Stiff little fingers

image taken from

image taken from

We’ve all got them. We all use them. Most of the time without thinking. But how do you use them in your classroom?

On Friday night, I found myself teaching a 3 hour one-to-one with an A1 student. Almost immediately, my fingers began taking on a life of their own. Every time I asked my student a question, I would use a finger to represent each of the words in the question. Nothing ground breaking and I had done it before with my YLs but in this lesson I took it to a whole new level. All my questions were accompanied by my fingers, often bringing them together to indicate a possible contraction. When we reformulated my student’s responses to the questions, again the fingers were used to help the student along. I would keep them hanging there, and waggle the finger to indicate that the student hadn’t pronounced it correctly or that they had missed it out. I could see the student following my fingers as they came up and I genuinely believe that their employment was useful and I hope to continue using this in the subsequent classes. More importantly, I will ask my student if the fingers are useful or if she thinks I’m mad.

Does anyone else do the same thing? If so, what’s your reasoning behind it? Have you discussed it with your students? Do you have any tips? (pun intended)

Work-life balance – A business class idea

Photo taken from

Photo taken from

This lesson idea is based around a funny and thought provoking TED talk by Nigel Marsh. The talk is titled; How to make work-life balance work.

I have used the class with C1.3 and Proficiency students and each time the talk prompts different conversations within my groups, leading to good language work and exposure to authentic listening.

Here is the link to the talk – Nigel Marsh; How to make work-life balance work. (link will open in a new tab)

Here is what I did

  • Begin the class by asking your students to discuss two questions:
  1. Do you think you have a good work-life balance?
  2. If yes, how do you maintain this balance? If no, what would you like to change to create a balance?
  • An alternative opening could be to put the following statements, taken from the video onto the board/projector and ask the students to discuss and say which they agree/disagree with.

there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hateto enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you [as] they can get away with. It’s in their nature; it’s in their DNA; it’s what they do — even the good, well-intentioned companies.

We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life.

  • Let this run, and try to make notes as you listen. Get feedback and ask any more relevant questions to push the students further.
  • Next, introduce the video and the title. Tell the students that they are going to listen to exactly the first 5 minutes of the talk. I prefer to use the video purely as audio. The video contains nothing of importance visually, i.e no slides, quotes etc. The only task for the student is to listen and when the first part is over, to say whether they agree with the points mentioned in this part. Encourage the students to write down any vocabulary as they are listening.
  • In my classes the following vocabulary was picked out and discussed; startled, thorny issue, getting to the nub of smthg and abattoirs of the human soul.
  • My students had a lot to say about the talk and most genuinely agreed with what was said. It was great for getting them to personalise the subject and talk(moan) about the companies they work for.
  • Once this dies down, remind the class that at the end of the 5 minute clip, Nigel Marsh begins to talk about how he sat down and wrote out his perfect working day. The video stops just before he tells us what it is. Get your students to write down or think about their perfect working day. It needs to be based around their current job. Get them thinking about what time they would start, how many hours they would work, time for lunch, when to finish and what they would do with their spare time.
  • Get feedback and ask more questions.
  • Now the students will listen to the remaining 5 minutes of the talk. They need to compare their ideal day with that of Nigel’s and again write down any vocabulary they want to discuss. In my classes the following vocabulary was discussed after the second part; daunting, upheaval, moronically simplistic
  • Again, work with the discussions that come up after the clip and ask how the students felt about Nigel’s perfect day. To finish off, here are some questions worth discussing;
  1. Is it true that we often neglect the intellectual, spiritual and emotional side of life?
  2. Do you dream of retiring or do you live for the hear and now?
  3. What small things could you change in your life to create a better work-life balance?

I hope the lesson is useful. As always, please feel free to comment and let me know how it goes. Remember that with all TED talks you can activate subtitles and also access an interactive transcript of the talk.


It’s been a ridiculously long time since I wrote anything on here. In order to blow off the blogging cobwebs I am going to try something different for the month of October. The idea is very simple. At the end of each of my lessons I am going to record my immediate thoughts, feelings and reflections on each lesson and upload the audio. To accompany each audio file I will hopefully have a photo of my board work, in order to provide a little more insight into the lesson. I am hoping to keep the audio short, although I will apologise now if I ramble. Let me know what you think and leave a comment below. The link for the first lesson is below.

Lesson 1 – This will take you to

Board work - Lesson 1 Own photo

Board work – Lesson 1
Own photo

Lesson 2 – Link will send you to

own photo

own photo

Lesson 3  – Link will send you to

Lesson 4 – Link will send you to

Lesson 5 – Link will send you to

own photo

own photo

The Pupil’s Progress.

Originally posted on SurrealAnarchy:


“Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound…”  John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

For the pupil, progress relies on hope, a belief in a journey towards a point of completion and an idea that ultimate salvation is just one more bit of effort away. This promised land, in which there  shall be ‘seraphims and cherubims’ and an eternal life of joy, will be won when the child has moved from a state of incompletion towards the superior state of ‘got some good exam grades’. Physically a child starts school small and finishes it tall, progress has clearly been made. Academically you start school without any certificates and you end with an Ebacc and an A level or two, or, God forbid, a vocational qualification, as you trudge towards the closed factory gate to the newly opened call centre. Rather than a heavenly pursuit, a pupil’s progress is tied to these rather mundane goals.

Teachers have…

View original 494 more words

The Negotiated Syllabus

Originally posted on aplinglink:


I suggested in my last post that a real paradigm shift in ELT would involve throwing out the coursebook and standardised tests and replacing them with a process-driven approach which concentrates on the “how” more than the “what” of teaching. So far, so good. But I went further, and in fact, I went rather too far, and I now have to make amends. I suggested that the alternative paradigm was fundamentally defined by a process of negotiation between teacher and learners, and that’s not so. I didn’t actually spell out what this negotiation amounted to, and neither did I make it clear that there are some very good alternatives to the present coursebook-driven paradigm which don’t involve any such “fundamental” negotiation.

For example, Mike Long’s detailed proposal for task-based language teaching, while it’s certainly learner-centred, and while it rejects the “product” or “synthetic” or “Type A” syllabus and hence the use of coursebooks and standardised…

View original 1,097 more words

The Harm of (English) Language Testing

Originally posted on Richard Smith ELT:

This is a written version of my argument for the motion ‘Language Testing Does More Harm Than Good’ at this year’s IATEFL Conference ELTJ debate (April 2015). Lizzie Pinard’s blog has a good summary of the debate as it actually transpired. Naturally, the following post is quite one-sided and – hopefully – provocative … 

You only need to look through the copy of EL Gazette included in the conference bag, and compare this with copies of the newspaper five years ago, to get a vivid impression of how dominant large-scale English language testing is becoming in many contexts worldwide — the newspaper is full of advertisements for tests, and materials and courses preparing for them. Whereas there’s been a lot of critique in ELT of inappropriately exported methods and published materials, and the ‘critical turn’ has resulted in some change, there’s been little or no such targeting of large-scale, standardized language tests. There seems to be, though, an increasing sense of frustration about such tests which has…

View original 1,180 more words