Controlling the Conversation

The art of teaching conversation, part 3

Talking with your students is great fun, isn't it - especially when it's spontaneous and authentic, made up of real discussions regarding current issues.

As much as possible, as an EFL language teacher, you really want to steer your students away from the tired textbooks and encourage natural and fluent communication.

So why is this post called controlling the conversation?

All too frequently, students in wonderfully exciting dogme classes or Just Talking groups end up with the ability to converse comfortably - however after a while some cracks begin to show up.

  • The students are fluent but their actual vocabulary/ grammar range is limited
  • The students don't seem to be retaining the new vocabulary
  • The students have become fluent but still make numerous mistakes and errors in accuracy
Has this happened to you too?

While breaking out of the book is important and teaching speaking is absolutely, in my mind and my students', the most important reason you're there with them physically, rather than handing over self-study books - the grammar and vocabulary which you can extract from the course books are the essential foundations of the house you're building, so mustn't be ignored.

A while back, I created a set of Conversation Control sheets (named by my students -control as in Quality Control) one for me and one for each student, prompting them to selectively record their own areas of weakness, concentrate on the vocabulary they want to retain and generally become more aware of their language development.

As you already know, it's a good idea to keep records, to have a tangible document which everyone can refer back to frequently over time, especially if you have to provide HR or your institute bosses with measurable data and want to acknowledge progress.

You can download them for free from this page:

Here's a video I made explaining how to use these:

Tip: Binding up a stack of these easily turns them into a language journal.


Useful links related to this posting:
Great material for inspiring conversation in the classroom:
My website and those of my brilliant competitors, Jason West and Eric Roth:
Languages Out There and Compelling Conversations.


Best Articles Circulating The ELT Blogosphere - May 09

The sheer amount of great articles I've been reading recently has been almost overwhelming: a lot of very talented English teachers, authors and teacher trainers from the far-flung corners of the globe have been let lose via their blogs and their fingers are literally flying over keyboards to share knowledge and experiences, democratize education and talk to you.

I've picked a few of my fave's here...

Teaching English

Diamondfingerz has been musing about vocabulary learning - a very well thought out and articulated piece which had me thinking for about a week.

Lindsay Clandfield uncovered six deep dark secrets about the ELT world... while revealing six deep secrets of his own to Sandy McManus. Sandy then went on to write an outrageous post decrying student-centered learning... he scares me sometimes, his blog's a bit like that really popular, well-written, British magazine... Private Eye?

Alex Case has stopped being the world's greatest ELT blogger and has decided to retire and become an economist. The reason EFL classes are so cheap is that they are lemons.

Gavin Dudeney's been polishing up the guns and raised a clarion call regarding teaching, training and educating in 2nd Life. This is a blog to follow if you're interested in investigating this area of teaching, alongwith KipYellowJacket's and Nergiz Kern's excellent adventure and EFL lesson plans.

Tech tips

Simon Bourne's found 5 useful websites for learning with the news and Jamie Keddie - via Carl Dowse have created a webinar (teacher-training seminar) on teaching English with youtube, very worth watching, and Inma Alcázar has been investigating YouTube Edu.

Janet Abruzzo's post on slang dialogue turned me on to making videos using Xtranormal and I've now made 3 so far for the blog I write for ESL language learners!

Such fun, although Anne Hodgson has warned me that the robot voices get old quick... hmmm. What do you think? If you make /made one too - don't hesitate to let me know.

Burcu has written an awesome posting on tools that can help you get organized. One of these is my all-time-fave, however she also has pointed me in the direction of Evernote and MyStickies - hmm... I think I'll delicious these links she gave for now - my physical desk is so cluttered with posties I don't dare start that online ROFL!

After writing a post about what twitter was doing to the English vocabulary, I noticed a great piece on Elena Ruiz's page on txtspeak and saw that Nik Peachey wrote a learning activity based on a poster shown in the UK. He doesn't have students to try it out on at the moment so if you're teaching teens, do download it and let him know what you think.

And speaking of Twitter, if you tried out the lesson plan on figuring out the Business Model of Twitter, then you should enjoy Neal Chambers' list of easy tools to help manage your experience there.

AcademHack have also written an indepth posting on using Twitter in Academia
and Aniya Adly has been working with 2 other musketeers to organize an easy system to track all teachers using a #teachertuesday hashtag while Blair on Digital Spaces has written a post about an article that Social Networking is in fact, bad for you!

Blogging with students

Susana Canelo on her DelValle blog took a simpler approach to the lesson I did on Susan Boyle and got her students highly motivated and joining in the conversation and Nastasa came up with a beautiful and original idea of using the other track by Susan, Cry me a River.

Darren Elliot has set up a tumblr blog with his students, read through his objectives and perhaps consider doing the same with your own?

Lesson Plans

Meg Englemann at Business Spotlight has a decent lesson tip using the T-mobile flash mob, perfect for your ESP:advertising classes.

Dave at ESL etc. was a great find: loads of activities with a particular focus on global issues and activism.

And if you somehow managed to miss Claudio's movie segments to assess grammar, check out his Sex & the City posting on the 3rd conditional and to extend my posting on the 2nd conditional use Jumper.


Marxist Elf is managing without managers and talking about the politics of peer observation and did you know that Vicki Hollet - yeah, yeah the Vicki Hollet of Business Objectives, Business Opportunities, TechTalk has entered the blogosphere?

A heavyweight contender - she's written a very interesting piece on how right brainers will be ruling the future, for sure (and she introduced me to a new source of authentic videos, via VodPod, one to add to the previous list!).


As a final note, a posting from HollySuel in Finland caught my eye with its simplicity and surest message: The words we say.

What have you been reading?

Did you enjoy these articles? I sure hope so. Don't hesitate to tell me what you liked and let me know if I missed a super post that we should all read too... (& of course, don't hesitate to email me if you've written something yourself that I should include in the next round-up!)


If I won €10, if I won €100, if I won €1000, then I would...

The other day on Lindsay Clandfield's blog, he did a posting entitled Six Tired Examples for Teaching Grammar, including the standard, seen EVERYWHERE: in every coursebook and every grammar book ever published in the history of ELT, er, 'xcuse me while I start snoring:

If I won a million dollars I would buy...

His post is a list of terrible examples (very fun and worth reading) but I thought I'd just grab this one and bring it on over here to talk about the 2nd conditional and how practicing this form with your students really doesn't have to be so stale.

'Cause let's face it, they've done it to death since they were kids in their first English classes.

time is moneyIf you picked up a scratchy card at the newsagents and suddenly won €10, what would you buy?

A nice coffee at Starbucks for yourself and a colleague?

If you entered the church bingo and suddenly won €100, what would you buy?

Couple of DVD TV Series? An internet TV card? A nice perfume and expensive make-up? Pair of shoes?

If a family relation died and you inherited €1000, it's not exactly a whole heap of money so what would you do?

Take a nice holiday? Buy new winter tires?

And what if you were lucky enough to get a €10,000 start-up grant for a new business idea? What would you invest this in?

What if you did enter the lottery, jackpot of €4million but you only managed to snag €50,000 of it, how would you spend this?

And if you got €500,000? A cool mil? 5 mil?

Did I just hear you pause?

Make grammar real and approachable and your students will be able to come up with their own thoughts, ideas - they'll start owning the language and comfortably communicate their own hypothetical suggestions.

Because personally, I don't know about you, but if I won €1,000,0000 I would have absolutely no idea how to spend it - no doubt I would probably waste it on stupid big houses and yachts and charity events - I'm crap at math so then maybe, I might even end up going bankrupt like all those pictures of people we see in textbooks.

Oh great, so the 2nd conditional is actually depressing.

moneyWhat about you?

Forget about the million dollars... and go on, tell me what would you do if someone suddenly gave you €5,000 to do something somewhat related to learning teaching English?

Useful links related to this posting:

Easy sheet to use in class
(you can use this whenever you're teaching the 2nd conditional or you're discussing money as a theme in a conversation class).

Update May 22, 09
Alex Case has a list of 2nd conditional alternatives to the lottery: supernatural correction
and if you're on the hunt for a great youtube vid to extend the lesson with, I'd recommend this story of a New Zealand couple who became accidental millionaires due to a clerical mistake, ask students what they'd do in Yang's shoes!


Storing, sharing, bookmarking: it's delicious. ELT techtip 7

I get asked, every now and then, how are you finding all this great stuff and sharing it?

Some friends and colleagues have an odd feeling that either I am permanently chained to my computer - oh, alright, I am in front of the computer a lot - or I don't go to sleep.

However that's not why I'm able to find things quickly.

It's because of delicious.

Not the pretty cakes in this posting, duh. The bookmarking concept. ;-)

cakeWhenever I'm out and about surfing, whatever it is I am doing whether it's checking out Camper's new online shoe collection, checking my email, researching for themes or ideas in Wikipedia, listening to some CEO talking on TED, visiting one of the forums or groups I like participating in - there's an icon primed and ready, sitting on my firefox toolbar, which I can click to automatically save something into Delicious.

Whenever I come across something I think is worth keeping, or might be worth keeping, I click on the tag button, insert a keyword or two - labels which have a relevancy to me, my life, my business, my professional studies, my classes, lesson ideas, my students' interests and stuff I might be able to blog about later on.

It's an enormously easy system.

Not only can you save all this stuff forever and ever but you can also share what you've saved with other teachers. You can keep some links private.

You can organize and reorganize your tags, add extra tags whenever you want to share something in particular with one person who asks, bundle up stuff into groups and change your mind as often as you change shoes.

You can search within your own or your network's bookmarks without having to try and figure out what you or they "tagged" it as.

Ah, Delicious makes life delicious.

Right, off to go eat some leftover birthday cake.


Useful links
Commoncraft: social bookmarking (video)
Russell Stannard's explanation of delicious and usage
My workshop on using delicious for ELTAS
My delicious page which you can raid whenever you feel like it!

More techie tips for TEFL teachers:
Raid the business blogs
Watch authentic videos
Using wordle for vocabulary practice

The Business of Twitter - an English for Special Purposes Lesson

panning for goldAside from living off the venture capital they've received, nobody knows how Twitter's making cash or even if they're managing to cover their bills, despite the fact that their application is one of the fastest growing in the web 2.0 - especially amongst older, wiser, users.

This issue of how are they going to turn it into the next Google-money-making-machine has got the bloggers all in a twitter, all trying to figure out what on earth the next step might be, (will they be bought out by Apple?) in a semi-voyeuristic thrill of being the first to learn about the killing they'll probably make.

However, no one, really, can come up with a good solid answer of where this cash is going to come from and when it comes, how they'll maintain that income.

So, I took Twitter's potential business model into the language classroom.

After all, my adult students with their investment banking backgrounds or their daily web design responsibilities should have a better inkling than I do (or the so-called the social networking marketing experts) and to boot we'd be able to practice some great language of creating possibilities.

They did quite well.

Massive amounts of brainstorming went into this exercise: Mirko and Volker at the bank were convinced Twitter could make their money combining advertising tweets with google earth and data mining until we decided that, quite probably, too many countries would declare that illegal.

Philip thought they might go the route of the romance sites, hooking up people across the world based on like-minded tweets but then decided that would be too cliché.

Marc at the website company also came up with the idea that they could do a deal with a major telephone company as more and more smartphones hit the market, the telecom industries should be able to make a killing off the tweets.

Susanne was convinced that the plan was made right from the beginning to simply sell it to Google, which means Adsense, and that would be their downfall as they'd just piss-off their user base.

But Frank thought, in a separate lesson, that the twitter page should be divided up into blocks (the right column is a problem - too narrow for ads) of 5 - 10 tweets, +1 sponsored ad inserted mid stream directly related to the general themes in each twitters' profile setting.

moneyGerhard, a bank board member, was pretty convinced that Twitter won't actually ever make any money, reminding the rest of us of how the bubble burst in '00.

Who knows if any of them have got it right.

Why not find out what your students think?

To do this lesson, which is aimed at students with an applicable interest, you'll need:
  • internet access in the classroom

If you're not already on twitter, (whether or not your students are) sign up for an account and then follow other teachers in your niche (you can find them by searching for #esl, #efl #businessenglish #teachertuesday hashtags) for about a week to 10 days.

Start tracking conversations and participating in them so you've got a fair amount of experience into the hows and whys and wherefores.

Next, look for several people in your students' niches.

If your students are already on twitter, exchange @addresses. If they're not, it doesn't matter, use your own account.

The lesson is basically made up of

1. Showing them your twitter page.

2. Them showing you their twitter profile (if they have one) - discussing choice of avatars and background pictures and talking about if/ why these are important.

3. Following the tweets and links of people in your students' fields of interests/ niches and discussing these.

3. Discussing the conversations you've and your students have been having online - what they've learned.

4. Discussing the pros and cons of using twitter (see this video which you can also take in or set as a pre-task).

5. Brainstorming how Twitter could transform their platform into a successful, financially sound business.

6. Feedback on their language: the key (and new) vocabulary they would like to learn.

As a follow-up, for extra vocabulary dissection and more discussion on the application and its use, you can also show Evan Williams' short talk on TED.

Useful links related to this posting:

@kalinagoenglish (me)
Twitter blog (from Problogger)
Tweetdeck (helps you organize all your tweets/responses/group people)
The IATEFL tweets (from the Cardiff conference and beyond)
More links, articles, videos etc (things I've saved on delicious)


p.s Funny song, actually first heard on Ronaldo Lima's blog -it's all his fault am on Twitter now!
(lyrics here - quite an interesting viral marketing story too)

p.p.s. To print out a copy of just this page, click on the title first, then move down to the eco-badge buttons and select print.

The Dogma of Dogme

I still need to answer one of my reader's questions on what do with her problem class but as I'll be starting off my posting with

"As a dogmeist..."

I thought I'd better give you a heads up on what dogme actually is.

The term dogme is borrowed from a film movement initiated by Lars von Trier in a backlash against the overuse of the monomyth, Journey of the Hero, uncovered by Joseph Campbell and made famous by Chris Vogler.

magical rideHave you ever been watching a film and had a premoniton or two: the 'oh, right, everything in his natural world is just about to change, sigh. I bet he'll meet an old man right about now who'll tell him what he has to do.

Or, wait, time for some suffering - he probably won't win this fight, ah here's the pretty girl, they'll hook up - whoops, he's going to learn a lesson now and finally, everything will be right again.'

Done that?

Well, basically, that's because you've been subconsciously aware of the mythic structure all along.

pirateIts plot points are the structure of most Hollywood movies, post 70's, and is the backbone of Matrix, Star Wars, The Terminator, The Pursuit of Happyness, Whale Rider, The Lion King or even American Quilt.

However, before I bore you, what does all of this have to do with textbooks, methodology and teaching English?

Er, pick up the nearest course book on your desk. Next time you're in the library, compare it against Headway and against just about anything produced since. Whether they've added a handful of unrealistic case studies or dilemmas, got gap fills or pointless vocabulary exercises, been jam-packed with grammar explanations or don't have any, they're all playing off a similar structure.

helloSomewhere in the deep dungeons of most ELT publishing houses, someone whose name we don't know, but at a random guess he's not a socio-linguist, has done some kind of very-necessary-to-show-on-the-page-so-it-feels-and-looks-like-Headway-because-the-teachers-might-be-afraid-if-it's-different kind of breakdown which goes -- well, if I knew the plot points I'd tell you.

Now there's no doubt in my mind that someone much cleverer out there than me is reading this and has figured out the structure of your average textbook so I'll just ask go on ahead and tell you: share it with us!

I mean do the publishers even care that the unit themes they've chosen have no direct relationship to the following one?

That they rarely have anything to do with our students' lives?

That the lexis presented on one page doesn't show up in the next unit or even the one after that?

That there's no space on the page to write?

That from one house to another they're parodies of each other?

More in kin with Howard the Duck, The Postman, Dumb & Dumberer than Citizen Kane.

Anyhoo, let me get on with talking about the alternative to all this.

Dogme in ELT

Back in '00, Scott Thornbury highjacked the phrase dogme to launch his, often accused-of-being-Luddite methodology, burn-the-books-and-talk-to-the-students message, based on frustration and an anti-wizardry battle yelp for teaching practices to become more student-centered.

Thornbury defined teaching without a course book as:
  • conversation driven
  • materials light andruins
  • focusing on emergent language
Sharing subjects and themes, which
  • are relevant to the learner
  • provide a space for the voice of the learner
  • scaffold, shape and support the students' conversations
  • pay attention to features of the emergent language.

In his latest book, Teaching Unplugged, co-authored with Luke Meddings, they stress that teaching practices shouldsword
  • encourage a dialogic process,
  • acknowledge that knowledge is co-constructed
  • empower the learner
  • engage the learners and
  • trigger the learning process which is already there

Basically adding a bit more of Before Sunrise to the classroom.

the carnivalIn the same way that Christopher Columbus was not the first to 'discover' the Caribbean and Alexander Graham Bell didn't invent the telephone, Thornbury and Meddings neither invented nor discovered the process of teaching without coursebooks.

Teachers all over the world have been working without textbooks for a very long time (probably as long as English teachers have been around) some because
  • there is no choice nor access to materials
  • their students have requested this
  • they like supplementary materials, making their own stuff and others
  • are simply not happy with the standardization, monomythic production of many an ELT publisher.

Are you one of these teachers?

In the way that Bell made the phone sexy (or was that Steve from Apple?) and Columbus renamed the islands and charted maps so we could all go have great vacations, Thornbury and Medding's explorations into this theme are turning teaching sans parachute into a very cool dialogic methodology so I, for one, am very happy referring to myself as a dogmeist.

Which makes it kind of difficult to answer S.F's question regarding what she should do with her runaway class.

Would you like to help me answer her?

plug and socketWhat about you?

Want to join the 'movement'? Then follow the links below and/or buy Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching (Amazon UK / US here)
- with its in-depth analysis of the practice and relevancy of dogme in our modern classrooms: highly readable, packed with teaching tips and lesson ideas
(some new, some very 700 Classroom Activities
and some surprisingly innovative).

Or do you think this whole dogme thing is a load of tosh? Whatever your views, feel free to add in your 2c, nickels or dimes by clicking on the comments below.

Useful links related to this posting:

Dogme, the movement
Dogme in ELT
p.s. dogme is the danish word for dogma

Most of the photographs on this page are by Pareerica on Flickr and a very special thanks must go to her for allowing these fabulous pics to be used under a creative commons license.

Update 13 May 2009

And now there's even Dogme ICT, spearheaded by Gavin Dudeney, looks rather tempting! More AI than Dogville!

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