In The Spirit of Dogme: 4, 3, 2 Presentations and Other Gems

October 19, 2011

Recently I’ve enjoyed reading various blogs / blog posts on putting Dogme or materials light teaching into practice in the ELT classroom. See the excellent An Experiment with Dogme, ELT Reflections, and Language Moments, for example.

As Thornbury writes in his A to Z blog, Dogme is all about “teaching that focuses on emergent language.” What this means is, rather than walking into the classroom with a pile handouts and predetermined set of activities “to do”, or language areas “to cover”, we work with the language the naturally results from classroom talk.

Spurred on by the excellent blogs and posts that I mention above, here are 3 staples of my classroom teaching over the years that seem to fit in with the spirit of a Dogme approach to ELT.

N.B. I do not claim to have invented these activities, they all come from, or are adapted from, published teaching resources.

4, 3, 2 Presentations
Basically, students prepare a 3 minute talk on a topic of their choice. In the first round they give their talks in four minutes to each other. Students then change partners and give their talks in three minutes to their new partner. In the final round, students switch partners again and repeat their presentation, but this time in just two minutes. The idea of all this being, of course, that it boosts fluency and automaticity as students get the chance to repeat their talks.

Variations / adaptations are infinite – students can be given specific lexis / chunks to use in their talks, and can be asked to tick of lexis / chunks as they hear them. A really fun one that was suggested to me the other day by my colleague Mike Rowley for higher levels, is to have specific pieces of languages to be used but also to have the listener interrupt and try to stop the speaker getting his or her message out.

15 Minutes of Today
This is nice for intermediate + learners and above. Each student thinks of a specific 15 minute period of their day and then writes down 20 things that they did during those 15 minutes. The teacher helps out here pushing students to break activities such as making a cup of coffee or checking email down into its individual actions (“I filled the kettle”, “I took a spoon form the drawer”, for example). Once students have their list of 20 activities, they read six of them randomly to their partner. Based on those six, the partner has to guess another six actions / processes from their partner’s list (e.g. “Did you boil some water?”). In a business English context, this work really well as generates a need for quite specific lexis for processes and work tasks.

Collaborative Emails Error Correction Task
This small group writing task works really well with classes of 8 to 16 business English students and in classrooms where there is a large board. You start by asking groups to think of a work problem that they can all identify with (for example, server problems, or low staffing levels) and then ask to state specifically what the problem is and who they would address this problem to. The teacher then divides the board into sections according to how many groups there are. Groups are then given time to plan and write their emails on their section of the board. Once they are done, the other groups are invited to come make any changes that they feel appropriate to the other group’s emails. This correction stage typically provokes a lot of discussion and generates a lot of language work.

Teaching Resources
Here are some resources that have helped me teach “materials light” over the years: Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games and More Grammar Games is a must for so many imaginative classroom activities; Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking has a load of good ideas; as does, of course, Thornbury’s How to Teach Speaking. And last but not least, the Humanising Language Teaching online magazine, which, while not the most user friendly website, is well worth exploring.

Blended Learning – The Best or Worst of Both Worlds?

October 7, 2011

At a talk /workshop on blended learning in Mexico City recently, Pete Sharma referred to some research which claims that learning outcomes on blended courses are superior to those on either 100% face-to-face or 100% online courses. The piece of research (which is actually an analysis of existing research), from the US Department of Education, is here.

The report states the following:

The corpus of 50 effect sizes extracted from 45 studies meeting these criteria was sufficient to
demonstrate that in recent applications, online learning has been modestly more effective, on
average, than the traditional face-to-face instruction with which it has been compared. It should
be noted, however, that this overall effect can be attributed to the advantage of blended learning
approaches over instruction conducted entirely face-to-face. Of the 11 individual studies with
significant effects favoring the online condition, 9 used a blended learning approach.

The authors speculate that the reason for these findings might be:

additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for
collaboration, that has proven effective

There’s also loads of other research available online that apparently backs this up. To be honest though, my experiences with teaching on blended courses in EFL have been mixed. What about you? I’d love to hear any comments on teachers / learners experiences of blended learning.

Here’s what I’d like to know:

In your experience
…are learners on blended courses more highly motivated?
…what new challenges do teaching blended courses present for learners and teachers?
…are learners really taking advantage of the additional flexibility of blended courses?
…when it comes to designing and planning classes, are there any particularly good models to use?
…what can teachers do to make the blended experience more engaging / productive / effective?

Teaching with Technology

March 11, 2011

I made 3 very short screencasts about 3 online tools that you could work with in the classroom. The first one is the Corpus of Contemporary American English. This is searchable database of thousands of texts which gives useful info about word frequency and collocation patterns. Watch the video here:

The second screencast is about the website GoAnimate. Here you can make cool looking text-to-video animations. Watch the screencast here.

The third online tool has been around for a while but it’s still really great and fun. Animoto allows you (and your students) to make eye-catching slideshows with audio. Watch the video here.

I hope these are useful.



September 9, 2010

A few days ago, I was reading here about how Kanye West has started using Twitter so that he can connect with his fans directly (or, in his words “raw”), without having to go through his manager, publicists, record company etc. Many celebrities have been doing this for some time in order to stay in touch with fans but this change in the way we communicate is by no means restricted to pop stars, professional athletes and Hollywood actors.

Indeed, one of the greatest things that has happened in recent years in TEFL (and in many other fields, I’m sure) is that some of the academics, experts, authors that we used to only be able to read or read about in methodology books (and occasionally see at conferences and workshops if we were lucky) are actively tweeting and blogging and interacting directly with their readers. The Teacher Trainer Center (where I work) reading list includes books by Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer and Jim Scrivener – they are all on Twitter, they all publish blog posts, and they participate in on-line discussions. Thornbury’s blog, which is an extension of his 2006 book An A to Z of ELT, in particular, is always interesting and always generates a lot of discussion from other ELT professionals. Take a look at this post on phrasal verbs, for example.

In addition to these 3 authors, there are countless other teaching professionals worth reading on the web – here are just a few that you might find of interest:

Coursebook writer / teacher Jason Renshaw’s blog

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day


Nik’s Learning Technology Blog

Kubbu – a fantastic free e-learning tool

November 4, 2009

I ran a workshop at MEXTESOL 2009 titled (not by me, in my absence, and without my knowing) Continuous Assessment and Technology.

My objective was to share some free, user friendly internet tools that I have been using with my students and to show how teachers might be able to use them as an additional way of keeping track of learner progress.

The tool that seemed to impress most was Kubbu – a free e-learning tool that I heard for through Larry Ferlazzo’s blog.


5 different activity types to choose from!

If you haven’t used Kubbu yet, it’s great for designing simple quizzes, matching games and crosswords which can be either post on a class website or blog or sent directly to learning email accounts.

There are 5 different activity types to choose from. Here’s a matching game:


A rather cool matching game


Add your students' contact info and mail exercises and games straight to them

What I really like to too is that everything can be easily printed and used in class – the crossword generator is particularly useful in that crossword grids are automatically generated in a matter of seconds (anyone who has ever tried to write a crossword using word processing software will appreciate this function!).

Kubbu also makes it easy to track learner progress but providing statistical breakdowns of student performance – you can see, for example, how many times a student has done an activity, how long it took them and what they scored.


Well done Guillermo!

MEXTESOL: A Prestigious Academic Event

October 25, 2009

This picture pretty much sums up my MEXTESOL.

Me and the Longman monkey at MEXESOL

Me and the Longman monkey at MEXTESOL

What I’ve learned at MEXTESOL 2009 in Monterrey

October 23, 2009

Some things I learned at MEXTESOL….well, I had this amazing idea of writing daily blog posts from the MEXTESOL conference in Monterrey as I honestly thought I’d be able to catch at least a couple of talks and workshops eventhough I’m here manning the stand. My thinking was that hardly anyone will come to the stand when H Douglas Brown or Pete Sharma are speaking so they’ll let me go to the talks too…but, as they don’t say in Mexico, no way Jose! (they’d probably say no guëy!) I was wrong. Having said that, I did get to have brief chat with Mr Sharma about, among other things, the challenges of providing feedback on distance courses. He really is a nice guy and he didn’t mind my cheeky question about whether he actually still teaches (he says he does). I really wanted to catch his talk on technology and pedagogy but ni modo – not least as my workshop tomorrow will be on continuous assessment and technology (I wanted to steal some ideas!).

Anyway, if you’re still reading – this is supposed to be a teacher development blog , right? – And all I can tell you is that if you’ve never been to a big teaching conference – you really should – this is my first (major) one and it really has been an eye opener. There are loads really interesting talks and workshops from obvious stuff like technology in the classroom to more thought provoking stuff like sexism in efl.

In addition, there are tons of interesting people to meet and loads of good teaching books to buy, many at quite low prices.

However, after 2 days in the exhibitors hall I’ve been surprised by a couple of things on the commercial side:

1. A lot of people seem to go to conferences to pick up as much free stuff as they can, even if it’s crap like notepads and pens.
2.Major publishers and large chains of language schools go to any length to get your attention – one school, on this occasion, had teachers dancing on tables telling people to “shake it” if they wanted a free t-shirt.
3.Behaviourism is alive and well in courses books for kids.
4.Piracy is affecting the ELT industry – some rather dodgy looking materials are on sale in the hall.