Six people Darren Elliott would like to meet (and the questions he’d ask them)

Well, I have to admit I have been a bit naughty recently and not updated this blog, and with so little time left! Anyway, as promised I do have some more guest posts. This is a really nice one from Darren Elliott, a teacher based in Japan and owner of the Lives of Teachers blog. Darren has had the chance to get a great many people in ELT in front of his video recorder and asking them questions (his latest great interview was with none other than Michael Swan). But not everyone! Here are six more people he’d like to meet. Darren, over to you…

This is not a guest list for a dinner party, and I have stretched the definition of ELT people to its outer boundries. But I think each of these people would have something to contribute to our knowledge of the profession. I’ve already been lucky enough to talk to some wonderful ELTers, in person or via skype, for my website / podcast at Some of these might be a little trickier to get hold of, but you never know….

1. Rod Ellis

I don’t know what they are doing down there in New Zealand, but for such a small country it seems to produce a disproportionate number of gifted applied linguists. Like notable compatriots Paul Nation and Scott Thornbury, Professor Ellis has the ability and drive to communicate research to teachers at the chalkface. Just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, I would like to ask him if all this SLA research has anything at all to do with what goes on in the classroom, and if he could tell me once and for all what I am supoosed to do in the classroom…..

2. Nozomu Sahashi

Mr. Sahashi was the founder and owner of NOVA, at one time the largest English conversation school (Eikaiwa) in Japan. Between the company’s formation in 1990, and bankruptcy and partial buyout in 2007, it employed thousands of teachers from North America, Australasia and Europe, many with limited experience or qualifications. Nova also had dealings with the unions over its drug-testing, health insurance, and non-fraternization policies. To be fair, many teachers in Japan got their starts with NOVA, and I have met many with fond memories of their time with the company. And although the firm finally faltered due to shaky student contract practices, hundreds of thousands of satisfied students passed through NOVA’s classrooms over the years. Sahashi-san is currently appealing against a three and a half year prison term handed down for embezzlement.

I would like to ask him how NOVA got so big, and how he sees the future for this model of national chain school. GEOS, another major chain, collapsed this year, and enrolments are down across the industry. Is this due to the return of Japanese insularity (last year there were only five Japanese at Harvard, compared to thirty-nine South Koreans)? Are students getting more savvy, more discerning, or using technology instead? Or is it just another symptom of the economic times we live in?

3.Lev Vygotsky

In the last couple of years, I think I have attended about five conference presentations in which Vygotsky and / or his Zone of Proximal Development haven’t been mentioned. That’s not to say his ideas are not valid, but it’s curious that he was the third most cited author in abstracts submitted for the 2008 Japan Association of Language Teachers National Conference*. Why such interest in a Russian psychologist, seventy years after his passing? Actually, a little more cross-pollination from other disciplines would be healthy for ELT in general. I’d like to ask him how he feels about his current popularity in English Language Teaching, along with other authors who have been imported from other disciplines and extensively referenced by ELTers, (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, for example).

4. Jean-Paul Nerriere

English is no longer something handed down by colonials to the locals, and as ever increasing numbers of non-native speakers use the language to ‘get things done’ as a lingua franca, the way it is taught has to change. M. Nerriere is not a linguist, nor a teacher, but a businessman, and he sees the world in those terms. It may not stand up to scrutiny, but his dialect ‘Globish’, based on an English lexicon of just 1500 words, is an intriguing concept. He represents all the language learners and users who have no interest in drama, dogme or dictation (the kind of stuff we teachers love) but just want to be understood as soon as possible. I would ask him what he thought I could do to help him and his peers achieve those aims.

5. Penny Ur

When I first started teaching, I thought her book ‘Grammar Practice Activities’ was the most incredible work of genius ever printed and bound. My teaching style and circumstances have changed somewhat over the years, but I still have this book, and I still look at it. I have a lot of questions for her, but most of all I’d like to say ‘Thank You!’

6. Ragsana Mammadova

I very much doubt I will ever visit Azerbaijan, and I am not too proud to say I know next to nothing about the country beyond it’s capital city and it’s approximate location on a world map. Ragsana Mammadova is the Executive Director of AzETA, IATEFL’s associate organisation in Azerbaijan, and I don’t have any particular questions for her – I’d just like to hear what she has to say about English teaching in her country. A look through the associates list in the back of the ‘Voices’ newsletter sparks my curiousity now in much the same way a world atlas did when I was a boy, and I am amazed at quite how huge and diverse our professional community is.

I could have thought of sixty or more…. so over to you, who have I missed?

* Stapleton, P. (2008) PAC7 at JALT2008: Untangling the submission process. The Language Teacher, p28 – 30, 32/09

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 7:35 pm  Comments (7)  
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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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Six kinds of books on a language teacher’s bookshelf

After a slight hiatus while I was in Harrogate for IATEFL and Russia for Macmillan conferences, business resumes here at Six Things. This week I am joined by Paola Lizares, a teacher based in Australia and a great story that could only happen in the ELT blogosphere. Paola was reorganizing her bookshelf and she discovered that she could neatly divide her books into six categories. She then did what any sane, self-respecting teacher and reader of this blog would do. She sent me a message asking to do a post about it! 🙂 Only too happy to oblige, I present you with the results of the experiment. And an invitation to share your reading lists at the end!

I was getting irritated by how messy and disorganized my bookshelf was looking, so I decided to sort out all of the books. Lo and behold, they can be classified into six different categories! Below is a description of the types of books I own, as well as some recommendations.

1. Language

Being a language teacher, I own quite a few books on the topic of language. I won’t focus on the Macmillans, Cambridges, Oxfords, Longmans, or Heinles; I’m sure you already know them. Instead, let me recommend a gem of a book entitled An Introduction to Language. It’s by Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams. I had to read this in first-year college, and it has provided me with more-than-basic knowledge in the different fields of linguistics, from phonetics to sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics or neurolinguistics. It is easy to understand and is illustrated with real comic strips (“For Better or for Worse,” “Family Circus,” “Dennis the Menace” to name but a few.) This book is a must for anyone with even a mild interest in the languages of the world.

2. Fiction

Are there any language teachers who don’t read fiction? Where I work, most teachers are extremely well read. I’m not going to recommend any novels because it would be pretty difficult to choose only one, but I can recommend a masterpiece which, again, is a must-have for anyone interested in culture: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Published in 1962 by Ingrid and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, it is an illustrated children’s book containing so much detailed information that it is an excellent way for adults to act blasé when they hear names such as Asclepius, Sisyphus or Jocasta.

This book has allowed me to explain to my students the etymology of words like ‘panic,’ ‘syringe,’ or the Bosphorus. I have also dictated passages to my students and used them as a basis to share myths and legends in a multicultural classroom setting. This video can be used in conjunction with the texts as listening practice.

3. Humor

When fiction gets too dense, it’s a good idea to liven up the classroom with some humorous texts. One funny writer is Christian Lander, who published Stuff White People Like. I have a signed copy of his book, which consists of a selection of his blog entries. Of course, you can find them on the Internet (

I’ve had my students go to the computer room to simply read as many of his blog entries as they can in twenty minutes, then I’ve had them choose their favorite three and talk to their partners about them. Then, we’ve had group feedback and we’ve discussed what exactly Lander means with the term ‘white people.’ Last of all, I’ve had my students write their own blog entry in a similar style, focusing on stuff people from their own country like. Interesting results!

4. Traveling

Most language teachers are well-traveled. This is evident in the high turnover in many language schools. I myself have lived in and traveled to quite a few countries; consequently, I have a nice collection of travel guides, my favorite ones being the Lonely Planet series.

I currently live in Brisbane, Australia, so let’s focus on The Lonely Planet Guide to Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. I might show my students the information concerning the tourist attractions closest to Brisbane. I might get them to skim through the information and make the best travel itineraries for a group of senior citizens, a group of 20 eighteen-year-olds, a couple on their honeymoon, and a family with three kids. This activity is by no means original; still, it’s highly practical and potentially fun.

5. Cooking

Of course, all teachers must eat to survive. That’s, in fact, the main reason why we teach, right?

One of my favorite cookbooks is called 4 Ingredients, by Kim McKosker and Rachel Bermingham. It was written for beginner cooks, so it has brought me up to the pre-intermediate level of cooking. Yoohoo!

It’s a compilation of recipes involving no more than four ingredients. Published in Australia, it has some interesting recipes like Vegemite Twists. I could force my students to eat that the next time they get uncontrollable. They hate Vegemite!

6. Self-help

Yup, every once and a while a language teacher has to deal with rowdy, rude, picky, gloomy, uncooperative students. Many a situation has made me feel utterly depressed. I manage to push through by keeping a mood diary, visiting Lindsay’s website, and reading self-help books.

A book that’s been published here in Australia but that you can surely order online is the excellent Change your Thinking by Sarah Edelman. It focuses on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which, from what I understand, is a psychological school of thought which helps people overcome depression, stress, fear, or anger by challenging their core beliefs. For example, if a student gives negative feedback, an oversensitive person might believe that that means that he’s a bad teacher, ergo, a bad and stupid person. In fact, that’s nothing but irrational thinking. The book has really helped me a lot, so do add it to your library!

That’s my list. What about you? Could your books be organized in the same way? Or is there a category that you would include and that isn’t on my list?

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 8:23 am  Comments (37)  
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Six ELT book mashups


An example of a "big hit" mash-up from the UK

A mashup is a mix between two different styles. When I was last in the UK I saw the book pictured above: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It proclaims itself as a mashup of the classic Jane Austen story with elements of the modern horror genre. It has quickly become a hit in England, spawning many others (e.g. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). Could this work with our favourite ELT manuals, I wondered? Never one to balk at a challenge, I set up about experimenting with six of them picked off my shelf. Basically taking a paragraph verbatim and adapting it with elements of the modern horror genre. The result is very silly, and you can see it below.

1. The Practice of Alien Abductions 4th edition by J. Harmer

In a few days (as I write this) I will be going to a large alien abduction conference in the USA which has the title Tides of Change. A couple of weeks after that it’s Poland and a weekend called ‘New challenges for alien abductees in a changing world’; and then there’s a ‘changes’ conference somewhere else, and then it’s off to another country for a conference on… changes and how to deal with them!

2. Zombie Defense that Works by P. Ur

One conventional way of doing this is the “conversation class”, where a group of zombies sit down with the teacher – a native speaker if they are lucky – and are required to talk with her. This often degenerates into a more or less aggressive session of the I-want-to-eat-your-brains-oh-no-you-don’t variety, monopolized by a minority of particularly quick and strong zombies.

3. Vampire-Hunter Games by M. Rinvolucri

I simply ask trainee vampire-hunters to write down three weapons and three vampire-killing methods they like and three they don’t. Trainees then come to the board and write or draw their ideas under two headings. NICE and UGH. Example: A French vampire hunter who had reached an intermediate level of undead-slaying said she really like garlic as a method because it gave her a strong feeling of her mother’s cooking. She did not like using the wooden stake through the heart method because it seemed ridiculous and she often got it wrong.

4. Conducting Exorcisms with technology by G. Dudeney and N. Hockly

Technology in exorcism is not new. Indeed, technology has been around in exorcism for decades – one might argue for centuries, if we classify holy water and a wooden cross as a form of technology.

5. Dealing with Difficult Sea Monsters by L. Prodromou and L. Clandfield

We have often felt that innovative methodologies – communicative, task-based and humanistic – fall, and often fail, on the wet and soggy ground of situations where sailors and sea monsters lack motivation. This book is a response to sailors who feel like giving up on sea monsters, often quite understandably, for the sake of their own peace of mind.

6. Keep Running: Werewolf avoidance activities by F. Klippel

Since werewolf avoidance teaching should help students achieve some kind of survival skill, all situations in which a real werewolf arrives should naturally have to be taken advantage of and many more suitable ones have to be created.

Hm. That was extremely silly. Well, I’ve got it off my chest now and can get back to “serious” writing. Of course, if any of you wish to contribute your own ELT-horror manual mashup below please go ahead!

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 10:05 pm  Comments (7)  
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