Tag Archives: Website Recommendations


I have been away from this blog for a little while now while I get to grips with the additional workload of a Masters degree on top of 25 hours of teaching a week.  Still haven’t come up with a new name for the blog yet but hope that will get rolled out in the coming week as well… not that much of this is concern to any of you fine people reading this.  Just thought I’d get my ‘housekeeping’ out of the way first. 🙂

I’ll be publishing a more substantial post soon on a short exam preparation exercise but in the meantime I just wanted to draw people’s attention to this website.


Quite simply this is Google Translate for phonetics.  Just type (or copy and paste) text into the left box, click transcribe at the top and the English IPA translation will appear on the right-hand side.  Without a doubt, a very useful tool!

If you are following Nik Peachey (and you really should be) then you have probably already seen this website recommended on his blog, Nik’s Quickshout.  I just thought that I would pass along the knowledge to a few more people who might not yet be following him.

P.S.  I was at the English UK conference a couple of weekends ago, in which Nik, Luke Meddings, Sam McCarter and many others were presenting.  The closing plenary was by Professor Mike McCarthy and focused on building on corpus linguistic data to help teachers and assessors understand more about what various English levels actually mean.  His talk was insightful and thought-provoking as he started to map the findings onto the CEFR.  It motivated me to write up this small question to learners on my learners’ blog, “Are you ready for intermediate level English?”  Follow the link and have a read through.  There might be a few useful questions to pose to your own students this week.

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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Conferences, Recommendations


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The New Blog Carnival has been Published!

If you aren’t familiar with a blog carnival then you are in for a treat.  It is a list of blog posts from various people all based around a common topic.

The 25th, yes 25th, ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival has just been published on Berni Wall’s excellent blog.  There is almost too much great content – certainly enough for several days of reading, consideration and commenting (hint, hint – always try to comment on blogs).

The common theme for this edition of the blog carnival was popular posts.  So basically these are the posts from people’s blogs that have already grabbed a lot of attention.

If you are just starting in the blogosphere then the Blog Carnival is the best way to quickly find some great quality bloggers to follow, learn from and share with.  Thanks for hosting, Berni!


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Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Recommendations


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Collaborative writing with Google Docs… AKA, Students producing something worthwhile with their English

Google DocsI feel quite proud that I’ve cracked this one.  For a while I’ve been trying to figure out how to use the fact that my students, all teenagers, seem to spend most of their free time on the computer.  I’m not putting them down for it, I’m the same way (though I can’t wait for an iPhone that will allow to get out of the house with the Internet – is that a sign of addiction?)

Google Docs has provided a fantastic resource that some of my students have embraced with gusto and the best thing about it is that it is getting them reading, thinking, writing and reflecting in English – a bunch of things that teenagers are not known for liking.

So what did I do?

As with all projects, we need a deadline to work to.

First of all, I made all this work voluntary.  I told the students that if they wanted to work on this that was their choice but that it wasn’t compulsory.

Basically I identified a couple of big translation challenges that the students could get their teeth sunk into.  This included a Wikipedia page as well as a tourism brochure for the local cathedral.  In the first case, the Spanish Wikipedia article (I’m down in Argentina) was 10 times the size of the English one.  As for the brochure, there was no English translation for non-Spanish speaking tourists.

The “carrot” in both cases is certificates that will be signed by me, the director of my school and a 3rd person, likely a local official, acknowledging this work as helping to improve the town’s international profile for tourism (an industry they are trying to build here).

I took the files, the text from Wikipedia (both Spanish and English) and the brochure and uploaded them to Google Docs (two separate files for two separate projects).  Then I shared the file with all of my students and let them get on with it.  I set rules for them and a deadline – in this case they have until the end of August to work on this.

If the students don’t have a Google account, that’s not a problem…

So what problems/challenges have I encountered?

Hotmail.  Nearly none of the 60 or so students I’ve invited to work on these

projects have Google accounts; they all have Hotmail account and the reason for that is that they don’t even use email, it is all for MSN Instant Messenger and that’s it.  I suppose that email is irrelevant to them at this stage in their lives.  Either that or I am, in my late 20s, already a relic of a generation that still holds on to email as something useful (but that’s another thought for another post for another blog).

The students can use their existing email accounts to get a free Google account.

I had to spend time with each class going through how they could set up a Google account with their Hotmail accounts.  Not a difficult process but we did hit some bumps on the way – all part of the learning process.

So how has it gone so far?

Strangely enough, and I think there is a lot to be learned from this, the first group that I tried Google Docs with has been, without a doubt, the most enthusiastic.  I think the reason for this is that I took things slowly with them as I was unsure of what I was doing and was learning with them.  With subsequent classes I obviously skipped over steps that I, as a learner, no longer needed but they obviously did – bad Gordon, bad!  I’m not talking about a lack of technical understanding but more a lack of handholding at the beginning and baby steps towards familiarity and confidence in the process.

Bearing in mind that this project was given a week before winter vacations and classes don’t start back until next week I’m quite pleased with the results so far.  Both projects have about 60-70 students invited to work on it; one project has at least 6 contributors at the moment, the other has 16.  For teenagers on vacation doing a voluntary translation project, I count that as a win!

So why is Google Docs so brilliant?

I’m going to just list this part.  For more information, check out the video below from Commoncraft.

  1. It gets rid of multiple copies of the same document.  The document exists online and everyone edits the same document online.
  2. It auto-saves every 20 seconds.
  3. It saves every iteration of the document so if someone deletes the whole thing by mistake (or intentionally) then nothing is lost.
  4. It shows who has edited what.

So why is Google Docs so brilliant pedagogically?

I’m going to list this part as well as give you a small look at one of the examples that my students worked on last month.

  1. It encourages peer-assessment.  The students have to read through what their classmates have written and consider whether it is good, needs to be corrected or can be improved.
  2. It encourages peer-reading and peer-correction.  It is the students’ job to not only contribute their own material but fix or improve their peers’ contributions.  This has the added benefit of improving confidence among the students who might not feel comfortable physically crossing out peers’ work.
  3. It encourages reflection.  If a student sees their work has been changed by another student, then it provokes the first student to ask themselves, “Is that a valid correction?  Should I change it back?  Is there an even better way I can write it?”
  4. It encourages learner autonomy and ownership.  While a collaborative effort, this method can produce pages and pages of learner-generated content.  It blows me away, it really does.
  5. It encourages repetition.  Since students should be adding and correcting a document throughout the whole week, other students must keep going back to check on their own work and to see where they can improve other peers’ work.
  6. It allows the teacher to be less intrusive in observing the collaborative writing and re-drafting process, while at the same time being able to clearly see who is working in what area and what problems they might be having.
  7. If a mistake is missed by a whole class after they’ve had a week to review it, it becomes glaringly obvious to the teacher that there is a combined gap in the group knowledge that should be worked on in class.

Here’s a screencap video using Jing which I hope will demonstrate a lot of what I’m talking about.  Many apologies about the feedback with the audio – hope it doesn’t put you off!

Setting up and sharing a Google Doc

So how will I improve this exercise in the future?

I’ll let you know once these projects are finished. 😉


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Websites to Get Your Students onto Immediately!

Recently I did a guest post on Alan Tait’s excellent blog about various favourite websites of mine.  This has started something much bigger – I’m still going through my unsorted bookmarks!*  As I go through and sort out my many bookmarks, I try to post the really good stuff on this blog so keep coming back for more great links!

Anyway this all got me thinking about websites for students.  We talk about learner autonomy all the time and one area where students can quickly enjoy autonomy is the Internet.  So here are a few suggestions about websites to introduce to your students as quickly as possible.  Websites that will challenge, engage and entertain them.

One important thing – all of these websites have one thing in common.  What they offer is bitesize and doesn’t take any more than 10 minutes.  I’ve made 6 suggestions here so I’d suggest that introducing these would make for a very rewarding first hour of class with a new group of students – their homework: go and do two of them at home and report back tomorrow.

Lyrics Trainings

I’ve posted about this already on Alan’s blog and here on my own.  Recently, one of students has started contributing to the site!  Enough said I think.

As Catherine Walker has mentioned in a couple of her seminars (British Council, London, 2010; IATEFL, Brighton, 2011), coming up with explanations of grammar rules and examples for the various uses of specific words on the spot is very difficult, nigh on impossible for even an experienced teacher.  I’m a great proponent of inductive grammar learning and to this end I’m trying to introduce the British National Corpus to as many of my students as possible.

As with all things, this won’t be embraced by all students but a simple little exercise like “Look up “if” and “whether” and let’s discuss the patterns of use in the next class”, will give you a little more time to check up on your grammar and, more importantly, may also empower one or two students to figure it out for themselves and feel the satisfaction of teaching their peers.  Often the students will also have other ways of explaining it that might be more effective than the teacher’s.  Many hands make light work!

Phrase Mix

Again, this is another site I mentioned on Alan’s blog.  Get the students on to this site as quickly as possible and this may give you an interesting discussion topic as a warmer for each and every class you have with them.

6 Minute English

A BBC gem with a glossary of specific words and an active listening question.  Simplicity and autonomy wrapped up in one little bundle.  Brilliant.

Quizcon (100 Most Common English Words)

This doesn’t have much communicative value (unless you use it in class) but at the very least it can challenge your learners and get them to focus on words they should be seeing and using in their every-day English.

Free Rice

It’s strangely addictive and while the learning might be very passive, it is certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  I remember showing this at the beginning of a class once; I caught one of the students playing it on his iPhone a couple of times over the next hour!  There are much worse distractions if you ask me.

*Small Request

Can anybody help?  As far as I know, there isn’t yet an unobtrusive program or application for me to store and neatly arrange everything I’ve bookmarked over the months and years.  I’m sorry but I just don’t like the look/interface of I’m using Xmarks Synchronizer to keep all my bookmarks together over my various browsers but if anyone knows of a better way to do this, please comment below!

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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Recommendations


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2 Website Recommendations for Listening Skills

Spotlight Radio

I’m using a website called Spotlight Radio with a couple of my classes (about A2/B1 level) for their listening practice. These are radio programmes which are about 15 minutes long and each one is a completely different topic. The speaking is slow and very clear (so not very authentic) though I’m using this site at the moment because helps to build the confidence of the students. It also works well to focus on their active listening skills. There is the transcript available as well.

How do I use Spotlight Radio in class?

I have to give credit to my primary school teachers for this one.  This is basically an exercise we did once a fortnight when I was in my final year of primary school.

I let the students select whatever topic they want from the pretty large archive. We play it (maybe 5 minutes at a time) and we all take notes. I then stop the programme and ask a series of questions based on my notes. Students write down their answers from their notes, compare and share answers, we discuss the answers as a class and then we listen to the same section again (just like the Cambridge exams if that is what you are teaching) to check if the answer was correct or to try to answer missed questions.

If you like Spotlight Radio then you can always “like” it on their Facebook page.

Lyrics Training

A second recommendation is Lyrics Training. A brilliant website that produces interactive gap fills from music videos on youTube. I’ve shown this to about four or five of my classes and they LOVE it. At least a couple of students from every class have come back to me the next class and told me they tried it over the weekend! There isn’t a better vote of approval in my book! 🙂

If you like Lyrics Training then you can always “like” it on their Facebook page.

Thank you to Russell Stannard for this recommendation.  Check out his website as well, it’s brilliant!

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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Recommendations


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