A bit of sound engineering


Inspired by a student in my Academic English lesson who said she doesn’t appreciate longreads: here’s a video which is just over 4 minutes. It’s a great explanation of how foreign accents are formed by the process of approximation. In fact, when we are mispronouncing a phoneme, we are picking the wrong tool from our vocal toolbox. It can do the job, but seems slightly off. So, do we teach students to pick the right tools? And how far can we go?


Chasing the cat


This post by Vicki Davis is about choosing the right priorities, avoiding pointless work and focusing on what is really important. We will be interrupted anyway, but there are interruptions that are like cats that keep running away (distractors), and other interruptions that can change lives. To be honest, I often ‘chase cats’ in the classroom – and what about you?

The post has a link to another, about kairos versus chronos, also very much recommended.

The Oxford Dictionary and poultry



To start off the week, here’s a hilarious lexicographical attempt to resolve the famous chicken/egg quandary.

Did you know that the earliest recorded use of ‘chicken’ in English is metaphorical, not literal? And that ‘the egg as offspring’ was not in fact used earlier than ‘the egg for eating’ in Old English documents? It’s getting curiouser and curiouser, so read the article to find out more.

Going backwards for progress

elephants back

Haven’t we all learned to start the lesson with the final goal in mind and not to use activities just because they are convenient, fun, or are on the same page? And yet, even planning backwards from objectives to activities, we sometimes forget to ask ourselves, “How will I know if students have achieved the desired results? What evidence will I accept of their learning?” This teaching guide by Ryan Bowen is a useful reminder, complete with videos, templates and figures.


The double edge of microlearning



Napoleon’s travelling library (via OpenCulture)

Despite its name, the phenomenon of microlearning is much bigger and it is becoming the new fashion in all types of training. This article by Laura Callisen  sums up the benefits of microlearning for corporate training quite optimistically:  sharing information in ‘little chunks and snippets’ is engaging, flexible and empowering. It can work for language learners as well – or is it too bitty for any serious progress? Compare this with Scott Thornbury’s famous criticism of ‘Grammar McNuggets’.

Somehow it’s never simple.

No-pressure homework

homework time

Is traditional homework the best use of students’ time, or just another drain on their resources, willpower and motivation? Gary Armida argues that there are better alternatives: inspire students, encourage their interests, or give them smart homework that will also develop useful life skills. You can read more about this in his article: On Homework…And Responsibility.

For my own part, I only split homework into regular tasks for ‘tonight’ and extra tasks for ‘the weekend’, to make it feel less threatening. Perhaps it’s time to try a new tack?

The worksheet eternal


Here is a simple set of 10 rules for making good-quality handouts, written by none other than John Hughes: A checklist for writing ELT worksheets. It’s a teaser for his book about materials writing, so is hardly meant to be comprehensive. I would add, for instance, branding in the header (school or personal), and of course extra links for the most ambitious learners (with QR codes for ease of use). And perhaps something for rule No.10, about the lesson flow. And then about this special ‘zing’ the best worksheets have which helps them survive through time.

Observing the observer


In his article called ‘Building Staff Rapport With Flash Lessons’ Brian Kulak, a U.S. school administrator, describes how he establishes good relationships with the teachers from his district: instead of (or in addition to) traditional observations, he offers to teach their students, with the teachers present and participating.

‘The spirit of the flash lesson is, like a bolt of lightning, unpredictable. I tell the teacher as little as possible about what I have planned because I want him to be completely vulnerable and, quite frankly, a student in his own class. When I have a question, I call on the teacher first. When I need a volunteer, he is my first participant.’

I think it’s not just the class teacher who is vulnerable, it’s also the administrator who has to deal with an unfamiliar class and make sure the lesson doesn’t completely flop in front of his colleague. But it’s a great role reversal – do you think it could work in a language school environment?

A lesson in weaving


What do you think about using real-life objects in language lessons? I think they are amazing because they break the monotony of pen and paper and digital screens; they are very hands-on; they are motivating and memorable. So, here’s another idea for you: a ball of wool for ice-breaking, storytelling, brainstorming and even for checking homework. Read all about it in this post by Lisa Jayne Wood: there are more activities and classroom management tips, too.