhatsApp you can select from a menu of emojis but if you put : – ) (without the spaces) then it stays that way rather than auto-converting into the relevant emoji. The only reason I really use emojis is because they have appeared as conversions of my emoticons. I don’t tend to bother selecting them from emoji menus. I must definitely be old!

Anyway, I love the idea of students collecting and analysing their message data!

  • Language doesn’t have an independent existence from society. It is explained by what is going on elsewhere. E.g. in the UK, breaking down of social class system, increase in cultural diversity, things to do with gender, race and stereotyping. We have become a more egalitarian society. You would expect language to reflect those trends. So, once upon a time certain accents were considered subservient because RP developed at the end of the 18th century into upper class English. Then came the middle class, the nouveau riche, build the railways, made textile machines, built roads etc. One day, the Duke invites the industrialist to dinner and suddenly the industrialist realises he does not know how to behave. So books on etiquette and elocution appear, with the elocution movement. Elocutionists became millionaires in those days. The people writing the manuals on pronunciation use words like “horrible” and “vile” to describe other accents. RP developed as a contrast with the regional accents of the time. As soon as the class distinction starts to break down, so attitudes change, the accent changes and people would modify their RP accent to sound ‘less posh’. However, not all regional accents have gone up-market equally. Some accents are considered positively but some inner city accents have got a long way to go before they achieve a complete range of positive responses. But give it time.

Isn’t the history of language/society fascinating?! And accent/attitudes to accent as well. I love non-‘BANA’ country English accents. And regional accents. With regards to my own accent, whenever people delve into the “where are you from?” question with me, they always go something like “aha! I thought you didn’t sound English” (as in England English)! When my sister and I were young and we (as in the family rather than us two personally!) got our first telephone with an inbuilt answering machine (very exciting! It was able to send and receive faxes too!!!), my sister had a great time recording variations of the message that people would get if they rang and we didn’t pick up. Amongst others, she took off to perfection a posh English accent, saying we were back home in the UK and had gone to London Zoo! Which was all the funnier because neither of us thought of the UK as home, of course. For me, Botswana English accents as well as some other African country English accents sound warm and homely, because they remind me of my childhood I suppose. 

  • You can never predict the future when it comes to language. Who, 1000 years ago, would have predicted that no one would know Latin? What will we be speaking in 1000 years? Could be Martian, if they have landed. One of the penalties of success – i.e. if a language becomes a global language – is that the language becomes owned by everybody. Then you get two forces – the need for intelligibility and the need for identity. In many parts of the world, you have standard English taught in schools and a non-standard English spoken on the streets. Language is messy, though, and things start to overlap. Things start to creep from one to the other and vice versa. The important thing is: when you encounter this problem, don’t think of it as a language learning problem, it’s just an issue inherent in a global language. You go backwards and forwards between standard and non-standard English.

I wonder if Martians would use emojis too… Anyway, I love the image of the back-and-forth-ing between standard English and peoples’ own varieties of English the world over, as intelligibility breaks down and is restored and stabilised then breaks down again. But rather than “breaks down” which has negative connotations, I want a more neutral word for it. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had in trying to build meaning with different people from different places, as long as everyone is aware that it may occasionally go astray! 

Anyway, as I said at the beginning, I highly recommend that you watch the full recording of both the plenary and this little Q and A session!

IATEFL 2016 Online: Self-marketing for English teachers – use your strengths for competitive advantage

Now that IATEFL 2016 is over, I am prolonging the enjoyment and learning by catching up with all the recordings of sessions I missed. I plan to work through the list of recordings in the order they appear, picking out and watching any titles that grab my attention (or that had grabbed my attention while I was at IATEFL!). 

This first one – Self-marketing for English teachers: use your strengths for competitive advantage, by Jenny Giambalvo Rode, intrigued me for several reasons. Firstly, at IATEFL this year, Sandy Millin was giving me tips on “branding” myself better (and given everyone knows who she is, it seemed worth listening to those!), such as slightly altering the name of my blog (did you notice the change?), so this idea of ‘self-marketing’ has been on my radar. Secondly, I recently watched Kirsten Holt (of Macmillan)’s webinar on networking, which I had been meaning to do since she did at the end of March. I’m pretty sure that, prior to this year, I’ve never noticed there being a webinar devoted to networking and similarly a conference session devoted to ELT teacher self-marketing. (I could be wrong though! Anyone care to correct me?!) Of course in itself it’s not a new concept – freelancers have long had to think about how best to, well, get work(!). My perception, though, is that this ‘marketing oneself’ aspect of being an English Language Teacher is becoming more mainstream. Look at this description of Kirsten’s recent webinar:

“This webinar is aimed at ELT teachers and professionals working in all sectors and settings.”

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You will notice, too, that the title for Jenny’s talk is “Self-marketing for English teachers” not “freelance teachers” or “freelance online teachers” but ‘English teachers’ – in general. As the job market becomes more competitive, and work is harder to come by, perhaps it IS something that all teachers need to think more about? What do you think? 

Self-marketing for English teachers – use your strengths for competitive advantage

Jenny, the head of department at an adult education centre and a bilingual German and Italian speaker, says as teachers we are a one-person company and our students are consumers. She wants to help us work on our self-marketing strategies.

Of your soft skills and professional skills, what one would you choose as being the one that would make the difference between getting a job or not? Examples are flexibility, networking, connections, empathy, people knowledge, creativity… She asks the audience to keep this in mind as we proceed. Next we have to look at the market – the schools, universities, businesses around you, in your area. Are you living in a small village? A big town? And where would you like to work? Is the institution you want to work at in your location?

This is all part of a SWOT analysis. These are used to make the current situation clear, in terms of you and your market. We’ve looked at strengths but think about what could be the weakness of what you consider to be your strength. E.g. friendly – you can make a connection with the kids, but too friendly and maybe they will just do what they want. With opportunities, you need to think about what you can do. How can you increase your skills? When you think about weaknesses, strengths and opportunities, you have to think about time. Distinguish between short, middle and long-term action. A short-term action for getting a job might be going down to the job market and submitting your CV. A middle-term action would be like Jenny making a year long plan to speak at IATEFL this year, including improving English and submitting a proposal. A long-term action would be thinking about where you want to be in 5 years and then thinking about a plan of how to get there, using your strengths and building on them. You need something to make you stand out from your colleagues in a positive way. Think about yourself as a one person business, with a business profile in your head.

Now think about your target group, i.e. the type of students you would like to teach. Business people? Children? What is your target group? Your business profile should fit with your target group. One of the most important things in marketing is finding your niche. It’s a simple marketing strategy. The smaller the niche is, the greater your opportunity and your advantage because there is less competition. Identify your opportunities, based on your location and your goals. For example, you could become an examiner.

Once you have your profile and your strategies, you need to get them out there. You need to be visible online, for your audience/future bosses etc. For example, you could join the TELC community. In Europe, Twitter and Facebook are good for networking, worldwide there are other platforms and social media that are more important. (I suppose LinkedIn fits in here too!) You make your own business profile and you need to decide if you will have two separate accounts for private and business or only one for both) and use it to connect with different people and places. Networking is what marketing needs and does. Use conferences not only to improve skills but also to network. You never know what it might lead to.

Give yourself deadlines. When you set goals, give yourself a completion date. Jenny concludes by inviting us to a webinar about SWOT analysis that she is planning to deliver in May.

My first reaction is that it all sounds so business-y what with all the SWOT analysis and every teacher is a one-person company and students as consumers etc! (I recommend you watch the session though, and form your own opinions…)

I suppose, though, jargon aside, that it’s always useful to be reminded to think about short, medium and long term career goals. That said, I am in less of a hurry than I used to be career-wise. I think this is possibly because I have already done a lot in a short time: I feel I’m now in a position to build on that more steadily rather than continue to be in the haring hurry that I was in previously. (Hopefully this means I will grow steadily and avoid burn-out!) So, I absolutely still have goals (for example I really want to do a PhD or Ed Doc at some point and I would also like to become a teacher trainer) but they don’t have time-limits attached currently. (Hence, “at some point”) That said, there are plenty of projects in the pipeline now/in the near future (some research I want to do, a book I’m supposed to be co-writing etc) and of course there are the most pressing short-term goals of all which are doing the best job I can in my current job (including learning how to teach EAP better!) and securing work somewhere come September when my current contract finishes!

Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this session! Have you done a swot analysis recently? Do you consider yourself a one-person company? (If yes, are you freelance or do you work for someone else?) What do you do to “market” yourself?

IATEFL 2016: “A hundred thousand things to see!”

The title of this post is a somewhat obscure reference to a ten-minute talk I did last year at IHTOC (IH Teachers Online Conference) in which I used the lyrics of Aladdin to try and persuade my audience of the benefits of attending a conference! It also reflects the reason for this post. The truth is, even though I did manage to see over 20 talks  for every one I saw, there was at least another I also wanted to see and missed! Too many things to see… 🙂

Fortunately, the British Council IATEFL Online 2016 site means I (and many others) can play catch-up! The conference lives on a little while longer. 🙂 Thank you, British Council folk and IATEFL folk involved, for making this possible!

Here are a few of the talks I plan to have a look at:

  • Self-marketing for English Teachers – use your strengths for competitive advantage
  • Q and A session relating to David Crystal’s plenary session
  • Enhancing speaking and writing outcomes using Google Apps
  • Forum on special educational needs – creating positive inclusive learning opportunities
  • The ELTJ debate – “This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time”
  • Forum on encouraging teacher reflection
  • National Geographic Learning Signature Event – What does it mean to be a Global Citizen?
  • Chatting in the academy – exploring spoken English for academic purposes
  • Reviewing qualifications and CPD: helping meet teachers’ training needs
  • ELT Conversation
  •  Visual literacy in creating classroom materials
  • Catering for trainee diversity on CELTA courses

All of these recordings can be found on the Sessions page of the British Council IATEFL Online website. What a valuable resource!

I also want to have a look at some of the interviews that were conducted during the conference, all of which can be found on the Interviews page of the British Council IATEFL Online website. For example:

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In addition to the sessions collected on the British Council IATEFL Online website, you can also watch sessions done and recorded by Macmillan, which will be available on their page here. The two I most want to catch up with are:

  • Flourish not flounder: using teaching competences for professional development
  • The teacher of tomorrow: professional development through informal learning

Plenty to wade through, then, but that’s ok – I’ve got nearly a whole year to finish before IATEFL rolls round again and this particular list gets topped up again! Similar to my newly made language learning contract, this is a mini CPD contract – the difference is, though, that the language learning one accounts for the sum total of my language learning while this one doesn’t account for the sum total of my CPD!

How about you, which IATEFL online talks and interviews do you want to catch up with?!