Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

De-pirouetting after TESOL Spain – Saturday

Bright and early for Shawn Redwood‘s meaningful conversation from songs workshop. Shawn had been in the Annie McDonald talk and, by the way he made contributions to that, I had guessed he must be a speaker. Clear, charismatic, articulate comments in a big Southern American accent. For a blast of it go here.I just want to hang around with him and listen to him talk. He lives in my city and made the mistake of giving me his email so I am going to try! He had lots of interesting ideas about ways to get more out of songs than just gap fills, another project close to my heart and something I’ve been working on for a while and am about to put out under the name ESL Songbird.

Ideas he had that I’ve never thought of:

  • Get students themselves to generate a list of things they might hear in the song before listening and then tick them off as they listen. So simple, so genius.
  • Play two songs on a theme e.g. New York and get students to say which one best fits with their idea of it and justify their preference with words and images from the song as well as the music itself. And they have to justify why they didn’t choose the other one. Deep.
  • Get them to plot out a video and then compare it with the actual video or make their own video for the song.

A combination of Annie McDonald’s pre listening suggestions and Shawn’s development ideas would make killer, stand alone song lessons and I’m going to tweak some of my song lessons accordingly.

I went to Hugh Dellar‘s dogme-ing the course-book as I didn’t really know what dogme was and figured it was about time I did. I can’t think why it wasn’t on my MA but I suppose it’s not so much a methodology as a style of teaching. I am not going to say too much about it as I think anything I could say would add nothing to the weight of dialogue about it. It seemed to me and quite a few others that Hugh – a course book writer – was really just advocating what we all do in the classroom after our rookie years of teaching are over which is intelligent exploitation of the materials rather than lots of supplementary, preparation heavy work.

Eminently sensible stuff but the question for me is why are publishers so intent on books that require so much exploitation? Why not make that inherent to the pages or, at the very least, in the Teacher’s Book? So many SBK rubrics and TBK’s seem to say little more than “Read the questions with your students and discuss the answers. Clarify meaning of unknown words as needed.” Err…you paid someone to write that?

Interestingly, The Thorn was in the audience of a talk that was basically saying his materials free method could be applied to materials and I can’t have been the only one expecting him to comment. He probably did over a tapa and cerveza later, away from the salivating crowds.

Dogme curiosity satisfied, and although wondering how The Thorn Q & A would go, I found a much more original presentation to go to. Ted O’Neill‘s unveiling of the Graded Reader versions of the classic 80’s Choose Your Own Adventure series published with McGraw Hill. Series Editor Marcos Benevides and other writers including Ted have got the trademark for the paper versions of the books and adapted them to 500, 700 and 900 headword ELT books that stand as the old adventure stories did but with a vocab glossary at the front and downloadable worksheets.

They’re designed with extensive reading in mind but there were suggestions for how to use them in class (more on them here) . This is very exciting and I happen to know two bloggers who will be very happy, Mike Griffin and Tyson Seburn. I think there’s definitely scope for the team to branch into originals under the same concept and hope to be able to be part of it if it happens.

Then what was, for me, quite a theoretical talk about Creativity with Carol Read. She staged it brilliantly using an adapted fairy tale to scaffold her talk which hooked everyone into the story, with her 6 questions about creativity as stepping stones along the way. I was dying to know what was going to happen to Princess Crystal Creative. The thing about creativity though is that talk about how we can make the classroom a place where creativity is likely to occur leaves me wondering about actual techniques for getting creative stuff out of students.

I’ve researched this before and not come up with much (Fiona Mauchline’s ideas do answer this partly) but what I have will be a blog post soon. I assume that design companies have loads of useful techniques but can’t find many willing to share them.

Unflagging, I was off to Fiona Mauchline‘s what-to-do-with-photos workshop. The most ideasful of all the session I saw, Fiona is obviously an incredible teacher and the co-curator of – a brilliant resource of pictures taken by teachers for use by teachers in the classroom. There were so many ideas, plus I went to her Sunday workshop about putting the creative into writing, that I think it warrants its own post.

Lastly, there was a slightly short presentation by Deanna Hinman on engaging and effective apps for the ipad for use in the language classroom. The main thing I took away from this was : ipads are amazing, I should get one.

A couple of nice ideas were using the dictation/voice recognition apps to improve pronunciation i.e. students can see where they’re going wrong when the app writes the wrong thing (the apps do tend to misunderstand NS too though) and the imovie app’s feature for making trailers for movies in different genres would be a fantastic class project.

For Friday and Sunday read on! Phew!



6 comments on “De-pirouetting after TESOL Spain – Saturday

  1. gotanda
    March 14, 2013

    Thanks for the #CYOA shout-out. Much appreciated!

    I went to Claire Acevedo’s talk on teaching reading (which was very good) so I missed Hugh’s Dogme-the-coursebook talk. But, did catch a bit of your predicted banter between “The Thorn” and Hugh afterwards over various beverages. Sounds like it’s an ongoing “dialogue” for them.

    Your description of Carol Read’s talk makes me regret using that time slot to give my own stuff one last nervous run through. Fortunately, she’s got many of her talks online at

    • Nicola
      March 14, 2013

      If you were nervous, it didn’t show. We must work out a more in depth joint post or something about the CYOAs…when I have a minute which might not be for a few weeks

      • gotanda
        March 14, 2013

        Yes, being away for almost two weeks means a lot to catch up on (and tomorrow is tax day) but definitely more about CYOA soon.

  2. hughdellar
    March 14, 2013

    Hi there –
    Thanks for bothering to come to my talk and for the write-up.

    I hear you loud and clear on the fact that much of what I was talking about was basically what good teachers do with materials. My point was really that much of the pro-Dogme discussion has become very anti-coursebooks, and that I think this is damaging in several ways: (1) It tars all published material with the same brush, rather than encouraging an understanding of how and why different materials differ in their ideologies and approaches (2) this in turn leads to – or at least feeds into – a kind of materials illiteracy, where teachers no longer really grasp what materials are aiming to do and how well they’re managing to do it (3) and the reason this matters is because much of what then happens in pro-Dogme classes is teachers make their own materials. Because presumably teacher-made material = good, published materials = bad!

    Unless you’re going to somehow try and do a mad, ‘pure’ Dogme every day, which just seems to involve student talking followed by teacher recasting / reformulation (and this may be one of the reasons why you didn’t get Dogme on your MA, by the way, because outside of this – which, let’s face it, has been around for years – it was a central part of Community Language learning in the 70s, for instance – it’s often hard to really know what else Dogme means . . . apart from what good teachers do already . . . often with materials!!), then you’re going to be using material you’ve constructed yourself.

    The discussion should surely then be about why some materials are more suited to a conversationally-driven, scaffolded approach than others, and why some offer more opportunities for teachers to take advantage of ‘affordances’!!!

    Incidentally, afterwards Scott did say he basically agreed with much of what I was saying, in purely pedagogical terms, but just doesn’t believe you need to have coursebooks to do this. For what it’s worth,m I also don’t believe you HAVE TO have them to do this – it’s just that it’s easier to do if you do have them, and there are myriad other good reasons for having them as well.

    Anyway, should anyone care about what I think on all of this, there’s plenty more over here:

    Finally, in terms of why publishers don’t facilitate more exploitation, I think it’s actually much more to do with training and CELTAs and the like and that training courses should aim far more to teach young teachers to work better with what’s there – rather than to be ‘creative’. My colleague Andrew Walkley put it beautifully in a blog post recently:

    “The start of becoming good at this kind of thing is to have better scripts for the coursebook you are using! In other words, if you think of good examples of vocabulary that is in the book which might illustrate patterns (e.g. X is my idea of hell), questions you will ask that may lead to slightly open ended responses (how do you ask about someone’s religion? What answers might you get?) and you leave space in your script for students to ask about anything else in the material they have used, then you will get better long term at this kind of ‘ad-lib’. That’s in part, because ad-lib is actually normally just using your previous experience in new situations.”

    Anyway, thanks again.

    • gotanda
      March 14, 2013

      Not that it is needed, but I’ll provide independent verification that “Scott did say he basically agreed with much of what (Hugh) was saying.” Too much can be made of pro-this anti-that.

      But, what you call the “Great Dogme Debate” may (not necessarily), but may have quite the healthy effect of keeping some good old, basic teaching practices popping up in the conversation. Nothing like a good back and forth to help people work through their own beliefs about teaching, especially if everyone can keep things in perspective.

      What you say here seems like the way forward to me, “Why some materials are more suited to a conversationally-driven, scaffolded approach than others, and why some offer more opportunities for teachers to take advantage of ‘affordances’!!!” Especially when we all recognize that textbooks are going to be with us regardless of individual teacher preferences. They are mandated, or even if you are free not to use them, your students have and will probably continue to use them. Shocking, but some students actually really want a coursebook. In the best cases, materials are there for a well thought out reason and that means having a critical eye. Nothing too radical about that, I think.

  3. Madrid Person
    March 21, 2013


    This is Shawn. Thanks so very much for mentioning my talk. I am so glad that you enjoyed it. I was surprised to see that many people on a Saturday morning. Iam glad that everyone showed up, particpated and had a great time. As long as people walked away with new ideas, I am happy.

    I always remind the participants that it’s their presentation and not mine. I like to share ideas and to make the workshop interactive and creative.

    Have a great week,


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This entry was posted on March 12, 2013 by in Teaching English, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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