Teaching Mixed Ability Classes


6 Ideas – 6 Tasks

Eternal Punishment:  This is not generally known, but in Dante’s ‘Inferno’ there is a special place for teachers who have led a sinful life; it is a classroom where they are condemned to teach Mixed Ability Classes (MAC) for all eternity. As this is somewhere between the 8th and 9th level, that gives one some idea of how most colleagues feel about having to teach such groups… 🙂

The problem – and 6 solutions: A lot of fine distinctions are made about what we mean by ‘Mixed Ability’ but for most teachers what matters is the difference in level. This can be a huge headache for teachers; if the material or task chosen is too hard, weak students may not be able to follow; if it is too easy, the strong students will finish early and have nothing to do. To deal with this problem I would like to look at 6 simple ideas and 6 practical activities which I have found immensely helpful with my students.

[NB: This article is based on a presentation I gave some time ago. To see/download the slides, just click here]

We can give students different tasks: There is no reason why all students should have to do the same thing. One solution would be to use the same reading or listening text for instance, but give the stronger students a more challenging task.

Task 1 – Same text, different task: A quick look through a text or the transcript of a dialogue / listening task should give us an idea of what we can ask our students to do. The idea is simple: we can ask the weak students to do something simple, and the strong ones to do that plus something else. For instance (depending on the text) we could perhaps ask weak students to write down the names of the people talking and the strong ones to write down their names and nationalities. In the case of this listening activity (click here to listen to the track), we could ask the weak students to write down the numbers they hear and the strong ones to write down the numbers and what they refer to.

Different Tasks

We can give students self-adjusting activities: Another idea would be to give students activities which are ‘self-adjusting’. This means that they can be performed by students at different levels of linguistic competence; the main task can be performed by everyone – it is the level of sophistication of the language that changes.

Task 2 – A story and 3 lies: Students work in pairs. Student 1 thinks of a true story about him/herself. Then s/he tells this story to Student 2, but they have to include 3 lies in their narrative. Student 2 has to listen carefully and try to identify the lies. Then they swap roles (NB: To ensure there is no cheating, before the first student starts talking, s/he makes a note of the 3 lies on a piece of paper so s/he can show them to his/her partner afterwards). Here is a short demo (click here to listen to the story). Can you spot the 3 lies? *

Self Adjusting

We can use collaborative tasks: In this case a strong and a weak student have to perform a task together. Each of them has some kind of information to contribute, but naturally, for the stronger student to convey his/her information, they require higher linguistic skills.

Task 3 – Spot the differences: In this task, the weak student is given a passage describing a picture in some detail; the stronger student is given the picture itself (see the slides below). There are some differences between the description and the actual picture. The two students have to memorise their information (the passage and the picture respectively) and then they take it in turns to share it with their partner as best they can. They have to do so without looking at their picture / text. Then they work together to discover all the differences (again without looking at the passage or the picture).

Collaborative 1

Collaborative 2

We can give students different roles: Here once again we pair up a strong student with a weak student, but their roles are different. In the task below, the weaker student’s role is linguistically easier but it is actually more important than that of his/her partner.

Task 4 – Running dictation: The teacher puts up a short text on the board with blue-tac (it’s best to put up many copies, so that students do not jostle each other). On the teacher’s signal, the weaker student in each pair runs up to the board and tries to memorise as much of the text as s/he can; then s/he runs back and tell his/her partner what to write; then s/he runs back to the board for more, etc. The first pair to finish are the winners (but the teacher needs to check that they’ve got the spelling right!).

Different Roles

We can set a low threshold level: In this case we give the whole class the same, open-ended task. By setting a deliberately low level we can ensure that weaker students can feel they have done well, while stronger students can go on and do better.

Task 5 – ‘At least….’:  The key phrase here is ‘at least’. For instance, if it is a vocabulary revision activity, you can tell students ‘Write down at least 5 means of transport’. If it is a reading text, the task can be something like ‘Find at least 4 reasons why the writer thinks zoos are a bad idea’. In a cloze passage it can be ‘You have to fill in at least 8 out of the 20 gaps’ or (as is the case in this revision task) ‘Answer at least 20 questions’. (Click here to see a sample vocabulary quiz).

Low Threshold

Pitching the task at different levels: In this last activity (one of my favourites) again we have a stronger student paired up with a weaker one. Their task is the same, but the level of difficulty is higher for the stronger student.

Task 6 – Hide the word: Each student is given a list of words, but those of the strong students are more difficult.  Students speak in turns.  Student A writes one of his/her words on a slip of paper.  Then s/he has to speak for 30 seconds and s/he has to use this word at least once. (In fact s/he has to try to ‘conceal’ the word s/he has chosen in what s/he says).  The other student makes a note of all the ‘suspicious-sounding’ words their partner uses and then tries to guess the ‘hidden word’. S/he has 3 guesses.  If s/he guesses right at the first go, s/he scores 3 point – or two or one if they are unsuccessful initially. Here is a short demo. Which is the word I have tried to hide? **

Different level

The classroom as a lift: Undoubtedly mixed ability classes are a challenge but of course this is rarely the teacher’s fault – we just need to do our job as best we can. I remember reading a metaphor somewhere about seeing the classroom as a lift; everybody gets in but it does not matter if people get off on different floors; what does matter is that the lift goes up! 🙂

The Lift

[ * The 3 lies: Andrew was not dyslexic / Andrew liked a sitcom (‘Friends’) not documentaries / Andrew was moved to a higher stream; his marks were not changed. ]

[ ** The word I tried to hide was ‘Billboards’. ]

‘How to Study: 6 Key Principles’

Research Findings on Studying Effectively

Six Key Principles: As teachers, our job is to help students study English more effectively. And generally, we are good at it. We know which language forms they should study first, which vocabulary items they should focus on, etc. But what about studying in general? Do we know how we learn? How we retain information? How we remember, how we forget and how we should study in order to maximize the former and minimize the latter?


What follows is a story. Peter is an imaginary student who has some things to study and goes about it systematically. What do you think about his choices? Would you have studied this material in the same way? There are at least 6 interesting points in the narrative. See whether you can spot them. It helps if you make brief notes on a piece of paper. Then you can read the comments under the story.

[NB 1 – Two Key Books: The 6 Principles described here are all based on research I read about in two fantastic books: ‘Make it Stick’ (by Brown, Roediger & McDaniel) and ‘Why don’t Students Like School’ (by D. Willingham). These are the best two books I have read in the last decade. I believe they are a must for every educator].

[NB 2 – In class: If you would like to use this text as an activity in class, to help raise your students’ awareness of these principles, click here to download a Word document. The task is the same.]

Peter’s Story: Peter sat down to plan his studying schedule for the day. There were two main things: Grammar and Vocabulary. He thought he would spend 2 hours on each of these. He would start with vocabulary; he would study from 10:00 to 12:00, then take a 30-min break and then he would study Grammar from 12:30 to 14:30. He always liked to finish with something before starting something else.

Planning 2

The vocabulary he had to study was adjectives related to personality. Peter’s teacher always told him and his classmates that words are best learned in context. He had given them a cloze passage (a text with gaps) along with the Key (click here to see the passage). In this way they could see how the words were actually used. Before looking at the Key (the full passage) Peter thought he would give the gapped text a try – just for fun. He knew the words were difficult, but still he thought it would be fun.

The text was very interesting. As he had predicted the vocabulary was quite demanding. He used the Key and copied out the missing words onto a separate sheet of paper. Next to each of them he wrote a brief explanation and an approximate translation in the L1. He also went back to the text and highlighted a number of unknown words which had not been deleted in the cloze passage. He looked them up in the dictionary. He did not have to study these, but he felt they would be useful nevertheless.

After he had been studying for an hour or so, he felt tired. He thought he would change his plan a little. He would rest for 15 min, then he would go off to do some shopping for his mother and afterwards he would come back and study vocabulary for another hour. Then he could have lunch, rest a little and perhaps play a little on the computer. Later he could study Grammar for an hour, then go to the gym, come back and finish his studying for the day.

When he started studying again, he thought he would do some revision. He went back to his notes and read the words and the short explanations / translations carefully. Then he went back to the passage. He read through the text and whenever he got to a gap, he looked through his notes to see which word would fit best. He was pleased to discover he did quite well. There were only a few words he did not get right.

Then he thought he would take things a little further. He wanted to see whether he could use some of the new vocabulary; the fact that the lexical items all had to do with the same topic did help a lot. He imagined he was talking to a friend, trying to describe to her what the character in the passage was like. He did not look at the passage, but he tried to use some of the adjectives in it; he also tried to explain what he meant by paraphrasing and using examples. He recorded himself so he could see how well he had done.

Boy Studying

Afterwards, he thought he would organise the new vocabulary in his mind somehow. He looked at his notes and tried to group these words around certain themes, such as ‘Work’ – ‘Ambition’ – ‘Money’ etc. He felt this was helpful – it was like sorting out the new knowledge into separate ‘folders’ in his mind. In this way he believed it would be easier to remember the words later and they would be easier to retrieve too if he had to talk / write about this topic.

When he had finished studying for the day, he thought back to what he had done. He found it useful to try to glean lessons from each day’s work and try to draw up guidelines for himself – for future use. Some things had worked well while others had not. Perhaps he should allocate his time differently. He felt looking up words took up too much time, while organising the words in groups was faster and more fun. He thought aloud and recorded himself. In this way he could return to the recording later and listen to these instructions to himself.

Comments: Peter has made a number of interesting decisions here – not all of which are sound. The following comments are all based on research:

‘…He thought he would spend 2 hours on each…’ [Principle 1 – Interleaving]: Surprisingly, this is a mistake. Received wisdom is ‘Study the same thing over and over again, till you know it perfectly’. This is apparently wrong. After initially focusing on something so you can understand it properly, it pays to mix up your practice sessions. This ‘feels’ harder, but it pays great dividends in the long run. For instance, Peter here has to study Grammar and Vocabulary; instead of spending 2 hours on each, it would be a lot better if he spent, say,  30 min on Grammar and 30 on Vocabulary, then have a break and then repeat this four times. Every time Peter returns to Grammar (or Voc) studying will feel harder because things will not be ‘fresh’ on his mind; however retention will be better in the long run (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel 2014 – ch. 3).

‘…He thought he would give the gapped-text a try…’ [Principle 2 – Generation]: An excellent idea. Before getting input on how to solve a problem or how to do something it pays to try doing it first. This prepares the mind to receive new knowledge. For instance, before teaching your students how to write an e-mail, you may want to get them to write one. When they then see how an e-mail should be written, the differences will be much more noticeable to them. Similarly, before showing them how best to deliver a presentation, it makes sense to get them to try giving one without any instructions. Their uncertainty and possible frustration means they will pay closer attention when you actually show them how it is properly done. In this case, every time Peter comes across a gap he had been unable to fill, his mind will go ‘A-ha! So that’s the word!’ (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel 2014 – p. 4).

Planning 1

‘…He thought he would change his plan a little…’ [Principle 3 – Spacing]: This second plan is a lot better. Peter’s initial schedule was based on the idea of ‘massed practice’. Massed practice (cramming, studying for hours etc.) does not work. We think we are doing well, because it is all fresh in our mind, but this is just an illusion. Instead, it is much better to space out our practice (perhaps a few min at a time). This ‘feels’ harder, but it aids long-term retention and makes retrieval easier. Constantly going over the same material without allowing time for some ‘forgetting’ to set in, gives one an illusion of mastery, which is of course dispelled if we have to retrieve the same material after some time has elapsed. This paradoxical idea can be summed up in 3 words ‘Forget (in order) to Remember’! Spaced out practice feels frustrating, but it pays off long-term (Willingham 2009 – p. 119).

 ‘…He looked through his notes to see which word…’ [Principle 4 – Retrieval]: This is a mistake though. Traditional revision (i.e. re-studying, re-reading) does not work. What does work is forcing ourselves to retrieve information we have acquired. For instance, re-reading our vocabulary notes as Peter does here, is not of much help; trying to complete a gap-filled passage from memory on the other hand, is. The principle is the same whether we are trying to learn the causes of WW I, the principles behind rook endings in chess or key points we need to remember in lesson planning. Apparently, low-stakes testing is the best friend of learning! Quizzes, tests and attempts to actively recall information not only help reveal gaps in our knowledge, but they also help consolidate what we already know. It is the extra effort that does it; if it is not effortful, chances are it is superficial (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel 2014 – ch. 2).

 ‘…He imagined he was talking to a friend…’ [Principle 5 – Elaboration]: A brilliant idea! Peter uses a strategy called ‘Elaboration’. Elaboration involves  i) trying to relate new info to what you already know (e.g. ‘gregarious’ is similar to ‘sociable’ ) ii) explaining it to someone in your own words (e.g. trying to define a new word – ‘gregarious is someone who likes being with other people’)  iii) trying to relate new info to life outside class (e.g. ‘my friend John is gregarious’). Elaboration allows us to internalise the new material by incorporating it into our existing schemata through the creation of meaningful connections which make sense to us (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel 2014 – p. 207). Notice that Peter does not try to recreate the text; rather, he is trying to maximize the connections of the new material with his existing vocabulary. The more connections he can make, the more pathways will be created through which he will be able to retrieve the new items in the future.

‘…He thought aloud and recorded himself…’ [Principle 6 – Reflection]: Another excellent idea – though wrongly executed. Good students do what they have to do; better students go a step further: they think about what they have learned and how. We can encourage this by getting our students to ask themselves Qs like the following: ‘What did I learn today?’ / ‘What do I still need to learn?’ / ‘What went well?’ / ‘Which strategies do I like?’ / ‘What could I do differently next time?’ Reflection encourages active learning. It helps students become independent learners and it allows them to explore their preferences and personalize their learning routines by figuring out what learning methods they feel most comfortable with (Willingham 2009 – ch. 9). But the way Peter does it is sub-optimal; writing is much better; i) it is concrete – it forces us to put our meaning into words and  ii) it is easier to go through our notes afterwards (writing is ‘random access’).

6 Principles – 6 Takeaways

Here is a brief summary of the 6 principles mentioned above:

Interleaving: Mix up your practice. Alternate between different subjects.

Generation: Before you get the input, try solving the problem (doing the task) first.

Spacing: Avoid massed practice; allow long(ish) intervals between study periods.

Retrieval: Trying to retrieve information unaided is better than re-reading / studying notes.

Elaboration: Try to use new info and integrate it into what you already know.

Reflection: Think back to what you did, assess it and plan ahead.


Last words – What about us?: OK – you think all this has to do with learners, don’t you? This is exactly what I thought too. And then I got to page 240 in the BRM book. In it, the writers describe what happens during a typical weekend symposium for doctors: ‘…out of respect for participants’ busy schedules [this kind of training is usually] set at a hotel or resort, and structured around meals and PowerPoint lectures…’

Does this ring any bells? No? What about the last Professional Development event you attended? Any resemblance is ‘purely coincidental’ – and we are supposed to be teachers; we are supposed to be showing our learners how to learn. Yet as the writers point out, ‘the strategies of retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving are nowhere to be seen’! Organisers keep on doing the same thing year after year because that is how things were always done. But now we know better.




Brown, P., Roediger, H., McDaniel, M. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge Massachusetts. Belknap Harvard.

Willingham, D. (2009) Why Don’t Students Like School?.  San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.


Preparation Time – Zero!



A lesson plan for all levels – in 10 ½ simple steps

Preparation: Some fascinating recent studies have shown that on average teachers spend about 30 min preparing for each of their classes. Meanwhile other studies (conducted on planet Earth this time)  show that such a time allocation may actually be unrealistic. This post is for teachers who live on planet Earth and who know that there are times when one may have to enter a classroom having only had a couple of minutes to prepare (not that such a thing has ever happened to me… 🙂 ). It is in situations like these that one needs a simple, straightforward and easy to implement ‘reusable lesson plan’.

[NB: This lesson plan is based on a presentation I gave some time ago. The slides will help you follow the various steps. To download the slides, click here].

What you will need: To run this lesson properly you need to have a computer, a data projector, speakers and an ordinary internet connection. The students do not need to have any electronic devices. You will need to access a site (Breaking News English – BNE) and a tool (Quizlet). Both of them are extremely easy to use. If I can use them, so can my grandmother.

Tool and Site

What is Breaking News English? BNE is a site started by Sean Branville and visited by thousands of teachers every day. Sean takes topical news stories, rewrites them and posts the text along with a large number of activities that a teacher can use immediately. All the tasks are on the same page – along with the key. [NB: The stories come in different levels, carefully graded for language and task difficulty, so this sequence can be used with students at almost any level].

What is Quizlet? Quizlet is a fantastic tool, based on the tried and tested ‘card system’ students used in the past in order to learn vocabulary. The idea is that you prepare a set of (digital) cards that you can then use to revise wherever you are, whenever you want. But the software allows you to do a lot more than the simple recall activity people can do with the traditional version. [NB: Importantly, you can also share your sets, which means that you can send your students the sets you would like them to study and they can share sets with each other].

Step 1: Pre-listening: [To follow the various steps on the BNE site, just click here]. The idea here is to activate your students’ mental schemata. So you choose a few key words from the text and you get students to predict what the text might be about. You then scroll down where it says ‘Before Reading / Listening’ and get them to look at the T/F Qs. It is important that you get students to predict the answers first (which incidentally is a useful exam skill). Generally speaking, having some idea of what is to follow helps students perform better and boosts their confidence.


Step 2: BNE – Listening: BNE allows you to listen to a recording of the text. Before that though, you need to give your students a focus task. In this case it is the T/F Qs they have just looked at. Then you play the recording and students can check their predictions. [NB: BNE also has a M/C activity for the listening part – this task may offer extra face validity for some exam classes].


Step 3: BNE – Reading + Noticing: To get students to focus on the text in greater detail, you can then get them to look at the 10 Comprehension Qs (further down). They should be able to answer some of them. Then you can show the class the text for a short time (say 1 min since they have already listened to it) and ask them to answer the remaining Qs as well. But for students to really benefit from the language of the text, they have to focus on it and start ‘noticing’ things (see Lewis 1997). Simply making mental notes is not much good however; they need to put pen to paper. At this point it is crucial to stress two things: i) words on their own are of little use; we need to focus on phrases/collocations instead;  ii) instead of looking at unknown words/phrases, it makes more sense to focus on the ones we can understand but would be unable to use.


Step 4: Quizlet – Flashcards: Once we have identified what language we would like to keep, we switch to Quizlet and we prepare a set of cards (just click here). Instead of doing it in the traditional way however (word /translation, e.g. ‘cast’/‘ρίχνω’) I have found it is far better to record collocations (e.g. ‘cast’/‘anchor’ or ‘insist on’/‘participating’). In most cases this combination of words is self-explanatory. Then the students work with the cards in the traditional way. They can look at one side and try to recall what is on the other. There is a shuffling option, which means that you do not always look at the cards in the same sequence. You can also mark the cards that you find difficult. The software then brings them up again and again so that you get to study them more.


Step 5: BNE – Gap-filling 1: At this stage we can go back to BNE and do the ‘Gap-Fill’ activity. However, we can make the task a lot more productive by covering the words on the right. Recognising the missing item is one thing – retrieving it is another. As Brown, Roediger & McDaniel point out (2014 – ch. 2) the need for retrieval makes the task more effortful and far more useful for learning purposes. The more effortful the exercise is, the more likely the words are to be retained in long-term memory. [NB: This skipping back and forth between Quizlet and BNE is intentional; switching helps maintain the students’ attention].

Gap 1

Step 6: Quizlet – Scatter: That done, we can switch back to Quizlet. The ‘Scatter’ game is essentially a matching task. The software presents you with your card entries in random order. You have to match the word on the one side of your cards with that on the other to make the collocation disappear, but there are two little elements that make the task interesting: i) you have to drag the words (as opposed to just linking them) and  ii) there is the time element! You can do it in class as a contest between 2 groups – the one with the lowest time wins. [NB: It is important to ask students to read the collocations aloud while they match them, as this helps with retention].


Step 7: BNE – Gap-filling 2: Returning to BNE, students can be asked to do the ‘Listen and fill in the gaps’ task. It is best not to use the listening track. You simply ask students to fill in the gaps from memory – perhaps working in pairs. Crucially, you tell them that they need not worry about recalling the original text; the idea is simply to complete the text so that it makes sense. In this case for instance, we can fill the second gap by writing ‘than those’ or ‘than people who’ or ‘compared to those who’ etc. This is important as it helps students move away from the language of the text and focus on meaning.

Gap 2

Step 8: Quizlet – Test: Going back to Quizlet, if we click on the ‘Test’ button, the software will automatically prepare a test based on our card set (isn’t technology amazing? 🙂 )  The activities are simple and at the end of the test the students get instant feedback and a grade so they can track their progress. The test can be done in seconds. [NB: The software generates a new test each time, so it makes sense to compare your performance with earlier tries if you want to return to the set after a few days/weeks].


Step 8.5: BNE – Crossword: OK – this is the ‘half- step’. 🙂 Back to BNE. If at this stage students are tired, you can give them a welcome break by clicking on the ‘Crossword’ option. Amazingly, when you do so, the software automatically prepares a crossword puzzle based on words from the text. In my experience students love crosswords and of course the activity does help consolidate the new knowledge and provides new links between the words and the definitions.


Step 9: BNE – Monologue: This is the most demanding (and the most useful) part of the lesson. In pairs, students take it in turns to present the ideas in the text orally to their partner using a basic framework to aid their memory (see the slide below). The point is not for them to reproduce the text verbatim, but rather to convey the general meaning. It is important that we encourage them to expand, amplify and give their own examples. Brown, Roediger & McDaniel (2014 – p. 207) call this strategy ‘Elaboration’; it helps integrate new material into what students already know.


Step 10: Quizlet – Game (Gravity): This can be your students’ reward for all their hard work. They will love this one! J It is a typical arcade game. The idea is that you have to protect the planet from incoming asteroids (without calling on Bruce Willis). Each of the rocks has a word on it and you have to quickly type the other part of the phrase / collocation in order to neutralize the asteroid. You can do it as a whole-class activity on the screen and have the whole class screaming out the phrases – it is huge fun!


Advantages: There are a number of reasons why this ‘reusable lesson’ is one of my favourites:  i) time: it requires minimal preparation (the Quizlet set can even be prepared in class!);  ii) progression: the tasks follow a natural sequence (e.g. from receptive to productive skills) iii) speed: it is fast – many of the steps require very little time;  iv) variety: the range of tasks means the students get bored;  v) challenge: many of the tasks are designed so that students want to do them again and again;  vi) levels: this lesson can be used with students of all levels (BNE offers 7); finally (and most importantly) vii) learner independence: learners can use BNE and Quizlet on their own – they are very effective learning strategies.

Last words – Technology is our friend: It is amazing how much effort the judicious use of some simple technological tools can save the usually overburdened teacher – and how much it can help energise the often demotivated learners. But then technology has always been our friend. Ever since the good old days of the Audiolingual method (Ah, those were the days… 🙂 ). The idea was simplicity itself: you insert the tape into the cassette player. You press the play button. You listen. You repeat. You’ve learned the language (as long as you ignore what the second woman is saying…). Just watch this clip. Enjoy. 🙂



Brown, P., Roediger, H., McDaniel, M. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge Massachusetts. Belknap Harvard.

Lewis, M. (1997) Implementing the Lexical Approach. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Link: Slideshare: ‘Prep Time – Zero’: http://www.slideshare.net/nickmi1234/preparation-time-zero

Link: Quizlet: Flashcard set: ‘Coffee Benefits’: https://quizlet.com/_1ri2ga

Link: BNE: ‘Coffee’ http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/1511/151119-coffee.html


14 Tips on Classroom Management and Motivation [1]


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An annotated lesson: This made-up story is meant to be an exercise. A chance for you to test yourself. Just read through it and try to see whether you agree with the teacher’s decisions / practices. There are at least 14 interesting points in this short narrative. Can you spot them? If you agree with what John did, can you say why? If you think he has made a mistake, why do you think so? What should he have done instead? [NB: This is not meant to be a model lesson nor is John a model teacher; rather it is a collection of interesting moments from a lesson which help illustrate some good and some not so good practices relating to Classroom Management and Student Motivation].


John’s story: John walked confidently into the classroom. He was feeling great. He was really looking forward to this lesson. As soon as he went in he noticed that Peter was absent. ‘Where is Peter?’ he asked his friend Mark. ‘Oh, he’s just sent me a message’ said Mark ‘He is on his way’. ‘I really like Peter’ said John ‘He is always so cheerful – he brightens up the classroom.’

Then John turned to the class. ‘Hello everybody’, he said. ‘OK – as you have seen, I have written on the board what we are going to do today. Now – have you all got your H/W? Great. I’m so glad you are not like last year’s C2 group… I’m telling you – it was a good day when half of them did anything….’

‘OK – as I recall, you had to write an ad for an imaginary product. Hope you came up with some funny ideas… Right – what are you doing there mate? (John turned to Paul who was busily messaging someone – Paul put it away) OK you collect your friends’ H/W and put everything on my desk – now!’ John said smilingly. Paul stood to attention and saluted ‘Yes, sir!’ he said with a grin and promptly did so.

‘Right’ said John ‘we are going to work on a mini presentation, because it’s one of the best ways to develop your speaking skills. OK – I want you to work in groups. Group A – Group B – Group C’. (John showed the students which group each of them belonged to). ‘Group A: Imagine someone asks you for advice on how they can practice their Listening skills on their own. Make a note of as many strategies as you can; Group B: do the same thing for Reading skills; Group C: do the same thing for Speaking skills. Off you go’.

SecretsJohn went around monitoring the groups as they worked, helping with language as necessary. At some point he noticed that Mary in Group B was chatting to her friend Kate in the L1, so he moved closer to their table. On the way he noticed that Mark in Group A was trying to get the others to divide up the work. ‘Well done Mark’ he commented. ‘You have great organizational skills’. Mark smiled.

The people in Group C seemed to have finished their list and they were already rehearsing. ‘Wow!’ John said looking at their list ‘who came up with all these points?’ ‘Jane’ said her friend Helen. ‘Jane, you are one of the brightest students I’ve ever had! Well done!’ Jane beamed.

‘OK’ he said. ‘ This is the idea. We’ll take turns. One member from each group will stand up and give some tips to the rest of the class. You have to give as many tips as you can and explain why these ideas are good. Time limit: 2 min. Members of the other groups – you have to make notes of the main points’. John checked his instructions and then gave them a demonstration.

‘OK’ John said ‘Who would like to start? What about you Paul?’ John knew Paul was a little shy. He patted him on the shoulder ‘I know you can do it’ he said.

When they had finished, John told the class: ‘OK – so today we have looked at different strategies which people can use to improve their English. What would you like to do as H/W?’ The class came up with lots of ideas – they eventually settled on a mini presentation with ideas for Writing Skills development. ‘OK’ he said. ‘Make a note of this. Now – how long is the presentation going to be? By when will you have finished it? Do you think you should write it down or work from notes? What if there are words  / phrases you don’t know? Please make notes now’.

‘OK – John said. That’s it for today. Don’t forget you are sitting a mock test on Friday. But I’m sure you are all going to do very well. Well, at least I hope you are going to do better than Greg – a guy from last year’s group. “I don’t think I deserved zero on this test!” He once told me; “I agree” I said “but that’s the lowest mark I could give you!” ’ The students laughed and left – they knew John had made this up; he always liked to end the lesson with a little joke….

Comments: There are a number of interesting points in this story. Some are obvious, some are less so and some are counterintuitive. All of them are research-based:

‘…he brightens up the classroom.’…: Positive gossiping is a great idea for getting people to like you. Peter is certainly going to hear about this and research shows that we feel closer to people who like us. Not only that, but through ‘spontaneous trait transference’ people tend to associate with us the positive qualities we attribute to others! (Wiseman 2010 – p. 57).

‘…I have written on the board.’…: According to Willingham (2009 – p. 65) most items in Teacher Evaluation Forms are redundant. There are essentially two dimensions: i) how likeable the teacher is and  ii) how organized the lesson is. By putting up the main ideas on the board, John has shown students that he knows what he is doing and has given them a sense of purpose.

‘…it was a good day … did anything’…: This is a blunder though. Numerous studies have shown that our actions are influenced more by what others (esp our peers) do and much less by what we should do. By saying such a thing, essentially John is telling the class that it is standard practice not to do H/W. He has just shot himself in the foot! (Levitt & Dubner 2014 – p. 116).

‘…what are you doing there mate?’…: Ooops another mistake; one of omission this time. John is trying to establish camaraderie by being informal (a good idea) but he fails to use the student’s name. Research shows that using people’s first names is Messaging 2astonishingly effective in attracting their attention and inducing compliance (Martin, Goldstein & Cialdini 2014 – pp. 34-35).

‘…put everything on my desk’…: A missed opportunity. The task sounds great – surely students have come up with some creative ideas. Why not put them up on the wall for all to see? Ariely and others have discovered that when we work on something and other people do not get to see it, this is seriously demotivating (Ariely 2010 – pp. 63-74). Never mind what Maslow says about ‘self actualisation’; we want our work to be appreciated. (Watch this clip).

‘…because … speaking skills’…: It sounds funny, but when asking people to do something (provided it is a minor thing), using the word ‘because’ makes the request appear purposeful and greatly increases compliance. People simply assume that you have a reason for saying such a thing – even if the reason you give is a silly one (‘I need to use the Xerox machine because I need to make some copies’). ‘Because’ works like magic! (Levine 2006, p. 149).

‘…someone asks you for advice … on their own’…: This is pure ju-jitsu. Incredibly, studies have shown that when arguing in favour or against something, we tend to be influenced by what we ourselves say – even if someone has asked us to do so! (Sommers 2013 – p. 157). Never mind language practice in class; John is hoping that by arguing in favour of these strategies, the students will come to adopt them themselves!

Approach…so he moved closer to their table…: Mere physical proximity is a very powerful tool for maintaining discipline in class. Simply moving closer to the source of (anticipated) disturbance is often enough to deal with any misbehaviours. This was clearly demonstrated in the classic ‘obedience to authority’ study by Milgram. When the researcher was close to the ‘teacher’ compliance rates were much higher (Wren 1999 – p. 7).

…‘You have great organizational skills’…: This is very good practice. The idea is to catch your students doing something good, praise them and give them a positive personality label (‘You are so considerate / helpful / organised etc.’). People are vain creatures. When someone gives us such a label we like it and then we try to live up to it. The label acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy! (Abelson, Frey & Gregg 2004 – p. 169).

‘…one of the brightest students I’ve ever had…’: But this is a mistake – and a very common one too. Dweck has carried out numerous studies which demonstrate that praising intelligence leads to a ‘fixed mindset’ (‘You are either intelligent or not – so there is no point trying’). Instead, we should focus on praising effort and try to encourage a ‘growth mindset’ (Dweck 2007 – Watch this clip).

… He patted him on the shoulder…: This detail is easy to miss and yet touching is extremely potent. Psychologist N. Gueguen has conducted a great many experiments which show that lightly touching someone on the upper arm greatly increases compliance (Yeung 2011 – pp. 68-69). Not only that – as Dunbar notes, touching also generates positive feelings at a subconscious level (Dunbar 2010 – p. 63).

‘…What would you like to do as H/W?’ …: The idea here is to get students to come up with the suggestion that the teacher would like to make. Actually, it is not that difficult; in this case for instance, the H/W follows naturally from the course of the lesson. What is important is that we tend to value ideas a lot more when we feel we have come up with them ourselves (Ariely 2010 – ch. 4. Watch this clip).

‘…how long is this going to be? [etc] …’: Excellent. Setting goals is great, but there Planningis no guarantee people are going to follow through. Scientists have discovered however that adding details to intentions helps enormously (Duhigg 2012 – p. 143). Getting people to think about how they are going to implement their plans makes the latter more salient in their minds and ‘smooths the path’ by making them aware of obstacles which might have caused them to give up.

… to end the lesson with a little joke …: This is extremely important. Some fascinating studies by D. Kahneman (2011 – ch. 35) have shown that when evaluating a past event, we do not work out some kind of ‘average rating’; instead our memory retrieves two salient points: ‘peak’ moments (good or bad) and how the experience ended. Rather than ‘fading out’, John chooses to end his lesson with a bang. And it is this that will colour the students’ memory of the whole experience. (Watch this clip).

The takeaways – 14 Tips:

Here are the 14 takeaways. But wait – before reading them, can you recall at least 8? How would you phrase the tips in your own words? [Reflection helps with retention – enormously! (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014 – p. 59)]

Positive gossiping: Say nice things about your students behind their back. Their classmates are bound to tell them and they will like you more.

A sense of purpose: Show students that you have prepared for your lesson and you know what you are doing. They will respect you more and they will learn more.

Social proof: Do not advertise undesirable behaviour (e.g. ‘People are always turning up late’). You are encouraging your students to do the same thing.

First names: Learn and use your students’ first names. We know it is important, but it is even more important than we think.

Making H/W public: Make students’ H/W public (esp if it is something creative). They will work harder and it is hugely motivating.

The magic word: …is not ‘please’ – it’s ‘because’! Use it often; i) your rationale may not be obvious and ii) the use of ‘because’ increases compliance rates.

PresentationSelf-persuasion: Get students to argue in favour of desirable behaviours. They may think this is just practice, but in fact they will be influencing themselves!

Proximity: When you sense there is (or there might be) discipline problems in class, just move closer to the source of the trouble. It can be very effective.

Labelling: Catch your students doing something good and then label them positively. The label often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fixed mindsets: Avoid praising students for being intelligent. It leads to a ‘fixed mindset’ and it stops students from trying to get better.

Touching: Touch your students lightly. It can make them more amenable. (NB: I said touch them – not frisk them!)

The NIH bias: (NIH = ‘Not Invented Here’) If you want people to do something, get them to come up with the idea themselves.

Goal-setting: Get students to set goals for themselves and then get them to plan when, where and how they will accomplish them.

The peak-end effect: Make sure there is at least one memorable point during the lesson and if possible end on a high note. Do not just ‘fade out’.

DessertLast words: I hope you found this exercise interesting. The idea is that the challenge plus the fact that these principles are woven together into a story will make all these points more memorable. Alas, I cannot take any credit for the idea; I pinched it (I’m sorry – I ‘creatively assimilated’ it) from Chabris & Simons 2010 – p. 229. I would be very interested in feedback as this is the first article of this kind I have written. Whatever you do, remember the last point. Save something nice for the end. It’s like dessert. Speaking of desserts, here is mine (just click here).



Abelson, R., Frey, K. & Gregg, A. (2004) Experiments With People. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Ariely, D. ( 2010) The Upside of Irrationality. London HarperCollins

Brown, P., Roediger, H., McDaniel, M. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge Massachusetts. Belknap Harvard

Chabris, C. & Simons, D. (2010) The Invisible Gorilla. London: Harper Collins

Duhigg, C. (2012) The Power of Habit. London: Random House Books

Dunbar, R. (2010) How Many Friends does One Person Need? London: Faber & Faber 2010

Dweck, C. (2007) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books

Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Allen Lane

Levine, R. (2006) The Power of Persuasion. Oxford: Oneworld

Levitt, S. & Dubner, S. (2014) Think Like a Freak.  London: Allen Lane

Martin, S., Goldstein, N., & Cialdini, R. (2014) The Small Big. London: Profile Books

Sommers, S. (2013) Situations Matter. New York NY: Riverhead Books

Yeung, R. (2011) i is for Influence. London: Macmillan

Willingham, D. (2009) Why Don’t Students Like School?.  San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass

Wiseman, R. (2010) 59 Seconds. London: Pan Books

Wren, K. (1999) Social Influences. London: Routledge

Teaching Teenagers: 5 Principles – 5 Tasks

How to Teach Teenagers and Live to Tell the Tale

Have you got insurance?:  When I tell colleagues I mostly teach teenagers, they tend to respond with health warnings: ‘Teaching teens can… …seriously damage your health’ or ‘…try your patience’ or ‘…drive you nuts’ or ‘…shake your nerves and rattle your brains’ – the list is endless. But I have found they are not that bad really – especially in small doses! What few would deny is that they are quite distinct as a group. In any case, although I personally prefer to teach adults, I have found that time and again the universe conspires to force me to teach teens (which only goes to show that Coelho did not get it quite right…. 🙂 )  In all these years of teaching, I have always dreamed of eventually writing the ELTON-winning ‘Teen Teacher’s Survival Guide’, but so far I have only managed to come up with 5 principles. Still, they have stood me in good stead, so here they are for what they are worth…

1. Teenagers are obsessed with their peer group:  One often comes across the misconception that teenagers do not care about anybody, but in fact they do – their own peer group. It seems that at this stage they become sharply aware of differences between the others (often referred to as ‘old fogies’ 🙂 ) and their own cohort. They want to distance themselves from the former, but with the latter they conform massively (Cialdini 2001 – p. 123) The idea here is this: Any activity / text / discussion that has to do with teenagers or touches upon cross-generational problems or issues such as discipline – rights – obligations etc. is likely to arouse their interest as it is close to their reality. Interestingly, I have discovered that teenagers quite like laughing at themselves and this classic sketch with the iconic ‘Kevin the Teenager’ always goes down well. [See the video below; if you would like a handout to use in class, just click here].

2. Teenagers love songs: This is almost self-evident, but the big question is ‘Which songs should we choose?’ As I see it, the perfect song should meet 4 criteria: a) it should contain lots of language (surprisingly, many songs rely on a strong refrain and there is very little else – e.g. the very nice ‘Counting Stars’);  b) the delivery should be clear (alas – that rules out Bob Dylan! 🙂 );  c) the music should be non-intrusive (ballads are great in this respect); and  d) there should be no long musical interludes (students may switch off). But there is one more thing to take into account: content. Not everything will do. ‘Lady in Black’ by the Uriah Heep is one of my favourites – notice how it ticks all the boxes. And the content is plain and simple: a straightforward anti-war song that anybody can understand. [See the video below; if you would like a handout to use in class, just click here].

3. Competitions give teens the ‘high’ they crave: Teenagers love high arousal activities – hence their love of extreme sports etc (Brizendine 2010 – ch.2). Competitions are therefore an obvious choice. In a presentation on teaching teenagers a few years ago, the speaker advocated the use of Trivia Quizzes as shown in the first slide.


In groups, students decide on what they think is the correct answer and score points accordingly. But wait – can we not do even better? Why not get the students to come up with the questions themselves? That would generate even more language and increase the students’ investment. Here is another idea: why not use the ‘Boy – Girl’ dynamic? We could divide the class into boys-only and girls-only groups. The former could try to come up with Qs that most boys could answer easily, but which would be hard for girls and vice-versa. I have tried it with the teens I teach and they loved it! The second slide shows some of the Qs the boys wrote…


4. Teenagers’ interests have one thing in common: I remember once attending a talk on teaching teenagers and the following Q appeared in one of the slides (the correct answer is of course ‘All 4 of them!’) Teens_-_SExThere is no doubt that the issue of sex and relationships is number 1 for most teens most of the time. And while teen boys often withdraw and ‘disappear into adolescence’, this topic is guaranteed to bring them out of their cave (Brizendine 2007 – p. 66). One way to exploit the boy-girl dynamic, differences in upbringing, different biological agendas and the teenagers’ fascination with dating is to get them in same-sex groups to write tips – for the opposite sex. The task is this: ‘[Think about all the things that annoy you when you go out on a date] Imagine you are going out with a girl for the first time today. What advice would you like her [male] best friend to give her?’ The results can be hilarious. Here are a couple of tips from my male teenage students:


5. Facebook is the teen’s natural habitat: By FB I mean the social media in general of course. Anything that has to do with that particular biosphere, its flora and fauna, its ‘dos and don’ts’ is likely to motivate teenage learners. It is something they know, something the feel comfortable with and something on which they have far more expertise than we do. The following YouTube clip is simply perfect for teaching purposes. Students love the way it has been made to look like it was shot in the 1950s and it is ideal for listening comprehension practice as the delivery is so smooth. The best thing about it however is its potential for further discussion / projects. Two tasks suggest themselves: ‘What should Alice and Timmy have done in these situations?’ and ‘What are the top 10 rules for using FB in your opinion?’ [See the video below; if you would like a handout to use in class, just click here].

Final words:  There are a couple of other things that I have discovered over the years. The first one is that it pays to take risks (remember Mr Keating in ‘The Dead Poets’ Society?’). Many teens love PARSNIPs and they should not have to go to the grocer’s to find them. The other thing is that it helps if you ‘teach from the front’ (as in ‘lead from the front’). That means being somehow familiar with teen culture. You don’t have to be one of them, but it helps if you have heard of WoW or Jaqueline Wilson or the latest heart-throb. Failure to do your H/W might mean prolonged exposure to your students’ sclera as they roll their eyes… I was talking about these two points with a colleague the other day and she volunteered a third one: ‘Well’ she said ‘it also helps if you are a man’. ‘A man?!?’ I asked ‘Why?’ ‘Because unlike us, you never grow up!’ she replied with a grin.  🙂   Hmmmmm….

[First published in the IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers SIG]


Brizendine, L. “The Female Brain” Bantam Books 2007

Brizendine, L. “The Male Brain” Bantam Books 2010

Cialdini, R. “Influence – Science and Practice”, Allyn & Bacon 2001

Madylus, O. “Film, TV and Music” Cambridge University Press 2009

Vocabulary Revision Strategies

10 Simple Activities for Students of All Levels

Which is the safest place to hide information?  The CIA archives or a student’s vocabulary notebook?  I would go for the latter, as the former will be opened eventually, some 50 years from now.  🙂

Yet although we all recognise the importance of vocabulary revision, very few of our students do it.  Why?  I believe it is partly that we as teachers are always trying to ‘cover new ground’ and partly that our students do not know how to go about it.

Take 1 minute to think about the following 2 questions.

  • How do your students record unknown words in their notebooks?
  • Do they revise them?  And if so, how?

Now compare your answers with those at the end of the article – any similarities? *

[Materials: This sequence of activities is based on a presentation I gave some time ago (see below). To download the slides, just click here. To download a handout for the students to use, click here].

Why Vocabulary Revision Strategies?  “Vocabulary cannot be taught – it has to be learned” (Rivers in Thornbury, 2002).  The implications of this are enormous.  Because of the importance of vocabulary and the sheer amount of lexical items to be learned we cannot rely on a process of accretion whereby we ‘feed’ learners a few words at a time and hope for the best.  By exposing them to a range of strategies we can achieve one or more of the following:

  • Increase learners’ awareness of how they learn/remember words
  • Encourage good learning habits
  • Help them discover the learning style that suits them best
  • Make them more independent
  • Encourage them to become active learners

The Activities

What follows is a sequence of 10 activities which can be used as one lesson (of approximately 90 minutes) in class or in 1-1 teaching and at all levels, (though you might want to use slightly different words! **).  The main point however is not the words themselves but rather the activities which the students can subsequently use when revising on their own.

In the interests of clarity and ease, students are given a list of 50 words that fall ‘neatly’ into categories and lend themselves to manipulation by means of the other activities that we are going to look at below.  In ‘real life’ that would be a list of words that the students have encountered in previous lessons.

Books B

Activity 1: Grouping. [Students look at a list of words (see the first page here) and try to divide them into 5 categories. While doing that, they have to find a suitable name for the category.  They then place the words ‘around’ the ‘headword’ like in a mind-map] (Idea taken from Gairns & Redman, 1986).

Comments:  This is the only activity which might take some time, but it is well worth it, as it forms the basis for all the others.  It also addresses an important problem found in almost all students’ notebooks: the words are listed there at random.  This is inevitable during the lesson, but students should later go back and reorganize them (Thornbury, 2002).  “Words are like books” (H. Puchta, TESOL Convention 2001): in the same way that if you have 1,000 books it is difficult to find the one you want unless you put them on different shelves, sorting words in groups facilitates both retention and retrieval (Nation, 2001).

Grouping 1B

Grouping 2B

Activity 2: Pairing.  [Now you can give students the second page of this worksheet. Students try to find a ‘partner’ for the words in a particular group (this works best for adjectives or verbs – e.g. cunning / a cunning fox, or cast / to cast a vote)]

Comments:  How many times have your students come up with something like x ‘We wrote a test today’ x or x ‘He put me a bad mark’ x? (the latter accompanied by various expletives!).  This is partly  due to MTI (mother tongue interference) but also in part due to the students’ habit of recording words in isolation (e.g. vote = ψήφος / hence why not x ‘throw a vote’ x or x ‘drop a vote’ x ?).  This activity aims to drive home the importance of collocation, in other words to show students that a word is virtually useless for productive purposes unless they know what other words it goes with.  In addition, knowledge of typical collocations reduces the students’ cognitive load in production (Lewis, 2000).

Pairing 1B

Pairing 2B

Activity 3: Brainstorming.  [Students look at the words in a particular group, and try to recall others belonging to the same category] (Thornbury, 2002).

Comments:  On the face of it, this may look both unnecessary and counterproductive.  ‘It is hard enough getting students to learn these fifty words without introducing any new ones!’ one might say.  Yet this is not so for three reasons: a) The activity forces students to do something active by tapping the vocabulary already at their command.  b)  By trying to think of words in the same field students subconsciously start making links between these and the new ones (Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, Robbins 1999).  c) Unless you have done this activity it is difficult to do the next one!

Brainstorming 1B

Brainstomring 2B

Activity 4: Linking.  [Students literally ‘link’ two or more words in a category by finding some feature they have in common or some other way in which they are connected semantically – but they have to say what the connection is].

Boats B

Comments:  “Words are like boats” (H. Puchta, TESOL Convention 2001) – they tend to drift away when you are not looking (which in the case of my students is 99% of the time!).  If you want to make sure your boat stays put, you cast an anchor or tie it somewhere.  With words, the ‘ropes’ are the links with other words.  The greater the number of links, the less likely you are to forget them and the easier it will be for you to retrieve them later.  Manipulating words in groups provides memory links and ‘maps’ the new words onto the students’ already existing knowledge (Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, Robbins 1999).

Linking B

Activity 5: Focusing.  [Students simply look at the words and highlight the ones they do not recall, or the ones they might find the most difficult to retrieve or use] (Mc Carthy & O’Dell, 1994).

Comments:  When students do actually look at the vocabulary in their notebooks, they do so indiscriminately and if asked to revise the words they have recorded they will study them for much the same reason that Hillary climbed Everest – because they are there!  Yet not all of them are equally useful or equally unfamiliar to students.  Hence, it makes sense for us to encourage them to select what they focus on.  Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of the good student is that s/he is selective (Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, Robbins 1999) and such students know that the highlighter is one of their strongest weapons!

Focusing 2B

Activity 6: Recalling.  [Students look at all 10 words in a particular category for about 1 minute.  They then have to write them down without looking at them.  After that, they compare the two lists and focus their attention on the ones they have forgotten]. (Mc Carthy & O’Dell, 1994)

Comments:  Compare this with the students’ standard practice of just looking at words and trying to memorise them.  All too often, their eyes travel down the page but there is no guarantee that the brain takes in the information.  In this case though learners can check how effective their attempts at memorization have been and can also focus later on the words they have not managed to recall.  If they do this 4-5 times (with increasing time intervals between each revision period (Gairns & Redman, 1986) their chances of retaining them are much higher (Mc Carthy & O’Dell, 1994).

Recalling B

Activity 7: Associating.  [Students choose a category and they try to associate each word in it with some abstract/general notion, e.g. ‘Good/Bad’ or ‘Past/Present/Future’ – but once again they need to say why].

Comments:  This activity achieves 3 aims: Firstly, it creates a different kind of link; one between a word and a ‘notion’ this time.  Secondly, it raises the students’ awareness of the need to record not only the meaning but the connotations of a word as this may be particularly important sometimes (compare for instance the words ‘slim’ and ‘skinny’).  Finally, it shows students that the way to learn vocabulary is very often a personal one, as different people might classify the same word differently (Ellis & Sinclair, 1989).

Associating 2B

Activity 8: Anchoring. [Students choose some of the more difficult words and deliberately set out to create ‘links’ with other related lexical items by findings superordinate and subordinate words, usual collocations, examples of the term etc.]

Comments: This activity is based on the ‘Depth of Processing’ hypothesis (see Craik & Lockhart 1972). The idea behind the creation of this mini-network is that the more semantic links one forges between a lexical item and other words / expressions (the more ‘ropes’ you tie your ‘boat’ with – see H. Puchta’s metaphor above), the more likely this item is to be remembered and the more avenues we will have of accessing it, hence the easier it will be to retrieve (Willingham  2009).

Anchoring B

Activity 9: Using.  [Similar to ‘Linking’, only here students have to link two or more  words by making a sentence containing them or by combining them to produce a short text]. (Mc Carthy & O’Dell, 1994).

Comments:  The purpose of this activity is not only to correct mistakes that students may make in production, but rather to print the words in their minds.  It kills two birds with one stone;  a) it creates yet another link between 2 words and b) according to the ‘depth of processing’ hypothesis students are more likely to remember a lexical item if they are actively engaged with it rather than if they just look at it and try to remember it (Thornbury, 2002).

Using 1B

Using 2B

Activity 10: Expanding.  [Students look at one of the groups and ask themselves ‘Are there any words related to this group which I do not know in English?’  They then write them down in the L1 and either ask the teacher to translate them, or look them up in a dictionary].

Comments:  This is perhaps the most ambitious activity of all.  Students use the L1 to discover gaps in their knowledge of the L2 (Atkinson, 1993).  However, the main aim is to make students active – to make them take responsibility for their own learning.  Instead of passively recording the words they come across in a text or generally during the lesson, instead of waiting for the words to come to them, they are now asked to go out and find them for themselves.

Expanding 2B

Expanding 3B

Two additional points

What about context?  Well, it is true that lexical items are best presented in context (Lewis, 2000).  The advantages are that students can see them being used naturally and in a natural context and so they can get much more information about them.  However, here we are talking about revision.  The assumption is that the words first appeared in a text and were subsequently recorded by students.  When entering vocabulary in your notebook, you cannot keep the whole text.  Moreover, there has been research which shows that words can be retained even outside the context of a sentence (Nation, 2001).

Doesn’t all this imply too great an emphasis on explicit learning?  It is true that many have suggested that words are best acquired and we should let exposure to the language do its work.  In fact the debate between the merits of implicit vs explicit teaching has been raging for some time and there is a whole spectrum of approaches from an extreme emphasis on acquisition (Krashen) to a focus on intense conscious learning (Craik & Lockhart – both in Carter & Nunan, 2001).  As is often the case, the truth may well lie somewhere in between, so it makes sense to make our learners aware of both ways.  Besides, different learners have different learning styles and it is for them to choose the one that suits them best (Ellis & Sinclair, 1989).

Last words – and a treat…

Two final points – honest!  Firstly, although each of these activities is short and fast, ten courses in one sitting can cause serious indigestion to even the most highly-motivated students, so break them up – make sure you insert some other, fun activities before returning to the vocabulary strategies.  Secondly, do not expect instant results.  Strategic training takes a long time and it is mostly adults who are likely to take some of these techniques on board right from the start.

…And as a reward to you for having managed to read up to this point and seeing as we are on the subject of words here is a little treat – something on the importance of synonyms. Synonyms are great, as they can help you get your message across. If one of them doesn’t work, another one is bound to, right?  🙂

[* (1) In my experience, most of them simply make lists of the ‘cast = ρίχνω’ type.  (2)  No.  If they do, they simply read the word pairs or, at best, they cover the translations and try to remember them and then reverse the procedure.  – surely we can help them do better than that?]

[** Here are 4 more sets of words that you can use with your students at levels C2 – C1 – B2 and B1 if you want to see how these activities work (just click here). Of course it is best if you use words that your students have already encountered. These are meant to be revision strategies.]

[*** If you would like to use this video clip in class, you can click here to download a worksheet].



Atkinson, D. “Teaching Monolingual Classes” Longman 1993

Carter, R. & Nunan, D. “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” C.U.P. 2001

Chamot, A.U., Barnhardt, S., El-Dinary, P.B., Robbins, J. “The Learning Strategies Handbook” Longman 1999

Craik, F.; Lockhart R.S. (1972). “Levels of processing: A framework for memory research”. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior 11 (6): 671–84

Ellis, G. & Sinclair, B. “Learning to Learn English” C.U.P. 1989

Gairns R. & Redman S. “Working with Words” C.U.P. 1986

Lewis, M. “Teaching Collocation”, LTP 2000

Mc Carthy, M. & O’Dell, F. “English Vocabulary in Use”, C.U.P. 1994

Nation, I.S.P. “Learning Vocabulary in Another Language”, C.U.P. 2001

Richards, J. & Renandya, W. (eds.) “Methodology in Language Teaching”, C.U.P. 2002

Thornbury, S. “How to Teach Vocabulary”, Longman 2002

Willingham, D. “Why Don’t Students Like School?” San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass 2009


A Different Approach to Teaching Writing

How do our students feel about writing?: It has been said that fear of public speaking has been ranked higher than fear of death and that our loathing of cockroaches exceeds our aversion towards anything else, yet in my experience our students’ feelings towards Writing rival both the above in intensity! 🙂

Why do our students feel like that?: That’s an easy one – the answer is two-pronged: a) in most classroom tasks our students lack a reason to write. Yet the very same students who whinge about writing a paragraph will happily spend 3-4 hours a day chatting with their friends on Facebook!  b) Very often our students do not know how to go about producing a long piece of writing. Their favourite approach is to sit down, look at the topic…and start writing. This of course means that they are trying to plan, order their ideas, put them on paper and edit their text – all at the same time! No wonder it seems like hard work!

A different approach: In this article I would like to propose a slightly different approach to teaching writing. Its key elements are two: a) We can start by giving our students a scaffolding – something on which to build. By this I mean a text written by another student. In this way they can see what is expected of them. b) Then we can get our students to improve this text bit-by-bit so that they do not feel overwhelmed. I will be demonstrating this approach by means of a specific example.

[NB: This article is based on a presentation of mine. To download the complete set of slides, just click here]

A typical writing task: This task is a real one, taken from a public exam (The Pearson PTE General – Level 3 [B2]): ‘A friend of yours is interested in following a Portfolio Career. Write an e-mail to him/her explaining the advantages and disadvantages of such a career and giving them your opinion’.

Here is a sample piece of writing by a (not so good) B2-level student:


Step 1 – Brainstorming: Before showing studentss the text above it is a good idea to get them thinking around the topic. A quick brainstorming session is enough. In this case it should be on the pluses and drawbacks of a Portfolio Career. Then you give the students a list of ideas (the 4 which are mentioned in the text, plus some extra ones) and you ask them to identify the former (this is in order to give them a focus to their reading). Students then read the text and they are ready for the next steps.

Brainstorming 1

Step 2 – Analysis: Once they have looked at the ideas expressed in the text, it is time to look at the text itself from the Examiner’s point of view. This is a good opportunity for you to check that students know what is expected of them (e.g. in terms of length, relevance, format etc.) Then you give them the marks this particular piece of writing has received so they can see how accurate their assessment was. (NB: It is vital that you have chosen a less-than-perfect text so that it is easy for students to see in what ways it can be improved).

Step 3 – Coherence: You then focus on different aspects of the text. For instance, while this particular text is generally understandable, cohesion is not so good and this in turn affects coherence. So you point out to the students what the problems are and you get them to suggest improvements (e.g. repetition in line 2 / the word ‘but’ in § 5 / the lack of a connector like ‘All in all’ in § 7  etc.)


Step 4 – Topic Sentences: Although this text is an e-mail, it still makes sense for the students to clearly state the main point of each § in the first sentence. So you ask students to tell you what is wrong with the Topic Sentences here (e.g. the TS in § 3, 4 and 5 are unclear, while in § 5 the TS is actually the second sentence) and you get them to rewrite/improve them (e.g. in § 5 the TS could be ‘On the other hand, people with a portfolio career do not have regular work’).

Topic Sentences

Step 5 – Development: It is not enough to state an idea – one also needs to ‘flesh it out’. In § 6 for instance, there is no development whatsoever! So you get the students to write 2-3 sentences explaining/supporting this idea (e.g. ‘People in a regular job tend to have colleagues who may become friends. A portfolio career on the other hand often means working from home where you hardly meet anybody’). [NB: Q: What if your students cannot come up with any ideas? A: You give them the ideas yourself (in note form) so all your students need to do is expand them!]


Step 6 – Editing: Having produced a piece of writing, one needs to proofread it and correct any mistakes one may have inadvertently made. So you ask students to look at, say § 7 and try to rewrite it using correct language. (e.g. ‘I would advise you to look for a full-time job and forget about a portfolio career. Having a proper job means having more work’).


Step 7 – Rephrasing: Very often when trying to correct mistakes, students find that the text constrains them so that they make as few alterations as possible. In such cases it is important that we encourage them to completely change the original. A good case in point is § 4 which you could ask students to rephrase (e.g. ‘In addition, not having a regular job means you have more freedom. As you have no fixed schedule, you have the flexibility to plan your day any way you want’).


Step 8 – Language Enrichment: Being accurate is one thing – using advanced language is quite another. Our students’ default tendency is to ‘play it safe’ by using high frequency, simpler vocabulary and grammar, rather than take risks with less familiar structures/expressions. To counter this, we can ask them to ‘upgrade’ the language of a part of the text – say § 3. As they may not be able to come up with much, it makes sense for the teacher to give them some expressions in advance (e.g. ‘acquire knowledge’ / ‘gain experience’ / ‘steady job’ / ‘switch to another career’ / ‘alternative’ / ‘develop skills’ / ‘discover your strengths’ etc.) Students study these for 1-2 minutes and then they put them away and rewrite the § trying to incorporate some of the new language into the text.


Step 9 – The Beginning: Finally, it makes sense to use this text as an opportunity to raise students’ awareness of conventions relating to how we begin/end letters and e-mails. In this case, the beginning is a bit too blunt. The writer gets straight down to business without any reference to previous e-mails or to the sender. It would be far more appropriate to have a personal remark there or something about how difficult such life choices might be.


Step 10 – The Ending: The ending is similarly unsatisfactory. Once again we would expect some remark like ‘I hope I have been of some help’ or ‘Do let me know what you decide to do’. In both the last steps, the students are encouraged to think of issues of sociolinguistic appropriacy and to consider the recipient of the text.


A much improved version: If the class work on this text diligently, the final version can be a far cry from the original. Here is an example of what it might look like:


Why use this approach? In my opinion using this structured approach has a number of advantages: a) students start with a complete text so they do not feel the need to produce something from scratch;  b) students know what they are supposed to be doing at each stage;  c) students only produce 2-3 sentences at most each time so the task does not seem onerous;  d) students get to hear alternative versions so they break free from the ‘single correct answer/way’ mentality;  e) students implement essentially a process approach and they get practice in all the stages of writing;  f) the teacher can use each stage as an opportunity to provide students with input about writing in general and the specific genre in particular.

A final tip: Methodological issues aside, you also need to take into account the age range and interests of your class before selecting a topic. Whatever you choose, unless you passionately hate your studentss don’t give them a text on Portfolio Careers! 🙂

Advertising – Creativity – Motivation

An ad with a twist:  Here is a task for you (and your students). This is an ordinary car advertisement. What are the features that make the car stand out according to the speaker? (Just click to watch the video below). OK – now confess: you did not expect the ending, did you? The casual viewer will just smile to him/herself and watch something else. But I would like to argue here that there is much more to this ad than meets the eye. What does this phenomenon (‘Change Blindness’) have to do with the car? Did the advertisers use this device simply to intrigue us? I do not think so. Read on.

‘The Strike and the Hit’:  In his fantastic book ‘Great Customer Experiences’ M. Watkinson mentions an interesting distinction made by the great samurai and duelist Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi said that when you aim a blow at someone and you injure them, this is a ‘strike’; but if you injure them by accident during the duel, this is a ‘hit’. Watkinson claims that this distinction is also relevant when looking at many big companies: the products they design are the result of a long process or research and purposeful development and they are often very good (a ‘strike’); however, when it comes to the customer experience, most companies do not deliberately set out to deliver something good, so when they do, that is a ‘hit’ (as in ‘hit and miss’ – Watkinson 2013, p. xi)

Creativity - Advertising - Motivation

Musashi and ELT: I believe something similar is true in the field of ELT: when it comes to designing lessons or coaching our students about the best way to study, we are good. This is our domain and we know what we are doing (a ‘strike’). When it comes to using Psychology in class however, it is a different matter. Experienced teachers do have an intuitive ‘sense’ of what might work best on many occasions, but I believe that even they would have some difficulty articulating the principles on which their practice is based. If something goes well, it is a ‘hit’. And I believe that with less experienced teachers, the ‘misses’ may well outnumber the ‘hits’. So this is the idea: why not learn from the experts? Why not see what advertising can teach us?

5 Ads – 5 Principles. In what follows I am going to look at 5 advertisements / campaigns and try to isolate the one key principle which I believe the advertisers exploited in order to achieve the effect they desired. In each case I will also recommend a specific activity which shows how we can make use of the same principle in the classroom.

Key Element Number 1 – Social Currency: So what about that Skoda commercial? In his great book ‘Contagious’, (2013) J. Berger looks at the elements which make something ‘go viral’. His studies have identified 6 such key traits and one of these is what he calls ‘Social Currency’. This is the quality of things to make us look good. For instance, when we share an interesting piece of gossip, this makes us look good as it suggests we have some ‘inside knowledge’. When we share a good joke with our friends, this may make them to want to hang out with us. It is the same with interesting or counterintuitive pieces of knowledge When we tell people that there are snakes which fly or carnivorous plants which can actually eat mice or small lizards that reflects well on us, so we do it. This is also the reason why people will often exaggerate certain elements about their experiences and why things tend to ‘grow in the telling’ (this often happens subconsciously and Berger quotes research in which this phenomenon has been tested in the lab [Berger 2013, p. 41]).

How can we use this element in class? The answer here is simple: we can give students interesting material to read/watch – stuff they would be interested in even if they were not in class. For instance, when I give my student a text about ‘pupil dilation’ (Pease & Pease 2004, p. 166) I don’t have to motivate them to read it; as soon as they hear that this is a fool-proof way of telling whether someone finds them attractive, my problem is how to get them to stop reading! In the same way, many of my students have made a note of the link of the Skoda car ad in order to share it with their friends. To exploit this principle in class, we can use a simple info-gap activity; it’s the content that makes the difference (to see an example, just click here).

Key Element Number 2 – Sociality: Imagine this is your first day at college. You feel a little awkward and lonely in this new environment. Would it not be great if somehow you could find an excuse to strike up a conversation and make new friends? (Click to watch the ad campaign).

This brilliant idea makes use of our need for social connection. M. Lieberman has conducted some fascinating studies on this and he discovered that we are hard-wired to crave sociality. In fact, this is so important for us that when our brains do nothing a special area is activated which just happens to be the one that processes social relationships (Lieberman has called this the ‘default network’ – Lieberman 2013 – p. 16). When doing nothing else, nature wants us to think about our relationship with others. The reason for this is that we are a species of social primates and social exclusion would have meant certain death in our ancestral environment. Our ancestors are the ones who played their ‘social cards’ right, which is why even today we obsess about the minor tiffs we may have with our friends and we can get paranoid if we feel our colleagues are giving us the cold shoulder.

How can we use this element in class? The implication here is clear: any activity which gets students working together is likely to motivate them, help them learn better and make them happier too. ‘Humanistic’ activities which require students to work in pairs or groups are particularly good. For instance, we could ask students to write the name of a famous person on a post-it note and stick it on the forehead of their partner. The latter then has to ask up to 20 Yes/No questions to discover their identity (e.g. ‘Am I alive?’ / ‘Am I male?’ etc.) We can even take this activity a step further by asking our students to point out any similarities or differences between themselves and the celebrity they have just identified (e.g. ‘Napoleon was very ambitious and so am I’ or ‘Marilyn Monroe was very attractive to members of the opposite sex about 50 years ago and this was also the case with me’ 🙂 ).

Key Element Number 3 – Identity: In this fantastic campaign, faced with market indifference, Rom (the traditional Romanian chocolate-maker) came up with a very clever trick… (Click to watch the video).

What the Rom people played upon in this campaign was people’s sense of national identity. This tendency of humans to identify with a group and want to belong to something larger rather themselves appears to be innate. In his great book ‘The Righteous Mind’ Moral Psychologist J. Haidt claims that we have evolved to have certain moral predispositions – the ones that would help us survive and reproduce. According to him, our moral make up is 90% chimp and 10% bee (Haidt 2012 – Ch. 10). We are mostly chimps, obsessed with status and getting ahead; but there is a part of us that has evolved to be altruistic – a ‘hivish’ part. Under the right circumstances, that part takes over and the group becomes more important than ourselves. Haidt argues that we can make use of these tendencies to get people to work together and to increase their motivation. A good example of this is the way students were divided up into ‘Houses’ at Hogwarts in Rowlings’ Harry Potter books. Notice that Ron and Harry for instance did not feel any particular animosity towards the other students – they just felt proud of belonging to their own particular House.

How can we use this element in class? Our ‘hivish’ tendencies can be dangerous – it is this feature of ours that sometimes lead to nationalism and xenophobia. However, in the Rom campaign there were no hard feelings against other groups – just pride in being Romanian. I believe this is something we can exploit in nationally / culturally uniform groups. The recipe is simple: we find something on the internet which is favourable towards the group’s identity. (OK – here is the interesting bit… 🙂 ) We then change the text so that it says exactly the opposite! Next we show the altered text to our students and we ask them for a response – perhaps by contributing a comment to a blog. The students usually do not mind that and their comments are often angry. Once they have finished, we then show them the real text. The students are usually so elated, they are prepared to write yet more comments – this time to praise the writer! Here is an example of such an activity (click here).

Key Element Number 4 – Emotion: In this ad, a number of children come up with the second part of a 2nd Conditional ‘If Clause’. But what is the 1st part? (click below to watch the ad).

The ad is very moving as it is meant to be, and the reason is that it plays on our emotions. In his excellent booklet ‘Emotion’ (2001) D. Evans explains how evolution has given us two distinct ways of processing reality: one fast, one slow. To adapt to a changing environment we use reason (‘OK – what do I do here?’). Reason is slow – we weigh up the facts to come up to a (hopefully sound) decision. For the important things in life however, nature has given us emotions. Emotions are immediate, powerful and beyond our control. If you were to see a lion a few meters ahead, nature did not design me to stop and think, but rather to scramble up the nearest tree – pronto! Because emotions deal with the important things in life (attraction, fear, anger, jealousy) our brain ‘tags’ emotional experiences (‘Remember this!’). For this reason, emotionally-laden experiences are far more memorable than ordinary ones, and this is something that advertisers exploit again and again.

How can we use this element in class? As Evans says (2001 – p. 63) one of the most powerful technologies that we have come up with for altering our emotional states is music. It follows then that one of the easiest ways to make activities memorable is to use music / songs in class. The following activity is both easy to use and extremely effective. Students listen to short clips taken from silent movie soundtracks and make very brief notes of the kind of images that come to their mind (click here to listen to the clips). Then they can simply share what they have imagined with the person next to them (the differences are often quite interesting). Alternatively, students could write a short paragraph describing the images that the music triggers in their mind; the teacher can collect these pieces of writing and put them up on the wall. The students could walk around and try to guess who wrote what.

Key Element Number 5 – Incongruity: In this ad, an employee thinks that using FedEx is costly, but his colleagues soon put him right. It turns out that he is wrong in other things as well… 🙂 (click below to watch the ad).

Why do we find this ad amusing? The answer is of course the incongruity of some of the things Ned seems to believe. In investigating the factors which can contribute to ‘instant persuasion’ K. Dutton (2010 – p. 215) came up with an interesting acronym: SPICE. Incongruity is the 3rd key factor. The reason it is so potent according to Dutton is that in order not to be drowned in the ‘noise’ of external stimuli, our brains operate for the most part in ‘autopilot’ – it screens out most things (remember the Skoda ad?), yet it remains alert and it instantly focuses our attention on something if it stands out in some way (in the ancestral environment, this could have been a potential threat – or an opportunity). Incongruity makes use of this mechanism. Having attracted our attention with these paradoxical statements, the advertisers then follow up with the slogan which now ‘registers’.

How can we use this element in class? Well, one implication is clearly that we can utilize incongruity to help our students ‘refocus’ if we notice that their eyes are beginning to glaze over. But the reason I chose this ad is that there is something else which is special about it. The dialogue framework could have been used to promote any idea – not just a courier service. This I believe is perfect for encouraging student creativity. We can give them a ‘framework’ and let them come up with ideas of their own. This is a key insight: supplying our students with a framework may actually boost their creativity rather than allowing them complete freedom – in the latter case, the decisions to be made are so many that the mind is exhausted before it comes to the creative part of the exercise (Heath & Heath 2008, p. 22). To see an example of how we could do this in class, click here.

Last words: Archeologists believe that the wheel was invented only once and then it spread around the world; however I believe it has been invented multiple times – in ELT. The reason is that our field is mostly insular; we tend to look for insights within our domain. But why not open up to other influences? Advertising has a great deal to teach us. Consider the following quote: “Creativity without strategy is called ‘Art’. Creativity with strategy is called ‘Advertising’.” (Jef. Richards) Great! If this is true, then we are all advertisers. Now – let us see what we can learn from our colleagues….

PS – Read this:  I could not possibly finish without mentioning the best book on the subject, namely Ferrier’s excellent ‘The Advertising Effect’ (Oxford 2014). Ferrier, a trained Psychologist, looks at how advertising makes use of our evolved psychological traits to influence us and get us to change – not necessarily in a bad way. 🙂 The book presents a carefully selected list of ingredients for motivating people and it is packed full of actual case studies. Strongly recommended.



Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster

Dutton, K. (2010) Flipnosis: The Art of Split-second Persuasion. London: Random House

Evans, D. (2001) Emotion: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press

Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press

Haidt, J. (2012) The Righteous Mind. London: Allen Lane

Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2008) Made to Stick. London: Random House

Lieberman, M. (2013) Social. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pease, A. & Pease, B. (2004) The Definitive Book of Body Language. London: Orion

Watkinson, M. (2013) The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences. London: Financial Times Publishing


Identity and Change

‘Don’t Mess with Texas!’

The problem: The year: 1986. The place: Texas. Texas had a problem. The problem was litter. Litter was everywhere. It was not for lack of funds; the state was spending around $ 25 m a year on cleanup and that figure kept rising by an astonishing 15% per year. It was not for lack of effort; the authorities had tried all the standard approaches. There were signs which read ‘Please don’t litter’ and trash cans emblazoned with the pun ‘Please pitch in’. Nothing worked. It was clear that what was needed was somebody who would try a totally different approach – someone who would employ lateral thinking. Fortunately, such a person did exist and fortunately for Texas, they employed him. His name was Dan Syrek.

The ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ Campaign: One of the reasons why previous attempts had failed was that what works in one occasion may not work in another. For instance, some of the environmental campaigns in the past had focused on people’s love for cuddly little animals such as owls (slogan: ‘Give a Hoot; don’t Pollute!’ [click here to watch]) or on people’s feelings of guilt (e.g. the famous ‘crying Indian’ ad [see video above]). But these approaches assume that people do care a little in the first place. What if they don’t?

The target audience: When Syrek and co started working on the problem, they quickly identified the main culprit. Not all sections of the population littered equally; by far the main offenders were male / macho / 18-35 pick-up driving guys whose main interests were sports and country music. Syrek even carried a picture of such a stereotypical yob with him – they called him ‘Bubba’. You can immediately see why the crying Indian cut no ice with such a person and as for the cuddly owls… 🙂

Carrots and sticks: What would we do if we were faced with such a problem? I think instinctively most of us would reach for the carrots and the sticks! But you cannot offer rewards to people for refraining from an action and in this case the sticks would perhaps backfire. One of the main distinguishing features of ‘Bubba’ was that he was anti-authority. Threatening him with fines or other sanctions would likely trigger a desire in him to break the rules even more (cf the notion of ‘Psychological Reactance’ – Cialdini 2001).

The Idea – ‘Texanness’: Instead of threatening these young men, Syrek and his team chose instead to take them on board! One of the most noticeable things about Bubba was that he was Texan and proud of it! So that was the idea: they took this element and latched something on to it – essentially ‘Texans do not litter cause they love their state!’ A whole series of commercials were created for the campaign. They all shared a number of features: a) They were direct (Bubba is not that sophisticated…) b) They used celebrities – but not just any celebrities; they were all people who were recognizably Texan.  c) They stressed two elements: ‘Texans don’t litter’ and ‘Texans care about whether others do’. d) They were clearly ‘macho’.

The Campaign: In one of the ads, two huge Dallas Cowboys players are seen collecting litter by the side of the road. One of them turns to the other and says ‘I’ve got a message for the guy who threw this out of the window’ – the camera shows us a beer can – ‘Only I kinda need to see him to deliver it…’ and he crushes the can with his fist – wow! 🙂  [click here to watch] In another ad, a baseball pitcher famous for his split-fingered fastball picks up some litter and hurls into a rubbish bin which blows up spectacularly – amazing! 🙂  [see below].

The Results: The success of the campaign was startling! Within months almost 3 out of 4 people could recall the message. A year later, littering had declined by almost 30%. Within 5 years, visible littering had dropped by a staggering 72% and an emergency fund of $ 1m which had been earmarked to enforce litter laws with punitive measures was scrapped as unnecessary…(Case Study described in Heath & Heath 2008 – pp 195-199)

Applications in the field of ELT:  While this Case Study does not offer us immediately transferrable lessons, there are many key principles we have clear implications for classroom management:

Emotion trumps reason: Notice that the campaign did not try to persuade people with arguments or statistics. The notion that to change people you need to persuade them is very common – and very wrong. In fact, in most cases people know what is ‘right’ (e.g. smoking, drinking etc.). What is needed to sway them is an emotional appeal. In a famous study, people were approached and asked for donations on behalf of a charity; half of them were given statistical info about the extent of famine in Africa – the other half were given a story about Rokia, a poor 7-year-old African girl. People in the second condition gave 76% more (Yeung 2011).

Know thy ‘enemy’: One of the reasons the campaign was so successful was that it was not addressed to all and sundry. It is amazing how clear Syrek was about the person he wanted to reach: male – young – anti-authority. In this way he was able to ‘tailor’ the message to the recipient. Similarly, we cannot adopt an ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when teaching our students. To be able to motivate them we need a careful needs analysis particularly in ESP (e.g. Robinson 1991 – Ch 2) and Teaching 1-to-1 (e.g. Osborne 2005, Ch 3). But even this is not enough; to see what really makes our students tick we need to get close to them and interact with them ourselves!

Focus on identity: Haidt (2012) points out that we all have a ‘hivish’ tendency; a tendency – indeed a need – to belong to something larger than ourselves (the ‘hive’). Stimulated by this feeling, people can be astonishingly altruistic and – more to the point – they can change very quickly! The ‘hive’ can be almost anything; it can be one’s nation, one’s place of origin (Texas!), a football club (‘Barcelona’!) or one’s school house (‘Gryffindor’!). The last example is a very interesting one; if one can harness this the results can be spectacular!

Remodel that identity: What the campaign essentially did was to ‘tag’ an extra feature to the ‘Texan identity’. There is no reason why Texans should care about the environment, but the ads managed to create that link by using role models (in this case athletes and folk singers) who shared this identity (Texan celebrities). Tim Murphey (2012) talks of NPRM (Near-Peer Role Models) and their potential in shaping student behaviour. By getting older (and perhaps successful) students to give mini talks in our classes or even just showing them examples of successful projects they have been involved in, we can go a long way towards motivating our learners.

Don’t destroy your message: It is vital to note that one thing Syrek and his team avoided was saying that the root cause of the problem was that everyone was littering. Saying something like ‘The reason why we are here today is that nobody bothers to be environmentally-conscious’ would have been a blunder; in fact it would be telling every Bubba in Texas – ‘Everyone is doing it – why should you be any different?’ (Godstein, Martin & Cialdini 2007) Telling students ‘I hope you are not like the other group who never look at their books until their teacher tells them to the next day’ encourages them to do just that.

Avoid dissonance: Notice that Syrek’s team did not bother to address the apparent clash between their message (‘Texans obviously would not pollute Texas!’) and Bubba’s previous behaviour. They simply ignored the latter! Subconsciously, the campaign worked like this: ‘Do you love Texas?’ – ‘Yes, I do!’ – ‘So help us keep it clean!’ (It goes without saying that you would not dream of polluting yourself!) According to Fine (2005) our vain brain routinely ‘rewrites’ our memories so Bubba conveniently forgot what his previous practices were!! It is often the same with unruly students; if you give them an ‘assistant Teacher’ role, you may find that they take to it with gusto, conveniently forgetting what their behaviour was only a few days previously!

George the pastor: OK – here is a final ad from the campaign: George Foreman was a boxer – and not just any boxer; he was one of the all-time greats. A world champion, he lost to legendary Muhammad Ali but he made a comeback 20 years later and won the title again at the age of 45! What is not so well known about him is that he was also an ordained Baptist minister. In this amazing commercial from the same campaign he is seen preaching, telling the congregation what to do ‘if your brother does so-and-so’. Then suddenly he says ‘But if he ever, ever messes with Texas…’ (the choir stop in puzzlement) ‘…pray for him brother; pray for him!’ 🙂  Excellent!!

[This article first appeared in the NL of the IATEFL ‘Global Issues’ SIG].


Cialdini, R. “Influence – Science and Practice”, Allyn & Bacon 2001

Fine, C. “A Mind of its Own”  Icon Books 2005

Goldstein, N., Martin, S. & Cialdini, R. “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”  Profile Books 2007

Haidt, J. “The Righteous Mind” Allen Lane 2012

Heath, C. & Heath, D. “Made to Stick” Random House 2008

Murphey, T. “Teaching in Pursuit of WoW!” Abax 2012

Osborne, P. “Teaching English One-toOne” Modern English Publishing 2005

Robinson, P. “ESP Today” Prentice Hall 1991

Yeung, R. “i is for Influence” Macmillan 2012

Psychology and ELT – ‘The Uncollection’

‘Take a note – any note!’

 Church in trouble:  ‘Ask not what thy God can do for you; ask what thou canst do for thy God’. But surely God doesn’t need our help? Well, perhaps not, but his vicars on Earth sometimes do. Such was the situation Reverend Steel found himself in. St John’s was a Victorian-era church and badly in need of maintenance. Reverend Steel had tried everything – charity appeals, fundraisers, the lot. Yet he was still far from having collected the funds he needed. And the bills kept mounting. Things sure looked gloomy. And then he had an inspiration. Yes, that was it! The answer was in the Bible – Matthew, Chapter 24:14-30. The parable of the talents! If that didn’t do it, nothing would. In any case, it was worth a try…

CS Uncollection 5 Hard times call for extraordinary measures:  It was an ordinary November Sunday in Kirkheaton.  The weather was bracing, the sky was overcast and the faithful had gathered for Sunday mass. As everyone knows, it is the custom that at some point during such services a collection box or a collection tray is passed around and the congregation are asked to make a contribution – bills after all need to be paid. Only that particular Sunday in November 2012 things were different.

The plate was indeed passed around as it had always been. Only this time there would be no contributions. This time the church was giving money away! The tray was full of crisp, £ 10 notes. Not quite believing their ears, the people present heard their priest actually encouraging them to take a note each! Tentatively, hesitantly and looking around to check that they had not misunderstood anything, the people did as they were bid.

Then from the pulpit, Reverend Steel reminded his flock of the parable of the talents.  And he told them all about the man who was going on a journey and who called his servants and ‘entrusted to them his property’. And how when he came back he asked them what they had done with it. So Reverent Steel urged his parishioners to do as the servants had done. They were to go away, use this money in any way they saw fit, and then perhaps in the future they could bring back what money they had made…

…So how did it go? Six months after that memorable event, a BBC crew who had covered the original story, went back to see what had happened. To say they were stunned would be putting it mildly. After their initial shock, the congregation had risen to the occasion. A parishioner had used the money to make some cakes and then held a cake sale; some children had used the money to buy seeds which they had planted and then sold the produce at a profit; others had bought things on e-bay and then re-sold them at a higher price. The result of all these efforts was that Reverend Steel was left with twenty times the original sum he had given away! His initial investment of £ 550 had yielded £ 10,000! Brilliant! 🙂  (The story appears in Martin, Goldstein & Cialdini 2014 – pp. 158-163) 1

CS Uncollection 4

Applications in the field of ELT:  So what can we learn from Reverend Steel? There are three important principles here:

Reciprocity: The Moral: ‘If you do something for others, they feel duty bound to return the favour’. This is hardly surprising, but there are two things which are less clearly understood: a) the urge to reciprocate is so strong, that we do this even if we do not particularly like the other person and  b) people often return the favour with interest – ‘you scratch my back, I’ll give you a body massage!’ (Regan 1971) And people like you more. So, if you want your students (or your teachers, if you are a DOS) to do things for you, make sure you do something for them first! NB: For the mechanism to be triggered, what you offer has to be offered without any strings attached; ‘Take the money now – it’s yours. In the future, IF you want…’

Incongruity: Can you imagine the effect that ‘the uncollection’ had on the congregation? I am sure people were completely dumbfounded! Incongruity (jolting people by violating their expectations) is seriously underused – perhaps because we think of it as a cheap trick. But it is much more than that. Dutton considers it one of the 5 key elements in instant persuasion 2 (Dutton 2010 – p. 215). Incongruity helps people notice things; when they notice things, they remember them better; the message that follows a surprising event / statement is more likely to be persuasive; and as an additional bonus, people are more likely to share the experience with their friends – so your message travels further (Berger 2014 – p. 42). The Moral: ‘To make things memorable and improve your standing with your students / staff, surprise them!’

Personal investment: The most devilish part in Reverent Steel’s otherwise laudable ploy was this phrase: ‘use it in any way you see fit’. Notice he did not say ‘return it’. The idea is that people had to do something with this money – something for the church. So you can imagine people going ‘Hmmm… What can one do with £ 10?’ But this is just the thing; the moment you start thinking about it you have moved from being a passive supporter to being an active one. The moment you make those cakes to sell, you have changed your self-perception and this is likely to go far beyond a mere £ 10 and extend far into the future. 3 The Moral: ‘If you want your students / staff to change and become more active, get them to do / invest / sacrifice something’ 4.

CS Uncollection 6

Final words:  Real life is unfolding all around us. And it is full of lessons. It pays to go around with open eyes and ears so you make a mental note whenever you come across something interesting. The hard bit of course is applying those lessons. Sometimes however the ideas are directly transferrable. Take the ‘uncollection’ for instance. Why can’t we do the same at the next TESOL Greece Convention? Instead of selling raffle tickets to people, they could get some AND receive a € 10 note for each of them!  Then they could spend the next few weeks thinking how they could raise money for TESOL Greece! Yes – the more I think about the idea, the more I like it. I think I’ll have 5 of these tickets myself! 🙂

If you are interested in reading more about the story, just click here

2 The 5 key elements are: Simplicity (Keep it simple); Perceived self-interest (What’s in it for me?); Incogruity (Wow! What’s going on here?!); Confidence (If I say so – that’s it!); Empathy (I know how you are feeling…) = SPICE! (Dutton 2010 – p. 215).

Perhaps the best known study on this is the one where some people innocently agreed to put up a 3″ x 3″ sticker on their window which read ‘Drive Carefully’. A few weeks later, a staggering 76% of them agreed to put up a huge, ugly sign with the same message on their lawn! (Freedman et al. 1966)

4  The mechanism is that of Cognitive Dissonance (Festinger 1957). Subconsciously, our brain thinks: ‘Oh, I have just spent 5 hours trying to find something to buy and re-sell on e-bay so that I can give the money to the church. Either I am stupid, or I really do care about this old building. (Which of the two explanations do you think our brain will go for?)


Berger, J. “Contagious” Simon & Schuster 2013

Dutton, K. “Flipnosis” Random House 2010

Festinger, L. (1957). “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”. California: Stanford University Press.

Freedman J. L. & Fraser S. C. (1966) ‘Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4, 195-203

Martin, S., Goldstein, N., & Cialdini, R. “The Small Big”  Profile Books 2014

Regan, R. T. (1971). “Effects of a favor and liking on compliance”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 7: 627–639

Communication: Creativity and Lateral Thinking

CS Troy Library: ‘Burn the Books!’

Endangered Species: Once upon a time there was a little library. It was full of books and people loved it. Children spent many a happy hour browsing for little gems among its shelves. Alas, as often happens in fairy tales, things changed and the local authorities found themselves in dire financial straits. If the library was to be saved, the people would have to agree to a 0.7% rise in local taxes. August the 2nd was scheduled as the voting day. The fate of the little library hang in the balance…

An uphill struggle: Things looked bleak. As soon as the date was announced, the ‘Tea Party’ movement, a vociferous and well-funded group, started campaigning in favour of a ‘No’ vote to the proposed tax rise. These people were well organised and it was soon evident that the focus had shifted from whether the library should be saved to something very different – whether one was for or against taxes. The answer to this is of course a no-brainer…

The campaign: Faced with imminent disaster, the supporters of the ‘Yes’ movement realised that a normal campaign would be doomed. It was time for something different. Something drastic. Something spectacular. Could lateral thinking be the answer? Then one of them had a brainwave: ‘Why not go to the opposite extreme? Never mind the library – let us burn those books!’ (I won’t spoil it for you – just watch the video [Case Study mentioned in Ferrier 2013 – p. 101]).

The lessons: So what are the lessons to be gleaned from this amazing case? To me, there are at least 3 things worth noting:

  • Framing: How an issue is framed can often determine what stand people take (Freedman 2013 – ch 27). It is all about playing to your strengths. Attention is a commodity in short supply and if your cause is right it is vital not to allow people to be distracted by irrelevant issues (e.g. Immigration scare-mongering as opposed to who is responsible for the plight of the economy).
  • Emotion: Arousing emotions is a great motivator. Anger is particularly potent (in Berger’s words ‘Make them mad – not sad!’ [Berger 2013 – p. 117]). In this respect the ‘book burning’ idea was a stroke of genius as it clearly evokes images of Nazis burning books in Hitler’s evil regime. It was this visceral anger that motivated people to act – by posting comments, raising the issue in public forums etc.
  • Incongruity: To cut down on processing effort, our brain does not notice everything. It normally operates on autopilot, until something strikes it as strange, weird or out of place. Then it switches to high alert and things start to register properly. Here, the element of incongruity was used twice; first with the ‘Book Burning Party’ and then once again when the whole story came out. Amazing! Moral: to attract attention, break a pattern! (Heath & Heath 2008 – p. 64)

The role of the media: Notice that a key component of the success of this (counter-) campaign was the media. The whole thing went viral and when the true identity of the ‘whackos’ was revealed, this led to a second wave of media coverage. Why was it so successful? The campaign ticks three items in Berger’s list of virality ingredients: ‘Public’ (it was very visible); ‘Triggers’ (whenever people saw books or a fireplace they were reminded of it) and ‘Emotion’. In Berger’s words – ‘When we care, we share’ (ibid – ch 3).


Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster.
Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
Freedman, L. (2013) Strategy. New York, Oxford University Press.
Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2008) Made to Stick. London: Random House.

‘Gamification: Hotel 626’


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Learning from the experts:  How do you frighten the life out of teenagers? Here is a recipe: you take the demon child from ‘The Exorcist’, the scary corridor shots from ‘The Shining’ and a number of killer psychopaths from ‘Scream’, you mix them all together and, hey presto, you have got ‘Hotel 626’! Why would you want to scare teenagers senseless? Why, to sell stuff of course! Amazingly, ‘Hotel 626’ – an interactive video game – was designed for promotional purposes! But it is nothing like the infomercials we watch on TV. While the ingredients are familiar, the cooking method employed and the spices used simply blew my mind away! No wonder it won the most prestigious marketing award, the Cyber Lion, in 2009. As I mostly teach teenagers I can just imagine them glued to the screen, hearts pounding, totally absorbed – totally focused and I ask myself: ‘Can we not design equally effective materials?’ To get an idea of what the game is like, just watch the short clip below.

‘Hotel 626’ – The Game:  You need to check into the hotel. Significantly, the game asks for permission to use your webcam and your mobile phone number – as well as access to your Facebook friends. Then the action starts and you wake up inside the hotel of your worst nightmares. The lighting is dim and ominous creaks suggest that staying put is not an option. You can hear your shallow breath and your heart pounding. Your task is ‘simple’ – you have to stay alive and get out.  To do this you run down the corridors blindly searching for an exit. While looking around you find yourself in the room of a serial killer – and find your own picture among his would-be victims! Then you get a phone call – on your real mobile phone! A creepy voice gives you some instructions. There are a number of things you have to do and you have to make sure you do them right, or else…

You need to take a picture of a dangerous psychopath and lull a demon baby to sleep (creepy doesn’t even begin to describe it!). At some point you find yourself in a small room with a maniac wielding a chainsaw. You barricade yourself inside a closet but it’s only a matter of time before he gets you. All is not lost however – you can send a message to your friends and ask them to help you. If they agree, they need to scream into their microphones and hit as many keys on their keyboard as they can in order to distract him – in the confusion, you might just escape. In another twist of the plot, players find themselves presented with a dilemma: they see two pictures of real Facebook friends of theirs and they have to choose who is going to live and who is not long for this world… If you manage to avoid being devoured or hacked to pieces you eventually get to a door. The door is locked. If only you could find a way to open it… (Game description in Lewis 2013 – p. 214)

Applications in the field of ELT:  This game proved to be hugely addictive with teenagers. As Tom Chatfield says, the power of video games to motivate and transfix players is awesome 1 (TED talk – 0:30). So, what can we learn from this? What are the key elements that we can perhaps transfer to our teaching?

Tailoring: To make the game more attractive, the designers have ‘tailored’ it to teenagers’ preferences and lifestyle. Notice the genre (horror!), the medium (a computer on-line game) and the use of the social media. If we are teaching teenagers and we want them to read, it might make sense for us to give them stories like ‘The Baskerville Hound’ (Doyle) or ‘The Black Cat’ (Poe) rather than ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (Dickens). Computer-based adventures (e.g. ‘Cluefinders’ – see below) are more likely to appeal to them than board games. And of course, if we can incorporate the use of the social media in classroom work, students are more likely to be motivated as it is in our interests to break down the distinction between ‘classroom’ (boring) and real life (exciting). 2

The importance of story lines: It is one thing for people to have to solve problems, it’s quite another if these problems are embedded in a story-line and are part of an overall objective. Hotel 626 does have this of course, which is why it is so gripping, but the principle can be used in an educational context as well. One of the best applications of this principle I have seen is the ‘Cluefinders’ series produced by The Learning Company. Each adventure follows a group of children as they collect clues in order to solve a mystery, recover a lost treasure or save someone. Intended for American children, these games use a variety of tasks to teach 7 to 10-year-olds elements of Geography, Arithmetic, Reading Skills and Vocabulary.  As all the interactions are in English, I have used these with my students and they loved them! 3

Hotel 626 aInteractivity: By ‘interactivity’ I do not simply mean that the subject does something but that the action changes as a result of what they do. Having control over what happens is a huge motivator (Gilbert 2006 – p. 21). In RPGs like Hotel 626 it’s the player who decides what happens next. Alas, most of what happens in class is far from interactive. Even if the students do things, it is usually the coursebook or the teacher who decides how things will unfold. A notable exception is the ‘Survivor’ game which I came across in a resource book (Anderson 2004 – p. 54). Students have to survive on a desert island and they have to take decisions at different stages. Depending on what they decide they move to different locations where they are confronted with a new problem. It is essentially very similar to a ‘Cluefinders’ adventure only it does not employ technology. Despite that it has proved enormously popular with my students.

The social element: According to Lieberman (2013) the number one priority for humans is to establish and maintain strong bonds with their social group. This is even more so with teenagers. Given this fact, it is amazing that in the field of Education the ‘social’ element is often considered to be the enemy of learning (Lieberman – RSA talk [18:05] – click here). Advertisers and game designers are of course miles ahead. In WoW for instance, people get to go on missions with their friends (Gottschall 2012 – Chapter 9) while in the hugely successful ‘Farmville’, you have to water your crops at regular intervals, or they will die. How can you do that when for whatever reason you are busy? Why, you rely on your friends of course. You text them and ask them to water them for you! (McRaney 2013 – p. 225). Notice how cleverly this is done in ‘Hotel 626’ – remember how you can save yourself from that maniac? (See also Chatfield’s TED talk – 12:25).

Hotel 626 bPersonalisation: The other noteworthy element about ‘Hotel 626’ is how it has been made to feel real by incorporating elements from your everyday life. Notice little details like the pictures of yourself you see in the maniac’s lair, the appearance of your Facebook friends in the game and the brilliant touch of the phonecall you get on your actual mobile phone! As Fine (2005) points out, we cannot help ourselves; as human beings we are the centre of our universe and everything that has to do with ourselves is far more likely to motivate us than most elements which simply have to do with the outside reality or other people. It follows then that any learning activity which involves personalization, whether it is relating adjectives of personality to our relatives and friends or giving a talk about our actual hobbies or making a Brainshark slide presentation with the pictures of our last holiday is likely to increase motivation.

Arousal: A final noteworthy point is that of arousal. Notice how in the game the player is always in a state of high alertness. Make no mistake – this is one of the main reasons behind the attraction of games like WoW or even blitz chess! There are two reasons why one might consider using high-arousal activities in class. The first one is that high arousal often means you remember things better (see below!). So, activities like wall-dictation for instance, where students have to run back and forth, or high-intensity time-pressure competitive games like ‘Just a Minute’ can pay great dividends in terms of information retention. But there is another reason as well; high arousal activities (e.g. riding a roller-coaster) involve the secretion of chemicals that make us feel good. Incredibly, this has a spill-over effect (Saloway, Yale Courses, Lecture 9) 4. To put it simply, your students may come to like English lessons, partly because they feel good after such an activity!

What was being advertised?:  You will never guess… Never in a million years. The answer is:… Doritos chips! Incredibly, neither the logo nor the product itself appear during the entire game. Except in the last scene that is, when players come to a dead end. There is only one way out, but the door is locked. As demons, madmen etc are hot on the player’s heels they have to think of something – fast! For the opening mechanism to be activated, the frantic teenager has to hold a code or marker up to a webcam. Fortunately that code is printed on a bag of Doritos chips which happens to be lying around… Under such circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that the brand name is indelibly etched on the player’s memory! Did the idea work? Well, when the game was first launched, 2 million bags of the target flavours were sold within 3 weeks…

1 Tom Chatfield’s short TED talk offers very interesting lessons for Educators – and the lessons do not just have to do with video games. Notice how ‘Hotel 626’ makes use of points 4 (Instant Feedback), 5 (Uncertainty) and 7 (Other People). To watch the talk, just click here.

2 Tailoring goes far beyond the classroom. During the first gulf war, the US troops suffered a disproportionate number of eye injuries from shrapnel etc. When the army looked into it, they discovered soldiers hated wearing their goggles because they thought they were ugly. Solution: they designed cooler goggles (Hallinan 2009 – p. 214)

3 To get an idea of what the tasks look like, just click here. You can see a number of tasks at 15:31, 18:30, 1:04:30, 1:14:55 etc.

4 For the phenomenon of misattribution, see Salovery P., Yale Courses: Introduction to Psychology (PSYC 110). Lecture 9 – 43:55. To watch the talk, just click here.

[This article first appeared in the IATEFL ‘Learning Technologies’ SIG NL]



Anderson, J. “Teamwork” Delta Publishing 2004

Chatfield, T. “7 Ways Video Games Engage the Brain” TED Talk, YouTube 2010.

Fine, C. “A Mind of its Own”  Icon Books 2005

Gilbert, D. “Stumbling on Happiness” Harper Perennial 2007

Gottschall, J. “The Storytelling Animal” Houghton Mifflin 2012

Hallinan, J. “Why We Make Mistakes” Broadway 2009

Hotel 626 trailer: “Psychology and ELT – Technology and Motivation” YouTube 2014

Lewis, D. “The Brain Sell” Nicholas Brealey Publishing 2013

Lieberman, M. “Social” Oxford 2013

Lieberman, M. “Making Social a Superpower in the Classroom” RSA Talks, YouTube 2013

McRaney, D. “You can Beat your Brain” Oneworld 2013

Saloway, P. Yale Courses “Introduction to Psychology” Lecture 9, YouTube 2008

Psychology and ELT – Story-Generating Activities

‘Getting learners to do what comes naturally to them’

Geometric Thriller: Look at the screen below. What do you see inside the frame? Well, clearly, there is an open box and three geometric shapes: a large triangle, a smaller one and a small circle. What happens however if these shapes start moving about? Will you still see them as small, 2D objects moving about on a screen? If so, you are a rare person indeed! But do not take my word for it; just click on play and watch the 90 second film for yourself. Chances are, what you are going to see is a story – perhaps like this one 1. In the original study (Heider & Simmel 1944) what 33 out of the 34 subjects saw was a true thriller! But how does this happen?

Gazzaniga’s Experiments: In a series of fascinating experiments, Michael Gazzaniga discovered ‘the interpreter’ – a neural circuit which helps to organise a person’s experience into a meaningful whole. Gazzaniga worked with split-brain patients. These people had undergone operations which had severed the corpus callosum which links the two brain hemispheres. Researchers had pictures briefly flashed in front of either the left or the right eye (this information is conveyed to the right or left hemisphere respectively).

Stories 4In one case, the patient was shown a chicken claw (L hemisphere) and was asked to pick a picture with his R hand. He chose that of a chicken. When asked why, he correctly pointed out the link between the claw and the bird. Then he was shown a snowy scene (R hemisphere) and once again was asked to pick a picture. He picked that of a shovel. When asked why however, his R brain could not reply, because the verbal functions are mostly located in the other hemisphere! Here comes the interesting bit: the L hemisphere (which controls language) had no idea why the subject had picked the shovel, but it made up an explanation nevertheless on the basis of the information it had!! The patient said ‘Well… you need a shovel to clean out the chicken coop!’ Amazing!!

Time and again the researchers got the same results; when they flashed a card which read ‘Walk’ to the R hemisphere, the patient got up and started walking. When asked why, he did not know of course but ‘the interpreter’ in the L hemisphere made up a reason just the same – ‘I’m going to get a Coke!’ (studies described in McRaney 2012, p. 19).

Implications for ELT: So here is the idea: it appears that this ‘interpreter’ – the module which ‘connects the dots’ into a coherent whole is part of the ‘standard equipment’ of the human brain. Not only that; because such an ability was so useful to us, nature has fitted us with a reward mechanism, so we get a neuro-chemical reward every time we manage to do so (Ramachandran & Hirstein 1999). It follows therefore that activities which use a range of stimuli to encourage learners to come up with stories should be both pleasurable and ones which come naturally to them. Here are six examples:

Warm-up activities 1: Many of the texts we give our students to read are in fact stories. To get our students interested and prepare them for reading by activating their mental schemata we can select a few key words and get the students in pairs to come up with their own version of what happened. That will provide them with the motivation to read the text in order to see how accurate their predictions were. This is a very versatile activity and requires very little preparation.

Warm-up activities 2: This is a more sophisticated version of the above, particularly suitable for listening texts. Using simple editing tools (e.g. ‘Audacity’), we can cut some sentences from the text and get students to listen to them in random order (alternatively we can just type them up and give them to the students). Then they have to work together to sequence them and once again speculate about what might have happened in the story (e.g. Vince 1992, p. 44).

Ambiguous stories: In this activity, students are given a set of pictures, where the sequence is not obvious. Students have to decide on a plausible order and write up the story. They can then read their story aloud and their partner / their classmates can arrange the pictures in the right order as the story unfolds. Alternatively each student can come up with his/her own version and compare it with that of their classmates (Ur 1988, p. 219).

Creative story writing 1: In this fantastic activity, students are given ideas for the beginning and the end of a story (e.g. Beginning: ‘A hiking holiday’ – ending: ‘A first prize’) and many words / phrases in-between some of which are connected together in a grid. Students can  choose different ‘routes’ (e.g. ‘A hiking holiday’ – ‘an accident’ – ‘a wedding’ – ‘something found’ etc. etc. … – ‘a first prize’) and in the end they can again compare their version to that of their classmates (Grellet, 1996, p. 120)

Stories 9aCreative story writing 2: This is a more interactive version of the above. Students are told they are going to write fairy tales. They work in pairs. Each student is given a picture of an object (e.g. a ring). They have to write 2-3 sentences and try to include the object somehow. Then they swap stories with the person next to them. Their partner has to continue the story while including a new object. After 2-3 sentences the process is repeated, until in the end students are given some time to finish off the story any way they like.

Sounds into story: Although this idea is an old one, it still has great novelty value as it is very different from all the others. Students listen to a sequence of sounds (e.g. an engine starting, a cat meowing, a window smashing, etc.) They then have to try to figure out what happened and write down the story (if you want to try this with your class, just click here). There are many variations of this idea (e.g. Maley & Duff 1975) and nowadays of course sound effects are readily downloadable, which means that teachers can easily create their own sequences.

From Thrillers to Romance: OK – here is something else you can use with your students  (‘Watch this ad, then write the story!’) As Berger (2013 – p. 115) explains, Google wanted to show people how easy it is to use their engine to find just about everything. So in this beautiful ad we follow a young American who travels to Paris in order to study. Upon getting there, he looks for a café nearby… and then his whole life changes. The ad is short, sweet and hugely popular (7.5 m hits and counting!). Like a treasure hunt, the carefully selected clues lead the viewer to effortlessly reconstruct what happened. The ad cost next to nothing and yet it was voted best Super Bowl commercial for 2010.  That speaks volumes about the power of stories….

1 “The small triangle and the small circle (the couple) enter the screen together and the big triangle (the villain) storms out of his house. The big triangle violently butts the little guy (small triangle) out of the way and herds the protesting heroine (small circle) back into his house. The big triangle then chases the circle back and forth trying to work her into a corner. The scene reeks of sexual menace…” (Gottschall 2012 – p. 106)


Berger, J. “Contagious” Simon & Schuster 2013

Boyd, B. “On the Origin of Stories” Harvard University Press 2010

Gottschall, J. “The Storytelling Animal” Houghton Mifflin 2012

Grellet, F. “Writing for Advanced Learners of English” Cambridge 1996

Heider, F. & Simmel, M. “An Experimental Study of Apparent Behaviour” American Journal of Psychology 57 (1944): 243-259

Maley, A. & Duff A. “Sounds Interesting” Cambridge 1975

McRaney, D. “You are not so Smart” Oneworld 2012

Ramachandran and Hirstein ‘The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience’ Journal of Consciousness Studies 1999

Ur, P. “Grammar Practice Activities” Cambridge 1988

Vince, M. “Highlight Intermediate” Heinemann 1992

Happiness and ELT

Following numerous requests by colleagues (well, ok, 1.5 messages if you must know…) I eventually decided to indulge in this shameless act of self-promotion… 🙂 The aim of this talk was to present some findings from the field of Positive Psychology as well as 4 practical activities that we can use in class to make our students happier. Now I know what you are thinking: ‘No way am I going to watch a talk lasting 45 min!’. Quite. Feel free to ignore it. The important bit is a 2 min section: 8:27 – 10:38. I was completely blown away by this idea the first time I encountered it in Nettle (‘Happiness’ – Oxford 2006, p. 14).

Psychology and ELT – Arousal

‘What’s wrong with being ‘high’?’

‘I think I’m in love’:  You cross your bridges when you come to them. That makes sense. But now imagine that having crossed one of these bridges, you are accosted by a pretty girl who would like to ask you some questions for a research project. Assuming for a moment that you are of the male persuasion and you happen to like girls, this sounds like a good thing. It gets even better, when at the end of the questionnaire she gives you her telephone number (!) and tells you that if you would like to learn more about the study you can call her any time (jackpot!). Well, do you call her? And does it matter what kind of a bridge you have just crossed? Just watch the video…

A spillover effect:  The Capillano shaky bridge experiment (Dutton & Aron 1974) is one of the most famous in Social Psychology. The idea is this: the physiological effects of a number of emotions are actually very similar – they trigger a heightened state of arousal. Our bodies get ready for action, but what kind of action? Fighting? Fleeing? Flirting? We assume that we know, because we assume it was this knowledge that led to the arousal in the first place (‘Ooops! A lion! I’d better start feeling afraid!’). Yet Psychologists argue that emotions are generated in the part of the brain which is beyond our consciousness (the ‘Adaptive Unconscious’ – Wilson 2002, ch. 2). So what happens instead is that we feel this arousal and (not being aware of what has caused it) we look around trying to detect the source (‘I feel aroused – Why? Ooops! A lion – it must be that I am afraid!’). Now you might say this has little to do with teaching, but what about the following studies?

Jogging and sharing: Subjects were invited in the lab to take part in a couple of studies. Half of them were asked to sit down and relax; the other half however were instructed to jog on the spot for 60 seconds. They were somewhat taken aback of course, but they complied. All subjects were then asked to take part in a seemingly unrelated study. Researchers told them they were interested to see what kind of things people shared. So they were each given a recent article to read and told that if they found it interesting, they could e-mail it to a friend. The results were stunning: a staggering 75% of the people who had jogged chose to share the article – twice as many as the ones who had not! (Berger 2013 – p. 121) We can see the same spillover effect in action; people attributed their arousal to the article. ‘I feel excited, ergo this article must be interesting’. And if you care, you share.

Arousal 4

Consensus vs conflict: In a fascinating study, researchers asked the teachers of some fifth and sixth graders to get them to interact on a topic. In one case the task design guided students to achieve consensus, while in another it was such that it encouraged disagreement. The results were revealing: in the former case students were far less interested – the studied less, participated less and were less likely to seek additional information. Not so in the latter case though! The most startling difference was observed when the teachers showed a film related to the topic – during recess. Under normal conditions, students have very clear priorities: recess comes first! Surprisingly, about 18% of the consensus group chose to miss their break to watch the film, but the figure for the other group rose to an astonishing 45! (Lowry & Johnson 1981).

Applications in the field of ELT:  In view of all the above, I think it makes great sense to use high arousal activities in our lessons. Not only are they enjoyable in their own right, our students may well find the content more interesting and our lessons more exciting. In addition, such activities actually do lead to better learning. Williams & Burden (1997 – p. 127) list a number of features of such tasks (concentration – purposefulness – immediate feedback – a loss of sense of time etc.) which signal a state of ‘flow’, which has been shown to be highly conducive to learning.

So – how can we do that? There are three factors which usually lead to high arousal in the classroom: physical movement, competition and time pressure.  Here are some excellent activities which exploit these elements (the ones employing technology are marked with a T).

Debates: As the last study suggests, debates are excellent for getting people involved – far more so than consensus activities. The reason is partly that once we have expressed a view in public our ego is at stake and we hate it if someone tries to shoot down our arguments (see Tavris & Aronson 2008). The funny thing is that this happens even if people choose sides at random and it is clear they do not necessarily subscribe to the views they defend! Penny Ur (1991 – pp. 105-108) gives a number of ideas for the classroom. If students cannot come up with arguments, they can go to ‘idebate’ for help [click here]. For younger students, Daley & Dahlie 2002 is a good resource.

Quizlet – Space Race [T]: Quizlet is a fantastic tool! Based on the traditional idea of flashcards (e.g. with a word on one side and a translation / synonym / definition on the other) it has taken the idea a lot further. Once you have generated your card set, there is an activity called ‘Space Race’ where the words fly across the screen one at a time; the student’s task is to type up what is on the other side of the card (e.g. the definition or synonym etc.) This simple game is truly addictive! [For a simple tutorial on how to use Quizlet just click here].

Speed-reading – Cueprompter [T]: Cueprompter is one of my favourite sites for improving reading speed. It is extremely simple to use. You select your text. You do your pre-R activities. You give the students the Qs they will have to answer.  Then you paste the text into the box provided on the site and you click on ‘Play’. Students start reading, but as they read, the top lines start disappearing, so they have to read faster! As you can adjust the speed, this is simply perfect for reading comprehension – and it is extremely arousing, believe you me! [For a simple tutorial on how to use Cueprompter just click here].

Wall Dictation: Students (and not only young learners) love this one! You choose your dictation text (you can actually use different ones, with the same number of words). You divide your class into pairs.  One of the students (the ‘Writer’) does the writing, the other (the ‘Runner’) has to tell him/her what to write. You paste copies of the text(s) on the front wall of the classroom. On your signal, the Runners run to the front of the class and try to memorise as much of the text as they can; then they run back and dictate it to their partner. Then they run to the front for more. The pair to finish first wins. Excellent!

Screaming Definitions: Another hugely popular vocabulary revision activity. You divide up the class into two teams – one on the left and one on the right. One student from each team comes to the front of the classroom and turns around to face their teammates. The teacher writes a word on the board. The members of each team have to call out definitions, synonyms, or they use examples to help their teammate guess the word. The first one to do so wins a point for their group. With lots of people shouting simultaneously, arousal levels soar! 🙂

One Question Behind: This is a brilliant activity for practicing Q-forms. Students work in pairs; they bombard each other with questions, for a certain amount of time – say 1 minute. The student who gives the replies answers not the question s/he is being asked, but the one before it! (E.g. Q1: ‘What’s your name?’ A1: xxx / Q2: ‘Where do you live?’ A2: ‘John Smith’ / Q3: ‘What is your phone number?’ A3: ‘Athens, Greece’ etc.) The person who answers the most Qs ‘correctly’ is the winner. Answering the previous Q while trying to remember the last one is quite challenging and lots of fun!

Final words: Arousal is a very important ingredient in effective lessons and one which I feel has been underused, partly because of fear that it might lead to rowdiness and partly through a conviction that a slower, more reflective mode leads to deeper learning (e.g. ‘Suggestopedia’ – Richards 2001, Ch. 8). In my experience however, high arousal activities can be both effective and enjoyable. Just keep in mind that shaky bridge and make sure your students do not fall in love with you. 🙂 But chances are they will be too focused on the activities. Take that last one for instance. I am sure the most perceptive among you have noticed that it bears some resemblance to a classic sketch by the Two Ronnies. Indeed it does. Here it is.  🙂


Dutton, D. G. and Aron, A. P. (1974). “Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, pp. 510–517.

Berger, J. “Contagious” Simon & Schuster 2013.

Daley, P. & Dahlie, M. “For & Against!” Scholastic 2002.

Lowry, N. & Johnson, D. (1981) “Effects of Controversy on Epistemic Curiosity, Achievement and Attitudes” The Journal of Social Psychology – Volume 115, Issue 1 (pp 31-43).

Richards, J. “Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching” Cambridge University Press 2001.

Tavris, C. & Aronson, E. “Mistakes were Made (But not by Me)” Pinter and Martin 2008.

Ur, P. “Discussions that Work” Cambridge University Press 1991.

Williams, M. & Burden, R. “Psychology for Language Teachers” Cambridge University Press 1997.

Wilson, T. “Strangers to Ourselves” Belknap Harvard 2002

TESOL Greece: 2015 Convention: Questions and Answers

10 Questions – 10 (frank) Answers

1)   What is the topic of your presentation?

“Psychology and ELT: How to Make your Students Happy”.

2)  What motivated you to submit a proposal to the Tesol Greece Convention?

Many people will answer it’s because ‘They feel the urge to share what they have read / discovered / tried out’. But how valid is this answer? When it comes to our motives Timothy Wilson reminds us that we are ‘Strangers to Ourselves’. R. Kurzban goes further: the conscious part of the brain, he says, is not the ‘Oval Office’; instead it is that of the Press Secretary – its role is to put a positive spin on everything we do.

A more honest answer might be ‘The desire to further my career’. [NB: If you are a man, you also have an additional motivation – and this helps explain why, proportionally, male speakers outnumber their female colleagues. Yes, there is one thing that we, men, do better than women – and it is NOT giving presentations ( 🙂 just click here) ]

Q and A 3

3)   How is your presentation connected to the Convention’s theme “Teaching to New Heights”?

Well, as I’m sure you know, very few people prepare something specifically with a Convention theme in mind. What normally happens is that someone has been working on something and they have some material ready. Then the organizing committee obligingly selects a theme which is broad enough for people to be able to find some kind of a connection between it and their field of interest.

What I believe is the connection between my presentation and this year’s theme is this: what is going to elevate our teaching to ‘New Heights’ is our giving students an additional reason to come to our classes – apart from learning the language. This can be having fun (e.g. YouTube ‘Comedy for ELT’), socialising (e.g. humanistic activities), learning something interesting (e.g. CLIL) or just leaving the lesson feeling happier!

4)   Who is Nick Michelioudakis? What is the single characteristic that you want most people to know about you?

If people want to learn things about me, they can find stuff on the net (and it’s always unwise to encourage men to talk about themselves… 🙂 ). Still, since you ask me about a single characteristic, I will answer using the words of my good friend Anne Leventeris, who once told me “The thing about you is – you cannot do fluff” ( = simply socialise / talk without saying anything).

5)   What is the core message of your presentation and how will that be communicated to your audience?

Teaching should be about more than just language. So far, most of our efforts in the ELT world have focused on finding ways to help students learn as well as possible, in as short time as possible and with as little effort as possible. I think there are three problems here: a) There are still many things we don’t know about how languages are learned and what works best for different students. This is why people so often come up with ‘The Magic Bullet’ – the ‘Killer Method’ – only to be proven wrong a few years later. Examples abound.  b) The law of diminishing returns kicks in beyond a certain point. You go on learning stuff and improving the effectiveness of your teaching, but then you reach a point where you need to put in an enormous amount of work for only marginal improvement. This is when you need to look elsewhere if you want to go on developing.  c) Language (and language teaching) should be a means to an end. Practicing piano scales is just a necessary step so you can play songs / waltzes / fugues etc. Learning English should be a way of helping people make new friends / accessing a new culture and its literature / pursuing happiness perhaps! Why not start in the classroom?

6)   What motivates YOU as an educator/professional?

New insights. Here is one: If you and I are both into chess, chances are we are going to like each other. But if I hate Brad Pitt for splitting up with Jennifer Aniston some years back (you can tell how up to date I am with Hollywood gossip… 🙂 ) and you feel the same as well, chances are we are going to like each other even more! It seems that bonding through negativity is even stronger! (Wiseman 2010 – p. 177).

7)   Tell us about a Golden moment, a time when you thought you reached “Great Heights” in your career so far.

‘The best is always yet to come’ (Bob Dylan). When you reach an important goal, you feel great of course, but then you habituate. You get used to things. This is nature’s way of making you try harder – and one of the most important reasons why, all too often, we are not as happy as we feel we ought to be. Here is a most important discovery: ‘Nature does not want you to be happy; it wants you to be successful!’

8)   What will the main issue/challenge in the field of ELT be in the coming years?

Technology.  It is already changing the way we do things. There is no choice really; ‘Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt’ (Seneca) – ‘The fates lead the willing and drag those who resist’ [‘omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina…’  🙂 ]

Q and A 2

9)   What do you love/enjoy most about what you do?

Sharing stories. Stories are direct, concrete and they convey the intended message far more effectively than principles or figures. More importantly – we are wired for this medium! (Boyd 2010). There is a company called ‘Nordstrom’ which prides itself on the quality of service it offers. When it trains its sales staff (they are all called ‘Nordies’), it does so by means of stories about exceptional employees who had lived up to the company ideal by providing services ‘beyond the call of duty’. There are stories about Nordies who…

…ironed a shirt for a customer who needed it for an interview that same afternoon;

…happily gift-wrapped objects that a customer had bought in a rival company store!

…refunded money for a set of tire chains. Nothing special here, you might say, except that Nordstrom does not sell tire chains!!  🙂 (stories given in Heath & Heath 2008 – p. 73).

So here is an idea for ELT: why not collect together some stories about random exceptional deeds performed by teachers all over the world?  Their inspirational value would be enormous!

10)   What is your biggest fear about the years ahead?

Can I mention two? Thank you. Here they are:

10 a) Visibility often trumps quality (see the notion of ‘Cognitive Fluency’ – Kenrick et al. 2012 – ch. 4). This is the idea: while surfing the social media, we constantly come across certain faces or names and they become familiar. Our brain then performs two logical ‘leaps’; first of all, it equates ‘familiarity’ with ‘popularity’. Naturally, this does not follow necessarily; Scott Thornbury’s face/name may come up again and again because he is an authority in the field. Other people may just be spammers. Our brain has great difficulty remembering the source of memories (Shcacter 2007 – Ch. 4).

The brain then performs another ‘leap’; it jumps from ‘popularity’ to ‘quality’ (‘If people share this post left, right and centre, the writer must be good’). Of course, most people only skim through posts (when they actually do look at them) and very often we share things for other reasons, most notably loyalty/reciprocation (‘Well, she shared mine, so…’). The net result is that people who self-promote and people who are good at ‘grooming’ lots of others (in the chimp sense of the word) end up with thousands of followers on Twitter and then they can be seen on panel discussions sitting next to people like Jeremy Harmer (which of course provides post-hoc confirmation of the connection the brain had originally made…) If you start comparing the quality of the work of the various panelists however, the picture that emerges is very puzzling indeed….

Q and A 1

10b) Favouritism undermines meritocracy.

In other words, people tend to favour and promote their friends. There are 3 factors at play here:

i)         Availability (see Kahneman 2011 – ch. 12): the people who do the Conference circuit / give webinars / write books etc. are a small group. After a while they get to know / recognize each other. When they are asked (and this happens very often) who they would recommend as future speaker for instance, the first names that spring to mind are people they know.

ii)       Reciprocity: People have a strong tendency to reciprocate favours – even if they did not ask for them or they do not like the other party (Cialdini 2001 – ch. 2). If someone invites me to give a 3-day seminar in their country, it is very hard for me afterwards to refuse to publish an article of theirs in the Journal I edit – even if I do not think it is up to par.

iii)      Machiavellianism: Coalition formation has always been the way for humans to get ahead (see Maestripieri 2012 – ch. 3 & 4). ‘You scratch my back, I scratch yours’ – you publish my article, I’ll nominate you for the X award, etc. etc. Naturally, most of this happens unconsciously; we find all kinds of ways to rationalize our behaviour (‘She really is exceptional, despite her age’). This happens everywhere – it would be strange if  the ELT world were an exception.


Boyd, B. “On the Origin of Stories” Harvard University Press 2010

Cialdini, R. “Influence – Science and Practice”, Allyn & Bacon 2001

Heath, C. & Heath, D. “Made to Stick” Random House 2008

Kahneman, D. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Allen Lane 2011

Kenrick, Goldstein & Braver “Six Degrees of Social Influence” Oxford 2012

Kurzban, R. “Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite” Princenton University Press 2012

Maestripieri, D. “Games Primates Play” Basic Books 2012

Schacter, D. “How the Mind Forgets and Remembers” Souvenir Press 2001

Wilson, T. “Strangers to Ourselves” Belknap Harvard 2002

Wiseman, R. “59 Seconds” Pan Books 2010

Psychology and ELT – Tweaking Activities

‘If They Can Do It – So Can We!’

Here is your task: You are an advertiser and you have been asked to re-launch a product (Shreddies – a square-shaped breakfast cereal) for a particular market. Please bear in mind that a) the product has been around for donkey’s years and everyone knows it b) you have not changed the product in any way! Quite a tall order, right? In fact, Hunter Sommerville, the guy who was charged with designing the box, was at his wit’s end – if ever there was a ‘mission impossible’ this was it! And then an idea struck him – perhaps if he rotated the picture by 45 degrees?!?

Tweaking 3 New Diamond Shreddies!!:  The creative team had been racking their brains all day but to no avail. In desperation they turned to Sommerville: ‘Any suggestions?’ So he told them. According to his account there was a momentary silence; then everybody burst out laughing!  (Leslie 2011) The idea was so preposterous, it might just work! They designed their whole campaign around it! ‘New Shreddies’ – ‘now in a delicious diamond shape!!’ 🙂 In a parody of ‘real-life’ interviews, they had some people come to the studio and taste the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Shreddies – that is exactly the same product with a different orientation! 🙂 – who naturally declared that the new ones were ‘crunchier’ with one of them proclaiming they produced ‘a 3D effect’!  Bizarre or not, the acid test in advertising is simple: ‘Does it work?’ In this case it did. Sales soared!! [You simply must watch this; here is the video].

Why did it work so well?:  I think the reason why this commercial was so successful is because the claim it appears to be making (that a Shreddie will taste differently if you tilt it by 45 degrees!) is so ridiculous that it momentarily deactivates what Kahneman calls ‘System 2’ – our apparatus for conscious, deliberate thought (Kahneman 2011). Apparently, our default mechanism is to initially believe everything we hear! (Chabris & Simons 2010) Immediately afterwards, the defence/disbelief mechanism kicks in (‘Hang on, what is this??) In this case however, while System 2 is preoccupied with these bizarre claims, the script writer slips in a couple of messages ‘it is more interesting’ / ‘it is crunchier’ etc. The advertisers will get you yet!  🙂 *

Applications in the field of ELT:  What can all this mean for us in ELT? Here is the basic idea: Repetition leads to boredom – and attention flags quickly with boring tasks (Medina 2008). Alas, in many teaching situations we are compelled to use a certain suite of activities, either because of face validity (they look the same as the ones in the exam) or because the coursebook / syllabus / DOS says so. Yet this does not mean we cannot ‘tweak’ them a little! Remember: the smallest change can make a difference!  If advertisers can do it, so can we! I have chosen to give three examples here, though of course the possibilities are endless. [NB: Whereas the change in the Shreddies cereals was cosmetic, the changes in these activities do create ‘educational added value’ as you will see!]

Listening – ‘You Bet!’:  In many exam-oriented tasks a L or R text is followed by M/C Qs which are in the right order. The simplest way to transform this activity is to get students in pairs to read each Q and predict which is the right answer (say B). Depending on how certain they are, they can bet from 1 to 10 points on it (e.g. 6 points on B). If the answer is indeed B, they double their points (6 x 2) while if it is not, they lose them. The winner is the pair with the most points at the end. To make it even more motivating, it is best if you get the students to look at the Qs one by one and then you get the students to listen to (or read) the text bit-by-bit. Then the process can be repeated for the next Q. Quite apart from the motivational value of this game and the fact that it requires no preparation, it also encourages students to look at the Qs carefully and make predictions – a crucial exam-prep skill!

Tweaking 2Dictation – ‘Grammar Up!’:  Some people feel that dictation is, well… just dictation and there is little we can do about it. Not so. This is dictation, but with a difference!  Students listen to a ‘bare bones’ form of the text – the text with some words as well as some grammatical morphemes missing. Once they have taken down every word, students work in pairs to ‘reconstruct’ the original text as it should have been (E.g. “Sun – rise – east – set  – west” in all probability is “The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west”). They then compare their version with that of a teacher. What I love about this activity is that it is so much more active for the learners than standard dictation. Students really have to invest in this task and in the process they have to make choices about Grammar for instance (‘Should it be Past Simple or Present Perfect?’) but they also have to think about collocation and colligation. [Idea found in Thornbury 2001]. **

Reading – ‘Hidden Message’:  Having given our students a text to skim for gist or scan for specific info, we may want them to look at it in greater detail. How can we do this? A fantastic way is to ‘hide a message’ inside the text which the students then have to find! Essentially, this is an adaptation of the former FCE UoE Part 4 task, where students had to spot the ‘extra’ words – only here the words actually form a message! There are two features I love about this activity: a) You can adjust the level of difficulty by choosing where to place the new words and b) the message can be ‘tailor-made’ for each class! (E.g. ‘Research has shown that varying guys activities can be a useful switch way of increasing off students’ motivation; variety prevents your boredom and leads to better cell phones results in the long run’) [I have to thank my good friend Michael Robbs for sharing this activity with me some years back!] **

Tweaking 4Vocabulary – ‘Funny Definitions Bingo’:  [Adapted from Watcyn – Jones 1993] All students know how to play ‘Bingo’. Each student is given a different set of words. The teacher calls out words at random from her list (which includes all the words she has given to students). The latter cross out the words they hear. The first one to cross out all his/her words calls out ‘Bingo’ and is the winner. This is fine for lower levels. At higher levels, it is too easy, so the teacher can try variations such as calling out an antonym of the word or a definition. However, we can give this old activity a new twist by providing funny definitions instead! (e.g. ‘A banker provided by nature’ [ = father! ] or ‘Future tense of marriage’ [ = divorce! ] 🙂 ) [NB: The definitions should not be too difficult or the activity slows down too much. A quick pace is a crucial element in games! (Lee 1979)] **

Last words – What is Art? The human brain is wired to reject monotony.  Experts agree that variety is the key to motivation (e.g. Dornyei 2001). Yet partly as a result of a heavy workload, partly because of the uniformity of coursebooks, we often switch to autopilot and find ourselves using an ever-diminishing repertoire of techniques in our lessons. We must fight this at all costs. And it helps if we think of ourselves as artists. To (half-)quote Paul Klee: ‘Art is making what is familiar – strange!’ Brilliant!

* This was demonstrated in a fascinating study: a door-to-door salesman went around selling packs of X-mas cards. In the control condition he would say for instance ‘They cost £ 1.25 each – it’s a bargain!’ but in the experimental one this was changed to ‘They are only 125 p each – it’s a bargain!’ While the prospective buyer was trying to figure out why the price was mentioned in pence rather than pounds, the other bit about it being ‘a bargain’ slipped past the ‘defenses’ unnoticed! Sales doubled! Brilliant!!   (Goldstein, Marticn & Cialdini 2007)

** To try out these activities with your students, click here to get a sample handout.


Chabris, C. & Simons, D. “The Invisible Gorilla” Harper Collins 2010.

Dornyei, Z. “Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom” Cambridge 2001.

Goldstein, N., Martin, S. & Cialdini, R. “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”  Profile Books 2007.

Kahneman, D. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Allen Lane 2011.

Lee, W. R. “Language Teaching Games & Contests” Oxford 1979.

Leslie, I. “Born Liars” Quercus 2011.

Medina, J. “Brain Rules” Pear Press 2008.

Sutherland, R. “Life Lessons from an Ad Man” YouTube.

Thornbury, S. “Uncovering Grammar” Macmillan Heinemann 2001.

Watcyn – Jones, P. “Vocabulary Games and Activities” Penguin Books 1993.

Managing Young Learners

How do you deal with a difficult student?

Never mind how full the glass is:  Picture a student who is unpunctual, unresponsive, undisciplined and generally uncooperative; he is also antisocial …. (and it is usually a ‘he’!) Every teacher’s nightmare! What do you do? How do you deal with him? Admonitions do not work and threats might backfire… It is said that the difference between optimists and pessimists is that the latter see the glass as half-empty, while the former as half-full. But maybe what we see when looking at the glass is irrelevant; perhaps what we should be doing is ask ourselves something else: never mind how much water is in there, the question is ‘How did it get there?’ Before you carry on reading here is Dan Heath arguing in favour of a different approach.

Case Study – Bobby’s story:  When Bobby appeared in front of the school counselor John Murphy, the latter knew he had a difficult case to deal with… Bobby was as problematic a 9th grader as they come… He hated school, he almost always showed up late, he was disruptive both inside and outside the classroom and naturally he was a regular visitor at the Principal’s office… His home life was a mess too… He had been in a number of foster families and he had been sent to a number of special facilities for children with behavioural problems.

Murphy had no power over Bobby; he could use neither carrots nor sticks – and he would only be able to see him for a few hours over a period of three months. Things looked desperate… Incredibly however, three months later, Bobby had changed beyond recognition! He was still not a model student, but he was far from being the ‘menace’ he used to be. What had happened?

Murphy knew that the one thing he did not have was the time for a full-scale investigation into the (probably multi-faceted) root causes of Bobby’s problems. So he started by asking him ‘Is there any teacher you don’t have a problem with?’ Bobby’s answer was he seemed to be getting along well with Ms Smith. When Murphy asked him why he replied vaguely that she was ‘nicer’. Yet this was not what Murphy wanted – he probed further…

After a while it transpired that there were a number of things about Ms Smith’s approach which seemed to work with Bobby: a) she greeted him when he entered the class, b) she gave him easier work to do (Bobby had some learning disability) and c) whenever she asked the class to do something, she checked to make sure that Bobby had understood what he was supposed to do.

CS Bobby - free 2So Murphy at last had something he could work with. He issued clear instructions to the other teachers: ‘Remember to a) greet Bobby, b) assign him easier work and c) check to see that he knows what he has to do!’ But that was not all – how would Murphy know that his approach had succeeded? He specified three criteria in advance: a) whether Bobby turned up on time, b) whether he completed work in class and c) whether he had to be disciplined.

Three months later, the figures spoke for themselves: he was much more punctual, his performance in class was rated as acceptable in 4 or 5 out of the 6 class periods per day (previously the figure had been 1 or 2) and the Principal must have missed him, since Bobby’s visits to his office dropped by a staggering 80%!! (Heath & Heath 2011)

Applications in the field of ELT:  So what can we learn from this case study? Are there any principles which may have wider applicability? I think there are – 5 of them:

Solution-Focused Therapy: Sometimes there is no point in looking at the ‘why’ of things because we do not have the time or because we would not be able to change things anyway. It might make more sense to see what works and try to clone success! (for more on SFBT see de Shazer et al 2007) I once knew of a student who played up because he craved attention, yet one of his teachers did not have a problem – in group work he always gave him the role of ‘leader’ or ‘coordinator’ of the team!

Clear Instructions: Getting people to change is often not easy, especially when they have lots on their plate or they follow long-established habits. To get them to move in a different direction, it helps if you give them clear, behavioural instructions (Baumeister & Tierney 2012). Something like ‘pay particular attention to Bobby’ would not have done – it is too vague. ‘Move Bobby to the front of the class’ on the other hand is specific.

Acceptance: Little things make a lot of difference. One thing is for certain – where we want people to cooperate (as in a classroom situation) coercive measures hardly ever work – they trigger ‘psychological reactance’ (Cialdini 2001). It helps enormously if students feel we are on their side. Acceptance is a key element (cf Rogers 2013). Greeting people signals acceptance, as does friendly eye-contact and an open body language. The other teachers’ attitude was negative because they saw Bobby as a source of trouble; unsurprisingly, he picked up on that and this triggered a vicious circle.

Individual attention: Our job is to try to create the right conditions for ss to learn. If we ignore a particular s because s/he needs special attention they may learn little (which is bad) or they may disrupt the class (which is worse) (see Dornyei & Murphey 2003). This means that a) we need to spot such cases early; b) it is a good idea to seek expert help for guidance/tips; c) it is vital that we know at least some things about, say, Dyslexia or ADHD and that we have some basic techniques up our sleeve; we may not be able to perform an operation, but we should be able to provide first aid!

061026-N-5271J-014Measurable criteria:  How do we know that a particular course of action has been successful? The human brain is vain and we may manage to persuade ourselves that we have solved a problem when in fact we have swept it under the carpet. For instance, a teacher might have found a way to keep Bobby quiet but without his learning anything. Murphy however did specify his ‘success criteria’ in advance so he could justly claim that his intervention had been a success.

The importance of being pro-active:  One last thing: very often we avoid dealing with a particular situation because we lack the time to form ‘a clear picture’ or ‘the perfect plan’. Yet all too often this time is a luxury we can ill afford. Instead, taking action creates its own dynamic (Murphey 2012). Doing things not only provides us with useful feedback about what is effective and what is not, but more importantly it creates hope – hope for the students who can see that we have not given up on them, and hope for the teachers who feel that this new approach might just work! The amazing thing is – it often does! 🙂


Baumeister, R. & Tierney, J. “Willpower” Allen Lane 2012

Cialdini, R. “Influence – Science and Practice”, Allyn & Bacon 2001

De Shazer, S. Dolan, Y., Korman, H. Trepper, T., McCollum, E. & Kim Berg I. (2007) “More than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy” NY Haworth Press.

Dornyei, Z. & Murphey, T. “Group Dynamics in the Language Classroom”  Cambridge 2003

Heath, C. & Heath, D. “Switch” Random House 2011

Murphey, T. “Teaching in Pursuit of WoW!” Abax 2012

Rogers, C. “Significant Aspects of Client-centred Therapy” CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2013

Communication 1 – Maximising Effectiveness

‘How can we communicate effectively?’

Communication 101 – Mission Statements:  “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” said G. B. Shaw the Great – and he was on to something… Communication should be simple. You have something to say – go ahead and say it! Yet time and again we find that our message can be ineffective, clunky and sometimes even incomprehensible. Take mission statements for instance; do you know your company’s mission statement? If you do, is it clear? Is it effective? Is it inspiring? Watch the amazing Dan Heath talking about the two criteria any good mission statement should meet.

OK – so now you know: it has to be concrete and it has to give a reason.  In what follows we take a look at four ways of making the way we communicate more persuasive. We will be focusing on how we ‘pitch’ what we have to offer to prospective customers, but the ideas discussed here are more generally applicable.

Over to you: Before moving on, let us stay with Dan Heath for a while. Chances are you do not know your company’s Mission Statement… Well, here is your chance to draft one yourself in the light of Dan Heath’s advice…

The Serious Side of Subjects: Naturally, you do not read all the e-mails you get, do you? But what is it that might make you open one e-mail but not another? Researchers have looked into this (Wainer, Dabbish & Kraut 2011) – in one study by asking participants to go through their e-mails using the ‘think-aloud method’. It turns out that subject lines are very important. Apparently, the best among them have to do with one of two factors: a) Utility – ‘Does this have something to do with me?’ (e.g. ‘Win a scholarship for the next IATEFL Conference’) or b) Curiosity – ‘What’s this?’ (e.g. ‘The one Web tool to rule them all!’) As Pink (2013) points out, research shows that these two do not mix well, so a successful subject line would have to use one or the other of the two approaches. A third key factor is Specificity. The more specific the subject is, the better. So a line like ‘Feedback and its importance’ is too ‘wooly’ compared to ‘Five top Feedback tips’.

Over to you: Imagine you want to send an e-mail to prospective customers/clients about one of the products/services of your company. How would you phrase the subject line in light of the above?

Terrific Tweets: All you Tweeters – take heed! Researchers set up a site (‘Who Gives a Tweet?’!!) and asked Twitter users to evaluate other people’s tweets (Andre, Bernstein & Luther 2012).. Their findings were fascinating; first of all, about 65% of all tweets were rated from neutral to bad (read: ‘not worth reading’; hardly surprising really, if Facebook posts are anything to go by!) Buy it was the specific findings which were the most interesting: Worst tweets: Complaints (‘Flight delayed’) / Me Now (‘Just woke up’) / Presence Maintenance (‘Hi all!’). But what about the best ones? a) Tweets asking followers to respond (‘What is the one trait a good teacher should have?’) / b) Info and links (‘Check out this amazing article!’) / c) Self-promotion tweets (provided they offer some useful info! – e.g. ‘Here is my latest clip on YouTube in the “Comedy for ELT” series’!)

Over to you: Pink says the best tweets are 120 characters long (so that others can re-tweet them). Think about your company. Can you create a 120-character tweet informing potential customers/clients about a new product/service your company has launched?


Pitching with Pixar:  Pixar is a huge success story in the field of animation entertainment. If your 13 feature films have grossed $ 7.6 bn, that means that you are doing something really well! And what Pixar does well is…tell stories! Stories have enormous persuasion potential (Heath & Heath 2008), which is hardly surprising since some researchers believe we are pre-wired for the story format (Gottschall 2012). So, let us see how Pixar does it. According to Emma Coats, a former Pixar employee, all Pixar films can be reduced to the same basic model: “Once upon a time …………….. Every day, ……………..  One day, ……………… Because of that,  …………….. Because of that, …………….. Until finally ……………..” (Pixar Touch Blog – May 2011). Yet this format is not only useful to film animators; we can use exactly the same template to tell people about what we have to offer!

Over to you: Think about your company – can you create a ‘story’ explaining how things can change for your customers/clients as a result of using your company’s products/services?

A Reason to Rhyme:  Look at these statements: ‘Life is mostly strife’ and ‘Life is mostly struggle’. Aren’t they virtually identical? And what about these two: ‘Caution and measure will win you treasure’ as opposed to ‘Caution and measure will win you riches’? Well, the message in each pair may be the same but there is in fact a difference. When subjects were asked to rate such statements on how accurately they depicted human behaviour, the rhyming statements got much higher marks!! This is yet another manifestation of the power of a phenomenon known as ‘fluency’ (= ‘ease of processing’). What we have here is a spill-over effect; amazingly, the ease with which we can say/process something makes us think that it is more accurate/truthful! (Mc Glone, & Tofighbakhsh 2000).

Over to you: Think about your company – can you create a rhyme which describes what it does or what is special about its products or services?

Last words – Don’t do this: What is wrong with this statement? “We are leveraging our assets and establishing strategic alliances to create a robust knowledge centre…(etc., etc.) – apparently this means: ‘We are consultants’! Time and again people try to impress their audience/readers by means of jargon, convoluted structures and over-elaborate language. The idea is that the writer/speaker will come across as knowledgeable and authoritative and his/her message will consequently seen as more persuasive. Research however shows that this often backfires; the processing difficulty spills over to the content which is perceived as less convincing! (Goldstein, Martin & Cialdini 2007) Here is one of my favourite examples – from an Art Gallery Programme: “…Each mirror imaginatively propels its viewer forward into the seemingly infinite progression of possible reproductions that the artist’s practice engenders, whilst simultaneously pulling them backwards in a quest for the ‘original’ source of referent that underlines Levine’s oeuvre’.” No comments… 🙂

[NB 1: For a printable version of this article (with Teacher’s notes and sample responses at the end) just click here].

[NB 2: This article was first published in the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter].


Andre, P. Bernstein, M & Luther, K. “Who Gives a Tweet? Evaluating Microblog Content Value” paper presented at the 2012 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Co-operative Work (February 2012)

Goldstein, N., Martin, S. & Cialdini, R. “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”  Profile Books 2007

Gottschall, J. “The Storytelling Animal” Houghton Mifflin 2012

Heath, C. & Heath, D. “Made to Stick” Random House 2008

Mc Glone, M. & Tofighbakhsh J. “Birds of a Feather Flock Conjointly (?): Rhyme as Reason in Aphorisms” Psychologcial Science 11, no 5 (September 2000) pp 424-428

Pink, D. “To Sell is Human” Canongate 2013

“Pixar Story Rules (One Version)” Pixar Touch Blog (May 2011)

Wainer, J. Dabbish, L. & Kraut, R. “Should I Open this Email? Inbox-Level Cues, Curiosity and Attention to Email” Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (May 2011)

Observation vs Experience

“You can see what it’s like, can’t you?”

Down and Out: ‘What should I write about?’ a budding young writer named George Orwell once asked. ‘Write about what you know’ came the reply. But Orwell wanted to write about poverty. And he did not know much about it. So he thought he would find out. He became a tramp in London and later lived a hand-to-mouth existence in Paris. The descriptions in his book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ are so vivid the book is hard to read at times… Since then others have tried a similar approach – exploring things ‘from the inside’ *. Now for some of us the poor may inhabit a different universe, as perhaps we do not happen to know any of them ourselves; yet there are other people close to us about whose life we know very little. Take people in wheelchairs for instance. What does it feel like to be one of them? In this amazing ad, everyone appears to be having fun, but what happens when the game is over?


The wheelchair experience:  When I first saw this commercial I was immediately struck by the similarities it has with a study conducted by Clore & Jeffrey in 1972. In it, a group of students were asked to imagine that as a result of an accident they had lost the use of their legs and were confined to a wheelchair. For one hour, they had to follow a pre-deterimined route, which involved the participants having to negotiate lifts, doors and ramps. Each of these students was followed by another one whose task was to observe everything the former did and every difficulty s/he faced. The idea behind the study was to see whether this one-hour experiment would make a difference in the attitude of these two groups towards people with disability and related issues, such as whether it would be advisable to spend money on making it easier for such people to get about.

Once the whole thing was over, each student was interviewed separately. The results were most interesting: compared to a control group, the ‘observers’ showed a marked increase in their sensitivity towards the difficulties people in wheelchairs face. Yet, the increase among those students who had had the ‘hands on’ experience was higher still! But would this change persist over time? The researchers looked into that too. Four months later, they interviewed the students again over the telephone. Hidden among the many questions they asked them were ones designed to measure just that. Amazingly, among the people who had actually used the wheelchair themselves the attitudinal change had remained the same! (So – hats off to those who came up with this Guiness ad…).

Applications in the field of ELT: The moral of this study is quite obvious: experience beats simple observation – hands down (watching a chef on TV effortlessly conjuring up a chocolate soufflé is one thing; doing the same thing yourself is quite another!). A less obvious point here is that the increased awareness experience confers appears to be long-lasting. Naturally, this has a number of implications for EL teachers:

Activities: Time and again I have been in practical workshops where the participants are reluctant to actually try out the activities themselves (‘Yes, yes, we can see how this task works…’); then there are instances where the presenter refrains from asking colleagues to do things for fear that s/he may be seen to be talking down to them. I must say I find such attitudes more than a little puzzling. As I see it, the best way to understand an activity is to experience it as though you were the learner (Nunan & Lamb 1996). If I had to choose between workshops and lectures, my vote would go to the former any day!

Technology: While on the subject of workshops, here is another amazing discovery from the field of Psychology: if something is hard to imagine, people tend to assume it will not happen! (Kenrick et al [eds] 2012 – p. 43). This seems completely irrational, but it seems that there is a ‘spill over’ effect at work; our brain translates the difficulty in processing something into decreased likelihood of it actually taking place! I have often see this in talks on technology; the expert starts talking excitedly about their favourite Web 2.0 tool and then three minutes later the eyes of the audience just glaze over. They cannot see themselves using this kind of innovative technology and their brain simply rejects it. I firmly believe that ‘hands on’ experience (workshops!) would greatly increase uptake.

Wheelchair 6 Peer observation:  How do we know what our lessons are really like? We think we do, but of course we are too busy teaching to consider what things must seem like from the point of view of the students. Solutions to this include reflective practices such as keeping a journal or recording our lessons and then going through them with the help of certain observational tools (e.g. Wajnryb 1993). Yet that still leaves one problem – ‘The Curse of Knowledge’ (Heath & Heath 2008). The thing is that, naturally, we know both what we had intended to teach and what we meant every time we said something. But would things be just as clear for others? It seems much better to have a colleague occasionally observe us – as a learner. Their feedback is likely to be invaluable (see for instance Edge 1992).

The learner’s perspective: It has been argued by many that one of the best ways for us to grow as professionals is to start looking at things from the learner’s perspective. The easiest way to do this, is to become learner ourselves. Using our imagination is not quite the same; having to actually deal with the difficulties learners face and experiment with the techniques and strategies we keep telling our students to use can help us appreciate their problems and frustrations and see what actually works in practice. Some people have taken this idea further, arguing that it does not really matter what it is that you are trying to learn; what makes the difference is finding yourself in the learner’s position – even if what you may be learning is chess or dancing or sailing (e.g. Claypole 2010, p. 56).

The teacher’s perspective 1 [The learner]: Conversely, it can potentially be even more beneficial if learners adopt the role of the teacher (Dornyei 2001). A number of researchers have stressed the benefits this might have for students on the cognitive domain – it seems that different neural circuits are involved and so retention of information is better (e.g. Lieberman 2013 [to watch a short clip on this just click here]). Yet what people often fail to notice is that placing the student in the role of the teacher makes the former more aware of the challenges involved in the role. In the same way that becoming a learner can make a teacher more empathic, taking on the role of the teacher can help students become more mature.

The teacher’s perspective 2 [The DOS]: Following the same logic, just as a teacher may forget what it is like to be a learner, a DOS may gradually come to lose touch with the day-to-day challenges a teacher faces. In my view, much of the friction between the management and the teachers in large schools arises because the DOS is so focused on his/her new duties that s/he often fails to see things from the front-line teacher’s perspective (a dimension often neglected in otherwise excellent books – e.g. Impey & Underhill 1994). This gap is often easier to spot in the case of some academics who do not actually teach the language themselves (and in some cases, they never have). Regardless of how sound their research might be, one often has the feeling that when it comes to teaching implications, some of their suggestions would never work in real life. The moral here is that no matter how good an idea / practice looks on paper, a dry run is indispensable.

Wheelchair 4

Back to wheelchairs:  Having discussed the advantages of experience over observation, I would like to go back to people in wheelchairs for a moment. What is life like for them? Things we hardly give a second thought to can become a huge challenge for them. How do you get on a bus without help? How do you go up the stairs to get inside a building? How do you even get across the street where there are no special ramps? Well, now we can find out more. And our students can too. The Disabled Access Friendly is a campaign launched by people in the ELT world. Their site ** (which recently won a prestigious ELTON award) boasts an impressive array of ready-made materials for all levels which can both help improve our students’ English and sensitise them to the problems people with mobility problems face every day. So – please visit the site and try out some of the materials. And if you get the chance, give yourself a ride on that wheelchair…

[An earlier version of this article was published in the magazine ‘Modern English Teacher’ (Vol 22 – July 2013)]

*   A striking example is that of Norah Vincent, a lesbian journalist who spent a year dressed as a man to get an insider’s view of the male world.

** To visit the DAF site, just click here.



Clore, G. L. & Jeffrey, K. M. (1972) ‘Emotional role playing, attitude change and attraction towards a disabled person’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 23, 105-11

Claypole, M. ‘Controversies in ELT’ LinguaBooks 2010

Dornyei, Z. “Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom” Cambridge 2001

Edge, J. “Cooperative Development” Longman 1992

Heath, C. & Heath, D. “Made to Stick” Random House 2008

Impey, G. & Underhill, N. “The ELT Manager’s Handbook” Heinemann 1994

Kenrick, D., Goldstein, N. & Braver, S. “Six Degrees of Social Influence” Oxford 2012

Lieberman, M. “Social” Oxford 2013

Nunan, D. & Lamb, C. “The Self-Directed Teacher” Cambridge University Press 1996

Orwell, G. “Down and Out in Paris and London” Penguin Classics 2001

Vincent, N. “Self-made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man” Atlantic Books 2006

Wajnryb, R. “Classroom Observation Tasks” Cambridge University Press 1993