Dec 31, 2013

End-of-year news quiz 2013

Traditional quiz for your first lesson in 2014

By via Flickr
[CC BY 2.0]
For some reason I had a hard time coming up with news items for this year's quiz. Not that the year was uneventful but somehow there were no sex scandals, jumps from space or viral videos which usually make good questions for the quiz. There were lots of deaths though, which is reflected in the questions, and while we're on the topic I'd like to mention that our field has also lost three notable figures in 2013: Leo Van Lier, Earl Stevick and Dave Willis (see my tribute HERE)

Dec 29, 2013

Top 3 web tools of 2013

As the year draws to a close it’s time for various top 10, 20 etc lists. I am going to limit myself to 3 and share the web tools that have undoubtedly been my favourite this year. Three different tools - three different uses.

Dec 20, 2013

The blogger behind this blog

In response to the blog tag challenge

By Masachi Mochida via Flickr
[CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I’ve been tagged. Twice. In a blog challenge the idea of which is to post 11 random facts about oneself, answer 11 questions posted by the blogger who tagged you and then pass the baton by posting 11 questions and tagging 11 other bloggers. Why 11 - I have no idea. If it had been up to me I’d have gone for 13 (since it’s 2013) like last year’s Adam Simpson’s 12 of 2012 blog challenge (see HERE).

Dec 7, 2013

Love Actually: activities, ideas, vocabulary

Image source:
I use a lot of films in my teaching: not just occasional Youtube clips but full-length authentic feature films, and I’ve been wanting for a while to start a new section on this blog where I would upload my film-based materials. I thought December would be a suitable time to share materials for many people’s favourite Christmas film Love Actually.
Warning: some scenes are suitable for adults only

Dec 1, 2013

Going experimental at TESOL France

A summary of the TESOL France’s  32nd annual colloquium  which took place in Paris between 22 and 24 November 2013.

ELT conferences often have a title or theme with various presentations loosely related to it. TESOL France’s annual colloquium held in Paris in November isn’t one of them. However, this year’s colloquium, my third, had an underlying theme for me – experimental practice. Here are highlights of some of the sessions I went to.

Oct 26, 2013

We are lexically indebted to him

Image source:
I opened my Facebook yesterday morning and was saddened to see Chia Suan Chong’s post about the passing of Dave Willis. I went over to Twitter and the feed was already filled with RIPs and condolences. For most in the ELT world Dave Willis’s name is associated with Task-Based Learning. But his contribution to lexical approaches to language teaching is just as outstanding. In fact, his pioneering work on the first Lexical Syllabus predates Michael Lewis’s seminal book by three years, the main difference between the two being words as a starting point for Willis and collocations for Lewis.

Oct 9, 2013

Learners' use of collocations: insights from the research

By jjpacres via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I often cite research in my talks so in this series of posts I would like to share some interesting studies which looked at how second language (L2) learners use collocations. This post reviews three studies which sought to answer, among others, the following questions:

1. At what level of proficiency are learners more likely to make collocational errors? 

2. To what extent are learner’s errors caused by negative transfer (aka interference) from L1?

Sep 14, 2013

The highway to fluency and a roundabout way to grammar

Photo by @GoldsteinBen via eltpics on Flickr
A second lesson with two new pre-intermediate (A2) students (I usually put my private students in pairs). In the first lesson we read three stories about immigrants (from Innovations Pre-Intermediate) and underlined useful bits of language (I hadn't introduced the word "chunk" yet). For our second lesson they were asked to prepare a short talk about their lives using as much "useful language" as they could – no writing! They did a pretty good job and successfully integrated some chunks into their stories:

Back home…
When I came over here…
I didn't have enough money
To support my family

Aug 18, 2013

Lettuce, olives and other things

By @eannegrenoble | eltpics on Flickr
In the middle of the market where I go for my weekly vegetable shopping there is a stall where I buy olives. The owners of the stall are a husband and wife team who know I am an English teacher. The other day the wife – let's call her Lily – pointed at lettuce and asked me:

"What do you call it in English?" (the exchange took place in Hebrew)
"Lettuce," I replied.
"Letters?" asked Lily.
We then worked on the pronunciation a little until she got it right. I thought it was time to move on to new items. I pointed at olives.

Aug 17, 2013

A thank you letter from students

One of the pleasures of teaching lexically is when you see your students starting to incorporate into their speech and writing lexical chunks studied in class - albeit not always appropriately. Here is a thank you letter I recently received from my students at the end of a course.

Jul 13, 2013

Honouring Penny Ur, OBE

Penny Ur was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to English Language Teaching earlier this year and as my last gig for the British Council I organised an event in her honour at the annual summer ETAI conference in Jerusalem. Knowing that events of this kind can easily slide into a sentimental outpouring of endless congratulations and knowing that Penny is not the kind of person who would like that, we were keen to keep it professional, elegant and not too gooey (Amanda Caplan, personal communication, 22 March 2013).

Jul 1, 2013

It doesn't matter

Photo by Victoria Boobyer
via eltpics 
Do your students often say "it's depend..." or things like "it's not cost much..."? Do you think they need more grammar review and practice? Hardly. Perhaps you should draw their attention to the most common expressions that follow these patterns.

This exercise, inspired by Dave Willis, draws students' attention to common expressions with: it _____s and it doesn't ______. Suitable for Pre-intermediate students and up. Correct answers on the second page.

Jun 23, 2013

Baku: beautiful but undiscovered (repost)

Having recently returned from another summer school in Baku, Azerbaijan I reproduce here an article originally written for the British Council blog last year.

After travelling to Georgia and Armenia on short-term teacher training missions last year I was looking forward to my visit to the third country of the Caucasian triangle: Azerbaijan. I’d heard that Baku, the capital of the fast growing country rich in oil and other natural resources, was a notch above the capitals of its Caucasian neighbours: Tbilisi and Yerevan. Even so, I was in for a pleasant surprise – or rather blown away – when I arrived in Baku.

Jun 1, 2013

SLA research: still in the shackles of traditional grammar?

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research also needs a lexical revolution to free itself from the shackles of grammar tyranny. Rant alert!

Photo by richardoyork on Flickr
[CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I was recently asked to give a talk at a conference on the topic of writing. Since my main area of interest is vocabulary/grammar (i.e. language) rather than developing skills per se, I decided to take a more "lexical approach" to my talk and focus on error correction in L2 writing: both lexical and grammatical. I scoured a lot of research articles to glean the current state of knowledge about error correction or - as it is more fashionable to say today – corrective feedback.

May 5, 2013

In context or with co-text?

Photo by @Mr_Schenk via eltpics

About a month ago I took part in a debate entitled Teaching Vocabulary: in or out of context where I was on the team defending teaching vocabulary in context. I hereby confess that on occasions I had to resort to unfair tactics to win the debate. While making the case for teaching vocabulary in context, I argued, for example, that the word goal should be taught together with either:


Apr 24, 2013

Conference fatigue or post-conference blues?

Yesterday I completed the online feedback questionnaire for the IATEFL 2013 conference, which took place earlier this month in Liverpool, and, inevitably, started thinking back to the conference. It was the fourth IATEFL conference I've attended - superbly organised as ever - and probably the most intense one. Whether it was the fact that my hotel was not so close to the venue or the number of sessions on offer every day or the number of sessions I wanted to go to every day – but at the end of the week I was absolutely exhausted.

Mar 31, 2013

The Lexical Approach: 20 years on...

This year sees the 20th anniversary of the publication of Michael Lewis's "The Lexical Approach", the book that has changed the way many – but unfortunately not enough - teachers teach and see language. I just wanted to share with you my plans  for this anniversary year.

Mar 25, 2013

What corpora HAVE done for us

Sinclair's seminal work -
the bible of corpus linguistics
In this post I would like to defend linguistic corpora and their relevance to the ELT field which Hugh Dellar raises doubts about.

Years ago before I became familiar with corpus tools (corpus as in linguistic corpus = "collection of samples of real-world texts stored on computer"; plural = corpora) we had a fierce debate with my colleagues whether to use the preposition to or for after the noun hint. We wanted to produce posters for English learning centres we had set up for a number of high schools and each poster was meant to provide "Hints for/to speaking / listening etc".

Mar 9, 2013


Photo by @aclil2climb via eltpics
Binomials are two word expressions (strong collocations) such as "dead or alive", "give and take", "law and order"
In this activity inspired by a short film activity on FilmEnglish, students become more aware of binomial pairs in English.

Feb 20, 2013

Grammar rules... again?! Chunks strike back

This is a somewhat belated reaction to Catherine Walter's article which appeared in the Learning English section of Guardian last autumn. Click here to read it.

File:Telramen op de bank in de klas Counting-frames in classroom.jpg
Language or maths?
Spaarnestad Photo via  Nationaal Archief
Dr Catherine Walter’s article Time to stop avoiding grammar rules defends explicit grammar teaching in EFL. Proudly subtitled The evidence is now in: the explicit teaching of grammar rules leads to better learning, the article makes numerous references to a "wide range of studies" that have shown evidence of effectiveness of explicit grammar teaching.

Jan 26, 2013

Start teaching lexically in 2013

Many readers of this blog have read my rants about badly designed coursebook or digital activities and heard me moan about preoccupation with single words in ELT. This has probably left you wondering what kind of approach to teaching I actually believe in. This post describes the main principles of lexical teaching.

Jan 5, 2013

News quiz 2012 - vocabulary review

Making history
By Alexandre Inagaki via Flickr
[CC BY 2.0]
I hope you and your students enjoyed my traditional end-of-year news quiz I published earlier this week. If you haven't seen it, it's still not too late - follow this link

Activities below are aimed at reviewing the language from the quiz. Scroll down to view handouts for students (2 levels) and teachers notes with answers.

Part A reviews verb + noun collocations (e.g. make history)