Monthly Archives: May 2012

-Going Forward-

Building on David’s ‘Future Projects’ post, some of our future plans for materials also include:

Using Bubbler for student created materials to help them to understand ‘genre type’, an important aspect for learners to understand when writing in different registers for Cambridge FCE exams. For example, before the practice of writing a letter of complaint, in respect of terrible service and food in a restaurant; students could create storyboards around this theme, which should then help to connect their letter writing directly to the social situation and intended readership (in this case the restaurant manager).

Further development of activities for Trinity GESE speaking exam students. I would like to concentrate on the lower levels grades 1-4, working on creating activities that should assist learners throughout the syllabuses to be covered. During the summer there will then be the opportunity to pilot what has been developed, and David and I will analyse feedback received and assess the effectiveness of the materials according to our framework.

A series of interviews with both teachers and students, including the topic of discussion centering around materials and activities within the ELT classroom. It will be very useful to record what both practitioners and learners alike are really thinking about materials in all manner of forms, from the coursebook to the materials-lite approach, using a blackboard and marker or the latest technology. The responses in the interviews should shed some light as to their effectiveness, as well as preferences in terms of teaching and learning. An initial interview has just been added to our YouTube channel and is very interesting!




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-Action Learning-

Reading David’s ‘CAE Lifesavers’ post and reflecting on our previous discussion around his idea of  an online social network where CAE students can support each other, and whilst creating a resource for future learners, it seems that this could be an example of ‘action learning’. According to Ian McGill and Liz Beaty (1995), the educational process of action learning is where students ‘learn from each other by working on real problems and reflecting on their own experiences’, within a ‘group of people (called a set)…for a concentrated period of time’ (1995: 17), and the set is ‘focussed on the issues of each individual’ (1995:18).

Students within the CAE Lifesavers network, it could be argued, do have an overarching real world problem (how to successfully pass Cambridge CAE exams), and within this certainly lies a multitude of challenges. A social network can act as a communicative framework for an ‘action learning set’, and as David pointed, out according to Wenger, White and Smith (2009), this technology also allows it to operate as a community of practice, without the constraints of member size, time or geography. Additionally, it is easy to forget that learning does not take place within the classroom or within class time only. In a recent online article Jeremy Harmer (2010) states that ‘students take time to process items, and for each learner there is a degree of divergence in this sense’. Given this, an online resource that can be contributed to autonomously, and where problems may be discussed informally in an asynchronous manner after lessons have finished upon further study and reflection; seems like an effective way to work considering the varying times when learners understand and consolidate new learning. additionally, in the case of CAE students who have arrived in the UK, there are many other areas that can benefit from peer support, such as dealing with cultural differences and simply ‘getting things done’ in a foreign country, all of which can be addressed within an online action learning set.



Harmer, J. (2010) No Dogma for EFL – away from a pedagogy of essential bareness Available from: [Accessed 06 May 2012].

McGill, I. and L. Beaty (1995) Action Learning: A Practitioner’s Guide. London:Routledge Falmer

Wenger, E., White, N., and Smith, J D. (2009). Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities. Portland: CPsquare

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-Learner Created Materials and Constructionism-

Earlier on in the module, I thought that the practice of students creating resources for future use, might provide a stronger learning opportunity than if using existing materials that were previously created by learners. With this in mind, and following on from an early post that I made in February entitled ‘Materials vs Activities’, and David’s response in his ‘Materials vs activities and problem-based learning’ post, the educational theory of ‘constructionism’ would appear relevant to the discussion. In the February post, I was exploring the notion of where the distinction actually lies between materials and activities, to which fellow student Rachel Newman left the insightful comment ‘With the interaction of the student using the materials (such as putting in a voice thread to a video, picture etc), the students are using Voicethread as part of the material and interacting with it therefore the materials (or teaching aid) have become part of the activity.’ This idea that materials being made by learners through interaction become the activity is interesting, and according to constructionism, learning takes place most effectively when students are creating something tangible in the real world; and Papert & Harel (1991) suggested that constructionism could be labelled simply as ‘learning-by-making’.

Returning to my earlier point that students re-creating instead of using previously made learning materials, appears to be in line with constructionist learning theory, raises the question ‘when is it better for learners to use a student created resource of materials as opposed to re-creating them?’ It might be that this is somewhat dependent on how engaging and motivating the materials creation in each case is. For instance, students who are using Bubbler or Voicethread to create materials for FCE and CAE speaking exams practice similar to that at, and that David illustrated in his ‘Approaching the same topic through different media’ post, should find the act of using these online apps highly stimulating whilst also allowing them a greater sense of autonomy and learner achievement.



Papert, S. and I, Harel. (1991) Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation

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Future projects

Following my reading of David Block’s insightful book ‘The social turn in second language acquisition’ (2002) I was inspired to make some videos of interviews of students and teachers discussing their views on materials and what makes effective lessons. This is a project in progress and has made me realise just how much work editing can be. I am using i-movie on the mac to edit these videos and hope to post them soon.

Further projects that will be include on the blog will be some experiments with apple i-books author exploring the same theme of the environment already spoken about on the blog. We will also be looking at the pros and cons of teaching with Skype and videoconferencing.


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-Materials Design Framework and Further Considerations-

Following discussion around materials evaluation within our recent meetings, and building on our original framework for syllabuses and coursebooks, we have added a framework for the design and evaluation of materials in the wider sense. Although we largely agree with the rationale behind the proposed frameworks within McGrath’s Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching (2002), especially when considering paper based materials and coursebooks, we have found the work of David Jolly & Rod Bolitho (in Tomlinson 2011) to be more appropriate for the direction that we have taken.

We have decided that upon creating any new materials and trail runs within the ELT classroom setting that we will continue use Jolly & Bolitho’s (2011) flow chart incorporating five stages involved in the writing of materials. David has previously trialed this framework as referred to in his post ‘Materials v activities and problem-based learning’, where it was found to be an effective evaluative tool. The five stages are as follows:

1) IDENTIFICATION by teacher or learner(s) of a need to fulfill or a problem to solve by the creation of materials

2) EXPLORATION of the area of need/problem in terms of what language, what meanings, what functions, what skills, etc.

3) CONTEXTUAL REALISATION of materials by the finding of appropriate exercises and activities AND the writing of appropriate instructions for use

4) PEDAGOGICAL REALISATION of materials by the finding of appropriate exercises and activities AND the writing of appropriate instructions for use

5) PHYSICAL PRODUCTION of materials, involving consideration of layout, type size, visuals, reproduction, tape length, etc.


We found the case studies from Jolly & Bolitho using the above stages to be particularly helpful in illustrating the design process in action, which should serve as a good reference when checking against our own materials, as well a helpful flow diagram that illustrates clearly ’a teacher’s path through the production of new or adapted materials’ (2001:113).

It is interesting to note, that according to Tomlinson, the notion of highly effective materials rests more on their appropriate use by a teacher, and that they are ‘tuned’ to the particularly group of learners as opposed to the materials doing all the work by themselves.

There are a number of important principles summarised by Tomlinson (2003: 21) that are informed by research in the area of second language acquisition, including: Materials should have impact for the learners which can be achieved through variety, appealing content by them having aesthetic appeal; materials should also help with developing leaner confidence and this can involve the practice of making them slightly more challenging than the learners’ proficiency; learners need to see and understand the usefulness of materials and that they are relevant to their needs.

As we have utilised a number of technologies for consideration and development of materials, web 2.0 sites such as Voicethread, Bubbler, as well as the use of mixed-media such as video and augmented reality; we feel that it is important to any consider potential pitfalls as highlighted by Beverly Derewianka. She points out that graphics can be too distracting for learners and at the expense of any text-based target language. Also, if they already communicate all the necessary information, they can make any text redundant, which is something that we have noticed in a number of coursebooks, as well as CD-ROM or online supplementary materials.  Derewianka cautions that if the material incorporates animations or gives away too much, it may result in a learner not having to cognitively realise the item of learning. In other words, materials such as video can do too much of the work for the learner, resulting in a loss of learning opportunities.  Too much action on-screen or a combination of media might also overwhelm students when they are attempting to engage with text, graphics, video and audio simultaneously. Additionally, different media are of course suitable for different jobs, and it necessary to consider whether the media that you have chosen will indeed facilitate the teaching and learning objectives that you have in mind.

Alex & David



McGrath, I. (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2003) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum International Publishing Group – Academi.

Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2011) Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Approaching the same topic using different media

Starting from a standpoint of learner need, which in this case is bringing the CAE speaking topics ‘to life’ and with an increase in sociolinguistic and sociocultural competence as the objective I have been looking at some methods and materials that can achieve these aims.

Initial engagement with the topic is very important for what results are achieved afterwards. We have already ascertained from reading and interviews that paper-based materials and textbooks still currently have a very important role to play, but that these can also benefit from the addition of a technological aspect. In a previous post I referred to Lave & Wenger’s (2002) term ‘ community of practice’ with reference to the social networking site for CAE students. However, I believe these ‘communities’ are an important aspect in the creation of all types of materials. Therefore a paper-based activity on the theme of the environment might be introduced by a simple internet search using the name “Tilly Smith’ or ‘Mont Pele-Martinique’ or the like. When we type Tilly Smith into Wikipedia this is what students will see.

Tilly Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tilly Smith (born 1994) is a British girl who, at the age of 10, was credited with saving nearly a hundred foreign tourists at Maikhao Beach in Thailand by warning beachgoers minutes before the arrival of the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

Tilly Smith learned about tsunamis in a geography lesson two weeks before the tsunami from her teacher Andrew Kearney at Danes Hill School in Oxshott, Surrey. She recognised the symptoms of receding water from the shoreline and frothing bubbles on the surface of the sea and alerted her parents, who warned others on the beach and the staff at the hotel on Phuket where they were staying. The beach was evacuated before the tsunami reached shore, and was one of the few beaches on the island with no reported casualties.

Not only does this introduce the topic in an interesting way, with a human interest story but it gives the students autonomy to find out more by following links and finding information which can then be shared in groups or as a whole class activity.

Another way of exploiting this reading from Wikipedia could be for students to read some information about a particular topic and pass it on in a chain to other students. This type of activity incorporates interaction and negotiation for meaning and practices the key skills of reading, speaking and listening and could be modified to practice writing skills if necessary.

Another way of exploiting the internet on the theme of the environment could be to search and compare the same theme as seen from different viewpoints on the internet. A search for’ Greenpeace’ for example would reveal lots of different points of view. These attitudes and opinions would provide a rich focus for classroom discussion.

The teacher’s role in this would be of guide and ‘scaffolder’. Circulating, making suggestions of synonyms, different constructions to use or alternative ways of expressing a viewpoint.

Useful vocabulary and constructions to use could be put on the board or given to the students at the beginning of the session or could even be formulated by the students themselves through brainstorming. From my own experience and that of Advanced level teachers I have spoken to this autonomy creates effective lessons.

Podcasts and Video

In this blog we have already looked at the advantages of using video and have created the channel ‘CAE inspired’ on YouTube for students to make and post their own videos which will serve as a starting point for discussion. Podcasts serve a similar function and are excellent in their capacity for practicing listening and speaking  in that students can record their views and experiences which will be available for other students to listen to and comment upon.


A site where students can make their own comic strips and add speech bubbles to pictures. To exploit the theme of the environment I have made some example comic strips. These strips could be used to introduce an environmental debate as it depicts two people who have opposing points of view on environmental issues. This would enable students to see the argument from both sides and possibly to be more objective in their own viewpoints and arguments. Bubblr would initially appear to appeal more to younger learners and teenagers. However, I have found that all learners engage with the materials.

Mobile phones and apps

The use of mobile phones in the classroom is not only restricted to apps- various other uses such as text or video messaging or ‘authentic’ telephone conversations could be had. However, apps are the new trend and teachers can tap into this. In order to practice the topic of environment for example a couple ideas that are I had were for an app where students could label pictures of environmental problems with the correct vocab and then record themselves speaking about the picture for a minute (this would practice the long turn activity in the CAE exam). Another possible activity would be a mobile phone game or wifi game in which students have a picture to describe and another student has three pictures on their phone. The student has to choose the picture which matches the description.


Articulate gives the user the capability of making very engaging interactive quizzes on different topics

Victory author and Yabla

With victory author video and captioning software students can make their own videos and caption them while Yabla has videos for students to watch and discuss

The possibility of using these activities as one unit of a digital coursebook would also imply the necessity of learning and cementing the essential vocabulary and constructions required for the CAE exam. Assuming the format for the exam stays the same in the forthcoming years this would imply incorporating a piece of writing into the activities. This could be done based on ‘An inconvenient truth’ or similar documentary in which students watch sections of the documentary and write a report or comment on it, I have include 2 links below. Bubblr could be a useful way of introducing the vocabulary and constructions necessary, this could be done on the first page of the Bubblr strip or could be introduced gradually over a series of strips that the students have to write on various themes.

I apologise for the quality of this second video but I think it provides rich teaching and discussion possibilities, not least because it is from 1992, and can be used as the starting point for a discussion or writing piece on what has and hasn’t changed since then.


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CAE lifesavers

Prompted by my reading of Lisa Kervin and Beverley Derewianka’s chapter on new technologies to support language learning (p.349) I decided to set up a social networking site for CAE students studying at the ISE in Brighton. The morning class consists of a variety of nationalities, the majority of whom are studying to take the advanced exam. In March we had 12 of our students taking the exam, all of whom who passed. I felt that setting up a social networking site exclusively for students of this class would allow the students who had already taken the exam to share their experiences as well as dispelling myths around the exam while permitting the newer students to network with each other. At the same time it allows the teacher to post materials and links for the students. To give an example, the students were very interested in the Cutting Edge documentaries shown in the class and received links on the site so they could watch them at home.

This idea of creating a ‘community of practice’ (Lave and Wenger 2002) has become very prominent in our materials design thinking. A community of practice is a ‘group of people who share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting on an ongoing basis.’

According to Wenger, White and Smith (2009) technology has changed what it means to be involved in a community of practice as size and membership is no longer constrained by geography.


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