Category Archives: Pedagogy

Reflections on Four Approaches to Group Discussion Activities

This week was the penultimate week of classes for 2013 and, with all the material for the exam covered, I now have the flexibility to teach every group of students differently and thus experiment with my classes a bit more. Normally this is frowned upon in my school as the belief is that, if all students are taking the same exam, they should all do exactly (and I mean exactly) the same lesson. This is (supposedly) in order to prevent one group of students being given an unfair advantage (a subject for another blog another time).

Given this flexibility I decided to do some action research this week and chose to try and find out what the best way of facilitating free discussion and to encourage the sharing of opinions is for my Korean high school students. I did this by implementing four different methods for organising a discussion activity over the course of the week.

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How I Teach New Language

One of the great things about my job has been the flexibility afforded to me that allows me to teach what I want and how I want. This has allowed me the space to experiment with different approaches, one of those being the teaching of vocabulary and expressions. So, now I’m coming to the end of my time teaching in public schools I thought it would be nice to share how I tackle introducing new vocabulary to students and, hopefully, getting it to stick. I figured the easiest way to do this would be to run through the activities I used in last week’s lesson.

This lesson was about ‘World Festivals’.

Stage 1: Choosing the Language

This stage might be easy, the language could be given to you in a textbook or pre-made syllabus. I have to select the language myself so I decided to scowl short videos on different festivals around the world that were:

  • Not too difficult
  • Contained language that would be useful for students to learn
  • Were interesting and gave the language a context
  • Provides enough context for low level students to understand, yet pushes the high level students.

It isn’t always possible to get all three but in this case I managed to videos that hit at least two of these goals.

Below is one of the videos I selected.

Stage 2: Introducing the Language in Context

The first thing I like to do is give my students the chance to either hear or see the language being used within a context. By doing this it helps students to link a mental image to the new language. In this case, it was easy for me as I had selected four videos the students could watch that contained the target language. I start off by doing some pronunciation drills with the new language so that students would know what to listen for in the next activity. Then, I created a simple listening for details activity that involved students matching sentences containing the key language (underlined) to the correct festival.

Stage 3: Confirming the Meaning of the Language

The students have now seen the language in the context of a sentence and heard the sentence being used in context along with a visual reference. If the materials were selected properly the students should already have a pretty good idea as to the meaning of the language. The next stage involves helping the students to confirm the meaning of the new language. There are a number of simple activities that can do this, in this case I went for a simple match the words to the meanings activity. If students weren’t sure, I referred them to the context or asked them to guess based on what they saw in the video. Almost very student was able to do this (I have 440 students).

Stage 4: Putting the Language into a New Context

I this stage I like to give the students an opportunity to put the language to use in their own context. In this case, I had the students

2013-11-29 08.44.20

work in groups of four to create their own festivals. Each group had to produce some supporting material (such as a poster, pamphlet, rule book, flyers etc.) which had to contain the new language items. This stage is key as it gives the students a chance to engage in peer led meaning negotiation and error correction without even knowing it. If, for example, a student uses some language incorrectly on the poster, their group members will instinctively correct it. The role of the teacher is to monitor for any mistakes that slip through. It is worth noting them down and coming back to them at the end of

2013-11-29 08.44.45

class or for a review next class.

Stage 5: Using the Language

The final stage gives the students chance to both use, and hear their peers use, the new language in context as many times as

possible. In this lesson, I created an activity whereby the students had to sell their festivals, and students decided how much they would pay to go. The group with most money wins. I organised this by splitting every group of four into two. Two students would stand around the outside of the room with their group’s poster. Their job was to sell the festival. The other two members from each group had to walk around the room, visit each festival and decide how much they would pay to go after talking to the students selling the festival. 2013-11-29 08.52.02The key rule is that the people selling must use all the new language items before they can get the money.

So, with eight groups, each student heard or used each new piece of new language seven times (they don’t visit their own group).2013-11-29 08.55.17

Stage 6: Error Correction

Finally, the last few minutes of class are spent correcting common errors that have been picked up over the course of the lesson.

Note: I have found repetition to be extremely important. Throughout this lesson the students encountered the new language once out of context, and a minimum of ten times in context.

Do you have any special techniques you have developed for teaching new language? If so, I’d love to hear them!

How I Use Technology to Enhance Student Learning

I was asked to write this short piece for a job application and thought people might find it interesting. Enjoy… (and please bear in mind I only had half an evening in which to write this)

With the rapid development of technology, and the increasing reliance of people around the world on technology, I believe it is an important, even necessary, tool to be harnessed by the English language teacher. Over the course of my teaching career I have used technology to improve my students’ learning experience in several ways. I will now briefly highlight those that I think have been the most important in developing my students’ English ability.

A primary objective of my current position is to prepare students for international communication. This objective was the catalyst for a technology based linked-classroom project I organized with high schools in Japan and Brazil. The aims of the project were for students to:

Continue reading How I Use Technology to Enhance Student Learning

In the four years I’ve been teaching I’ve worked at 2 different high schools and, through various workshops and organisations, had the pleasure of meeting many native English speaking teachers around Korea. While the experience and expectations in each school are undoubtedly very different, I have noticed one common theme running through

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most people’s experiences. That is, as the native English speaking teacher, we are expected to share, and teach, the native speaker expressions, idioms and slangs our students are going to require if they are going to converse in English. Of course, at face value, this does seem to be a common sense requirement. After all, we are native speakers of English, and to communicate with us native speakers fluently, surely our students are going to need to be able to use the native lingo (0 hits)? Well, if native speakers were the people our students are likely to be communicating with, this would probably be true (I say probably because many expressions and slangs vary depending on region and time).

However, when this line of thought is scrutinized, the usefulness of the native speaker idioms/slangs/expressions we often teach becomes questionable. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of our students are actually quite unlikely to be using English to communicate with native English speakers (see Jenkins et al. 2011 or Seidlhofer 2004). Now, while I don’t want to get too deeply into the theoretical background of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in this post (please see note at bottom of blog), the basic premise is that the majority of English speakers are now non-native speakers of English, and the majority of communication that takes place is between non-native speakers of English, thus this is the type of communication we should be preparing our students for.

This now brings me back to my original question, how useful are the native speaker expressions/slang/idioms countless hours have been spent teaching. Well, I decided to consider this question in my context using the framework laid out in the excellent book ‘About Language’ by Scott Thornbury (1997). Thornbury (1997) suggests five ways that might determine the selection of language to be taught:

1) Frequency: Is the word (and this meaning of it) common?

The only real way of knowing how common an expression is is to refer to a corpus. A fantastically easy to use ELF corpus (that includes both native speakers and non-native speakers) run by the Vienna institute can be found here. I decided to run a little test (a completely unscientific one but this is only a Friday afternoon blog post!). I googled ‘common english expressions esl’, clicked on the third link and chose the first expression for low-intermediate students and then the first idiom, which happened to be ‘off the top of your/my/his/her/their head’. I then whacked this in the corpus search engine and received… 0 hits. The second expression, ‘ring a bell’ also received… 0 hits. My third attempt, ‘from scratch’ received… 4 hits. Please bear in mind (8 hits) this was only a two minute experiment.

2) Coverage: Can you use the word in a wide range of contexts, or does it have a very narrow coverage? For example, is its meaning very specific, is it only used regionally, or is it jargon or slang?

I think this is important, how regional are the native idioms/expressions/slangs we are teaching? Again, I think the corpus can help us with this, but I would suggest that, at the very least, many of the idioms/expressions/slangs are regional to the native countries, if not regions, they originate from. I know that when I go for a few beers with my mates (1 hit) from the South of England that, by our fourth beer, a lot of the conversation becomes incomprehensible to me, a native speaker. The typical idioms/expressions/slangs they use are very different to those I use as a Yorkshire man. If this is the situation for people who live in the same native speaking country, imagine two non-native speakers trying to sound native by using various idioms/expressions/slangs.

3) Usefulness: How relevant is it to our students’ needs? (Sometimes relatively infrequent items with a narrow coverage might nevertheless be very useful.)

This factor is probably the most dependent on your context. If you’re teaching English with a specific purpose, while you may receive only one hit on the corpus search, the idiom/expression/slang may still be very useful for your student. For me, in preparing my high school students for the type of communication they are most likely to face, I must take into account the likelihood of their interlocutor, who is also likely to be a non-native speaker, being able to both recognize and interpret what I am teaching my students. Considering this, I have to accept that the good old Yorkshire expression “broke” (meaning having no money) (0 hits) probably isn’t terribly useful besides if my students ever get the privilege of watching Last of the Summer Wine at some point in their lives.

4) Use: Will the learner need only to recognize the item (i.e. while listening or reading) or will it be needed for production (speaking and writing)?

This is quite an interesting one; there is no doubt that my students love US and British TV shows, movies and music. I am actually teaching a course on ‘English through Movies’ at the moment. For understanding the movies there is definitely a case for the teaching of the native English expressions featured in the movies. However, when we come back to conversational English, both my students and, just as importantly, their non-native interlocutors, are going to need to be able to use understand the idioms/expressions/slangs. In fact, teaching idioms/expressions/slangs my students’ interlocutors are unlikely to know may actually be detrimental to my students’ ability to communicate if all it does is cause misunderstanding and confusion. With the sheer number of native idioms/expressions/slangs out there, what are the chances of both my students and their interlocutors having been taught and remembering the same ones?

5) Learnability/teachability: Is it easy to learn and remember? Is it easy to convey the meaning and form of it to learners?

To be honest, I don’t think I have too much to say about this one. If the idioms/expressions/slangs fit nicely in with the syllabus, don’t take too long to teach and are usable then, to me, there is certainly a case to be made for teaching them, if done right (something I will discuss more in my next blog post).

Overall this analysis seems to indicate that, from an ELF perspective, we need to be very careful when selecting ‘common English expressions’ to teach our students. However, if your teaching environment is anything like mine, both my school and students expect me to teach a certain number of native English expressions. If I don’t, they will probably find a teacher that will. This presents a very awkward situation as I am required to teach language that I know might not only prove to be mostly a waste of time, but could actually be detrimental to my students’ ability to communicate in English. In my next blog post I hope to share some of the strategies that I believe can be used to teach native English idioms/expressions/slangs while also preparing students for ELF communication.

Note – For further reading regarding ELF I am going to put some articles I recommend checking out at the bottom, or you can read my thesis, which I’ll be uploading any day now. Alternatively, for a detailed yet eloquently summarized discussion of ELF, I highly recommend my friend Alex Grevett’s blog posts here including the discussion in the comments.

Note 2 – I have decided that from now on, personally I will only be sharing my blog posts through the AlienTeachers facebook groupmy twitter account and email subscription.

Bibliography + Recommended Reading

Cogo, A. (2012). ‘English as a Lingua Franca: concepts, use, and implications’. ELT journal 66(1), 97–105.

Jenkins, J., Cogo, A. & Dewey, M. (2011). ‘Review of developments in research into English as a lingua franca’. Language Teaching 44(3), 281–315.

Thornbury, Scott. About language. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 1997.

Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a Lingua Franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24, 209–239.

Creating a Linked Classroom – Part 2 (Teething Problems & Solutions)

The project has now been underway for a couple of weeks, however due to the nature of public schools we have only managed one session with each school. Despite this lack of time with the students, there have been a number of teething problems we have had to deal with that I hope others trying to do similar projects can learn from.

1. Choosing a Platform
There were a number of features we wanted from the platform:
– Ease of use as we want students to have a leading role in the project.
– Ability to easily share the project with others.
– Free or very cheap.
– Able to handle a number of media formats including written work, sounds files and video files.

We decided to use a web based platform called Weebly. Weebly is a free service that allows you to easily and quickly build a website. It utilizes a drag and drop system so students from all the classrooms can easily upload their files to the website, have a role in designing it and easily communicate with each other via it. So far this is the site we have put together. By the way, Weebly will also provide a free url.

2. Organisation
The fact we have three schools communicating with each other has made the organisation that bit harder. We basically decided to split our students into four groups, each group would communicate with one other group either in Japan, Korea or Brazil. We hope that then, at the end of the project, each group will be able to do a short presentation about what they learnt from about that country.

To provide an example, if group 1 in Korea is communicating with group 1 in Brazil and group 3 in Korea is communicating with group 4 in Japan, the groups will present to each other what they have learnt from Brazil and Japan respectively. It might be clearer if you look at the interview section of the website here (under construction).

3. Time Management
Obviously we all have completely different schedules so syncing everything up is basically impossible. Our solution to this has been to share our schedules and do our best to help each other out as much as possible. However, the fact we are not just doing interviews, but videos and articles, gives us some leeway. If we don’t have interviews ready, the students can simply work on videos or articles. I wouldn’t recommend doing such a project with only interviews to work with for this reason.

4. Work Load
We seriously under-estimated the amount of work involved for our students in listening to, transcribing and responding to questions. We have had to limit our students to asking only 2 questions (or 3 maximum).

5. Difficulty
Another serious under-estimation! The point of the project is for our students to experience and learn from communicating with other non-native speakers. This is something they have hardly any experience at and so are unlikely to have developed strategies to help them with this mountain of a task. We found that our students found it extremely difficult to understand some parts of what was being said. To deal with this we have created a ‘cheat sheet’! We are using a google doc that we can all edit and add to share the questions that out students have made, our students, of course, do not know about or get access to the cheat sheet, but it helps us prepare for problems the students are likely to encounter.

6. Privacy Issues
Uploading videos of our students opens us up to legal issues. Basically, we are going with the premise that if the students make the choice to upload a video of themselves to the website then that is great and there is no issue, however we wanted a space where the students could feel free to express themselves knowing only the participants in this project could see it. We chose to add a private password section to the website in order to create this space.

Well that’s about it for now, we have also had a number of very real and very awesome successes which I’m looking forward to sharing very soon!

Don’t forget you can keep updated via twitter or facebook.

Creating a Linked Classroom – Part 1 (Introducing the Project)

This week has been a very exciting one for both myself and my students. We have been presented with a fantastic opportunity to link our classroom with Kevin Stein’s high school classroom in Japan and Rose Bard’s high school classroom in Brazil.

This is a really incredible opportunity for my students (and me) that we are all very excited about. If you would like to know more about the importance of, and benefits in, creating linked classrooms, I suggest checking out an article I wrote an lingua and cultura franca here, an article from John Pfordresher on a similar topic here or some research I conducted on a linked classroom here.

As long as the project is running I plan on blogging about how we go about organising the project, problems we face, how we overcome them and some of the students’ reactions to the project as well as anything else that seems relevant!

A little bit of background in case you are new to my blog. I teach at a high school in Seoul, South Korea. I teach an after school class that consists of 16 students who are all pretty high level. The after school class runs for 8 x 1.5 hours over the course of 12 weeks, so this is the time I will be using for this project. The after school class is completely voluntary.

So without further ado, I shall get blogging about the project!

Part 1 (Introducing the Project)

I was a little bit nervous about introducing the project to my students as I was worried that, with it having nothing to do with their University Entrance Exams, they might not be interested due to the time and effort required. I also didn’t want to force the students into doing the project as that would not make for a great experience for the classrooms we will be linked with. So, I decided to outline the basis of the project, then disappear for five minutes and give them the time to discuss it as a class.

To my relief, the class decided, unanimously, that they wanted to take part in the project, with the proviso that it would all be done in class as they didn’t feel they have time to add to their schedule out of school. I think one of the main motivations was the opportunity to question the Japanese students about Dokdo and the East Sea of Japan, these are two very hot topics in Korea.

I went into a few more details with the students about the type of activities Kevin and I had thought would be realistic for our students to achieve. Our plan was to encourage communication on three fronts:

1) A delayed interview exchange via recording of questions and answers.
2) Written articles on anything they would like to share with the linked classroom. These would be shared via a website.
3) Videos, again on any subject they would like to share and uploaded to the website.

My students decided they would be most interested in videos and interviews, but that written articles would be a good opportunity to practice their writing skills. We were go on all three fronts!

In order to make the project manageable we split the class into four groups of four. The next task was for the students to brainstorm topics they would like to cover for interviews, articles and videos. They then shared their ideas (see picture below).

The students were then left (albeit with a little bit of guidance from the teacher) to decide which group would get each topic. Of course, in true Korean fashion, it came down to rock, scissors, paper!

It was then left to the students to make four interview questions they will record and send to the linked classroom and plan an outline of the first article they will write (see picture below).

And that was the end of the first lesson of the linked classroom project. Unfortunately due to exams and school trips I don’t our second lesson will be for a number of weeks, but if you would like to keep up to date with the project you can follow me on twitter here or follow AlienTeachers on facebook here.

Also, if you are interested in creating your own linked classroom I recommend checking out this facebook group.


10/04/2013 20:08

This concept is on my list for things to try next semester. I look forward to following your progress. When you say “they will record and send to the linked classroom” – will you be doing this whole thing with just a website? If you wind up trying out any other tech, I’d be interested to know what worked and what didn’t… Great stuff!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:32

Hi Tom,

I’ve considered a couple of options, the simplest is probably to record and email, next simplest is a shared file sharing service such a dropbox, the least simple is uploading to a website. At the moment I plan on going for the latter option, the reason being that, with my students permission, I would like other people to use the recording for their classes as a means of exposure to other ESL speakers output.

I will definitely keep you updated with how it goes. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

11/04/2013 00:06

Hi, I just came across your post and it is exactly what I am looking for. I tried to set up a linked classroom with a Japanese university, but it fell through. I work at a uni in Malaysia, and I teach students who will eventually go into the main foundation or degree course. They are from various countries and I would like to set up a linked classroom with them. Any advice? or could we possibly be included with your group? Thanks!!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:36

Hi Simon,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment? Want caused your linked project to fall through? Perhaps we can learn from it in this project!

At the moment I think university level might not suit my students, I’m worried it would make them a bit nervous with more mature students, however I highly recommend joining the following facebook groups and asking around to see if any university teachers could link their classroom with you.

Let me know if you need any more help at all,

All the best,


Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:39

BTW I just had a quick look at your blog, you have some awesome ideas on there. Mind if I link it in my sidebar?

11/04/2013 04:05

Hi Simon. Mine are frosh uni students. Would love to link up. If you’re interested, please email me at Oh – I’m a mate of Alex’s in Seoul. Terrific blog, but I didn’t notice a way to connect, so here I am. Maybe I missed it. Cheers.

12/04/2013 03:56

When I see my 9th graders (14 year-old Ss) engaging in the creation of the video and taking all the steps to it by reflecting on the questions they had received, working on the video script and trying to do their best to present it, I feel even more comfortable in linking up with other classrooms. There are so much possibilities there in how to. I feel so blessed for being connected to such a wonderful community of educators.

14/04/2013 06:17

I’ve been seeing tweets and facebook updates all week and wondering what you were all up to. I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this and find out the details. 🙂 As always, your dedication at creating an authentic space for communication is inspiring.

Are you accepting additions to the linked classroom or will you try to finish the cycle created between the three of you?

Alexander Walsh
19/04/2013 01:08

Hi Josette!

Sorry for late reply, been of of those weeks! I think for now three is the logistical limit due to time constraints etc. However next semester I will be looking to replicate the project with a boys after school class so if you know of any interested parties that would be awesome!

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!


Why WE Love a Group Project!


One month into the new school year and I’ve finally found some time to get back to blogging! I also happened to have just finished the first project of the year with my new first grade (high school) students. For me, the first project of the year is always an interesting one, it tells me a lot about how successful I’ve been in motivating and interesting my (600) students, as well as allowing me to really get to know their individual personalities and characteristics!

Luckily for me my first project has been an absolute success, and so, as a first post of the year, I would like to share why we (my students and I) love getting involved with a good project!


1) It helps us all to get involved.

I have large multi-level, multi-interested (yes, I just made that up), multi-motivated (I also made that up) classes. By giving the students an opportunity to work in groups on an extensive project it helps the lower level students who struggle in class to really get involved with the work and produce something to be proud of. Regardless of the group members English level, they all need to have a role if they are to complete the project on time.

O.k. true story time, last week I had a student crying after class because she was finding life at the high school in which I work too hard. English conversation class is one of the harder subjects for her as her English ability is around 7 or 8 years behind most of her classmates, this week she was smiling and laughing with her friends in her group while they worked together to complete the project. Their work will be put on the wall by where she sits as a positive reminder of what she can achieve.


2) It creates a supportive environment.

As described above, it gives the higher level students an opportunity and need to help the lower levels students in the aim of achieving a common goal. This is important for the rest of the course as there will always be times when students need help, and I want to encourage the students to support each other. Group projects encourage this.


3) It is a great opportunity for positive reinforcement.

If the students do a great job it gives a really easy opportunity to provide the students with some really great feedback and rewards for good work that they will carry through for the rest of the year. It also allows me to display their work so the students can see what it is possible to achieve. When I told my students what their task was I got the usual cry “teacher, too hard”. Now there work is hanging on the wall for all to see and admire.

4) It is FUN!

Project based language learning is fun. It is active, engaging, Picturepractical and real. It provides stimulation textbooks often can’t. Plus, when everyone is working hard and contributing, we get to listen to K-pop in the background. Life just doesn’t get any better than that :-/ !!!!!!!!

5) It produces ‘real’ language.

Don’t you just love it when a student asks you ‘teacher, how do I say XXXX in English?’ to which I always reply ‘I have no idea (sometiPicturemes a lie), can you explain it in English to me?’

Project based learning allows the students to learn the language which is important to them, not the textbook. Students are also acquiring meaningful input from both their sources of information and their peers.

6) It promotes student autonomy.

Yes, I teach in Asia, YES, my students can be autonomous (expect Picturea rant about this topic soon). Projects are a wonderful excuse to hand the decision making process over to our students. They have a goal, they have a time limit, they have support, but they make the decisions.

7) It encourages creativity.

The work my students produces always blows my mind. If you teach in APicturesia and think your students can’t be creative then, well, I strongly encourage you to check out a couple of links on this website. I firmly believe all students are capable of both being creative and expressive; it is our job to help them find a way. Projects helps us do this.

8) It is adaptable and flexible.

The project can be as big or small as you want. A project can take Picture10 minutes, and entire period or an entire year. You can adapt it to fit your circumstances, curriculum and students. I am going to include some links to example project based lessons at the bottom, some are month long projects, and some are as short as twenty minutes.

What do I Mean by ‘Project’?

For those interested, I am also a huge advocate of task-based language teaching (TBLT). To try and offer some form of clarification, my use of projects differs to tasks in a couple of ways. A task usually has a pre-task, and task stage followed by some kind of feedback or review element.

A project, on the other hand, I use separately, often as an extended follow up to a task or topic based lesson. For me, a project usually lasts for at least one full period and involves the students working together to produce something. I use projects to reinforce learning that has been happening in the (usually task-based) lesson. A project involves giving the students an objective, but it is completely up to them to organise themselves.

For example, in this group project, the students’ had to produce an infographic about the class. First they had to chose a topic for their infographic, then choose categories, decide who would be in charge of each category, make questions they would ask ten people in the class, record the results and finally produce an infographic. I will upload the full lesson plan in the next day or two, but for now here are some of my students’ infographics from this lesson as well as some other products of various projects to look at.

If you have never tried using projects in your foreign language classroom I highly recommend giving it a go!

If you also use projects, what do you love/hate about them! I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter or ‘like’ the AlienTeachers’ facebook page using the buttons at the very top to keep updated with AlienTeachers!

Winter Sports


sedick sadien
03/04/2013 06:35

I simply like your articles

Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 19:00

Hi Sedick,

I’m really glad you enjoy reading my articles. Is there anything in particular you like about them?

Thanks again for the positive feedback, it’s really appreciated,


04/04/2013 23:42

‘teacher, how do I say XXXX in English?’

HAHAHA!!!! I laughed out real loud.
Yes, I work at a very quiet office and everyone stared at me.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:58

haha, I’m glad I gave you a laugh 😀 Ye, I certainly get some interesting translation conversations going, especially from my high school boys!

BTW, for some reason it won’t let me reply to your other comment on the ’10 myths’ blog, not sure why! I’m not ignoring you though and appreciate the comment 🙂