Friday, 25 September 2015

Six Steps to Oral Fluency

Here is the PowerPoint presentation I am using tomorrow at the

British Council Teachers Conference 2015:
Learning to Learn

Here are the student recordings from the presentation:

 Elisabet 11A pronunciation expressing movement:

Jose 9A Grammar bank 3 third conditional:

Dolors reading aloud:

 happy ending Hannah from English File Pre-intermediate 3rd edition:

Carla retelling - Hannah happy ending:

 Lidia G lucky or unlucky interview:

Me reading feedback for Carla T1 S5 amplified:

I practised giving the presentation at home. Sadly the recordings made by my students were very quiet over my speakers and hard to record on my smartphone, so make sure listen to the recordings above.

Here is the live recording from the presentation on Saturday.
Sadly I was unable to play the student recordings, so please listen to the recordings above at the appropriate moment.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Students Recording Themselves in class about 200 times in a year

A recording I made to prepare for this talk:

The talk that I gave in a Google Hangout organised by Learning2gether with Vance Stevens is here:

Saturday, 20 June 2015

What level are the materials on LearnEnglish?

I looked into this when I wanted to find the level of the ‘Britain is GREAT’ series of videos and could find no guidance: this is poor from a teacher’s point of view as well as from a student’s.

I decided to survey what levels most materials are at based on the information here:

Number of items
Percentage of total
0.2 %
2.1 %
61.6 %
31.6 %
4.4 %
0 %

So basically, LearnEnglish caters for Intermediate/Upper Intermediate students: 93.2%

This only covers 430 items (31.6 %), which are labelled for a particular level; the other 931 items (68.4 %) are not labelled for a particular level.

My conclusion is that I should recommend LearnEnglish to my Intermediate group  (B1) and an Upper Intermediate group (B2) if I had one.

I accept that writing material for A1 is difficult and that it is perhaps not necessary for C2 as students at this level should be able to follow their interests on any website, but I’m disappointed that there is so little for A2, particularly as I have a Pre-intermediate group.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the level of ‘Elementary Podcasts’ and found that the vast majority are labelled B1; only 2 out of 40 were labelled A2 and the most recent series are not labelled for level.

Basically, LearnEnglish isn’t organised by levels, which I think limits its usability by lower and higher level learners

Friday, 1 May 2015

Using WhatsApp to give feedback

On Tuesday this week I decided to take a few notes on things I wanted to help my students with when they finished a speaking activity in pairs. I had drawn a primitive map of England showing London, Peterborough and Leeds on the white board at the back of the class, where I usually write my notes, so as there wasn't room, I wrote the short sentences on a message on WhatsApp for the class group. I used the notes to remember what to talk about, but students didn't see what I had written. Here is a screen shot:

After saying the sentences and making some comments I send them to the group, and as you can see, I did this twice in the last half hour of the class. 

Normally I would have written these on the whiteboard at the back of the class while the students were working, but by not having to go to the board, it was much easier to take notes as I moved around the class.

When the class finishes, I always take a photo (or two) of any board work I've done using WhatsApp, and then record myself reading out the sentences and send it to the WhatsApp group for the class. This time I didn't need to take a photograph: I just made the recording:

On Thursday, I took notes again in class while my students were doing one of the speaking activities and used a WhatsApp message to the class group again, but this time perhaps because there were  more things to talk about I set up WhatsApp Web in Chrome on the interactive whiteboard. I had to increase the size of the text a bit, but then I was able to show the sentences and talk about them to the class. Of course, I realised that I could record my explanations using WhatsApp. Below you can see the sentences and listen to my explanations:

As you can see, I split the recording into three sections of about 90 seconds each:

This morning I saw that two students who had missed that part of the class had already listened to the recording the same evening!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Ipadio and audioboo for students to record themselves with

I posted this yesterday to the audioboo publisher community on Edmodo, but thought it might be of interest to a wider audience.

I teach English as a Foreign Language in Barcelona. I no longer have access to the Edmodo audioboo app, probably because I live outside the USA and Canada. I used the audioboo apps for Android phones and iPhones a lot last year: I got my students to record all their pronunciation work using audioboo apps on their phones.

This year I decided to stop using the audioboo apps for phones partly because there wasn't an up-to-date Android app, but mainly because I decided to use only one recording app instead of the two I used last year.

My favourite recording app for Android phones and iphones is and last year I got my students to use this app when really communicating in English and to use the audioboo app for the mechanics of pronunciation, reading sentences and texts aloud and repeating things.

Now my student record everything with the same app (ipadio) and they can cross-post their best communicative recordings to their e-portfolios fairly easily. Here are links to the best two examples of my current students' e-portfolios:

Students can also embed their recordings in Edmodo. Every week they choose their best recording and turn it in as an assignment on Edmodo. I listen to one minute of their recordings and in five minutes have enough time to listen twice and give feedback on grammar/vocabulary and pronunciation and record myself saying the phrases and words I have drawn their attention to. I use to do this.

Here is an example recording by the best student in my pre-intermediate class, my comments and my recording:

Listen once to the first minute of your recording and pause when you get to each of these grammar mistakes and take some notes:

He takes photos
he's working for a newspaper
one of his cameras is particularly important for him
His grandfather was from Germany
Today he's taking photographs of a model for
a famous fashion magazine

Here are some pronunciation problems. Listen to my recording and repeat the grammar mistakes and the pronunciation mistakes. There should be time to repeat them. Use your mobile to record my version and yours and then listen and compare them:



Listen again to the first minute of your recording and stop at each of these grammar and pronunciation errors above and say each word correctly.

Very fluent, but with some grammar and pronunciation problems to solve.

I've just spent 5 minutes on this. Please make sure that you spend at least as much time as me trying to learn from your mistakes. If you like you can make a new recording and post it here.

Monday, 8 December 2014

This is what I offer my face-to-face students:

  • My students record themselves speaking English every class. Sometimes it is pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar practice, but each student records themselves re-telling a story and/or being interviewed every class.
  • I listen to some of these recordings and give very informal feedback twice a week.
  • I ask my students to select their best recording of them re-telling a story or possibly being interviewed and I give detailed feedback on one minute of their best recording every week.
  • My students write an email, a letter, a story, an article, or a description every week.
  • I correct all the errors in their weekly writing and mark 5 mistakes as being the most important to learn from.
  • My students send me a corrected version of their weekly writing for me to check.
  • I check their corrected version and make any additional suggestions for improvement.
  • In theory, my students add their best recordings and their twice-corrected writing to their e-portfolio each week.
  • My students read a simplified book every week (in theory) and write a two line comment about it for other students to read.
  • After reading 6 books at one level I suggest they try the next level. Ideally they will read books from four levels in the three terms.
  • I suggest homework from the workbook and DVD(s) but tell my students to be selective and say “ONLY DO WHAT'S IMPORTANT FOR YOU” as there is too much to do it all.
This is what I don’t offer my face-to-face students:

  • I don’t correct the homework from the workbook and DVD(s) in class or at home. But I offer to help them with any doubts they have about the answers to this homework.
  • I don’t correct all the mistakes my students make when speaking in class, but I do write a selection of errors on the board after most speaking activities.
  • I rarely ask individual students to give answers to questions in exercises. Instead, students do the exercises in pairs, while I listen and tell them if I hear that they make a mistake.
  • I rarely ask individuals to speak to all the class. I nearly always ask them to work in pairs or groups of three when speaking and record themselves.
  • I don’t tell my students their grade for their writing until they have sent me a corrected version, although I have given them a grade and made a note of it after the first correction.
  • I don’t correct worksheets my students do in class or at home, but instead, I give them the answers and ask them to correct it themselves in a different colour. Sometimes I collect the corrected worksheets to see if there is something I need to teach again.
  • I rarely say “Excellent!”, “Very good!” etc in class, but I’m always saying things like “Great!” to my students online.
We use English File Pre-intermediate and Intermediate 3rd edition. We have already done one term using the book and plan to finish the book over the next two terms. Our class is equipped with an interactive whiteboard and I use it a lot. We use mobile phones in class and the internet out of class.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

How best can technology help students speak? [I always write about the same thing!]

Speaking as much as possible is the best way for students to speak better. Any materials which encourage students to speak to each other will help. I prefer students to work in pairs as that creates the most opportunities to speak. I adapt materials to maximise opportunities for students to speak in pairs.

Where does technology come in? I am lucky as I have a projector attached to a computer so it is easy to project a series of questions that half the students in the class can see but the others can't as they are sitting with their backs to the screen. If possible, when they swap roles, I have another set of questions for the second interview. The projected questions are rather like the auto-cue used on TV. This can be done without technology, by preparing posters and sticking them to the whiteboard.

In this kind of activity there is a lot of simultaneous speaking and it is sometimes hard to monitor, help or assess students. However, if students record themselves answering the questions using their mobile phones it is easier for teachers to monitor errors and or assess students' speaking. Teachers can still help during the activity

Using apps like audioboo or ipadio smartphone owners can build up a portfolio of their speaking which their teacher can follow using feedly. Students can follow each other, too. Even simple mobile phones can be used with an ipadio account for free in many countries of the world.

This is just one example of how speaking in pairs can be set up and recorded. There are many advantages in getting students to record themselves:
- Students are more likely to speak in English when they are recording themselves.
- Being able to listen to themselves makes students more aware of how well (or badly) they speak
- Building up a portfolio of their speaking showing their progress is motivating
- Teacher feedback on one minute of every recording takes about the same amount of time it takes to give feedback on written work and generates a manageable number of errors to work on
- Providing students with small amounts of regular individual feedback on their strengths, weaknesses and errors in grammar and pronunciation is more effective than brief general classroom feedback
- It is much easier for teachers to get to know their students' speaking level by listening to them regularly. Assessment is much easier as a result.

The other type of speaking activity in pairs we do in class involves creating an information gap which students have to explain. Typically it is a story or article which only half of the students listen to and/or read. They listen to it a number of times and often see the script for a moment the last time they listen. They then practise retelling it to each other before retelling it to one of the students who hasn’t listened to it. I offer help with problems I overhear when they are practising retelling and students usually only record themselves when they are retelling it for real.

These extended monologues are a real test of and opportunity for speaking and involves real communication and are ideal for assessment.

Depending on your definition of speaking you may or may not consider the following activities to be speaking as they don’t involve communication, but do involve saying words and sentences in English. My students also record themselves doing these activities:
-          repeating new vocabulary after a model (and recording both the model and their own version
-          repeating new grammatical structures in the same way to reinforce them and to work on their pronunciation
-          repeating pronunciation exercises
-          reading aloud paragraphs from the course where there is a model to compare with

These recording are also added to their portfolio of spoken English, which I listen to on my way to work and give them the words they need to look up later on howjsay.

Here is a list of the websites mentioned above:
audioboo  which my students use to record their pronunciation
ipadio  which my students use to record their real speaking
feedly  which I use to follow my students recordings
howjsay  where students can check the pronunciation of words

Edmodo where I give formal assessment in private