Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are authentic texts better?

Authentic reading materials are real life texts that have not been written for pedagogic purposes. Such texts have been created to fulfill a certain purpose in the native speakers' community.

Some teachers refuse to see the value of using authentic texts in the EFL classroom, the main concern being that such texts are too difficult for the students to understand. Yet authentic materials may turn out to be an extremely beneficial tool boosting the students' confidence as readers.

The main advantages of using authentic texts in the EFL classroom are as follows:
  • They expose students to real language with all its changes and variations
  • They are a source of authentic cultural information
  • Students are given the opportunity to learn about what is happening in the world 
  • Real life texts often include incidental and improper English very common in real life but conspicuously absent from textbooks
  • The same piece of material can be used for different tasks or to practise different skills (e.g. speaking, reading, writing)
  • Authentic texts are perfect for practising mini-skills -skimming or scanning
  • They contain a wide variety of text types and language styles not easily found in conventional teaching material
  • Authentic materials encourage reading for pleasure and are likely to contain topics of interest to the students, especially when you let your students choose what they want to read
  • They may give students a sense of achievement and encourage further reading being thus highly motivating
  • Using them may contribute to the development of an individual learning style and learner autonomy
  • They usually relate more closely to students’ needs
The most important advantage of making use of authentic materials is that it supports a more creative approach to teaching. Needless to say, it is something we should prioritize at all times. 

On the other hand, having read real life texts with different age groups myself, I must admit that using them is definitely not all roses.

Fortunately experiences vary

Anyone willing to share their ideas is more than welcome to contribute :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Using Technology – fad or future?

Almost everybody in the TEFL world of today is in some way or the other preoccupied with using technology in the classroom.

Almost every TEFL conference these days seems to give priority to speakers who wish to share their experiences about blogging, Twitter, SL or Web 2.0. It seems like these days, teachers are not looked up to or praised for what they can do without a computer but for what they can do using it.

Having attended quite a few seminars about technology and being a technophile myself, I must admit that the potential the Internet offers cannot and should not be neglected. By writing this post I also presume that there definitely are advantages of using technology in the classroom.

Yet there are a few issues that constantly keep bothering me.

Are there any disadvantages related to using technology in the EFL classroom?
Do teachers have any reservations about using it?
What are the roles of the teacher and the learner in the technology oriented classroom?

In order to get some feedback I started a few discussions on two Ning networks: EFL Classroom 2.0 and Classroom 2.0. I have also read Gavin Dudeney’s blog on and his ideas about attitudes to technology on

My main interest, however, was to learn what regular teachers think about that matter. The educators who took part in the discussions pointed out the following things:
  • many schools still do not have computer labs, computers in the classrooms, access to the Internet or even CD players
  • technology often and unexpectedly fails (personally, I have stopped counting the times it happened)
  • some teachers and students do not know how to use computers/internet at all or well enough to make use of it properly
  • it takes a lot of time to prepare a lesson with technology (searching and trying things out)
  • we need to take copyright into consideration
  • a lot of teachers are concerned with security on the web, especially publishing students’ emails
  • sometimes parents do not allow their children to use computers at home
  • some students, even in developed countries, do not have computers or access to internet at home; as a result they feel worse than their classmates
  • there seem to be lack of support from principals or school managers
  • in some countries certain websites and in other schools certain websites are banned (like Youtube in Turkey)
  • if students do work at home using the Internet instead of doing it in the classroom, we cannot guarantee its authenticity
  • teachers are concerned with losing control and protection that a traditional classroom setting provides
Personally, I dare to have further doubts and questions concerning using technology in the classroom.
  • Are we using technology for our students’ or our own sake (be honest!)?
  • Can it have a negative effect on our relationship with the students?
  • Are we taking students’ needs into account?
  • What does using technology in the classroom lead to? Is it worthwhile wondering about that?
  • Is the division between digital natives and digital immigrants actually valid?
Hoping to get answers from you :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free worksheets for Young Learners

I am sure that most of you reading this post have spent hours looking for free, interesting worksheets for your students.

Many websites advertise themselves as free but when it comes to downloading they request payment or donation. Other ones have complicated menus or provide worksheets only in the PDF format.

To make your lives easier, here is my advice how to find materials in less than a couple of minutes.

If you are looking for a particular worksheet (e.g. fruit worksheet)

  1. google it in Google Images
  2. seeing what has been searched, click on the image that interests you
  3. next click on the ‘see full size image’ button 
  4. then right click the image to save it on your computer. Easy.

If this proves to be insufficient, you might find these websites very useful: (almost a legendary site with loads of free material) (not many but very stimulating worksheets) (excellent and easy to use free worksheet generator) (You need to set up an account and upload some worksheets of yours. Once your worksheet has been downloaded you get one point. Having gained thirty points, you become a premium member and are allowed to download up to thirty new worksheets i.e. ones that were uploaded on a particular day. If you download an ‘old’ worksheet you lose one point of the ones you gained.)

The following sites convert files:  - converts Word documents into PDF - converts PDF documents into Word

The only thing you have to do in order to convert a document is to upload it and type your email address. After a couple of seconds, en email with a converted file will be waiting for you in the inbox.

These sites provide excellent free printables as well: (go to 15.000+ free worksheets) (you will have to spend some time looking for what you need but it’s worth the time) (go to the English Teachers part) (contains worksheets for both Young Learners and teenagers) 


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Join Macmillan Webinars today!

Have you ever wanted to attend TEFL seminars but:
  • found yourself living too far from the venue?
  • did not have sufficient means to attend them?
Have you ever felt the need to ask the speaker some questions but felt too shy to do so?

If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, you might be interested in what Macmillan has to offer.

Macmillan Webinars allows you to watch live talks by one of the most important people in the ELT world online. You do not need to install any programmes and may watch the seminars directly form your browser. They are all free to view but you have to pre-register to be able to do so.

There is also an opportunity to watch seminars that took place before in the Archive. You may even download them for later use.

The sessions available in the Archive at the moment are:

Pete Sharma "New technology - new pedagogies"
Lindsay Clandfield "The power of lists"
Scott Thornbury "Seven things beginning with M"
Andy Roberts "Pronunciation in Communication: An Aviation Perspective"
Roy Norris "Taking students from Upper Intermediate to Advanced"

Here is a screenshot of the seminar by Scott Thornbury.

The next session will take place on December 2nd, 2009 and the guest speaker will be Carol Read. Her presentation is called "Control or Chaos? Managing classes of primary children in a positive way".

Looking forward to seeing you there! :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

You know you are a teacher of Young Learners if...

Inspired by the ongoing discussion about English teachers on one of my favourite blogs, I have decided to write something for those of you who deal with children on an everyday basis.

Here are my 10 things J

You know you are a teacher of Young Learners if:

  1. You constantly grade your language and your speech becomes oversimplified, especially when you talk to non-native speakers
  2. You start using teacher language to address members of your family which they immediately notice and start using against you
  3. You demonstrate every activity you talk about, point to the objects you mention and feel like if you don’t use gestures, people will not understand
  4. You catch yourself humming or singing some ridiculous songs you know from course books and you know which book they actually come from Shipwreck, shipwreck, look at the shipwreck down at the bottom of the sea…
  5. You start accumulating things people normally throw away (buttons, empty milk cartons etc) as they might always come in handy in the classroom 
  6. You have a pricey collection of puppets, wigs, balls and animated movies
  7. You have an uncontrollable urge to tell off anyone who acts in a rude or disrespectful manner
  8.  Spiderman, Winx, Sponge Bob and Bob the Builder are like members of your own family.
  9. You are scared to wear your best clothes to school as they might become dirty or get damaged in some way
  10. You have more stationery than when you were at school yourself

Friday, November 6, 2009

A bag of tricks for the traveling YL ESL teacher

It’s somewhat of a nuisance to carry around but I don’t go to any of my schools without it. I’ve now settled on a large, colourful plastic bag that zips and that can easily be molded to fit into my bicycle hamper. It raises a few eyebrows wherever I go but what the heck it helps me to do my job. Perhaps, you have one too. My bag is full of useful props, things, objects that help me to teach in a creative, magical way and serve to relax and loosen up the children for learning. It’s something akin to a bag of tricks that a magician uses to awe his audience. I strive to do the same with mine.
Here are the things that make up my bag of tricks. It includes:
  • Lots of children’s songs CDs. Music is magic to young learners’ ears. I use music as a warm-up to start the class and also to start a game. The children lap it up. They sway, bounce and move their bodies to the music they hear.
  • Puppets. It allows me to teach target language and introduce and act out simple dialogue skits. A puppet, I have discovered, actually introduces another native speaker in the classroom. They’re great and the children warmly respond to them.
  • Squishy balls. They’re soft and colourful. They are easy to catch. I use them to promote classroom participation.
  • A wig. I wear it to liven up the class. It makes me look ridiculous but it grabs their attention.
  • Flashcards. It’s a great way to introduce language. I make my own. It’s cheaper if you do. I use them in games. I also carry with me a set of ABC flashcards to teach the alphabet and phonics.
  • Stuff toy animals. They’re cute. I use them to teach prepositions such as on, in, under, behind, in front of, etc.
  • Soft, large, cushy dice. I use them to play games like snakes and ladders.
  • Coloured hollow plastic balls. I use them for teaching colours and in activities such as the passing activity.
  • Paper, pencils, coloured pencils, and erasers. I use them in drawing/colouring/connect the dot activities. They are a great way to end the class and to restore peace and calm to a lively and active group of children.
  • Magnets. To hang flashcards on the blackboard.
  • Tambourines/rattles. I use them to start a game and for drill activities. They act as a cue.
  • Peanuts, two bowls, and two sets of chopsticks. I use them to play the chopstick game.
My bag also includes tissue, throat lozenges, and a bottle of water.
I don’t ever leave home without my bag of tricks. I’d be lost without it. It sure makes a difference to the way I teach. Perhaps, if you haven’t one you might just be tempted to start one and take it with you whenever you go to your schools.

Contributed by Stefan Chiarantano | February 2005
Stefan has been teaching English as a foreign language in Asia for the past several years. He presently teaches English in Japan. He's a Canadian with an interest in filmmaking and photography.

What is the chopstick game? Any ideas?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Some Ideas for Newbie Teachers of English to Young Learners

I’ve been teaching children for seven years now. And the beginnings were tough both for me and for the kids, I guess. I can still recall my first class. It was a total disaster.

That is why I have decided to write some tips for those of you who have just started or will begin teaching young learners in the future. Hopefully, the following ideas will help you get the hang of dealing with the little monsters ;)

Young Learners in general:

• cannot concentrate as long as adults

• cannot understand abstract concepts easily

• tend to learn and forget quickly

• have high energy levels

• tend to be good at pronunciation

• do not worry about making mistakes

• pay little or no attention to accuracy

• are usually externally motivated

• are NOT interested in everything

• tend to acquire language as opposed to adults who actively go about learning it

• are very interested in talking about themselves

What has to be taken into account while teaching children?

routines and rules help to solve behavioural problems in the YL classroom

• we need to consider motor skills when teaching Young Learners

• it is crucial to make the meaning of language clear for children because they do not ask a lot of questions

• it is important to do creative and imaginative activities with kids

• we should not encourage young learners to transfer their reading/ writing skills from L1 to L2

Had I known all of that when I started teaching kids, everything would have been so much easier :)

Good luck to all of you!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hands and Fingers or Sign Language in the EFL Classroom

There are times when words are not enough. There are times when no matter how hard we try we cannot put our message across. In the EFL classroom such situations take place pretty often, especially if you are teaching young learners.

Most of us know that miming is an extremely useful tool for eliciting, presenting or practising new vocabulary. To become good at that requires time, conscious effort and possibly a pinch of talent.

Sadly, some teachers reject the idea as they are afraid to look and act silly in front of their students. My advice – give it a try!

Some basic ideas on how to use hands and fingers in the ESL classroom involve:

Pointing to objects, students, yourself meaning this/that/you/me etc

• Pointing back indicating past, pointing forward indicating future, pointing to the floor in front of you meaning now, at the moment

Thumbs up for ok, thumb down meaning not ok, wrong

Shaking your hand sideways meaning so-so, not really, give it another try

• Showing time’s up using both hands, making a T

Clapping meaning bravo, well done, good job

Holding your head in different ways meaning tired, I’m having a headache (e.g. because students talk too much)

• Putting a hand close to your ear as in Chinese whispers meaning speak louder, I can’t hear you, repeat

Waving your hand meaning Bye bye, Hello

Raising a hand to indicate that you expect the same from the students

Shaking a pointing finger meaning you’re naughty, don’t do that, I don’t like that

• Moving hands to mime certain nouns or actions – a car, rain, playing the piano, smoking

• Presenting adjectives - big small, long short, heavy light

• Using fingers to show a number or while counting, numbering, listing

Alternative ideas for using hands:

• to indicate word stress (e.g. vegetable has 4 syllables and the first one is stressed. Holding your palm as if you were knocking on the door, ‘knock‘ the air four times opening your fist for the stressed syllable as in Oooo. Make sure you do it from right to left as the students have to see it from left to right)

• to show intonation by making waves (rise, fall, rise fall, fall rise, level)

Alternative ideas for using fingers:

• to show a number of words in a sentence, syllables in a word and to correct students’ utterances. If a student forgets to use a word in a phrase, show him/her the number of words using fingers with one finger missing.

• holding fingers together to show contractions (e.g. 1st finger I, 2nd finger AM, two fingers held together I’m)

• making the scissors gesture may indicate that too much has been said and something has to be cut out

Why is it worthwhile to consider using these techniques?

• They make students remember things easily as they give them the opportunity to visualise and mime (perfect for learners with the visual and kinaesthetic learning styles)

• They reduce Teacher Talking Time

• They may be used while eliciting

• They provide alternative ways of error correction, indicating stress, showing contractions, intonation

• They might help you create good rapport with the students

• If students are at a loss for words, miming can put them back on track

• They may help teachers express themselves more effectively

On a final note, make sure the gestures you want to use do not have negative connotations in a country you teach in. Taking learners’ backgrounds or age into consideration also plays an important role. Whatever you do, do not be afraid to experiment. In the end, experimenting is a vital part of the learning process.

* Some of the ideas presented above might sound too ‘Silent Way-ish’ to some of you. My aim though is not to advocate this method but to take the best of what it has to offer.