IATEFL 2015: Storytelling in the 21st Century Primary Classroom – Viv Lambert and Mo Choy


Love the cheshire cat! 🙂


We started with “Welcome welcome” song and some storytelling from Alice in Wonderland. This was to remind us what storytelling feels like. Today we will learn about its relevance in the 21st century. Storytelling evolved as a way of passing on knowledge and culture from generation to generation. We are all storytellers. E.g. when we tell anecdotes. We edit, sequence, choose words for effect, add gesture and expression, and most importantly, emotion. Without emotion it’s just a list of events. It’s a shared experience and still an important form of communication.

We all use stories in the language classroom, children love them, see them as a treat like songs. You get all the language in one package, one context. Children listen with purpose – to know what will happen next.

There are pedagogical reasons for it:


Being literate opens doors for everybody in all walks of life. The more we read, the more we learn about life, the better we can connect with people. Lots of studies have shown the benefits of reading on both first and second language development. E.g. Krashen. The knock on effect is better speaking, writing, spelling. Children who are keen readers do better in all subjects. Reading for pleasure has more influence on how well children do at school than social and economic factors.


How do we choose stories for the language classroom?

We have graded readers, stories in course books, anecdotes, childrens’ own stories… but what about selecting storybooks?


Further activities could be acting, craft etc.

With young learners, images are very important to aid with processing. Genres xx have used in Story central: a myth, a superhero comic, a folktale, a factual story (based on a news story). There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to selecting stories. Anything which the children will enjoy and will let them learn something about their world has value.

“There’s no such thing as a child who hates to read, there are only children who have not found the right book.” – Frank Serafini.

We do have a continuous stream of attention-grabbing information from our devices, but at the same time, it also gives us more choices of reading material e.g. ebooks, audio books. If you share reviews online, you become part of a community that helps you find the books you like quicker, through recommendation.

Whispersync technology – allows you to synchronise audio and text versions of the book, so that you can switch between the audio and the book, or listen at the same time with the words highlighted as you go. (Like Black Cat)

Digital storytelling can add interactivity. A good blended learning course allows print and digital to work side by side. For example, showing the pages of the storybook on an interactive whiteboard, you can zoom in on the frame you want to focus on and highlight the text, pause the audio, do all manner of things. Storytelling videos add yet another dimension.

<We are shown a storytelling video from Storycentral>


With this endless stream of entertainment from the technology around, then getting information isn’t the problem anymore. The question is how we navigate the maze of material out there. Children need to know what to do with it and what trust to place it in. This is where critical thinking comes in. We need to develop reasoning skills. Critical thinking allows us to question – who wrote it? when did they write it? what was their perspective? It’s a way of analysing and evaluating all that information around us.

So, to equip children for life in 21st century, understanding a text isn’t enough, they need higher order thinking skills:


It all sounds a little ambitious, with young learners? But actually, children are natural critical thinkers. What parent or teacher hasn’t at some stage been exasperated by constant questions from children? Why this? Why that? If you want to improve your critical thinking skills, act like a 6 year old! In the classroom, there is a lot of emphasis on passing tests and getting the answers right, while critical thinking encourages divergent and creative thinking. The child is not an empty slate but someone with valid opinions. There isn’t always a correct answer.



Which are higher order thinking? Which are lower order?

  1. Lower
  2. Lower
  3. Lower
  4. Higher
  5. Higher
  6. Higher

So the first three are simple comprehension questions, require recall and have a correct answer. The last three involve evaluating, imagining and predicting. You have to think more deeply to answer these. They had to find ways to simplify these questions, in some cases it could be a reason to use mother tongue.



  1. Fact
  2. Opinion
  3. Fact
  4. Opinion
  5. Opinion

Being able to distinguish between fact and opinion will help children to evaluate what they learn and gauge the reliability of what they encounter.



Describe the picture. Adjectives. Lush. Tranquil. Now imagine you are a teenager living in a house in that scene. Your friends live in the city. Wifi is rubbish. Transport links are terrible. Now describe it. Boring. Isolated. Desperate.

As you can see, two totally different points of view, about the same place.

Enter the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (Task)

Whose point of view is it?


  1. Town Mouse
  2. Country Mouse
  3. Country Mouse
  4. Town Mouse
  5. Country Mouse

Questioning whose point of view is expressed helps us to identify bias.

The Ant and the Grasshopper 


What do you think is going to happen next? Winter comes… the grasshopper has no food and is hungry/miserable. Predicting what’s going to happen next involves analysing a situation and imagining whats going to happen. Encourages children to think ahead and think about the consequences of actions. And hopefully to make better decisions as a result!

Are you an ant or a grasshopper?


“Imagine you have a magic pen. Draw something.” – They asked people of all ages to draw something and got this wide array of answers:


  • Bill, age 61 – spring
  • Sheila, age 82 – a nice cup of tea after a long day’s shopping

How simple critical activities can be even though the involve these higher order skills.



We started with Alice, so now we are going to finish with Alice too.


Alice is questioning! The moment she descends into the rabbit hole, she questions everything she thought she knew. A true critical thinker!

Brilliant session! Looking forward to getting back in the classroom with my Ms (11-12 year olds) now!! 🙂


IATEFL ELT Journal Debate: Language testing does more harm than good

Nothing like a good debate! Besides, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Richard Smith present, given how heavily I’ve drawn on his work in my learner autonomy projects… 



The ELT Debate is an annual fixture in the IATEFL conference. It is a symbolic event in some ways, representing the relationship between ELTJ and IATEFL.

Language testing is a hot topic this year, with 46 other talks on testing and evaluation. Ways of testing have been described elsewhere in the conference as an uncertain and approximate business, there has been talk of fairness too.

The motion for today is that Language testing does more harm than good. We have Richard Smith to propose, from University of Warwick. To oppose, we have Anthony Green from the University of Bedford, a certified language testing enthusiast!

The rules of engagement:

For 15 minutes, Richard will propose. Then, over to Tony for 15 minutes of opposing the motion. After this, the floor is thrown open to comments for 20minutes. These will be addressed by the speakers all together at the end of the debate. At the end, there will be a vote!

Richard Smith proposes: 

Richard isn’t a testing specialist but has an interest in the history and future of the profession and perhaps is the only person foolish enough to accept the challenge (his words!). He hopes to give voice to concerns of teachers, his students at Warwick, from many countries and start a debate which will continue beyond the conference. We need to be critical of the dominance of testing in our profession at this moment. The growing dominance of testing in ELT is reflected in the number of talks at the conference. Debating and being critical enables us to make changes. As we have done in materials, use thereof, content, with regards to native speaker models etc but we haven’t yet had this kind of debate about testing.

Looking at the pages of the newspaper in the conference pack, there is a large number of advertisements for tests and for preparation for these tests. It would be interesting to analyse the change in this over time.

Richard defines the proposal as referring to proficiency tests and their use, as well as institutional tests (achievement tests) that students must undergo and university entrance tests. Large-scale testing, institutional testing rather than assessment more broadly e.g. classroom assessment. So we are not talking about portfolio assessment, continuous assessment etc. (Which Richard thinks are good things, as are diagnostic tests etc.) It is achievement tests and proficiency tests that are in question.

Why has there been so little criticism until now? Because it is a big business and many of us are involved in some way. We feel in some way removed from the business. The specialism of testing is engaged with at specialist conferences. As teachers, we feel we lack the expertise to criticise, to change things.

Richard has done some research and is pleasantly surprised that there are critical debates going on amongst testers. However these haven’t filtered down to us as professionals here. He recommends The Power of Tests  to follow up on the subject. He also went back to Language Testing for Teachers by Hughes, who says that too often language tests have a damaging influence on learning. I.e. backwash, or now, wash-back. Too often they fail to measure what they are intended to measure. It is an uncertain and approximate business. Tests don’t measure everything that is worth testing, only what is measurable.

What should we try to measure that we aren’t measuring?

  • Education itself. (He is quoting from a book from 1961 by Robert Lathan)
  • Insight into one’s language.
  • Insight into other cultures
  • Insight into one’s own culture
  • Attitude to minority groups.

We only measure utilitarian things.

Can we assess intercultural competence? learner autonomy? Things we think are valuable? These tests are not doing that. “Any assessment of language impoverishes one’s view of the nature of language as communication” – 2001. What about the role of native speaker norms in testing? Tests are still predicated on these. We also can’t capture the dynamism of language. We are expecting students that we test to conform to a norm to which they do not belong. Tests are not yet reflecting the realities of trans-languaging. They act as a barrier to change in our profession. They are a conservative force.

Areas of harm:

  • teaching to test/backwash.
  • increasing dominance of tests leaves less and less time for higher values (that we value as educators)

There is a hegemony in our field of proficiency as all-important. We see around the world the dominance of proficiency tests. But do we really want a system where only utilitarian goals are important?

What about the impact in a broader sense on the psychological well-being of learners? What is the psychological and social impact?

Anthony Green opposes:

Starts with a health-warning – those of a nervous disposition, with a weak heart, should leave the room now. AG is a language tester. Be afraid. Be very afraid. He is going to give us a test. If we fail, a preprogrammed testing noose will tighten around your neck…

First question:

MCQ can choose more than one answer

  1. Are you or have you ever been a teacher?
  2. Are you now or have you ever been a trainer?
  3. Are you now or have you ever been a publisher?
  4. Are you now or have you ever been a psychopath?
  5. Are you deliberately setting out to harm your students?


  1. You have made a test and given it to your students.


Why did you do this?

  • a) to kill time because you were bored and wanted to keep students busy
  • b) you don’t much like your students, you want to punish them
  • c) because you wanted to see how successfully they performed on the content of the course

Is it harmful? No. Tests are jolly good things because we know that regularly testing students is a way to improve performance and memory. It encourages practice, enhances the practice done, it guides teaching and learning. We know what students have learnt, we know what we need to cover in more detail. Tests are an absolute necessity. Without tests, there can be no effective teaching. We only know if we have successful learners if we do some kind of testing of our students.

AG recognises that RS wants to talk about standardised tests (2% of testing that gets done) and that’s fine. So let’s imagine we have a world where there are none of these tests. What might it be like? We don’t have to think that hard, history can inform us. Testing has only been with us for a relatively short time. Not true to say there has been no debate over it. In 1889, Herbert Spencer brought together essays called The sacrifice of education to examination. So it has been talked about for a long time.

What are tests accused of?

  • causing the wrong sort of learning, they narrow down the scope of it.
  • narrowing the curriculum, only what is on the test is studied
  • encouraging students to think about competition rather than self-improvement
  • being biased in favour of one group or another

All of this may be true. But the motion is that language TESTING that does more harm than good. But is it the tests or the ways in which people are using and abusing them? Is it the test or the teacher’s idea of what test preparation involves? Is it the fault of the test or the fault of the teachers or the teacher trainers or the education system or the publishers? Who drives this? The content of the test, or use/misuse?

Let’s go back to this idea of throwing away formal tests. No more IELTS, TOEFL, Pearson etc. We can go back to pre-1800s when it was so. What happened? Say you wanted to get a job where you had to use a language, what did you do? If you had a rich, influential relative, you would be handed it; if not, your option would be to buy one.

Think about your pilot who will fly you home? Would you prefer they had done a carefully constructed test that shows they could communicate with air traffic control? Or one who had paid someone for the job?

Tests are a better alternative than the bribery, corruption and old-boy networks that we used to have. We depend, sometimes for our lives, on effective language tests. That is not to say it’s perfect. There is a lot wrong with tests in widespread use today. So we need to all get involved and engaged with language tests. For this, we need to get involved with language testing – studying how tests are made, why they are made that way, whose interests they serve and what social purposes they carry out? We shouldn’t bury our heads in the ground and leave it to Cambridge etc. but study how these things are done, understand the thinking that goes into them, and engage with it. Take responsibility. Identify problems and deal with them, if there are problems.

AG would urge us to engage more with language testing, identify where its doing good and support that good, and identify where harms are happening as well as what is causing those harms. Even in our own classrooms, we can do better. The way we do better is by not pushing language assessment/testing to the end of the CELTA or an afterthought in an MA. It should be central to our practice. We have to engage with the way tests are made in order to improve them and maximise the real good that they do for our students.

Comments from the floor

Now that the scene has been set, we have 20 minutes for audience comments.

  • From Turkey: Agrees with AG – it would be unfair for teacher and students if there were no language tests. From students’ perspective, they are spending a long time learning and if there were no tests, at the end of the time you wouldn’t know where you are or where you are going. The critical point here is the data. What we do with the result of the test. If the data is used for assessment for learning, it is beneficial. If not, it is loss of time.
  • There is a difference between assessment and testing: the nature of the organisation providing the test has a big influence. What is their agenda? Responsibility is with the test-makers and organisations to make sure they are testing what they say they are testing, to produce reliable results.
  • From Middlesex University: sympathetic with Richard – frequently has nightmares that she has to take her maths O’ Level again, or that she has to do her university Spanish exam again. Speaking for the students who undergo the psychological terror of testing and exams. But..works in testing now. A lot of people would be out of a job if tests were scrapped. Not a good reason but the biggest issue at the moment is the visa issue. On pre-sessional courses, IELTS score or equivalents are required. There are politics and politicians deciding.
  • Mexico city: works with a publisher, schools are constantly asking for testing/standardisation tools.
  • Alan Maley: the consequences of failing a test, on the student. When he was 11, he took the 11+, the test that at that time decided whether you went to grammar school or a rubbish dump. Your whole career was decided by that test. He failed it. Then he got a scholarship to a Cambridge college later on.
  • Salford: language testing is not isolated from  broader educational trends. Those trends are test, test, test, test. We are driven by tests and test scores. Language testing is part of that narrative. We need to be cautious about when and why we test.
  • The problem isn’t with the tests themselves but the overuse of them and the publishing/testing industry coming together with ever more endless tests. And again and again, you are preparing students for tests. Proficiency tests have their place but maybe there are too many moments where students have to take tests. The testing industry is part of this narrative.
  • Jeremy Harmer: quoting someone, “the whole point about testing is that it is a money delivery system, delivering money from governments to private companies”. The current government is trying to put in place tests for children when they enter primary school. The whole point is, we are all involved in testing but if you look at the way testing is used, which can’t be divorced from the test itself, it frequently does more harm than good.
  • The point is, whose responsibility is it? AG put responsibility with teachers, trainers etc but that is not the only responsibility around. But it also lies with testers. Do testers consider the social and political consequences of tests? Gatekeeping? Tests have got consequences and it’s up to the testers to think about these. “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent, it is the innocence which constitutes the crime”
  • What is education for? Do testers realise how much power they have? Power in the wrong hands does a lot of harm. What about test-taking strategies and skills? How do they affect the validity of a test? The fundamental question is, what do we want our students to come to school for? What about growth and development?
  • We live in a world of scarce resources. So we have to have a method to decide who gets access to resources. If we didn’t have tests, there would be another way. When teachers teach to the test, they undermine the value of the test. If you want a better test, it’s going to be a lot more expensive and take a lot longer to assess people? Tests serve a very limited purpose, so we shouldn’t try to over-interpret what they can do. We all are in this together and unless we are all talking about it, and taking responsibility, then you can’t lay the blame at someone else’s door.
  • Denmark: supports Richard. Really concerned with all the national tests that exist in Europe from the age of 3. Everything said in favour of tests is teacher-directed. What about the learners?

Time for comments ran out

Our two speakers have 4 or 5 minutes to summarise their case

Richard Smith:

Testing has been exploited as a method of control and power, as a way to select, motivate and punish. Richard did a mock debate with this motion, with his students within the language testing option, a popular option, and most of them were in favour of the motion but by the end, they were in against it, as it is “a necessary evil”. Do we want evil in our profession? If there is harm being done, which we have established there is. Not just wash-back but psychological damage etc.

So what to do about this problem? “Tests and their demands are forced on test takers and teachers from above and they are forced into a position where they have no choice but to comply with demands.”

So let’s do something about it! RS wants to extend an olive branch to AG and thank him for engaging with teachers, with the profession. RS wants critical assessment literacy not just testing literacy. The testing industry should be giving back to the profession not just taking from it e.g. scholarships, financial support, planting forests for reducing carbon footprint etc.

Anthony Green

99% of testing that happens is done by teachers in the classroom for the benefit of student learning. There is no way that we can teach our students unless we test them and train them to assess themselves too.

Back to large-scale testing. The tobacco industry caused a lot of damage. Did it reform itself? No. It reformed because consumers took control and pushed reform onto it. The motor industry. 30 years ago, cars were death traps with no safety features. As educators, you have a duty to students to take back control of language education from the language testing industry and give it back to learners where it belongs. Make language testing and assessment work for learners, not the language testing and assessment industry. But they are not going to reform themselves. If you want to improve the practice of language assessment, YOU need to take control. AG is delighted that there is this debate, THIS is being critical of language testing. Always ask the question, in whose interest is this being done, and how might it be done more in the interest of the learners. It will only be done better if you engage with testing. Let’s develop our assessment literacy and improve testing, not leave it to the evil Goliaths!


Now the final moments – it’s time to vote. We are going to vote by popular acclaim. Graham has a device to monitor how loud the “yay” cheer and the “nay” cheer is… He will compare the data and we may have a winner…

Ooops…the device broke down… make your own decision! 🙂

IATEFL 2015 Fostering autonomy: harnessing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Well, I thought I had better attend my own talk…

My abstract for this year’s talk is as follows:

It is widely acknowledged that language learning requires use of the target language outside the classroom as well as inside it. However, learner autonomy is often expected rather than fostered. This talk looks at what can be done in the classroom to help learners harness the rich resources of language accessible outside, with greater confidence and effectiveness.

The outcome

My talk outline was a simple one:

  • Definitions of learner autonomy
  • Problems with learner autonomy
  • Solutions and ideas (My 7 top tips)
  • Discussion

Being the good old graveyard slot, getting towards the end of the day, I decided to turn my talk into a game: good old-fashioned bingo!

So having looked at what learner autonomy is and involves:

Learner autonomy

Learner autonomy

…and the issues we face in trying to foster it:

Problems problems!

Problems problems!

I asked the audience to pair up and brainstorm their top 7 tips. This became their ‘bingo card’, to compare with my own 7.

My top 7 tips


Tip 1

Tip 1

What I mean by this is, find out as much as you can, as soon as you can, about what your students do and don’t do already. Encourage them to find out as much as they can about what their peers are doing. This is your starting point. How: For example, at the beginning of the course, you could use a Find Someone Who activity (they find out about each other, you listen in and find out about them), followed by writing you a letter (you find out some more). They aren’t empty vessels.

Here is an example FSW I made and used with some of my classes.


Tip 2

Tip 2

In a nutshell, provide ideas. E.g. my experimentation with English handout. With higher levels, encourage them to add and share ideas of their own. There is no such thing as an exhaustive list. (For more information about this, look at my previous related posts! )


Tip 3

Tip 3

Nothing happens overnight…

In fact, the question of time works on many levels. Firstly, give them time to talk about their outside class activities in class. Doesn’t have to be heaps of time. Little and often is good. This provides opportunities to bolster each others’ motivation, spark interest in untried ideas, share victories or issues, celebrate, troubleshoot and so on. It also motivates them to keep going. Secondly, in terms of take up: Don’t worry if they aren’t all enamoured with the project from the get-go. Give them time to get used to it, and to start to recognise the benefits. Encourage discussion of the benefits.


Tip 4

Tip 4

This links to my previous tip, in terms of discussion of benefits. Helping students develop meta-awareness of the learning process is important, as understanding the why behind activities will help them be better able to select suitable activities themselves, independently. This makes them less teacher-reliant in the long run. This contrasts with just blindly doing what teacher tells them. For ideas of how to engage student metacognition, I suggest reading/using:

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Note the free samples also!

Note the free samples also!











Tip 5

Tip 5

Having realistic goals to aim towards helps to break down the mammoth task of learning a language into achievable steps in the right direction. This helps students not to lose motivation and to be more aware of their own progress.


Tip 6

Tip 6 – Forget-me-not!

It’s important not to set everything up and then forget about it. Keep being interested in what the learners are doing. Give them that bit of time regularly, as mentioned before. If you forget about it, chances are they will too. Let them show off! Keep bringing it back into the classroom.


Tip 7

Tip 7

Use some kind of platform that allows them to share and communicate outside class e.g. Edmodo or a class blog or wiki. This immediately increases the scope and variety of what learners can do outside class. More activities become possible. (For ideas of how to use Edmodo or class blogs/wikis in this way, see the posts I have written in relation to this!)


Having shared my 7 tips and so brought the game of Bingo to its end, I shared a bit of feedback from students:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 07.08.15



Then I asked the audience to discuss how they might apply these tips to their own context:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 07.11.10

Discussion questions


And finally offered a list of references/recommended reading:



Thank you to all who attended my talk, it was a pleasure to speak at IATEFL for my second time and I look forward to the next time! 🙂



IATEFL 2015 – Academic Writing Forum

I’m only staying for the first half of this, as I want to head to the MaW SIG open forum, but hopefully the first half will be the best half! 😉 I think I actually wanted to be in the Forum on Different Perspectives on Feedback, but at 2 minutes before start time, I am actually too exhausted to try and start finding the appropriate room in this absolutely vast building. So EAP writing it is! 

15 minutes per talk then questions, so I should catch just under 2 talks.

Integrating simulations in a seminar based approach to EAP writing

Learning the context and conventions of writing in another language is a great challenge for students (Hyland, 2003)

The advantage of a content-based approach is providing a more focused background and vocabulary for students’ writing. However, non-native speakers may be reticent in seminar situations. A simulation enables students to participate in a real-life like situation by assuming real roles. It is a reality of function, as participants have to act according to a role. The environment is simulated, life-like but not real. It is structured.

4 stages to a simulation:

  1. Briefing (readings and discussion; at the end of the stage, instructions, handing out roles)
  2. Preparation/group work, depending on the type of simulation. Debates work well, so students are on one side or the other.
  3. The simulation stage is where the debate takes place, so students give persuasive speeches and discuss.
  4. There is finally a debriefing for some cooling off.


  • Learners are motivated and gain opportunities for meaningful practice.
  • Creativity is encouraged.
  • Realism and relevance are injected into the classroom.

How about in EAP writing? 

Readings and discussions can give students background/information about essay topics.

Sample simulation 1: Endangered languages


  • Students are given the above situation. They receive roles for the hearing. Readings are assigned too. Journal articles and newspaper articles. Videos are watched.
  • Students spend a class period and time outside class preparing. Then in a subsequent class, the hearing takes place.
  • Several writing assignments can be integrated into this: summary responses to the readings, journal entries describing the simulation role, argumentative essay, different topics possible.

Why do students like this?

By the time they write about the topic, they are primed by all the background information. They gain an opportunity to be creative in developing their roles. Most students enjoy debating.

Some students felt shy in role, some felt the roles were too restrictive, some thought too much research was involved. Some students were too dominant.


Simulations provide an effective framework for thinking about the topic of the essay and lots of background information. More in-depth reading and discussion is promoted. 4 skills are integrated.

Jennifer Macdonald: Beyond the 5 paragraph essay

This refers to the formulaic “McEssay”/IELTS essay – intro, three body paragraphs, conclusion; based on personal opinion/experience. Not based on external sources/research.

It shouldn’t be the sole genre of writing classes, as  it only really exists in writing courses. Corpus data suggests that other genres of writing are more common for undergrads and postgrads at university. So to prepare them for what awaits them, they need something else. They need to be able to refer to source texts, for example. Many students’ English training focuses on preparation for a standardised test e.g. IELTS so they think 5 paragraph essay is all there is.

How can we break this mould?

  • Teach concept of genre. Get students to think about it before and during writing.
  • Unpack the genre. What is the purpose, what is wanted?
  • Provide resources on genre that students can access independently
  • Assign (For reading and writing) a variety of texts (explanation, definition, methodology, recount, case study etc.)

Genres are like footwear, need to use the right one in the right context. Not the end of the world if you don’t but it’s “kind of weird” if you don’t e.g. snowboots on the beach. Inappropriate.

Most likely you teach mixed disciplines/backgrounds so you probably can’t teach a genre with full authenticity but in the assignments you give, aim for as many aspects as possible. You also need to find work-arounds for research as much isn’t practical.

Look at the British Council LearnEnglish Writing with a purpose website.

Explanation: descriptive account, written to demonstrate understanding of the object of study and the ability to describe and explain systematically how it functions.

-> Can be a paragraph (topic sentences, paragraph-level skills can be introduced)

What to describe? Anything! Draw on web etc.

(Within academia this would be part of another genre.)

Definition: structures used in this genre are of particular interest.

Methodology recount: description of procedures undertaken by a writer – methods, results, discussion.

At this point it was nearly time for me to leave and I also ran out of steam! Though corrected now, I kept making typos because my fingers (and brain?) were so, so tired!! Anyway, it’s ok because Jennifer’s slides are available here. And the upshot of it all was that there is life beyond the 5 paragraph essay and lots of it! I will definitely be having a look at her slides when my brain is functioning better… 

IATEFL 2015 – IELTS Swap-shop!

Time to attempt to reinvigorate my attitude towards IELTS! Hoping for some good ideas…

Noooo...! ;-)

Noooo…! 😉


  • For us to go away with as many ideas as possible, having talked to as many people as possible! (Perfect!)
  • For our ideas to be published! (Sounds good!)

IELTS are trying to increase resources available. Not to be sold but to give them away and generate more ideas on the back of them. A process of this interaction, some editing, a webinar that we’ll be invited to, then (I missed the rest of the process but it all sounds positive!)


Well, it was an action-packed workshop, including group work and idea generation, as promised. No time for typing! Here are the pen notes I scribbled down:



More ideas...

More ideas…

They already make less sense than they did at the time…

Regards the top sheet, you can see we have to put our names on the papers, as we handed them all in at the end. The process of Mina liaising with us and editing a massive pile of papers into a coherent set ideas will take a while, but it should be good in the end. She reckoned September, which sadly doesn’t help me for the next 6 weeks, but hey! I have taken a few ideas away:

  • Mina (as in, she who ran the workshop) showed us how the traditional getting to know you “significant numbers” game could be applied to IELTS. So, first she did it the traditional way, we had to draw her, then write the numbers she dictated around the picture, and finally guess what they were via yes-no closed questions. This can also be used for getting to know the exam, using numbers relating to the exam, words, pictures, a mixture, fewer if initial getting to know you, more if review and so on.
  • Tim (one of the many Sheffield Uni ELTC folk that I have bumped into at IATEFL this year!) shared a great game for Speaking part 2 – you create a grid of 6 x 6 in which each square contains a Part 2 topic (mined from past papers). Students roll dice in order to select a topic and have to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. I imagine points for keeping going could come into play. The aim is familiarise with the types of topics, get used to speaking about them and develop fluency. So there’s a nice warmer for me to use with my students on my return!
  • I overheard about a collocations activity, where you give students the first half of a collocation and they have to listen out for the other half in a listening recording. I wonder if you could also give them paraphrases of words in the recording and see if they can listen and identify the matches…
  • For writing part 2, Tim also suggested gathering a selection of IELTS past paper answers and getting students in groups to judge them using the criteria, give them a band score. Then do a game-show type judging where each group holds up their chosen band score at the same time. I suppose also ranking a selection of sample answers from best to worst would also be good. In all cases, of course, encouraging students to justify their scoring and ranking would be key. The goal of the activity is to familiarise students with requirements and give them more idea of where they fit in and where they want to be, as well as what the gap between those really is.
  • For reading, Cristina suggested getting students to write a statement summing up the main idea of each paragraph of a text. You could then go on to get them to compare these to the ones written by Mr IELTS in the heading matching question type. I was thinking getting them to do this mentally with a text might help them with this question type, as they would approach the list of statements with more idea of the kind of thing they are looking for. But of course as with most things in IELTS, there are many ways to slice it.
  • Another listening idea, from another Elizabeth, was to make gapped sentences from a listening recording, with the gaps being function words. To train students’ decoding skills.
  • And then another nice one was to play Bingo with listening part 1 style numbers. And within the bingo grid would be numbers that are ever so slightly different from one another. I suppose you could extend this to spellings as well, of names and addresses, as often arises.

Suffice to say, time ran out really quickly! For more ideas, you’ll have to wait till Mina produces whatever it is that our ideas are all going to turn into. I suppose a digital resource of some sort! On the plus side, I have now got my teaching mojo back *even* where IELTS is concerned! Gotta love IATEFL!! 

IATEFL 2015 21st Century Teacher Education: the knowledge and expertise we need to teach with digital technologies – David Coulson

Teacher education time!

David Coulson is from Brighton, the University of Sussex and Brighton. 20 years ago he did a BA in modern languages and recently finished an MA in media-assisted language teaching. (Hadn’t made the connection between this talk and having met him yesterday until he stood at the front! Shows how good I am with names…)

Teachers, if given confidence and left to work together, will be able to create. That is what we do. We are in an important time at the moment – a tipping point. David’s children use mobile phones and have a great aptitude for this, proficient but not in an educational way. But the devices have a great capacity for being used in an educational way. On the other hand, he lived on a farm with some horses, a goat, two dogs and two children, in Portugal, for 15 years. From that, he learnt to have a go at things, to try. This is what we have to do with technology. We have to not be afraid to have a go at using tools. Sometimes there is a culture of fear around using these tools. It’s a really crucial time for using tools at the moment. We have to have the knowledge to be able to react to any tool that comes out and be able to understand if we can use it or why we would want to use it, for education. The right reactions are essential.

Do you think EFL teacher education or education in general will be the same in 10 years time?

David feels this is particularly a time of change, more so than say 10 years ago.

We discussed and here are some audience ideas:

  • change of mindset in using technology
  • change of role in teacher education e.g. not “the technology input session” but integrated into the bigger picture (mine)

David tried to find out what the required knowledge and expertise required to be an effective teacher and where technology fits into this. He did interviews with experts in the field of education and and technology, and investigate the integration of technology into teacher education.

At the moment, technology is “normalised”, common in everyday interactions. According to the Economist, by 2020, 80% of the population will have a super computer in their pockets. Technology is offering new opportunities for us but also new problems and concerns. We need to learn when, where and how we are using it. We have an abundance of technology but all of our rules and what we do are built on scarcity. In a time of scarcity, you take whatever you can. In a time of abundance you have to be able to select.

David had a “ZX81” – you wait for half an hour to load up, but you get to 25 minutes and it wouldn’t work and you have to go back to the beginning again…!

A Wicked Problem

Trying to find out the knowledge and expertise that teachers have is a wicked problem, really difficult. David quotes Amy Tsui as saying it’s not just a matter of skill or competency alone but a combination of different things – knowledge bases, processes of pedagogical reasoning, skills of teaching and beliefs.


There should be no pure Technical knowledge, pedagogical knowledge or content knowledge, standing on their own, they need to intersect, we need to be working in the middle area. And they all need to be situated, exist within a context.

Technical skills are not particularly important as new technologies are easier and easier to use. But selectivity – selecting which technologies to use – is very important. A trainee will copy what they see. Loop training is useful. Technology needs to be integrated into the class. They should be taught to use the best tool for the right purpose at any given moment, from the abundance of tools on offer.

The best sort of transformation happens under the radar. The main problem is a lack of confidence in the technology amongst trainers, which is transmitted to the trainees. It’s a fear of losing control, their relevance in the classroom, of being taken over by technology. However, a teacher’s ability to step back and allow students to have some control of the lesson may well be the way forward in the 21st century.

Interview conclusions:


Teachers must look at the why underpinning the use of technology. The role of the teacher is not diminished but repositioned. It’s not a threat but an opportunity.

21st Century skills

  • creativity and innovation in use of technology
  • critical thinking and problem-solving
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • flexibility and lifelong learning

Same skills as ever, but within the context of technology. So that the role of the teacher and student are reimagined, with the teacher as a guide, and the student more active.

Solutions for teacher training

  • use communities of practice, where people work together with a common learning goal
  • expert-novice teacher mentoring e.g. expert teachers with novices who are technologically advanced
  • flipped classroom – trainees and teacher educators learn how to use a piece of technology in their own time outside the classroom and share their ideas and experience within the framework of the session

The idea of this talk was to make us think “Why am I using this? What am I using it for? What alternatives do I have?” – this is the way to face the abundance of technology and be selective.

Another really interesting talk. 🙂

IATEFL 2015 Making up Grammar Rules or What a teacher can do to motivate students during a grammar lesson

This talk is part of the Young Learners and Teenagers SIG day… So here I am in the interests of variety: I’ve hit technology, EAP, materials writing, pronunciation, teacher drawing skills, and now it’s time for some YL! And later on, a splash of IELTS and some teacher training may be on the cards! (I say “may” – we all know how fluid and last minute these decisions are…! ) Nothing like a bit of variety to reinvigorate the teacher soul! 🙂

This talk was inspired by a talk given by Ken Wilson last year, apparently. Entitled Motivating the unmotivated. Ken focused on 10 points out of which today we will focus on 5. But first, we need to think about why, for this topic.

Why teach grammar?

  • He doesn’t want his students to sound like Borat.
  • He wants students to produce good, reliable, accurate language.
  • He wants his students to be consistent.
  • Students ask for it. (He recommended students a grammar book as an option, and ALL of them bought it)
  • For the general public, a self-respecting language school cannot not teach grammar.


  • Let students use their imagination; find out what they know and what they are good at. Ask them about school subjects. What is their favourite subject? In Georgios’s case, most of his students liked maths, history, literature, biology, and foreign language was way at the bottom. Ask about their interests. Many areas will be identified.
  • Make them curious. Since the enjoy maths so much, Georgios wanted to show them that there was logic in grammar. He shows us a greek word which has 3 words in the English equivalent. You were running: Who, when, what, continuously. Greek students often make the mistake “you running” – if they produce that he can point out that we need to know when.
  • Challenge them. Elicit. You only get your allowance from your parents if you work for it, then you develop more respect for it. Mental effort in learning language makes it more memorable. Elicitation develops problem-solving abilities and stimulates critical thinking, and all of these lead to greater learner autonomy and self-reliance. Encourages students to personalise grammar rules.
  • Anticipate errors and USE them!


  • Examples must generate the target structure, be relevant and appropriate.
  • Devolve responsibility: make a student an “expert” in something e.g. the past simple ‘did’ auxiliary; the expressions that go with the past simple e.g. “last night”. This creates a memory palace – each students has his or her area of expertise. Students remembered who said what. But students MUST participate voluntarily. It’s a game, they don’t want to be left out; it seems like an easy, fun thing to do; their sense of Philotimo kicks in (it’s the right thing to do). Gives a confidence boost, a way to engage weaker students, it’s stress free environment as a game, it encourages an environment of support.
  • Use Double Jeopardy: you can’t kill your husband twice = no double negative, no I didn’t went etc.
  • VIP rule: What’s most important goes first. Active voice – the subject, passive voice – the object etc.
  • Mr Grumpy: Mr Wilson is always yelling at Denis when he plays near his house. Associate pictures with structures.

Possible problems: Not for beginners or very young students; can be time-consuming; can lead to an unhealthy obsession with accuracy at the expense of communicative competence.

And don’t forget, you need meaning with grammar, like Tzatziki needs bread…