Six despised bits of grammar


Teachers and students just love to hate grammar. Over the years that I’ve taught and observed others teaching I think that there are certain grammar points that are more hated than others. Here are six of the most generally despised and despicable grammar points, in my humble opinion.

1 Have got This isn’t hard to explain in terms of what it means, or even really how it’s formed. No, the problem is when you have to teach it. I always hated spending time on have got with beginner students after they had done to be and then come to present simple and have to re-explain yet another way of making negatives and questions. And THEN when the verb have came up in present simple as in have a shower, have a nap it just got more and more complicated! Fortunately, the order of grammar points is changing in many books (including my own) and have got can come later. Beginners can get by perfectly well with a simple have to talk about possession.

2 Present simple Third person s. Again, not hard to explain and not hard to understand (although I did once witness a teacher get in a terrible muddle trying to say why 3rd person singular took an ‘s’ in the present simple; the teacher said it was “because it feels kind of plural but isn’t really plural” – leaving me and the students completely flabbergasted). So why is this hated? Obviously because students keep forgetting it, and you begin to think you could spend half your teaching life simply correcting this point. In fact, this grammar point is so hated that some have suggested we could do away with altogether in an English as a Lingua Franca approach. You know, take it out and stage a public execution. Another explanation given for the constant recurring error is that it’s simply acquired later. But it’s still an important one, that I think we all love to hate.

3 Present perfect. God I sometimes hate the present perfect. It’s pretty rare to find an equivalent in other languages so it makes teaching the meaning and use of this tense often a bit of a problem. And it can be difficult to write material for too if you want to include real people. How many materials writers have done something using a real person to illustrate present perfect and then hope and pray that the person doesn’t go and die or do something horrible?

4 Present perfect continuous. This is the tense that actually prompted this blogpost. Of all the grammar points that are criticized or used to trash grammar, this is the most often quoted. I have no proof, but I also suspect that “bloody” is a pretty strong collocate with present perfect continuous. This is a despised tense because it can be hard to find lots of authentic and natural examples, it’s got all the problems of present perfect plus an –ing form thrown in and finally it’s not even that frequent. Actually I almost feel a bit sorry for the present perfect continuous. Can we all be a little less horrible about it for a while perhaps?

5 Question tags If getting the auxiliary and the negative/affirmative thing right wasn’t hard enough we also have the whole business of the pronunciation of this grammar point and the whole “are you really asking or are you just checking” thing which can easily get spun into a long-winded explanation. I think that this is another one that some have suggested be eliminated from English teaching, replacing it with an all-purpose tag like innit which kind of horrifies me. I don’t think I’ve ever said innit. Ever.

6 Any grammar point the teacher doesn’t understand. Worse than all of these are the grammar points that teachers themselves are unsure of. I saw a teacher literally have a breakdown in our staffroom because she didn’t know anything about what clauses (e.g. I think what you need is a nice cold drink) and it was in the unit of her CAE coursebook that she had to teach that day. For many native English-speaker teachers especially the lack of knowledge of their own grammar is cause for great anxiety and fear. And, as we all know, fear can lead to hatred.

Well, that’s quite enough from me. What do you think? Are there other grammar points you feel are, rightly or wrongly, generally despised, looked down on or kicked about a bit? Post a comment.

Published in: | on November 23rd, 2009 | 31 Comments »

Recently I acquired a new video camcorder. It’s a Flip Mino, a new generation of video recorders. It’s simple to use and cheap (less than $150 USD). Now just last month I was lucky enough to have a class of students where basically all manner of technology was available to me. We had projectors, laptop computers, internet connection, the lot. I decided to experiment a bit with the camcorder in class. Here are six ideas for video projects, including some actual examples that I did.

1 Film a local attraction, and annotate it

You or your students film a local attraction such as a fair, or street theatre or exhibition. Using a video editing programme like Movie Maker (which is on most computers), add music and annotations to the video. We did the following on Youtube itself (if you have an account it’s quite easy to annotate and overlay music – free to set up). It’s the video of the local Medieval Festival. You need to make it full screen to read the annotations. This was a very short example!


2 Make a video message with cards and music

I got this idea from a video I saw in a workshop by Melania Paduraru. The video was of kids showing cards with messages on them (can’t find it again now!) I decided to do something similar with my students. Here’s a video showing how we did it.


And here’s one my students (who are all schoolteachers) made with their own messages. Again, we made this quite short, but you could go longer.


3 Do a Word Association activity.

This was my first foray into little videos. I made this one at the IATEFL Hungary conference. The theme of the conference was Global Skills for Local Needs. I made this little video just by asking people to say words that go with Global or Local. In the final session I asked people to brainstorm as many collocations as they could using the words global or local. I then showed the video. You could easily do something similar with students and other words.


4 Get friends to record a message for your students

The name of the course I was teaching was Mejora tu inglés (Improve your English). Just before the course ended I had to go to the TESOL France conference. I decided to ask speakers and participants there to tell my students how to improve their English. I put these all together and then shared them with the class on my return. You could do something similar, or get friends to each tell a short anecdote, or something about where they live … lots of possibilities. It’s like making your own listening activity.


5 Record students doing a task or a sketch

Of course an obvious thing to record would be students doing a task in English. We did lots of little drama sketches in my class, but I did not film them as my students didn’t fancy having too much of themselves splashed on Youtube and this blog (understandably). But providing you do it just for yourself and the students then I don’t see why not. Again, adding background music or sound effects (you can find thousands of very funny sound effects to add to videos here) make it all the more professional and/or fun.

6 Do a lip synch, or a lip dub

Another thing doing the rounds of the internet now is lip dub. A lip dub is like a lip synch video, but often involves lots of people. You can read a lot more about it here but by far the best example, one I love, is below. This was done by students at a university in Quebec Canada. Unlike the other video projects this is NOT simple, but wouldn’t it be fun to do one?


So there you go. I realise I probably have not been that adventurous with my camcorder yet, but it’s a start! Have any of you filmed things to do with students? How did it go? Would you do any of these activities? Post a comment if you get a moment.

Six favourite items of stationery

Apart from my work slaving over materials and on this blog I am a regular online tutor for teacher education courses, inlcuding courses with The Consultants-E, and  a Trinity Diploma course offered by Oxford TEFL. At the beginning of the course we get people to share lists of things (surprise surprise!), a bit like here. Well, this month one teacher started a list that was so popular that I just have to do it here. It seems so perfect for teachers, even though it’s a bit sad in a way…

These are my six favourite items of stationery.

6.Multi-coloured paper clips. Perfect not only for holding things together, but also can be used as counters.

5. Magazine holders. I particularly like the really sturdy card or plastic ones. Seeing my magazines neatly lined up in a bunch of those on a shelf… beautiful!

4. Highlighter pen. Always have one to hand as I am editing or correcting things. I usually stick to standard yellow or pink.

3. Leather moleskin notepad. I used to carry one around with me all the time and jot down ideas. I’m beginning to do this more on my ipod touch now, but I still have the notepad. Gorgeous little thing.

2. Leather wastepaper basket. I picked one very similar to this up in a market in Florence, it’s great. Does it count as stationery? I think so!

1. A really good ballpoint pen. I would never buy a Montblanc or anything expensive like that (even if I could afford one, which is far from being the case) but there really is no substitute for a good heavy ballpoint pen.

Many thanks to Paul Walsh, the teacher in question who came up with this idea AND let me use it on my blog.

What kinds of stationery do you like? Am I the only one who likes getting interesting stationery gifts? Do you have an item of stationery that you protect like mad and would never leave just hanging around the teacher’s room? Post a comment.

Published in: | on November 13th, 2009 | 24 Comments »

Six times you know you're an English teacher when…


A(nother) moment of light relief here at Six Things. You know you’re an English teacher when…

1 You spend an inordinate amount of time cutting up bits of paper (yes, even in this technological day and age I’m convinced most English teachers still spend lots of time cutting things up… I still do and I’m pretty into tech)

2 You feel like exploding when you hear someone say ‘It must be great to have those long holidays’* (especially if you are in the private sector and probably don’t get paid holidays!)

3 You find yourself wishing sometimes you taught something else.

4 You can’t think of a name for your own child because they all remind you of someone you’ve taught.*

5 You have accumulated vast amounts of trivial knowledge from your coursebooks.

6 You start to think that sentences like “What means X, teacher?” actually sound almost correct .

* Credit where credit is due, I adapted numbers 2 and 4 from a great book called 100 essential lists for teachers by Duncan Grey.

Now, I’m sure you can come up with wittier and more clever ways of finishing the sentence: “You know you’re an English teacher when…”; why not add one in the comment box below? Go on, you know you want to!

Published in: | on November 9th, 2009 | 66 Comments »

Six more things to know about Global


At the beginning of the fall season here at Six Things (for some reason I seem to think of my blog as running in seasons, like television shows) I warned you all that I would be sharing information about my new upcoming book Global. The reaction to my first post Six things to know about Global was very positive – more than 3000 visits in its first two days of being live and 45 comments, a record for me on the blog at that time. So, I think I can try and get away with another six things you might find interesting about Global. Here goes…

1. Teaching about English

In addition to using texts and topics that I hoped teachers and learners would find more intellectually satisfying that much of what is on offer I also wanted to include a strand in the book that dealt with our very own subject matter – the English language. How it got to be a world language, different kinds of English, aspects of English etc.. This topic is sometimes given a passing glance in our books (a lesson on Global English, or loan words, or the ubiquitous US/UK  differences) but not really dealt with in depth. Just as we have Global Voices as extra listening practice, I wanted extra reading texts on Global English.

2. A star guest author

Following on from point 1, I began looking for source material for this. I found myself again and again dipping into work by David Crystal. For those who don’t know him, you can see about his work here. He is really one of the world’s top experts on the language and the status it enjoys today. Try as hard as I might, I thought there would be no way I could even come close to what he produced. Finally, in a moment of wild abandon, I suggested to the publisher and editors that we invite him to write the texts himself. We agonized about this for months, then finally screwed up the courage to send him an email. To our delight, he accepted and has written extra reading texts material especially for the course. Again, this is authentic material, slightly more challenging than other texts perhaps in the book and designed to mirror typical reading exam tasks and promote discussion on the issues.

Not only that, but he also agreed to be interviewed on video at his home about some of these things. Here’s a clip from an interview (also up on the Global site now).


And here is another free sample of a Global english reading text and tasks from the Pre Intermediate book.

3. Literature is back

Some people have been arguing a return to more literature in general English courses. This used to be a staple of language learning, which dropped off somewhat I think with the rise of the communicative approach and a more utlilitarian view of language. I can see the sense in this but I think it’s a great shame. I mean, you ask a person in a general language course  ‘Why do you study X language?’ and they may answer a whole variety of things (travel, work etc). Ask someone ‘Why do you love X language?’ and that’s where you’ll hear cultural reasons: its literature, its music, its poetry. I loved learning Spanish for example (another international language) not just so I could order a taco, but so I could read and understand Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

One criticsm of including literature in English course books was that it tended to be merely DWMs (dead white males) from the English literary canon. A Global book cannot restrict itself to that, BUT I didn’t want to ignore these authors either (that would be a kind of reverse-snobbery in my mind). We wanted a range of authors and extracts from the English language world. I could list them, but it’s nicer to show you a beautiful word cloud I made in with the names of the only some of the authors whose work we are using.


4. Teach Global, Think Local

Contrary to popular belief, I think that all coursebook authors realise that their material cannot meet all the needs of all the learners all the time. Teachers often need to adapt the material to suit local needs. A good coursebook will have enough flexibility for teachers to do that. A good teacher’s book (in my opinion) will include suggestions on how to do this. For that reason we included very regular Teach Global Think Local suggestions throughout. You may have seen them in the sample. Oh, and another thing. The authors of the student’s books have had considerable input in the teacher’s book (in my case, I’ve already half written one and contributed to another; I aim on writing for each teacher’s book that I’ve worked on). This is not always the case.

5. Going Global

Localising the material is one part of the equation, but you (or your learners) may wish to in fact bring stuff into class that is from beyond the local experience but that is motivating or links well to the topic of the lesson. With the spread of the internet and good broadband access this is more and  more possible. My own experience with this blog and on twitter has shown me hundreds of great educational sites and tools for teachers to use inside and outside the classroom. I included suggestions and tips for extra web-related work in each unit of the teacher’s book in a section called Go Global.

The advantage of using so much real world material is that there are often loads of websites that you can use to follow up the lesson with. If you have a connected classroom, great, but these suggestions can be done by students at home too (and they are only extra suggestions! before any of you start saying what about my students without internet access etc).

6. Thank you and more.

I could probably go on and on about other things in this course. I haven’t even mentioned the specialist teaching methodology essays (you saw one of them by Scott Thornbury, there are plenty more by others…), the digital component material, the videos and audio and so on but I don’t want to get into trouble with my publisher by giving it all away! In January the course will be out and I’m sure you can get a copy to look at from your local Macmillan rep.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank the more than 10 000 people who have visited the Global site so far and especially to all those who have left encouraging comments and sent me emails or tweets about the course. The positive reaction has really been a great motivation to me and also shows me that people are ready for a change. Thanks a lot.

And now, regular programming at Six Things resumes…

Published in: | on November 2nd, 2009 | 9 Comments »


Right, after the extremely active last post it’s back down to practical business here at Six Things. I’ve long wanted to do a six activity ideas using dialogues, ever since I read this book in fact. I had the chance to meet the author Nick Bilbrough at a conference last year, and he’s such a pleasant guy he agreed to do the post for me. Better really, as he is an expert on this. So here we are with Nick’s fiercely practical six things to do with a dialogue. Enjoy!

With good reason, dialogues have been used in language teaching for a very long time. What they offer is the chance for learners to freeze a few moments of speech and process it in greater depth than they may be able to when spoken language is only listened to. Here are six ways of working with dialogues in a language class.

Find and interpret them

With the internet we are now able to access masses of different kinds of dialogues (film scripts, plays, transcripts of authentic interaction etc). The extract below is from a site devoted to overheard snippets of people’s conversations.

Analyst: Look, you said you broke two bones in your e-mail, but you actually just broke your arm.
Boss: Yes, I broke my bone… now I have two bones!
Analyst: No! You have two pieces of one bone now. Bones are treated as a whole. You’re trying to get extra sympathy. If I break a pen in half, how many pens do I have?
Boss: Two!
Analyst: How are you my boss?

How about giving learners the homework task of trying to find the most interesting/funniest/silliest snippet they can on a site like this, and then bringing it to the next class for interpretation and discussion?

Reconstruct them

Even more noticing may happen if we get learners to reconstruct the dialogues that they encounter. Here’s a short dialogue where all the words have been jumbled up.





Small groups of learners get a set of these words on individual bits of card and have to create a dialogue by putting them into the right order. When they’ve done this they can test each other by turning over some of the words and asking the others in their group to remember what they are.

Chant them

An interesting and memorable way for students to perform a dialogue is for them to chant it. Here’s a dialogue which lends itself well to this technique. Half the class chant the lines on the left, and the others reply with the other half.

Where’ve you been?                           I’ve been to the zoo

What did you do there?                      I saw a kangaroo

Where’ve you been                             I’ve been to the shops?

What did you do there?                      I bought some lamb chops

Where’ve you been?                           I‘ve been to the station

What did you do there?                      I got some information

Where’ve you been?                           I’ve been to six schools

What did you do there?                      I broke all the rules

Memorise them

Chanting often leads to the class naturally learning the dialogue by heart. As long as the learners understand the dialogue, and it is not too long, we may also want to be more proactive about getting them to do this with the other dialogues that they encounter. It’s a great way of building up a repertoire of spoken chunks and expressions. Many of the techniques used by actors, like linking the lines to movements and emotions, and using a prompt who supplies a key word as a memory trigger, will help with this.

Create them

When learners write dialogues in pairs it’s a useful chance for them to refine their spoken language without the pressure of actually having to speak, and they can get support from their partners, dictionaries or the teacher more easily. They can write a dialogue to go with a picture, or to activate a particular area of language, or, with new text to speech technology like , they can even create their own films.

Engage in them

Of all the things I’ve done to try to learn different languages, my favourite, and the one I think I learn the most from, is having a conversation with someone who speaks that language better than I do. When I lived in Santiago, Chile, I got home one day and found a bucket of water in the lift. I turned to Luis, who worked on the door, and the following short dialogue took place.

Me: Hay algo en el ascensor

Luis: Ah si. Un balde?

Me: Si

Luis: Esta bien

As I went up in the lift I knew that I’d just learnt the word for bucket. This kind of learning happens a lot when speakers at different levels of ability talk to each other. As a teacher I try to provide plenty of opportunities for it in my classes.


Nick Bilbrough is the author of the Cambridge Handbook for teachers Dialogue Activities. I liked it so much I wrote a review in dialogue form for a magazine about it. You can read that review here.

Gavin Dudeney's Six Attitudes to Technology

technology attitudes

Hello again! Grab a coffee for this post, as there is plenty to read but I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent! Six Things is joined by Gavin Dudeney, whose name will already be very well-known to many of you out there in cyberspace. Gavin’s a teacher trainer, award-winning author and edu-technologist. When he’s not travelling the world giving workshops and sessions on integrating technology into teaching he can be found in Barcelona. He has also been quite active in quite a few heavy discussions online about all of this. How heavy? Well, see below to be up on the debate!

Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology  [ And Why They're Tosh ]

There’s a battle going on out there: on blogs, on Twitter, in Yahoo Groups, on sites like the British Council Teaching English site and elsewhere… a battle for our hearts and minds, a battle between the technophiles and the technophobes (or, sometimes techno-sceptics). It’s the battle for your time, your teaching approach, for your commitment to a cause… it’s the “is technology good or bad?’ battle.

People who know me will be no stranger to my views, but since I was so kindly invited by Lindsay to contribute to SixThings, here is my cogent, extremely intellectual and totally correct view on the other side…

1. It Breaks All The Time

A popular one, this – as if that were true, or indeed a reason for not using it.

One of ELT’s greatest writers refers to technology all the time with the use of the word ‘faff’. As far as he’s concerned, there’s just too much faffing – you spend more time trying to get it to work than it does actually working and enhancing your teaching. Take a look for the word ‘faff’ on Wikipedia.

“to dither, futz, diddle, ‘I spent the day faffing about in my room’.”

Does that suggest to you a problem with the tool or approach, or a problem with the person? My father used to say ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I think this is a clear case of that happening (though I should probably replace ‘workman’ with ‘workperson’)  …

You can minimise the faff by learning a bit about computers and other peripherals and how they work. We do the same with plenty of other things – few of us would dream of going to class and helping a learner with, say, the present perfect, without knowing something about it. It’s called preparation.

Make sure your own computer is well-looked-after and protected against viruses, etc. Make sure you have the right adaptors and cables. Check with event or class organisers what kind of projector, sound system they have. Arrive early to try things out. If you do all that then things should be fine.

I have over six computers running at home – they work fine. I have a web server that has not been rebooted for months – it works fine. I’ve over twenty installations of Moodle running globally – they work fine.

In Greece last week and in Cork the week before I had no Net connection for talks I was giving. I had planned for that, and had an offline version of my talk which was just as creative and engaging, even for the audience – the feedback was grand (and people have been in touch since then to show me examples of work they have done with learners as a result of tools and approaches we examined in the sessions). Is it too much to ask people to be prepared, adaptable and professional? I don’t faff – why do you?

2. It’s Unproven Pedagogically

Detractors go to extraordinary lengths to dig up research that appears to give weight to their argument that there is no real bulk of evidence that supports any significant advantage to using technology. Of course, this is a mug’s game – for every report someone can dig out that says ‘X had no significant impact on Y’, one can dig out a report that says the opposite.

There’s plenty of evidence that technology works in certain situations when used well, etc., etc. but of course you can find the opposite too. There’s little evidence to suggest that many approaches or ‘states of mind’ in teaching significantly enhance the learning – but it beggars belief that we are seriously invited to take some ideas on faith but not apply the same leeway to technology. You can’t have it all your own way, people.

If you want evidence to counteract that old report from 1994 that concluded that doing T/F exercises on a BBC Micro had no great impact on teenage learners of Russian in Dalston (sample of four over ten days) and on which you base your theories that ‘it really isn’t much good, you know’ then why not search the archives of EuroCALL or similar organisations, ones that actually do the relevant research. Of course, you should expect the same rigourous appraisal of any approach, method, etc. that you espouse…

3. It’s Boring And Not Interactive

One of the greatest myths is that technologies in class are not very interactive, that really it’s like doing exercises on the screen. And of course it can be. People who have this opinion are usually people who haven’t been teaching for a decade or so, who last used a computer in class when they had sixteen colours, no sound and the only thing you could do on them was manipulate text, and who haven’t moved beyond that phase.

Just to get them up to speed, perhaps they should consider what computers actually can do these days; sound, animation, video, collaboration, production, conversation, communication… With blogs, wikis, live voice chat (with video) and a whole host of other tools you can actually provide opportunities for learners to speak to people they WANT to speak to, rather than people they’re FORCED to speak to by dint of being in the same room.

If you use technology in the ‘noun’ way described by Prensky then of course a lot of learners are going to find it boring and not very interactive at all. But if you get some training, use some imagination and explore the options, you might get round to using it in a ‘verb’ way and people might actually interact, create, talk, communicate and – yes – learn.

That old Hebrew proverb (don’t confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in different times) should be a pointer here. But I’d change it a little: don’t confine your learners (or trainees) to your memories of what computers used to be like the last time you were a practising teacher or used one in class. Times have changed, have you?

4. It’s All Porn & Paedophilia

Another one that had me laughing recently – another disingenuous attempt at picking away at the value of technologies. The author of this particular post claimed that when he was taking his learners to the ‘Internet Room’ (even the use of the phrase ‘Internet Room’ should date the class) they just spent their time surfing for porn.

And that does raise a lot of questions:

  • Why was your class so boring that they felt a need to do that?
  • Why did you have such little control that they could do it?
  • Didn’t people use to look for rude words in dictionaries?
  • Haven’t kids always looked for pictures of naked people?

The fact is, of course, that if you can’t use technology in a stimulating way – if you can’t engage your learners… if you can’t control their natural urges to ‘bunk off’ then you really shouldn’t be in a classroom, either with or without technology. As I  pointed out in this discussion, when this teacher’s kids were looking at bums and things, mine were involved in email penpal exchanges with kids their age in the US, and regular real-time chats with kids their age in Poland.

Even the most irrationally technology-fearful teacher must surely recognise that the learners resorting to looking for naked body parts is more a reflection of the power of technology to stimulate (!) and the teacher’s inability to use the technology properly, than any actual weakness in the technology itself. We’re back to our bad ‘workperson’ again…

And of course the bad teacher’s experience with technology was also an ideal opportunity to discuss safe surfing, safe online practices and the role of naked body parts in education as well as the dangers of giving away too much personal information online. But I suspect that this didn’t happen either – you have to know the details in order to share them…

5. It’s Bad For People

Another popular meme – this usually means something along the lines of:

  • I read an article in 1997 that said watching telly for seven hours a day is detrimental and that therefore equates perfectly to modern media such as Web 2.0 [ ummm.... ]
  • I just read an informal report on kids’ attention spans and apparently they’re really short and rubbish and this is all down to Twitter. [ watch a kid play a computer game for twelve hours if you wish to see a decent attention span ]
  • I read somewhere that staring at a screen for eight hours a day can have a negative impact on your eyesight [ well duh! ]
  • I think it’s terrible that my child plays on the PSP for four hours a day [ so do I. Do you have a point to make other than something along the lines of how bad a parent you are? ]
  • Kids who grow up using computers can’t hold pens properly because their hands develop differently and bones never grow properly [ I heard this one in Hungary last year.... no comment ]

Of course most things can be bad for people when they’re done to excess. Those of us who espouse technologies are also quite capable of teaching without them, with nothing, with other tools, etc. We are the balanced lot. Teachers who refuse to even consider and try out technologies (where they have them) are actually unbalanced, for all sorts of reasons. Writing technologies off because you know nothing about them, have not experienced them and have never taught with them does not make them bad tools.

6. It’s Not Fair

No, it’s really not – not fair on your learners, some of the time.

Look, it’s a question of respect-  it’s not that people are attacking you for not engaging with technologies, it’s more that people are enquiring where this blind refusal to try them comes from (I suspect it mostly comes from the points and attitudes above)…

It also comes from things which are often out of the control of teachers: lack of equipment, lack of support, lack of training, an inability for curriculum setters, examining board, school owners, teacher trainers, DoSs, etc. to move beyond the 1980s and of course the chalk-face teacher is the greatest victim here.

But what confuses me is that teachers make their own opportunities for development when they’re not getting it instutionally: they read, they pay for their own courses, they travel to conferences (if they can) and they make every effort to keep up-to-date. Why not with technology? The answer’s right here – nobody takes it seriously in our ultra-conservative profession, and that’s why we’re destined to be a few steps behind business, and destined to short-change some of our learners.

And why is it ok for you to use technologies for your professional development and for your teacher training, but it’s no good for the ‘poor teachers’ or their charges. Where did this one rule for you and another for the learners come from? There’s no democracy in some ELTlandias.

If all the detractors who spend so much of their time moaning about how unreliable, porn-laden, boring, troublesome, unfair, blah, blah, blah technologies are spent the same amount of time on their teaching, writing, etc., our profession would be buzzing.

As it is, we’re old hat… moribund…. laughable…. so non-nerd we’re the new nerds that people like to snigger at. I can help – if you faff all the time or can’t think of anything creative to do with technologies or your learners are always looking at naked bodies, please get in touch. No fee…

Gavin Dudeney is the author of the award-winning book How to Teach with Technology (written with Nicky Hockly) and The Internet and the Language Classroom. He is co-founder of The Consultants-E, an online consultancy providing courses and training for teachers. You can read more from Gavin over at his blog, That S’Life.

Published in: | on October 26th, 2009 | 84 Comments »

Six famous school report comments

To lighten things up at Six Things after the last controversial post and intense discussion I’ve got here a collection of great little report card quotes of famous people. A little light relief. These were taken from Could do Better, a collection of school reports by Catherine Hurley.

1. “Certainly on the road to failure.” on John Lennon

2. “She must try to be less emotional in her dealings with others.” on Diana Princess of Wales

3. “He would much sooner write an intimate memoir of Julius Caesar than a factual account of his Gallic wars. But then, who wouldn’t? Unfortunately examiners demand fact” on Bruce Chatwin.

4. “Scored average for most things, including intelligence.” on George Bush.

5. “I think he is just a teeny bit pleased with himself, or so I am prepared to hazard” on Michael Palin.

6. And my favourite, which is not a report card quote but a real gem nonetheless that can go here: “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students, I say, you too can be president of the United States.” George W Bush addressing Yale graduates.

Published in: | on October 19th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

Six internet acronyms your learners really ought to know


Here’s another language list I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. As I am spending more and more time online and doing things like twittering and online chatting or moderating of courses, I find I am forced to use more and more abbreviations and acronyms in my writing. I also come across them a lot more, even when communicating with people whose first language isn’t necessarily English. Could online communication be one future component of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)? Should we start talking about ILF (internet lingua franca)? Whatever the take on those bigger questions, to start with here are six acronyms that I believe are pretty important for learners to know as they navigate the www.

1. lol and variations. This is one of the most common acronyms in online communication. People on the net laugh a lot, it seems. They don’t simply laugh either (l). They’re laughing out loud (lol), or they’re rolling on the floor laughing (rotfl), or they’re laughing their arses/asses off (lmao). I’ve even seen rotflmao, for really funny things.

2. IMO and variations. With the rise of blogging and microblogging everybody has an opinion and wants to share it. However, to make it clear that it is just an opinion we might add in my opinion (IMO) afterwards. If what we are saying is potentially face-threatening we could make it a humble opinion (IMHO). For example, “Lindsay, your book looks really boring IMHO”. Or if we really feel like stirring things up or adding humour we can say in my arrogant opinion (IMAO). Dunno why, but I almost always see this in uppercase letters.

3. brb. Don’t you hate it when you’re in the middle of a really good chat or tweet conversation and the outside world rudely butts in (e.g. having to go off to class, or go to the bathroom). This is when you need to tell people you’ll be right back (brb). Useful to buy time too.

4. ttyl, cu. Two common sign off acronyms are talk to you later (ttyl) or see you (cu). Really clever internet folk do things like cul8r but I always think this is a bit like showing off.

5. btw. Good for adding something extra to a conversation or tweet, by the way (btw) is another one I see an awful lot.

6. omg and other expressions of alarm. The internet can be a shocking place, we may see or read shocking things. This is when it’s a good time to say oh my god (omg). You may want to shout it (OMG!) or really yell it (OMG!!!!!!) but someone told me if you do this too much people will think you are a fifteen year old Lady Gaga fan or something like that. Occasionally you will see something that confounds, annoys or enrages you. And an omg just doesn’t cut it for those situations. No, here you need a what the f*#k (wtf). This is also often shouted (WTF!)

I know, I know, there are hundreds of others that I have probably shamefully overlooked. But I had to stick to six. So, if there is a glaring omission from my list, why not add a comment? What acronyms do you think your learners should know for online communication?

Published in: | on October 18th, 2009 | 12 Comments »

Six Things About Multiple Intelligences That You Might Not Know


I remember being completely blown away the first time I attended a workshop on multiple intelligence theory. It seemed to be the answer to everything, and I enthusiastically set myself the task of incorporating as much of it as I could in my teaching. I never thought to question it, it just seemed the right thing. But since then I’ve had some doubts. I’ve come across certain “Multiple Intelligence activities” that I really think aren’t right for me, or for my classes. But it was colleague, co-author and friend Philip Kerr who really made me think about what I, we, are doing. I’m happy that Philip has agreed to share some of these thoughts here. I pass over to him here to tell you six things you might not know about M-I Theory.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was something that the up-to-date teacher should be experimenting with. References to MI theory in English language teaching are almost uniformly positive and the topic is a more than respectable subject for plenary lectures, teacher training courses and university publishers. Even this year’s IATEFL president is a fan of MI theory. But there are a few things that you might not know …

1          However scientific it might sound, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory is not a theory in the scientific sense of the world. It is not a falsifiable theory: his ideas are not amenable to measurement or verification. The theory is sciency, but not scientific.

2          Gardner identifies eight and possibly nine different human intelligences. These intelligences are metaphorical constucts, not discrete, localizable networks or areas of the brain. They do not actually exist in any measurable way. His list does not include spiritual or olfactory intelligence, although it might be quite fun if it did.

3          Gardner has substantially more supporters in the world of education than in the world of psychology. Whilst some respected psychologists (e.g. Robert Sternberg) mention Gardner’s work, most ignore it as irrelevant to their science. His arguments have been dismissed by George Miller as ‘hunch and opinion’.

4          Gardner is horrified by some of the practical applications of his ideas that he has witnessed in classrooms. ‘I once watched a series of videos about multiple intelligences in the schools,’ he has written. ‘In one video after another I saw youngsters crawling across the floor, with the superimposed legend ‘Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence’. I said, ‘That is not bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, that is kids crawling across the floor. And I feel like crawling up the wall.’

5          If you find yourself in conversation with someone about MI theory, good expressions to look out for in the discussion include ‘psychometric’, ‘g’ (not the spot), ‘fMRI’, ‘outside the box’, ‘Csikszentmihalyi’, ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘Rinvolucri’ and ‘neural oscillations’. If you hear more than one of these, walk away – fast.

6          ‘Multiple Intelligences theory’, ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, ‘brain gym’, ‘shamanism’, ‘psychodrama’ and ‘life coaching’ are not related in any way. Except, perhaps, by association.

If anyone is sufficiently interested, I’ll happily provide logico-spatial-kinaesthetic references.

Philip Kerr is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer based in Brussels. He is the lead author of the course Straightforward and is never one to pull punches when it comes to questioning accepted teacher beliefs.

Published in: | on October 16th, 2009 | 76 Comments »