Nick Bilbrough’s Six things to do with dialogues


Right, after the extremely active last post it’s back down to practical business here at Six Things. I’ve long wanted to do a six activity ideas using dialogues, ever since I read this book in fact. I had the chance to meet the author Nick Bilbrough at a conference last year, and he’s such a pleasant guy he agreed to do the post for me. Better really, as he is an expert on this. So here we are with Nick’s fiercely practical six things to do with a dialogue. Enjoy!

With good reason, dialogues have been used in language teaching for a very long time. What they offer is the chance for learners to freeze a few moments of speech and process it in greater depth than they may be able to when spoken language is only listened to. Here are six ways of working with dialogues in a language class.

Find and interpret them

With the internet we are now able to access masses of different kinds of dialogues (film scripts, plays, transcripts of authentic interaction etc). The extract below is from a site devoted to overheard snippets of people’s conversations.

Analyst: Look, you said you broke two bones in your e-mail, but you actually just broke your arm.
Boss: Yes, I broke my bone… now I have two bones!
Analyst: No! You have two pieces of one bone now. Bones are treated as a whole. You’re trying to get extra sympathy. If I break a pen in half, how many pens do I have?
Boss: Two!
Analyst: How are you my boss?

How about giving learners the homework task of trying to find the most interesting/funniest/silliest snippet they can on a site like this, and then bringing it to the next class for interpretation and discussion?

Reconstruct them

Even more noticing may happen if we get learners to reconstruct the dialogues that they encounter. Here’s a short dialogue where all the words have been jumbled up.





Small groups of learners get a set of these words on individual bits of card and have to create a dialogue by putting them into the right order. When they’ve done this they can test each other by turning over some of the words and asking the others in their group to remember what they are.

Chant them

An interesting and memorable way for students to perform a dialogue is for them to chant it. Here’s a dialogue which lends itself well to this technique. Half the class chant the lines on the left, and the others reply with the other half.

Where’ve you been?                           I’ve been to the zoo

What did you do there?                      I saw a kangaroo

Where’ve you been                             I’ve been to the shops?

What did you do there?                      I bought some lamb chops

Where’ve you been?                           I‘ve been to the station

What did you do there?                      I got some information

Where’ve you been?                           I’ve been to six schools

What did you do there?                      I broke all the rules

Memorise them

Chanting often leads to the class naturally learning the dialogue by heart. As long as the learners understand the dialogue, and it is not too long, we may also want to be more proactive about getting them to do this with the other dialogues that they encounter. It’s a great way of building up a repertoire of spoken chunks and expressions. Many of the techniques used by actors, like linking the lines to movements and emotions, and using a prompt who supplies a key word as a memory trigger, will help with this.

Create them

When learners write dialogues in pairs it’s a useful chance for them to refine their spoken language without the pressure of actually having to speak, and they can get support from their partners, dictionaries or the teacher more easily. They can write a dialogue to go with a picture, or to activate a particular area of language, or, with new text to speech technology like , they can even create their own films.

Engage in them

Of all the things I’ve done to try to learn different languages, my favourite, and the one I think I learn the most from, is having a conversation with someone who speaks that language better than I do. When I lived in Santiago, Chile, I got home one day and found a bucket of water in the lift. I turned to Luis, who worked on the door, and the following short dialogue took place.

Me: Hay algo en el ascensor

Luis: Ah si. Un balde?

Me: Si

Luis: Esta bien

As I went up in the lift I knew that I’d just learnt the word for bucket. This kind of learning happens a lot when speakers at different levels of ability talk to each other. As a teacher I try to provide plenty of opportunities for it in my classes.


Nick Bilbrough is the author of the Cambridge Handbook for teachers Dialogue Activities. I liked it so much I wrote a review in dialogue form for a magazine about it. You can read that review here.

Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 9:25 am  Comments (4)  
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Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology

technology attitudes

Hello again! Grab a coffee for this post, as there is plenty to read but I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent! Six Things is joined by Gavin Dudeney, whose name will already be very well-known to many of you out there in cyberspace. Gavin’s a teacher trainer, award-winning author and edu-technologist. When he’s not travelling the world giving workshops and sessions on integrating technology into teaching he can be found in Barcelona. He has also been quite active in quite a few heavy discussions online about all of this. How heavy? Well, see below to be up on the debate!

Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology  [ And Why They’re Tosh ]

There’s a battle going on out there: on blogs, on Twitter, in Yahoo Groups, on sites like the British Council Teaching English site and elsewhere… a battle for our hearts and minds, a battle between the technophiles and the technophobes (or, sometimes techno-sceptics). It’s the battle for your time, your teaching approach, for your commitment to a cause… it’s the “is technology good or bad?’ battle.

People who know me will be no stranger to my views, but since I was so kindly invited by Lindsay to contribute to SixThings, here is my cogent, extremely intellectual and totally correct view on the other side…

1. It Breaks All The Time

A popular one, this – as if that were true, or indeed a reason for not using it.

One of ELT’s greatest writers refers to technology all the time with the use of the word ‘faff’. As far as he’s concerned, there’s just too much faffing – you spend more time trying to get it to work than it does actually working and enhancing your teaching. Take a look for the word ‘faff’ on Wikipedia.

“to dither, futz, diddle, ‘I spent the day faffing about in my room’.”

Does that suggest to you a problem with the tool or approach, or a problem with the person? My father used to say ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I think this is a clear case of that happening (though I should probably replace ‘workman’ with ‘workperson’)  …

You can minimise the faff by learning a bit about computers and other peripherals and how they work. We do the same with plenty of other things – few of us would dream of going to class and helping a learner with, say, the present perfect, without knowing something about it. It’s called preparation.

Make sure your own computer is well-looked-after and protected against viruses, etc. Make sure you have the right adaptors and cables. Check with event or class organisers what kind of projector, sound system they have. Arrive early to try things out. If you do all that then things should be fine.

I have over six computers running at home – they work fine. I have a web server that has not been rebooted for months – it works fine. I’ve over twenty installations of Moodle running globally – they work fine.

In Greece last week and in Cork the week before I had no Net connection for talks I was giving. I had planned for that, and had an offline version of my talk which was just as creative and engaging, even for the audience – the feedback was grand (and people have been in touch since then to show me examples of work they have done with learners as a result of tools and approaches we examined in the sessions). Is it too much to ask people to be prepared, adaptable and professional? I don’t faff – why do you?

2. It’s Unproven Pedagogically

Detractors go to extraordinary lengths to dig up research that appears to give weight to their argument that there is no real bulk of evidence that supports any significant advantage to using technology. Of course, this is a mug’s game – for every report someone can dig out that says ‘X had no significant impact on Y’, one can dig out a report that says the opposite.

There’s plenty of evidence that technology works in certain situations when used well, etc., etc. but of course you can find the opposite too. There’s little evidence to suggest that many approaches or ‘states of mind’ in teaching significantly enhance the learning – but it beggars belief that we are seriously invited to take some ideas on faith but not apply the same leeway to technology. You can’t have it all your own way, people.

If you want evidence to counteract that old report from 1994 that concluded that doing T/F exercises on a BBC Micro had no great impact on teenage learners of Russian in Dalston (sample of four over ten days) and on which you base your theories that ‘it really isn’t much good, you know’ then why not search the archives of EuroCALL or similar organisations, ones that actually do the relevant research. Of course, you should expect the same rigourous appraisal of any approach, method, etc. that you espouse…

3. It’s Boring And Not Interactive

One of the greatest myths is that technologies in class are not very interactive, that really it’s like doing exercises on the screen. And of course it can be. People who have this opinion are usually people who haven’t been teaching for a decade or so, who last used a computer in class when they had sixteen colours, no sound and the only thing you could do on them was manipulate text, and who haven’t moved beyond that phase.

Just to get them up to speed, perhaps they should consider what computers actually can do these days; sound, animation, video, collaboration, production, conversation, communication… With blogs, wikis, live voice chat (with video) and a whole host of other tools you can actually provide opportunities for learners to speak to people they WANT to speak to, rather than people they’re FORCED to speak to by dint of being in the same room.

If you use technology in the ‘noun’ way described by Prensky then of course a lot of learners are going to find it boring and not very interactive at all. But if you get some training, use some imagination and explore the options, you might get round to using it in a ‘verb’ way and people might actually interact, create, talk, communicate and – yes – learn.

That old Hebrew proverb (don’t confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in different times) should be a pointer here. But I’d change it a little: don’t confine your learners (or trainees) to your memories of what computers used to be like the last time you were a practising teacher or used one in class. Times have changed, have you?

4. It’s All Porn & Paedophilia

Another one that had me laughing recently – another disingenuous attempt at picking away at the value of technologies. The author of this particular post claimed that when he was taking his learners to the ‘Internet Room’ (even the use of the phrase ‘Internet Room’ should date the class) they just spent their time surfing for porn.

And that does raise a lot of questions:

  • Why was your class so boring that they felt a need to do that?
  • Why did you have such little control that they could do it?
  • Didn’t people use to look for rude words in dictionaries?
  • Haven’t kids always looked for pictures of naked people?

The fact is, of course, that if you can’t use technology in a stimulating way – if you can’t engage your learners… if you can’t control their natural urges to ‘bunk off’ then you really shouldn’t be in a classroom, either with or without technology. As I  pointed out in this discussion, when this teacher’s kids were looking at bums and things, mine were involved in email penpal exchanges with kids their age in the US, and regular real-time chats with kids their age in Poland.

Even the most irrationally technology-fearful teacher must surely recognise that the learners resorting to looking for naked body parts is more a reflection of the power of technology to stimulate (!) and the teacher’s inability to use the technology properly, than any actual weakness in the technology itself. We’re back to our bad ‘workperson’ again…

And of course the bad teacher’s experience with technology was also an ideal opportunity to discuss safe surfing, safe online practices and the role of naked body parts in education as well as the dangers of giving away too much personal information online. But I suspect that this didn’t happen either – you have to know the details in order to share them…

5. It’s Bad For People

Another popular meme – this usually means something along the lines of:

  • I read an article in 1997 that said watching telly for seven hours a day is detrimental and that therefore equates perfectly to modern media such as Web 2.0 [ ummm…. ]
  • I just read an informal report on kids’ attention spans and apparently they’re really short and rubbish and this is all down to Twitter. [ watch a kid play a computer game for twelve hours if you wish to see a decent attention span ]
  • I read somewhere that staring at a screen for eight hours a day can have a negative impact on your eyesight [ well duh! ]
  • I think it’s terrible that my child plays on the PSP for four hours a day [ so do I. Do you have a point to make other than something along the lines of how bad a parent you are? ]
  • Kids who grow up using computers can’t hold pens properly because their hands develop differently and bones never grow properly [ I heard this one in Hungary last year…. no comment ]

Of course most things can be bad for people when they’re done to excess. Those of us who espouse technologies are also quite capable of teaching without them, with nothing, with other tools, etc. We are the balanced lot. Teachers who refuse to even consider and try out technologies (where they have them) are actually unbalanced, for all sorts of reasons. Writing technologies off because you know nothing about them, have not experienced them and have never taught with them does not make them bad tools.

6. It’s Not Fair

No, it’s really not – not fair on your learners, some of the time.

Look, it’s a question of respect-  it’s not that people are attacking you for not engaging with technologies, it’s more that people are enquiring where this blind refusal to try them comes from (I suspect it mostly comes from the points and attitudes above)…

It also comes from things which are often out of the control of teachers: lack of equipment, lack of support, lack of training, an inability for curriculum setters, examining board, school owners, teacher trainers, DoSs, etc. to move beyond the 1980s and of course the chalk-face teacher is the greatest victim here.

But what confuses me is that teachers make their own opportunities for development when they’re not getting it instutionally: they read, they pay for their own courses, they travel to conferences (if they can) and they make every effort to keep up-to-date. Why not with technology? The answer’s right here – nobody takes it seriously in our ultra-conservative profession, and that’s why we’re destined to be a few steps behind business, and destined to short-change some of our learners.

And why is it ok for you to use technologies for your professional development and for your teacher training, but it’s no good for the ‘poor teachers’ or their charges. Where did this one rule for you and another for the learners come from? There’s no democracy in some ELTlandias.

If all the detractors who spend so much of their time moaning about how unreliable, porn-laden, boring, troublesome, unfair, blah, blah, blah technologies are spent the same amount of time on their teaching, writing, etc., our profession would be buzzing.

As it is, we’re old hat… moribund…. laughable…. so non-nerd we’re the new nerds that people like to snigger at. I can help – if you faff all the time or can’t think of anything creative to do with technologies or your learners are always looking at naked bodies, please get in touch. No fee…

Gavin Dudeney is the author of the award-winning book How to Teach with Technology (written with Nicky Hockly) and The Internet and the Language Classroom. He is co-founder of The Consultants-E, an online consultancy providing courses and training for teachers. You can read more from Gavin over at his blog, That S’Life.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm  Comments (84)  
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Six famous school report comments

To lighten things up at Six Things after the last controversial post and intense discussion I’ve got here a collection of great little report card quotes of famous people. A little light relief. These were taken from Could do Better, a collection of school reports by Catherine Hurley.

1. “Certainly on the road to failure.” on John Lennon

2. “She must try to be less emotional in her dealings with others.” on Diana Princess of Wales

3. “He would much sooner write an intimate memoir of Julius Caesar than a factual account of his Gallic wars. But then, who wouldn’t? Unfortunately examiners demand fact” on Bruce Chatwin.

4. “Scored average for most things, including intelligence.” on George Bush.

5. “I think he is just a teeny bit pleased with himself, or so I am prepared to hazard” on Michael Palin.

6. And my favourite, which is not a report card quote but a real gem nonetheless that can go here: “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students, I say, you too can be president of the United States.” George W Bush addressing Yale graduates.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 8:45 am  Comments (9)  
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Six internet acronyms your learners really ought to know


Here’s another language list I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. As I am spending more and more time online and doing things like twittering and online chatting or moderating of courses, I find I am forced to use more and more abbreviations and acronyms in my writing. I also come across them a lot more, even when communicating with people whose first language isn’t necessarily English. Could online communication be one future component of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)? Should we start talking about ILF (internet lingua franca)? Whatever the take on those bigger questions, to start with here are six acronyms that I believe are pretty important for learners to know as they navigate the www.

1. lol and variations. This is one of the most common acronyms in online communication. People on the net laugh a lot, it seems. They don’t simply laugh either (l). They’re laughing out loud (lol), or they’re rolling on the floor laughing (rotfl), or they’re laughing their arses/asses off (lmao). I’ve even seen rotflmao, for really funny things.

2. IMO and variations. With the rise of blogging and microblogging everybody has an opinion and wants to share it. However, to make it clear that it is just an opinion we might add in my opinion (IMO) afterwards. If what we are saying is potentially face-threatening we could make it a humble opinion (IMHO). For example, “Lindsay, your book looks really boring IMHO”. Or if we really feel like stirring things up or adding humour we can say in my arrogant opinion (IMAO). Dunno why, but I almost always see this in uppercase letters.

3. brb. Don’t you hate it when you’re in the middle of a really good chat or tweet conversation and the outside world rudely butts in (e.g. having to go off to class, or go to the bathroom). This is when you need to tell people you’ll be right back (brb). Useful to buy time too.

4. ttyl, cu. Two common sign off acronyms are talk to you later (ttyl) or see you (cu). Really clever internet folk do things like cul8r but I always think this is a bit like showing off.

5. btw. Good for adding something extra to a conversation or tweet, by the way (btw) is another one I see an awful lot.

6. omg and other expressions of alarm. The internet can be a shocking place, we may see or read shocking things. This is when it’s a good time to say oh my god (omg). You may want to shout it (OMG!) or really yell it (OMG!!!!!!) but someone told me if you do this too much people will think you are a fifteen year old Lady Gaga fan or something like that. Occasionally you will see something that confounds, annoys or enrages you. And an omg just doesn’t cut it for those situations. No, here you need a what the f*#k (wtf). This is also often shouted (WTF!)

I know, I know, there are hundreds of others that I have probably shamefully overlooked. But I had to stick to six. So, if there is a glaring omission from my list, why not add a comment? What acronyms do you think your learners should know for online communication?

Published in: on October 18, 2009 at 6:50 pm  Comments (12)  
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Six Things About Multiple Intelligences That You Might Not Know


I remember being completely blown away the first time I attended a workshop on multiple intelligence theory. It seemed to be the answer to everything, and I enthusiastically set myself the task of incorporating as much of it as I could in my teaching. I never thought to question it, it just seemed the right thing. But since then I’ve had some doubts. I’ve come across certain “Multiple Intelligence activities” that I really think aren’t right for me, or for my classes. But it was colleague, co-author and friend Philip Kerr who really made me think about what I, we, are doing. I’m happy that Philip has agreed to share some of these thoughts here. I pass over to him here to tell you six things you might not know about M-I Theory.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was something that the up-to-date teacher should be experimenting with. References to MI theory in English language teaching are almost uniformly positive and the topic is a more than respectable subject for plenary lectures, teacher training courses and university publishers. Even this year’s IATEFL president is a fan of MI theory. But there are a few things that you might not know …

1          However scientific it might sound, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory is not a theory in the scientific sense of the world. It is not a falsifiable theory: his ideas are not amenable to measurement or verification. The theory is sciency, but not scientific.

2          Gardner identifies eight and possibly nine different human intelligences. These intelligences are metaphorical constucts, not discrete, localizable networks or areas of the brain. They do not actually exist in any measurable way. His list does not include spiritual or olfactory intelligence, although it might be quite fun if it did.

3          Gardner has substantially more supporters in the world of education than in the world of psychology. Whilst some respected psychologists (e.g. Robert Sternberg) mention Gardner’s work, most ignore it as irrelevant to their science. His arguments have been dismissed by George Miller as ‘hunch and opinion’.

4          Gardner is horrified by some of the practical applications of his ideas that he has witnessed in classrooms. ‘I once watched a series of videos about multiple intelligences in the schools,’ he has written. ‘In one video after another I saw youngsters crawling across the floor, with the superimposed legend ‘Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence’. I said, ‘That is not bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, that is kids crawling across the floor. And I feel like crawling up the wall.’

5          If you find yourself in conversation with someone about MI theory, good expressions to look out for in the discussion include ‘psychometric’, ‘g’ (not the spot), ‘fMRI’, ‘outside the box’, ‘Csikszentmihalyi’, ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘Rinvolucri’ and ‘neural oscillations’. If you hear more than one of these, walk away – fast.

6          ‘Multiple Intelligences theory’, ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, ‘brain gym’, ‘shamanism’, ‘psychodrama’ and ‘life coaching’ are not related in any way. Except, perhaps, by association.

If anyone is sufficiently interested, I’ll happily provide logico-spatial-kinaesthetic references.

Philip Kerr is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer based in Brussels. He is the lead author of the course Straightforward and is never one to pull punches when it comes to questioning accepted teacher beliefs.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 10:24 am  Comments (77)  
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