Presentation skills

The presentation below was put together by the great International Office team (with a little help from me) to help them promote the FOM and its many international initiatives.

Working on this little project as part of their language training course was a great way for the team to focus on the kind of language they need in their everyday work, while at the same time working on presentation skills. The university’s original text-laden slides were completely reworked to make them more visually appealing in a way that complements rather than competes with the spoken word. The text used for the voiceover was also overhauled to make the information more accessible to a wider audience. And a lot of effort also went into aspects of delivery such as modulating one’s voice to maintain interest and increase impact.

A huge well done to the FOM’s International Office!


Posted in Presentation skills

Introducing yourself using memes and gifs

Teaching Business Communication Skills

Colleagues of mine recently launched a series of workshops that combine learning English with socialising in a fun bar-like atmosphere. As I’m helping out with the accompanying online component, where participants can find follow-up activities and keep in touch between events, they asked me to briefly introduce myself. And as I can’t attend in person, I had a little fun putting the introduction below together by combining elements of the ‘What people think I do‘ meme with gifs taken from popular TV shows and movies.

Sad to say, the delivery in this video version is a little wooden – I’m no entertainer! – but the basic idea is fun I think and the voiceover (in class it would be your commentary) models the language needed for the speaking activity at the end.

Putting something like this together is relatively easy, and although it’s quite time-consuming (finding the right resources), it’s fun to do and the final product can be recycled (when appropriate) with different groups of learners. All it takes, apart from time,  is you favourite presentation tool (I used PowerPoint), some images found online labelled for reuse and gifs from sites like Gihpy.

Posted in Fun, Presentation skills, Web technologies

Can do statements in Business English

I’m currently moderating an online CertIBET course and we’re in the third week of the programme, in which we are looking at setting learning goals, performance based learning and syllabus design. A topic that has come up frequently in our discussions is the role the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages and can do statements can play in preparing and delivering effective language training in corporate settings. With this in mind I put together a set of resources which provide some background and some specific examples from BE practitioners using can do statements in their corporate training, which I’m sharing here in the hope that others may also find them helpful (and perhaps inspiring!).

Introductory Guide to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for English Language Teachers
With the above link you can download a very clear introduction to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) produced by Cambridge University Press.

The ALTE can do project
This links to a document from the Association of Language Teachers in Europe (ALTE) website which provides work-related can do statements that correspond to the CEFR.

  • On page 13 you’ll find the ALTE Work statements summary of work-related can do descriptors for the four skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing.
  • On page 24 you’ll find the beginning of a section that relates the ALTE ‘Can do’ statements to the Common European Framework (CEFR).
  • On page 38 a full set of ALTE Can Do statements begins grouped under three headings:
    1. A: Social and Tourist
    2. B: Work
    3. C: Study
  • The work-related statements begin on page 69.

Charles Rei on can do statements
Here is an interview with business communication trainer Charles Rei, who was on the CertIBET course back in 2012, in which he explains how he uses can do statement in his corporate training:

Can Do statements – A practical and inspirational tool for Business English training
This is a link to the slides from a very interesting IATEFL BESIG workshop given by Lesley Crowe and Tim Phillips in which they described how can do statements play a central role in their approach to corporate business communication training.

English Profile
A website that “describes what aspects of English are typically learned at each CEFR level.” Here’s an introductory video from Cambridge University Press:

Further resources

Posted in Methodology Tagged with: ,

Culture & perceptions

This post reproduces a post made in 2009 in the now unused blog: Carl Dowse. It’s reproduced here because much of what is said is still valid and useful.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a course on teaching culture designed and moderated by Barry Tomalin for International House London. The Business Cultural Trainer’s Certificate course provided an excellent theoretical grounding, but what I found particularly impressive was the manner in which the theory was always translated into practical ideas for training managers with a view to providing them with the kind of working models and practical takeaways that business people find so appealing and helpful.

To give you some insight into what Barry terms the “narrative” of the course and to illustrate the collaborative nature of many of the activities and discussions, here below, Barry introduces the course in his own words and provides a brief commentary on two short video clips filmed on the last day:

Hi Everyone,

The Business Cultural Trainer’s Certificate course teaches trainers how to research, design, market and deliver a cross-cultural training course for business. As part of the delivery, we demonstrate and discuss a number of training activities. Here are extracts from two discussions about synergies and differences and about culture and perception. In the first activity, we invite participants to identify three synergies and three differences between their country and the country they have chosen to discuss. In this extract Claire, Annette and Fei are discussing China.

As you can see the discussion opens people’s minds to the idea that differences aren’t always differences and synergies aren’t always synergies!

As we see from this extract, cultural awareness is about changing the way you think about people as a result of understanding more about them. It’s about changing cultural perception.

Thanks for watching. If you’d like to find out more, please visit the Business Cultural Trainer’s Certificate page on the International House London website.


As well as training teachers to provide effective cultural training, Barry has himself helped many organisations around the world resolve their cross-cultural problems and is also co-author of the excellent World’s Business Cultures: And How to Unlock Them, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone looking to teaching cross-cultural communication, or planning to incorporate elements of cultural training into their language classes.


And lastly, here are some resources that Barry suggests for cultural research and training:


Country briefings

Language and Culture

Online resources

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to add them here and either Barry or I will be happy to respond.

Posted in Culture Tagged with:

Do coaching and technology make a good fit?

This post is adapted from an article published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Summer 2015, Issue 90, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Chris Stanzer.

Cover of Learner to Coach

Available from

In recent years, the use of coaching techniques in ELT has become increasingly widespread. The shift in role from teacher to coach has perhaps been prompted to some extent by the possible financial rewards it can bring, but when working in corporate settings with adult learners, establishing a coach / coachee relationship in the classroom, especially with one-to-one clients, would seem to make good pedagogical as well as commercial sense. For one thing, this kind of relationship is more palatable for managers or engineers in positions of responsibility, who are accustomed to making decisions, and it can help sidestep possible feelings of resentment at being ‘taught’ as if they were back at school. Business English teaching is often skills based and goal-oriented, which again can make the adoption of a coaching approach an attractive option.

In their recently published e-book From English Teacher to Learner Coach (FETLC), Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord make a very convincing case for adopting coaching in ELT to develop learner motivation and autonomy. They begin by arguing that “As teachers we need to understand how people learn in the classroom context, but also how the classroom event fits into the wider picture of our learners’ language lives.” (FETLC 7%*) And the aim the authors set themselves is to give language trainers the means of making these “language lives’ much fuller by presenting techniques and activities “designed to help encourage independent learning and independent attitudes to learning; in this way, homework, self- study and practice of the language in whatever way a student can are transformed into the core of the learning process.” (FETLC 11 – 12%) As a teacher who works with time-pressured, part-time university students and corporate clients who are often unable, or unwilling to commit time to language learning beyond the classroom, many of the ideas and suggested activities in this book struck a chord. But the book also raised questions about the role technology plays in teaching.

Early in the book, the authors observe that

The challenge for learners before the 1990s was access, access to spoken and written material in particular. The challenge now for learners is choice; how to manage and navigate the plethora of opportunities, in the face of a plethora of competing distractions. How successful our students are will depend to a large extent on how well they deal with this challenge. (FETLC 7%)

If one accepts this view, then it would seem that at least part of a language teacher’s role in this digital age should involve helping learners develop, where necessary, their digital literacy, providing guidance with online and mobile resources, and pointing to content curation (e.g. Evernote) tools that enable them to exercise a greater degree of control over this “plethora of opportunities.” Reading the book led me to consider the extent to which I was fulfilling this role with my own learners and also the degree to which my use of technology conformed with a basic tenet of coaching, namely that “A coach is someone whose job is to help people learn rather than to teach them.” (FETLC 13 – 14%) The following description of one or two lessons I recently taught will hopefully go some way towards answering this question, and it may also be interesting to see how the technologies used may (or may not) have added value to the language learning experience.

The learners involved are five members of a university’s international office. They have been tasked to develop closer ties with educational institutions abroad by setting up, among other things, study abroad programmes for the university’s own students.

Self-study set for the group to prepare the role-plays

Self-study set for the group to prepare the role-plays

Naturally, their work involves face-to-face meetings, teleconference calls and correspondence using English as the lingua franca. The group has agreed to undertake a minimum of one hour’s self-study between each of the weekly 90-minute lessons. Here’s an outline of a recent series of activities the learners were involved in, together with the technology – old and new – used.

Lesson / Self-study Technology used
1 For homework, the group were set the task of creating role-plays based on their previous experience of international meetings.
  • Moodle
  • email
2 The two role-plays created by the group were corrected and hard copies were given to each of the group members to act out in the lesson.

Each role-play was discussed after the performance and was also recorded.

  • Word processing application (Word)
  • DropVox recording app on an iPad
3 For homework the group were set the following tasks:

  1. Listen to the recordings and evaluate their own performance and that of one other group member.
  2. Compare the corrected versions of the role-plays with the originals and prepare notes on the changes that they found most helpful, those they didn’t agree with and those they didn’t understand.
  • MP3 files uploaded to the Moodle platform
  • Role-plays uploaded to (content and online file sharing application similar to Dropbox) and embedded in the webpage for ease of viewing and/or downloading
  • email
4 In the next lesson the group members and the trainer (me) provided feedback on the role-play performances.
  • The leaners’ feedback on the role-play corrections was presented using Google Slides and
  • embedded in the lesson summary page (Moodle) for future reference

Asking the group members to create their own role-plays ensured relevant and targeted language practice. It also reduced the cognitive load during the performance stage and allowed the learners to focus more on the language being used rather than the issues that came up in the discussion, as these had already been faced in real life. The series of activities provided practice for all four skills and also gave the learners the opportunity to focus on language difficulties that they were likely to have in similar situations in the future.

Follow-up self-study set for the group after performing the role-plays

Follow-up self-study set for the group after performing the role-plays

But what of the coaching potential and the value added to the learning experience by the technology? Here’s a breakdown that suggests some of the ways the technology used may have added value and facilitated an approach that fulfills some of the aims of coaching:

Technology Value added Coaching potential
Moodle This is an extensive course that is planned to run for at least nine months, so it makes sense to provide a stable virtual learning environment that complements the weekly face-to-face lessons and provides a platform for self-study.
  • learners can produce their own lesson summaries, which promotes independent learning
  • learners are sometime unable to attend, but can catch up on missed work and fit in self-study tasks at times that suit their schedules, which encourages autonomous learning
  • forum posts, collaborative writing using a wiki and access to media promotes independent study and space for practicing and improving
DropVox Recording the performances concentrated minds and embedding the recordings in the course platform allowed for peer and trainer evaluation.
  • learners can evaluate their strengths and weakness and assess their own progress to set goals for improvement and so exert greater influence over the direction their learning takes Making the corrected role-plays available in nicely formatted versions gave learners a sense of achievement and also demonstrates that their work is valued and taken seriously. The files can viewed online or downloaded for future reference.
  • learners are motivated by the effort the trainer puts into their work and are provided with a model of how to organize and present their work in the future
Google Slides Presenting the feedback on the trainer’s corrections in this way has a greater visual impact that makes the error correction activity more memorable.
  • this activity created a space in the lesson for learners to think critically about the feedback they had received and become less reliant on the trainer

In the screenshots, you may have noticed one or two other web tools used for learning purposes. One is eduCanon, which is a relatively recent addition to the growing number of tools that enable teachers to build and deliver activities based on online video. Less teacher-led and more in-line with a coaching approach is the use of Google Sheets as a platform for learners to create their own course glossary.

Language feedback using Google Slides

Language feedback using Google Slides

Though relatively easy to implement, there is, of course, a downside to the use made of technology in the activities outlined here, namely, it can be quite time-consuming. A balance needs to be achieved between the benefits and the teacher-time involved. The added time clearly needs to be taken into account when pricing training that adopts this kind of approach and if possible these benefits need to be highlighted for the sponsoring client. That said, the outlined examples do suggest that those of us wishing to achieve the aims of a coaching approach while at the same time providing training that reflects the digital age our learners operate in may need to think seriously about acquiring the requisite digital skills this entails. We may, in other words, be in need of technology coaching ourselves.

Apps to go

Here are some links and further notes for the resources and applications mentioned:

  • From English Teacher to Learner Coach – Use this link for further information about this book
  • Moodle – This content management system designed for teachers by teachers is familiar to many. It is a very powerful tool with quite a steep learning curve to negotiate if one is to use it anywhere near its full potential. However, there are many alternatives and depending on the situation other tools such as wikis, blogs or social media can also provide just the right learning environment for the learners involved.
  • DropVox – Smartphones and tablets come with their own voice recorders, but the big advantage of this wonderfully simple app is that it integrates seamlessly with Dropbox and sends MP3 files directly to your file storage application so they’re instantly available on all your devices
  • – though not as well-known as Dropbox this cloud-based file storage service has actually been around longer and offers some nice features its more popular rival does not have, for instance, the possibility of embedding individual files or folders in web pages
  • Google Slides – this is one of a suite of tools Google make available to its Gmail account holders for free. Slideshows can be produced online, or PowerPoint decks can be uploaded and converted for online delivery (Here’s an example: Movies)
  • Evernote – This is a cross-platform tool that allows you to collect and curate a wide range of content, including webpages, photos and notes. This really is a must for teachers and learners alike
  • eduCanon – This is another cross-platform application (i.e. it works well on mobile devices as well as conventional desktop computers). It allows you to create video-based content
  • Meetings: Have you worked with any of these? – This is a simple example of the kind of activity that can be created using eduCanon.

*These percentages will vary according to the device used to read the text.

Posted in Mobile learning, Virtual training, Web technologies Tagged with: , ,

Classroom in the cloud

Woman working on computer

This post is adapted from an article published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Winter 2014, Issue 89, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Julia Waldner.

The topic for this post was prompted by a question posted some time back in a Facebook group and by my own experience of teaching online in the last few months. The teacher who posted the question had received a request to provide online language lessons, but her clients were not keen on using Skype. So she turned to the group for advice on ‘reliable alternatives’ and guidelines for teaching online.

Skype plus …

As a free software application that’s been around for quite a few years now and one which most of us are familiar with for personal use, it makes a lot of sense to turn to Skype for teaching purposes, at least in the first instance. It has the essential features we need to create a live virtual learning environment: voice, text and video chat with groups (up to 5 is recommended) or for one-to-one lessons. The addition of an integrated whiteboard would make the creation of an online classroom more complete, but this shortcoming can be remedied by using an external whiteboard such as Twiddla, which also allows you to upload and display PowerPoint slideshow (.ppt only), pdf files and images. Asking learners to use two applications concurrently is not ideal, but perhaps the biggest drawback when working with corporate clients is the fact that learners need to have the Skype software installed on their computers and some employers may be reluctant to allow this on their systems.

Web-conferencing applications

There is no shortage of alternatives to Skype. Teachers can now choose from an ever-growing number of web conferencing tools, mostly aimed at business users, but equally suitable for teaching purposes. Following the advice she received in Facebook, the teacher decided to suggest to her clients the newish web-conferencing tool Zoom, which looks very interesting, as well as a tool available to Google Gmail account holders, which allows them to set up live video calls either in the form of Video Hangouts, which are private group sessions, or as public, recorded events known as Hangouts On Air. The latter have become a popular option for those organising larger scale webinars. Both have text, audio and video chat, as well screen and document sharing.

Google Hangouts session

Google Hangouts session

There’s also a ‘Draw’ tool that can act as a whiteboard marker. As far as I can see, it isn’t possible to join a hangout as an active participant without having a Gmail account. It is, however, possible to view a Hangouts On Air session live on the host’s Events page in Google+, their YouTube channel or in a player embedded, for example, on their website, blog or wiki. Like Skype, there is no integrated whiteboard, and again some learners may be put off by the need to set up a Gmail account. With Google’s Chromebox for Meetings you can avoid this problem, but at a starting price of $999 it’s clearly aimed at the small to medium-sized businesses market.

Other, more affordable options for teachers include WizIQ, which has been around for a long time, has all the basic communication channels as well as inbuilt polls, and, having been launched with teachers in mind, includes an interactive whiteboard. With the free version, it’s possible to run live sessions with up to 10 participants, but unlike the pay-for plans offered, sessions can’t be recorded. Unfortunately, breakout rooms – a feature that allows the teacher to place participants in separate, concurrent rooms to work in pairs or small groups – are only available with pay for upgrades. A word of caution, however, expect quite persistent attempts to persuade you to sign up for a pay-for plan once you create a free account in WizIQ.

Another tool worth considering is Blackboard Collaborate, which was formerly known as Elluminate. It was developed as a real-time virtual learning space for educational and corporate training purposes and as such it has inbuilt, all the communication and collaborative tools mentioned above, and in the several years that I’ve used for teacher training purposes, it has proven reliable and reasonably user-friendly. It is a Java based application and this does mean that learners need to download and open a Java applet each time they join a session, which might prove an obstacle for some corporate clients. Similar in terms of features, but predominantly Flash rather than Java based, is Adobe Connect Pro, which many IATEFL BESIG members will be familiar with as it’s the application used for the regular webinars and online workshops now being offered by various SIGs.

Live session in Adobe Connect

Live session in Adobe Connect

As with Blackboard (but not with the free version of WizIQ), learners can join a session in Adobe without lengthy logging procedures or the need to register for an account. Adobe does have a number of advantages, not least of which being the fact that even with a basic account a number of ‘persistent’ web conferencing rooms can be set up, each with its own web address. These rooms can be used over and over again and each can have multiple layouts suitable for different types of interactions and activities. Another great time-saver is that teaching content can be uploaded to the rooms and re-used in subsequent lessons. The breakout rooms, after a little practice, work well and using this feature appreciably increases student talking time and closes the gap between conventional real-world classrooms and their online equivalents. Of the applications I’ve used to-date, Adobe has been the most teacher and learner friendly, but it does involve a considerable investment (the cheapest plan costs around $50 a month).


To conclude this very quick look at tools for giving live online lessons, it should be noted that whichever application one opts for, there are, returning the second part of our Facebook teacher’s question, a number of things one needs to keep in mind before, during and after delivering virtual lessons. Here are some guidelines I’ve used as a checklist when delivering language training online:

Before the lesson

  • Make sure you’re reasonably familiar with the software and be prepared to deal with technical issues (e.g. problems with audio because learners aren’t using headsets or earbuds, or haven’t set up their microphones correctly)
  • Make sure learners are also familiar with the application you’ve chosen to use. If there’s a participants’ guide available provide a copy. If not make your own cheat sheet for them.
  • Some applications have tests that participants can run to check the compatibility of their systems. Adobe has its own test (Adobe Connect System Check), but if your application doesn’t, ask learners to test their connection speed and let you have the results (
  • Another issue, especially with groups, is scheduling live sessions. To maintain flexibility, it might be necessary to offer a selection of times and use an online event planner to determine which is the most suitable for group members (Doodle).
  • Remind learners the day before the scheduled session of any preparations they may need to make for the lesson
  • If you’re using teaching materials (pdf files, PowerPoint slides, etc.) have them uploaded to the room in good time so learners are not left waiting during the lesson.

During the lesson

  • If possible use an Ethernet cable connection rather than Wi-Fi connection. This will give you a little more bandwidth and overall stability
  • Log into the room early and check your own equipment and set things up as you’ve planned
  • Rehearse the lesson plan (typically: welcome, warmer activity, main activities, closing activity) and try out any of the features in the room you’re planning to use (e.g. polls, screen sharing, etc.)
  • If the application allows, remember to record the session. This can used for learners who miss the session or for your follow-up feedback
  • End on time – people have lots of other work and personal commitments – and so do you!

After the lesson

  • Tidy up the web conferencing room if it can be visited between lessons, or is going to be used by another teacher
  • Contact the learners with feedback and reminders of any follow-up activities you may have set up during the online session

This is, of necessity, a brief and by no means a comprehensive review of tools and considerations for live online lessons. An important point that former BESIG Online Team (BOT) member Mike Hogan made when being interviewed about teaching online (Mike Hogan interview) is that you may well have to familiarise yourself with and use whatever collaborative tools your clients are already using. So offering that kind of versatility may well be a better option than insisting on using your own favoured web-conferencing tool.

If you have any further tips or suggestions please add them to the comments below.

Apps to go

One big advantage of running live online lessons is the flexibility they can offer learners. Provided they have access to a robust Internet connection, learners can take part from whatever location they may find themselves in. And this convenience is further enhanced by the fact that many applications also have apps that run on mobile devices:

Setting up a breakout rooms in Adobe Connect

Setting up an activity for breakout rooms in Adobe Connect

Posted in Emoderation, Mobile learning, Virtual training, Web technologies Tagged with: ,

Reading material’s looking good

Students studying online

There’s a wide selection of good quality self-access sites available to language learners these days. News in Levels, for example, offers learners reading and video material that is updated on a daily basis.

Example of embedded question in text

Embedded question in text

I’ve been trying out a newish web tool that allows teachers to deliver to their learners attractively presented multi-media reading material in a similar way. The application is called Activily Learn and it does a pretty good job of replicating (albeit in simplified form) the look and feel of the Newsmart site, another self-access success story.

With Activily Learn, teachers can produce reading activities using their own texts, texts they find online, or texts that have been added to the site’s archive (sometimes with questions already added). It’s possible to create classes and track student activity, and learners can also add their own notes to the material.

If you’d like to get an idea of what this easy-to-use tool is capable of, go to the site (Actively Learn), create an account as a ‘Student’ and then use this Class code: 18a07 to join a demo class I’ve set up. You’ll then be able to access a sample assignment created using a text from the archive.

A nice feature, as you’ll see, is that as well as adding questions to the text (which learners need to answer in order to continue reading), it’s possible to add notes, links and even media to provide support and suggestions for further reading.

Downside? Well the range of question types is limited and it’s not possible to add feedback for the learners to the questions. But it’s all very intuitive and offers a nice stepping stone before setting learners loose on sites like Newsmart.

Posted in Mobile learning, Web technologies Tagged with:

China holiday – July 2015

Here are some snaps taken on our holiday in China. As you’ll see, I’m no great shakes as a photographer and I was using a smartphone not a ‘real’ camera, but the slideshow does give some idea of the places we visited and includes snaps taken in

  • Qibao Old Town in Shanghai
  • the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou
  • the water town Wuzhen
  • West Lake and the Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou
  • the villages of Xidi and Hongcun in the Anhui province and
  • the iconic Huangshan mountain range.

 Here’s a slideshow with captions. Mouse over to halt the show if you need more time to read the captions:

And here are the same images with music (best viewed in full-screen):

Posted in Fun Tagged with:

It’s ‘busy work’ getting learners to do homework

This post is adapted from an article published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Summer 2015, Issue 90, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Chris Stanzer.

The topic for this edition’s Apps to Go was prompted by the extremely well attended pre-conference symposium at the IATEFL 01 - BusyworkBESIG Annual Conference in Bonn last November. The aim of the event – organized as a workshop followed by a panel discussion – was to offer delegates some ideas and strategies for encouraging learners to take their English studies beyond the classroom. In the panel discussion, Marjorie Rosenberg reminded us what homework shouldn’t be (e.g. ‘busy work’), before suggesting that, among other things, the work we give learners to do between lessons needs to be ‘relevant, work related, interesting …[and a true]…learning experience.’ Fellow panelists Rob Szabó and Cornelia Cornelia Kreis-Meyer added to the discussion with interesting contributions about the ‘flipped classroom’ and the role of peer pressure in encouraging learners to study between lessons. And in the workshop, we looked at one or two of the teacher and learner friendly web and mobile technologies that can facilitate self-study. What follows is a brief description of some of the tools presented in the workshop.

These days, we’re very fortunate in having a wide range of coursebooks to choose from which publishers have lavishly supplemented with good quality, multi-media materials that can be used for guided self-study. Recent examples include MacMillan’s update of the In Company series – In Company 3.0 – that offers an attractive online workbook, or CUP’s Business Advantage with its DVD of video case studies. It may sometimes be the case, however, that for one reason or another, despite the ever widening range of ESP titles, these coursebook resources just don’t match as closely as we would like the specific needs and interests our learners have, whereas content that is readily available online may be just the ticket. This in turn raises one or two questions concerning modes of delivery and the level of control one may wish to exert over what learners do in their self-study.

At one end of the scale, a teacher may want to track in some detail when and how successfully her learners have worked on material, in the same way that is made possible by well-respected and pedagogically sound commercial solutions such as the English360 blended learning platform. To exercise similar control, teachers may also choose to build their own virtual learning environments using simple, purpose made content management systems such as edmodo or schoology, or more powerful (but with much steeper learning curves) tools such as Blackboard or Moodle.

At the other end of this control continuum, it may be enough to simply direct learners to specific content and rely on their reporting back. Here we’ll take a quick look at one or two tools that offer self-study possibilities with various degrees of control.


This tool was mentioned before in this column when we took a look at content curation tools. Since then, however, following a suggestion from colleague Phil Wade, I’ve been using this app to collect and deliver web content – videos, articles, images – in the form of a magazine to some of my undergraduate students.

03 - Flipboard

Flipboard Magazine Cover

How it works

With a Flipboard account (free!), a teacher can set up a magazine for their class and then “flip” into the magazine all the articles, videos, resources, etc. they’d like students to access. The students subscribe to the magazine and have all that content displayed on their chosen device.

  • Creating a multi-media magazine with curated content from a wide range of sources is very easy and very quick!
  • Content can be added in a variety of ways, either from within the app itself, or from external sources using a bookmarklet in a mobile or conventional web browser
  • The content is always current and looks great on a tablet or smartphone
  • Sharing curated content is super easy
  • Learners can create and collaboratively curate their own magazines
  • No means of tracking whether or not learners have read specific content
  • No way of adding interactive quiz questions to target specific language, check understanding or prompt critical thinking
  • Interaction with learners within the app itself is limited to ‘liking’ content or adding comments


Nik Peachey brought this simple to use tool to our notice in a BESIG online workshop last year. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with it to deliver video content either embedded in Moodle activities, or on the tool’s own website.

04 - EDpuzzle

EDpuzzle Dashboard

How it works

With an EDpuzzle teacher’s account (free!), you can create lessons using video material from a range of sources (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, TEDEd). Videos can be easily cropped so only the extract you want is viewed by learners. Voice notes can be recorded and added to the videos together with simple quiz questions. All this is done online using the easy-to-use tools the website provides. Learners can view the video lessons on the site or using their iPhone or iPads (no Android app yet).

  • Creating video content from a wide range of sources is easy and very quick – no technical know-how is needed
  • The quizzes can be accessed on mobile devices in an attractive app (as yet only iOS) that makes the activities more appealing to many and also good for on the go study
  • Quizzes can be embedded in any webpage (e.g. class blog, wiki or LMS)
  • Tracking of students’ performance is possible
  • The range of questions types is limited (although this is, in a way, also an advantage as it make the application easy to use)
  • Only one extract at a time can be taken from a video (i.e. each extract from a video needs a separate ‘lesson’)
  • The voice over is not selective (i.e. either all the video’s original soundtrack is replaced or none)
  • Learners must create an account or have the app to view video lessons, unless they are embedded in a webpage


05 - LearningApps

Sample content created with LearningApps

I learnt about this easy-to-use online authoring tool from Thomas Strasser’s great little book Mind the App! And I’ve been using it for some time now, and it has proven very reliable.

How it works

This suite of authoring tools was created with teachers in mind. Activities that have been created by teachers and shared by them can be accessed without logging in, but if you want to create your own, you need to have an account (free). Once logged in, you can choose from a wide range of activity and game templates and create your own content. There is always an example of the activity or game you would like to create that you can use as your starting point if you want. You can create as many activities as you want and they remain hosted on the website for you or your students to access whenever needed.

  • Relatively easy to use as there are plenty of examples to use as models for your own activities
  • Good range of activity types and lots of activities that have been created and shared by other teachers, which you can copy, import into your account and adapt as necessary
  • Provided you choose the right type of activities, they work well on mobile devices, even with small screens
  • The activities you create can be embedded in any web pages and are also SCORM compliant, meaning that they can be imported into your LMS (e.g. Moodle) if you have one
  • Learners can access the activities you create directly without needing an account
  • You can create ‘Classes’ and group activities together and then enroll learners to the classes
  • The look of the activities can be a little basic (although I’ve had no comments from learners about this so far)
  • Tracking of learners’ performance is minimal
  • No mobile app (but if chosen with care, activities will work on mobile devices)

This was one of the first authoring tools I ever used and I’m still using some of the activities I produced some years ago. It’s a great place to start if you’re new to producing ‘interactive’ online activities.

We didn’t solve the problem of learners being unwilling or unable to commit the time to their English between lessons we would like, but we did suggest some interesting ways of perhaps tempting some of them to do a little more. Apart from the tools mentioned here, we looked at one or two other tools in the pre-conference workshop in Bonn, together with some examples of homework activities created using Moodle. If you’re interested in seeing these, you can view the slides online here: Good luck with your homework setting!

Apps to go

Here are some links to the applications and further information about them:

Posted in Mobile learning, Web technologies Tagged with: , , ,

Sometimes using no technology is better: Hands up if you agree

Teaching with video

This post is adapted from an article published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Autumn 2014, Issue 88, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Julia Waldner.

In the Cert IBET course I moderate, one of the ten weekly modules is given over entirely to the use of ICT and blended learning. We introduce and discuss a number of teacher-friendly technologies the participants can use to meet specific learner needs. Recently, a Korea-based teacher on the course summed up her thoughts on technology in teaching with these comments:

  • lack of technical support can be demotivating for learners and trainers alike
  • technology should enhance not intrude on the learning taking place
  • self-study requires a commitment of time regardless of whether it’s technology mediated or not
  • the skill set required by both learners and trainers to use a technology needs to be taken into consideration
  • training may be needed to get the most of some technologies
  • sometimes using no technology is better a better option.

The observations struck me as stemming from an extremely well balanced approach to technology use in teaching, especially from someone who had had relatively little experience of blended learning either as a learner or teacher prior to taking part in the online Cert IBET course. They also suggest a very useful checklist for those contemplating the use of technology in their classrooms, and reflect some of the concerns that I’ve frequently heard expressed by teachers over the years. Many complain, for instance, of being more or less coerced into using technology without being given the requisite training to use effectively the tools in question. Moodle is a typical case in point, with many teachers being instructed to use their college or university’s installation without actually being shown how to make good use of what is quite a sophisticated, and, at least at first, not particularly easy tool to grasp. The result is often frustration and the kind of demotivation the teacher alludes to in her comments.


Working with large groups

The teacher in question works in higher education, and one of the issues she faces is providing effective language training for larger groups in a lecture-like setting that more often than not is likely to disengage rather than engage learners in her classroom. The spread of mobile technologies has given rise to a proliferation of simple easy-to-use tools that don’t require either learners or teachers to add greatly to their technology skill set, and generally conform to the checklist for technology use implied by the teacher’s observations above. What follows is a look at how one or two of these tools can be used to foster engagement. The suggestions are drawn from personal experience with larger groups (15 – 30 students) when I teach university rather than my in-company learners, but I’ve learned from a quick survey I conducted (use this link to participate:, that teachers working in in-house corporate settings with smaller groups  (5 – 10 students) sometimes also make use of some of the tools mentioned below.


02 - MentimeterA very simple application I often use with larger groups is the free polling tool called Mentimeter. It allows you to pose a question to your students and get instant feedback on that question through any device that is connected to the Internet (mobile phones, tablets, laptops). A nice feature of this tool is that once you’ve created an account, you can make (and store for subsequent use) as many polls as you like. Here in Germany learners can access the Internet almost anywhere using their smartphone 3G or LTE connections, or Wi-Fi when that’s available. As mentioned in a previous article, one of the first things I do with a new group is ask them to install a QR code reader on their devices (I use i-nigma). Once they’ve done that, they can use their phones or tablets to quickly access all sorts of quick, and sometimes not so quick, activities. Getting back to Mentimeter, you can create quick questions, for example, to check understanding or gauge opinion, and ask the group to answer using their mobile devices. They answer anonymously, which is sometimes good as it may save embarrassment, and they can see the results coming in ‘live’ projected onto a screen at the front of the class via a data projector connected to a laptop or iPad.

The image on the right shows an example of a simple poll used to introduce the topic of careers: Why do people quit their jobs? With the QR code displayed on the screen at the front of the class, learners can go directly to the question. And as they enter their answers, the results of the poll can also be displayed on the screen. You may ask why not simply ask for a show of hands? Is technology the better option? Doing it this way turns it more into an event, and generally speaking, learners enjoy using their phones. Everyone, including the less forthcoming, gets to contribute to what’s happening at the front of the class on the screen.

Plus the results are there for all to see and can be used as a springboard for discussion.

Polling in this way is relatively low-tech. It works quickly and reliably and isn’t intrusive in the sense that it doesn’t take up valuable classroom time teaching learners new technology skills. A list of alternative polling tools is provided below in the Apps to go section.

03 - Mentimeter2

Student response systems

Student or audience response systems using ‘clickers’ have been around for quite a while. Universities, especially in the USA, have invested in quite expensive, interactive systems that allow lecturers to ask questions and students to click in their answers using remote transmitters that they are sometimes asked to buy (see here for interesting articles on how these systems are used). As we saw with the Mentimeter example, however, similar results can now be achieved using a BYOD (bring your own device) approach that doesn’t involve any additional expense for institutions or learners. An application we’ve mentioned before in this blog, Socrative, has proven a particularly popular BYOD (bring your own device) classroom application, and as it’s recently received a makeover that makes it a still more attractive proposition, it’s worth taking another look at some of the possibilities it offers.

Socrative works with all web-enabled devices and once registered, teachers are assigned a ‘classroom’ number, and can prepare a range of activities with multiple choice, true/false and short answer questions. In their real world classroom, teachers can then log in, select an activity and make it available to learners. Students sign into the online classroom using the number given them and interact in real time with the content. The teacher can monitor progress and can also download a report of the results.

Socrative works well in both desktop and mobile browsers. Android and iOS apps are available in both teacher and learner versions. Here are some smartphone and tablet screenshots of how students see a quiz being used to check how successful an explanation of the uses of ‘will’ has been.

04 - Socrative

As the learners enter the room and answer the questions the teacher can monitor progress.

05 - Socrative (Progress)

Socrative automatically produces reports of the learners’ results that can be viewed online (as above) or downloaded as an Excel sheet. Here’s an extract from the results of a longer Socrative activity used as a progress test with learners preparing for BEC Preliminary examination.

06 Socrative Reports

One big advantage of using Socrative with larger groups is the ease with which it’s possible to very quickly identify areas that need further work with the group as a whole (column 1 in above image), or individual learners who have need of more support (row 2 in above image)

Teachers are using Socrative in classrooms in many interesting ways. Here are one or two examples:

  • needs analysis – multiple choice and short answer questions, with the former providing a menu of areas which can be covered in the course and the later used for comments
  • warmers & lead-in activities – single question activities to engage interest
  • concept checking questions – any combination of multiple choice, short answer and true/false questions to check understanding
  • review quizzes – the in-built space race game to recycle activities and introduce a competitive fun element
  • progress tests & assessment – any combination of multiple choice, short answer and true/false questions
  • I learned statements – end of lesson questions using the ‘exit ticket’ in the dashboard.

Designed by teachers for teachers, Socrative, as the examples suggest, is being adopted for use at all the different stages of language courses and lessons. And below you’ll find some links with more activity ideas, together with alternative tools that can be used in similar ways.

There are times when simply asking learners to raise their hands is the best option, but when used with discretion and a little imagination, web based student response tools can enhance classroom activities without adding significantly to a teacher’s preparation time. They can be used to gather invaluable information and feedback. Their use can change the dynamic of lessons by involving learners much more actively in large group settings. And, as learners work with their own devices, little time is lost in learning how to use the simple applications. They represent, in short, the kind of classroom technology that both avoids the problems and meets the criteria suggested by our Korea-based teacher at the outset.

Apps to go


Tools that can be used to ask groups to quickly respond to single questions

Student response tools

Tools that can be used to ask groups to quickly respond to more complex activities as well as single questions

Further reading/viewing

Posted in Mobile learning, Web technologies Tagged with: , , ,
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