Type it in the Chat

Here’s a great post by an ELT teacher Olivia about using the chatbox in online lessons for better student engagement, more effective feedback and a more inclusive and personalised environment. I particularly like the types of activities like interactive storytelling, secrecy games and modifying model texts. So much fun to be had in such a small window! The only thing that stops me from using the chat more is the typing speed of some learners – any advice on that?


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!

A feedback loop for teaching exam writing


This article in the EFL magazine drew my attention with the magical words ‘IELTS’ and ‘online’. Then I realised that the author is none other than Christopher Pell, the founder of my favourite website for IELTS prep: ieltsadvantage.com. I’ve always wondered why there is so much free content available, and the article offers an explanation. He also writes a lot about learning management skills you need to have for a successful online teaching business. But, perhaps most important of all, he also writes about his approach to teaching writing: create a feedback loop in which the student needs to do the task based on what he/she was taught, the teacher needs to give detailed feedback and then the student needs to act on the feedback. A very useful example of best practice for marking that is so difficult to follow!

P.S. I linked to a more general post about feedback loops here. Great for a better sense of progress 🙂

Video writing prompts


Here’s a fantastic resource by John Spencer (I linked to his project-based learning toolkit some time ago) that can be used to encourage collaboration in an online or offline classroom: writing prompts for group projects. The project ideas look very appealing (invent a ninja school, create an eco-friendly kitchen) and some are perfect for our current lockdown reality, e.g. invent a sport that can be played with social distance. The videos look great too: very simple but fun doodles. Looks like my next online class has been planned for me 🙂

P.S. If you are looking for more ideas for writing prompts, check out my earlier posts about picture resources here: Pobble in the sky; Imagine a perfect writing prompt; PicLit: in for a picture; Worth a thousand words.

Dixit for IELTS essays


Don’t you just love showing off your students’ work? I sure do, and today I have an offering from my new IELTS prep group. To help learners understand the exam format, I sometimes have them pretend they are exam writers. This time, it was the IELTS problem-solution essay, and the task was pretty self-explanatory: pick a random Dixit card, brainstorm problems it can symbolise, write a rubric using exam paper samples. Voilà! Four wonderfully creative essay tasks to be assigned for unique homework 🙂

Here is one rubric I’ve found the most useful. Can you guess which picture it goes with?  (Warning: it’s student work with a few errors and inaccuracies left intact!)

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Write about the following topic:

Since time immemorial, adults have been taking care of the young generation. However, it is now widely believed that parents take too much care of their children, which causes lack of independence. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words.

You can have a look at a few more examples here.

Read more about the uses of board games in ELT, including Dixit, at the links in this post.

Letters to future students

I finished a course last Sunday with a lovely group of teens preparing for IELTS. Sunday groups are special: they are often miserable at the start of the day (Sunday! Morning! Nooo!), so it’s an interesting challenge to make sure they learn well and have a reasonably good time doing it. For the final reflection, I asked them to write letters to the future Sunday group, and here’s what I saw:


I think it illustrates their conflicting views on the course very well 🙂

“from now on you will have to do all the homework and work a lot. … I hope we inspired you to be a nice student of Kate’s class. P.S. She’s very great and informative”

“If you read this you are a victim of IELTS test… If you start this course from the beginning, never you hear NEVER allow yourself forget about homework.”

Now they are saying they should have done their homework!

“You should be concentrated…. Your lessons will not be tedious, I promise… Your teacher is a really proficient and friendly” “You’re very lucky person because you take part in effective course”

The ‘effective’ course taught them nothing about articles!

“Remember, you should write tedious vocabulary tests about graphs… Also, you’ll do worthwhile tests for for reading and listening but of course it will be funny because Kate is so friendly teacher”

Nice vocabulary, but where are my articles?

“The whole ritual of waking up early is actually worth the course. … Most of the times the more boring the task is, the more info and practice it gives you… Watch out for vocabulary tests, they are pretty annoying”

Ha, ha 🙂

So, my conclusions?

  1. Next time, I need to have a better mechanism for accountability, to give them extra motivation to do their homework on time and not regret it later
  2. Do more vocabulary work so that they learn a few more words apart from ‘tedious’ – and more tasks to practise articles!
  3. Continue to annoy them with tests 🙂

To get more out of it, I would also provide a bit more scaffolding for this activity. Here, for example, is a useful post by Jen Wieber with templates for younger kids that can be reworked for language learners. As it is, I had to have another reflection task to focus on the contents and tasks of the course in more depth, whereas better scaffolding might have saved the time.

And what about you, do you ever ask your students to write letters to future students? Do you give the future students the letters afterwards? I certainly will.


Academic writing: why the rigour


Here is a very easy-to-read and accessible article about academic writing and why it’s not so easy to read (or write). If you have ever wondered how to convince your learners that academic essays should not be fun, this little piece of writing is just the thing: in the true spirit of popularising dry science, Gordon Rugg takes the reader back to the story of Mesmer (as in ‘mesmerising’) story and explains how Mesmer’s non-academic but flashy claims failed to make him the father of clinical hypnosis. The author also doesn’t forget about the traditional role of terms in achieving clarity and brevity, and gives a bit of teaching advice – good stuff.

Adjusting your marking practice


Here is a great post from Teachers on Fire by Katelynn Giordano which tells a story of how the author, an experienced teacher, was reminded to adjust their principles to meet the needs of a particular student. It all happened on a parents’ day (they call it a parent-teacher conference, and as a bonus you can read about an interesting student-led format for this day): a student and the teacher had different views on marking. In short, the student wanted to see corrections in her submitted paper, and the teacher had strong beliefs about not discouraging students with a paper full of red ink. It’s great that they were able to talk and find a solution that would help the student and not discourage her.

And I’m wondering now how many times my beliefs have stood in the way of learning for this or that particular student… I just hope they will keep telling me what exactly they need!

Thank yous through the ages


Are you a product, process or genre person? If you like to inspire your students with interesting samples of authentic language use, here’s a really interesting collection of thank you letters. You can print and analyse texts written by Neil Armstrong, Johnny Depp, David Bowie – what a find! I’m thinking of a gallery walk, where every letter is an exhibit in its own right, and students could record a small audio clip about each and put on Padlet which would have a digital copy of the ‘gallery’. As an extension, they can write their own thank you letters from other famous people or fictional characters (or real thank you notes to each other, or their school teachers – the possibilities are endless, even if Thanksgiving has come and gone).

Have you done any seasonal writing this year, any advice to share?


Worth a thousand words


Here’s a very useful page from New York Times: 42 curated pictures from their “What’s going on in the picture” section. The pictures have no captions or explanations, so are a perfect tool for building hypotheses and discussions. Then you can click on the link and find out more, to have the students check their ideas; there are sometimes comments by other students, as well as more discussion tasks. An excellent resource with built-in feedback!

P.S. And if you prefer Dixit-style picture prompts, NY Times has it all. This article has a great collection of prompts, lesson ideas and absolutely amazing moving pictures – all kid-friendly, mind you.