Showing posts with label EFL Magazine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EFL Magazine. Show all posts

Enhancing Performance in B1-B2 exams for Dyslectic Learners


by Maria Argyriou

In general, the performance of adolescent students preparing to sit for B1/ B2 exams is reinforced by the teacher’s methodical planning and the graded application of the most appropriate teaching strategies. However, the same principle does not seem to apply when setting an attainable goal to be reached for the dyslectic students taking the same exams.

The approach towards students with dyslexia, therefore, needs to be viewed in relation to a variety of cognitive and situational factors. Firstly, it is important to take into consideration the exact amount of time that a specific student has been engaged in the learning process under
the guidance of a specific teacher, thus, making the correct estimation that will allow for an accurate student profile, as well as a precise evaluation of both their learning strengths and, equally, their shortcomings, according to, of course, the type of dyslexia they are facing.

Secondly, we must take into account the time and effort they devote to learning the language, their willingness, and the ability to follow the course’s corpus and the teacher’s instructions and guidelines. All of the above functions as the incentive provided to facilitate the student’s goal, passing the exam, the type of exam being another key element to consider. Overall, it is in the students’ best interest to be encouraged to take an exam that matches their current profile, not one that surpasses their level, the primary examples of such level of difficulty being the FCE or the ECCE.

Moreover, it is the teacher’s duty to inspire such students, boost their confidence and distill in them a sense of emotional security that will strengthen their self-perception. This way, the students are given the tools to believe more in their own potential, and once this process is set into motion and becomes an inner reality, the beneficial results will be mirrored in their performance.

In addition to all of the above, the effective role of the student’s family, school, schoolmates, peers, and friends forming their close circle, is of major importance in relation to the progressive mental development of learners with dyslexia. Dyslectics tend to be more open to sharing and describing their problems when a bond of trust has been established. However, this willingness to express their view or confront an issue in a spirit of togetherness formed with you, their teacher, can be just as easily disrupted or even shattered if their enthusiasm for personal
improvement is not immediately fulfilled, leading to instant frustration.

To provide you with an example, a sixteen-year-old dyslectic student of mine, Marios, while preparing for the B2 exam, exhibited signs of hesitance to continue drawing outlines, and composing essays with my aid, as a reaction to me implementing more discipline in my teaching style. His attitude seemed to stem from the fact that I corrected him much more, pointing out, in a more emphatic manner, the lack of preparation and diligence in his work, leading to unnecessary spelling errors. As a result, his performance dropped, he was not eager to put his ideas into practice, and he kept inserting redundant or wrong vocabulary in his sentences. It
took him a considerable amount of time to re-establish his previous level of efficacy in his writing skills and reach his original learning standards.

It is essential to mention, at this point, another determining factor concerning dyslectics. When the emotional needs of these students are not met at home, or not validated when they are singled out or being made fun at school and their social environment, they are quick to abandon their target scope related to the exams. As a teacher, you are called to adjust your methods, mainly by showing patience and persistence in applying constant repetition in a wide variety of tasks. Goals. Students should be encouraged to be active participants in the lesson, as the content unfolds and gradually develops. Once the route is mapped out and reset after possible failings, students become aware that they can always strive to achieve their learning goals.

As a general principle, if the educator follows certain guidelines while instructing such learners in the actual time of the exams, he or she will observe remarkable improvement and outcomes. Such guidelines include:

1. Following certain steps in every lesson, even if, at first glance, they seem suited for small children. Correcting their homework should always come first, so as to remind them what they have achieved as students, and boost their confidence.

This process should be followed by an oral repetition of the right answers, as many times as necessary, to help establish language patterns in their brain. It is, after all, an opportunity for them to engage more in oral speech. As teachers, we are well aware of the pivotal role of oral practice in the progress of these students (this type of student).

2. The writing of the dictation immediately follows in the exact order it was taught to the student, who should be encouraged by the teacher to stick to the “image” of the words they have learned. Meanwhile, the student repeats the meaning of the words orally, inside out as many times as possible. Through this repetition, they will be offered the right aid, instead of being forced to use the image in direct correlation to the translation, correcting over and over again the definitions, falsely used as equivalent meaning.

Overall, dyslectic learners benefit greatly by sticking to a routine in various facets of the lesson. Special attention should be paid on the visual elements set inside their head, so as to absorb dictation in an efficient manner. This process, if reinforced correctly, will contribute to the betterment of their writing skills as well.

3. It is preferable to avoid the “structural approach” methodology when it comes to the Reading comprehension and Use of English activities. For the dyslectics, it is the functional and multidimensional, as well as the communicative aspect related to the book’s tasks that prove to be useful and meaningful in the long run. Students with dyslexia in general, but also specifically when it is time to sit for the exams, reach a higher degree of awareness of the grammatical and lexical functions of the English language, and its correct use, in terms of “conceptualization” and use in context. Also, the provision of specific examples can further help them grasp the meanings.

4. When it comes to essays, it is in the best interest of the student to be given the instructions orally first, so that they can proceed in a more natural flow with the production of the written form. This method familiarizes the students with the topic of the essay and helps them navigate through the process of the writing task on their own.

Another helpful tip for the integration of the tools that lead to the productive completion of an essay is to allow them to go through the model essay at their own pace, and encourage them to er to come up with their own version in spoken/oral form. This facilitates the students to produce an outline that will serve as a guide on how to write the essay. If they find the process difficult, the teacher could ask them to work together on the essay, putting together an outline that will serve as a useful tool for the development and completion of the written task at home.

Furthermore, it would serve the teacher, at this stage of the writing lesson, to keep in mind that they should abstain from personalizing when spelling mistakes occur. Also, students should not be interrupted while they are sharing their ideas. The reason why this interruption of flow can inhibit the learning process for a dyslectic is that based on the way their brain is “wired,” they are more adept at formulating a model essay-
answer inside their head before they can feel comfortable with making the transition into speech. The speaking task, in its turn, allows them to receive the mental stimulation and feedback so that they can, subsequently, complete the written form. It is also important for the teacher to remember not only to correct but also make suggestions when the students hand in their essays in their next lesson.

5. As far as speaking and listening tasks, the process is more straight-forward, thus, simplified, because dyslectic students, as a norm, find these tasks less burdensome, and, therefore, significantly more enjoyable. It is crucial that the teacher at all times includes a variety of topics in the corpus plan and delivery of the speaking task, such as health, animals, hobbies, technology, to name a few. These specific topics could be examined, reevaluated, and repeated as frequently as possible. If the need for more in-depth clarification arises, the teacher can use less complicated words so as to define the meaning of a word and re-visit orally the same topics from different angles at every given opportunity. The effects are immediate and tangible and can be witnessed in progress the students make in their writing skills as well.

When it comes to the listening tasks, it is key to notice that they work/function interchangeably with the speaking tasks that students are required to tackle. This means that practicing thoroughly the order of the words that form the whole of a sentence helps the students expand
their knowledge of vocabulary, especially when combined with topics the students can relate to. Considering the fact that repetition works best when attached to concepts a dyslectic can enjoy, it would be very useful to play the CD as many times as required. This will allow them to find the correct answers without feeling pressured or overwhelmed.


All in all, the performance of adolescent dyslectics in English, on a larger scale, but in exams more specifically, can be enhanced, even allowed to reach its highest potential, if the teacher follows certain pathways when employing methodology designed for the particular needs of the students. Mainly, combining teaching techniques and learning structures aimed at encouraging the students to become active participants, and enjoy not only the learning process but also, the fruit of their own labor at every lesson.

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Learning to Read English

read English

Reading is a simple task for most people. But ask them how they learnt to read English, and they have trouble remembering. Here are some easy steps.

Spoken language

Practice known words – feel the words with your lips, tongue, and teeth so that you know how they are made.  Build up a vocabulary of items such as everyday items, names, and numbers. Play with onset and rhyme by matching the first sound of the word or the last e.g., big-blue-balloon or mat-hat-cat

First Books

Link known words to the written representation as well as use picture clues.  Even young children pick up words from daily routines such as shop names, numbers, and place names.  


English schools use systematic synthetic phonics schemes to teach word building.  Teachers start with the smallest parts of word sounds, called phonemes, and build words – sit, pan.  They demonstrate how to blend each phoneme into the next one, to make a full word. The word is then repeated to reinforce the sight of the word with sound.  As the words lengthen, the first phoneme is emphasized, and the rest are kept softly-spoken. This enables the learner to remember where the word started for the repetition.

The written representation, a grapheme, is shared and practiced too.  Many phonemes are represented by one letter from the alphabet; however, some are made up of two, three, or four letters (digraphs, trigraphs, and quadraphs).  Furthermore, there are alternative graphemes to write the same phoneme; the long /a/ phoneme can be represented with ai, ay, a-e such as in the words bait, bay, and bake.

Letters and Sounds, the Department for Education’s Guidance on Phonics, is available at  The Rose Report highlights the importance of Reading and Synthetic Phonics,

High-Frequency Words including Common Exception Words

There are lists of commonly used words, and these also include exception words.  We use these words between 50-80% of the time, with the addition of subject-specific words.  Exception words are ones that do not follow the standard phonics patterns e.g., I, a, the, do.  

These word lists are practiced regularly at school and appear throughout early reading books.  Teachers use these as the basis for weekly spelling tests. The aim is for the reader to build these words as quickly as possible into their sight vocabulary i.e., know the words automatically on sight rather than decode.

Early Reading Books

Most schools buy books that fit into reading schemes so that learners have the correct sounds and commonly used words that support their lessons and level of development.  The books are designed to offer small increments in the challenge as well as provide opportunities for comprehension of stories and new knowledge.


There are many games to embed phonics and word-level knowledge.  Here are three easy ones:-

Eye Spy – A spoken game where one person challenges another or a group to guess their word by naming the first sound.  The word must be a noun (object, place, or person) that they can see, e.g. ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with …”  The person who guesses correctly gets to make the next challenge.

Word ladders – A written game starting with a three-letter word.  Each player changes one letter to create a new word e.g., big-bag-ban-fan. 

Cloze procedure – Blank out a word in a text and challenge the readers to identify it.  Readers have to understand word order (syntax) and word meaning (semantics) to win.

Individual Reading

Read anything and everything!  Get practicing with books, posters, magazines, instructions, song lyrics…  The most important thing is to let the reader choose their own text and then discuss the content.  Public libraries, bookshops, and second-hand book sales make great places to browse. 

Shared Reading

Audio versions of books, subtitled films or programmes, and sharing books out loud are great ways to gain meaning and fully enjoy more advanced texts.  Learning is social.


Handwriting schemes produce workbooks and exercises to practice graphemes, words, and sentences.  Always say the words out loud when writing so that the sound matches the sight.

If you would like more information, visit or find Emily’s books on Amazon.

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Automated Essay Evaluation for Faster Formative Feedback


By Nicholas Walker

Many ESL teachers still consider automated essay scoring and feedback to be an impossible dream. But with recent advancements in automated grammar checking technology, and the arrival of other natural language processing tools, the notion of using computers to provide feedback on and score an essay might not be quite so impossible as it once seemed. 

One online grammar checker website now offers to evaluate academic essays, argument essays, and film-analysis essays in just two seconds and for free. Teachers can now begin integrating free automated essay evaluations into their course plans. 

But what should teachers make of automated essay scoring? First, let’s consider the benefits.

Time savings

Teachers spend a lot of time giving formative feedback on student writing,  Often, correction time intrudes into teachers’ evenings and weekends leading to burnout and a shortage of qualified teachers, according to The Observer (Tapper, 2018). 

Consider this simple calculation: 

10 minutes of feedback per essay x 30 students = 5 hours of correction If a computer could score every essay in two seconds without adding to the teacher’s workload, the time saved could be put toward providing higher-order feedback, helping the students in the group who are at risk of failing or just enjoying a correction-free weekend.  

Meaningful practice

Because of the usual impact of writing correction on a teacher’s workload, experienced teachers limit the number of writing assignments they set for their students. If a computer could give effective formative feedback and scoring on the first draft of an essay, the teacher would only need to score their final draft. By reducing the correction load by half, the teacher might be inclined to give a greater number of meaningful writing activities.  Writing practice with a grammar focus is likely to be superior to fill-in-the-blank exercises because it can come with a communicative purpose for a specific target audience.   

Lingering doubts

There are downsides, too. Despite the positive impact automated evaluation would have on writing instruction and teachers’ workload, ESL writing teachers may harbour doubts about the validity of feedback coming from a computer. Computers don’t think about the ideas in the essay they are scoring, they don’t know how much you have improved, and don’t care about how the feedback will make you feel (Miller, 2015). Furthermore, computers have no imagination. They do not construct a model of the world you describe in your essay as they read through it, looking for surface errors and taking measurements. As such, computers can be fooled by clever nonsense and will tend to give lower scores to brilliant non-conformist writing because it is eccentric (Monaghan & Bridgeman, 2005).

Don’t make perfection the enemy of good pedagogy

Nevertheless, the wish for a perfect timesaving solution to formative writing evaluation should not stand in the way of good pedagogy. Consider what the Virtual Writing Tutor’s Film-Analysis evaluation system can do. 

  • Count your words
  • Calculate your average sentence length
  • Check to see if the first sentence is a question 
  • Measure how much background information you have given to film you are discussing
  • Count the number of literary analysis terms you have used in your thesis
  • Measure how debatable of your thesis is to see if it takes a strong stance
  • Check your topic sentences to make sure they are short and to the point
  • Count of cohesion words and phrases
  • Check for quotes and in-text citations
  • Check that you have paraphrased your thesis statement in your conclusion
  • Check for a suggestion and a prediction
  • Check for a “Works Cited” section
  • Score your vocabulary range
  • Check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors

And can do all of that in two seconds with detailed colour-coded comments and scores to indicate where revision is needed most. As a source of formative feedback on early drafts, this kind of automated scoring will allow teachers to do what teachers do best: to dramatize the presence of an intelligent human reader and look for evidence of the mastery of the skills being taught in the lessons.

What you may notice about the list above is that essay scoring can now start to provide feedback on achievement. Automated essay rating systems have been primarily focused on measurements of proficiency as a low-cost alternative to hiring additional expert teachers to score entrance exams (Monaghan & Bridgeman, 2005). But classroom teachers don’t focus on indicators of general proficiency in every assessment. For example, when you teach beginners and intermediates, you don’t expect a native speaker’s level of writing just yet. What you want to know is if your student has used the discourse model you taught in class. You also want to know if the student is trying to eliminate errors, to use the vocabulary from the lessons, to link ideas using transition words, and to use evidence to support his or her argument.   

How to access the automated essay writing evaluation

You can begin using the Virtual Writing Tutor’s automated essay evaluation system with your students immediately. Navigate to the Virtual Writing Tutor grammar check website. Click on the “Essay Tests” menu item and select Actively Engaged in Academic Writing.  Click on the “Film Analysis” button and “Start.” 

You will see (1) an accordion section labelled “Film Analysis Essay question,” which describes the assignment in detail. Within the instruction, you can find a link to a sample essay that you can test the system with. Under that is a text area with (2) a “Word Count” button and a timer. Write or paste your text in (3) the text area and click (4) “Finished” to receive feedback and a score. 

How to interpret your score

After you click “Finished,” the system will calculate (5) a score for the entire essay. The total assignment score is calculated by averaging an “Essay structure and content score,” a “Vocabulary” score, a “Scholarship” score, and a “Language accuracy” score. 

Under the assignment score, the system provides measurements of (6) writing quantity and measurements of writing quality in accordion sections. Writing quantity measurements do not affect your score directly. They include word count, sentence count, paragraph count, and a count of the number of questions in your essay. Similarly, writing quality measurements do not affect your score, either. They include your sentence length, sentence length variance, a count of clichés, exclamation marks, and first-person pronouns. For some writing teachers, these are indicators of quality. For other teachers, they are not. 

The (7) “Essay content and structure” score is an average of scores for each of the four paragraphs of the essay. Clicking on each score opens an accordion section with colour-coded comments and suggestions for improvement. For example, the system checks to see if the introduction starts with a question, contains film-related words, and ends with a thesis statement that takes a strong stance on the movie in question. 

Body paragraphs are checked for a strong topic sentence, transition words for cohesion, quotes, and in-text citations.

The system then checks that the thesis has been paraphrased and not repeated in the conclusion. It also checks for a recommendation and a prediction to end the essay.  

Students can provide (8) feedback to the Virtual Writing Tutor’s developers on any problems with the comments or scoring, and students can (9) print a copy of all feedback to bring to class to discuss with their teacher. 

The (10) “Vocabulary” section displays a score based on the number of film-related and literary analysis words in the essay.  The (11) “Scholarship” sections display a score based on a count of the number of works cited at the bottom of the essay. The (12) “Language accuracy” section bases its score on a count of the number of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization errors. The system tolerates a couple of errors with applying a penalty, as essays with only one or two errors will receive a score of 100% in this section. Each of these sections conceals the details of the score in the collapsible accordion section to keep from overwhelming students with too many details all at once.

The future of automated scoring

Automated scoring of student essays will eventually catch on. However, to win over teachers, automated evaluation systems will have to focus on promoting learning, using their artificial intelligence to give useful formative feedback on early drafts of an essay before the final draft hits the teacher’s desk for a summative score. In the future, the revision process might start to resemble an online writing game in which micro-revisions lead to added points and leveling up. The more revisions, the better. The less burnout among teachers, the better, too.


Miller, B. (2015, July 8). Researcher studies teachers’ use of automated essay scoring software. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from website:

Monaghan, W., & Bridgeman, B. (2005). E-rater as a quality control on human scorers. ETS R&D Connections, (2). Retrieved from

Tapper, J. (2018, May 13). Burned out: Why are so many teachers quitting or off sick with stress? The Observer. Retrieved from

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Flesh the Skeleton


Flesh the Skeleton may seem to have an anatomical denotation for some readers. However, this terminology which I have coined over the years is deeply rooted in the English teaching practice in general and targeting the reading skill in particular. In Saudi Arabia, where I have been teaching English as a foreign language for over a decade, I would always be asked in interviews for a teaching position about how to teach reading in EGP (English for General Purposes) as well as ESP (English for Specific Purposes) courses. On various occasions, I would – like any other English teacher – seek to stage the reading into a prereading, while-reading, and post-reading.

The terminology had not yet seen the light until one day, I was called for an essential interview with three professional native-speaking interlocutors. In the middle of the interview, I was asked the same reoccurring question about how I teach reading. Only then did the idea spark, and I went about explaining the strategy as if it had been born with me. The interviewing panel insisted that there be a demonstration in a real-time classroom setting. Thankfully, it was a remarkable success, and I was offered the job right on the spot.


Flesh the Skeleton is entirely an analytical method to conduct a reading class. A skeleton is drawn on the board with mainly the head, the limbs, the heart, the fingers, and the toes. It is not a formidable task even for a novice teacher. The head is labelled by the students as the best title they can give to the text. The heart stands for what the passage is mainly about. The arms and the legs are used to highlight the subsidiary ideas that the text entails. The fingers and the toes will be used to point out the small details related to the subsidiary ideas.

Within ten to fifteen minutes, individually or in groups, students compete to draw their skeletons and label them for comparative analysis with other labelled skeletons. The sky is the limit for why some choice has been made and which is which. A final agreement must be reached, and a final skeleton is to be drawn, labelled and analysed holistically. A variation of this model is to draw eyes and ears for subsidiary ideas in the reading and alternatively use the fingers and toes for target vocabulary that the teacher finds themselves obliged to bring home to the students.

Challenges and Solutions

Although Flesh the Skeleton might appear to be relatively easy to implement, teachers have to be fully aware of how to negotiate the students’ final product of their skeleton of the reading and facilitate the task through scaffolding and indicative feedback. Another critical obstacle is time management, as students might not be able to finish the fleshing of their skeletons within the allotted time. The teacher’s discretion here comes into play, where groups can be assigned to label specific parts of the skeleton. Furthermore, students might draw different shapes of skeletons, and to avoid this, teachers have to have a mutual agreement with the students in a uniform shape.

To reinforce the fleshing, students can be tasked to write up their questions about the primary and subsidiary ideas in the passage using reading subskills such as inference, reference, summary, vocabulary, insertion, and to name only a few. Another critical aspect of the Flesh the Skeleton technique is to decide on the author’s purpose, which students can thought-balloon in the head of the skeleton. Ultimately, Flesh the Skeleton is an engaging and interactive strategy that gets every student on the edge of their seats. Students eventually become readers with probing eyes and critical-thinking minds. It helps transforms their mental ability whenever they encounter a reading task. Now that I have prescribed some medication to enhance and improve the reading skill, what are your thoughts in this regard?

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How to Use Europeana Collections in Your Classroom?


Are you interested in integrating digital cultural heritage into your English language classroom? Do you think that cultural heritage is an integral part of every classroom? If your answer is yes, then you should explore Europeana Collections and check out what they have in store for you.

Europeana Platform- Transforming The World With Culture

Europeana is a platform for digital cultural heritage, launched by the European Commission in 2008, with a mission to transform the world with culture. The platform provides access to more than 50 million digitised items which are aggregated and contributed to Europeana by thousands of libraries, museum, galleries, and archives. These digitised items are images, photos, paintings, sound recordings, texts, videos, and 3D objects. Over 20 million items are free to be reused in education, and namely openly licensed. 

Europeana Collections 

In order to make Europeana platform easy to use, lots of items are curated under different collections such as 1914-1918, Art, Archaeology, Fashion, Industrial Heritage, Manuscripts, Maps and Geography, Migration, Music, Natural History, Newspapers, Photography, and Sports. You can also browse the platform by colours, sources, topics, people, time periods, or galleries, and you can even use interesting exhibitions on different topics.

Europeana Teacher Community

Europeana wants to promote using digital cultural heritage in the classrooms by teachers of different subjects. Therefore, together with European Schoolnet (a network of European Ministries of Education), they have established a network of Europeana Teacher Ambassadors and their user group teachers. The network consists of 13 Europeana Ambassadors from Croatia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, POrtuf+gal, Romania, Spain, and Turkey, and one representing the European Schools. Each ambassador has ten user group teachers of different profiles, and they all work on creating learning scenarios using Europeana resources, implementing them in the classrooms across Europe, and giving feedback about the implemented scenarios. The learning scenarios and stories of implementation explore a wide range of topics; they are innovative and creative and are free to be reused by other teachers.

Teaching With Europeana Blog

In March 2019, Teaching with Europeana blog was launched, and it is moderated by 13 ambassadors. It contains more than 200 learning scenarios and stories of implementation created by teachers of different profiles. The blog is regularly updated with new scenarios, and you can freely use the materials, adapt them to your classroom, or find inspiration for your own learning scenarios. You can check out the blog on the following link:

Europeana Massive Open Online Courses

European Schoolnet also organises Europeana MOOCs, which will be running for the third time in 2020. There are English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French versions of the MOOC under the name ‘Europeana in your classroom: building 21st-century competences with digital cultural heritage’. The English version has five modules and teaches you how to search and use Europeana collections to teach your subject, introduces you to Europeana educational tools and resources, and gives teachers an opportunity to design a learning scenario using Europeana content and possibly get it published on the blog. 

Europeana In Your English Classroom

In the blog, you can find a lot of learning scenarios for English classrooms that you can use, adapt, or get inspired by them. The learning scenarios that are to be presented are to be used with high school students(15-18, EFL) and explore different topics. Two of them are interdisciplinary, and different web tools are used to make learning more engaging and motivating for students.

Migration Socratic Seminar

Migration Socratic Seminar’ combines the Socratic Seminar method and Europeana Migration collection to teach students about different aspects of migration. Socratic Seminar is an excellent way to get your students talking, encourage student-led discussions, and student-centered learning. This learning scenario also uses flipped classrooms and tools, such as Talkwall and Wizer. Check the learning scenario on the following link:

Colorful Culture In The 1950s: Blue Skies, Red Panic

This learning scenario is an interdisciplinary scenario combining EFL and History. By working on six Genially digital stations, students learn about different aspects of one historical era, namely the 1950s. They explore texts from Europeana exhibition ‘Blue skies, red panic,’ discuss and think critically about this period of history. After this, they throw a 1950s thematic party- they wear 1950s clothes, play music from that era, and start conversations on different 1950s topics that they have been exploring. In the end, they write a newspaper article about this historical era using the newspaper clipping generator Fodey, and they carry out peer assessment. Check this learning scenario on the following link:

Slika na kojoj se prikazuje snimka zaslona, tekst, novine Opis je automatski generiran

Europeana Living Museum

This interdisciplinary learning scenario combines EFL, Arts, IT, and Entrepreneurship. It is also a whole-school activity that requires collaboration between different classes. Each class does research on the topic of the human body in arts by studying the works of various artists, analyze their work, and recreate paintings/sculptures in the form of a living museum. Ultimately, they create digital brochures using  Canva, in different languages(English, German), a museum webpage using Wix, and a museum shop. Each classroom is responsible for ‘building’ one ‘room’ of the museum. The best room is elected by a school jury. You can further explore this scenario on the link:

If you are interested in integrating digital cultural heritage in your classroom, you should definitely visit the Europeana webpage and the blog .

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Unstunting Growth: (Realistic) Professional Development in TEFL


This three-part series is designed to provide ideas and general guidelines for overseas teachers in our industry who have realized a fundamental truth – counterparts in both public and private institutions in our home countries are often receiving more growth opportunities as educators. Unless you’re working in an institution that is somewhat summit-adjacent on Mount TEFL, you may have become to a certain extent conditioned not to expect a lot of support to better yourself and your professional abilities. It shouldn’t be this way, and it shouldn’t be something any of us become comfortable with. This situation is made worse by short-term contracts, a revolving door of expatriating and repatriating teachers, as well as less than reputable characters on both the employer and employee sides. Long story short, our professional industry can get pretty unprofessional at times. While it would be great to change things on a broader level, this series is designed to provide options for teachers wanting to take charge of their professional development.

 Part 1 – Peer Observations

A strategy I like to use with my students is a ‘one for all’ activity- namely, that if one student knows something, they all should. By starting with individual students creating questions (for example, the meaning of a new vocabulary item), students then peer-question in increasingly larger groups until all students have been asked. This means that the only time I should need to get involved is if not a single student in the class knows the answer, which is rare. As well as being a student-centered approach, I find this also helps to build a strong learning community in the classroom. 

I don’t see why teaching practice should be any different.

While many see professional development as something like a seminar or workshop, often delivered by an external provider and tacked on to the end of the day, or sandwiched between various administrative tasks and teaching periods, it doesn’t have to be this way. A report commissioned by the Gates foundation also shows that, unsurprisingly, that isn’t what teachers want.

Teachers want to feel part of a learning community rather than as autonomous units, with this being the report’s single highest category for both net dissatisfaction, and where teachers feel priority should be given.  It’s remarkable considering fixing this doesn’t take more money, just time and the right prioritization. While there isn’t one magic solution to build up a culture of self-reflection and peer-based learning for teachers in schools or other institutions, there are several things that educators can do to ensure the peer observation process yields maximum benefit for both teachers and students.

It’s actually about you, not them. 

The ‘reflective approach’ to peer observations helps to mitigate the main criticism – that if mishandled, this practice can turn into a series of unhelpful and mutually congratulatory sessions, or even worse, inspire fear and anxiety.  Teachers should approach observing their colleagues’ classes as a way to improve on their practice, rather than improving the teacher they’re observing. It can often involve checking your ego at the door and actively hoping you’ll see something that can inspire you and change one element of your practice.

Be prepared, but be flexible. 

Using guiding questions while observing colleagues can help to add structure and purpose to the process.  Some examples may be, ‘does this teacher arrange student seating different than I would?  If yes, how does this impact the way students interact?’ or ‘what routines are evident in the classroom?’ Some teachers may prefer to have these questions enlightened from areas of their own genuine or perceived weakness.  However, it’s also essential to be prepared to be surprised by something a teacher does, or something that you weren’t necessarily looking for. The most valuable experience I’ve had during peer observation was to see how another teacher had a) anticipated struggles some students were going to have with the material, and b) pre-prepared questioning aimed to guide the students from Point A to Point B in a way that felt natural and fulfilling for them. I’ve used this philosophy to help plan and prepare for lessons many times ever since. 

This is not coaching.

Coaching has its time and place, but the above example took place while I was observing a teacher actually junior to me. It would’ve been comfortable in that situation to feel like I had little to learn in this situation, and instead, look for weaknesses to address with her afterward.  By sticking to the ‘reflective approach,’ we can try to ensure we perceive the lesson and evaluate only through the lens of how it could help us with our practice.

You’ll always learn something.

Even if it seems something you don’t think would work in your classroom, peer observations will always help you to crystalize your philosophy and encourage you to reflect on your teaching style and priorities.  Enforcing your positives may help that teacher to reflect on their practice if and when observing you and seeing healthy teaching practice (and subsequent benefits) displayed. Some teachers choose to be more strategic and follow a teacher that is perceived to be strong in an area they want to improve in (group work, behaviour management, etc.).

It’s OK to stray outside your lane.

Unless specifically looking for content-related support, many teachers at my school find value in observing lessons with teachers teaching different kinds of classes, not only because it allows a certain amount of distance from the aforementioned ‘critical evaluation’ aspect that can creep in, but it also allows them to focus more on the mechanics of the lesson, and possibly apply strategies more heavily used in other subjects into their classroom. 

Discuss, don’t report.

Feedback sessions following the observation are essential but can very easily become an evaluative process.  As discussed, this shouldn’t be the point of peer observation. A way to avoid this is to consider linearly going through what was done at each lesson stage and how activities contributed towards learning outcomes.  ‘Why’ questions can be created by the observer throughout the observation session, which can lead to interesting discussions within the feedback session.

You can be strategic. 

One major criticism about professional development from the Gates’ report was that teachers felt they had very little say in what sort of professional development they received. The benefit of peer-observation sessions is that it can allow (if possible) a teacher to strategically choose a teacher to observe them that they think could help them with whatever aspect they feel they need help with. However, there is a difference between this and coaching.  Reflective peer observation allows the observer to direct both the observation and feedback sessions, while allowing the two colleagues to meet on a more equally respectful ground, thereby understanding that all teachers have areas of natural strengths and weaknesses.

Give it the time it deserves.

Don’t try to fit in a feedback session in a small gap between classes, give it 45 minutes to an hour and be willing to stay that long, knowing that there are benefits of discussing what took place in the lesson at a reasonably detailed level. 

Understand the benefits to students. 

There are additional benefits to students besides the advantage of having teachers who have reflected considerably on the needs of their students and possess a broader range of skills. While there will usually be a range of styles and routines used by teachers within an institution, certain cream will rise to the top if teacher turnover remains low, and there’s a genuine commitment to teachers learning from their colleagues.  That is to say, certain practices that work well in this particular learning context will be adopted by teachers who observe them working well. Routines can be implemented over the space of many years, across multiple classes, and therefore permeate the fabric of the institution.

Ultimately, successful peer observation can help to address some of the critical areas identified by teachers as a concern in regard to professional development.  Firstly, if teachers can successfully self-reflect on areas of weakness, they can base their observation target on what they need to learn. Secondly, there’s an opportunity for teachers to build a strong learning community by encouraging them to discuss and analyze how learners are learning and use each other to continue developing their skills. This idea of creating a learning community will be explored in Part 2 of the series.

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Why Do We Need “Job Shadowing” Experience?


Suzana Poljak and Kristina Matika Ferrara

OŠ Jurja Dobrile, Rovinj (Primary school Juraj Dobrila, Rovinj) – Croatia

After a lot of courses they had taken part in, the teachers in Primary school Juraj Dobrila from Rovinj have decided to take another step in their professional development and applied a new project called “The 5i SCHOOL: Imagination, Idea, Inspiration, Innovation, Implementation” (financed by the Agency for Mobility and EU Programmes). The headmaster and 14 teachers are going to different European schools in order to experience “job shadowing” mobilities. The aim is to get acquainted with different education systems, to follow their colleagues´ work and exchange their experiences with them, to acquire new teaching methods and to make new contacts for the future cooperation. 

The first mobility was done in November 2019 by two foreign language teachers. They spent ten days in “Skola Podstawowa z Oddzialami Integracyjnymi nr 4 im. E.J. Jerzmanowskiego w Wielicze” in Poland. They attended English and German lessons, presented their school, town and country, and communicated with teachers and students.  

As the school in Poland is an integrated one which means there are students with special needs, our teachers had the opportunity to experience “biofeedback” method which provides an individual to learn how to change physiological activity in order to improve some functions. They also saw the way dogs are used to help children with special needs which was very emotional.

Exchanging experiences with Polish colleagues, our teachers have returned home with new knowledge and ideas for their lessons which are not very different or revolutionising, but this way of learning, where teachers who work in different environments learn from each other, gives an exceptional benefit in everyday life. It is interesting to enter the classroom in different surroundings from your own, to listen to something so familiar, but still somehow different. A new idea for a lesson is always welcomed. Then, to list their books, to see their way of evaluating the students, to compare the level of language competencies, to check on the use of modern technology…there are numerous things to list. 

And, it is not important that the view from the window is different, nor that you are miles from home – you feel at home in the classroom.

We are European citizens and, though proud of our own country, we are aware of the importance to think “outside of our borders”. That is the reason we travel and meet other nations and cultures. Learning foreign languages is the means to communicate wherever we are. And it is exactly what we teach our children. We want them to build better future. 

Teachers have a big responsibility and task to show the students the importance of lifelong learning, and personal and professional development. That is the reason “job shadowing” is useful – we exchange our experiences, and learn from each other, so we bring something new and fresh into our classrooms. The students recognize it and they are looking forward to the stories about their peers from other countries. 

So, we want to conclude this article with the statement that Erasmus+ is important and useful.

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Identity Crisis: The Biggest Challenge Facing Adult Language Learners

Identity Crisis

I vividly remember Irma. She was the life of the class. She had the widest smile and the loudest giggle. Always armed with pen and notebook under her arm, she was ready to do battle—and win!—against the formidable English language. 

Or so it seemed. 

Every year, for a week in the summer, my TESOL class opened free ESL classes to the community as part of the last week of the course study. Every year, Irma was back, making her way with light steps to her usual spot; front and center. And every year, without fail and complaint, she was placed in the “beginner” class.

First lessons in a beginner class are mostly predictable: greetings, introductions, basic subject-verb-object/present tense structures, and so forth. The fourth summer in, one of the student teachers had just delivered a Krashen-worthy lesson that checked all the right boxes. Meaningful interaction? Check. I plus 1? Check. Affective filter? Check. Natural order? Check. Before ending the class, the student teacher reviewed the new—(new for everyone but Irma)—phrases they’d both learned and practiced in role-playing that day, “Goodbye. See you tomorrow!” being one of them. On the way out the door, with a notebook full of copious notes she’d copied from the whiteboard and the same determined smile she’d come with, she said in bright, flawless Spanish, “Adios! Hasta mañana!”

Why wasn’t Irma, who at the time had been living in the United States for over twenty years,  progressing past the beginner class? The answer is clear. Because Irma is a textbook example of the identity crisis so many, if not all, adult English Language Learners (ELL) face. It makes no difference in the number of times we as teachers stress the importance of using English outside of the classroom to our students. They are not forgetful, nor are they defiant. Their first language is simply in their DNA. It is part of their identity. It is who they are

For just a moment, let’s remove ourselves from behind the podium and put ourselves in the student’s seat. After all, if you are a language teacher, you have more than likely at one time, or another been a second language learner yourself.

Do you remember the first time you spoke a sentence in the foreign language you were studying? It’s an unsettling feeling, right? There are strange sounds coming out of your mouth, you feel like you are back in eighth-grade coding to a friend in a clandestine pidgin you’ve created or that you’re an onstage actor trying to pull off an accent—without the costume or makeup—to convince a skeptical audience. It doesn’t sound like you. You’re an imposter — a fraud.

We add to the mix that language and culture are deeply intertwined—inseparable. If an adult is resistant to learning a new culture—a new way of life—that will inevitably, unquestionably inhibit their language acquisition. 

So how do we, as second language learners, get past the identity crisis? 

Firstly, know what brought you into the classroom.

Pinpoint that one driving need that pushed you through the doors of the classroom for the first time. Was it the survival in a new country that, for whatever reason, had become your new home? Was it to find a community in said country? Was it serving a business clientele with a different language background or transitioning a current profession overseas? Whatever the answer, it determines both your motivation and the length at which you pursue your goals. Need is the only thing that can drive a student to learn. The greater the need, the greater the chance of productive language acquisition and the greater the possibility of a student pushing past the crippling identity crisis. The teacher can provide the right environment for the student, foster intrinsic motivation, build amongst the class a safe sense of community, and hand them all the right tools to accelerate the learning process. Still, the teacher cannot create the need.

Secondly, profoundly and honestly evaluate your willingness to adapt—to at least some degree—a new culture.

If you harbor unwelcome feelings about the cross-culture, this will significantly hinder your progress in language acquisition. If your goal is fluency, you must be willing to embrace the culture in conjunction with the language. Language and culture, after all, are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. 

But don’t take without giving. Remember, the language classroom should be one of cultural exchanges. You don’t have to leave your driver’s license at the door. Be willing to share who you are and the life experiences that have made you who you are with your teacher and peers. The ESL classroom is a place where students can find acceptance and appreciation for the valuable wealth of cultural exchange they bring to the table, a place where people won’t shake their heads at less-than-stellar English or a Spanish-laced timbre. This sense of community is perhaps one of the greatest rewards of the ESL classroom. Please take full advantage of it.

Ok. You are the teacher again. Here’s the take-away: don’t blame yourself if your adult student doesn’t progress as quickly as you think they should. Of course, we should be open to evaluating things we can change or improve to foster more exceptional learning outcomes. Still, the student’s need is ultimately what drives them forward in their language journey, past the obstacles of an identity crisis, and the psychological barriers that come with it. However, if the need is strong and the classroom community stronger, our students will be able to overcome these obstacles. And without a doubt, Irma will be back in her place next year, front and center.

What are your thoughts? Please drop a line in the comments below!

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How to Prepare for Your English Test

English Test

In my previous article, I discussed a few of the many English tests available online and offline. However, before you register and pay for the examination of your choice, it would be good to get some tips, advice, and even do some practice exercises or mock tests. This article will offer a few suggestions, all of which are free or have a nominal fee, to help you upgrade your English skills and become familiar with the format and content of the more popular tests.

TOEIC/TOEFL: and  offer descriptions of the test formats as well as one or two complete mock tests that you can do online. offers thousands of words for the TOIEC as well as exercises like a quiz and spelling exercises. You can also print a PDF or use an app to enhance your practice, as well. offers a vocabulary word list, and test for the TOEFL is the official TOEFL iBT channel, also known as TOEFL TV is the TOEIC Program sponsored by ETS, but there are channels for each skill not sponsored by the test creators.

IELTS: offers IELTS Tips and Strategies for a high score, along with plenty of free sample questions with answers. offers IELTS tips, model answers, topics, practice lessons, and videos. There is an Advanced IELTS section with paid materials here, as well.

The three organizations that created the IELTS test have their own YouTube channels with slightly different tips, advice, and sample materials. is the official Cambridge channel. is the official IDP channel is the official British Council website. 

OPic:  and offers explanations of what is the OPic, how it is scored, and a version of the background survey used to tailor the test topics and questions to each candidate. offers a variety of sample OPic questions from 2017. walks you through how to register for, prepare for, and take the OPic test. is the closest to an official OPic channel, I could find on YouTube, but – as Samsung uses the OPic extensively in Korea – the channel is Korean only. 

Bonus Sites: offers a good overview of the most popular commercial tests as well as a conversion table for the most popular tests by score, CEFR level, and skill level. offers eight free, timed IELTS practice tests, which will be automatically scored. Feedback is also part of this tool.

Finally, as mentioned previously, there are many competing tests available to assess your English level – usually within a whole or partial four macro skills framework of listening, speaking, reading, and writing – and the same is true of the plethora of practice materials available for these tests on and offline. I have provided a list of the primarily free official and unofficial websites that my students or I have used in the past. There are many quality resources out there for you to use, but I have tried to only list ones that I have used successfully or have had recommended by sources I trust. All the best with your English studies, and may you have a positive and satisfying test-taking experience.

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Critical Thinking – The Key Competence for the Z Generation

Critical Thinking

By Maja-Barbara Kokot

The Z generation, born in the period from 1995 to 2010, succeeding the Millennials, is currently within the educational process or has just started to enter the world of work. The Zers are people characterised by multiple reality and mobility, entrepreneurship, and they are always connected but also flooded by an unprecedented amount of information. They are comfortable with the use of social media and the Internet, but this does not mean they are necessarily digitally literate.

Teachers willingly (or not) have to adjust to these rapidly changing and new challenging generations. We have to keep up with the changes in the teaching process not only in the ICT aspect but also in the way our primary role of teaching has changed. Our role is no longer just being the information source and information presenter, but it has also shifted to that of a consultant, guide, and instructor. What needs to be highlighted in our role is teaching the four C’s skills, namely, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical thinking.

Critical thinking is not just a modern term. I believe it should even be officially set higher among the educational priorities. To develop a critical mind means to guide students to the ideals of being:

– inquisitive, 

– well-educated,   

– open to different interpretations,

– flexible,

– honest in evaluation when facing their own mistakes, 

– wise in judgment,

– tolerant…

In the process of critical thinking, the areas of thinking such as deduction, problem-solving, decision making, and creativity are much more intense than in other forms of thinking. Critical thinking means a person’s more efficient problem solving and decision-making as it is based upon solid evidence in contrast to that of an uncritical thinker who relies on other people’s opinions and does not dwell upon what he has been presented. Consequently, the creativity of a critical thinker is at a very high level.

If foreign language students want to be successful within the multi-cultural environment, they not only have to learn the language itself but also acquire the skills of critical thinking. The latter also encompass tolerance towards other people, especially different people, and greatly influence the ability of empathy.

How to develop and encourage critical thinking within English lessons

Similar to language acquisition, critical thinking is not an innate ability, and therefore, needs to be intentionally developed through the educational process.

The common method of language teaching, the so-called “Three P” approach (Presentation, Practice, Production), does no longer suffice (Vdovina and Cardozo Gaibisso, 2013). Traditionally, the aim of the Presentation stage is to introduce new content, which students practice in the second stage and finally use it in a new context in the last stage. This kind of teacher-student knowledge transfer does not necessarily involve active learning. If we want to achieve our students to develop into critical thinkers, we need to engage them in interactive activities focused on the topics they are interested in.

I encourage critical thinking as I would like my students to be able to organise their thoughts coherently, to express themselves accurately and concisely. I would like to deter them from judging without sufficient evidence and to approach problem-solving from different angles.

This way of teaching demands an active role from students. It does not allow us to accept information passively or even as unquestionable dogmas. By means of interpersonal communication, students learn better, compare their ideas, their attitudes and beliefs, they estimate the relevance of (their) arguments when confronted by others.

There is a variety of activities we can use in classes that develop both language skills and those of critical thinking. Let us closely look at two of them.

Fact or stereotype?

The basic linguistic goal of the activity is topic-related vocabulary acquisition, which serves as a basis for the primary goal of getting to know different nations, cultures and critically telling facts apart from untruths as well as accepting the different others. It is intended for breaking stereotypes we have acquired through the process of primary and secondary socialisation and become aware of the prejudice we might have.

The activity starts by putting on board some typical stereotypes (Ex: racial, national, religious, gender) together with facts;

– “The Italians only eat pasta. “

– “The French are world-famous chefs.”

– “The Slovenes are heavy drinkers.”

– “Homosexual couples can get married in Belgium.”

– “Women are more intelligent than men.”

– “All Muslim women wear burkas.”

Each statement is read out loud, and the students are asked to decide, based on arguments or personal experience, if they are true or false. Some statements can provoke loud reactions from students, or they even emphasise the stereotypes. In this case, I intervene by making them think where their belief comes from and if it is evidence-based. I underline tolerance and speech culture. What I want to achieve is that students do not automatically equal being different from being bad. We need to point out discrimination and develop tolerance to those different from us since it is they who will live in an ever more multi-cultural society. 


The linguistic goal of this activity is to express one’s argument-based opinion. Besides this, the activity includes a common goal of teaching critical thinking – to become aware of the importance of one’s standpoint. The activity itself is a simple role-play, which allows the students to understand how a person’s view influences their behaviour and judgment. They realise how one’s point of view regarding a certain issue decisively impacts the way they think about it, talk about it, and present it to others. We highlight the fact that seeing the issue from other people’s point of view, which is not our own, may present it in a new perspective and help us understand one another better. Therefore, it is essential to listen and try to understand others first and not to dismiss their belief in advance.

Group work represents an ideal way of encouraging students to think in this manner. When they are within the circle of others, they are exposed to the way their peers think. They learn to understand that their manner of thinking is not the only path to problem-solving.

I got the idea for this task from John Hughes (2014). The students are divided into groups of four and given their roles.

Student A:  You are employed by the City Council of Venice, which depends on local taxes and helps to finance the projects for saving Venice.

Student B:  You are a family-run-hotel owner in the centre of Venice. You cannot imagine Venice without tourists.

Student C: You are a local historian trying to preserve ancient buildings and wants to lower the number of tourists.

Student D: You are a local tourist guide organising city tours for more than 1,000 people a day. 

The group is explained that student A is organising a meeting to discuss the problems of the city and to find suitable solutions. At the end of the meeting, students have to guess the roles of the others. Together we summarise their standpoints, establish the differences, and realise why they differ.


If we can teach our students to become critical thinkers, we empower them with a life-long strategy. They will not accept everything unconditionally, but critically evaluate what they have been presented. They will become neutral, truthful, and well-intentioned and will not fall into the traps of media and environmental manipulations.

  1. HUGHES, J. Critical Thinking in the Language Classroom. 2014. [Online].
  2. VDOVINA, E in CARDOZO GAIBISSO, L. Developing Critical Thinking in the English Language Classroom: A Lesson Plan.  Elta Journal. Vol1. No1. 2013. [Online].

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The Teacher Self-Care Manual by Patrice Palmer

The Teacher Self-Care Manual

A Book Review by Hall Houston

The Teacher Self-Care Manual is a brief but substantial introduction to self-care, specifically written for teachers.

Palmer makes it clear in the book’s introduction that teachers often live stressful lives, which can adversely affect the teacher, which can consequently have an impact on the students, administration, and even the educational system.

Palmer shares her personal experience with burnout, where she left the teaching profession after 20 years of teaching ESL

In . . .

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Fun Christmas English Games For Beginner to Intermediate Learners

Most english teachers are familiar with the 12 Days of Christmas song, this lesson plan uses that Christmas song to create a fun, songful english class with students. The students will work together to create their own song, to listen carefully and project their voices as they speak in english.

This game can be modified by the english teacher to fit in with the current lesson plans that are being taught - there are in hundreds of ways in which this drama game can be adjusted for . . .

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Nursery Rhymes Are for Adults Too


by Glenn G. Dahlem, Ph.D.

Sometimes throughout the English speaking world, and even beyond, we frequently read aloud time-honored nursery rhymes and stories to our children. Hearing traditional tales brings great enjoyment to boys and girls all over the world. Of course, almost everyone knows that, but not too many persons have ever considered that those treasured sayings can become teaching aids.

How, someone might ask?  For two important areas of English teaching, that’s how:  (1) helping non-English speakers learn the language, and (2 . . .

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Empathy – We Must Learn to Speak This Language of Connection


By: Ana Sokolovic

The basis of our understanding of each other is in our capacity and willingness to learn and show empathy.

Empathy is the language that allows us to communicate with a depth that makes the connection possible.

The nature of that connection is not in the simple transaction of behaviors, but in the participation that we are able and desire to take in other people’s experiences. Empathy allows us to understand the logic behind someone’s choices no matter how different they are from our own.

What if . . .

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The Great Brexit Balls Up for ELT


Across the UK, English schools are standing empty, and teachers are being made redundant in increasing numbers.  Host families are genuinely worried about keeping up with their mortgages, and many associated industries are also feeling the pinch. Having taken so long to commit to leaving the European Union, Britain has placed itself in a precarious economic position. One of the most striking places where this situation has been felt is in schools where English is taught as a foreign language. Probably the most well established and thriving of British exports, our language, seems to . . .

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Practice Makes Perfect


The lasting legacy of the Audio-Lingual method. 

Two students of mine who were a couple once told me a funny story about them trying to use a phrasebook in a foreign country. When they got out of the taxi in Thailand, the husband takes out his phrasebook and enthusiastically looks up the phrase he needs. When he finally finds it, he looks up to say the phrase to the driver only to find him gone! Funny, but let’s think for a moment what makes this – and similar situations – hilarious . . .

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