Tag Archives: learning

Stories from #EdYOUfest 2016

In the midst of my year off, and through a rather unexpected turn of events, I found myself in Italy in the middle of August 2016, on the hottest days of summer. One of the reasons I was there was to attend #EdYOUfest in Sicily. I had heard about EdYOUfest online and also from Chuck Sandy while I was in Japan, and after a great deal of thought, I decided to change my travel plans and take a leap of faith. I booked a flight to Europe.

There are many, many good things about EdYOUfest – many, many things that I truly enjoyed. I tried to sample everything. I woke up early and went to yoga every morning. Dora was a patient yoga instructor, and I was a complete newbie who kept falling over, and it was totally worth giving up an hour of sleep for. One of the sessions I learned the most from was Julie’s “zero resource” classroom. I learned how much you can make from nothing, and how to look at nothing and see resources galore. I learned how to turn any space into a learning space. Sasha’s session on brains and memory left me thoughtful, and I am still thinking of it to this day. Philip’s NVC sessions awakened a part of me that I was soon to need. In short, everything was amazing.

But what was most valuable for me were the friends I met and the discussions we had outside the classrooms. In the company of these other teachers from all over the world, everything seemed possible. Ideas came to life and creativity flowed. And I needed to write. So I began asking for story prompts. Here are a few of the stories that resulted. I wrote them just for fun.


Writing my stories at EdYOUfest. (Photo by Jayne de Sesa)


Dying from Eating Cannoli (Roberta’s prompt)

Micky sat at the table, in the same seat he sat in every meal, every day, every year for the past 73 years. Today was special. He felt his toes tingle with excitement. His butler came in with a covered platter.

As you requested, sir.

Thank you. Please take the night off.

Yes, sir.

The butler disappeared.

Micky uncovered the silver platter to reveal three perfect cannoli. Each side was overflowing with sweet ricotta, one with chocolate pieces, one with orange rind, one plain. Micky took a small jar from his inside jacket pocket. Removing the lid, he sprinkled the contents on the plain cannolo. Replacing the jar, he straightened his tie. He brushed off his cuffs.

It’s time, he said to the empty room.

Slowly he ate the cannoli one by one, saving the special one for last. Then he closed his eyes and smiled and waited.

And waited.

His butler peered through the keyhole smiling as Micky fell asleep. He had replaced his boss’s “secret” jar with cinnamon the day before, dumping the original contents out the garden window. The only one who’d be dying from eating cannoli today was the chicken.


The Suitcase was Full and Heavy (Dora’s Prompt – original story)

I’m bored and hungry, said Fili. He was standing in the corner in his usual place. In the closet around him were a variety of forgotten things: coats with pockets filled with tissue, worn-out hats, umbrellas with missing spines. Fili was old, too, but at least he was whole – he had wheels that rolled smoothly, a hard shell, and a cavernous belly. Now that belly was empty, and it had been for far too long – but the seed of thought had been planted and a new trip was in store.The closet door opened.

That old suitcase should be in the corner, Sasha instructed. Hands grabbed Fili and tugged him out of the closet. Excitement made his wheels tingle.

What’s the combination, Mom? Asked Mike.

Your birthday, Sasha smiled.

Fili lay open, exposed to the warm sunlight filling the room.

We’ll need these clothes and your sneakers, Sasha began. And sunblock and toothpaste.

Slowly Fili was filled with things to begin a trip. He wondered where they were going. To the beach? Camping? A resort by the lake? Maybe a 5-star hotel in Prague! Fili dreamed about new places until his lid was slammed shut. Mike sat on him until the latch caught and then snapped the buckles in place and twisted the numbers on the metal lock.

All ready! Sasha said and Mike lifted Fili upright. Let’s go to the airport. Our flight to Greece leaves at 4:30. Greece! Fili was so excited. He was full and heavy, and as happy as he had ever been.


The Happiest Goldfish (I don’t remember where this prompt came from)

Valerie was the happiest goldfish in the world. She lived in a small pond behind the Baker house. Tommy Baker had filled the pond with brightly colored stones, and Marie Baker came out every morning to drop food in. Valerie loved her colorful home.

One day, Marie did not come. Valerie didn’t mind. She wasn’t that hungry. Marie missed the next day as well. Valerie ate moss from the rocks. The following day, Valerie began to worry. She ate moss and bugs, but she missed her fish flakes. What would happen when the moss was gone? But Marie still did not come.

Valerie grew tired of bugs. The moss grew back, but Valerie was tired of that, too. She swam more and more slowly, noticing how dull her colorful stones had become. She found she didn’t care. Letting herself go, she turned onto her back and floated to the top of the pond. The dark clouds gathering above her were the last things she saw.


“Life is a strange thing; just when you think you’ve learned how to use it, it’s gone.” (Sasha’s prompt)

I’ve attempted to write this story four or five times already. I don’t know what it means to “use life”. Some of the themes I have tried for this are:

  • The old man who has finally turned his life around only to discover he has some fast-acting disease and about a week to live.
  • An elderly couple at the end of their lives who reminisce about the things they’ve learned.
  • A young drug addict who is trying to get clean, but gets caught up in a gang fight.
  • A mom in an underground shelter who is struggling to let go of the anger and hatred she feels toward the fighters when the bombs begin to fall.
  • A middle-aged repressed woman who has finally decided to step out of her shell, say to hell with everything, and travel the world. The first flight crashes. No survivors.

The trouble is, I don’t know enough about these people to write their stories.


That’s all for now, but if you have a story prompt for me, please leave a comment. Other comments are also welcome, of course.

And to be a future EdYOUfester, you can sign up here: http://edyoufest.com/

Writer’s World: How I learned to use AntWordProfiler

Last year I was very lucky to be invited to try out ELT writing. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity, and for the people who believed in me enough to give me the chance. I marvel at how lucky I am (and what amazing friends I have!).


So anyway, I joined a project writing reading texts for a middle school book. I started learning immediately.


I was given an excel file with a vocabulary list. Words in white were level 1. Words in green were level zero. Words in yellow were level two. I was asked to use 70% of the headwords from the white list. I was also given a grammar point to include, and specified a format, topic, and word count.


Now I’m a bit of a tech-dunce, but not a technophobe, and I saw a couple problems.


Dunce cap flickr kmakice

Image by kmakice on flickr (CC)


1) The words were all mixed together (arranged alphabetically and not separated by color). How on earth was I going to compare a 200 word text with the vocabulary list without painfully going through it word by word? Particularly since words like ‘I’, ‘a/an’, and ‘the’ are on the green list!


2) They weren’t all lemmas! Multiple forms of some words were on the list, but not others. But ‘headwords’, they said, so I assumed inflection would be okay.


What I needed was a way to compare the texts with the word lists. And before I could do that, I needed distinct word lists.

Did you know Excel can sort by color? That’s the first thing I learned. This website explains how to do it very well. But because of the way the excel file was set up, I had to do it column by column. Each column was a letter of the alphabet, so that meant 26 times of sorting and then grabbing words from each level and putting them into new pages.

I already knew about some vocabulary tools. Lextutor, for instance, can compare a passage with the general service list and tell you how difficult it is (by telling you which words appear in the first 1000 or 2000 high frequency words). I needed something that work a little differently. I needed to compare against the lists I’d been given and not the GSL. Was there something that could do that?

To find the answer, I took to Twitter. Costas Gabrielatos came to my aid right away. He is a corpus linguistics expert and really helpful person. He introduced me to AntConc and showed me how to make a corpus out of the texts I have and compare the texts to the excel file to find out how many times the words appeared in which text.


I may have mentioned that I’m a bit of a tech dunce. Even with the screenshots of how this would look and what it could do, I couldn’t really understand how it would solve my problem. Reading his suggestions again, I see now that he was solving my problem very neatly. But at the time, I didn’t get it.


Luckily, there was a simpler way. Mura Nava came to my rescue with a patient, dunce level explanation. have you tried antwordprofiler? that’s exactly what it does. So off I went to the antwordprofiler website to watch the helpful video tutorials. This was exactly what I needed.


Now, antwordprofiler comes with GSL 1 and 2 and AWL already installed. I had my own word lists to compare against, though, and needed to replace them. Fortunately, Mura solved that problem for me, too. He directed me to his Google+ Community on Corpus Linguistics, and to a post about how to deal with specialized or technical vocabulary. His post showed how to extract the off-list words into an excel file and from there use them to make a txt file to add to the GSL files. I already had excel files, so I just used the latter part of the process. Once my wordlists were uploaded, I deleted the GSL files.



Finally, I put my reading passages into txt files and ran the program. It worked.



I made adjustments to make my texts closer to 70% on the second list, and felt very techy indeed. Problem solved. I proudly sent in my first five passages and waited for feedback.


And anyone who has worked in this field can probably predict what happened next.


Please consider the difficulty of the passages. I was told. They should be easier than level 2.

I wish I could say that that’s when I figured out that ‘headwords’ to them meant the 7~10 vocabulary items they will highlight and pull out of the text, but I actually only just figured that out now reflecting back 8 months later. So they meant 70% of those 7~10 words, not 70% of the whole text. The antwordprofiler tool would still be useful, but maybe I should have stuck with the GSL.


On the plus side, now I know how to sort in Excel by color, how to use antwordprofiler, and I can start to learn antconc. And I think that’s pretty cool. 🙂

Spiderman: a snapshot

His name is Peter Parker. He arrived as “Albert”, a name presumably chosen by his mother. Within the first week, he had changed it to Peter Parker and has asked to change it to at least six different superheroes since then. He brings their action figures in to show me and to play with during the class. He has never stepped into the classroom without a toy of some sort. He creates stories with his toys and acts them out on his desk or in his drawings. When we learned about family, he turned his family into superheroes and drew them kicking a$$ while using target language. He tells stories and jokes and shares his experiences. But open a textbook in front of him and this exuberant boy who dreams of saving the world and wiping out all the bad guys suddenly starts to fall asleep. His head is on the desk within five minutes. My coworker despairs because he can’t finish a vocabulary test – not because he doesn’t know the words (we don’t know whether he does or not), but because he loses his focus and literally turns away mid-test. (This is pretty much blasphemy in Korea.)

Now, I will admit that as a teacher I am ridiculously easy to side-track. Sometimes I suddenly get to the end of the class and wonder how it is that we didn’t get past the second item on my lesson plan sketch. During class last week, one of these side-tracks happened. We had opened the book and were looking at the cover photo for the unit we were going to be working on (promisingly titled ‘Toys’). I was just getting them to tell me what they could identify in the pictures (or #elicitingvocabulary, if you prefer), when Peter Parker asked for the word for cliff. I always keep a piece of paper nearby for this class because it makes more sense to draw or write there for them than to run back and forth to the board breaking the circle each time. So I wrote the word cliff and drew a picture. I drew a guy tottering on the edge of it, but gave him some water to fall into. And that could have been the end of the story… but it wasn’t.

Peter took a look at my picture and said, but there’s a shark in the water (he probably actually said something closer to water in… shark). And he drew it. His classmate Jack said, no way it’s just a friend pretending to be a shark and drew the person holding a shark’s fin. Peter retaliated with a real shark ready to eat the fake one and Jack drew a whale, which Peter insisted by driven by another stick figure. I added the steering wheel. Soon there was a man-eating dragon and an underwater volcano and a time bomb and a tank all interconnecting in this impromptu draw-and-describe collaborative activity that accomplished the goals of the lesson far better than I could have done with a two-page color photo spread in a textbook. Peter ended it by drawing Tarzan who has certainly come to save the day.

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Ever since that day, I have desperately wished that I could provide what students like Peter need – space to play in English in a relaxed way, with stories, songs, games, and their own toys, and without any textbook at all.

A story is a picture in words

It’s the end of the year and a few of my classes have finished their books and won’t start anything new until January. So I’ve had a few lessons to play with and I decided to share one of my favorite short stories with my students.

This is a story by Kevin Stein that is titled “For One Picture.” It is the story of a girl who, in spite of her mother’s misgivings, sets off on a motorcycle with her camera promising to come back when has has found a perfect picture. Throughout the story, the girl sends her mother pictures she has taken and her mother begins to understand her daughter’s vocation, hoping, in the end, that the world really is full of beauty and feeling amazed that her own daughter is a person who can find it and capture it.

I hope you will read the story yourself because, even though I’ve already summarized it, the beauty really is in the way it is told.

I wanted to share a few things I have done with this story this week.

For my 13 year olds, I read the story to them. While they listened, they drew pictures that illustrated the story.

by Emily

by Emily


I read it again for them to fill in the gaps. They took their pictures home and rewrote the story based on their pictures.

by Lorraine

by Lorraine

A few of them chose to retell the story orally, and actually those were the most complete tellings. They ended by writing letters to the author. (And so that the author need not panic, I will say now that I have told them not to expect answers.)

2014-12-31 11.05.00

For my 15 year olds, I gave them the story first and let them read on their own. They were most interested in the photographs described in the story and we discussed the beauty that can be found in unexpected places. They took the paper home and chose a picture to write about. They invented short scenarios about the picture they chose. These led to further interesting discussions, especially where they told different stories about the same pictures.

by Alfred

by Alfred

by Chris

by Chris

by George

by George

by Nina

by Nina

by Dian

by Dian

All work shown here is shared with the permission of the respective students. 

Traveling with teenagers

Last night I returned from a school trip. We took a small group of (17) students to London and Paris for a week. These students were between 14 and 17 years old. They were divided into two sections, and then within those sections into smaller groups of two, three, or four. 

Messing up

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The four youngest girls are a group. They were asked to lead the way on the second excursion. Two are bent over the subway map trying to determine the lines, directions and transfers. The other two are synching that information with what they see inside the station. After a few minutes of debate they proceed – in exactly the wrong direction. We all follow and take the subway one stop. By then they’ve noticed and tell everyone to get off. They lead us to the other side of the tracks and we start again. This time one of them asks someone waiting for a train whether this is the right train. It is. We get to our destination without further incident. Skimming, scanning and asking for information skills turned out to be very important. And messing up is an important part of learning.



Knowing the script

2014-01-27 17.10.45

At first most of the kids ate their meals at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Then the kids (and the Korean teachers as well) mostly chose cafes to eat their meals. In part because these were cheaper than restaurants, but I think it mostly had to do with knowing what to do. Three of our students entered a Chinese take-out ahead of us and looked at the food laid out behind the glass. They chose the items they wanted by pointing and reading the labels and stood around waiting for their order until the staff told them to sit down three times. They got their food on trays, shared and ate it up, and left. It wasn’t until later in the trip that many of the students were comfortable enough to try restaurants. I, on the other hand, am way more familiar with the script in restaurants and that’s where I chose to go when I was on my own.



Communication where it matters

2014-01-30 16.22.59

When we arrived in Paris, the kids quickly discovered that we couldn’t log onto wifi without a password. I shrugged and resigned myself to use my phone as a camera. The kids were not so easily satisfied. Coming back from an outing with the other adults, we found TG (incidentally, the weakest English speaker of the group) at the front desk talking to the receptionist. When we asked what was going on, he told us he was getting a wifi password. I didn’t hear the conversation, but he did get his password. And after he did it, the other kids were braver to go and ask as well.





On the last day in Paris, I decided to wander around by myself. I didn’t realize until that morning when my coworker told me how nervous she was to take the metro without me that I had been a leader. They got around and survived the day, even riding a double decker train. Even adults need the freedom to find out that we can do it by ourselves. 

2014-01-31 09.01.57

Collecting and Using Learner Feedback, a workshop

Those of you who know me know that it’s unusual for me to let myself be talked into speaking in public. I get stage fright, and such a terrible buzzing in my brain that I can’t even hear what I’m saying and can’t remember it after. But I do it, and for two reasons: because of my friends’ unshakeable confidence in me and because of my own belief in what I have to share. 

Last week I gave a workshop about feedback for a lovely group of inservice public school teachers at the request of my friend and my very first trainer, #KELTchatter Matthew Walker (@esltasks – he blogs here). I’d like to share some of the material here.

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The Feedback Box my classes use

Collecting Feedback

We began by exploring some beliefs about feedback through an agree/disagree activity. I really enjoy this activity because it never fails to show how different we all are and open our minds to other ways of thinking. I was most surprised by the variety of responses to “Feedback should be given in Korean.”

In the next part, we talked about why teachers might want (and not want) to collect feedback. I have to admit, I’m coming from a perspective of “collecting feedback is always better than not,” so I was really pleased to hear opinions on both sides of the question from the teachers in the room. I was really interested in the discussion on feedback for evaluation or personal use. I also learned something about how and when feedback is normally collected in Korean schools.

Next we talked about how to collect feedback: deciding what we want to know and making questions that will help us draw that information from our students.

How I collect feedback:

Feedback is a process of trial and error, in my experience. The first time I asked my class for feedback, I left it totally open. I didn’t give any guiding questions. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. I was sort of hoping their feedback would answer that for me. Two things happened: students wrote about other classes or things that were beyond my control, and students wrote useful things that I would never have thought to ask.

2013-12-09 18.46.08

Examples of student feedback (take II)

After that, I structured feedback more, but still experimented. I tried having them give collective feedback on the board. That was a disaster because their comments were shallow, non-specific, and exclusively positive.

I tried colored strips of paper with a lot more success, with the disadvantage that it limited what students were allowed to comment on.

2013-12-09 16.11.17

I like – , I dislike – , Please change – feedback examples (take III)

I tried asking five specific questions about the class – this worked well, but again had the disadvantage of being limiting and also took way too much time.

I tried my variation on exit slips: exit tests where students have to show what they’ve learned before they can leave the classroom. This works well with younger and lower level classes where they have to answer a question or produce a correct sentence in order to leave.

Yesterday I had quite a bit of success with three questions: 1) What did you learn? 2) What parts of the class did you like/ dislike? and 3) I want to tell Anne _____.

2013-12-18 13.27.14

I learned _ , I like/dislike _ , I want to tell Anne _ (Feedback, take IV)

I think one of the reasons feedback collection has been more and more successful each time is because the students are getting practice giving feedback and building trust that 1) it will not be ignored and 2) it will not cause conflict.

Next time I am going to try some of the feedback forms suggested by the teachers in the workshop.

Participants’ feedback ideas:

The teachers displayed three different modes of collecting feedback. One group came up with a feedback tree. I love that idea and would like to adapt it to make a new attempt at group feedback.


Open mind, open feedback!

The other groups designed Likert scales to collect the information they wanted (information related to the four skills). Another variation that I loved was a space for the student’s feeling. I think that feeling can be very relevant to the perception of the class and the feedback they give.

I really regret that I didn’t take pictures of the teachers’ work, but Matthew came to the rescue again:


Gettin’ specific, with little memory icons, but space for free comments as well.



Great way to collect feedback from large classes without getting bogged down.


Part 2: finding out what the students want.

After the groups presented their feedback ideas, we ran out of time. I skirted over reflection and response, even though to me they are as important (or more important) than collecting the feedback.

I know the word count on this post is already getting up there, but this time I don’t want to miss out on reflection and response.

Reflecting on feedback:

Once I’ve collected feedback, I have to decide what to do with it. I look first for common threads. I also look for surprising comments. While it’s possible to reflect on both the positive and the critical aspects of the feedback to great benefit, I’m pretty typical in focusing primarily on what students would like to change.

With common threads (for instance, the nearly unanimous dislike of summary writing in a class of 6th graders), I sit down with a pen and my notebook and write out the description of the class, the students, how I have taught the material, the students’ reactions at the time (as I perceived them), the resultant summaries, and anything else I can think of.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.


Then I start thinking of all the possible reasons why they might hate writing summaries. Perhaps it takes a lot of time? Perhaps they still aren’t confident they are doing it correctly? Perhaps it is still difficult for them to understand the material well enough to summarize it? Perhaps they don’t have enough vocabulary to say the same things in different ways? And on and on. These are questions I can clarify when I speak with the students about their feedback.

Finally I need to decide whether I am going to make a change. In this case, I decided not to. Summary writing is an important skill that will improve with practice. So I decided to explain to the students why I want them to continue practicing and promise them more support in the future to try and make it easier.

Responding to feedback:

As I mentioned before, I think it is very important for students to know that their feedback will not be ignored. I think this is true for learners of all ages. And so I take the time to respond. After collecting feedback, I go through it. I create a chart for it and sometimes color-code it based on the questions answered. 

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 오후 1.34.50

Then I give the chart to the students. I go over it with them in class. I ask them to identify common threads. I ask them whether they agree or disagree or don’t care about some of the less common feedback. I explain what I can change. We negotiate. Where there are things that cannot be changed or that I am unwilling to change, I explain the reasons behind those decisions. And then I ask what they think about that.

This all takes time, but it’s worth it and usually results in better or more specific feedback the next time.

My thoughts on the workshop:

1) I didn’t have time to get specific feedback from the participants. I wanted to know whether the workshop would change the way they collected feedback in their classes, whether the ideas they got from me and each other would help them collect the kind of feedback that would be useful and manageable, and how they think I can improve this workshop for future groups.

2) I wish I had learned the teachers’ names. I wanted them to know I am really interested in them and their ideas.

3) I wish I had built in more time to share as a group. I learned a lot from these teachers, but I feel I talked too much.

I want to thank the teachers who were willing to spend their morning with me. I learned a lot from them.

You guys are awesome.

You guys are awesome.

BG KOTESOL mini-conference

Last weekend I attended the Busan-Gyeongnam KOTESOL mini-conference.

Not once did I regret the long drive from the top of the country to the bottom. The atmosphere was very friendly and welcoming and I got a chance to see a lot of people, some who were new to me and others whom I rarely see offline…. er, face-to-face.


The conference began with a keynote talk from Tim Thompson called “Close Your Books”. Tim began by confessing his teaching sins (during which time, I checked each one off in my head: teaching the book not the students – done that; not preparing for class “hey guys what page are we on” – yep, and more recently than I’d like to admit; Facebooking while the students “do” the book – yep, Tweeting too….), reinforcing the point that being tethered to a course book can have some negative consequences that are really worth considering.

Tim touched a topic that has given me much thought recently as well. What are we teaching? What do we say to the student who asks, “Why do I need to learn English?” Maybe she doesn’t need to learn it.* Tim’s approach is straightforward: we need to teach skills through English, where English is the medium rather than the content.

What skills will our students need in life? Tim offered some suggestions: public speaking, small-group discussion, academic writing, time management, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, how to set and meet goals. These skills can easily transfer to real life situations in any language and help students start to take responsibility for their own learning.

My take-away was reflective: I need to think about and also talk to my students about what they want to learn and how to achieve my, their, and the academy’s (= their parents’) immediate and future goals. I’m grateful for all the suggestions and ideas I took away from the talk and look forward to helping my students find ways to improve their life skills through English.

Memorable quotes from the talk:

“If we don’t have goals for developing skills, then we need to start asking, “What are we doing in the classroom?” 

“EHP – English for Hypothetical Purposes. Let’s stop teaching this.”


The second session I attended was given by Chris Miller, “Journaling for Professional Development.” The session was mis-named in my opinion, as Chris actually presented a framework for reflection and helped participants consider how they reflect on their own classes. He also presented research by Hatton and Smith (1995) which added to my understanding of reflective practice.

The jargon-heavy framework Chris presented included descriptive writing (which meant defining the moment), descriptive reflection (which meant evaluating the situation), dialogic reflection (which meant exchanging reflective journals with someone), critical reflection (which meant considering the larger context, including factors beyond your control), technical rationality (which meant making small changes in your teaching), reflection-on-action (which meant reflecting to understand your teaching after the class has ended) and reflection-in-action (which meant reflecting before reacting during a teaching moment).

The presentation was rather complex, but the explanations were pretty clear and through Chris’s guidance we talked about our strongest points (for me, descriptive reflection) and weakest points (reflection-in-action). I also decided after learning about it that dialogic reflection is something I would love to try. Any takers? ^^

My take-away from this session is that there is a lot about reflection that I don’t know and that Chris is really passionate about improving his teaching practice. 

Memorable quotes: 

“Reflection is a work in progress.” 

“Asking more questions [is important] – even if you don’t know the answers.” (following Farrell (1998))


The third and final session I attended was by Jackie Bolen, “Teaching Public Speaking and Presentations 101.” I don’t know if I’ll ever be teaching public speaking or presentations, but I figured I could probably learn something for myself at least. 🙂 Anyone who has ever seen me in front of an audience knows that I need a teacher like Jackie (and perhaps a book like “Speaking of Speech”).

And I definitely learned a lot. First of all, I noticed Jackie’s presentation skills:

  • she showed the book first before beginning;
  • she introduced herself and gave some of her background;
  • she got the participants’ ideas before giving her own;
  • she kept it simple and told stories to support her arguments;
  • her speaking pace was natural and she used hand gestures and eye contact;
  • her volume was appropriate to the size of the room.

I noticed these things because she was talking about teaching them to students and also because they contrasted sharply with some other presentations I’d seen.

I learned that speech has a physical message, a visual message, and a story message. I could pick and choose and adapt to the ages and levels of my own students. One thing I thought was a bit of a shame is that all the “example” speeches on the resource cd were perfect, native-speaker examples. However, Jackie also suggested TED, YouTube (a place for bad examples!), and the website Presentation Expressions as additional input.

What I took away from the presentation is a keen desire to teaching speech and presentation skills in my class – especially since it ties into what Tim said in the beginning about teaching something meaningful. 

Memorable quote: “If you teach them the skills, even shy students can do it.”


As always, the most difficult part of a conference is deciding which presentations to attend, knowing I have to miss other great ones. I’m happy with my choices, but of course wish I could have seen everything. I am very glad I attended this mini-conference and kudos to all the speakers (many first-time presenters) for their courage and willingness to share their thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics.



*I approached my boss with this question a few weeks ago and she answered, “You never know where life will take you and English keeps a lot of doors open.”

things i learned from giving a presentation

The best thing about teaching is that I am always learning.

I gave a 20 minute presentation last Saturday. I wrote another post dedicated to the information I wish I’d been able to articulate in the presentation. This post is about the things I learned about giving the presentation. I guess if you’re a regular presenter, this stuff is pretty obvious. Some of it is advice I sorta knew and just didn’t follow. Some of it I coulda followed better. I’d be happy for any corrections or additions to this list.

1) Don’t wait till two days before (or the day before, or the day of) to prepare. And also it probably would have helped to have said the whole presentation out loud at least once before getting up there.

2) If you’re going to use PowerPoint, learn how to use it well. Black text on white slides with occasional pictures is boring, especially when the other presenters have colored frames on their slides and have figured out how to make their bullet points come up one at a time.

3) Don’t try to pack in an hour of potential information in 20 minutes. And speaking of 20 minutes – time yourself. And speaking of information – remember your main point and stick to it.

4) Don’t wear clothes that you can play with when you’re nervous. I guess that’s all some people notice and then the content of the presentation is lost.

5) Know thyself. If you already know you are not the type of person who can talk about anything for 20 minutes with just a few ideas in your head then don’t expect to be able to magically do it in a presentation. Write the notes down. On note cards. Otherwise you appear as mentally disorganized as you are.

6) Ask for help. You’re surrounded by experienced people. Someone will certainly have time to listen and give you a bit of feedback. I feel deep gratitude to the someone who did this for me. I wish I’d asked for more.

7) Invite your friends. Or at least don’t keep it a secret from them. And definitely don’t ask them not to come. Maybe you don’t want them to see you mess up, but they’re the ones who will give you courage when you can’t find your own and they’re the ones who will still respect you no matter what. #sorryguys

8) Don’t give up. Okay, so it didn’t go so well this time. You don’t think you rocked the house. But you learned from it. You can give it another go next time.

Vacation camps: Teaching without a course book (the presentation I wish I gave)

Last Saturday I gave a 20 minute presentation about teaching without a course book and all the activities and things a teacher can do when not fettered by a textbook.

I wasn’t very satisfied with how I delivered the information. So this post is the better organized version of what I wanted to say there but don’t think I articulated very clearly. The PowerPoint is embedded below (just learned how to do that from this video!).

So, without further ado, the presentation I wish I’d given:

Vacation Camps: Teaching without a course book

I’d like to begin with a disclaimer. I am not jumping on the “materials lite” or “dogme” bandwagon here. I think there is a place for course books and a lot of good reasons to use them. I think even some camps have a place for course books. There are also good reasons for choosing not to use them and the type of camp I have in mind is one of those.

I’m working from the perspective of camps designed for elementary school students. Of course, most of what I say can be adapted to other ages and levels, and I’ll leave that up to individual teachers. In this presentation I would like to show some of the benefits to preparing a vacation program without a coursebook and also share some ideas and activities that can be used in lieu of “doing” pages in a book.

Starting with the benefits of preparing a vacation program without a course book:

1) Time

– To get to know the students and tailor activities to their specific interests and goals
Getting to know your students is important. Getting to know their interests, hobbies, or goals and showing them that you care about those things – as well as letting them get to know you – builds a relationship, fosters safety and reduces anxiety. And all that can lead to increased motivation. In a camp where you only have a short time with the students, you have to do this right away and sometimes jumping straight into pages 2 and 3 of the textbook (“Getting to know you”) is not enough and strikes the students as unreal. Also, the goal of “getting to know you” isn’t language learning (as in the book), but learning about each other through the language. Once you know your students interests and goals, and unfettered by a course book that forces language learning rather than language use, you can tailor activities specifically to your class.

– To not have to worry about “getting through the material” and “completing a book” that the parents have paid for and want to see used
There are a couple of big issues here. When you’re using a text book for a camp, the parents buy it and want to see it “done” (or so the administration believes). To them, “done” often means every page is written on and contains evidence of teacher checking with a red pen. But just because the students have done it, and have the correct answers (for whatever reason), doesn’t mean they have learned it or can use it. Most course books are also too long to allow for time to supplement their themes with more #engaging activities.

– To use your most valuable resource: the language, structures, and grammar that has been drilled into the students’ heads for years and years
All Korean students have been studying English grammar since first grade. Their regular classes drill grammar and sentence structures and the vast majority of textbooks used in English classes in Korea (I don’t care how they claim to be organized) has a built-in grammar syllabus. Instead of using another course book, in a camp setting we have the time to exploit the books the students have already “done” and give them the opportunity to practice and use the sentence structures and grammar they have been learning over and over in book after book. I don’t mean by telling them “now you’re going to use past tense to complete this task” but by letting them have the time to figure it out after setting the task, agreeing on the rules, and giving them support or guidance judiciously.

2) Freedom

– To try new things
There are so many activities teachers would like to try with their classes in order to support the materials the students learned in the textbook. With no new book to keep up with, now’s the time! The students have already learned the material. They’ve done the book. They know how to write and follow instructions using imperative; they’ve learned the verbs they need for cooking – so have them write the recipe and do that cooking class you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it will be a disaster, but it’s worth the risk.

– To give activities a purpose (and perhaps an audience)
Too often we have to ask students to do activities without being able to explain why they need to care about it other than “language practice.” Time to add an element of purpose. Sometimes this is as simple as mixing up the groups so students work with people they don’t know very well and sometimes it can be as complicated as connecting your classroom digitally to students in another school or even in another country. EFL students don’t often get the opportunity to speak to kids their own age with a different L1. Something as simple as exchanging products (magazines, videos, blogs) and feedback with other students can give an activity meaning from a student’s point of view.

Not using a course book is all well and good, but what do we do then? What are these activities? I turned it over to the audience and asked: “What are some activities you have done with vacation camps in the past OR what are some things you wish you could do with your regular classes, but just don’t have time? Take a few minutes to talk in your groups and then we’ll come back and share.”

A sampling of activities shared by participants:

– Rap
– Playing outside (review games and activities)
– Exercise
– Cooking class
– Student-chosen themes (Like a Harry Potter week)
– Student productions

Some activities I have used:

– Role plays (including Airport Role Plays)
– Amazing Race game
– Linking classrooms through video or blog
– Cooking class
Songs and drama
– Comic strip art / story-telling

The missing conclusion:

I feel strongly that the greatest resource in the classroom is the students themselves. We can even ask the students to get into groups and propose activities of their own. Everything that we do in the classroom can be based on what the students bring in. So while vacation camps can be quite successful without using course books, the activities we plan are built on the students’ prior knowledge, much of which came from books. In this way, vacation camps can support the learning students’ do in their regular English classes.

Below is the PowerPoint I used in the presentation.*
*Disclaimer: see this post for things I learned about giving presentations.

Thank you for taking the time to read. Your feedback, comments, suggestions, questions, and polite disagreements are very welcome in the comments below!

How I (almost) won an argument using corpus linguistics

I’m taking a class called “Morphology and Syntax.” It’s currently the third week of the class and it has been interesting. In the first week, I got into an interesting debate with another student.

The argument was about the usefulness of an intrusion test to determine phrasal boundaries (1). He argued that a test to see where an adverb can be placed within the sentence to determine the boundaries of a phrase is not completely reliable because, while incorrect according to a prescriptive grammar, some discourse strategies allow intrusion in a phrasal verb (2). In principle, I agree with him. I feel strongly that how people actually use language *should supersede any prescriptive grammar. The question then becomes How do people actually use the language? and this is where corpus linguistics comes in.

The examples my classmate used are below:

(A) The cat will eat its, I suspect, lamb chops …
(B) John rang, almost certainly, up his accountant.
(C) John rang, almost certainly his accountant up.

I left (A) alone in the debate that followed.

Then I turned to COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) and discovered after an hour of messing around that I had absolutely no idea how to do what I wanted to do. So I did what any rational tweep would do and turned to our friendly neighborhood #TESOLgeek and #corpusexpert, @muranava.

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 3.51.00 PM

This led to some more research on commands to use in a corpus, but also led to an answer to my question:

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 4.01.03 PM
Most commonly, a direct object is inserted between ‘rang’ and ‘up’. 9 and 10 look strange. Judging by the context (“her laughter rang shrill up and down the river”) the phrasal verb is not involved for 10. 9 is a mystery: “I rang turn up on the field phone.”

Next I searched for adverbs:

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 4.17.41 PM

This image shows that adverbs appear before ‘rang up’. This was not surprising. Next I checked to see if people ever use adverbs within the phrasal verb:

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 4.21.24 PM

Unsurprisingly, I came up empty.

Of course there are problems with my informal research: COCA is limited to American English for one thing, while the phrasal verb ‘rang up’ is perhaps not very common in American English (compared to ‘called up’ with 549 entries, ‘rang up’ has only 46). Incidentally, I did the same research for ‘called up’ and discovered that ‘called back up’ has a couple entries.

A second consideration is that COCA’s results, while across a variety of genres, are nevertheless limited. My classmate suggested that a search of a non-dialect-specific corpus might give better results. Ah, if only the BNC were free! The random 50 entries for ‘rang _ up’ in BNC all insert direct objects and I cannot do a more advanced search from the “simple search” page.

In the end, my classmate conceded that his specific example might not have been the best one, but his point still held that intrusion tests are not sufficient to determine phrasal boundaries – and I agreed.

The argument ended when the professor chimed in to say that wherever this sort of interruption might occur within a phrasal verb, one is also likely to find disfluency features like throat-clearing or false starts. His post made it clear that he personally finds the intrusion plausible.

Now the more I think about it, the more I realize that I was being a bit of a prescriptivist myself. I was trying to use a descriptive resource to prove my prescriptive point. It didn’t work quite the way I hoped it would, but I learned a few things!

From this interesting experience I learned a lot about the power and limitations of corpus linguistics. I see the value in having access to how people actually use English as an alternative to the prescriptive approach (how we *should use it). I also see the limitations since corpora are not exactly a cross-section of English use yet.

I also started to learn how to search a corpus (two, in fact. Thanks to Mura for getting me started!). These are tools I want to use more often.


Have you ever used corpora? How do you use them?
Feedback of all kinds is appreciated. 



Notes on terminology and/ or grammar:
(1) A bit more about phrases and intrusion tests:
Phrases include, for example, noun phrases (“the big red dog”), prepositional phrases (“through the garden”), etc. In order to determine where the boundaries of a phrase are, there are tests. The intrusion test says that an adverb (for instance) can only be inserted at the boundaries of a phrase.
So in the sentence, “The big red dog ran through the garden,” we can say
“Quickly the big red dog ran through the garden”
and “The big red dog quickly ran through the garden”
and “The big red dog ran quickly through the garden”
and “The big red dog ran through the garden quickly.”
But we can’t say “*The quickly big red dog ran through the garden”
or “*The big red dog ran through quickly the garden.”
This shows that “the big red dog” and “through the garden” are phrases.

(2) Verbs often stand alone, except phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs, like “rang up,” “called up,” “tried out” are verbs that are inseparable from their particles.
The only thing that can be inserted between the verb and particle is a noun phrase containing the direct object, so “rang the doctor up” or “called the speedy taxi driver up” or “tried the new piano out” are all okay.
On the other hand, “*rang quickly the doctor up” and “*called spontaneously the speedy taxi driver up” and “*tried yesterday the new piano out” – not so much. Thus the intrusion test once again shows that these verbs are phrases.


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