IELTS swap-shop at the ELTC

IELTS! image taken from via google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification

There are a number of us teaching IELTS afternoon classes at the ELTC this term, so I thought it would be a good idea for us to share ideas to use in IELTS classes. With the help of the TD team at the ELTC, this was duly organised and took place on Wednesday 11th October. I kicked off by sharing a couple of my go-to activities and then everybody else followed suit.

I also promised to provide a written record of the workshop, for everybody to use as reference. Therefore, this post is a write-up of all the ideas that emerged, both for my colleagues to refer back to and for anyone else out there blessed with IELTS classes to dip into, divided up by skill to make it more user friendly.



I’ll start with mine! Nothing spectacular but it worked well with my group…


To encourage students to look at their feedback carefully rather than burying it in their bags never to be seen again. To create the need for students to ask when they don’t understand an element of the feedback (rather than ignoring it), hopefully rendering future feedback, presented similarly, more useful.


After writing feedback on a set of Part 1 or Part 2s, as part of the marking process, T makes a checklist based on common errors the students have made. Save this for later.

In class, group students in 3s or 4s, hand out the pieces of writing and have them look at their feedback. They should use the feedback to make a group checklist of things to remember next time they do a similar piece of writing. (To do this successfully, they need to understand their feedback. T monitors and provides further explanation when needed.) When students have finished, regroup them so that each new group contains one student from each of the previous groups. They should compare their checklists and add any extra items. T hands out the pre-prepared checklist for students to compare with their own (or in my case, as marking time was short and I hadn’t quite got round to typing up the checklist, I put it on Google classroom the next morning for the students to access at home!).



Familiarise students with the writing marking criteria and help them become better aware of their strengths and weaknesses in relation to these.


Give students a handout with some sample feedback comments together with the marking criteria headings (see example below). In groups, students look at the sample comments and decide together which of the criteria they affect.

They can then look at a piece of writing you have given them feedback on and categorise your comments in a similar way. In doing this, they can see which criteria they have most/least positive/negative feedback within and thereby see where their strengths and weaknesses lie.



Encourage students to focus on paragraph construction/organisation.


Put students in groups and give them a part 2 question to brainstorm ideas for. Give each person in the group a topic sentence for a possible paragraph for that essay question. They add the next sentence and pass it on. This continues for a few sentences until the paragraph is complete. In order to add their sentence, the students have to read the paragraph carefully and understand where it is going. They will also have to look at the language used carefully, in order to use rich lexical chains rather than repeating a particular word over and over across sentences.

Once the activity is finished, stick the paragraphs up around the room then get students to walk round in pairs to look at and analyse them. (You can give them/elicit a checklist of things to look for). On the basis of this, they decide which paragraph is best and why. You could then ask them to look at a paragraph of their own from a previously marked piece of writing and analyse it in a similar fashion.



Get students using chart/graph language for part 1 and give students practice in understanding what is happening in such visuals.


Students draw a chart or graph but don’t label it. T redistributes the charts so that each student has another student’s chart or graph. They they then have to analyse it, decide what is going on and create the labels. The charts/graphs are redistributed again and this time students have to pick out 3 features and write about them in part 1 fashion. Once finished, the charts/graphs and accompanying paragraphs can be stuck on the wall for students to walk round, analyse (elicit what criteria they should use first, of course) and rank.


For speaking, I brought along a print out of my Part 2 Speaking Game , which aims to encourage students to speak for a full two minutes, and my colleagues brought the following:



Develop fluency and use of vocabulary (using the game “Just a minute”)


Give the students this handout/similar to familiarise students with the game and elicit the rules:

Once they have understood the goal and rules, brainstorm a list of IELTS-style topics. The students then use these to play “Just a minute”. The repetition factor applies only to content words/ideas.


Rather than having students interrupt the speaker for the repetition/hesitation, the speaker is encouraged to speak for a minute uninterrupted and, at the end of the game, the other two students in the group score him/her based on how much/little repetition/hesitation there was.



Work on expanding responses to IELTS speaking questions


Brainstorm and write on the board as many IELTS topics as your class can think of between them. Students then mingle, find a partner and ask that partner a question about one of the topics on the board. The response should be well-developed but the student who asked the question should also ask follow-up questions to encourage further expansion. Before they start, tell students that they will have to report back a few interesting things they find out, to encourage them to listen carefully too. You might also like to model expansion, to give students a clear target. T monitors and does delayed feedback on the end, commenting on expansion, use of vocabulary etc not just grammatical errors.



Develop fluency in speaking


Prepare sets of cards, with one IELTS speaking topic per card. Students pick a card and have to speak about the topic for a minute. Then next time, they have to speak for a minute and a half. Then two minutes. This helps them to build up the length of time they can speak for. The topics can be broad e.g. “holidays” or you can make it harder by making the topic more specific or restricting the time frame.



Work on planning/preparation for speaking part 2


For homework, students choose an image that relates in some way to whichever topic you have been looking at in class. They should also prepare some notes that will help them speak about that image. Restrict the size of the paper they can use, to something of the size that they will get for an IELTS part 2 speaking exam task. In class, everybody uploads their pictures to Google classroom, in order to project them for everybody to see, and then students take it in turns to stand up at the front of the class, and use their notes to speak about the image.

I then made the suggestion that students organise their speaking part 2 note paper as follows:

The idea is that in the pressure of the moment, when they glance down at their notes while speaking, it will be easier for them to keep track of whether they  have spoken about all the required elements. Credit to my ex-DOS Jonny Ingham, an IELTS speaking examiner,  from whom I got this idea while teaching IELTS at IHPA! He said the students who use the note-making time effectively always out-perform those who don’t, as the response tends to be better organised and clearer.)




Develop the skill of matching paragraphs to headings.


Give each pair of students one paragraph between 2 from an IELTS reading text. (Depending on how big your class is and how many paragraphs the text has, you may have more than one pair with the same paragraph. This doesn’t matter.) Students look at their paragraph, discuss it together, and write down a few key words that sum it up. Only once they have done this do you then distribute a list of the headings, one of which belongs to their paragraph. Using their key words, and looking again at their paragraph, they decide which heading is theirs. They must agree and be able to prove their answer to the class i.e. be able to explain how the heading corresponds with the content/vocabulary of their paragraph.


Instead of giving students a paragraph, give out just the topic sentences of each of the paragraphs and the list of headings. Again, they must work together and decide which heading goes with the topic sentence they have by noticing how the words in the topic sentence correspond (positively or negatively) to the words in the headings.



Encourage students to identify the wrong answers in a reading or listening, as a way to help them identify the right answer.


Students work together to look at a multiple choice question/it’s possible answers and see which wrong answers they can identify by using the text. “It can’t be c) because it says x while in the text it says y” With listening, this can be done whole class by (re)playing short sections of text in order for students to focus on one question at a time.

Variation: Before playing a listening text, have students look at the questions/possible answers and have them discuss what they would expect to hear if each of the choices were the correct answer. They should think about different ways of expressing the answers.



Expand students’ vocabulary


Every time you use a text in class, follow up reading skills work by getting students to call out any words they found difficult and boarding them. They then need to do some word work – find synonyms and opposites, word families, useful expressions etc. Get them to keep a notebook where they can group vocabulary by topic.


After looking at a text, tell students that they need to know all the vocabulary in it as you will test them on a random selection of words from it in the next lesson. If they don’t know any words in it, they will need to go away, find out what the words mean and learn them.



Develop students’ awareness of collocation


Before a listening lesson, look at the transcript of the listening text and pick out up to eight good collocations (you don’t want to overdo it!). After students have done the listening exercises that go with the text, dictate the first half of each collocation for students to write down. Play the listening again and students should listen in order to write down the second half of each collocation. Once they have got them all, get students to use the collocations by making sentences/asking and answering questions etc. Draw attention to any cases where they should be avoided in writing (e.g. if they are too informal).

Resource recommendations

Two particular books were mentioned as go-to books:


IELTS Resource Pack 

Has lots of useful speaking (also a good resource simply of [almost] endless speaking topics if you are at a loss) and lots writing activities that encourage interaction.

I would have mentioned it if one of my colleagues hadn’t. One of my favourite activities involves students looking at two part 2 essays, both of which contain a mixture of good and bad sentences, and identifying which are the good so that they finish with one good part 2 essay. There are also some good part 1 writing activities.


IELTS Testbuilder

This has good explanations for reading texts regarding why certain answers are wrong, why the correct answers are correct etc.

Final tips…


With the map questions in listening, take advantage of the box sizes – a big square won’t be a little cafe, a tiny square won’t be a shopping centre etc.


Don’t forget task repetition: using speed dating/speaking ladders can facilitate task repetition within speaking activities, which will have a positive effect on fluency and complexity.


I will cheekily add: Don’t forget my Useful links for IELTS post for a wealth of IELTS-related links, and my Top 10 resources for teaching IELTS  might be of interest too.

I hope this post is useful to some of you. Do any of you have any go-to activities or resources for IELTS? If yes, please do share them by using the comments box below this post.  🙂 

(To my colleagues: if I have missed anything or got anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll make changes accordingly. Scribbling things down and then subsequently trying to decipher them may not be the most reliable method but it was all I had!)


Making general EAP more specific – academic writing

The 10-week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University is an English for General Academic Purposes course rather than an English for Specific Academic Purposes course. This means that students learn general academic skills and vocabulary rather than subject specific. However, even working with a general EAP course book, like Oxford EAP, it is possible to tweak a lesson so that it links in with students’ academic fields, and, in my experience, this has a very beneficial effect on students’ engagement with the (often rather dry) lesson content, as the relevance and usefulness is clearer to them and the content more meaningful. I managed just such a lesson tweak in my most recent academic writing lesson (yesterday). Though far from being rocket science or anything particularly special, a few simple tweaks made a big difference, so I thought I’d share what I did here…

The aim of the lesson was for learners to be better able to write comparison essays, in terms of structure and complex comparison sentences using subordinators. The Oxford EAP spread was logical:

  • dividing a list of ideas corresponding to a given essay title by perspective (e.g. financial, social…)
  • focusing on the overall structure by getting students to match block and point-by-point outlines (with no content) to descriptions
  • matching outlines with content relating to the beginning essay title and evaluating the clarity of each
  • producing an outline for another essay title (using notes given to help)
  • identifying the chosen outline in a paragraph of text responding to another essay title and using this as a springboard for focusing on subordinators (highlighting, analysing, controlled practice)
  • writing a comparison essay (in response to another title)

My students are approximately 50% medicine, 50% dentistry in terms of field, so for this lesson I got them to sit grouped accordingly. Before starting on the above sequence, I encouraged them, in their groups, to brainstorm a list of comparisons they might make in their field. For example, in dentistry, they might compare systemic fluoridation with topical fluoridation (as I have discovered in the course of the project thread of this programme!). Once they had generated their lists, I asked them to look at each item and think of at least two perspectives from which they could compare their items. So, for the above example, it could be from a financial perspective or a health perspective. These are M.A. students to be, so they are interested in what they are going to study. Thus, starting the lesson in this way immediately grabbed their attention because it was fully relevant to them.

Having done that, with relevance of comparison essays established, we moved onto the OUP EAP sequence and worked through it up till the end of the controlled practice activity for subordinators. Then we returned to the information generated in the above-described opening sequence, from which they selected a comparison and produced an outline (choosing a block or point-by-point structure) based on that, thus linking the learning back to their field. They also wrote some complex sentences, using subordinators, comparing their chosen items from their chosen perspectives. This was far more engaging than writing sentences in response to a random essay title that they didn’t really care about. Obviously in an EGAP course these are inevitable, but even on such courses it definitely pays to be on the look out for ways of linking the general content back to the specific disciplines. (Without needing to be an expert in those fields, of course!)

Next week we are looking at problem-and-solution essays: hopefully I can make these as engaging as comparison essays turned out to be!

Yay, writing! ;-)

Yay, writing! 😉 (Image licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Snapshots of PS-10 Summer 2015 – the first 50%!

“PS-10” is the short code name used for the ten week pre-sessional programme at the University of Sheffield. This is the second summer I have spent working on the programme, and already the taught component is 50% complete! Time flies when you are having fun… In fact, time flies so briskly that this poor little blog has been quite ignored of late – other than my recent post of a more personal nature,  My first veganniversary.  Previously promised posts -e.g. the one about the pronunciation auction activity I did recently – are STILL in the pipelines and will make it out in due course. Honest. Meanwhile, here is are a few snapshots of life as a pre-sessional teacher at Sheffield Uni (from most recent to earliest), as half-way through a course is as good a time as any for reflection…

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 21.59.37

Yay for the ELTC! 🙂

Friday 24th July

1245-1300 Impromptu 1-1 tutorial 

One of my students has had health issues but is back on the course now, managing to attend most lessons. This student already has an unconditional offer, so exam grades are not an issue. If he wanted to, he could stay off classes with doctor’s permission, but he wants the full benefit of the learning opportunity so he is persevering. I love the motivation! Of course I wasn’t going to refuse him a tutorial at the end of the lesson today, even though I had to delay my weekend ever so slightly ( 😉 ). The main focus of the tutorial was his project, and I was able to give the necessary guidance – there was even a bit of a light bulb moment when we talked about using reporting verbs to show stance and structure arguments. Being able to help and the amount of appreciation shown at the end of it was incredibly rewarding. I have to admit, I love my job!

Thursday 23rd July

09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 – Listening Skills for my third group.

Listen! (Image taken from via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Listen! (Image taken from via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

I am teaching listening as my second skill again this year – so in addition to teaching my tutor group writing and project work, I teach them and another two groups listening, once a week each, for 3hrs with a half an hour break mid-way.

This morning, the content topic was Leadership and the strategy focuses were using spoken punctuation to identify important information, note-taking using linear notes and using linear notes to reconstruct what the lecturer has said. For the skills work, the key text is Oxford EAP Upper Intermediate. I accompany this with my own materials, which  top and tail my classes with review and reflection, as well as encouraging them to think metacognitively (i.e. about the why of what they are doing) at various points throughout the lesson. It’s week 4 and out of 13 students, only a handful have got updated strategy tables with them. I gave them these strategy tables in Week 1, to help them keep track of the strategies we are learning about each week. This is to avoid out of sight, out of mind syndrome – it would be far too easy for students to forget about previous learning amidst all the new information that is thrown at them from every angle on a regular basis, but the strategies accumulated need to be remembered and used alongside new additions rather than forgotten. Nevertheless, I get them discussing and remembering what we did in the previous lesson, while making a mental note to use some class time towards the end of the lesson for table completion.

The lesson takes learners through recognition and use of spoken punctuation (the latter useful for their presentations) and use of linear notes. I use the final extract as a challenge/progress test. (Not a stressful kind of test, just an opportunity for them to measure their own progress). I also use it to take them through the planning-monitoring-evaluation process championed by Vandergrift and Goh in their fantastic book Teaching and learning second language listening: Metacognition in action. The idea is that before students listen, they decide which strategies they are going to use; during listening, they monitor their use of the strategies and after listening they evaluate their strategy use and take forward what they learnt. In the end, this is something they should be doing independently, but at this point in the course, I encourage discussion and collaboration, to scaffold it. Following the listening, I ask them to discuss again and evaluate their strategy use. Once they have done this, I explain the rationale behind the process. Both this group and my Tuesday group seemed to recognise the value of it and despite the uphill struggle of the strategy tables, I feel – in both lessons – that their response to being taken through the process and discussing the rationale behind it is a little ‘lightbulb moment’. One that has been built towards over the last 4 weeks. I would love to work with students over a longer period – 8 taught weeks is a very short space of time for listening skill development – but nevertheless hope that although students can only improve so much in the short space of time that is PS-10, I can give them the tools to help themselves improve more in the long term.

(I also did this lesson with my tutor group today (Friday) and in the last part of the lesson, following the final listening extract challenge. I again encouraged reflection and evaluation, and once they had discussed amongst themselves, invited them to share their reflections with me. There was a lot of subsequent discussion and comment sharing, and of course I was able to empathise with their experiences because of having attended a presentation in Italian during the academic year, while I was in Palermo. So I know how testing it is trying to take notes in a second language (especially as my level of Italian is definitely lower than theirs of English!). So I reminded them that note-taking is a skill even in your first language, and in a second language there is an added level of difficulty, and shared my own experience of doing it in Italian. They seemed to really appreciate that, and the whole discussion process was a very positive end to the lesson.)

I really must revisit the planning, monitoring, evaluating process with all three groups next week and in the following remaining three weeks of the course too.

13.45-15.15 – Social English

Social English is a class for students who have met their department demands with regards to test scores and so have unconditional offers. Thus, instead of doing USEPT (proficiency exam) preparation classes, they join a Social English class. The lovely thing about these classes is that they are very flexible, so the ‘syllabus’ is negotiated between the teacher and the students. Today, in response to a request last lesson, we did a pronunciation lesson. I introduced the chart to them Adrian Underhill style. (Something I learnt/taught myself how to do during my Delta!) There were some lovely lightbulb moments e.g. when they recognised what their mouths were doing and how it changed between sounds (lips spread to narrow and flat to sticking out, mouth open to closed etc.), as well as how this is reflected in the chart, and when I got them to glide between the monophthongs to find the diphthongs and then showed them the symbol on the diphthong side of the chart. They also really enjoyed taking turns in using the chart to sound out their names (and I got to learn how to pronounce them properly!).

Adrian Underhill's phonemic chart. Click on the pic to go to his blogpost talking about introducing the chart to students.

Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart. Click on the pic to go to his blogpost talking about introducing the chart to students.

As far as their onward study is concerned, this will help them when they come to look up words in the dictionary, as they will be able to use the phonemic script to understand the pronunciation. We have done a lot of vocabulary work recently, academic vocabulary, so in future lessons I want to forge links back to that.

As usual, they thanked me at the end of the lesson, and told me how useful it was. They tell me how much they like these Social English lessons and how useful they are fairly regularly, which is nice! I suppose that is part of the joy of a student negotiated ‘syllabus’ that doesn’t need to cover all four skills etc because they get that in their morning classes.

Sunday 19th July


Yes, it’s the weekend. A lovely relaxing one too. Over the course of it I come across my Cusenaire rods which had been in storage and start wondering about how I could use them in EAP. My ideas so far include using them as part of a pronunciation review game, for the learners in my Social English class to quiz each other on the word stress of the academic vocabulary we have been studying and also as a means of illustrating the given-to-new structure that much writing takes and that I touched on with my tutor group last Monday in Writing class. Watch this space…!


Cusenaire rods! 🙂

Wednesday 15th July

09.15-10.45; 11.15-13.15 Project Class


Well actually we use computers, but… 😉

I have my tutor group once a week for Project class, every Wednesday for three hours (with a half-hour break mid-way as usual). Over the course of 8 weeks, this course strand guides students through researching and writing a 2000 word project. This year, we gave them titles while last year they had to write their own, saving a good chunk of time that could usefully be used on other things! On the 15th July, in the first half of the lesson, I started by plugging my laptop into the project in order to briefly show them how Evernote works as a note-taking/organisation tool (and offered help between now and the end of PS-10 for if they ran into difficulty using it). Then, I had them sharing the sources they had had to find, read and highlight useful elements of for homework. They had to justify their highlighting, explaining why the article and in particular the highlighted parts were useful for their project. The idea is that this process of explaining what they have read, in their own words, requires deeper reflection and understanding to take place first, in the reading process. They knew that they would be doing this, of course, to encourage that focused reading to take place.

reading glasses pixabay

It also paved the way for what we focused on after the break, during which class I would be observed. While they shared and discussed sources, I went round and spoke to them individually, in order to see the project outlines that they had also produced for homework and talk through these with them. This enabled me to make sure they were on the right track and set up for the next stage of homework – producing detailed outlines where their arguments were matched to the supporting evidence/sources they had found to back them up.

After the break, we did a lesson on in-text citation. This started with the students creating mind maps of what they already knew and then looking at some definitions and filling in the missing terms – i.e. review. (Being continuing students – i.e. students who have already done some studying at the ELTC and so they have had some exposure to much of what we look at -the ideal scenario is to build on existent knowledge as much as possible.) The terms were things like paraphrasing, quoting, reference list, bibliography, plagiarism. Then, we looked at some example use of a source and they identified if it was appropriate use or not and why, and if not, how to make it appropriate. Having done all this, we were ready to turn back to their sources, which I used as a means of looking at use of reporting verbs and how they can show writer stance. (E.g. if I use the verb ‘claim’ to introduce something a source says, chances are that not long afterwards, I plan to refute it with another piece of evidence, one which supports my stance.) This involved a process of identification/underlining and discussion (is this fact or not, what does the author think about it? etc), with me going round and working with pairs, ensuring they understood what they had found. Once we had done this, I got them to summarise a chunk of text that they had highlighted as useful for their project in one sentence in their own words – paraphrasing to capture the meaning rather than paraphrasing word for word – and then choose a reporting verb that reflected what the evidence was and how they felt about it.

At the end of the lesson, I asked them how they felt about their projects and they said they felt a lot happier at this end of the lesson than they had done at the beginning of the morning. So, for me, although not a perfect lesson by a long way, it was a successful one. This was reflected in the observation feedback pertaining to the second half of the lesson, where in the overall comments, the suggestions for improvement were prefaced with “A few minor points in an otherwise excellent lesson: …” . It is nice to be appreciated, by my students and the people I work with alike.

Wednesday 8th July

13.45-15.15 Project Standardisation

Normally we don’t have anything scheduled on Wednesday afternoons – we finish after the morning class. This is time we can use to catch up on marking and planning, but also the time in which developmental workshops and standardisations are organised. The students, meanwhile, attend a lecture (which forms part of the discussion at the beginning of my listening classes, as part of homework is to take notes during the lecture and practice using the strategies…).

In this standardisation session, we are taken through the new criteria for grading projects and then look an example with grades given, followed by discussing in groups and giving grades ourselves. This is vital, of course, as then we are all on the same page when 26,000 – odd words of projects rain onto us in week 6 (first draft) and week 8 (final submission) of the course.

We will have further standardisations for presentation assessment and USEPT assessment in forthcoming weeks on Wednesdays.

29th June 

09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 Writing Class (and first meeting with new tutor group)

The first meeting with a group of new students can be slightly nerve-wracking on both sides. This year, I have returners so I start teaching directly on Monday. (New students do registration on the Monday and only start classes on the Tuesday) They turn out to be a lovely bunch of people. Mostly Arabic speaking, from various Middle Eastern and North African countries, as well as one Chinese and one Japanese student. (Interestingly, this is a completely demographic to last summer, where I had all new students and all but about 2 were Chinese!) Once the ice has been broken through some getting to know you activities, there’s no looking back and we get stuck in to analysing essay titles. Having taught the material in last year’s pre-sessional course, I already feel a lot more comfortable using it (as a springboard). The lesson goes well and seems to augur well for what lies ahead.  🙂

22nd June – 26th June

09.15 – 16.15 (with half an hour morning break, one hour lunch break and 15 mins afternoon break, daily Monday – Friday) Induction

EAP Essentials - essential in name, essential in nature...

EAP Essentials – essential in name, essential in nature…

We get a whole week of induction before starting work on PS-10, so it is pretty thorough! One of the authors of EAP Essentials, Jenifer Spencer, does input sessions on teaching EAP, then of course there is all the nuts and bolts organisational stuff (syllabus, timetables, overview of course components and assessment) as well as a fair smattering of tech sessions, where we set up our accounts and learn how to use things like MOLE (Sheffield Uni’s branded Blackboard) and Google Drive. As a returner, there are some sessions where I have the opportunity to join a break-off group, where we discuss the same topics as in the main room, but with more emphasis on reflection and discussion than input. These are really motivational and useful, and help me get back into the EAP zone after an academic year of general English. I think maybe the best thing about being a returner is that instead of EVERYTHING being new, there is so much more familiarity. It makes life SO much easier.

On the final day, the Friday, we see where we will be teaching and our temporary staffroom. This year, I have actual classrooms rather than lecture theatres – yippee! We aren’t required to stay on site till a given time, so we can go home to use the remaining time for long-term lesson preparation. (The added bonus of this is that home has windows! 😉 ) It’s nice being treated like a professional adult in this sense, being trusted to do what needs to be done.

Closing comments

(What a relief! I hear you say… 😉 )

I am really enjoying this summer and, being a returner myself (just like my students – except it’s the PS-10 I’ve done before rather than other courses during the year!) I feel a lot more confident with what I’m doing. This, in turn, gives me the confidence to be a lot more hands on with the students and more responsive to their needs. My students are appreciative and think I’m doing a good job, the people above me are supportive and think I am doing a good job, and my colleagues are lovely and friendly too. Week 6 and 8, when we have all the projects to feedback on (6) and grade (8) will be a bit stressful, but that’s ok – it’s temporary rather than the norm so it’s manageable. One thing I am also enjoying is being able to have a genuine work-life balance. I’m able to get out on walks, do yoga, play my clarinet, see friends, relax and read, as well as work. I don’t finish the week feeling utterly destroyed physically and mentally. I can cook at home during the week. I actually feel rested by the end of the weekend and ready for the week again. Really lovely. I will make the most of it while this summer lasts! 🙂

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 “EAP writing: teaching strategies for effective paraphrasing” – Tina Kuzic

My first non-plenary talk for the main IATEFL conference (plenty of PCE talks yesterday!) and it’s about EAP. Hopefully it will help me to help my students this summer…

Why paraphrasing?

Because it is such an important part of academic writing. Writing in general is the most challenging thing to teach nowadays, especially with learners who are part of the digital generation, and especially in terms of motivation. For academic integrity, paraphrasing is key.

Tina’s courses

EGAP and ESAP (for psychology) both are in-sessional and obligatory. The average level is B2 when it comes to speaking. However, for writing, the level is a bit lower; especially for formal writing. At secondary school, students only write essays so they don’t get any training in formal writing. The focus of Tina’s courses is study skills, strategies for reading, writing for academic purposes.

Plagiarism, and preventing it, is very important and one of the tasks that we as EAP teachers have to address. Students are often not aware that they have plagiarised, they lack training in this context.

Task 1

For the introductory class, Tina refers to students’ previous knowledge – what they think or know about a given thing. Start with a set of questions.

So, for paraphrasing:

  • what is a paraphrase?
  • what does paraphrasing involve?
  • do we paraphrase in every day life?
  • why is paraphrasing important for students at university?

Extension: defining terms such as quoting, citing, summarising, referencing

Students may not be familiar with all the terminology.

You could also start with a conversation, a paraphrased conversation, a written summary paragraph of it and get them to notice the differences. Or, give them a quote and a paraphrase, get them to identify the differences.


Task 2: Identifying paraphrasing strategies

An original and a paraphrased sentence is given to the students and they are given time to read each. Students asked to find examples of the rewriting and asked what happens in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Once more familiar, they could look at paragraphs, as per the task we were given.

  • The first sentence is a summary of the main idea of the text, used as a topic sentence.
  • Move from paraphrasing details to summarising main ideas.
  • Use different parts of speech
  • Use different structures e.g. active vs passive
  • Synonyms
  • changing the subject
  • moving parts of sentences
  • combining short sentences
  • dividing long sentences
  • synthesising sources

Paraphrasing uses a mixture of these.

Provide students with a list of these strategies, then go back to the sentence/paragraph and look for the strategies not previously identified.

Task 3:

Give them one original paragraph and a few sample paraphrases of the paragraph. Read them and identify whether they are acceptable or not. Why/why not? (Using sample students’ writing – from beginning to end of a semester)



Paraphrase 1

  • Following the same pattern as the paragraph e.g. take the first sentence and change it slightly, then the second etc. is not acceptable
  • The main idea has been lost.
  • Too many identical chunks of language copied from the paragraph. Too much is directly lifted.

Paraphrase 2

  • A key term is ‘psychology’ for example – you can’t paraphrase it. But if it isn’t the keyword, you have to change it somehow. Or e.g. non-verbal behaviour, in this case.
  • Not plagiarised but not accurate either. Original: it may be that… Paraphrase: “it is assumed that…” not the same meaning. Need to keep the original message.
  • This person also follows the same pattern of the paragraph.
  • Parts of this have been paraphrased successfully but not acceptable over all.

Paraphrase 3

  • Acceptable

Paraphrase 4

  • The sentence lengths are too short.
  • Coherence and cohesion are also part of paraphrasing.
  • The language is not hedged enough.
  • Informality can be a problem.

Something to consider: What about where the source is acknowledged? At the end. But where does it start? We need to introduce also reporting verbs.

Task 4

  • Introducing paraphrases and quotes
  • The importance of reporting verbs
  • Tentativeness
  • Tenses

Start with a few sentences always with “write” e.g. the author wrote etc, ask ss to read the sentences, identify the verbs and think of other verbs that could be used instead of “wrote”/”has written”. There are many verbs we can use, some stronger, some more tentative.

Give ss sentences with such verbs used and get them to identify these and the tense. I.e. present simple. -> Present simple for current relevance. -> Referring to specific research may be past simple tense.

Get ss to match reporting verbs with their meaning. E.g. argue isn’t about fighting but about putting forward reasoning for your ideas.

Give ss sentences and get them to identify which reporting verbs could be used with each one. (E.g. no. 3 – Seal presents, Seal describes etc.)

Encourage students to use more tentative verbs e.g. challenges/questions/disagrees vs accuses/attacks/dismisses


Task 5

Get students to write an acceptable paraphrase!

Encourage students to use mind-maps to organise the information visually. For identifying the key terms. From this they think about the who, what, why, make notes. They then use this when they write their paraphrase. So that they are not looking at the original and thus are not tempted to lift too much/pattern it the same way etc.

Great workshop – really useful for ideas for how to work with my ss on their paraphrasing over the summer. A most excellent start to the main conference, for me. 🙂


BELTA & TESL Toronto Online Conference: 8/9 August 2014

Today, the 9th of August 2014, I was lucky enough to deliver a presentation as part of the BELTA and TESL Toronto Online Conference. The topic of my talk was Is anybody reading this? Making writing more interactive using Edmodo and Blogs. 

Saturday 9th August @ 16.30

Saturday 9th August @ 16.30

I started off by looking at what exactly writing is and how/why we do it with our learners. From this, I moved on to consider some of the issues that may arise in the teaching of writing, which provided a useful springboard for me to introduce the 4 C’s:





My presentation went on to explore each of these, in terms of what we do in the classroom, what we ask learners to do at home and how Edmodo/Blogs could enhance this for our learners. For those who are unfamiliar with Edmodo, I provided a link to a workshop on using Edmodo that I gave at IH Palermo last academic year.

I also discussed a variety of activities, which you can find out more about at the following links:

Finally, I offered some student feedback gathered during the last academic year…

  • “Edmodo is a good way for know the the same time is a good idea to improve our knowledge and confront opinion and so on! besides is a good tool to read and think in the english mode.”
  • “Edmodo is a good idea because we can write, read and talk in english with our classmate. We can improve our english with text, podcast that one user post and we can link an immage and describe it and we can talk about it togethere.”
  • “Edmodo is a funny way to keep in touch! You can also discuss (in English) about everything you want and share links, photo, files…”
  • “Edmodo simply is an informatics tool for the class students more usefull than a personal mail because It gives the possibilities to close the comunications only between them!”
  • “Edmodo is like a forum. Of course if you write about everythingh in English, you’ll improve your writing. It’s funnier than doing homework on your notebook. You can write wherever you are (at the moment I’m writing while people are talking about neuroprotection!)”
  • Edmodo is a usuful way to continue your english studies outside the school. Thanks to this group you can compare your homeworks,share your favourite links and discuss about everything you want to discuss! At first,I thought the typical workbook was better than this innovative way ,instead the prons are lots. Everywhere you are,you can look up something you learnt but that you forgot asking something writing on ed-modo, ’cause thanks to the app available for smartphones,you can connect in a real time and you’ll find the other one who will answer to your posts. Even your teacher will be on ed-modo who will correct your homeworks and will answer to your doubts accelerating your studies without waiting for the next lessons beginning.

…before handing over to participants for some question and answer/discussion time. Thank you to BELTA and TESL Toronto for giving me this opportunity to share my ideas and experiences with fellow teachers world-wide.

The link to the recording is available here. Additionally, here is a link to my powerpoint slides.

Fire away!

Fire away!

Feel free to comment on this post if you have any questions or want to discuss anything further! I will be happy to hear from you.

Fiona Johnston – Write here, write now: Developing written fluency

For my second-to-last talk of the conference, Fiona Johnston of International House in London

Fiona has always been a great believer of bringing writing into the classroom rather than treating it as an add-on. She says students think they are doing less writing these days but in fact they are doing more. A survey she did showed that there is some asynchronous writing going on e.g. comment on youtube, not expecting response. Email was excluded as everyone said yes to that. But lots of people also use Facebook, Twitter, Whats app etc.

Writing is changing. Is it speaking? Writing? a new skill?

“Netspeak has far more properties linking it to writing than speech.” (Crystal, 2001)

“Are instant messages speech? No, even though there are enough speech-like elements to explain why these are conversations” (Baron, 2008)

“selectively and adaptively displays properties of both [speaking and writing]” (Crystal, missed the year]

“People are communicating like they are talking but encoding it in writing” [missed the reference]

Areas of overlap between speaking and writing include:

  • communication takes place “live”, in real time
  • there is time pressure, we have to respond quickly
  • there are fillers e.g. well, right, you know, sort of, kind of, well anyway, etc.
  • incomplete sentences
  • slang (though a question of register)
  • you can’t see your audience/target reader – messenger programmes are like speaking on the phone

Bridging the gap between writing and speaking

We use a variety of ways:

  • emoticons (a bit passe now!)
  • emoji is more current (some move, some culturally specific)
  • stage directions (lol *sigh* *shakes heads in belief*)
  • abbreviations (OMG btw IMO/IMHO)
  • … (leaves it open)
  • All. The. Time. (annunciating punctation to emphasise slower, emphatic delivery)

What do students say?

photo (3) copy

What Fiona’s students say…

Fiona says there are areas we can definitely help with e.g. “I can’t write fast” or “People get upset when I don’t reply fast”

Fluency vs. accuracy

For speaking skills, we tend to focus on fluency. But why, with writing, do we focus almost exclusively on accuracy rather than fluency? There’s a place for fluency focus for writing as well, or should be.

Possible activities

  1. silent discussion
  2. silent shrinking dialogue
  3. silent timed dialogue
  4. paper forum

1. Silent discussion

  • Flip-chart size paper with topics written on e.g. Italian food is better than English food, and coloured pens
  • Put learners ideally in groups of three
  • The idea is they contribute in no particular order, interrupt by twisting the paper around or walking around.
  • To ask the T a question, also needs to be in writing

Can be done as a lead-in to a unit. Takes about 15mins. Some music (without words) in the background is a good idea.


  • Mimics instant messenger/chat rooms with multiple threads
  • Some students feel less inhibited
  • Can be used as a lead-in, but also to recycle topics, ideas and vocabulary
  • You can take it away after and look at some of the errors but emphasis should be on fluency
  • A good way to settle the class
  • Easy to eavesdrop unobstrusively

Silent Shrinking Dialogue

  • Pairs
  • Each student writes an exactly 12 word question
  • Set some rules re contractions counting as one word or two etc.
  • Reply [in writing] with exactly 10 words and so on
  • Generates a very positive atmosphere and positive energy

Benefits (at higher levels)

  • forces students to manipulate language by omitting words, using contractions/full forms, voice (Active/passive) and different sentence structures [to fit the criteria i.e. word number]
  • personal, genuine communication albeit in an unnatural format
  • mimics the way digital conversations often taper [e.g. start long and end just with a smiley face!]
  • linguistically challenging

Silent timed dialogue

  • Like silent shrinking dialogue but with a time limit and no word number restrition
  • agree a length of time so that they have to take turns at the time limit
  • reduce the amount of time for each interaction

Paper forum posts

  • Students write a short “forum post” (having looked at examples in class)
  • “Post” these on A3 pieces of paper, so that there is space to write underneath, and displayed gallery-style around the classroom.
  • Other students can add comments
  • Students can grab their own and see what’s been written
  • Can be adapted to be like BBC “Have your say”

Speaking? Writing? A new skill? Or a new genre? Open to questions…

Some audience members thought a new genre, some thought it a new skill. There was no “right answer”.

Q: An audience member queried contrast between English and other languages?

A: Fiona told us that “How to laugh online in many languages” generated a lot of classroom discussion:

photo (4)

Different ways of laughing online made us laugh! 🙂

It was an interesting talk with some nice take-away ideas.