A new series: online teaching


I know I’ll seem a Johnny-come-lately to some of you, but it’s actually great to join a scene where so much development has already happened. Over the next week or two, I’ll be exploring the blogosphere and other sources to find gems related to teaching English online: either synchronously, or asynchronously, and sharing the best finds here. So – let’s start from the WHY.

Here is an interesting overview article from The Language Pod about the challenges and benefits of online teaching. They mostly talk about small groups or one-to-ones in a virtual classroom and recommend adjusting your teaching style and materials, and of course working on your confidence dealing with technical issues. And the benefits are: flexibility of time and place, developing new skills and – last but not least – being on top of a growing trend. So far so good 🙂


Time management secrets from the busiest


I rarely link to Twitter threads, but this one definitely merits attention: Teacher2Teacher asked colleagues around the world about the strategies that help them manage their time, and got quite a lot of interesting answers. If you’re a teacher trainer, you can cut them up and use for a warm-up discussion! Or just scroll through for nuggets of practical wisdom: for example, plan in lists of three things; use colour codes and Google apps; OneNote, or just the good old paper notebook…  What’s your time management poison?

Who’d like to be a rock star?


I’ve already shared reading about teachers being like cats, or pirates, or many other things. Now, this post by Jimmy Casas is interesting not just for a new analogy, but the whole discussion around it. What negative effects can the ‘rock-star’ status have for the ‘rock-star’ teacher and his or her colleagues? If you are a manager, how do you recognise your teachers’ achievements? Do you give them a public award, compliment them in the teachers’ room, send a quiet email or talk to them privately?   This really made me think.

And how do you like to be recognised for your work?

The silver arrows of education


No, I just can’t resist a good metaphor! Here is a great post by Tom Sherrington with ten teaching ideas that can ‘penetrate the armour of your ingrained practice‘, and I really like how he distills the strategies he finds useful into this pithy list. For example, marking and feedback should be an action plan; teach to the top to stretch your students; do lots of formative tests… This should really be on a poster somewhere. Wait, someone has made a very useful infographic of the Silver Arrows: just scroll down the original post.

A tornado in the classroom


If you have often heard, or said, that language learning is a bit like a spiral, Nigel Caplan takes this metaphor even further: it’s a tornado because it expands (and is probably just as chaotic, though hopefully not as destructive). You can read more about this in his post if you need any more convincing! For example, if you say, ‘We’ve already done the Present Perfect’, you can’t be more wrong, either as a learner or as a teacher. It’s never over because there are always new and more complex contexts and situations where this language could be applied, and the knowledge doesn’t transfer automatically.

So, next time a student comes to me with a question about his or her sense of progress, I know what picture I’m going to draw!

Questions around communities of practice


You must have heard of Communities of Practice before: it’s people doing something similar (not necessarily together), sharing knowledge and supporting each other. This literature overview by Catlin Tucker dots a few ‘i’s’ for me and yet brings up even more questions: a community of practice has to be something recognised by all its members, and there have to be some results, a repository of resources developed over time. So, when teachers form a community in the teachers’ room and share resources, is this a community of practice yet? Or should we provide a more formal structure for that, a way of communication, and some place to store and organise professional knowledge? (And when does an informal community of practice become too top-down for its members to enjoy?)

So, if you’re reading this, do you consider yourself part of a community of practice? How is it different for you from a group of people sharing a common interest?

The fun of misnegation


“The author never fails to disappoint” – can you imagine that a phrase like that ended up on the cover of a book? And yet it happens, and there is an explanation for it in this post by Stan Carey about the issue with several negatives in one sentence and how our brain sometimes fails to process them correctly. It can be particularly useful when you’re teaching students with a negative-concord native language – though I suppose words similar to ‘overestimate’ and ‘understate’ can be tricky regardless of how many negatives your language allows you to have in one sentence!


Slipping into conversation


I’ve stumbled upon these sets of conversation starters: why not use them for ELT, not just for building a community in the classroom or small talk? There are New Year prompts on paper slips (great for looking back on your year and making New Year resolutions), gratitude prompts (not only for Thanksgiving) and even integrity printables (these are nice as an idea but probably need a bit more fleshing out with examples). All in all, a great free resource, and the possibilities are almost endless.

Or would you say that tasks like this are a waste of time? 😉

How creative is your creative writing?


Here is a wonderful account of a series of lessons on creative writing and literacy: could be useful for those projects with lower secondaries 🙂 The author was inspired by a picture book called ‘Flotsam’ and brought in all kinds of exciting prompts for the children: ‘flotsam trays’ with objects that could characterise their imaginary owners; graphic organisers (‘investigation grids’) for the learners to practise writing and thinking skills; a real old camera; musical instruments and eBay advert templates. What a treat!

Looking for serendipity


Do you remember this cool book called ‘Teach like a pirate’? Well, Dave Burgess, the author, is not alone: there’s a group of innovative educators who write books, speak and generally inspire teachers and learners. These two books in particular seem exciting: The Path to Serendipity and The Princes of Serendip by Allyson Apsey. The former is about life, the universe and everything – how you can find joy in lucky and beautiful moments (that’s what I got from the blurbs, but the book is now on my Kindle). If the first book is for adults trying to make sense of their life, the other one is its companion for children, instilling the same values through a story with pictures. And now I really want them both 🙂

Why I’m telling you all this? Just to ask if you have any thoughts about serendipity and if it has any place in your classroom or workplace. Are you one of those princes on the journey to Serendip? Do you want your learners to be?