Six Influential People in ELT today

For those of you who have been following this blog over the past six months you will no doubt have come across references to my (in)famous poll. I asked who the most influential people in ELT today are. To make it easier I included a shortlist of names, while adding an ‘Other’ category for people to add their own names.

Shortly after announcing my poll on Twitter, there was an almighty uproar. Some people felt that it was “shameful” that I had missed out the influential voices in the technology crowd. Others said they could have thought of “hundreds of names”. Then it was pointed out that I could have organised it differently and more democratically. There weren’t enough women, or minorities represented. Some said that I had chosen “weird” names. I feebly said that whoever I had missed out could be rectified by completing the “Other” field on the poll but it was too late. I wanted to undo the whole thing but I couldn’t!

On reflection, it was everything one could have hoped for in an internet poll. Controversial, provocative and essentially meaningless. But the votes  have trickled in all summer (and I really do mean trickle, there were only just under 200 votes!) and several people have asked me who was voted for. I am now finally ready to realease the results.

Without further ado I proudly present the six most influential people* in ELT today according to my influential poll

6. Scrivener, Jim – author of Learning Teaching, a very popular pre-service text for English teachers. Ex-Guardian Weekly columnist of teacher’s tips, and current head of teacher development at Bell Schools.

5. Carter, Ron & McCarthy, Michael – authors of the new Cambridge Grammar of English, with a focus on spoken English. Very influential in the world of corpus study and language teaching.

4. Harmer, Jeremy – author of the Practice of English Language, a key text for in-service teacher education courses and popular keynote speaker at conferences around the world.

3. Rinvolucri, Mario – author of classics such as Grammar Games and Dictation. Key teacher trainer at Pilgrims and frequent speaker at international conferences.

2. Ur, Penny – author of several classic books for teachers, notably Grammar Practice Activities, Discussions that Work and Five Minute Activities. Has also written popular textbooks for language teaching courses. Frequent speaker at international conferences.

And the number one spot goes to…

1.Thornbury, Scott! – author of About Language, Uncovering Grammar, An A to Z of ELT and numerous other books. Co-founder of the Dogme movement in ELT and current series editor for the Cambridge Handbooks. Very popular speaker at conferences and general all-round nice guy!

Actually, the number one spot goes to ‘Other’. A whopping 45% of the votes went to other names that I had left off my list. There were the saboteurs who put in names like Kermit the Frog, Billy  Bunter, Boris Johnson and Obama. Other names mentioned included Gavin Dudeney (you see Gavin there were some technology people mentioned!), Alex Case, Michael Lewis, Alistair Pennycook, Jane Arnold, Raymond Murphy, David Crystal and Paul Seligson. Some kind souls even mentioned Lindsay Clandfield.

But the real winner of the ‘Other’ category was none other than Sandy McManus (spelled in a variety of ways), the TEFL Tradesman himself! Sandy’s fans must truly be legion, as they doggedly entered his name over and over again – some from the same IP address which means I assume they were mates sharing a computer right?

I leave it to all of you now to heap praise, scorn, vitriol or whatever you like on the results and my methodology. Comments are open!

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 11:03 am  Comments (8)  
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Six ugly words in English

An image of 'ugly toys' - what about ugly words?

On a recent absent-minded surf of the web, I came across Wordie. Wordie is the kind of site after my own heart. Its tagline is “Like Flickr but without the photos”. Wordie allows you to make lists of words and people can add, comment or vote on them. An hour or so wasted there yielded the following little gem of a list: ugly words that had been cited by users of the site. I list them here, along with definitions from the Macmillan Dictionary (I used their site to get these quickly, of COURSE I knew the meanings of all of them before!)

harangue – to speak to someone in a loud angry way for a long time, in orderto criticize them or to try to change their opinion It DOES look kind of ugly when I see it written down actually.

2. subpoena an official legal document that says you must come to a court oflaw to give information I bet this one is in there because 1) people hate getting these and 2) it looks like murder to spell, I doubt I could spell this one correctly.

3. quaff to drink something quickly or with a lot of enjoyment I don’t understand, I really LIKE this word! Maybe it’s the double ‘f’ at the end…

4. unctuous seeming to be interested, friendly, or full of praise, but in a way that is unpleasant because it is not sincere. Yes, this feels ugly both in meaning and in form. I think it’s the consonant cluster at the beginning.

5. visceral relating to basic emotions that you feel strongly and automatically I agree this is an ugly word to spell and feels ugly in my mouth when I say it.

6. onus – if the onus is on someone to do something, it is their responsibility or duty to do it. I can only think of one reason someone would nominate this as an ugly word, and that’s because it looks like the word ‘anus’. Otherwise, I don’t see anything ugly at all about it.

I don’t know if I would share these with students, but it could make an interesting question. I often ask students to list what they say are their favourite or most beautiful words but I hadn’t thought of asking the reverse. Of course all of this is subjective, but these things can help people remember words and are always good for people who enjoy language.

What do you think? What are your own “ugly” words in English and why? Post a comment.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 10:53 am  Comments (35)  
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Six universally known video game phrases for the young learner

This summer I was listening to my eight year old son playing video games with some other kids. It was at one of those big tent places with several Playstations, Xboxes and other consoles. The local and television radio stations often set up these kinds of things on the beach near where I live here in Spain. Anyway, there were a mix of children there all playing various racing, shooting and other video games. I noticed several English words coming up again and again even though the children were speaking Spanish, German or French. I think the following six certainly make up the beginning of a YL Lingua Franca Core nowadays.

1. Game Over.

This is probably the number one collocation or chunk for today’s international video game playing youth. These two words probably have quite a negative connotation, unless you have the option of the next words in our list.

2. Start/Restart Game

Yay! We can keep playing, or start the whole thing over again. These words have very positive connotations, and I bet that a majority of kids around the world recognise “start game” anywhere (and instinctively reach to press a button to play). Wouldn’t life be great if we had the option of a “restart game” button to rectify bad career or relationship choices?

3. Weapon

I hadn’t thought of this one until I heard the children yelping excitedly that they had “encontrado los ‘weapons’” (found the weapons). This was followed by rather indiscriminate using of said weapons. Looking at a few of the other games there were several collocations with weapon I would imagine are necessary for the young English-speaking gamer: use weapon, load/reload weapon, arm weapon (for the really BIG ones) and of course fire weapon. I have not yet seen a video game which features the language chunk “lay down your weapons” and really mean it.

4. You have won. (or You win)

The three words every YL longs to see on the screen. ‘Nuff said.

5. Combo

Okay, the older and not-so-clued in readers of this blog might think this is something to do with fast food. Let me explain. Many video games have basic moves which we can all understand. So why is it when you are playing against your six year old nephew he or she can consistently kick your ass? This is because they know the mysterious combinations, or combos, of buttons that make their character move or attack faster and better. Picture a child, holding a joystick, face screwed up in deep concentration and fingers flying across the buttons in a belwildering blur. That is a child using a “combo”.

6. Loading

When I asked my son which other English words he saw most in video games he thought for a moment before finally saying this one. This word is synonymous with frustration for many young learners, as it means they have to wait until they can begin playing in earnest. Sometimes I wonder if some my beginner learners might not benefit from using this word in class when I press them to speak. To give themselves time to think, they could simply answer: “Loading.”

I’m sure there are others I’ve missed out. Anyone want to share one? Or make a comment about video game English?

By the way, the folk over at Digital Play have actually got a whole blog on video games and language learning – it’s my latest find on the net.  Go check them out if you are interested in this kind of stuff.

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 6:20 am  Comments (6)  
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Six ways to learn and/or remember your students’ names

Rather strange name tag I found on the net. Name tags are very useful for first classes though!

One of the key challenges teachers face at the beginning of a new course is to learn and remember students’ names. I know that for me it causes quite a bit of anxiety, especially on the third or fourth day with them and the class still looks like a sea of unrecognizable faces. Over the years I’ve developed several strategies to help in this, often picked up from wiser more experienced colleagues. Thought I’d pass on the top six…

1. Make a floor plan or use name cards

Make an outline of the classroom, and on the first day go student by student, asking their names and completing your plan. Leave this on your desk and, for the first few classes at least, make sure people sit in the same spot for the beginning of the lesson. Or ask students to make a little name card and place it on the desk in front of them.

2. Play a name game.

Yes, this is the first thing that many an English teacher does with a class. It often involves tossing a ball around and calling out names. I was right into ball-tossing around ten years ago in my career and then all of a sudden I thought (perhaps unreasonably?) that it was too childish. Of course if you are teaching children then fine.

Another name game involves saying names in a chain “My name’s X.” “This is X. My name’s Y” etc. Or adding something personal about yourself “My name’s X and I thought Terminator Salvation was awful” “His name’s X and he thought Terminator Salvation was awful, my name’s Y and I loved the film the Hangover”. You get the idea. The problem with name games is that if you have a class of over twenty students the ones at the end of the chain start moaning that it’s too hard. In that case, divide them into two big groups.

3. Use names as much as possible.

More effective than a one-off game is to start using students’ names as quickly and as often as possible. This is the way I remember. There may be mistakes at first, but sooner or later it always sinks in. Use names when you call on students, when you praise them or when you ask questions. If you make a mistake with a student’s name, make sure you use the right name the next time and do it quickly.

4. Take register aloud often.

Make a regular habit of taking the register/calling attendance. To keep you, and the students, alert you can add variations to this routine. Instead of saying “present” ask them to respond by saying the name of a fruit or vegetable, or an animal. Or ask them to respond with “present and…” plus another adjective (e.g. present and ready, present and tired, present and happy, present and bored…). One variation I often do is to take register by SPELLING students’ names in English to which they have to answer.

To add more variety, ask different students to do this task.

5. Ask them when you forget.

I think many people (myself included) are nervous or ashamed if they forget someone’s name. Often this results in avoidance strategy (“oh no, can’t remember her name… ok I’ll ask Mika instead”) which means some students may end up getting ignored. Don’t be afraid to apologise and ask a student’s name – “Excuse me, I’ve forgotten your name/ I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” This kind of formula is in fact very useful language to teach students as well.

6. Be devious.

Of course, there are more devious tricks we have up our sleeve. I wrote about some of these here, and they include ways of getting students’ names. Some other of my favourites are: to ask a student on the spot to spell his/her name, ostensibly to test their spelling skills; to take the register and make a big show of pretending that you don’t know students’ names (when in fact you don’t for some of them); or to play a “correct the teacher” game where you say things and the students have to correct you (start by saying “Your name is Charles/Charlotte” to a student whose name you have forgotten and they have to correct you). Thanks Kyle Mawer for teaching me some of these tricks by the way.

If six ways just aren’t enough for you, if you’re still having problems and want more tips then go to this post by Alex Case. He’s got a bunch more!

How do YOU remember students’ names? Post a comment.

Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm  Comments (19)  
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Jeremy Harmer’s Six Questions for Pundits and Salespeople

Well, I really can’t ask for more of a special guest to launch the second “season” of Six Things after an extended summer break. I’m happy to present a six things list from none other than Jeremy Harmer, author of numerous books for teachers and learners of English and one of the most influential people in ELT today (according to my poll, the results of which will be released soon :-)!) Jeremy responded to my request with six questions of his own…

How should we react when someone comes to us offering a new piece of technology (such as an interactive whiteboard), a new coursebook (you can make your own list), a new pedagogy or approach (such as Dogme or Pechua Kucha) or a new activity (such as using playing cards to teach, or plundering the resources of YouTube)? I think there are six basic questions we need to consider:

Question 1: What is the pedigree?

We need to know where a new idea or piece of equipment comes from. Do its originators have a (decent) track record in the field? A good rule of thumb is always to be suspicious, for example, of websites where you cannot find out who is responsible for them.

Not all new ideas have to come from tried and trusted pundits, designers or publishers. On the contrary, ‘new’ people can offer fresh, original and exciting possibilities. But we still need to know who makes or promotes this thing, and what their motives are. This is partly because of question 2.

Question 2: Who gains?

If we adopt this new methodological procedure or buy this new piece of hardware or software, who will be the beneficiary of our purchase? If we can be sure that students will benefit, then it may be worth investing time and money in the project. The same would be true if we could say with certainty that teachers would really benefit by having their workload reduced, for example, or because their professional quality of life would somehow be enhanced.

Of course the person who is trying to get us to buy their new ‘thing’ or buy into their new idea will also gain money (or prestige), and there is no reason why this should not be so. But unless we can be sure that students and/or teachers gain, then that person’s gain will be our loss.

Question 3: Why is this the best way to do this?

It may well be that the new software (or hardware) that we are being encouraged to buy offers us exciting possibilities. But we need to ask for more than that. We need to be able to say that it will be the best way we can find to do what we want to do. If someone is offering us a new method or a new set of techniques, we need to be sure that they will be better for our students and for us that what we did before. Newness is not enough, in other words and although, personally, I am usually a fan of ‘the new’, it is important to remember this key question: is the new ‘thing’ the best thing or way to do what we want to do. Because sometimes the ‘old’ is just as good even though it is not so shiny!

Question 4: Does it pass the TEA test?

If teachers are expected to adopt a new procedure or use a new piece of technology, it needs to pass the ‘TEA’ test. T stands for training. Unless teachers and students are helped to understand the new thing or procedure, and then given training opportunities to try it out, it will usually fail. E stands for the whole area of equipment. We need to be sure that the new procedure or hardware, for example, is properly supported technologically. This may sound like an obvious point, but with major government-selected systems in various areas of life (health, education) sometimes failing even after huge financial investment, we should not underestimate the absolute need for teachers to be sure that the equipment is appropriate, is in place, and is properly supported by qualified professionals.

Finally, A stands for access. If the new technology, set of flashcards or collection of supplementary books is locked away in a cupboard for safety, it becomes inaccessible. If we have to take students down a long corridor to a computer room that has to be booked three weeks in advance, then the whole idea becomes significantly less attractive.

Question 5: What future possibilities does it open up?

When we adopt a new methodological procedure or piece of classroom equipment (or software), it is important for us to believe that it has a future. Many people are uneasy about one-size-fits-all methodologies, partly because they are closed to innovation and infiltration from the outside. A good rule of thumb is to be suspicious of anything that tells us what NOT to do or which does not allow cross-platform migration (in both literal and figurative terms). Whatever we buy or buy into has to have potential for future growth, and possibilities for future expansion.

Question 6:How can I make it work?

After reading questions 1–5 above, it may seem as if I am suggesting that teachers should be extremely sceptical about new ideas and technologies, and that, in general, we should reject the new in favour of the old. However, this is far from the truth – as I have said, I am dangerously attracted to ‘the new’!; where instant acceptance can be careless and ultimately dangerous, instant rejection can be deadening and stultifying. Before rejecting any new idea or equipment, therefore, we should ask ourselves how we can make it work for us and for our students. We need to look at the ‘best-case scenario’ and use that to evaluate what we are being offered, not only in a cynical mood of defeatism, but rather with a view to possibility and excitement.  We should never, in other words, reject something unless we have thought carefully about how we might get it work for us. If, however, after such careful consideration we conclude that the new ‘thing’ has failed questions 1 – 5 then (and only then) we have a justifiable reason to reject it.

(adapted from The Practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Education 2007)

You can find out more about Jeremy Harmer at his personal webpage.

Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 7:27 pm  Comments (7)  
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