2 MINUTE Pre-Reading Strategies: List-Group-Label

I’m experimenting with a new video making app and this is one of the first videos I’ve made. It relates to a post that I originally wrote last summer about a pre-reading strategy called list-group-label.

As you can see, ‘My Simple Show‘ enables you to create visually rich clips and is very easy to use.

If you want to learn more about this pre-reading strategy, visit my post from last year.

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2 Great Tools for Randomly Picking Learner Names

At one time or another we’ve all asked for volunteers in class and been met with blank faces (or is it just me?). When this happens, a random name selection tool is the easiest way to choose learners in a fair and democratic way. Here, then, are two good random name selection tools, the first of which was the one I used last week!

1. The Random Name Picker

20151017_150239First up we have the Random Name Picker, which is a free tool available through classtools.net. This allows you add names and then ‘spin’ a virtual wheel to have names randomly selected from the list. When a name is chosen you can have it removed from the wheel so that it is not selected again; very useful for making sure everyone gets a turn and that no one has to answer too often. Random Name Picker is not only free to use, you don’t have to register on classtools.net either. You can embed the Random Name Picker wheel into your blog or website. Importantly, you can save and reuse your lists by assigning passwords to them, making it easy to set up once and reuse with your classes again and again.

2. The Random Name Selector

An alternative option is the similarly titled Random Name Selector: this is another easy-to-use tool for picking names from a class list. To use the selector, just type in or copy a list of names then hit “go.” After a name is has been picked, you have the option of launching a two minute or seven minute countdown timer. This one might therefore be a good if you want to put in group names and then give each chosen group several minutes to feedback on an activity to the rest of class. Again, you have the option of removing names from the list after they’ve been selected. Here’s a short video clip showing you how it works.

Please let me know if you find any other tools for choosing learner names at random.

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How to use any song in an ELT classroom

Wow! The last year has passed so very quickly. Can it really have been so long since I last won the British Council Teaching English blog post of the month award (along with co-author Paul)?

One of the follow-ups to that award was an article I wrote for the British Council Voices magazine on the subject of using songs in the language classroom. That went down so well that I eventually turned the post into a workshop… which I unfortunately have never had the opportunity to present! If that sounds strange, then welcome to the weird and wonderful world of teacher training, in which you often prepare a workshop onşy for the institution who wanted you to do it to pull out at the last minute.

Waste not want not, I say. So, I thought I’d share the presentation here on the blog. Here then, is my guide for using any song in the language classroom…

If that doesn’t totally make sense to you, plese feel free to leave a comment below; I’ll be sure to reply to any quesries.

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Great Listening Energizers: Part 2

Have you ever found yourself at the end of class with a little extra time left over? How about those times when you’ve overestimated how long your planned lesson will take? Don’t worry about it too much; it really does happen to the best of us. What you want up your sleeve is a series of activities that you can exploit as and when you need them; you need tried and tested ways to fill the time up with simple activities that’ll advance your learners in a meaningful way despite the time restriction.

So, that’s exactly the basis for my series of blog posts for the month of June: great listening exercises that are simple to set up, can be used at any time and in any situation, and that serve to energize learners while also delivering meaningful listening practice.

Here’s my second post, with two more suggestions for you!

Learner-led dictation

This is a great way to get your learners to do most of the work, while also giving you the chance to listen to their pronunciation.

How to do it

  • Put your learners into pairs and have one learner read a short passage. This can be from a course book or anything else you have handy.
  • The other learner must write everything down.
  • At the end of the reading, get the learners to switch roles. The group with the fastest dictation wins (don’t get too tied up with accuracy).

To meaningfully extend this, show the original on the board so they can also check each other’s work. You might also wish to prepare questions about the text to assess comprehension. How long the text is should depend on the language level of the learners.

20151116_204955Write the word, swipe the Word

This is a great way to see if learners are on the way to using vocabulary productively. You’ll need two board markers and two board cleaners.

How to do it

  • Divide the learners into two teams and have them line up. Make sure they’ve had chance to review what new words they’ve encountered in class
  • Say a word nicely and clearly. The first two learners run up to the board and write the correct word. The first one to write it correctly earns a point for their team.
  • Each person only gets one word to write, then they have to go to the back of the line.
  • After everyone has had at least one go, tally the scores to see which team has won.

Meaningfully extend this by reversing the process. Give the person a board cleaner and do the same thing. This time they have to erase the word quicker than their opponent to gain a point.

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Great Listening Energizers: Part 1

Have you ever found yourself at the end of class with a little extra time left over? How about those times when you’ve overestimated how long your planned lesson will take? Don’t worry about it too much; it really does happen to the best of us. What you want up your sleeve is a series of activities that you can exploit as and when you need them; you need tried and tested ways to fill the time up with simple activities that’ll advance your learners in a meaningful way despite the time restriction.

So, that’s exactly the basis for my series of blog posts for the month of June: great listening exercises that are simple to set up, can be used at any time and in any situation, and that serve to energize learners while also delivering meaningful listening practice.

Are you ready? OK then, let’s get going with our first listening energizer!

  1. Line up learners according to their birthday

20151010_171440This is a really quick game that works well using birthday order (numerical), although you could just as well choose anything else you like, such as favorite colors or foods to number of brothers and sisters to name of their street (these would be alphabetical order).

How to do it…

  • Learners have to speak to one another to find out when each person was born, so they can line up in the correct order, oldest to youngest. They can do this by year, or by month and day of the month if they are all nearly the same age (a class of young learners for example).
  • Have them call out their birth dates once they’re lined up to see if they got it right.

This stimulates the use of simple questions and answers and, as I mentioned, can be adapted to other subjects as and when needed.


  1. Here are 5 things I did today

A simple yet funny game, this one requires learners to go around the room listing five things they have done today.

How to do it…

  • Quite simply, learners move around asking each other what they did that day. You can do it as a chain, or allow random mingling if you think that will work better
  • To make it more interesting, stipulate that they’re not allowed to repeat anything that someone has already said.

My advice: start this listening energizer with your weakest learners (and use the chain pattern rather than random mingling), since it does get tough toward the end.

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The 10 Best Places to Find ELT Listening Materials

If, like me, you find that one of the most commonly heard requests from your learners is to provide them with additional listening materials to study with outside of class, this post is definitely for you.

I’ve trawled the internet and the result of my extensive labors is the list of ten great resources you see below… enjoy!

1) Link Eng Park

This site doesn’t actually produce any of its own materials, but it’s as close as an encyclopedia of all ESL online listening materials as you’re ever likely to find. If you can’t find something here for your teaching context, you almost might as well stop searching!

Reasons why I use this site

  • Free to use (as are all on this list unless otherwise stated)
  • Organized according to various levels
  • Many if not all include scripts of the listening
  • Many video clips as well as regular audio
  • Updated regularly
  • Simple and effective search function

2) British Council Learn English Teens

20151017_150239The Listening skills practice section of this fantastic website enables learners to practice and improve listening skills for their school studies and English exams.

Reasons why I use this site

  • It caters specifically for teenage learners
  • The activities have been carefully prepared for different levels (according to CEF levels)
  • There are interactive pre-listening vocabulary exercises
  • Copious post-listening activities include true or false questions and gap fills
  • Transcripts, worksheets and other downloadable materials are also available
  • The site is regularly updated with new materials
  • Materials are extremely high quality
  • There’s an app

3) Elllo

Elllo provides a wealth of listening exercises in video or audio format. What I particularly like about this one is that the listening exercises feature English speakers of different nationalities, meaning your learners are exposed to a variety of English accents like Australian, South African and Scottish among others.

Reasons why I use this site

  • Search results are given by level, topic, country or media
  • There is an option that allows you choose from games, audio or video
  • All of the exercises come with vocabulary lists, additional exercises or quizzes, as well as download links

4) Easy Listening for Kids

This website has a nice collection of short and easy listening activities that are particularly suited to young learners.

Reasons why I use this site

  • Each audio track comes with the text for reading
  • There are vocabulary lists and exercises your young learners won’t have any trouble completing
  • There’s even a second website with additional listening exercises for children

5) BBC Insight Plus – Talk about English

This is an older site (and no longer updated), but a great resource for learners of academic English. It features lectures on many typical academic subjects, such as global warming, economics and drug use.

Reasons why I use this site

  • Each lecture contains a variety of accents
  • The resources are downloadable and a script is full script is available in most cases
  • The subjects are very relevant to academic English
  • Although not updated any more, this site links to many other free English listening resources on the BBC website for Business English, etc.

6) ESL Cyber Listening Lab

The original online ESL listening resource (this site has been going strong since 1998); still worth a mention after all these years. Teacher Randall Davis put together this very impressive site, filled with listening quizzes.

Reasons why I use this site

  • There are quizzes divided into Easy, Medium and Difficult levels
  • Each quiz comes with a pre-listening activity, a multiple-choice quiz based on the listening and post-listening activities that include vocabulary exercises
  • A wide range of ready-to-use listening activities for any level
  • Good to assign for homework

7) Newsy

Newsy features short news segments on a wide variety of topics including business and entertainment, as well as international and US news.

Reasons why I use this site

  • Provides real-life listening practice on topical themes
  • Each video is posted with a transcript of the news report, giving ESL learners the choice of just listening, or listening and reading
  • Great for learners who need something a bit more challenging
  • The site offers an app for iPhone, iPad and Android

8) Voice of America

Voice of America is a multimedia platform that delivers news to English learners across the globe.

Reasons why I use this site

  • The site offers a Mobile Wordbook that teaches learners how to say and use a word in a sentence
  • Each video is less than three minutes long and includes subtitles
  • The audio and video are public domain, which means you can legally use the files in the classroom and also download them
  • Downloads are in video format and as MP3 files that learners can listen to anywhere
  • There’s app for iPhone and Android

9) Talk English

Talk English has a great range of listening lessons (hundreds of dialogues at different levels) for Basic, Intermediate and Advanced learners.

Reasons why I use this site

  • The site offers multiple choice quizzes and learners can also read a script of the audio
  • Teachers and learners can use the website online for free; alternatively you can pay a small one-time fee for unlimited downloads
  • There’s an app for iPhone and Android

10) ESL Fast

ESL Fast offers a copious number of short stories with audio and text for intermediate learners; the sheer number of stories available is quite ridiculous!

Reasons why I use this site

  • There’s a vocabulary list for each listening, plus a variety of exercises, including dictations
  • The site also offers easy conversations for beginner ESL learners
  • ‘Mike the Robot’ is a cute character who replies to questions and statements learners type into a dialogue box, creating an a kind of virtual dialogue with learners

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Highlights of my blogging year #1: 4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals

It’s that time of year again when I look back at what I’ve been blogging about and present the very best of the year to you. There can be no better place to start than with one of my most popular posts ever here on ‘Teach them English’. Going way back to January of this year, let’s begin the review with this great co-authored post (many thanks to Paul Martin for his contribution here) about using music to teach the conditionals.


When we think about all of the grammar points that we have to teach, what would you say is the one that you dread most?

Now, I’m sure there are those among you who’ll say it’s the passive voice, while there are others out there who’ll swear it’s modal verbs. However, I’m willing to be that most of you are just like me in always having to draw a deep breath when the time comes to deal with the many weird and wonderful conditional sentences.

Let’s face it, the challenges of dealing with the form of each of the four main conditionals is nightmare enough (something is, something will be, something would be, something would have been), never mind getting on to the somewhat subtle differences in function from one conditional to the next (I attempt to deal with some of the trickiest things in the follow up to this post).

After many years of trawling through conditionals-focused grammar lessons, I’ve come up with quite a list of ways not to go about it! These aren’t the focus of today’s post, though. One extremely painless, fun and motivating way of ‘doing’ conditionals is through music. For this post, I’m delighted to be joined by Paul from Language Trainers. Here are some suggested songs for presenting each of the four conditionals, one suggestion from me and one from Paul for each type (no, we’re not dealing with mixed conditionals today, sorry!).

Paul’s Zero Conditional: ‘Rain’ by The Beatles

The Beatles are one of my favorite bands for teaching English, as they sing slowly and clearly, and produce catchy melodies that students will remember (and regardless — they’re The Beatles!). The song Rain, in particular, is great for teaching the zero conditional, which describes general truths and scientific facts. (Note: if you’re wondering what they sing in the last line of the song, it’s simply “If the rain comes they run and hide their heads” played in reverse.)

Adam’s Zero Conditional: ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears

She may no longer be the queen of pop, but dear Britney still has many uses in the language classroom, and exemplifying the zero conditional is one of them!

The form: We construct the zero conditional like this: if + simple present, simple present

“If we heat water, it boils.”

“When a tree crashes to the ground, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it?”

Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

  • Every time I try to fly / I fall
  • Every time I see you in my dreams / I see your face

Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

  • If the rain comes / they run and hide their heads
  • When the sun shines / they slip into the shade

Adam’s First Conditional: ‘Time after Time’ by Cyndi Lauper

This is probably one of the most iconic tunes of the 80s, with unforgettable lyrics that make it perfect for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that have a decent chance of occurring.

Paul’s First Conditional: ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ by Simply Red

An emblematic song of the 80s, the bluesy tune of If You Don’t Know Me By Now is catchy and memorable. And it has a conditional form in its very title, so it should be clear why it’s ideal for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that are likely to happen. It’s also good for teaching some idiomatic expressions of time, such as “by now” and “never ever”.

The form: We form the first conditional like this: if + simple present, will + main verb. (the notion of futurity can also be expressed using ‘be going to’)

“If it rains, I won’t go shopping.”

“If the train comes late, we’re going to miss our connection.”

Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

  • If you’re lost / You can look and you will find me

Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

  • If you don’t know me by now / You will never ever know me

If you’re enjoying this post, you might also want to take a look at my follow up; 4 songs for dealing with tricky conditional structures.

Continue reading “Highlights of my blogging year #1: 4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals”

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8 steps to choosing your next ELT coursebook

One of the things that I’ve been involved with at work over the past few years has been course book selection. As part of the process, research was undertaken by myself and a few colleagues about how we might go about selecting a book in a considered manner. Given that I often speak at conferences about dealing with the problems of course books, this seems like a good topic for my comeback post after two weeks away! What follows is a suggested framework, based on everything I’ve read up on about this subject, for course book selection that I think is worth sharing with you all…

Many new ELT course books come out every year, making difficult for those evaluating each one to choose the right supplementary book for each level of study. There is a body of literature indicating that selection methods in our profession have often been unsatisfactory; therefore there is a need for a checklist as a way of choosing course books.

One all too frequent method is for those in a position of authority to obtain copies of a selection of the latest publications, which are then briefly looked over or flicked through by some of the more experienced teachers in the institution, after which a series of books is chosen on the basis of the subjective judgments and/or first impressions of those teachers.

Unfortunately, frameworks of evaluation have had little real influence on course book selection in the past. This happens probably because teachers are either; A) unaware of the existence of checklists; B) don’t have access to them; C) do not want to make the effort to use them, or D) are put off by their length and apparently complicated nature. Nevertheless, the application of a framework of appropriate selection criteria fro potential course books should be considered an effective way of ensuring that the needs and wants of learners are given careful consideration when choosing supplementary books.

In terms of evaluating course books, criteria should be what Peacock (1997) describes as ‘emphatically local‘. By local, Peacock doesn’t mean a framework that is country specific; rather it should be as specific as referring only to the particular institution using it. Peacock’s aim when developing a framework was to create one adaptable enough for use worldwide in a variety of contexts; he nevertheless recognized the need for ‘localization’ and attempted to overcome the issue of using a flexible, multi-purpose framework by including a scoring table with weightings that can be varied by users according to any given situation. This notion of streamlining a flexible checklist is evident in the list we have produced.

Preparing a framework for evaluation

The goal of this framework* is to allow as thorough an evaluation as possible to be made in the time normally allocated for course book assessment (usually not long enough!), enabling a comparative and objective evaluation to be made before a book is chosen for use in class.

The framework here should be considered both an adaptation and an expansion on the ideas of the authors mentioned, with the addition of new items inspired by their research and ideas. I hope that the use of this framework will result in you finding the most suitable course book for your learners.

Sheldon (1988) made a good point when stating that the aim of any checklist should be to make book selection a “more coherent, thoughtful enterprise than it is at present”. A framework has to be as short and simple as possible to encourage its use. Scoring tables, when included, are beneficial in that they enable a comparison to be more easily made between course books, as institutions normally evaluate more than one book at a time: it is easier to compare scores than long lists of comments. Additionally, it is much quicker to assign a score than to write comments, increasing the likelihood of the framework being of real practical use.

The first item in the framework is adapted from the notion of the ‘flick test’ recommended by Matthews (1985). This should basically be viewed as a ‘first impression counts’ assessment of the book. If the book fails this first element of the criteria, Matthews suggests, the evaluator may not feel the need not continue, though this is not stated in the checklist, as stopping there is a personal decision for the evaluator.

Peacock’s list (1997) is particularly relevant to items 7, 8, and 9 which are specifically included to alert decision makers as to the necessity of using culturally appropriate materials in classrooms, and to try to exclude coursebooks which may offend learners.

Using the framework

Before using this list, it is necessary that evaluators add the weightings appropriate for your local situation to the scoring table: place specific importance on those items which seem particularly pertinent. This may be decided collaboratively by those who will be in the position to choose the supplementary book. Without weighting, the 58-item list would offer a maximum score of 116.

Objective weighting of the framework’s criteria is a crucial part of the evaluation process as it is the only way to ensure that the final score for a coursebook corresponds as closely as possible to the particular needs of the learners who will use the book. Selectors first have to decide what weightings to use. The objectivity of this process can be increased by using as many and as experienced evaluators as possible, and by taking sufficient time to reach a decision.

Ideally, suggests Peacock (1997) four or more experienced evaluators should take at least two meetings to reach a decision:

‘Weightings will influence which book is chosen: in Korea item 25 on the checklist was given a weighting factor of 8, ensuring that coursebooks which had plenty of sections for listening and speaking skills were more likely to be selected. Another (hypothetical) example is giving item 41 a weighting factor of 10; this would make it much more likely that coursebooks containing plenty of learner guidance were chosen.’ Peackock (1997)

It is important to remember that weightings on scores may be altered according to what you prioritize; framework items may be altered, removed or even others added; course books may additionally be evaluated by other means, and results compared with those of this framework of criteria; Williams (1981) suggested that the chosen books may even be piloted in class and the results compared with those predicted by an evaluation using such criteria.

Course book evaluation framework criteria

This framework of criteria has been put together specifically to evaluate supplementary grammar books used for teaching English as a Foreign Language to basic to upper intermediate level learners. Therefore, I expect you might need to make at least tweaks here and there if you plan to use these criteria.

Your information sheet may contain the following:

info sheet for course book evaluation

This framework, while somewhat adapted to a specific requirement, is designed to produce a score for any book you choose to evaluate. While the scores will not necessarily provide a definitive evaluation of any given book, they will offer you a quick and adequately considered comparison in the event of several books being evaluated at the same time.

The criteria may be rated numerically, on a scale from 0 to 2 for instance, in the blank space before each one, as follows:

2 = Good
1 = Satisfactory
0 = Poor

The scoring table is then given at the end of the checklist.

Let’s now look at how this can be divided into different sections. Hopefully, each of the sections is sufficiently self-explanatory:

Section 1: General Impression

1. A brief flick through the book reveals the overall appearance to be attractive and appealing to learners.
2. Overall, the book appears to be up-to-date.
3. The book’s description of itself appears to match the contents.

Section 2: Technical Quality

4. The book is durable, with a strong cover, and is printed on good quality paper.
5. The printing and illustrations are of high quality and the book has an attractive layout, without densely cluttered pages. It has been well edited.
6. Color is used but not to a distracting extent.

Section 3: Cultural Differences

7. Any cultural bias in the book is restricted to a degree acceptable to our learners.
8. Cultures other than Western European or American are also portrayed in the book.
9. The cultural tone overall is appropriate for use in our setting.

Section 4: How Appropriate is it?

10. The materials, language foci and activities are in general appropriate for our learners.
11. The book will meet the long- and short-term goals specific to our learners.
12. Learners are not asked to perform roles or activities unacceptable in our setting.
13. The activities are adaptable to personal learning and teaching styles.

Section 5: Motivation and the Learner

14. Situations /Contexts used in the book are authentic and contemporary to an acceptable degree.
15. Materials used have intrinsic interest and will appear relevant and interesting to learners.
16. Materials with variety and pace are used.
17. Personal involvement of learners is encouraged.
18. The book encourages, to a certain degree, learners to assume responsibility for their own learning.
19. There is a problem-solving and competitive element.
20. The book exploits the social nature of classrooms.

Section 6: Pedagogic Analysis

21. Methodologically the book is in line with the institution’s approach to language learning.
22. Methodologically the book is in line with contemporary worldwide theories and practices of language learning.
23. The balance between listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills development in the book is appropriate to our particular learners and learning situation.
24. Skills integration is given sufficient attention.
25. The development of discourse and fluency skills is given sufficient attention.
26. The book contains adequate formal learner achievement tests / opportunities for self-assessment.
27. There are activities for communicative interaction and the development of communicative strategies.
28. The balance between individual work, pair work, group work, and whole-class work in the book is appropriate for our particular learning situation.
29. One goal of the book is enabling learners to use English outside the classroom situation.
30. New structures are presented systematically and in a meaningful context.
31. New items receive sufficient and varied practice.
32. The meaning of new vocabulary is presented in context.
33. The grading of new items is not too steep or to gentle for our learners.
34. In general the activities in the book are neither too difficult nor too easy for our learners.
37. The book is sufficiently challenging to learners.
38. There are mechanisms for giving regular feedback to learners.
39. Units are not based around a storyline which may force the teacher to use every unit in sequence.
40. There is variety in the makeup / format of individual units.
41. Useful guidance is given to learners on correct use of the book.
42. The style of speech / texts / contextualization used is appropriate for our learners.
43. There is provision for the book to be used for self-study.
44. New items are reviewed and recycled throughout the book / series.
45. The book matches the curriculum objectives to a sufficient extent.

Section 7: Finding Your Way around the Student’s Book

46. There is an adequate contents page.
47. There is a comprehensive index.
48. There is a complete summary of functions.
49. There is a summary of new and reviewed grammar.
50. If audio materials are used, there is a transcript in the student’s and/or teacher’s book.
51. Sufficient guidance is given for the needs of all teachers.

Section 8: Supplementary Materials

52. A teacher’s book is available and it gives useful and complete guidance, along with alternative activities.
53. A workbook is available and it contains appropriate supplementary activities.
54. Audio recordings are of good quality construction.
55. Sound quality of tapes is good with no hissing, distortion, background noise, or other problems.
56. Recordings have a variety of voices and they are native speakers talking at normal speed.
57. If the book is part of a series, other books in the series are also suitable for use in your school.
58. The coursebook, teacher’s book, audio and workbook are not prohibitively expensive for our students / school.

Further considerations

Scoring table

There are 58 criteria in the framework, with 2 points possible for each item. Items may be weighted before using the framework to reflect their relative importance in our teaching situation.

Suggested scoring procedure:

Enter the desired weightings in the ‘weight’ column. Enter the score you give for each item. Multiply each score by its weighting factor. Add up the totals to get the final score.

Note: It is advised that the course book be reassessed periodically in the light of the results of learner assessment and learner and teacher feedback. Additionally, it may be compared to newly released titles in the future.
Continue reading “8 steps to choosing your next ELT coursebook”

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What does it mean to be an exemplary language teacher?

This weekend I was lucky enough to give a talk to a wonderful audience at the 1st Doğuş University / Beykent University ELT Conference (more details here). This was a really inspiring event with some great talks and, most importantly, a really passionate and motivated group of teachers in the audience.

I gave a talk based on some research I’d conducted at my university with one of my colleagues, Eylem Mengi, entitled ‘What does it mean to be an exemplary language teacher in the 21st Century’. Unfortunately, I’d underestimated how many people would be interested in this topic and so ran out of handouts. For this reason, I’m sharing what I did in the talk here on my blog.

First off, I’ll start with the presentation itself, which you can scroll through here…

Now, I fully realize that it might not make sense without yours truly to explain what’s going on, so I’m also linking to the published write-up of our research, which is freely available from the Journal of Teaching English for Specific and Academic Purposes (download here).

Here are a couple of images from my talk…

My audience starts to gather before my talk, with a certain Mr. Harmer in attendance!
Here I am in full flow. Thanks to Güldeniz Tabak for taking this pic!
Here I am in full flow. Thanks to Güldeniz Tabak for taking this pic!

Many thanks to the 70-80 people who showed up; it was my pleasure to spend my Saturday afternoon sharing the results of our research with you.

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8 guaranteed ways to enhance teenage learner motivation in the language class

Things are never simple with teenage learners. Whilst young learners are so full of energy that most activities will be met with enthusiasm… and adult learners tend to be naturally focused on meeting language goals, as well as having a wealth of skills and knowledge to contribute to classes, getting it right with teenagers is a whole different story.

Although teens can be as knowledgeable and perceptive as their adult counterparts, they are not usually the most talkative of age groups. Naturally, this can leave us as teachers feeling frustrated and discouraged by their perceived lack of interest. Nevertheless, teens aren’t that different and by no means unreachable in terms of motivation. As with any other age group, it’s simply a case of finding ways to pique interest. With this in mind, here are eight simple strategies that anyone can use to increase teenage student motivation in the language classroom.

1. To develop listening comprehension, play songs

When it comes to the kinds of listening materials that typically accompany course materials, your teenage learners will most likely lose interest quickly, or, worse still, not hear a word. The easiest way to motivate such learners to listen is by playing songs. But you should also choose songs they like, or can relate to.

The best strategy: Why are you the one choosing? Set up a class rota so that each learner has the opportunity to play one of their favorite songs to the class. Get them to prepare a lyric sheet and work with them to develop a language activity from the words.

2. Have video-based lessons

Videos have huge potential in the language class. Back in the old days this would mean dragging a TV and DVD player in the classroom to teach a video lesson. A laptop will do for a small class, and a speedy Internet connection is great, but not entirely necessary, as you can have video files already downloaded to your computer. To keep teenage learners focused on the task, my advice is to choose movie trailers, music videos, short interviews, or ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Three minutes seems to be the optimum length with teenage learners.

The best strategy: Again, why are you the one choosing? Look ahead in the course materials for upcoming subjects and assign the class with the task of finding

3. Exploit technology to get learners searching for their own answers

You can integrate technology in so many ways that it makes sense to utilize the kind of tech-based activities that your teenage learners engage in on a daily basis. Most teenage learners have excellent Web surfing skills, so why not assign them a Web Quest? Basically, Web Quests are online, inquiry-based activities in which learners are required to search for specific information within links provided by the teacher, and then produce a report or a PowerPoint / Prezi presentation.

The best strategy: Give some training in the effective use of search engines, and any software you plan to use in class. Discuss key words and how to use them when searching for sources.

4. Occasionally play games

I’ve written so much on my blog about games that I ended up collating all my posts into a e-book. You can download it for free here.

The best strategy: With teenage learners, it’s vital to choose games that will challenge them, give them the right amount of competitive feel, and help them effectively practice language. Also, make sure they understand the reason you’re playing.

Allowing teenage learners to choose their own reading texts can be very motivating. 'Students2' by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics
Allowing teenage learners to choose their own reading texts can be very motivating. ‘Students2’ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

5. Use ‘real’ realia in the classroom

It’s easy to forget how effective the use of real life objects can be in motivating learners of all ages. This is a particularly effective strategy with teenage learners who are already lacking in enthusiasm. Don’t just bring in random things related to the course materials, though. Make sure whatever you use has real emotional meaning.

The best strategy: Share aspects of your life that learners can relate to, i.e. things that are also an everyday part of their lives, but which were different when you were their age (I still have my first cell phone and it always raises interest when I use it as a prop in class, for instance).

6. Incorporate as many references to pop culture as you can

Consider your teenage learners’ interests. Imagine you want to discuss last week’s events to practice the past simple tense. Will they be more interested in what the character in their course book did in their fictional journal, or what their favorite pop stars did last week? If you’re not willing to discuss their favorite songs, or any of the Maze Runner books or films, then you’ll have a harder time connecting with your teen learners.

The best strategy: Ask them what they’re listening to or watching on TV. They will be quite forthcoming, especially if they think they can educate you in some way!

7. Give them a little friendly competition

Everyone likes to compete in some way or another; teenage learners are no different. Whether they are playing sports or games on their games console or phone, they always try to outdo each other. Why not introduce some friendly competition into your classroom? Games are easy ways to do this, but you can also have them compete in any activity.

The best strategy: Make sure that you are giving everyone a level playing field. Base your friendly competition on something you know they’ve all been exposed to, rather than something, such as a particular sport, that will favor those who play or watch it. Such completion can work well in the lead up to exams, especially if you know they’ve been studying something that you can turn into a game (such as a vocab list).

8. Make reading age appropriate

If you want to get learners excited about reading, you have to make sure you choose material that will pique their interest. The current teenage generation is concerned about the future, so texts about the environment are often a winner. Books or stories about teenage learners are sure to work, but you can also include celebrity biographies, anything sports-related, or any topic that may interest them, but is also up to their reading level.

The best strategy: As mentioned in many of the other strategies here, allowing learners the opportunity to choose their own material often works well. It can even be good to get them to choose their own material related to their course book, but from a perspective that interests them.

Any more?

What else do you do to motivate teenage learners? I’m keen to hear your ideas and add them to this list.

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