Everything EAP students need to know about passives

In today’s post i’m offering you a great worksheet that summarizes everything your learners need to know about the passive voice if they’re studying English for academic purposes.

It’s only a two-page handout, so don’t be expecting too much in terms of gap fill exercises and the like. It does, however, examine why we use the passive voice, the typical reasons we have for omitting the agent, and lists of the most common verbs used in the passive form and for which function.

There’s also a couple of gap fills, as well as a writing task for you to use to get your learners practicing their passives in context. The image below (right) shows you two of the exercises in the worksheet:

passive voice for EAPIf you like the look of that, please feel free to download the worksheet here and the answer key here.

I should mention that it is aimed at intermediate level learners and above (B1 and above).

These tasks were inspired by the techniques suggested in the incredible Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teachingby Keith Folse.

Consider the following statements about second language vocabulary acquisition; which do you agree with?

  • In learning another language, vocabulary is not as important as grammar or other areas.
  • Using word lists to learn L2 vocabulary is unproductive.
  • Presenting new vocabulary in semantic sets facilitates learning.
  • The use of translations to learn new vocabulary should be discouraged.
  • Guessing words from context is an excellent strategy for learning L2 vocabulary.
  • The best vocabulary learners make use of one or two really specific vocabulary learning strategies.
  • The best dictionary for L2 learners is a monolingual dictionary.
  • Teachers, textbooks, and curricula cover L2 vocabulary adequately.
This book has seen some action, I can tell you!

This book has seen some action, I can tell you!

Regardless of what feelings you may have about each of these, you will no doubt have given each at least some thought during your time as a teacher.

Personally, I regard my career as being split into two halves; before I read Vocabulary Myths by Keith S. Folse, and after. In this wonderful book Folse breaks down the teaching of second language vocabulary into the eight commonly held myths detailed above.

Chapter by chapter, he debunks each myth, through a straightforward and easy to follow presentation of what empirical research has shown on the topic, followed by a list of what teachers can do in their classrooms to facilitate true vocabulary acquisition. Each chapter is beautifully couched in descriptions of Folse’s own classroom experiences, making what he says immediately relatable to his audience.

Whatever point you’re at in your language teaching, I can’t recommend this title strongly enough.

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged | 1 Comment

7 great teachers share the books that inspired them

The IATEFl Teacher Development SIG is currently hosting a series of blog posts in which some of my favourite English teachers are sharing lists of the ten books that have most heavily influenced their teaching careers. To show you how much I’m enjoying the posts, I’ve selected one title from each post and compiled them as a mini list here on Teach them English.

Please take the time to check out the incredible books they’ve chosen (after all, I’ve chosen them here because they’re also some of my favourites). While you’re at it, also click here to see the other books they selected.

The Language Teacher’s Voice by Alan Maley

As chosen by Malu Sciamarelli

Just recently, I found out how important the voice is for language teachers, and it made aware of the valuable asset that we put to daily use. The expressed aims of the book are: “raise awareness of the importance of the voice in professional and personal contexts; impart practical skills; provide self-help and class activities; offer information on use of the voice.”

EAP Essentials: A Teacher’s Guide to Principles and Practice by Alexander, Argent & Spencer

As chosen by Tyson Seburn

Tyson has this to say about his selection: Although most of my development now comes through articles and blogs, here is a list of 10 books that have shaped my teacher training through a mixture of thought-provoking research and classroom activities.

About Language: Tasks for Teachers of English by Scott Thornbury

Anthony Gaughan, yesterday.

As chosen by Anthony Gaughan

Scott Thornbury is perhaps most associated in the collective consciousness of our profession with Dogme ELT, but for me Scott Thornbury is the person from whom I learnt that I could actually make sense of language as an academic subject, not just intuitively. I had started, and abandoned, a course on linguistics at university as part of my degree, giving up after not being able to make sense of the first topic, the noun phrase. I though I was a language dunce, which makes it remarkable in retrospect that I still dared, a couple of years later, to train to become a language teacher at all. Through my first years, I made sense of language along the way, but in much the same way I made sense of mathematics: idiosyncratically, unsystematically and quite possibly fundamentally wrongly. Then I got my hands on About Language and – literally step by step – it all fell into place. To say that Scott Thornbury has a talent for making the complex accessible and for giving the reader a sense of her or his own intelligence is to woefully under-compliment the man. Thank you, Scott.

Drama by Charlyn Wessels

As chosen by Anna Musielak

I have always loved to use drama in the ELT classroom and that book showed me how to incorporate drama not only to improve spoken communication skills but also to teach literature and prepare various performances with my students.

Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis

As chosen by Dimitris Primali

As a non-native EFL teacher I have always looked for ways to help my students avoid translating word for word from L1 and help them build their confidence in speaking and writing skills. The books is full of practical ideas that have helped dozens of my students to become lexically richer.

Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom by Jane Sherman

As chosen by Antonia Clare

Actually, it wasn’t the book itself so much as a talk I went to early on in my teaching career, where Jane shared her ideas of how she’d been using video with her Italian university students. I was already using a lot of video with my own classes, but Jane really inspired me with new ideas, and gave some theoretical credence to the work I was doing.

Grammar Practice Activities by Penny Ur

As chosen by James Taylor

I love resource books, and this one just might be the best. I can’t count how many times I’ve grabbed this so my students can get some extra practice, and it’s never failed to provide me with exactly what I need.

Posted in Opinion, The teacher perspective, Theory | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

5 ways we can apply Socratic Questioning to teaching language skills

Welcome back to my third and, probably, last post examining the benefits of adopting the Socratic Method in our classes. Over my last two posts we’ve seen that, even though the Socratic Method is typically used in the teaching of law and philosophy, it can also prove to be a valuable tool in teaching English. Our learners can benefit from continual questions that force them to deepen their vocabularies, sentence structures and develops their confidence in using English.

When we as teachers use the Socratic Method, our learners are placed in a position where they have to find new methods of expressing themselves, rather than simply relying on the same words and constructions over and over again. Basically, the Socratic Method is an excellent way to promote the practice of asking and answering questions among our learners, as they get to grips with the fact that there are different ways of responding to different types of questions. Here are the various ways we can employ The Socratic Method in different aspects of our classes…

1. The Socratic Method and writing

The Socratic Method works really well with writing, especially when we are dealing with higher order concerns. HOCs relate to establishing a thesis, developing it, maintaining focus, establishing an appropriate tone and organizing the writing well. This is a useful framework to bear in mnd, because if the learner neglects even one higher order concern, their whole work can be adversely affected. We can teach learners to understand HOCs by first explaining them in class and then assigning independent reading that exemplifies them. Following up with a classroom analysis that includes Socratic Questioning is critical in this process.

Another aspect of teaching writing that has long relied on the Socratic Method is the writing tutorial. In one-to-one writing tutorials, teachers read a learner’s writing and then discuss that writing with the learner in an attempt to better understand the learner’s goal. We then make suggestions to help the learner improve the text. Often, we’ll find that those suggestions actually take the form of Socratic Method questions, which encourage the writer to reevaluate and think critically about their subject matter.

2. The Socratic Method and reading

Instead of simply getting learners to answer comprehension questions about a text in a coursebook, we can perhaps consider facilitating discussions using the Socratic Method. Teachers may start a discussion on a text, for instance, by having one or more learners reiterate the facts and highlight some of the literary techniques used by the writer.

As teachers we can then pose questions about how our learners reacted to the text, why the author used certain rhetorical patterns, or even the characters’ motivations. When learners start to agree, we can employ the Socratic Method to ask a challenging question that encourages them to re-consider their points of view.

'Sunglasses cases' by Chrysa Papalazarou‎ from #ELTPics

‘Sunglasses cases’ by Chrysa Papalazarou‎ from #ELTPics

3. The Socratic Method and speaking

In English classrooms when our focus is speaking, we can use the Socratic Method to encourage learners to learn how to speak about their topics in a more extensive way. Basically, we listen to a learner’s speaking, then ask them questions related to the opinion they advocated. This not only helps learners to think critically about the positions they support but also helps them prepare to engage in debate.

Another great idea for speaking is to use Socratic Seminars, which are a style of facilitating a discussion in which learners use questioning, listening and reasoning skills to uncover meaning in a given subject. To facilitate a Socratic Seminar, divide your class into two groups. One group forms a circle and the other sits in the center of the circle. While the inside group discusses the topic, the outside group members participate by taking notes and asking questions. The groups then switch roles. Before facilitating the Socratic Seminar, it’s important to explain the structure and the purpose of this exercise. You can do this by preparing a set of discussion questions to initiate the talk. Another idea is to start off with five minutes of free writing to give learners the chance to show what they know. Preparing in these ways will make learners more comfortable with the format and will help learners generate ideas.

4. The Socratic Method and grammar

Socratic Questioning can also be great in grammar lessons; the truth is, you’re probably already doing it! Here’s an example which focuses on the teaching of direct objects. Explain to learners that to determine the elements of a sentence, they can follow a series of questions. Ask learners to pick any sentence from any part of their coursebook. Allow one learner at a time to read out the sentence they have picked. Then, ask them questions such as “Who did it?” to find the subject and then “What or whom did they do it to?” to help them determine the direct object.

5. The Socratic Method and learner autonomy

Instead of teaching in which we are the main focus of the class, we can do a few simple things to make things more learner-centred. One tried and tested Socratic Technique is one that many of us do anyway: assign individual learners or small groups of learners topics to present to the class. We can require this presentation to include a graphic to be used as a classroom poster and several clear examples.

Alternatively, learners could orally present the results of research conducted onlne about a given topic. The key here is to make sure that learners know they will be questioned about their topic and should therefore be able to expand on their presentation.

Any more ideas?

This has just been a brief introduction to applying Socratic Questioning in teaching skills. So, do you have any ideas to add? Leave a comment and I’ll be delighted to add it to this post!

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged | 3 Comments

4 steps to applying the Socratic Method in the language classroom

In my last post we looked at the way that Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates used the a technique of questioning learners to facilitate learning and examined 6 ways that we can do the same in our English classrooms today.

Through the Socratic Method, we as teachers constantly aim to elicit responses from our learners to lead them to logical conclusions: this is a technique we can actively exploit in language teaching. Learners are actively engaged and motivated to learn with this method. Here are four steps that we must consider to ‘Socratize’ our classes…

1. Active learning is not merely nice, it is a necessity

Because Socratic questioning requires the participation of both learners and teacher, it is considered to be an early, if not the earliest, example of active learning. Learners have to play their part, engaging fully in the process, exchanging ideas.

In order to participate appropriately, learners must therefore listen to each other and know that their ideas are being heard. Learners need not agree with each other, but must be respectful of one another.

Looking back: think about questions that probe for effects and consequences from my previous post

2. Reactions are important

along these lines

‘Along those lines’ by Chrysa Papalazarou from #ELTPics

With the Socratic Method, teachers ask learners to explore their beliefs and feelings. Indeed, the Method works on the premise that these beliefs and evaluations are more important than mere facts and concepts. As you can imagine, this fits in with the notion of language acquisition as an emotional rather than a factual and logical experience.

Personal reactions show us how learners are applying the language we teach to their own lives. For example, if a class is working on a coursebook unit about the environment, we would want to elicit responses about what the learners think they can do to contribute to preserving the world’s species. The subject becomes more personal and less theoretical when we employ Socratic questioning.

Looking back: think aboutquestions about viewpoints and perspectives from my previous post

3. It’s all about the waiting time

Perhaps the most critical part of Socratic questioning is the waiting time. As teachers, we are often used to having learners raise their hands or give answers to fact-oriented questions. However, because the Socratic Method requires teachers to use higher-order thinking questions, learners need time to process the question and generate an appropriate response.

Teachers therefore need to get used to using waiting time in the classroom if they want to implement this method effectively. If necessary, rephrase your question after 10 or so seconds if you feel your learners need clarification. Do not give the answer, though. Rather, lead your learners to their response by giving hints or examples.

Looking back: think about questions that challenge assumptions from my previous post

4. Follow-up questions are a must

If a question has a simple answer, ask your learners to clarify why this is the answer rather than simply accepting the answer. For example, when teaching a unit on pronouns, ask a learner why he would use their rather than they’re in a sentence.

Follow-up questions ensure that learners are not simply guessing at the answer or regurgitating learned facts. By requiring further explanation, the teacher is asking the learner to use all his knowledge to back up his answer with rules and concepts.

Looking back: think about questions about the question you asked from my previous post

Moving on and up

Next time I’ll be examining how we can use the Socratic technique to stimulate classroom discussions. Please join me again soon!

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged | 7 Comments

6 Great ways to use Socratic questions in language classes

It’s a silly question to ask if you’re all familiar with Socrates, the Greek philosopher credited with being one of the founders of Western philosophy. Nevertheless, we might not necessarily be aware of how useful Socrates’ pedagogy can be to us in our language teaching.

The Socratic technique includes using a series of questions that ‘guide’ learners towards the answers to questions. Socrates and his learners would conduct discussions in the public square in Athens; you can do exactly the same in your langauge class! Here’s how…

1. Ask questions for clarification

These types of questions are used to dig deeper and prove the concepts behind a particular argument. You should think about such questions when looking for more information or verification of a topic, or when you wish to extend the discussion in an interesting way. Examples of clarification questions would include:

  • “Why do you say that?”
  • “What makes you sure of …?” and…
  • “How does this relate to our discussion?”

When to ask:

Look at the typical comprehension questions you get with a coursebook reading text. Use a question like this to give such tasks more meaning. Use these questions to involve others: “Hakan, why did Ali say that?

2. Ask questions that probe for effects and consequences

These questions are used to describe and discuss assumptions of what is said. Questions of this type include:

  • “What generalizations can you make?”
  • “Then what would happen?” and…
  • “How could … be used to …?”

When to ask:

Look for units in your coursebook that focus on causes and effects; units looking at natural disasters and the environment are prime candidates.

We're all in this together

‘We’re all in this together’ by Chrysa Papalazarou from #ELTPics

3. Ask questions about the question you asked

These questions are “mini-questions” that break the question into a single concept. Examples include:

  • “What was the point of asking that question?,”
  • “How does … apply to everyday life?” and…
  • “Why do you think I asked this question?”

When to ask:

Before starting a new unit, ask such questions with books closed to generate interest and to find out how much learners know about the prospective topic.

4. Ask questions that challenge assumptions

You can use such questions to consider the unquestioned beliefs on which arguments are often made. Use these questions to get clarification or ask for an explanation. Questions of this type would include:

  • “What would happen if … ?”
  • “How can you verify or disapprove that assumption?” and…
  • “How did you choose those assumptions?”

When to ask:

As with number three, ask such questions before starting a new unit with books closed to generate interest and to find out how much learners know about the prospective topic. Alternatively, ask at the start of the unit as supplementary questions to those in the book which often form ‘Exercise 1’.

5. Ask questions that analyse reasons and evidence

These questions are used to ensure your rationale proves your argument, instead of using beliefs commonly thought of as true. Use these to request additional information. Examples of these questions would include:

  • “On what authority are you basing your argument?”
  • “What would be an example?” and…
  • “What is … similar to?”

When to ask:

As with number one, look at those standard comprehension questions you get with a coursebook reading text. Use questions like this to give such tasks more meaning. Also use these questions to involve others: “Hakan, On what authority is Ali basing his argument?

6. Ask questions about viewpoints and perspectives

Arguments are normally based on one viewpoint, so when validating your argument, attack the other’s perspective. Use these questions to search for alternatives on a particular viewpoint. Examples of these questions would include:

  • “What is another way to look at it?”
  • “Who benefits from this?” and…
  • “What is a counterargument for …?”

When to ask:

Such questions are particularly good in multilingual classes, or those in which the learners derive from a variety of cultures.

Examining the bigger picture

If you found today’s post useful, you might enjoy my series of posts on using Bloom’s Taxonomy, which has obvious similarities to the Socratic technique. I suggest you start with this post, which is actually the culmination of the series on writing better lesson plans.

Posted in Classic posts, Teaching ideas | Tagged , | 6 Comments

3 great games for verb tense review

I’m sure we can all relate to this on a certain level; when grappling with the English langauge, particularly at lower levels, many learners struggle to use appropriate verb tenses. With so many functions, forms, rules and exceptions, selecting the proper verb tense can be challenging.

Fortunately, as teachers we can use games to help our learners internalize verb tense ‘appropriacy’ and identify when they need to use each tense. The three games I outline in today’s post make learning entertaining, increasing learners’ motivation to focus on the task at hand and enable them to commit ‘verb grammar’ to memory.

Game 1: Tense Relay

Learners create a tense chart while running an exciting relay race.

Pre-class preparation

OK, there’s a little bit of prep work to this one! Before class, you need to create tense cards. Write verb sets on cards, listing the past, present and future tenses of each verb on separate sheets. Create these sets of three with 10 different verbs (10 should suffice).

Create another identical set on cards of a different color, allowing each of two teams to have an identical set of verb cards. Divide the board in half. On each side write past, present and future across the top of the board.

Playing the game

When learners come to class, divide them into two teams. Tell them they are going to run a tense relay race. Line learners up in single file in front of the board. Provide the first person in each line with a roll of masking tape. Stand at the middle of the board, holding both sets of cards.

Tell learners that when you shout go, one person from each team must run up to you and get a set of three cards. Then, using the masking tape, they need to place the three cards in the appropriate verb tense category. Once they have placed their verbs, they run to their line, pass off the masking tape and move to the back of the line. Then the next learner in the group comes up and gets the next set of three cards.

After explaining the rules, get your learners to complete the relay race. Once a team has finished their card placements, check them. If they have errors, get the team to correct the errors while the other team continue to work on their placements. The team that is first to correctly place all of its verbs wins.

Game 2: Verb Tense Elimination

Learners practice identifying the correct tense in this competitive elimination game.

Pre-class preparation

This one’s a bit simpler to prep for. Before class, create three sheets of paper that say past, present and future. Create enough copies for each learner to have a complete set of three.

Wii contest

‘Wii contest’ by @purple_steph from #ELTPics

Playing the game

As learners arrive at class, pass the pages out, giving one set of three to each learner. Ask learners to stand next to their desks with their three sheets of paper. Then tell the learners that you will read the sentences aloud and they need to hold up the card that identifies the tense in which that sentence is written. If a learner holds up an incorrect tense card, he is eliminated and has to sit down. The last learner standing wins the battle of the tenses.

Game 3: Tense Change-up

Teams of learners race to change the tense of a written passage in this rapid-fire game.

Pre-class preparation

Before class, look through whatever novels you have lying around. Photocopy several paragraphs that feature various tenses. Try to select some paragraphs that are in past, some in present and some in future tense. On top of the sheet containing the paragraph, write the tense in which the paragraph is written.

Playing the game

Start by dividing the class into groups of three or four learners each. Then give each group a copy of one of the selected paragraphs. Place the paragraph copies face down, telling learners not to peek before the game starts. Provide each group with a large sheet of white paper on which they can write their responses. Tell learners that when you say “go,” they need to switch the paragraph from the current tense to the tense you’re about to provide them. Tell learners to rewrite the entire paragraph, changing any words necessary to conform to the tense.

Tell learners to flip their paragraphs over, then yell out tenses that are different from the ones in the paragraphs already written. The groups will race to alter their paragraphs. Once they are done, ask them to raise their hands. Tell all of the other groups to stop as you check the work of the finished group. Read the paragraph aloud, and ask the other learners to vote with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, indicating whether the tense changes are all correct. If the paragraph contains errors, allow the other groups to try until one group has successfully made the changes first.

Posted in Classic posts, Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas, The student perspective | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Online Learning Fallacies Part 2: Employers don’t recognize the value of online degrees

As you may know from my last post, I have, after much deliberation, cautiously decided to enter into the world of online education. I’m not doing it blindly, though. There are many things to consider and many fallacies to overcome. The misunderstandings that many people have are caused by three major fallacies that a lot of people assume are true. These are the reasons which actually result in online learners to dropping out of their chosen courses and ultimately failing to obtain the qualification.

Last time round  I looked into the myth that online masters programs are substantially easier than site-based qualification. Today I’ll ask you to reconsider the fact that such courses aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Fallacy 2: Employers don’t recognize the value of online degrees

This is probably the biggest concern of anyone considering online qualifications. Even though it’s in many way advantageous to take online degree programs, as I mentioned yesterday, the worry is that such qualifications won’t by accepted by a future employer. This is probably why site-based institutions have managed to maintain as much of the degree market as they have, even when so many people are now working on masters degrees while maintaining a full time job.

'students 10' by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

‘students 10′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

The truth behind this fallacy

OK, fair enough, it would be wrong to say that employers don’t have a problem with online degrees, especially as there are many unaccredited online universities and even worse institutions that offer no real education whatsoever. The fact is, though, that employers are recognizing the value of online courses and are also pretty savvy about which ones are the best.

Students shouldn’t be concerned about this as long as they are taking an online program like a master of applied linguistics from an accredited school (a school that has its courses accredited by an agency recognized by the particular Department of Education in the country where you work). Basically, what you need to do is make sure that the online course provider is accredited.

What do you think? Do you have any advice? Have you been through the experience?

Posted in Life outside the classroom, Opinion | Tagged | 1 Comment

Online Learning Fallacies Part 1: Online academic courses are undemanding

To study online or not to study online? Is that even a question?

I’ve made a decision: it’s about time I got more qualified. OK, all this blogging, networking and doing stuff at conferences is nice and I feel like I’m going places career-wise, but I still feel like I need to get some formal certification behind me. As with a great number of people in my position, I’ve decided to pursue an online degree program (this Masters Degree program, in case you’re interested.

Online education is a rising trend and will play an increasingly important role in future education. Nevertheless, my research into this area has uncovered a number of misunderstandings about the reality of earning a masters degree online. Never one to miss an opportunity to convert something I’ve done into a series of blog posts, here is the first of three looking into the great fallacies of online education.

Fallacy 1: Online academic courses are undemanding

I’ve met people who have chosen to study online because they though it would be an easier way of getting their masters degree. Their thinking went along the lines that because they weren’t physically present in a room with the person dispersing the knowledge, the same levels of academic achievement wouldn’t be expected of them. Unfortunately, it is far from true. In fact, it is probably the biggest myth in online education.

The truth behind this fallacy

Loads of people get the wrong impression that “online education offers a simplified learning environment”:

‘I did the course. I read the articles. I chose a topic to focus on. I discussed it with the tutor. I read around the subject. I kept notes of useful references. I swapped ideas with my course mates. I planned in detail. And still I spent an estimated 20+ hours just writing the damn thing!’

Dave Dodgson reflects on his online MA program

Rainy day, Lima (Peru)

‘Rainy Day, Lima (Peru) by Patty Salguero from #ELTPics

OK, so online degree programs like my prospective course of study have flexible learning structures which allow for an unconventional learning environment, especially the students like me who have professional and family obligations. Consequently, online students can arrange their study time without difficulty so that it fits into their busy daily routine. Nevertheless, online students still need to put in the same time and effort to complete the credit requirement for any given source of study. This is not the time saver it might at first appear to be.

Furthermore, most online programs necessitate that students also attend courses and complete assignments to a schedule in a similar way to traditional site-based courses. Basically, while such courses enable students to complete courses online from anywhere and at any time a convenient way, they are definitely not an easy option in terms of the work needed in obtaining a degree.

What do you think? Do you have any advice? Have you been through the experience?

Posted in Life outside the classroom, The life of an english teacher | Tagged | 2 Comments

Plaques, awards and intangible rewards: celebrating 10 years in the same job

As August turned into September, so did one academic year finally close and another begin. This one was a bit special, though, as for me it marked ten years of being in the same job. While this time has passed so quickly I have sometimes wondered where entire years have disappeared, it is also a period in which, when I reflect back on what I’ve achieved, has been one of great satisfaction for me.

In some ways, it’s easy to sum up what I’ve done in mere numbers. I’ve taken the time to tot up what has happened in my decade of work (granted, some of these figures are approximate):

1000+ students taught
50+ classes taught
32 conference sessions delivered across half a dozen countries
20 articles published in professional journals
8 chapters published in books
3 blog of the month awards (2 from the British Council and 1 from TEFL.net)
2 award plaques for being the teacher of the year, voted for by students
1 Blogathon gold medal with a trip to IATEFL as reward

While it’s pleasing to look back on this list, it doesn’t really tell the full story of my decade. So, moving beyond cold statistics, what are the important things that have happened?

Yay... me with a plaque!

Yay… me with a plaque!

Well, let’s start with the plaques and awards

The plaques were special as they came about as a result of student votes: it showed that I was valued by those who trusted me to educate them and help develop their English. I didn’t think that it would feel special, receiving personalized plaques with my name on them, but importantly they are emblazoned with the words ‘as voted for by his students as recognition for his outstanding achievement in teaching’ which meant I was appreciated for the work I put in.

How about the awards for blogging?

Well, writing and maintaining a blog over a period of time is no easy task. Indeed, it can be thankless work if I’m honest. I might not ever receive brass plaques for blogging, but receiving support from fellow professionals and ELT organizations and website nevertheless means a great deal. Those of you reading this who blog will know exactly what I mean.

As for the many conference presentations and written contributions, I’m proud to look back at how much I’ve done and consider my contribution to the profession to have been a reasonable one, all things considered!

So, where to next?

This post has given me a brief opportunity to reflect back on ten years in the same job, by far the longest stint I’ve ever lasted in one place. I’m eternally grateful to my university for giving me the support and the degree of professional independence that has made all of these things possible. As I’m about to embark on a Masters program in the coming month, I have a lot to think about in terms of how I approach the next ten years. The things that have been most important to me have sometimes come in the form of tangible awards. Nevertheless, the most important thing is the honest appreciation of those I teach. I hope to get a lot more of this in the coming decade!

Posted in The life of an english teacher | Tagged | Leave a comment

10 great techniques to help you remember student names

For the longest time, remembering names was a huge problem for me. In my first classes, way back when I started teaching, I was still struggling after several weeks and it got quite embarrassing in the end. If you also suffer, you have to find strategies that work for you, as I eventually did. Today’s timely – I hope! – post looks at some of the problems we face and, more importantly, some excellent strategies we can use, as given by some ‘old pros’…

Part one: The view from the trenches

1. So many students, so many names

Initially you might find remembering student names a real problem, especially if you’ve just arrived in a country in which names are unfamiliar to you. Can you always tell your Halil from your Halit? More importantly, are you expected to? Here are some responses I received from those of view in the classrooms who posted on a thread on an ELT forum.

‘I’ve currently got 186 in total. Not a chance!’


‘I have around 1100 students in 22 classes. No way I can remember names. Can’t see myself printing all those name cards, either.’


‘I have about 380 students, and I have been never very good with remembering names. Yes, using the person’s name helps to remember it, but it also helps if you have more regular contact with the same people as well. People I see once a week in larger groups, not much of a chance.’


2. So many students, so few names

Another problem you may come across is what I like to call the ‘so many students, so few names’ dilemma. Learning the name won’t be the problem here, but differentiating one Dave from another might be.

‘I have one easy class. Of eight students, the four women are all called Fatimah. The four guys are, respectively, Ali, Mohammed, Ali-Abdul, and Mohammed. Can anyone beat 8 students, 3 names?’


Yes, apparently.

‘In Qatar I once had a class of 26. 19 of them had the first name Mohammed.’


3. Practicalities

How practical is your method of remembering names? Can you really take photos or make name-tags for all? Consider this…

‘As to taking pics, sorry, I’m not much of a camera guy. That’s a lot of extra photos to be lugging around. I know some teachers have students bring their photos as an assignment, but I’m not sure I want to make seating charts that are that large or to make student files for so many students. I don’t have that much extra free time.’


4. My mind is playing tricks on me

We can be our own worst enemies too. Only last year I had a student whose name was lazy Roger Waters, because he was very lazy and looked incredibly like the former Pink Floyd bassist. Funnily enough, this didn’t help me remember his real name. I’m not alone…

‘My worst problem is I often assign a name before knowing the real name. If a student looks like someone I know named Mehmet, it will take ages to get Mehmet out of my head. Or I’ll see a student for the first time and think “Walter Matthau” or “Shiny Hair” or whatever, which makes it easy to recognize a student but hard to remember the name.’



‘Students 11′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

Part two: Practical advice from seasoned professionals

My advice is to find something that works for you. I’m a lot better at remembering names than I used to be because I now employ some of the techniques described below (please note: some of these are quotes from people using forum pseudonyms, while others quoted will be more familiar!):

1. Use names often

‘My dad was a corporate trainer, he had new students every two weeks, and sometimes the following year some of the students would take another of his courses. He was great with names. His trick was to use the person’s name repeatedly in your first conversation. It feels weird at first but works.

– Hi John, nice to meet you.
– Where are you from John?
– John, can you sit over here next to Sue?
– Sue, can you help me hand out these papers?
– Thank you, Sue.’


2. Make associations

‘I think it helps if you can make quick associations with their names to their features or what they’re wearing. I think that’s how I do it. It’s like their names pop out when I see their faces.’


3. The circle game

‘In classes of 25 or fewer, space permitting, I put them in a circle. I choose one student to say his/her name, then go around the circle where each student has to say all the names that came before, plus his or her own name. At the end I go around the circle and say all their names, twice if I really screw it up the first time.’


4. Make a classroom plan

Make an outline of the classroom, and on the first day go student by student, asking their names and completing your plan. Leave this on your desk and, for the first few classes at least, make sure people sit in the same spot for the beginning of the lesson. Or ask students to make a little name card and place it on the desk in front of them.

Lindsay Clandfield

5. Repeat the name

The only thing I do to learn student names quickly is to repeat the name to the student a few times and attach a mental image to the name. My record is 150 student names in two weeks.

Burcu Akyol

6. Use cards

I see most of my students once a week, in classes of about thirty, so at the start of the first semester I have a lot of names to remember. Every student makes an attendance card, which I hand out at the beginning of class and take in at the end. They use it to give themselves a score (minus points for speaking too much Japanese, forgetting their textbook etc), for answering reflection questions about the day’s lesson, for telling me a few extra snippets about themselves, and they all have a photo. I can look through them between classes to put names to faces, and peek at them as I walk around “monitoring”.

Darren Elliott

7. Write names on the board

This is only relevant for mixed nationality groups, but a nice way to start a new class can be to write your name up on the board – explain who gave you the name and why, nicknames you’ve had, along with anything else that seems relevant to your name. And then hand the pen to a student and invite them to do the same. As the pen gets passed around, there are sometimes ‘aha’ moments as a Japanese students write up their name and the kanji characters are recognized by Korean or Chinese classmates, while I and fellow European students watch in amazement. And then hopefully someone from say Argentina steps up and explains their multiple surnames, and the wonder carries on. Only a rose could smell as sweet…

Vicki Hollett

8. Describe the person

This is the method I most often use: writing things by the side of the class list describing each person so that I can remember who is who. You will probably want to keep this secret from the students and even other teachers, as the easiest thing to learn their names from is often short physical descriptions, and the easiest ones to remember people from might not always be taken as complimentary. Other possibilities of what to write include things like “highest level student”, “always comes late”, “pauses a long time before speaking”, “joined the class in the second month”, “obsessed by cats” or “usually first to arrive”.

Alex Case

Hey… Where’s 9 and 10?

That’s where you come in! If you have any further suggestions, please let me know in the comments section below and I’ll add them to the post.

Summing up

For me, the following quote sums up why this is an important issue;

‘When I was a student, I’d feel really bad if my name was the one forgotten by a teacher who remembered other names, so I try to plan around my being bad at remembering names.’


If you’re teaching a relatively small group of people regularly for any length of time, get to know their names. If, like me, this is something you’re just not good at, here are some good ways to help you plan around it from Lindsay Clandfield‘s excellent 6 things blog. Also, Alex Case has a great list of ideas here.

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