Broken record questions – boring or focused?


Now, here is a nice idea to keep the students focused on the learning objective! Connie Hamilton is writing about typical lessons when we have dozens of ‘teachable moments’ and it’s very tempting to go off on a tangent – but if we plan a series of questions to direct the students toward the learning objective, the learning becomes more effective. How do we do it? Turn the objective into a question, keep it consistent and keep it precisely worded. And ask this question again and again during the lesson.

P.S. I suppose it would be good to give students more time to think when you ask them a question like this (Hold that question); we can also encourage them to formulate the questions for themselves or their peers (The QFT Technique).

Seductive details in ELT


Have you ever thought what those unnecessary but ‘fun’ elements of a lesson or activity can be called? I’ve just come across the term ‘seductive details’ – very expressive, isn’t it? This article by Connie Malamed, for example, sums the notion up quite nicely: seductive (irrelevant but attractive, like the kitten picture for this post) detail detracts from learning, and it’s especially harmful for less proficient learners. It’s easy to avoid seductive details: make sure everything in the lesson, including warmers, ice-breakers, images on slides and activities for fast finishers, relates to the learning objective. Easy to say, but not always easy to do!


A lesson: what a good one looks like


What makes lessons less effective than we would like them to be, whether we observe, teach or take them? It could be the absence of any of the ten important elements listed in this great post by Tom Sherrington. (By the way, he is a master of putting teaching principles into a concise and clear form (have you read ‘The silver arrows of education” or “Ways to focus on your teaching” on my blog?). It’s difficult to disagree with any of the points: explicit knowledge goals, modelling instructions and language, several kinds of practice… All very structured  and could be made into a checklist to tick off before going into the classroom – what do you think?

P.S. The title of the post is based on the new acronym I’ve found in the post: WAGOLL (What A Good One Looks Like). Just another word for a clarification of success criteria, but quite memorable.

Interleaving the curriculum


Here is an interesting thought for planning a course or a series of lessons: putting several contrasting topics together so that their differences and similarities are more noticeable and memorable. In art, Martin Robinson, the author of the blog post, suggests juxtaposing Brecht and Stanislavsky as an example.

In English language teaching, don’t we do the same when we teach the Present Perfect with Past Simple? Do we interleave enough or perhaps too much? Still thinking 🙂

The IKEA lesson effect


Do you know why we love writing our own activities even when there’s no time for lesson planning? I’ve found the answer on The Teacher Habits by Paul Murphy: when we write our own materials, we tend to overestimate their value, just like people who buy furniture from IKEA like it more because they had to build it themselves. Paul calls this ‘the IKEA effect’, which apparently is a psychological term denoting a type of cognitive bias. We love the fruit of our labour, so to say – even if the quality of published materials (or the activities in the teacher’s book) is better.

This explains a lot… Do you agree?

P.S. I’ve written about this blog before: for example, have a look at Mystery trash for the end-of-lesson routine or How can teachers be like cats? Great advice for teachers of any subject.


Online teaching 8 of 15: student interaction


Here’s a very inspiring article by Bindi Clements about ways to increase student interaction in the virtual classroom. It is possible to achieve quite a high level of engagement, if you know how and plan well: another myth dispelled.

So, how do you avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’? Set polls, use the chat box, use the record function, tap into your learners’ experience and, above all, plan student interaction patterns, just like you would for a face-to-face lesson, or probably more. There’s more useful advice and a link to the author’s IATEFL 2018 presentation slides (wish I had seen that!). Very, very good stuff.

What’s better than cure in education


I once wrote about ‘black swans’ and tried to imagine what they would be in English language teaching; here is another article about them, this time in education. If these sudden unpredictable changes can make a project fail, why not attempt to predict them. Looks like a contradiction in terms: how can you predict the unpredictable? And yet the author’s idea is sound enough: if you do the ‘premortem’ discussion and imagine what could have gone wrong, you can still prevent some of the risks and prep your mind for early detection of others.

I wonder if Delta lesson write-ups aren’t like little premortems. I anticipate problems with this, this and that….

The meaning of organic


Here is an insightful post that can be equally applied to business and lesson planning: organic means many things, and not all of them are good. The author makes a clear distinction between the brainstorming and ideas-forming stage, and the rest of the process, when the ideas need to be supported with careful and thoughtful planning.

Thinking about teaching now. To extend the author’s metaphor, my favourite ‘flexi-stages’ are like flower beds or vegetable patches in the sea of orderly concrete buildings (that’s how I like to plan, yes.). How organic are your lessons, and are you happy about it?

On and off collaboration


How do you work? When you have a complex problem to solve, do you prefer to work on your own or brainstorm together with several colleagues? Whatever your preference, you might be interested to know that research recommends doing both. Here is the original academic article by Ethan BernsteinJesse Shore, and David Lazer (Harvard Business School), and here is a more lightweight retelling of it from Science Daily.

To give you the gist (I know how many of the readers actually click on the links! ;)), there were three groups in the experiment: one never collaborated, another collaborated all the time, and the other worked together only from time to time. The researchers were not surprised to find that the first group provided the most original solutions with the lowest average quality. The second group collaborated so much that they weeded out all outlying solutions, so the average quality was higher, but they didn’t find the best solutions out there. What was unexpected for them, however, was that the intermittently collaborating group kept the high average quality and the best solutions.

Neat – and can be easily applied to the classroom. I’ll never cut down on individual prep time after reading this!