Six writing analysis tools


Warning: this post might seriously waste your time!


Another day idly watching my twitter stream go by… I came across one of those links that analyze your writing for you (I can’t remember where from now). It’s fun to know about your writing, and some of these might even in fact have a pedagogical use too.  This is a short little post but that could end up wasting a LOT of time 🙂

1 Vocab Profiler – This is a great site of more pedagogical value. Paste in a text, and it shows you through a system of colours the frequency of the words. In their own words “Vocabulary Profilers break texts down by word frequencies in the language at large.” I used this tool quite a bit when writing low level texts or adapting texts for lower levels (I used something similar for a graded reader I wrote which never in the end saw the light of day… but that’s another story). I think this tool is a favourite of Scott Thornbury‘s too, or at least it was!

2 I write likeThis website says the following: “Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.” Then it gives you a little badge you can put on the blog. When I pasted some of my text I got the following. Cool! (or should I say ‘spiffing’?)

I write like
P. G. Wodehouse

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

3 OFaust – This site does the same as I write like, but you can also enter your blog url to analyze a larger sample. According to oFaust, I have a slight similarity to Lewis Carroll on my blog (a 22% likeness!)

4 Gender Genie – This one made the rounds a little while ago. It analyses a piece of writing and tells you if it’s more masculine or feminine. It seems to have become a bit more sophisticated recently and you can specify the genre. When I entered some of my writing I came up as Male (195 score) but a high level of female there too (105 score). I guess that’s because I have a girl’s name…

5 Text Content Analyser Getting more serious again now this site seems a bit more like a simplified Vocab Profiler (from above). It gave me the number of words according to numbers of letters which didn’t feel that useful. But it also gave information about lexical density, and something called the Gunning Fog index, which tells you what level of education (American education) your reader needs to have to understand. My writing requires a grade eight education to read which is either a testament to my clear and incisive prose or shows that I’ve been writing simplified grammar exercises and texts too long perhaps.

6 I actually write like

If all this is going to your head, then the last site brings you back down to earth hard. It also analyzes your text and lets you put a badge on your blog like the one above. Here’s what I got…


I actually write like
a moonstruck lunatic possibly actually wearing a straightjacket

I Actually Write Like Analyze your writing!

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Six “hidden gems”(?) on this blog

Hello everyone!

I have never been one to turn down an opportunity for an easy blog post, and I’m a sucker for blog memes. So  I’ve decided to meet the challenge thrown down by Jason Renshaw (the English Raven himself) and show you some hidden gems here on Six Things (he suggested this idea, and shared his own gems, at this post). I think that Darren Elliot of Lives of Teachers made a similar suggestion a while back. Anyway, if you’re a regular reader you may remember some of these, but if you’re a more recent visitor to this blog then these are some fun little posts that you probably have missed!

My regular blogging will resume very shortly. Meanwhile, this should tide over anyone needing a six things fix! 🙂

1 Six famous writers who used to be language teachers If you’re working on the next great novel then don’t give up hope. These six people all escaped ELT to untold riches and fame!

2 Six wildly popular lists in English language teaching. The list of lists. How many can you guess?

3 Six bits of Latin that make your English look smart . This IS a hidden gem, judging from the few hits it got. But reading it will make you sound so much more sophisticated!

4 Six very original what if questions. Tired of talking about lotteries and winning a million dollars in your conditional classes? Here are half a dozen great alternatives.

5. Six highly provocative quotes in ELT. Seeking a topic for an MA thesis? Seek no further! Any one of these would serve as a great starting point…

6. Six drinks for an English Teacher’s New Year’s party I still dream one day that someone will tell me they actually held an English teacher party with some of these drinks. How sad is that?!?

I think of them as hidden gems, but of course you may have your own favourites (or simply think these aren’t really that good!). Leave a comment if you feel inclined…

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six villains in English language teaching


Every profession has its bad guys. For doctors, it may be the evil pharmaceutical companies. For soldiers, it’s the enemy army or the “top brass”. What about English teachers? Well, I think there are six kinds of villain that are invoked at our conferences, in our methodology books, during workshops and especially on blogs. Here they are, in no particular order.

1 The old-fashioned teacher

Curious that the first villain is actually a teacher. Now, of course I don’t mean teachers like you dear readers. Never. No, I mean the infamous “old-fashioned” teacher. The kind of teacher that bores his/her students. That punishes them for no good reason. That beats students (thankfully these teachers are not so common now one hopes). That humiliates them. That is inhuman (as opposed to the good “humanist” teachers). And even more unforgiving, the kind of teacher that uses old-fashioned methods. Recently, this villain could be the kind of teacher who refuses to incorporate technology into his/her teaching. That old-fashioned teacher is one who we love to hate or, at best, pity.

2 The backpacker teachers

Our second villain is another teacher, but this time of a different ilk. The spectre of the backpacker teacher is often raised as part of the lament of lack of professional standards in English Language Teaching. And many of us have met (or, gulp, were) backpacker teachers in the past. The worst kind of villain in this category is the teacher with no qualification, no teaching experience who will give classes for just enough money to cover beer costs. Needless to say, this kind of teacher is favoured by villain number 5 below.

3 The publishers

The ELT publishers, and especially the really big ones, are always a good target in a blogpost or general rant along the following lines: They’re commercialising education! They’re moving in on “our” social networks like Facebook and Twitter! They’re giving away too much (flooding us with junk!) They aren’t giving away enough (why can’t I have another ten sample books and CDs to pilot?)! They put on a practical workshop at a nice hotel, gave a free lunch and then had the sheer audacity to try and… sell us a book at the end of it! They ignore too much raw talent (especially true if you’ve been turned down). The publishers are sometimes viewed as bottomless pits of money, making “billions”, and really just out there to hoodwink honest-to-goodness hardworking teachers and the poor students. They are our very own version of Big Tobacco, the Arms Industry or Big Pharmaceutical. Choose your metaphor!

4 The coursebook authors

These are more a villain of the lesser kind, perhaps only lackeys to the real culprits above. The more villainous the coursebook author is tends to be in direct proportion to how successful they are. Which means that the authors of books such as Headway or Interchange are sometimes thrust in the role of arch-villain in our ELT pantomime. Their work stifles teachers’ creativity, imposes a foreign world-view on classrooms around the world, or are simply out-of-touch with students’ reality and needs.

5 The private language school owners

The small-time crooks of our profession. They are really just interested in “bums-on-seats” and make huge gobs of cash by fleecing the students and cheating teachers at every opportunity. This is combined with trying to sell fake visas (if they are based in the UK) or evading tax (if they are based anywhere in the world). Finally, they don’t really know anything at all about education and tend to neglect or exploit the raw talent that works for them (when they aren’t trying to get in bed with them).

6 The grammar syllabus and exams

Not human, these twin evils are more akin to monstrous demons that control language courses everywhere. They frog-march publishers, coursebook authors, teachers and students through their all-powerful totalitarian system and make us dance to their tune. Like death and taxes, they are the inevitables in our world. And are often loathed for it.

Now, are there any villains I’ve left out of our pantomime? Education ministers perhaps? The Common European Framework? Certain kinds of student? Post a comment!

Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 8:15 am  Comments (67)  
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Nicky Hockly’s six favourite teaching online activities

Back to school with another guest post! I’m starting up the guest sixes here with half a dozen of the best activities for teaching online. These come from none other than one of my great mentors, Nicky Hockly. Nicky co-founded The Consultants-E, an online consultancy specialising in education and trained me as an emoderator over seven years ago. I now do the occasional course for them as a trainer, and can really say they are a great bunch to work with. Enough background already though, I’ll hand over to Nicky…

To celebrate the launch of our new book, Teaching Online (from Delta Publishing), Lindsay Clandfield and I decided to write a guest post on each other’s blogs. Our posts each describe six of our favourite teaching online activities. This way you get 12 cool online teaching ideas – 6 from me here, and 6 from Lindsay on my blog!

Here are my six favourite activities (Lindsay forced me to write six!). They are aimed at language learners, but with a bit of tweaking they can be easily made to fit other contexts, such as teacher training.

1 Sounds of me

This activity can be used at the beginning of an online course. It helps learners to get to know each other a bit. Choose four or five songs which are significant to you in some way, and add them to and online play list (Grooveshark is a good one). Provide a link to your playlist (e.g. in a forum in your online course, or in a blog). Include why you chose each of the songs, and why they are significant to you. Your learners can listen to your playlist, and then respond to your posting with comments or questions. Learners then create their own online playlists, and post a link and explanation each. They listen to and comment on each others’ choice of music. Instead of using audio, you and learners could create online video playlists e.g. in a site like You Tube. People often have strong emotional ties to certain pieces of music, so this can be quite a powerful sharing activity. I especially like the way this activity brings in other media (audio or video) – one danger in online courses is that they become too relentlessly text-based.

2 My precious…

This is another great activity to help learners in an online course get to know each other better. Get learners to take a digital photo of an important/significant object that they own. This could be a piece of jewellery, a souvenir, a talisman or good luck charm, a drawing or painting, a CD, a piece of furniture that has been in the family for generations … (If your learners don’t own digital cameras, they could find an image of a similar object on the Internet, and use that). Learners prepare a 100-word text explaining what the object is, and why it is significant. They post their photo and text to a forum in your online course, or to a blog. They then read about and comment on each other’s objects. Like ‘Sounds of me’ above, this activity enables learners to share meaningful personal information with each other, and can really help the group to ‘gel’. It also brings in another form of media – digital images – which helps add variety to course content.

3 Podcast dictations

I find that many language learners love dictations. So how about building up a bank of dictations as a series of podcasts over time, which learners can regularly listen to and transcribe? Use a free podcasting site (such as Voice Thread, or Podomatic) to record yourself dictating a short text. You could also provide a transcript as a separate text document, so that learners can check their dictations afterwards. Add one dictation a week to your podcasting page, based on course work. This is a great way to review course content, and to also give your learners plenty of practice in listening skills, and grammar. You could even get your learners to record dictations for each other!

4 Your message to the world

This activity is good for speaking practice. It gets learners to record a short speech, based on a model you provide. Record yourself speaking for a minute or two on one of the following topics:

  • What is your vision of a perfect world?
  • If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be, and why?
  • What is the most annoying thing in the world?

  • What is the best thing in the world?

  • If you could say one thing to the world, what would it be?

Upload your recording to your online course site, and get learners to listen and post comment or questions in reply. Give them the list of topics above, and ask them to record their own one or two minute speeches (e.g. using Sound Recorder on their PCs, or Simple Sound if they have a Mac). Learners then share their own recordings in a forum, and listen to and comment on each other’s. You could set a summarising task in the same forum, by asking questions such as’Who talks about world peace? Who is worried about climate change? etc, based on the recordings. Of course it’s important to remember that recording their own speech can be immensely challenging for learners, especially at lower levels. Make it clear that they don’t need to speak for a long time, and that they can rehearse and use notes to help them.

5 Web tours

This is a synchronous activity, which means you and the learners are online at the same time, in a video chat room. Your chat room needs to have shared web browsing, so that you can show each other websites in real time. We use Elluminate for our online course video chats, but there are also free platforms such as Dimdim, or WizIQ you could use. Take your learners on a tour of your favourite website in the chat room, showing a few pages, and telling them what you especially like. One of my favourites is this site of paintings of redheads in art :-). Get each learner to then show the group their favourite website — preferably a non-language learning site! (They will need to have chosen this site before the chat, and have the URL ready to browse to). Make sure each learner doesn’t speak for more than two or three minutes. At the end of each web tour, the other learners in the group need to come up with one question about that website for the learner. To summarise the activity, provide a list of the website names and URLs for learners to take away.

6 Am I saying this correctly?

This is a listening/viewing activity that gets learners to spot the deliberate mistakes in video subtitles. Find a short video clip (e.g. a film trailer) in your learners’ native language. Using a subtitle creator site (such as Overstream), subtitle the clip and include three or four deliberate mistakes where your English translation does not match the meaning of what is being said in the learners’ native language. Upload the video to your course site, then get learners to watch it and to note down the mistakes they spot. Create a second subtitled version of the video clip with the correct subtitles, and let learners watch that. Did they spot all the mistakes?

We find that learners tend to enjoy this sort of intensive listening activity, especially when they can compare English with their native language. For lower-level learners, you can include deliberate mistakes on obvious items such as vocabulary. For higher levels, the mistakes can focus on more subtle differences in meaning.

These are just six of my favourite activities – there are plenty more in our book! If you try out any of these activities (or the six activities Lindsay has posted on my blog), let us know how it goes in the Comments section below. And if you have any favourite online teaching activities yourself, we’d love to hear about them.

Free Teaching Online Webinar 22 September

You can experience some of our teaching online activities by coming along to our free Teaching Online webinar on Wednesday 22 September 16.30h – 17.30h CET (Central European Time). Check the time in your country , and if you can make it, sign up online with your name and email. We will email you a link to the webinar room half an hour before the webinar is due to start. We will hold a raffle during the webinar to give away free copies of the book! 🙂

Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 6:03 pm  Comments (9)  
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Six (non ELT) books I read this summer

Well, this summer I took a much-needed break from blogging and tweeting and all things ELT. Well, this isn’t entirely true as I still had a million little things to do on the next two levels of Global that are due out in 2011. But… I did spend a lot of time relaxing it’s true. And I finally did some reading that was not linked directly to the world of language teaching. It was nice to get lost in a book, well in six books actually. I thought I’d share them here with you.

1. Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Who says the blurb on the cover of a book doesn’t make people buy it? This one read “Welcome to the meat grinder, flash incinerator race to become the 44th President of the United States” and it’s a journalistic account of the 2008-2009 campaigns. I remember reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing and enjoying it so I thought I’d give this genre a try again. It read a bit like a thriller and contained lots of tidbits and gossip and anecdotes about the candidates and on the whole was quite well-written. The stuff about Sarah Palin really just makes the mind boggle. A good summer choice.

2. Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve just heard too much about this guy now to ignore him. There have been several references to Blink and the Tipping Point on blogs I’ve read and I think I know what people are talking about but I thought I’d read it myself to make sure. Gladwell is also from my alma mater, the University of Toronto. I enjoy the popular science genre (err… I am a coursebook writer after all so have used quite a bit from this genre in the past) and this was no exception. The style reminded me of Freakonomics, so in the words of Amazon “if you liked Freakonomics, you’ll like Blink”.

3. Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer

Sometimes you just have to know what all the fuss is about. And this WAS summer after all! But I confess that while reading this on the beach I did try and conceal the cover from prying eyes. When a friend expressed incredulity at seeing it in my bag (“what’s a middle-aged man who makes a big deal about including high literature and no celebrities in his textbooks doing with that?”) I had to mumble something about research. I haven’t seen the movies (and probably won’t) but I confess that I got quite caught up in the story by the end. But a part of me was a bit alarmed at the glorification of being thin, pale-skinned and moody.

4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

After Twilight I felt I really should up the literary ante as it were so I jumped in with both feet to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the Man Booker Award in 2009. Wolf Hall is set in Tudor England during the reign of Henry VIII (of the six wives fame) and is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell: “lowborn boy, charmer, bully, master of deadly intrigue and, finally, most powerful of Henry VIII’s courtiers”. If I had to write two words to sum up this 650 page volume they would be “luxurious prose”. A real gem of a book you can completely get immersed in although it’s a bit heavy going to keep track of all the names (fortunately there is a cast of characters list at the beginning that I kept flipping back to).

5. Pandemonium by Christopher Brookmyre.

The Guardian newspaper says of this book: ‘Smart, funny, big-hearted and blood-splattered. What’s not to love?’ What’s not indeed, and after the weight of Wolf Hall I needed a nice light bit of pulp noir to aid digestion. I’ve read several of Brookmyre’s books, he was originally recommended to me by a Scottish mate of mine. It isn’t exactly high fiction, but I always enjoy it for the bits of informal Scottish that I pick up (try, for example, to decipher the following: “Of course she wouldnae” or “Get yerselves tae fuck.”). On reflection though, I think it was a bit more blood-splattered than big-hearted.

6. Slow Death by Rubber Duck – The Secret Danger of Everyday things, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

After that good dose of fiction I felt I needed to get back to the real world. This book was a Christmas gift I had never got around to reading. What a great title for a book! It’s all about PCBs and other horrendous toxins in everyday objects around the home. While it focuses more on the American and Canadian situation (Europe being slightly ahead on legislating against harmful chemicals in household products) it still made for sombre reading. The problem with these non-fiction books is that after reading them you’re primed to notice the phenomenon everywhere. After I finished Blink everything I experienced seemed to be about split-second choices (fish or chicken for dinner? Ummm… fish!). After Slow Death, everything I saw was full of deadly chemicals (don’t use that pan for the fish!). I highly recommend it though.

Right. I fully realise that this was a self-indulgent post and a bit like those awful reading lists of prime ministers and so forth but I honest-to-god did read all these books and I haven’t tried to pose by including something really high-brow, like War and Peace (ok, so Wolf Hall was an exception). What about you? What non-ELT books did you read this summer that you could tell me about? I have a couple of long-haul flights coming up this fall and could use some recommendations. Post a comment, and welcome back!

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm  Comments (15)  
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