Monday, April 11, 2016

TESOL 2016 Presentation: Integrating and Curating TED Talks for EAPs

In this blog post I add some information to accompany a talk I co-presented at TESOL.

My co-presenter and I shared an action research project that involved coming up with criteria for selecting TED Talks for use in an intermediate EAP listening/speaking course. We also shared the activities that we found successful over the course of our project. As we mentioned in our talk, we were looking for further authentic sources of listening input to augment our course textbook listenings and to stimulate speaking activities.

You can find the presentation here:

TESOL 2016 Integrating and Curating TED talks for EAPs from Oregon State University

In our talk we mentioned how we put the transcripts into to determine the vocabulary load of the talk. Word and Phrase has a text analyzer, which we felt seems much more user friendly than Tom Cobb's Complete Lexical Tutor. Word and Phrase uses the The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to determine word frequency and thereby searches one of the most widely used and current corpuses available. COCA currently has a corpus of 520 million words.

Another website we shared in our talk was
This website acts as a kind of curation portal, allowing you to control for speech rate, vocabulary difficulty and duration among other criteria when selecting TED Talks. Students can sign up on the site and self-test themselves using the diagnostic tests to determine how they should select their talks based on different levels of the CEFR. This does not account for all the talks available, however. A limitation of this website, as was pointed out by one of our session attendees, is that when you start limiting the the duration, word speed and vocabulary level, you end up with very little variety of talks to choose from. So while it may be a good resource for students self-language study, it may be to confining as a curation tool for teachers looking to bring TED Talks into the classroom.

We briefly touched upon the idea of digital curation in our talk. Philip Hubbard's presentation on the topic at the 4th World CALL Conference can be found here. Dr. Hubbard's Advanced Listening and Vocabulary Development course at Stanford also provides a good example of integrating TED Talks into a course.

As a final word on our TESOL presentation, I just want to extend my gratitude to the lively audience for our presentation and they great feedback we received. If you have used TED Talks in your class or have tried curating them for a course, feel free to add your comments to this blog post or send me an email at

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Readers Theater Session Report: TESOL 2015

This is the second blog post in a series from the 2015 TESOL Convention in Toronto. In this post, I discuss the presentation "Readers Theater as a Bridge to More Fluent Reading" by Fredricka L. Stoller and William Grabe.

In this presentation, the presenters provided the audience with the original texts along with the accompanying readers theater scripts. Dr. Grabe explained how readers theater builds a sense of pace and chunking. It is a tool to help increase reading fluency by allowing students to read a quicker speeds. Both Dr. Grabe and Dr. Stoller mentioned that while readers theater is often used in k-12, it is not often used with adult learners and for academic texts.

By showing the differences between the scripts and the original texts, the presenters highlighted the ways to adapt a reading passage into a readers theater script. Here are some of the take away tips for adapting scripts.

Tips For Creating Scripts
  • Break up a long text and consider making a script on one section rather than the whole article
  • Add questions to help move the script along
  • Add conversational language to help progress the script
  • Change pronoun references so that it is more conversational
  • Include an introduction to the script topic, such as a news reporter, radio announcer, or talk show host explaining the topic and who they will interview
Steps For Implementation
  • Once a script has been created (usually by teachers unless you have an advanced class), a group gets copies of the script and rereads it a number of times on their own. During this time the teacher should demonstrate pronunciation and emphasis of different words and explain any unknown vocabulary.
  • Students could choose their characters as opposed to having the teacher assign them.
  • Then the group gets together and rehearses in their groups.
  • Finally there is a group performance.

Readers Theatre Websites


Each term I go through lists of icebreakers, recycling old ones and trying out new ones. In this blog post I outline a few of the ones I've used. If you have suggestions, feel free to add your comments to this post.

Worst/Best Class I Have Ever Had

  1. Put class into groups of 3-4 students. Consider assigning a group leader, notetaker and a reporter. 
  2. Split the whiteboard/chalkboard into two sections. On the first section write "The worst class I have ever had." On the second panel, write at the top "The best class I have ever had." Under each of these headings write "What the teacher did" and "What the students did."
  3. Have students come up with their examples and stories for the different parts. Walk around the classroom and monitor group participation and involvement. I had the groups only focus on one section at a time rather than both the good and bad behavior at the same time. 
  4. Call on groups to volunteer some of their examples for each section and write it on the board. 
  5. Finally, explain to the class that the aspects under the "best class I have ever had" is our goal for the term. However, it is going to take a mutual agreement that they need to do their part in order for me to do mine. 

I tried this icebreaker out in an intermediate level academic listening/speaking course at INTO OSU. This icebreaker functions in a similar way as a class contract, but is good for getting students talking to each other right from the beginning of the class. I also like it as a nice introduction to group activities.

Side note: During this activity one of my female students related a story about her worst teacher she ever had who called her up in front of the class to write an answer on the board and called her "stupid" when she couldn't answer. Then the teacher later hit her over the head with a book!
This activity is fairly simple to set up. Have each student take 3 pieces of paper and write some interesting facts about themselves. They then crumple up the papers into snowballs and have a snowball fight. Students gather up a snowball and identify the person who the snowball belongs to and introduces that person to the class and their snowball paper. Then the student who was introduced follows the same routine and so on until all the snowballs have been used.

Interviews: Break Down First Day Barriers

I got this activity off of Dave's ESL Cafe's Idea Cookbook. I was teaching a high level listening and speaking course and wanted something that gave students a bit more autonomy from the beginning of the course. I designed a short handout to accompany the activity where students came up with a subject, the questions, and then answers. I asked them to interview at least 2 different students. Then they were asked to present them to the class. As this was their first class meeting, I then asked them to each think of one question in order to better get to know me. It could be from their list of questions or an entirely new one. I felt this activity really solidified the classroom community feel and it also allowed them the freedom to get to know things about their teacher they were genuinely interested in. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Creating Scavenger Hunts Using QR Codes

With the sunny weather here in Oregon, I have been looking for ways to get students outdoors. Scavenger hunts have long been popular activities for language learning and getting students up and moving. Using QR Codes is a more technological spin on this favorite language learning activity. In this post I explain how I used QR codes to create a vocabulary-based scavenger hunt. 

In my beginner level vocabulary course, we had recently been focusing on synonyms, definitions and collocations so I wanted to create a scavenger hunt where students reviewed these aspects of word knowledge for particular vocabulary words. 

Set Up
To set up my QR Code scavenger hunt, I used an online QR Treasure Hunt Generator from The interface is rather simple to use, requiring a question/prompt to be entered followed by the *symbol for the answer. It seems this latter requirement of the * symbol is only here for the purpose of telling the program that the question is completed. There are also instructions for teachers on the implementation of this activity and even a sample treasure hunt on the site. 

I created the questions using MS Word so that I had an answer key. I made the questions in a multiple choice format. Here is an example: The definition "to cause (someone) to become afraid" is for the word __________ (dangerous, frightening, or polluted). *frightening

Next I pasted 10 questions in the above format into the QR Treasure Hunt Generator and submitted it. 10 corresponding QR Codes were generated, which I printed out. The first QR Code I pasted up on the wall of the classroom. It provides the instructions for the activity and requires that students scan it to get started. I then taped the other 10 QR Codes around our program's building and other places on campus. On the bottom of each QR Code I wrote a clue to where students could find the next QR Code. The final QR Code I put next to the classroom. 

  1. Place students into groups of 3-4 students. 
  2. Provide a list of QR Code Readers that students can use on the board (I one student in the group download "Bar Code Scanner" on his/her phone. There are numerous QR Code readers for Android and Iphone. I tried a few of them and found this one to be the most straight forward. 
  3. Modeling: Using the QR Code I had taped to the board, I showed students how I could use my phone's bar code scanner app to scan the QR Code. I the students from their groups come up to the board and scan the code one-by-one and then show me on their phone. 
  4. I then showed students the 1st clue that I had written on the QR Code and told them to fill out their answers on the scavenger hunt worksheet I created. And return to the class when they were done to check their answer. 
  5. I walked around to the different places where the QR Codes were posted to ensure students were on task before returning to the classroom to wait for the first finishers. 
  6. After checking students answers, I provided students with a reward. 

If anyone has further ideas on how to set up QR Code scavenger hunts, please feel free to leave your comments below!

Further Links for Using QR Codes:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Corpus Tools Session Report from the 2015 TESOL Convention

I have just returned from the TESOL 2015 International Convention and English Language Expo in Toronto, Canada. The theme for this year's convention was "Crossing Borders: Building Bridges." In this blog post, I comment on one of the sessions I attended that is of interest to those such as myself who are teaching in university intensive English programs. This year I did not present, but went as an attendee looking to get new ideas on teaching reading, writing and vocabulary. 

Corpus Confidence: Turning Language Data Into Language Learning
Amy Tate, Rice University, USA

In this presentation, the presenter provided examples of activities that used three different corpus tools: Google Ngrams, just the word, and wordandphrase. During my time as a graduate student at Northern Arizona University, I was immersed in talk about corpus as many of our faculty specialized in corpus linguistics, but as a teacher I have not always found corpus tools readily available or accessible for use in the classroom. So I was excited about this presentation's aim of making practical usage of corpus tools, especially for teaching collocations. Here are three activities I found very useful in that I can see using them in my intermediate to advanced reading and writing course I am teaching this term.   

Activity 1: Collocation Forks 
One of the activities Amy mentioned that I am looking forward to trying out for teaching collocations of new academic vocabulary terms was the use of collocation forks. Collocations forks involve selecting an important vocabulary word and then using wordandphrase to look up the most frequent collocations as a first step. Once you have chosen 3-4 collocations, then you write a fork on the board with a number of tines for the number of collocations. You can first teach this explicitly by writing the fork and the collocations for the target vocabulary word (see the post from Leoxicon for more example activities). Later, as a way to review and recall important collocations associated with a vocabulary word, you can write the fork on the board with the only the collocations. Then ask students to look through their vocabulary list to come up with the associated target vocabulary word. 

Activity 2: Student Mis-collocations 
Amy pointed out that often times one of the error codes she commonly puts on student's papers is ww-"wrong word." This error commonly occurs, she said, due to a mis-collocation. She provided the example of "They can buy it for a comfortable price." Once a number of sentences from student's own writing such as the one above are collected from student's first drafts, she goes to the site just-the-word and puts in the word combination in the search box. In this example she used "comfortable price" and selected "alternatives from thesaurus." The results of the search provides a number of collocation combinations for the word " comfortable price." She demonstrated how in the classroom teachers can point out how the green lines next to the combination shows the most commonly used word collocations, while the red are bad combinations. This seems like a great way to have students develop a greater awareness of vocabulary use in their own writing by helping them self-correct. I plan to implement this as a necessary stage in student's revision of their error feedback on essay drafts. 

Activity 3: Repairing Missing Words in Writing
One of the other errors that students have is leaving out words in their essays. Amy showed how Google Ngrams could be used to have students input the word into the search box that is missing a word after it. In her example, she used "refers" to show that the student was missing something after refer. By including *refer in the Google Ngrams search box, she was able to show that "refers to" was much more commonly used than other collocation combinations. This was my first introduction to GoogleNgrams. And even though it searches only google books, it does seem like a great way to show students statistically driven choices in vocabulary usage. 

Amy Tate provided her handout and slide presentation in pdf format online, which can be accessed by logging into the TESOL 2015 Conference Planner and searching for her presentation. You can access as a guest without having to create a profile. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Does Extra Planning Time and Directions Reduce L2 Learner’s Errors During Speaking Activities?

This posting is part of an assignment for reviewing a study as part of my Second Language Acquisition course at NAU with Dr. Plonsky.

Title: Does Extra Planning Time and Directions Reduce L2 Learner’s Errors During Speaking Activities?

Problem: If we give students instructions for focusing on certain aspects of their speaking and extra time during a speaking task, how do we know if they will make less grammar errors or use more complex speech?

The study: This study sought to determine whether giving students guidance during their speaking tasks and enough time to complete it would result in less grammar mistakes and more complex speech. In giving learners guided instruction on the use of English articles along with ample time to complete the speaking task, the researchers wanted to determine if the students used articles more accurately than a group of students who were pressured for time and given unguided instruction. The findings showed that learners given guidance and time for planning produced more accurate use of English articles and more complex language than the group that did not. But these learners did not produce very fluent speech compared to the group that was pressured for time and had not guidance.

The take-home message: This study suggests that if we give students guidance on a specific aspect of grammar to focus on and extra time they will make less grammar mistakes and use more complex words when speaking. However, it seems giving them this kind of a focus comes at a loss for how fluently they are able to speak. For English speaking teachers, we might consider using the results from this research to make decisions on how we allot time and guided instructions to a particular speaking task. If our purpose is to encourage fluency, then perhaps pressured tasks with no grammar guidance is best. If our purpose is to get learners to use more complex words and forms of grammar, then it might be better to allot more time and guided instruction on grammar points.

Article citation: Ahmadian, M, J. (2012). The effects of guided careful online planning on complexity, accuracy and fluency in intermediate EFL learners’ oral production: The case of English articles. Language Teaching Research, 16, 129-149. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Teacher Talk About Students: Harmful or Helpful?

Note: This post is a few months old.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been attending orientation sessions, meetings and workshops to prepare for a new term. During this time, there has been a lot of discussion around course planning, sequencing and the drawing up of lesson plans--what you would expect during this time. But there has also been a lot of mention of how students behave negatively in the classroom and what you should watch out for.

While I see a place for conversation geared towards preparing teachers for keeping discipline in the classroom, much of the talk teachers engage in often tends to paint a picture of a class full of unruly students who are not to be trusted. This does not hold true only for my present context, but also for places I have taught in the past. I have been told things like I shouldn't smile during the first couple of weeks, that I shouldn't give any leniency, and that students tend to talk a lot. 

Rather than give workshops discussing different approaches to setting up your class so that a friendly learning environment can be created, most often I hear teachers talking down students and saying that you just need to "be strict." What this does for the new teacher is create an expectation of a hostile student environment, so that you enter the classroom on the first day expecting the worst. One of my fellow teachers used to tell me how much better off he was to not listen to this type of talk and form his opinions based on his own experiences.