Exploring the Web with WebQuests

Did you know that there are people who are quite serious about web quests (or, more correctly, WebQuests)? We’ve all used a web quest or two on Halloween or Women Independence Day, but there is so much more to be gained from this little activity – especially nowadays. You’ve probably seen the new web quest-type activities from NASA, but I bet you’ve never used this cool collection. Yes, some of the pages look rather dated, but there are loads of inspiring ideas, complete with rubrics and teacher’s notes.

And if you’d prefer to create your own, here’s a nice article about WebQuest components.


Business mazes for serious learning

If you’re looking for a serious game for your Business English or workplace skills learners, you might want to check this oldie but goldie: Business Mazes by Joni Farthing (published in 1982, but a few examples have been converted to html and read quite well). You don’t have to be a fan of ‘choose-your-adventure’ stories to enjoy them: the participants are easy to identify with, the dilemmas are more or less easy to resolve but require some discussion. They could even inspire some of the students to write a few mazes of their own!

So boring that it’s not

Here’s an idea for Friday night lesson prep. Why not have students retell their favourite films (or books) in the most boring way possible? For examples see this hilarious collection where things are totally turned on their head. How do you like this one: ‘Guy finds a ring, and his nephew returns it to the factory’. 🙂

Apart from the obvious linguistic challenge of summarising, it can give excellent vocabulary practice and, perhaps most importantly, increase the awareness of what makes a text less boring – au contrario. I’m definitely going to try it as soon as I can!

BBC for critical thinking

Somewhere in my stash of useful links there was this old BBC pilot of the ‘Evidence Toolkit‘ – a piece of software for helping teens learn to spot fake news. The pilot has ended, but if you scroll down the page, you will find a rather useful set of materials: three ready-made lesson plans with activities about verifying sources, interpreting images and data (for example, Lesson 3 has a fun video about ‘Numbers and the tricks they play’) and other aspects of reading the news. There’s even an interactive game from Aardman (BBC iReporter) – I haven’t used it yet, but it looks very promising. As for the age and level, the text-based activities would probably work best for higher-level older teens: after all, they were not written with EFL learners in mind; the videos and games seem more universal. Just another resource that can really save teachers some time!

P.S. If you’re looking for more materials for critical thinking, you can find a useful test if you travel this way.

Very, very old picture books

Here’s a useful post from Open Culture featuring The Library of Congress collection of digitised children’s books. It gives a great taster of what you can find there: yellowed pages, unusual fonts, and rather quaint (for want of a better word) illustrations. How can we use them? Well, to start with, they are all in public domain (each page has a set of references and a credit line). Why not give a special flair to a lesson flipchart, or send the learners to that collection to find an interesting illustration, a story or a poem? These photos are incredibly atmospheric: as if you are remembering a past you never had, you know?


Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

The Peter effect


Here’s another biblically named effect in education that we also need to be aware of: the Peter effect. It was coined by Anthony and Mary Applegate in 2004 and you can read their article revisiting the original research here. The researchers write: ‘The label itself is drawn from a New Testament story of a beggar who approaches St. Peter and asks him for money. Peter responds that he “cannot give what he does not have” (Acts 3:5).” They surveyed pre-service teachers and found out that many of them were not enthusiastic about reading and concluded that they would not be able to instill the love of reading in their learners. Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could research the teachers’ attitudes to online teaching and how it affects our learners?

The Periodic Table of books


If you’re into reading books rather than articles (or you suddenly have a bit more time on your hands), check out this amazing resource compiled by Mark Anderson: a topical collection of contemporary titles on different aspects of education, from general education to literacy to leadership to modern classics. There may be an interactive version in future, but even this list is very helpful. I was pleasantly surprised to see Simon Sinek’s ‘Find your why’ there – that’s a great idea for lesson planning, by the way!

Linguistics with laughter


It’s easy to fall into an Internet rabbit hole on holidays, isn’t it? But look what I’ve found: an absolute gem of a web zine for linguists and the linguistically-minded called Speculative Grammarian. Between their News Bites (/nuz baɪts/) to rather horrible puns in ‘reasons not to study linguistics’ (Juθt don’t θtudy liθpθ; theðe thingð are θyθtematically impoθible) or the exploits of the Great Predicato, I haven’t been able to stop laughing.

And of course I’m still reading the poems. What do you think about this one?

There once was a linguist from Mordor,
Whose vast minions obeyed every order,
So their lines never crossed
When their foes they’d accost,
And each spear held a hidden recorder.
—Morris Swadesh III

That said, I wouldn’t recommend taking any of it to the classroom unless you’re teaching at linguistic university!

Receptive strategies for language learning


Here is a very enjoyable read by Andreia Zakime from WhatisELT.  She writes about top-down and bottom-up processing in reading, and I love her take on the Ukrainian and Russian linguistic landscape (she is staying in Ukraine at the moment). She analyses her own experience as a beginner reader, combines it with her teaching and teacher training skills and gives an excellent overview of the two strategies and how they can be used in the classroom to develop both receptive skills. Really nice!

Constraints and choices for reading


Here is a very recent find: an illustration of how a simple collection of facts can become an engrossing adventure. Tom Kuhlmann writes about converting an electronic template to create a gamified activity, but for me the tech side of things is not as interesting as the whole approach. Imagine you have a series of short bios, or other texts about several characters. Normally, you would add a picture to each text, and that’s it. What you could do, however, is to add an interesting context and a challenge: the texts become interviews after an incident or crime, and you are a police detective who has to put the pieces of puzzle together. And then, very importantly, you introduce some constraints: each text is worth a number of points, and you can read only about several people before you are ‘ousted out of the building’.  So, from static passive reading you are moved into the realm of critical thinking: who do I choose, how do I continue my search and not fail? Interesting stuff, and seems easy enough on the surface (probably not so easy when you start building those activities, but at least now I know how they work!).

P.S. The principle of the activity reminds me of one of my favourite educational games – The Quandary. Has anyone ever tried it?