A case against minimalism and for memorability

During one of my wilder Internet searches, I stumbled upon this article by a group of Canadian researchers about the effect simple and graphically embellished charts have on the reader. Their conclusions are clear: attractive visual elements are not ‘chart junk’. They don’t interfere with short-term recall and, most importantly, improve long-term recall. And they are more enjoyable to look at, which is also a plus!

How can this help ELT teachers? Why not explain to the students the value of a good infographic, improve our own boardwork or even spice up those IELTS preparation charts. We just have to be mindful of seductive details ๐Ÿ™‚


The power of PowerPoint

All week I’ve been looking at presentations, showing presentations, speaking about presentations… And what do you know? I still don’t hate PowerPoint. In fact, I like it more and more every day: for example, today I accidentally converted a SmartArt matrix into a set of figures and it solved a long-standing formatting issue ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, there are lots of teachers who are much better at this, and this collection by Matt Miller at DitchThatTextbook.com proves it. Some of the ideas are for the teacher, others for collaborative or individual student work, and, most importantly, there are ready-made templates you can download and save yourselves quite a lot of time!

Folk etymology for language learners

It’s all good and well to have fun in the classroom, but wouldn’t it be great if most of the fun came from the process of language learning, or even better, from the language itself? Me, I have to confess that I’m hopelessly in love with English, so I’m always on the lookout for tools that can encourage more students to join me ๐Ÿ™‚ For instance, little excursions into etymology are quite helpful, but this article by Christopher Walker takes it to another level: you will find out how to use folk etymology in the classroom, and even download a nice set of materials to go with it. You can have your learners build their own theories about the origin of SOS or ‘hangnail’, play Call my bluff and do other kinds of fun (really fun) stuff – it’s on my to-do list of teaching now.

Food likes and dislikes


If you’re teaching a lesson about food, this collection of images with text is an absolutely amazing resource. You can have students pick and choose from 25 different stories of kids around the world and their weekly diets. The pictures are lovely, the descriptions are quite simple and yet have loads of interesting vocabulary. There is also a lot to discuss about different standards of living and life situations of these kids, so it could make for a lesson about global issues, poverty, inequality – or just use these texts for home reading or an introduction into a food-related project. I’m planning to use this soon!

Hoards of board games


If you haven’t seen this collection of printable board games, do check it out: there are 11 different boards with instructions, from simple ‘Name your favourite’ to the more challenging ‘Which one would the world be better without’ (I’m going to use this one today). Each board has a different look, and the instructions are quite comprehensive and even offer examples of lower and higher-level student answers. An excellent resource!

By the way, how do you play board games online? I’m going to ask the students to use the Annotate tool (dots or squares of different colours) for game pieces, and either online dice or my big orange plush die (yes, I actually have things like that at home) that would look good on camera. I don’t often play them, but somehow it feels right at the moment ๐Ÿ™‚

P.S. There’s an old post where I linked to Marisa Constantinides’ take on board games – really worth reading.

Never get enough of picture resources


One of the things I miss about face-to-face teaching is the ability to use all my toys, balls, dice and of course cards (yes, I do still use objects in ‘show to the camera and tell’ activities, but it’s different). So, here’s the website I used yesterday instead of Dixit: Once Upon a Picture. I asked the students (IELTS prep) to choose a picture to describe how they are feeling about the exam at the moment, and there were lots of interesting choices and, hopefully, better awareness of what concerns them and what we can do about it. (For example, it was great to find out who was already feeling empowered – ‘riding the dragon of her knowledge’ – and who felt a bit pressured by the time limits – ‘the rabbit with the watch’).ย  The images are friendly and slightly whimsical (in fact, some of them are also featured on Dixit cards), but not too childish. The best thing: this is not just a resource, it’s a collection of materials: you can click on the picture and find a series of questions and prompts that are downloadable in *.doc or *.pdf – a great timesaver if you need a writing prompt.

Next time I’ll choose a busy picture and try the ‘Pictures in close up’ activity from Nicky Hockly and L.Clandfield that I wrote about here. Also, there are other posts to get back to: “Pobble in the Sky”ย  and “Worth a thousand words”.

How universal are your lessons?


I’ve just read this post by Ewan McIntosh calling to bring back the Universal Design into education – in short, to make our lessons accessible to all students. While the post is mostly focusing on the poor and other vulnerable layers of society, I’ve been thinking about accessibility of our lessons in other ways. When we’re preparing a Zoom presentation, do we plan for people who have poor eyesight? Do we consider those who are not very good at tech (either because of their previous lack of experience, or for other reasons)? And those who have slow computers or are connecting from a mobile device?ย  If we take the time to do it, everyone will have a better learning experience in the end. Just the author of the post says: “If youโ€™re building pavements, make them large enough for two wheelchairs to pass each other. Then we all benefit when weโ€™re pushing our buggies or social distancing by two metres.”

Discussion management in breakout rooms


If you have been wondering how to make discussions in multiple breakout rooms more productive and controlled, here are great materials from one of my favourite bloggers, Mark Makino: Discussion Circles. Mark explains how the activity works (it’s based on roles distribution, really nifty: you get a discussion leader, a harmoniser, a reporter and a devil’s advocate), how it can be modified for different levels of familiarity with the task, and shares three versions of digital handouts to go with it.

Thirty minutes of your lesson covered, in the most effective and developmental way: the students listen to each other more carefully, quieter students get a chance to contribute equally, everyone can try themselves at unusual roles and stances. Perfect idea for those teens!

Coursebooks are not lazy


To catch the last minutes of today (it’s a daily blog after all!), I’m going to share this great post by Tom Sherrington about the benefits of coursebooks/textbooks. He does say that his positive view relates only to ‘decent’ coursebooks, but I’ve found even my least favourite coursebook useful nowadays: to spare the kids’ eyes and reduce their screen time, I can sacrifice a bit more time to make these (rather awful) pages work.

Tom writes about the most important features of a good textbook (from the perspective of general education): broad overview of subject, explanations and diagrams, reading materials, quality visuals and plenty of questions and answers. Applied to the ELT context, we need very similar things: a good scope, nice visuals and grammar schemes, loads of practice activities (which are not always gapfills). There are quite a few decent books available, and yet why do many teachers prefer not to use them?


Are you Into Film?


You’ve probably known about this resource all along, but I only heard about it a few days ago at Gareth Rees’s webinar at the IATEFL Get-Together. It’s a charity in fact, an organisation that provides support to young people and educators who are interested in film viewing and film making. They have clubs, training events and many other things, but to me as a teacher their website is first and foremost a great collection of ready-made film-related activities, from pdfs to ppts to film guides and articles: definitely not to be missed. You have to register to access the resources, but you don’t have to pay. I started with a great PowerPoint about the Wonder Woman (really high quality visuals and good discussion questions), and then stumbled upon this collection of guides (perfect for a remote homework pack), and then read Home Education tips from a teenager – really good advice!

Have any of you been using this website? How does it work in your lessons?