Pens of different colours and other desirable difficulties


Here’s a great post by Claire Hill about introducing retrieval practice, interleaving and other so-called ‘desirable difficulties’ (a term coined by Robert A. Bjork, as I understand) into English (language and literature) lessons. A lot of it can borrowed for ELT, for example, planned recall sessions, completing knowledge organisers from memory and then adding the missing information with another colour of pen – very interesting indeed. And the outcomes are: better learning, easier tracking of progress, saving time in the lesson and for the teacher.

The benefits of varied practice


Here is another voice¬†speaking against the 10,000 hour rule (I linked to an interesting article by James Clear about deliberate practice some time ago): this time it’s about varied, spaced and interleaved practice. Yes, I know it’s all very unscientific, but this article (or rather, excerpt from a book by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel called Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning)¬†can be a great conversation starter in an English lesson with higher levels to develop learner autonomy, or in a teacher training session. To me, it’s a serviceable explanation of why some things work and some don’t: why cramming and drilling give limited results, why revision of several units seems more effective than looking back on just one. Anyway, do check it out and let me know what you think!

Snowball speaking


Here is a nice fresh activity from Teresa Bestwick to celebrate the winter mood: write topics on sheets of paper, have a snowball fight with them, keep one snowball each and write questions to interview your partner based on the topics. What makes this speaking activity different? The physical silliness of course – a perfect stirrer for a tired or fidgety group. Check the original post for a full description, or have a look at another of my favourites by this author: Scissor quizzes.

Tic tac toe with living things


Here’s an entertaining take on the age-old game:¬†‘human’ tac toe for vocabulary revision. Cristina was inspired by the video of a game show and created her own version for the classroom. The rules only seem complicated when you read them first, but the video makes things much easier. If you have students write their own questions, it will become low-prep and high-yield – what’s not to like?


Cutting down on prep time


How much time do you need to prepare for lessons? I have found that with experience it takes me less and less (still not true of my teacher training exploits though!). Here is a very useful article from a college professor James M.Lang which doesn’t only speak about the necessity to reduce planning time, but also suggests several low-prep activities that can be adapted to an ELT classroom. My favourite at the moment is ‘the connection question’, but there are others to try: annotation worksheets, writing warm-ups and polling.

Love those little efficiency tweaks, and you?

Taking sides re retrieval practice


Here is a thought-provoking article from The Learning Scientists about different approaches to revision. Some teachers think that tests are boring, and try to hid retrieval practice behind other activities; others do not mind doing a lot of low-stakes non-threatening tests (these unassuming little checks reduce text and exam anxiety, provide regular revision and, of course, increase the sense of progress).

And which side are you on?

MA in Norwich: Day 11 of 14

If I wrote here about the value of reflection, I’m sure I would be preaching to the converted. So, I’ll go straight to the activity that has often been used with us on the course in one form or another: think of one thing that the course has confirmed, one thing that was new for you, and one thing that you’re still unsure of.


Simple, but effective. In fact, I liked it so much that I decided to turn the tables and ask our tutors the same questions.

Martyn Clarke:


What has this course confirmed for you?

Two years ago the course had a repositioning about what the key issues are for academic managers who come on these courses. The idea was that it was about managing people, in particular managing groups of people and the challenges this brings rather than marketing strategies, financial areas etc etc. So what’s been confirmed to me is that this is the focus of most people, and that’s actually been exemplified in the case studies which came out.

What was new?

The focus on the case studies is a new activity, and having this in our group-directed session was really interesting. Using course participant-generated case studies made the focus very personal for the group. But the other new thing that’s helped was that combining it with a review, with the basic idea of the course – to turn habits into choices, to make your management decisions one of principled, criteria-based selections rather than ‘what I’ve always done on instinct’ – combining that half way through the second week was the perfect timing.

What are you still unsure of?

How that would apply to a lot of the courses I run which are in closed groups for an institution. Would that work to the same extent because in their case studies everybody would know each other? It might not be so generative if participant-generated. I’m not sure of how that activity would translate if I were to develop the case studies, how the people would respond. I’ve got to try it out in the next course.

Animate your students with video projects


Here is an interesting post from Geraldine explaining and justifying tools like Powtoon in an English language classroom. According to her, video projects bring more variety, help students see the outcome of their work, give opportunities for revision and generally cater for their interests (at least if we’re talking about teens). I haven’t tried anything like this myself (my video ‘projects’ were usually based on recording a dialogue with My Talking Tom), but it seems that the activity is worth the time invested, provided the teacher thinks through all the stages and makes the process clear to the students. Geraldine’s post is very practical and can help you do just that.

Choose your news


On the surface, this post from the EFL Magazine offers very common advice: have your students choose their reading (news articles, in this case). If you look more closely, however, there is one very important detail: the choice should not only be based on the learners’ personal interests. The teacher encourages the students to find articles which would support the language or subskill focus of the lesson. The author (Mohamed Elhess) suggests comparing and contrasting as one of examples; why not also narrative tenses, or a vocabulary topic you’d like to review? Simple, but effective, and great for developing learner autonomy.

Geometrical reflection



How about another article from Edutopia? This one has several great suggestions for reflection activities. For example, at the end of a training session you can draw a triangle, square and circle on the board and assign them questions:

  1. What are my three takeaway concepts?
  2. Which of the things I heard square with my beliefs?
  3. What questions are still circling in my mind?

Can be adapted to English lessons, what do you think?