My 10 favourite websites of the month

In all the excitement leading up to and during the IATEFL conference, one thing that almost passed me by was the fact that my little blog was chosen as the websites of the month. For those of you who don’t know, is one of the longest running and best sites in our profession. Despite the fact that they’ve been running a ‘best of’ monthly section since 2008, they don’t give away the award lightly. As a consequence, it’s something of an honor to have been chosen.

While I admit this post is a blatant opportunity to blow my own trumpet, this seems like too good an opportunity to miss to showcase ten of my favourite websites of the month from down the years. Here, then, is my pick of the best of the best:

1. ELTJam (February, 2014)

If you’re interested in trends, apps, technology, and changes in ELT publishing, you’ll find up-to-date information on eltjam. This blog is a side project of the eltjamjar team. The UK-based team includes Nick Robinson, Laurie Harrison, and Tim Gifford, an innovative group of English language material developers who recently created their own ELT publishing solutions company.

The eltjam blog features reviews about educational articles, apps, and tech, as well as interviews and guest posts about innovation and experimentation in ELT publishing.

2. The Future of Education (November, 2013)

The Future of Education is an online community for educators interested in professional development and connected learning. This Ning network was created by Steve Hargadon, who has been described as “The Oprah of Education”. Click on the Interviews tab to find links to hundreds of interviews to inspire your teaching.

Recorded sessions from the recent Reform Symposium Conference – including a talk from yours truly – are available from the RSCON tab on the homepage. The Reform Symposium features many sessions that are specifically geared towards English language teachers. You can also register to create your own profile. Members can connect with each other by sharing posts, videos, photos, and information about their presentations.

3. ELT Teacher 2 Writer ( Site Award September 2013)

Most English language teachers create a lot of their own materials. After teaching English for a number of years, many teachers start to wonder if there is anything they can do with all of the worksheets and materials they have created. ELT Teacher 2 Writer (T2W) offers a number of resources for teachers who are interested in writing and publishing materials.

On T2W, teachers can add their name and work experience to a free database where ELT publishers come to do targeted searches. There are also a number of courses that teachers can take to learn about the craft of writing ELT materials. The modules are published as downloadable eBooks, written by experienced ELT writers. You will also find useful tools and links for ELT writers, including several first-person accounts from some of the most experienced ELT writers on how they got their first break.

4. (June, 2013)

If you have visual learners in your classes, publishes free grammar review infographics that you can use in your teaching. You can share the infographics in your social media communities or school blogs, or email the links to your students. Be sure to give credit to each time you share one of their infographics. You can also download high resolution versions of the posters and print them for your classroom walls, doors, and billboards. Each infographic comes with a detailed explanation that will help refresh your memory about English language rules.

If you are uncomfortable with your own grammar, you may also want to experiment with’s Grammar Checker. The Grammar Checker will give you some handy tips and suggestions for cleaning up your own writing. You can try the Grammar Checker by copying and pasting some text into the text box on the top of’s homepage. If you like the Grammar Checker, you can download it for free. Keep in mind that the Grammar Checker is automated and doesn’t always give the best advice!

5. Demand High ELT (February 2013)

The concept of “Demand High,” which has been defined as an idea that focuses on moment-by-moment learning, was coined by Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener, two experienced teacher trainers in the ELT field. Their blog “Demand High ELT” explores the idea of “deep learning,” and challenges teachers to find new ways to optimize learning in the classroom. Scrivener and Underhill are interested in discovering how teachers can help learners stretch their understanding and use of the English language.

By demanding a bit more from learners at key moments, and by reflecting on their own teaching rituals and attitudes, ELTers may be able to help students achieve higher skills and goals. The Demand High site asks teachers to think about questions like this: “What is the minimum tweak necessary at any point in any lesson to shift the activity sideways into the “challenge zone”?” The blog features articles, teaching ideas, observation task worksheets, and video clips that can help teachers explore and even contribute to the development of “Demand High” in ELT.

6. ELT-resourceful (October, 2012)

ELT materials writer and teacher trainer Rachael Roberts shares her ideas, tips, and thoughts related to teaching and writing on her website and blog. Rachael – sadly I didn’t get to say hi to you at IATEFL last week – has specialized in EAP, ESOL, and IELTS, and is the author of a number of coursebooks for teaching English. She also gives Webinars for some of the large ELT publishers. In her elt-resourceful blog, Rachael explores several different topics that material writers and teachers are interested in, including exploiting authentic materials for listening and reading practice.

She often offers ideas on different ways to use and adapt a textbook, and her blog feels like a good set of teacher’s notes. If you feel stuck in your methods, Rachael’s ideas may help you try a new approach. She also responds to questions in her comment section.

7. Chia Suan Chong (August, 2012)

Some of the best TEFL sites for professional development these days are actually blogs. Chia Suan Chong, an English language teacher and teacher trainer in London (at the time of winning the award), tackles some of the most interesting topics in the ELT industry. Her recent blog series “The Devil’s Advocate” examines some of the recent controversies. Chia, the DA, invites conference speakers, textbook writers, and other bloggers to debate topics such as learning styles, technology, and most recently ESP. Her popular series on Dogme resulted in a Teach-Off with her DOS, which was followed closely by English language teachers around the world.

Chia – who I did get to say hi to at IATEFL last week – also comments on the conferences that she attends, and shares valuable material from her own talks, which often focus on ELF. In addition to her own blog she writes for ELT Knowledge.

8. Telescopic text (April, 2012)

If your students are hesitant to write, try asking them to write one basic sentence, such as “I made tea.” Telescopic Text is a fun tool for learners to practice expanding their writing. After they write a basic sentence, they insert new words or phrases piece by piece. They can expand the sentence by adding adjectives, adverbs, and even full phrases. When one sentence is stretched as long as it can be, they can add another sentence.

Teachers who have a screen and Internet access can use this tool to demonstrate how to expand a sentence with modifiers, conjunctions, and phrases. Fold the sentence back up, and then click each grey spot to unfold it again. A classroom can also write a collaborative story or recount using this tool. It is a good idea to create a free account so that you can save and share your text. Invite your students to create accounts as well. Click on Write to get started.

1897804_10152068740636376_324094030_n9. Film English (December, 2011)

This website by English language teacher Kieran Donaghy promotes the use of film in the language learning classroom. The site provides full lesson plans centered on a variety of films and topics. Many of the lessons contain short films that are embedded right in the posts. The lessons are categorized by level and age appropriateness and include homework and follow up activities.

Kieran – who I was delighted to meet finally at IATEFL – has also included some useful links for teachers who want to find scripts, audio clips, and other film related sites. This site is clean, colorful and open for comments. Find out which lessons other teachers have enjoyed using with their English language learners, and be sure to check out the Film Words glossary!

10. Difference Between (September, 2011) is a website full of short articles that you can use for reading practice in your English language classroom. Each article explores the difference between two similar subjects. Teachers may be interested in the articles in the Language category, such as the difference between “myth” and “legend” or the difference between an “idiom” and an “expression”.

There are also plenty of topic-based readings that your students may enjoy reading about, such as the difference between “HTML” and “FBML” or the difference between “plantains” and “bananas”. These are not level based readings, but your students who are practicing for TOEIC or TOEFL may find them useful because they are written in a similar format to test material they will find. Each reading is about 600 words in length and comes with a short summary. Before sharing a print out of a reading, ask your class the simple question: What’s the difference between … and …?

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged | 4 Comments

My 5 favourite ice breaker activities

When you’re in the classroom, the mood of the lesson will often be set by your choice of icebreaker activity. Icebreakers get learners talking and interacting with one another for a specific reason. Encouraging the development of positive relationships and a positive environment so often depend on a killer ice-breaker activity. With this in mind, here are five of my favourites for getting lessons off to a great start…

1. Where in the World?

In the 21st Century the world is becoming a smaller place, but there are still some mysteries. Where in the world are you from? Where in the world is your favorite place?

What you need…

A world/country map or globe might help, but you can manage without.

How to…

  1. Give learners time to think of three things that describe either their home country or their favorite foreign place. These should be clues: don’t make it obvious!
  2. When ready, each learner gives their name and their three clues, and the others guess where in the world they are describing.
  3. Give each individual enough time to explain what they like best about their favorite place in the world.


Model the activity yourself so they have an example.


You can make it a requirement that one of the descriptions be a physical motion. For example, I could do a short dance to represent traditional dancing.

Possible follow ups…

You can ask learners to:

  1. Give their reactions
  2. Ask questions about each place

Maybe you are looking at a text that describes a particular place. If you’re lucky, someone will have described this place. If not, model the activity again using the location in the course book.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt this?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activity differently?
It's good to talk

It’s good to talk

2. The idea sprint

The Idea Sprint is a fantastic way to either review topics you’ve already covered, or brainstorm what learners already know. Also, it offers some energizing fun in the process.

What you need…

You need something learners can write on. A white board is fine, but flip charts where each team can’t see the others’ work are better. Each team needs a marker to write with.

How to…

  1. Divide the class into teams.
  2. Give them a topic.
  3. They will have 30 seconds (or more) to brainstorm and list as many ideas as they can.
  4. Remind them they cannot speak.
  5. Each student must write ideas on the board.
  6. The team with the most ideas after the given time wins.
  7. Get the winning team to present their ideas.
  8. Ask remaining teams to add extra ideas and/or correct any mistakes the winning team made.


  • Write an example on the board to show what you’re looking for.
  • Try to plan the activity so the ideas they came up with lead in to the main part of the lesson.


Learners are up and moving around, so this is a natural energizer.

Possible follow ups…

Ask if the learners liked working in groups. This will help you understand the dynamics of the class and enable you to plan group work in the future.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt this?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activity differently?

3. Picture Scavenger Hunt

Pictures are worth a thousand words and nearly everyone carries a photo of somebody or something with them. When you have a new class, you can use these photos for a scavenger hunt!

What you need…

You need to prepare a scavenger hunt lists, which you should make in advance. A typical one for an introductory class might look something like this:

  • Family portrait
  • View of home town
  • Child laughing/crying
  • Baby’s first photo
  • Family pet
  • Twins
  • Bride and groom
  • Grandparents
  • Boyfriend/Girlfriend

How to…

  1. Distribute your scavenger lists.
  2. Give the class a specific time frame to find someone who has one of the photos, e.g. 30 minutes.
  3. Persuade them to find a new person for each item.


It may be impossible to finish the list, so set a realistic goal (find seven out of ten).


This is a natural energizer that has people moving around constantly.

Possible follow ups…

  • You can adapt this for specific topics by finding a bunch of photos on Google relating to topic-specific vocabulary and distribute these to the members of the class. Adapt your scavenger hunt list accordingly.
  • If using this in the first lesson of a new class, ask each person to give their name and share which photo they liked best and why.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt this?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activity differently?

4. Brain Gym Master Class

Sometimes the brain needs a bit of physical activity to get it going at the start of class. Brain gym is the art of stimulating mental activity through bodily movement. Here are four quick, fun activities to help you…

1. Hat Juggling

Get students to use their hats, gloves or scarves to juggle.

  • This gets your class standing up, moving around and having a good laugh.
  • The cross-body movement works to stimulate both sides of the brain, so when the exercise is over, your students are geared up to learn.

2. Rhythmic Revision

Whatever you did in the previous lesson, do a quick revision with added rhythm.

  • Get the class to sit in a circle.
  • Slap your knees, clap your hands or snap your fingers… while going over what you did before.

3. Stretchathon

Basically, this just simply feels good.

  • When lethargy starts to appear, get your students on their feet and lead them in a series of stretching exercises.

4. Drum Session

As long as you have your hands and desks, you can bang out a rhythm.

  • This doesn’t have to involve language, you can just do it to revive flagging students.
  • A straightforward drum beat can be an enjoyable and easy kinetic ice breaker and energizer to wake up your class.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt these?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use these with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activities differently?

5. The super-quick speed dating mixer…

You probably know the idea of speed dating… A person talks to another person for 5 minutes and then moves on to the next person. Why not use this in class to share ideas?

What you need…

  • A clock/watch and something to make noise with
  • You can provide questions if you want, but it’s not necessary (adults don’t have any trouble making conversation on their own)
  • Enough people so they can mingle (good for large classes)

How to…

  1. Ask learners to stand up, find partners and chat for 2 minutes with each other about anything interesting.
  2. When 2 minutes are up, give your sound signal, loud enough for everyone to hear.
  3. When they hear your signal, everyone finds a new partner and chat for the next 2 minutes.


  • If your class isn’t huge, allow everyone to have 2 minutes with every other person.
  • If you use this at the start of a course, combine it with introductions. After finishing, ask each person to give their name and share something they learned from someone else.
  • You can use this for test preparation. Prepare cards with a test question written on each. Distribute to students. While mixing, students quiz each other with their questions, and then move on when time’s up.

Your part…

• How would you adapt this?
• Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
• How would you set up the activity differently?

Your turn…

What’s your favourite ice breaker? I’m keen to add to my repertoire, so all ideas are gratefully accepted in the comments section.

Posted in Classic posts, Teaching ideas | Tagged | 13 Comments

Did I get as much as I could from the #IATEFL Conference?

Have you ever presented at or even attended an ELT  conference? I’ve been to more than my fair share; I’ve even presented at quite a few, and, having just returned from another epic IATEFL conference in Harrogate, was wondering if you have any interesting anecdotes to share about your experiences.

I originally asked this question for a blog post four years ago – what has happened to all that time? – as a way of rounding off a mammoth series of posts on presenting at conferences . For me, conferences are an enjoyable part of my job and make for a refreshing change from the classroom as well as being a opportunity to meet other teachers and share my experiences. I’m aware, however, that the conference experience doesn’t hold the same place in everyone’s hearts. I’m always interested in what others have to say, so for my original post, way back in 2010, I was still frequenting an ELT forum and asked people to describe their conference experiences; this seems so quaint now and so long ago. Looking back on my ‘conference survival guide‘ made for interesting reading, so much so that I’ve decided to revisit the ideas that my forum buddies shared with me back then (said forum is now sadly defunct, by the way). I’m adding new reflections as and where my thoughts have changed about attending conferences. For each part of this post, the title should be preceded by ‘An IATEFL Conference is…’

1… a chance for interaction

For one reason or another, some of us no longer spend as much time in the classroom as we did when we started out. For others, it is a chance to show off how great they and their innovative ideas are. Events like IATEFL can consequently offer much needed collaboration with others in the profession, as in this example:

‘I am not in the classroom anymore, so I like to do workshops because I get the interaction that I miss. I like doing formats which allow for the audience to participate.’

Sherri in Hawaii

I certainly still spend a majority of my time in the classroom, but I can sympathize with the above statement. I can imagine how nice it must be if you’ve found yourself in an administrative position to again be able to interact with others. Also, a lot of the biggest names in our profession don’t teach per se, so this is a chance to get their views ‘out there.’

Advice: Make sure that you go and thank the speaker after their talk or workshop. They will always appreciate it, probably more so if they no longer teach in the classroom.

2… a step towards teacher training

I’ve done my fair share of teacher training and definitely acknowledge the connection between conferences and teacher education. While there are those that feel that such events should be the preserve of those presenting research, I feel that they can and should operate as forums for teacher training, as IATEFL always manages to do. Indeed, there is a strong body of opinion that if you want to be a teacher trainer then getting on to the conference circuit is extremely important. Consider these examples:

‘Teacher training can be done at conferences, either directly in workshops or indirectly just by learning from the presenters.’

Glenski in Japan

‘I have presented and attended conferences and I’m not really a fan. But if you are getting involved in teacher training… they go hand in hand. All teacher trainers I know present or have presented at conferences… and those who present at conferences who aren’t teacher trainers end up in teacher training. It’s like an unwritten rule in this profession.’

(the late, great)Dmb in Scotland

Advice: If you’re giving a presentation, especially at a marathon event like IATEFL where all the participants start to get tired after a couple of days, consider your audience and how you can involve them as much as possible.

Whatever you do, don't mention 'schools in the cloud'

Whatever you do, don’t mention ‘schools in the cloud’

3… learning to read between the lines

While presenting at a conference may be one logical step in developing your career as a teacher trainer, those attending the event should be wary as to why the people are giving their presentations. The motivations behind making a presentation may be more deep-rooted than merely wanting to share something with the teaching community. Indeed, in some jobs it may be a necessity:

‘If you work for a university or college, it is a rule if you want to have your contract renewed and/or get tenure. In most places you won’t get hired unless you have presentations on your resume. I feel a certain amount of pressure to stay current in my field.

But having said that, I am so tired of attending conference sessions when it is clear that the presenter is only doing it so that they can say that they did it. I feel so mad when I choose badly. My rule of recent years is to just walk out if I think it is a waste of time.’

Sherri in Hawaii

So, the reasons why people are presenting clearly differ, and the underlying motivations may well affect the degree of enthusiasm and indeed the way the presenter approaches the task of delivering their session. With this in mind, go into the conference environment bearing in mind that not every session you attend will be that enlightening, to say the least. IATEFL did a very good job of it this year… or maybe I was lucky and consistently attended excellent sessions. You very much have to take the rough with the smooth, as these three examples suggest:

‘Having been in some really useful workshops, I retain a bit of optimism regarding the value of conferences in general – though there is definitely a LOT of flak out there!’

spiral78 in Europe

‘I’ve presented at a couple of English UK conferences. I have to agree with others though that the things can be very hit and miss affairs – I’ve seen some really duff crap operating under the guise of workshops.’

Golightly in the UK

‘Have done my fair share of attending and presenting. Some people are good, others are weak, and others are laughable. It all depends on who you see. Sometimes the bigger conferences have the worse presentations.’

Glenski in Japan

Advice: after you’ve been to a few conferences you do start to develop a sixth sense in regard to which presentations are going to be a bit duff. A quick rule of thumb, especially if you’re attending a big international event, is to avoid presentations that are delivering research findings and to attend workshops that demonstrate practical teaching ideas. Consider the following advice:

‘I try to read between the lines and figure out what they are NOT saying in the blurb. I avoid people presenting papers, esp. MA candidates who are just reading their paper out loud (I told you, it really does happen – Adam). I like hands-on workshops where you get to do something and you can hear from other teachers and talk to them.

Some plenary speakers or featured speakers have actually helped shape the direction of where I take the curriculum and lead me down paths I never expected to take. You really have to take the good with the bad, and it is good if you are with people that you can debrief with / share pain.’

Sherri in Hawaii

More advice: Conferences, and IATEFL in particular, are marathons and not sprints. Planning the sessions you are going to attend is an absolute must, or you’ll very quickly find yourself mentally burnt out. You really can get a hell of a lot out of the sessions you attend, but decide beforehand which you want to attend and don’t go to any that you’re not interested in.

4… a time and a place for research

Having said it’s best to avoid hardcore research presentations at big international conferences, I believe there is a time and a place for such things. I’ve presented both workshops and research write-ups in my time, but I’ve only ever delivered the latter at smaller, specialized events. At a conference dedicated to one specific area of the profession, you’re more likely to have presenters who’ve prepared thoroughly with the conference in mind and you’ll have an audience fully engaged in what the speakers have to say, as in this example:

‘I have always liked the smaller, more specialized conferences. I have enjoyed many of the CALL conferences in Japan over the years.’

Gordon in Canada

Advice: By all means attend a few sessions where there is specific, niche research being presented, but lighten this up with practical workshops and the like. IATEFL is perfect for offering you the opportunity to do this kind of mixing and matching.

Any more ideas?

So, I’m finally done. Go into your conference with all I’ve said in mind and you should survive relatively unscathed.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged | 1 Comment

Adam and Sandy on how to be a great ELT blogger

IATEFL has been a whirlwind so far and I’ve barely had time to stop and catch my breath, never mind blog about events! So, here we belatedly go with what I hope to be the first of many quickfire post on my experiences at this week’s conference.

Yesterday I was delighted to be interviewed with one of my favourite bloggers and genuinely all round wonderful person Sandy Millin. We had the chance to chat with Ann Foreman and Paul Braddock from the British Council as part of the incredible IATEFL Harrogate online coverage.

As blogging has become such an important part of who I am as a teacher and my continual professional development, it was nice to be able to discuss this and hopefully share some thoughts with all those of you who are or want to become teacher bloggers.

Anyhow, let me keep this post short, as Sandy has already done a great job of writing about it on her blog. Nevertheless, I could resist sharing the video here…

Posted in Conferences | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Introducing the #IATEFL 2014 registered bloggers: Graham Stanley

In the lead up to the 2014 IATEFL conference, the registered bloggers have worked together to start a ‘chain reaction’ blog challenge: I choose two or three of this year’s registered bloggers and introduce them on my blog. These bloggers have then in turn chosen other registered bloggers and interview them… and so it goes on until you all have a good idea of who will be blogging about this year’s event. So far I’ve kicked things off with this interview from Lizzie Pinard, this one from David Petrie and this one from Christina Rebuffet-Broadus. I’m delighted to be able to finish my ‘shift’ today with the legendary Graham Stanley:

Please introduce yourself

I’m Graham Stanley and I moved to Montevideo after 18 years teaching English in Barcelona, Spain. I work as the project manager for the British Council on the Plan Ceibal English project. We are teaching English via video-conferencing in primary schools throughout Uruguay and are currently expanding to teaching 2,000 classes a week. I am also a teacher trainer and author of books for teachers. My first book, Digital Play: Computer games and language aims (Delta, 2011) was awarded the British Council’s ELT Innovation award (ELTon) for Teacher Resources and my second book,Language Learning with Technology (CUP, 2013) won the English Speaking Union Duke of Edinburgh ELT Book of the year award and has just been nominated for an ELTon.

Could you give us brief details about what you’ll be doing at IATEFL 2014?

For the first time in seven years, I won’t be at the conference, but I will be keeping a close eye on proceedings through the Harrogate Online site, and plan to participate in the After Hours webinar on Friday afternoon, which is open to everyone (physiscally at the conference or not) to discuss ideas on different talks they have seen.

What areas of the conference are you interested in?

My main special interest is in using learning technologies and how they can be adapted to help teachers and students in the classroom and outside of it. During the conference, I’ll mainly be trying to keep up with what my peers in this field are doing. I’m also part of the online team for the IATEFL Young Learner and Teenagers SIG, so I’ll be taking a keen interest in any sessions related to this too.

Visit Graham Stanley's blog-efl for IATEFL updates

Visit Graham Stanley’s blog-efl for IATEFL updates

Do you blog? Could you tell us about it?

I’m proud to say that I was one of the very first ELT bloggers, and have been blogging at since 2003. I first planned to use my blog with students, but over time it evolved into an online notebook that I used to record and share my reflections on teaching and learning languages. During conferences, I often live blog, and write summary reports of the sessions I see – I expect that I’ll be doing some of this during IATEFL too, even though I won’t be physically present for the talks.

What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

Normally I’d be looking forward to catching up with people I know from my PLN (Personal Learning Network) over a coffee or a beer, but since that isn’t possible, I’ll be trying to interact as well as I can with the people at the conference, using the Harrogate Online forums, Twitter (@grahamstanley) and Facebook, etc.

Why did you sign up as an IATEFL registered blogger?

I actually administered this for the British Council three years ago when they first had the idea of doing it, and when I was social media manager for the British Council English websites. I signed up then because I thought it was a great idea, did so last year and will be doing so this year. I like the idea of the registered bloggers being listed on the IATEFL Harrogate Online website as it brings people’s attention to what effectively is an extension of the conference into the edublogosphere, which despite what some commentators are saying, is very much alive and kicking. This initiative of yours, Adam, is also a great idea and will also help to create a community of teachers who are blogging during the conference.

For the next week or two I’ll be focusing on the IATEFL Conference here on the blog. I hope you’ll join me.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged , | 1 Comment

How to get 10 grammar teaching activities from one video clip

Today I’m going to show you how to use a video clip to uncover a variety of different language points in class. While the examples I give are somewhat specific to this clip, many if not all can be used with other clips without a great deal of adaptation required. Basically, today’s post is a template of ideas for using video clips that have no dialogue.

Before we begin, though, let me give you a little bit of background on this clip, which is one of my favourite on the whole of YouTube. What we see in this incredible video are scenes shot from a streetcar traveling down Market Street in San Francisco in 1905. This footage was captured just before the earthquake and fire of 1906 which completely destroyed the area. This is truly remarkable footage giving us insight into the lifestyles of a bygone California age.

Ok, before we get down to business, I’d like you all to watch the video yourselves, just to get a feel of it…

That really is something, isn’t it? At this point I should mention that the footage is available in royalty free format from

Now, let’s think of all the ways we can use this clip to uncover grammar points in the classroom. You might want to use it for any one of these points, or combine several to make for one lesson themed around early 20th Century San Francisco: the choice is yours.

Talking about the past

Let’s deal with the obvious; this video shows history. It makes for a great opportunity to discuss all kinds of verb tenses. Here are just a few questions you could pose your learners:

1. Simple past

  • What did people wear in those days?
  • How did people dress?

A description of clothes would be a simple way to do this, while a discussion on the formality of clothing styles would also work well

  • What was transport like in early 20th Century San Francisco?
  • How did people move around?

Draw comparison with the present time, or ask for thoughts on transport and the amount of traffic visible.

2. Past continuous

  • While watching this video, make not of five things that people were doing.
  • Where do you think people were going? Where were people coming from?

3. Present perfect

  • How have styles of dress changed in the years since then?
  • How has transport developed since early 20th Century San Francisco?

Almost everyone is formally dressed in the clip; is the same true nowadays? What remains and what has disappeared?

Real time action

Treat the scene as if it were happening in the here and now.

4. Present continuous

  • Where are people going?
  • What are people doing?

Consider the reasons for these actions to promote creative thinking.

Reflecting on the past

Things have changed greatly in the world since then. How did people live? What is better or worse in the modern world? What thoughts does this video put in our minds?

5. Unreal conditional

  • If you could travel back to the time and place this video was made, what 2/3 things would you like to do? Why?

6. Past habits

  • Based on what you saw in this video, what kind of habits did people have in early 20th Century San Francisco?
  • What did people use to do on a regular basis?

This again makes for an interesting comparison with modern day habits.

7. Focus on articles

This would lend itself to a nice little paragraph about how we use articles. Here are the first few sentences for you:

This video shows ___ San Francisco (no article with city names) in 1905. It was filmed on ___ Main Street (no article with street names). One year later, ___ earthquake (indefinite article with the first mention of a general, non-specific noun) destroyed ___ city (definite article because we know which city, i.e. it has already been mentioned). ___ earthquake (definite article with the second mention of a general, non-specific noun) killed many thousands of people and destroyed many of ___ (test time: why the definite article here?) buildings in this clip.

Activities that develop creative thought

8. Focus on one character in the video

Look at the man in this image. Write about his life:

Tell me about this man's life.

Tell me about this man’s life.

  • Who was he?
  • Where was he going on this day?
  • Why was he in a rush?
  • Did he get onto the tram?
  • Where had he come from?
  • What was he holding in his hand?

9. Modal verbs to describe the ‘laws of the road’

Write down a list of rules for appropriate transport / pedestrian behaviour on Main Street San Francisco in 1905. Make them funny by contrasting them with what we can do today.

  • People should run in front of the tram.
  • Horses and cars must drive across the tram line at all times.
  • No one needs to be careful of traffic in any way.

10. Compare life then and now

Give 3/4/5 examples to complete each of these sentences:

  • Life is better/worse now because…
  • Life was better/worse then because…

Your turn…

Now that I’ve given you ten ideas on how to exploit this video, I want you to give me more ideas. I think most of the ideas I’ve suggested here could be used with any clip that doesn’t have dialogue. Furthermore, I think you could combine several of these ideas to make a really good lesson. I still want more, though… Any good ideas mentioned in the comments will be added to this post, so don’t be shy!

Posted in Classic posts, Teaching ideas | Tagged | 17 Comments

10 things for participants to do before the #IATEFL 2014 Conference

Not many people know that my background is in business and economics. Not many people know this because it is a well-kept secret. Nevertheless, I like to dust off the Michael Douglas power-braces every now and then and get all business speaky. With that in mind, here’s my list of ten go-getter strategies for the participant (with special relevance to all teacher bloggers) looking to maximize their IATEFL conference experience.

1. Go through the schedule of the event with a fine tooth comb

This event is big; I mean, really big. Don’t go into it without a plan. Decide in advance exactly what – and who – you want to see. Get an idea of a killer question you could ask the presenter based on the description of their session. This might just lead to a conversation after and a valuable contact for the future.

2. Do a thorough Twitter search of anyone presenting at the event

The IATEFL participants are starting to make this pretty easy for you by being quite vocal in the days leading up to the conference (check the official #IATEFL and unofficial #IATEFL2014 hashtags to see what I mean). You can decide who you want to follow and initiate conversations beforehand. This works quite well for people like me who, despite being happy to stand up in front of a bunch of teenagers every day, is actually something of a recluse.

3. Use the Twitter and Facebook jungle drums to announce that you’ll be visiting conference X in city Y

Let everyone know you’re coming. You’ll probably be able to initiate friendships that could lead to possible future collaborations. You don’t use Twitter? Get started now!

4. Find out if any of the attendees have a blog or a Twitter / Facebook account

Think how good it would be to know what’s going on in someone’s teaching life before you bump into them? Also, have a scour of people’s Twitter and Facebook streams before saying hello at the event. You’ll be able to strike up a conversation about what they’re enjoying at the moment or that thing that’s really annoying them.

5. If you’re a blogger, it might be an idea to prepare a couple of post-dated pieces so you don’t have to fret about writing something just before or during the conference

You could revisit an old post if you’re stuck for something to write about. Did you attend the same event last year? See what you said then and reflect on it. Here’s a great example from Ken Wilson about the ISTEK event here in Turkey.

6. Bloggers… Get that absolute belter of an article ready during the days leading up to the conference, and unleash it on the day of the event

The chances are that people will be checking out your blog during or just before an event, so make the most of this window of opportunity and wow ‘em (my pre-conference effort is here, BTW).
Harrogate Online 2014
7. Bloggers again… In the lead up to the event, think about how you can write posts that will lead to conversations

If you’re interested in a particular methodological argument or have a strong opinion about a certain piece of technological gadgetry, make sure you share that opinion and that you’re interested in what others have to say on the subject. Also, look at what the IATEFL registered bloggers are writing about for inspiration.

8. Exploit the likes of Twitter and Facebook for all they’re worth

Use the event’s hash tag (I’ll remind you, it’s #IATEFL in case you don’t want to scroll up the page and find it). People will be using Twitter Search or nosing around in Facebook to find info about the conference: make sure they found you.

9. Make a video about something and post it on your blog (I know, another one for bloggers!)

Scott Thornbury did this a couple of years ago to great effect (although who wouldn’t recognise him?). Videos can be much better for getting people to recognise you than photos, plus they are still a relative novelty in the blogosphere. People will think you’re clever and techy and want to be your friend.

10. Blog about as many people who you know will be at the conference that you want to connect with

Don’t be shy: discuss on your blog what you might want to talk to. People like to feel special and this will make them feel special. For example, my last three posts have been about teacher bloggers who I’d like to meet at the conference.

This should be enough to keep you busy over the next few days. I’ll hopefully see you all at IATEFL next week!

Confession: I originally wrote this as a guest post for Burcu Akyol’s blog (I can’t believe that was 3 years ago!) and thought this was a good chance to give it another airing!

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Introducing the #IATEFL2014 registered bloggers: Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

In the lead up to the 2014 IATEFL conference, I’m trying to start a ‘chain reaction’ blog challenge: I choose two or three of this year’s registered bloggers and introduce them on my blog. These bloggers then in turn choose other registered bloggers and interview them… and so it goes on until you all have a good idea of who will be blogging about this year’s event. So far I’ve kicked things off with this interview from Lizzie Pinard and this one from David Petrie. Today is the turn of Christina Rebuffet-Broadus…

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Christina Rebuffet-Broadus, I’m from Mississippi (USA), and I’ve been living in France since 2004. I’ve been teaching English for just as long and completed the Cambridge DELTA modules 1 & 2 in 2011-2012. Module 3 is in the works, as there was a little project that took up much of my time after I finished module 2… I’m also one of the co-editors for the TESOL France magazine Teaching Times and a member of the round, the independent publishing cooperative created by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings in 2011.

Could you give us brief details about your session at IATEFL 2014?

It’s related to that little project just mentioned—a book on experimental practice written with Jennie Wright. We’ll be doing a lively, interactive workshop in which participants will evaluate where they’re at in our experimental practice jungle, test an activity that is the next level up, and come away with an experimental challenge to meet in 2014.

Why are you interested in the area you’ll be presenting on?

Experimental practice is a formidable means of developing as a teacher — it doesn’t cost anything, you can decide on how big or small scale you want to experiment, you can experiment alone or with your colleagues, and it can also be a way of becoming involved in the greater community of English teachers. Experimental practice is absolutely personal, so you can choose something you want to try, research and test it, and then look at how you can integrate aspects of what you learned into your teaching practice. And above all, it’s accessible to everyone.

What should your audience expect to learn?

Besides having the opportunity to test some new activities and approaches, audience members will get tips on how to successfully implement and carry out experimental practice projects. They’ll also find out where they can get five free (and beautiful, if I may say so) lesson plans for experimenting with Dogme, lexical chunking, corpora, translation, and CLIL.

Visit Christina's blog for IATEFL updates.

Visit Christina’s blog for IATEFL updates.

Do you blog? Could you tell us about your blog?

I do indeed, at The blog started out as my experimental practice journal during my DELTA module 2. I did an entire semester of Dogme with 2 groups of university students and recorded what happened each week on the blog. Since then, it’s become a place where I share activities that learners have said they enjoyed, reflections on various issues in our field, and my own experiments in the language classroom—last year we tried doing tai chi for a few minutes before each lesson, for example! What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to? There are always so many great presentations on the program, so I’m looking forward to learning from colleagues from around the world. I’m also really looking forward to seeing colleague-friends again, catching up with them in person, and meeting new people as well!

Why did you sign up as an IATEFL registered blogger?

I was a registered blogger last year, for the IATEFL conference in Liverpool and really enjoyed the experience. I felt that I was helping people who couldn’t be there in person—for whatever reason—to take advantage of the variety of talks and ideas. It’s great that IATEFL gets so many bloggers on board—I’m sure that we cover a surprising number of talks all together.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged | 2 Comments

Introducing the #IATEFL2014 registered bloggers: David Petrie

In the lead up to the 2014 IATEFL conference, I’m trying to start a ‘chain reaction’ blog challenge: I choose two or three of this year’s registered bloggers and introduce them on my blog. These bloggers then in turn choose other registered bloggers and interview them… and so it goes on until you all have a good idea of who will be blogging about this year’s event. Yesterday I kicked things off with this interview from Lizzie Pinard. Today I’m happy to introduce another IATEFL 2014 blogger; David Petrie…

Please introduce yourself:

Hi. My name’s David and I’m an EFL teacher, teacher trainer and blogger currently based in Coimbra, Portugal. I’ve been teaching for about 12 years or so now and blogging for just over three.

Could you give us brief details about your session at IATEFL 2014?

I’m looking at the IELTS and TOEFL exams. I want to talk about some of the research people have done showing how IELTS scores relate to TOEFL scores (and vice versa) and I want to highlight some of the key structural differences between the two exams.

Why are you interested in the area you’ll be presenting on?

Exams drive pretty much the entire ELT industry. Students want to improve their English, but they also want proof of their ability that they can show to a university or an employer. Sometimes it seems that (regardless of whether it should) everything leads up to an exam at some point. I’ve always enjoyed the clarity of focus that teaching an exam class provides – and I guess it all just led from there.

What should your audience expect to learn?

I don’t know if I can answer that question… I guess I would like people to leave the session with a deeper understanding of the exams and a better ability to offer learners a principled choice between the two.

Read David's blog for IATEFL updates

Read David’s blog for IATEFL updates

Could you tell us about your blog?

I do blog. Usually when I should be busy doing other things… My blog is and it’s basically a place to share things I’ve done with my classes, things I’ve found on the web (or been told about) and thinking about some of the issues and practices prevalent in ELT.

What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

This will be my first IATEFL – so I’m not really sure what to expect from it all. I’ve already downloaded the conference app and have been looking at who’s doing what and when. One of the things I’m looking forward to most is meeting people. In the last three years, since I got onto twitter and started blogging, I’ve been lucky enough to make contact with a lot of excellent thinkers, writers and practitioners in ELT – this is going to be a chance to put some faces to some names and say “hi” to people!

Why did you sign up as an IATEFL registered blogger?

Well, I was going to try and blog as much as possible of my experience at Harrogate anyway (at least as much as I can before the laptop battery gives out….). Hopefully people who can’t make it can still take something away from the conference.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged | 2 Comments

Introducing the #IATEFL2014 registered bloggers: Lizzie Pinard

It’s that time of year again when a lot of us turn our attentions to the International IATEFL Conference. This year’s event will be in Harrogate, a few short miles from my home town. I’m delighted to say that I’ll be attending this year, and trying to make a better attempt at blogging about the event than I managed last year!

In the lead up to the conference, I’m trying to start a ‘chain reaction‘ blog challenge: I choose two or three of this year’s registered bloggers and introduce them on my blog. These bloggers then in turn choose other registered bloggers and interview them… and so it goes on until you all have a good idea of who will be blogging about this years event. I’m delighted to kick things off with this interview from Lizzie Pinard from the ‘Reflections of an English Language Teacher‘ blog. Take it away, Lizzie…

Please introduce yourself

My name is Lizzie and I’m an EFL teacher in Palermo, Sicily. I’ve been teaching since completing my CELTA in March 2010. I’ve also done an M.A. in ELT and my DELTA (both at Leeds Met University), which I finished in the summer of 2013.

Could you give us brief details about your session at IATEFL 2014?

I’ll be talking about the gap between learning materials and an English-speaking environment, and a framework I’ve used to bridge that gap in a set of materials which scaffold the process of learners interviewing members of the public and help them benefit more fully from that process.

Visit Lizzie Pinard's blog for IATEFL updates!

Visit Lizzie Pinard’s blog for IATEFL updates!

Why are you interested in the area you’ll be presenting on?

Helping learners use out-of-classroom resources, such as the language in the environment, more effectively and become more autonomous users is something I feel very strongly about because time spent in the classroom is so brief compared to the time spent outside it and I think those out-of-classroom hours need harnessing for successful acquisition to take place in between classroom learning.

What should your audience expect to learn?

The take-away for my session is a framework suitable for use with student-led interviews and other clearly identifiable language use goals.

Do you blog? Could you tell us about your blog(s)?

Yes, I blog at The blog is for me to explore my teaching interests and reflect on various aspects relating to teaching. There are also pages containing samples of materials I’ve made, information about presentations I’ve done (and will be doing), research I’ve done, learner autonomy-related posts and M.A. ELT/Delta-related posts.

What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

Seeing colleagues from all over the place, meeting new people (so please say “hi”!), attending talks, browsing through all the stands and generally getting a massive injection of ELT-related motivation!

Why did you sign up as an IATEFL registered blogger?

Because I’m going to be blogging anyway (if I can find the time!) so I thought I might as well register to do so! It will be cool being able to embed IATEFL video, if it works, too. And hopefully if anyone is interested in the talks I attend but can’t make Harrogate and there’s no recordings made, my blog posts provide a small slice of what they missed.

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Posted in Conferences | Tagged | 6 Comments