Save time! Do Student Needs Analysis Online

September 9, 2009

If you are a reader of blogs by any of the more tech savvy teacher-bloggers such as Nik Peachy, then what I’m about to write may not seem that impressive. I don’t claim to be the first to use this web tool for this purpose either. That said, it’s still pretty cool and I think it’s well worth sharing.

Some background
With a new Trinity ISE prep course about to kick off at the end of the week, in an effort to save valuable class time (and prep time), I decided to use Polldaddy – the online polling and survey tool – to conduct a pre-course needs analysis (rather than using up the first hour of the first session of the course doing a paper-based one).
This was my first time using Polldaddy for anything (yes, believe it or not, my son’s name was chosen by my wife and I after I saw him in the hospital for the first time and not by asking blog visitors to choose their favourite from a shortlist of 5 or 6 possible names!) and so I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out.

Making it happen
As it happens, it worked out very well. Let me take you through it step by step.

After registering (ah yes, you do have to register first) with Polldaddy, the first stage, writing the survey, was a breeze. It’s a case of simply dragging and dropping question types into your survey (there are plenty of options including multiple choice, matrix grids and open questions, for example). I then added in question and response text as appropriate (exactly as it is on my paper-based version of the survey). Polldaddy also lets you insert links to websites and files if you so wish. The only down side here is that free account restricts you to 10 questions.

Once I’d written and saved the survey, I copied the link which Polldaddy generated and pasted it into an email which I then sent to all the course participants. When they click the link the survey opens (no need to download anything) and they see something like this:

Possibly the best thing is the way the results are presented. Responses to closed questions are presented in graphs and so I can instantly see for example, how many people can do an hour or more of homework each week, what percentages of participants are happy doing pairwork etc. Take a look:Polldaddy_Homework_hours_image

In addition to the quantitative information, I can quickly browse through qualitative data from open questions:

Happy, happy
What can I say – a great tool which is easy to use and has saved me some serious time. So good in fact that I’m going to use it to carry out in-course self-assessment surveys and a post-course student satisfaction survey.

Try it!


The Reading Process Riddle

July 31, 2009

Yesterday, my wonderful and beautiful wife (who, incidentally, is also an amazing photographer) forwarded me an email containing the old “Count the number of F’s” brainteaser. Of course, I didn’t fall for the puzzle this time, owing to the fact that I had done it before. However, it occurred to me that the puzzle does a great job illustrating a couple of important points for language teachers about the reading process.

The Puzzle
But, before we get on to the boring teacher stuff, here’s the puzzle, in case you haven’t done it before:

Quickly count the F’s n the next text – how many are there?


Most people only count 3, failing to count the F’s in the 3 Of’s. There are actually 6 F’s (I think!).

For Language Teachers

Now, 3 reasons why I deem this to be worth blogging about:

1. It shows that when fluent readers read, they don’t process texts letter by letter, word by word – rather they take in all the letters simultaneously, recognising all the letters in the word at once. Furthermore, research suggests that we recognise related pairs of words more quickly than unrelated pairs or words.

2. It demonstrates that fluent readers don’t process all of the words in a text – according to studies, we process fewer than half of the function words (words such as of, the, and to which don’t contain lexical meaning) in a text and around 80% of the content words.

3. More generally, it highlights the inadequacy of bottom-up approaches (on their own) for explaining the reading process and provides support for the view that reading more is likely characterised by the continuous interaction between top-down and bottom-up processing skills.

As Celce-Murcia and Olshtain (2000) point out:

“Good and effective reading must…be viewed as combining both rapid and accurate recognition and decoding of letters, words, collocations, and other structural cues with sensible, global predictions related to the text as a whole”

There are obvious implications here for work that we do with written texts in the classroom.

Now, what about the one about the colour and the tool?

Free English Courses

July 15, 2009

I came across a blog post today of 20 Free English Language and Literature Courses. Click here.

Now, in my honest opinion, most of the general courses seem a bit too grammar focused (see my comment above for more on that) but you may find something useful to help practice. Furthermore, the pronunciation link doesn’t work while the listening files on the American English Audio Course were, in fact, inaudible – it sounds like an American woman is talking to a washing machine.

Anyway, here are 2 (of the 20) that I think are worth checking out if you want to improve your grammar:

Grammar Workshop This is from so it’s a safe site. You register and they send you grammar practice materials each week. Grammar exercises for intermediate and advanced level students here.

Here something that I posted ages ago on another website for students about practising English for free:

There are literally thousands of websites for learners of English. Here is a short list of ones that we like:

Word Power is a website that describes itself as “a free survival guide for all who would like to perfect their spoken English language.” In the Business Word Power and you will find definitions, recordings and exercises with which you can practise business vocabulary. Many of the themes such as meetings, telephoning and socialising relate to work we do in class. And, there is also a section on football vocabulary!

Yappr – A free website which helps you learn English through videos. Highly recommended!

The British Council’s website:

And this is what the BBC has to offer:

Is this the future? Practise your English online with a native speaker for free! (after you’ve downloaded Skype):

Would you believe it? Free books online:

The Business podcast, from Macmillan, is a monthly interview focusing on working life in the UK. The Podcast offers authentic listening practice for you: