My 5 years of IATEFL

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s this time of the year again! April, the UK, the global IATEFL conference… Not this year, sadly, but I couldn’t resist the nostalgic pull today.


The 50th anniversary conference in Birmingham, which started the whole romance with IATEFL for me: I got a scholarship from LAMSIG to attend and speak about change management. Also, I met a lot of wonderful people and got to see the towers that inspired J.R.R.Tolkien – and went punting in Cambridge.birmingham



Glasgow, where I spoke about Team LDP and got to see a bit of Scotland. And then there was the Edinburgh castle, Loch Lomond and the misty Highlands…




Brighton and the South Coast with the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters. I spoke about language support for NNSTs and developed a taste for local ales.


Seven sisters


Liverpool started with the lovely York for me, and then I got to speak twice: about restructuring a management team and about the Purple Pen of Progress. A steam train trip through North Wales, the Conwy Castle and this wonderful sea smell in the air that you can only feel in my favourite country in April.



To be continued next year, I hope! For now, let’s meet up online this weekend 🙂

Neurolinguistics or neuro-something


Have you seen this polemical post by Russ Mayne from Evidence Based EFL? He writes about neurolinguistics in language teaching and warns against using it lightly: in fact, the whole line of argument expresses his doubts about the new ‘neuro’ fad. While neurolinguistics, he writes, can offer useful scientific insights, overly zealous or superficial attempts to connect it to education could be really misleading. He even remembers the NLP times – hilarious!

An interesting read, and something to share with colleagues if you feel they are veering too far ‘to the dark side of the force’. That said, I know a few people who use ideas from neurolinguistics quite successfully in their teaching and teacher training – and yet doubt we must.

The safe learning zone


Have you heard it said that in most jobs people reach their peak performance after the first two years? At least this example is used by Eduardo Briceno in his  local TED talk to make a point about learning, professional development and ways to avoid stagnation – and it kind of rings true to me. The idea is that we often spend too much in the performance zone and not enough in the learning zone (because of the high-stakes professional environment mostly).  And then Eduardo suggests several methods to compensate for this, to create a safe ‘island’ for learning in our lives: from doing more deliberate practice to getting a mentor, observing our own performance and learning from it – as well as creating these opportunities for others when we can. Very inspiring!

P.S. Compare this to an article about the zero-learning zone which talks about motivation for learning from a different angle.

Testing your creativity


If your students don’t mind personality quizzes, how about giving them this amazing test by Adobe to determine their creative type? It reminds me of Meyers-Briggs and Belbin, only it’s visually much cooler. The questions are easy enough for B1+ (better if they are adults), and the results warrant loads of fun and discussions. There’s even an article about the test was made – really great stuff for those who’d like to question the results or simply find out more. And the best thing about this test is that it brings home a very important message: we can all be creative in our own special ways, even if we don’t dance or paint.

Have you tested yourselves yet? Apparently, I’m a cactus.

Do learners ‘copy mistakes’ from each other?


Have your students sometimes refused to work with a weaker-level partner?

I’ve recently read this interesting post by Betty Azar responding to a teacher’s worry that students will acquire wrong models if you put mistakes on the board during a delayed error correction stage. She explains why fossilisation is not going to happen: error correction sessions develop the learners’ abilities to self-monitor, reinforce target language and generally help them become more aware of grammar cognitively.  Good arguments that can be shared with students, I think! (But I’m still going to mark those incorrect examples with an asterisk or a different colour, just in case :)).

Visuals for learning


I knew it, I knew all along – visuals are important for language learning! 🙂 I don’t know who decided that drab blocks of text are serious and thus effective, but I know that Halloween pumpkin paper was there for a reason. Seriously, do check out this guest post at Learning Scientists (the website that is slowly but surely becoming my favourite reading material). Anyway, Chris Drew writes about educational research related to images in learning and why the debate is actually happening. There are a lot of interesting quotes and even an infographic, in the true spirit of useful visuals, and the conclusion is: if you create materials, “go for nuanced, subtle design aesthetics that don’t drown out the focus of the lesson”. 

By the way, warm tones are also good – don’t you love this blog’s colour scheme? 😉

The Protege Effect


Just a quick post today not to break the streak 🙂 Here’s another interesting link explaining why learning by teaching is such a good idea. There is a suggestion to introduce a kind of cascade system where older students teach younger, and those teach even younger; another option would be to have a ‘teachable agent’, or an AI system that has to be taught by students and through this help them achieve better results in their own learning. A few useful terms as well: the Protege Effect (the positive effect of teaching on your own learning) and the Yiddish term nachas, which apparently means taking pride in someone else’s success – really cool, I have that often!

What you think you’ve learned


Here is a very interesting article highlighting perhaps the biggest issue with customer feedback: it may not always be reliable. The author quotes research which showed that university students who engaged in active learning did not see the learning as effective, even though their learning results were better. They expressed a preference for a more structured and controlled approach and couldn’t see their progress. What solutions are there? The researchers tried asking the more proficient learners, and the results were more reliable (so perhaps getting feedback from ‘champions’ and ‘early adopters’ makes even more sense!); they also recommend professors lecture about active learning and explain to the students that this method may seem less useful, but in fact works much better.

It does ring certain bells, doesn’t it?

Learning in streaks


Do you believe in streaks? For me, it’s not just gamification. It’s incredibly useful for developing a good habit, fighting procrastination and generally adding a bit of structure to everyday chaos. I’ve just read an article about this on Duolingo (disclaimer: the article may be biased, we cannot be sure of their sources, and I don’t like Duolingo much anyway – so read at your peril :)) In short, maintaining a streak is very good for motivation, especially if we plan how to counter the demotivation of breaking a streak. It is motivating alright – look at me writing my daily post at 23:43!

P.S. I recently linked to Sandy Millin’s excellent article about building a language-learning habit. Has anyone else seen any good advice on streaks in ELT?

Mini vocabulary workouts

mini workouts

I really like this  two-post series by Daniel Martin at Keep It Simple Activities: how to exploit those vocabulary videos by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley.  This post has examples of generic speaking questions and extension activities; and this one suggests how the videos can be used for micro-writing activities: use keywords to predict the contents, watch the video and compare the ideas. Very practical and efficient, with immediate feedback built into the activity and no preparation required. One more thing – it’s great to focus just on the language sometimes, without bringing in all kinds of non-linguistic and sometimes really unnecessary information.

I suppose something similar can be done with those little BBC Radio podcasts about contemporary vocabulary (The English we speak). They are a bit longer and require focused listening, but why not?