Setting the Table for Success: The Relationship Between Classroom Arrangement and Classroom Management

During my CELTA, I did two writing skills lessons. The first was a disaster: every time I walked in front of a student they would cover what they were writing. Why didn’t I just walk behind them? Well, the room was arranged like this:

Horseshoe Arrangement

traditional arrangement, Writing, Warm-up Writing, u shaped desk arrangement, horseshoe desk arrangement, classroom management, feedback, monitoring, cluster arrangement, ELT, EFL, ESL, TEFL, ELL
Horseshoe Arrangement

so that option was off the table. Needless to say, if you conduct a writing class and can’t give any feedback the lesson is a failure. However, as Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Continue reading “Setting the Table for Success: The Relationship Between Classroom Arrangement and Classroom Management”


"Red Light! Green Light!" Teaching Students How to Give Peer-Feedback During Speaking Activities

Teaching speaking sounds easy until you actually try it. Some of the myriad issues that inevitably pop up are:


Which dialect should the instructor teach? Most people will instinctively say “their own” but what if an American teacher is teaching a room full of students preparing to study in the UK? Should the American instructor really teach “sidewalk” instead of “footpath?” How about “crosswalk” instead of “zebra crossing?”


Of course you want your students to use “real English,” but how do you teach slang? Similar to dialect, whose slang do you teach? What about cursing?

Continue reading “"Red Light! Green Light!" Teaching Students How to Give Peer-Feedback During Speaking Activities”

EAP, IELTS, Listening, Speaking Skills, TOEFL iBT, Monitoring
Should I send myself to the principal’s office?

Reading with a Purpose: Teaching Skimming and Scanning

The first time I can remember telling a class skimming and scanning were important was about seven years ago. I was teaching TOEFL iBT prep in Hanoi, Vietnam and was trying to explain just how important it was for the students to be able to get the “gist” of what they reading (skimming) or find key words/details (scanning) in a passage. If I remember right, I even held up the sheet below in an attempt to “prove” I was right.

TOEFL iBT, Reading Skills, Speaking Skills, Writing Skills, EAP, IELTS, TOEIC
Click here to download.

Fast forward to last semester. I was teaching English 101 at University of Arizona and, as I had so many times before, was telling the students to “not read every word – scan for the main idea.” And then one of my students did something that had never happened before: she asked “How?” Continue reading “Reading with a Purpose: Teaching Skimming and Scanning”

Using Picasa to Create Class Photo Sheets

Using Picasa to Create Class Photo Sheets

If you’ve checked out my CV, you’ll have noticed that I have taught in a lot of different settings. For example, I taught at a language school a few years back that had young learner classes on the weekends. The classes were 90 minutes long, met on either Saturday or Sunday, and had between 15-18 students in a class. Most of the teachers taught four classes a day so they’d end up having six contact hours and seeing between 60-72 kids. Not that big a deal, right?

Well the problem came in the middle of the semester when you had to do parent-teacher conferences. Now since the parents didn’t (usually) speak English and the teachers didn’t (usually) speak Vietnamese, there was always a local staff-member there to translate. Again, no big deal, right?
But what if you don’t know who the parent’s child is? That’s right, you’ve been teaching the same class for the past three months and you don’t have any clue who this parent, who is paying some exorbitant  amount of tuition, is referring to. How is that possible? Like I said before, you have 70 kids you see once a week on top of all the students you teach during the week. Needless to say, it’s easy to get confused. and Youtube: Watching videos with a purpose and Youtube: Watching videos with a purpose

I love using videos in the classroom: they are engaging, multi-sensory and provide quasi-authentic language. The question of course is what do you have students do while they’re watching the videos? Well, one tool I’ve come across recently is is a web app that allows users to take notes of online videos (YoutubeKhan AcademyCourseraUdacity) and then store and share their notes using either Evernote or  Google Drive. Why would you want to use this site?

  • Ease of collection – Instead of carrying paper copies, you just have students “share” their work with you (more on that later).
  • Tracking the process – If you are having students write essays on videos, it is a lot harder for them to plagiarize if you are tracking their work from the very beginning.
  • Collaboration – Students can share their notes and ideas with each other nearly instantly.
  • Safe Keeping – Students “misplace” their paper notes all the time. Unless a student consciously deletes the file from their Google Drive account, their video notes aren’t going anywhere.

So how do you use Continue reading “ and Youtube: Watching videos with a purpose”

Google Drive and A match made in the clouds

Google Drive and A match made in the clouds

It seems that no matter how hard you try students just don’t ever seem to put in as much work outside of class as you would like them to; or, and this can be even more frustrating, students practice their language skills in highly ineffective ways (more on that in a future post). This fact leads to the following conundrum, how can you, as a language teacher, get students to work outside of class?

The answer is you can’t – people are going to do what they are going to do. However, what teachers can do is try to make the work they assign as relevant and (gasp!) fun as possible.

It is in this spirit that I suggest the following activity given to me by Anthony Teacher. I haven’t tried it yet but I have a good feeling about it. Continue reading “Google Drive and A match made in the clouds”

The Start of Something

When should you start a new endeavor?

A) When the time is right?
B) When you know you are ready?
C) Sometime in the past when life was better?

D) Sometime in the future?

Needless to say, all four of the above answers are incorrect.

A) How would you ever truly know when the time time is right?
B) Similar to “A” but even harder to qualify; how do you know you can do something until you actually do it?
C) If the right time to do something was always in the past, we would never start anything new.
D) How many times has someone thought the right time would be later and yet, when it is later, the time still is right?

No, the best answer is almost always today. Today is the day we are in, the day we have some control over and the day the idea/feeling to create/begin is usually strongest. Besides, putting off what we hope or want to achieve today until later usually leads to regrets; i.e. missed chances and forgotten ideas.

It is in this spirit of carpe diem that I do now what I have told my students to do for the past decade: just start writing; make it better later.