Letter to myself

Dear Mike,

You are writing this to yourself on December 11, 2017 (and, let’s be honest, you wrote a little more on December 12th and edited a very little bit in January 2018).  It’s the last class with one group. They were a nice group and it was an enjoyable time. You had a lot of laughs with this group.

Your students are currently writing a letter to “their juniors” offering advice and recollections. You decided it was too boring (and somewhat uncomfortable) to watch them write so you decided to do some writing yourself.

When faced with this “letter to a junior” task a few students were a bit reticent. One suggested that she didn’t have anything to say because she didn’t do well this term. You told her that is also valuable. Perhaps the next time you do this you can do a bit more in terms of a lead-in and intro. Similarly, one student (who it must be said didn’t benefit from reading “a letter to a senior” in the spring” sort of balked at the idea and thought it was unfair to be compelled to write something. You fully agreed. It was an interesting moment and a fun challenge to your beliefs. You might have overdone your lack of a desire to compel them to do anything and in the end she seemed very focused on the task and it looked like she did her best to pass along useful information.

The idea of this letter is to remind you of a few things that are on your mind as you finish the term in the hopes that it will be helpful when you start the new term. We can consider it something of a reminder but also perhaps a nudge to make some small changes.

Looking back on this term (and this class and the 2 other sections just like it) you believe you worked hard and did your best. Perhaps sometimes your classroom management in terms of timing was not the best as you raced against the clock to finish a few times during the second semester.

It is perhaps related but, this was also the class that you got a bit bogged down a few times with some esoteric questions.  In retrospect you might have just said something like, “you don’t need to know that.. maybe let’s just move on.” You only got a bit pissy about this once but it felt like it was more of a bonding moment than anything.

If you are honest with yourself you can admit that this year was not super easy for you in terms of teaching. You can also say that they are some great students and people that you’d like to stay in touch with you. You can hold on to the idea you’ve impacted some people and helped them. Please remember the touching feedback you got from students as they left on the last day. You will remember what they said and it might serve you to remember that this positive and touching feedback was not exactly about pedagogical feelings and was more about affect and helping students be comfortable in the class and comfortable with who they are in the class. It is a good lesson to keep in mind and try to replicate although of course it will be different with different groups. Some good news is that you are already familiar with many of the students you will be having this term and they are a great bunch.
You are reading this post in the future through the miracles of modern WordPress post publishing technology.  It’s March, 2018.  It’s a new term. I am guessing you don’t really know what the new term will bring. I hope you are still excited. If I know you I know that you were thinking last night about the idea that if you don’t get butterflies in your stomach the night before a new term or class that means it’s time to hang it up.

I know you like and even love your job. I must admit I’m a bit concerned about you being a bit complacent or fat and happy in this job. I hope you will find some ways to keep things new and fresh. Remember how hard this all was back in 2010 when you started. You scraped and clawed to be decent at this and now you can confidently say you tend to do well. The learning curve was steep and now you feel comfortable and confident in the job. There is, of course, always room for improvement.
So,  in terms of improving and keeping things fresh, what will you do? I was thinking about a few experiments you might try in your classes this term. You could even try different experiments in different groups and see how things go.

Another concern I have, which is surely connected to the above is that it’s perhaps too easy for you to fall into that “demand low” situations and attitude. You work hard and students surely improve and work hard but there are probably some areas where some more tension could be helpful for everyone.

You spend all this time writing notes for the students based on their mistakes/errors and successes. You know that students don’t read them or take them on so much. This is tough on both and emotionally and time-wise. You instituted the weekly quiz last year and it worked pretty well last year but this year a lot of students missed it. The way I see it now you have two options with this. You can stop doing the quizzes or you can be more strict about this. One crazy idea you had (and halfheartedly “threatened” was that students cannot participate in class without taking the previous week’s quiz. Another idea was to be explicit about students who take the quiz getting more chances to practice (in the interpreting booth) if they take the quiz.

Another example of a potential change might be in terms of the speeches and such that students bring in for material. I know you value your laissez-faire attitude to this, and ultimately you are right that it’s up to them but perhaps you could play a slightly more influential role in the selection process and help students make the most out of their time. It’s just something to think about. I know that want to be understanding and generous in the moment when a student doesn’t fulfill their duty but maybe there is such a thing as being too kind and it doesn’t serve them or the class. I don’t think you need to re-think all your beliefs about teaching necessarily but you could perhaps be a bit tougher and clear when students don’t meet their obligations. This kind of “Oh well, let’s do better” view might not be that helpful in the long term.

The other thought related to speech selection is that sometimes it seems like (some!) students spend a lot of time on this. While becoming an expert on such a Korean speech and thinking about potential pitfalls is surely helpful it seems like (most?) students view it more as drudgery and busywork and less as a potentially great learning experience. The suggestion here for this is to really emphasize it’s okay to borrow speeches from previous years and from other sections. This might help limit this issue.

I need not remind you about the conflict between students when one student felt their classmate was not doing enough in terms of speech prep and was not selecting appropriate speeches.

Well, that turned into a sour note to end upon. Let it be a reminder that you will want to keep working to improve. Thanks for reading and considering what the Mike of terms past has to say.


Best of luck,
December 2017 Mike


MOOCS, PLNs, & iTDi: Taking advantage of professional development opportunities in the digital era

That is quite a long title for a blog post. I suppose it’s also a long title for a conference presentation. As luck would have it, that’s exactly the title of a presentation I’m doing at CAMTESOL very soon. My idea for the session is to just introduce some places, spaces and groups for those interested in dipping their toes into online professional development.

Here is the abstract: Are you interested  in professional development online? Are you familiar with the term “PLN?” Do you know how to start one? Do you know the benefits of having one? Have you heard of iTDi? Do you know about all the great learning, mentorship and community building within this group? What about MOOCs? Are you aware of what they are and how they run? Do you know about the wide variety of MOOCs offered and which ones might be a good match for English teachers in the Mekong Valley? If you answered yes to any of these questions perhaps this interactive session will be a good fit for you. Participants can expect to hear some inspiring stories about teacher’s experiences with PLNs, MOOCs, and iTDi. Further, participants can expect some advice on how to get started with these and how to make the best use of the tools available in the digital era for professional development. 

In addition to sharing some advice I mostly just wanted to let the audience know what is out there and give something of a taster of professional development opportunities online.

Here is my not at all fancy Powerpoint that contains a bunch of links:

If you have any additional suggestions for MOOCS, or already made PLNs (think #ELTchat) you think would be of interest to the teachers who attend my session please leave them in the comments!

teaching demos in interviews (part II)

I wasn’t all that nervous. I guess I was something approaching confident. I felt quite prepared and had the sense I knew what I was talking about. I thought I had some good ways to catch the students’ attention and some interesting points to get them thinking. The topic was something I’d given a great deal of thought. I had not to that point delivered very many presentations (if you’re interested in presentations I’ve done since please click here) but I was ready to knock ’em dead and land what seemed at the time like a dream job.

There were some problems. A major one was how I’d completely misunderstood the task. I was not to deliver a sample lecture or presentation to a classroom full of interested and passionate undergraduate students enrolled in a teacher education program. Instead, I was apparently expected to deliver a “sample lesson” to a completely uninterested audience of two professors in the program.

Since that somewhat fateful day I’ve wondered how I managed to misunderstand the expectations. Actually, come to think of it, I know a few other people who participated in the interview process and they had different understandings of the task as well. Looking all the way back to the 2009 email I received from the university the outline of the interview process read (along with other components):

Mini-lecture for 15 minutes

Choose one of the following courses:

  • TEE (Teaching English in English) in Primary
  • TEE in Secondary
  • Teaching English to Young Learners

I prepared was something of a lecture on the topic of teaching English in English to secondary students but it turns out they were looking for (or decided mid-way through the day they were looking for a lesson that incorporated one of the three categories above.  I delivered a 10 minute talk (they sort of cut me off there at the end before I could power through the full 15 minutes) on something like pragmatic and thoughtful use of L1 in class and the reasons teachers might and might not use English in class. I think it was interesting enough and surely important back in the halcyon days of thoughtless TEE in Korea. It was the end of the day and I was the last presenter/demo giver. I think they’d probably heard enough by that point.

Interestingly, (or at least it seems so now with the benefit of a great deal of hindsight) I delivered the talk to these bored professors as though I was talking to a full room of curious and impressionable university students. I walked paced around the room a bit. I made eye-contact with non-existent people in the corner. I tried to own the room in my then best impression of a TED-talk. My gestures were expressive (as is my wont) and surely ill-fitted to a room of two people fighting off apathy, boredom and an afternoon snooze.

I did not get the job. Neither did the Korean woman who’d just finished her PhD at Yale. Neither did two North American gents I know well. The person who got the job ended up running into problems and was relieved of his duties soon after he was hired. At least his demo matched the (unexpressed) expectations. I learned later through my sources he did a nice little sample lesson and got the interviewers/professors/judges/jury/pretend students to actively participate in a mini-English lesson designed for young learners.

sour grapes

This is just a picture.

There’s a reason I’m sharing this story 8 years and 3 months after it occurred (and I believe and hope for the first time on this blog).  A Korea-based friend recently asked me, “Any sage advice for a guy giving a demo lesson for a job?” and I offered some thoughts. My off -the-cuff ideas (though probably more basic than sagacious) were:

  1. Have an objective.
  2. Meet said objective.
  3. Consider being explicit about said objective.
  4. Keep it simple.
  5. Maybe try to actually teach them something. Like something small.
  6. Try to teach them something while avoiding being condescending.
  7. Don’t be afraid to tell them something.
  8. Be careful with feedback.
  9. Mostly try to be friendly and approachable and match the image of what you think they are looking for in an English Teacha.
  10. Make your presence felt.

Of course, it’ s a bit of a challenge to offer tips without a sense of what the institution is looking for. That said, I wonder what advice (sage or otherwise) you’d offer, Dear Reader. I also wonder if this sort of demo lesson is a thing in other countries and what the process entails.

Finally, BTW, and FYI I called this part II because I previously wrote about demo lessons in job interviews here but that 2013 post was more about the process and an experience I had on the other side of the interviewer’s desk. I’d be very curious to hear about other’s experiences with this. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be less rubbish better at responding to comments.

From the mailbag [Topic: KOTESOL IC]

mailbagHello folks. I received a question recently and thought it might be worth padding my blog post total sharing the answer here. I have had too many conversations about my treatment of KOTESOL here on this blog. I will never forget, however, a discussion with a member of the KOTESOL brass who said he always appreciates it when I write about KOTESOL because it keeps them on their toes and that I am almost always fair. Tough but fair, perhaps.

The question below is from a friend and prospective attendee for the 2017 KOTESOL International Conference.

I have to admit I have unusually warm and fuzzy feelings towards KOTESOL in the wake of the recent RP SIG Day of Reflection which I found to be an inspiring and thought-provoking day. 

Hey Michael,

Hope you’re well.

Just wondering if you could help me sort out some thoughts about the upcoming KOTESOL International Conference. I’ve been reading your post about past conferences https://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/tag/kotesol/ and perceptions of them and my over riding impression is that aside from networking opportunities there aren’t really much other advantages in comparison to reading articles that people post online. I guess I’m trying to figure out how a physical conference is better in regards to say a FB group.
So – my question is: given that I live in _______ *and would need to commute to Seoul and probably stay there for two days, do you think the benefit(s) would outweigh the cost(s) in terms of time and money? I know the answer is probably subjective but any thoughts you may have would be appreciated.

My answer to the above was something like the following:
(this version has fewer typos and more detail)

Hello NameRemoved,

Nice to hear from you. I hope I can be a bit of help. My general thought is that it’s still pretty worthwhile to go to KOTESOL even if it’s not perfect and there are annoyances. I worry that I might have been a bit overly negative at times because I have generally found the conference to be a good (to great) investment of time and money.

My biggest gripes in the past have been occasional lapses in management and manners but I feel like the last 3 conferences have been very good in these regards. I think my hottest rants were about the attitude on their Facebook group and I have since removed myself from that space but have heard reports it’s far more civil lately.

I am glad you searched my blog for KOTESOL and not K0TESOL as the posts with different labels can be a bit different.

Aside from networking and all I’d generally recommend it…unless someone really didn’t like/prefer seeing something in person. I think this speaks to your point about it being subjective. I mean, if you are the type of person that is never going to get any added value out of seeing a talk in person or discussing things with others at the venue then perhaps it’s not worth it.

This is actually something I have been thinking about for a while, this question of the benefits of all getting together at the same place vs. staying home and livestreaming something in the comfort of your own home without the need for showering, shaving and getting dressed. For me, the idea of listening to a long plenary from a big name speaker when I could just as easily read their book or article doesn’t seem like a good time. That said, I think there are and will be a variety of interesting talks and sessions.

One thing I noticed with this year’s IC is an invited panel discussion on, “The Future of Face-to-Face Conferences in the Digital Era” which might be related to our current conversation. As above, my thought is that unless you are really the type who doesn’t like face-to-face conferencing the KOTESOL IC is truly worth it.

I see that Ted O’Neil (aka @gotanda) will be there. I saw him give a great talk at KOTESOL a few years back and highly recommend seeing him. Marti Anderson (@martianderson7)  will be there and she is a very impressive thinker and presenter. I suspect you are familiar with Nicky Hockly of The Consultants-E? She has a few sessions that look interesting.

Some other sessions that caught my eye include:

  • Michael Free & Elizabeth May’s session “Assessment Dialogue: Let’s Talk about Grading Attendance and Participation”
  • Kalyan Chattopadhyay’s session titled “Analogue Teacher Training for the Digital Teacher: What the Teachers Say and Do”
  • Evan Frendo on “Evolving needs in university English for Specific Purposes”
  • Cameron Romney & John Campbell-Larsen with “Small talk is big talk: Teaching phatic communication”
  • Kathleen Kampa’s “No-Tech, Low-Tech, Active Teaching” session
  • Rob Dickey with “Is Teachers’ Technology Over-rated?”
  • Maria Lisak’s “A Pedagogy of Care and New Chances”
  • Jessica Ives with “Exploring teacher beliefs and classroom practices through reflective practice”

I think the above give a picture of the wide range of sessions available. There is also lots of talk about 21st century skills and you know this is a topic that always catches my interest.

I see there are also  “Tea with the speakers” events. I am not sure what I think about the extra 10,000 won fee for this but I can see how it might be a nice experience.

Speaking of costs. I feel like the cost for the conference itself is quite reasonable. Of course it can add up when you include things like travel, accommodation and food. How much is a movie ticket? Around 10,000 won, right? That is two hours. At the conference you can be entertained (and, more importantly, informed) for many hours. Just a thought.

Perhaps this video might help you make up your mind?

This blog post on reasons not to go might help you make up your mind as well.

Now that you have been so thoroughly convinced I can imagine you are thinking, “Okay, great Mike, thanks. See you then and there!” However, I will not be at the KOTESOL IC this year. If you are super curious where I’ll be instead you can click this link.

Thanks for the question and I hope I was somewhat helpful.


Interview with Clare Maas

Below is an interview that was a long time coming! Clare and I talked about doing an interview quite while back and here it is below. We talked about a range of issues including materials development and she offered up a nice range of ideas and links. I thank Clare for taking the time to answer my questions.  Enjoy!



Hello Clare, thanks for stopping by. We talked about doing this interview a while back and I’m so glad to be finally doing it.


Can I get you a drink? What are you having?

Ooh, I love a good cup of tea! You, know I still get my friends and family to bring me ‘proper’ tea bags when they come and visit me in Germany!

Okay some nice tea coming right up. Please make yourself comfortable. So, what is new?

Thanks! Well, I’m quite busy at the moment, though that in itself is nothing really new! Usually September is a pretty quiet time for me, at work I mean, but I told my parents and some friends in England that, and now I’ve been busy with visitors coming and going for long weekends! But, you know, it’s quite nice doing day trips and whatnot with them – I feel a bit like I’m on holiday, too, and it’s really good to forget about work for a few days! But I’ll be back in the office, and the classroom, soon enough: the new term always comes round so quickly, doesn’t it?

Oh for sure. My term started in late August and it was a bit of a shock to me. So, what do you do exactly?

I teach EAP at Trier University, in Germany. Well, that doesn’t quite capture it! I’m the team leader for EAP teaching within the English Studies Department, on top of my full-time teaching load, which is 16 hours per week. Doesn’t sound much does it? But with all the preparation and marking it can sometimes be more than a full-time job. And I’m also in charge of the Erasmus exchanges for our Department, so for all the students of ours who go to study at our European partner unis and the students from those universities who come to study with us for a term or year. Oh, and on the side I’m a materials writer of sorts – it’s something I’ve just recently started getting into! But the thing that is really ‘my job’, is being an EAP lecturer.

Yes, I’d like to talk about materials development. For now could you please tell us about your students and courses.

So I teach 8 two-hour classes each week, for semesters that run for about 15 weeks. A winter and a summer semester each year. The classes I teach cover a pretty wide spread: from oral presentations and academic writing, to translation, British cultural studies, and phonetics. Translation is probably one of my favourites. My MA was in translation, so I really am a translation nerd! I know it’s not always approved of in the ELT world, but with my generally monolingual groups learners, I think it’s helpful. And it also opens lots of doors to discuss interference from their first language, German, and also cultural differences, for example when a culturally-specific concept pops up in one of the translation texts.

Because I teach within the academic department, rather than a general language centre or whatever, all of my students have English Studies as one of their main degree subjects. Most of them are on degrees that will qualify them to be secondary-school EFL teachers in future. It means that my classes are part of their English Studies modules, and so I only see each group of students once a week. But it also means that the students have actually chosen to study English, so the general level of motivation is quite high. So is their level of English! In Germany, students are expected to leave high school with about a B2 level in English, and most of our students are even better than that. At the master’s level, especially if the students have spent time abroad in an English-speaking country, they’re often C2 level, so basically bilingual! It’s very rewarding to see! But it’s also hard to find materials for them, for their language development.

Oh wow. Many of my students are future translators so I should pick your brain at some point. You mentioned materials writing. We took Katherine Bilsborough’s iTDi course back in June 2016 on Creating ELT Materials. What are your lasting memories of the course. OR What are your takeaways from the course?

Yes, it was a great course, wasn’t it? Kath touched on a lot of things I had kind of already heard about, but it was great to discuss them in detail, and to get them together in my head in a more structured way. I’d say my biggest take-away was about writing instructions. And blurbs. So that other teachers can use the materials I create. In my team, we often share things we’ve made for our classes, but I think it was probably quite hard sometimes for my colleagues to see how I used the materials in the classroom, and so sharing probably wasn’t really effective. But from Kath, and with practice, I’ve learnt how to write clear instructions for the tasks I create, and also clear and concise blurbs or teaching notes, so that other teachers can follow what I intend to be done with the materials. I think Kath’s message, that all teachers are also materials writers in someway, is important, too. There seems to be, well often, a kind of conceptual gap. You know, when teachers think of ‘materials writers’, a lot of them probably just think of the big names, the authors of published textbooks. But most teachers write or adapt materials for their own teaching, so we’re all materials writers, whether we publish them or not. That’s a really key point for me. It was great that Kath emphasised it – it’s really influenced the way I think about materials writing!

I also really liked the community feeling that built up among us participants on that course. I wasn’t sure beforehand how that would pan out on a MOOC, but, you know, I’m still in touch with several of you guys that I ‘met’ on that course!

That is great. I think the sense of community was amazing on that course. On a somewhat similar note, I see you joined Twitter in 2014. How has social networking impacted your development?

Wow! Has it really been so long? I love Twitter! It’s the key way I keep in touch with people in the ELT world, and with you and the other people I met on Kath’s course. I use Twitter for professional networking, for my PLN, and separate that from Facebook, where I’m only ‘friends’ with people I’ve actually met – like old school friends, my immediate colleagues and so on. Although, having said that, I am in a few groups on Facebook that are about English teaching.

But Twitter is the social network I would recommend to anyone interested in CPD as a teacher, especially in ELT. I mean, it’s any easy way to keep up with what’s going on, people post articles and blogs and things like that, which I probably wouldn’t get to know about without Twitter. And also events, webinars, conferences and the like: I usually find out about those from Twitter. And I use it to share my own blog posts.

For me, what I really like about Twitter, is also that it kind of flattens the hierarchy. Do you know what I mean? So, you can be in touch with all those ‘big names’, if you want. It’s like, everyone is equal, valued for their contributions, not for their professional status or whatever.

Good points, for sure. Let’s move on from micro-blogging to blogging. I enjoy your blog. What do you usually write about?

Well, it’s a bit of a mix really! I guess I always kind of figured it would be, since I have so many interests within teaching, which is why I went with the name Clare’s ELT Compendium. I post materials I have created, and ideas on how to teach certain things or handle certain situations, but also my reflections on my own teaching or on what’s going on in ELT. I summarise conference talks I hear, review relevant books, and report on action research I do. So a real mix! But I think it captures me, as a teacher, with all the things that a teacher thinks about and does, it captures all of that. An all-round ELT blog!

Nice! Are there any posts you’d like to share here?  

Haha, all of them?! It depends on what you’re interested in. One post that got quite a bit of attention recently was about a project I did with my MA-level students. We wrote an ebook and published it on smashwords – within a 15-week semester! Lots of people seem interested in how we managed it, so I wrote it up in a blog post.


That was very cool and something I remembered quite well. Sorry to interupt. Please continue…

Also, last year, I did a series of posts called “7 Days 7 Ways” all about professional development for ELT teachers. It covers everything that I do for my CPD, like blogs, webinars, reading teaching magazines, etc. That, I’d say, is definitely worth a read!

Excellent. Thank you. You have a talk coming up, right? What is about? 

Actually, I have a couple! The next one is an online talk, “Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing”. I’m giving it as part of the LTSIG and OllRen online conference. It’s on 5th October, at 4.25pm UK time, if you’d like to join!

Sounds interesting for sure. As a note for readers, here is a link about the talk. Do you have more to add on this topic? 

Basically, I’ll be reporting on research I’ve done into developing a procedure of learner-driven feedback on L2 essays. In LDF, as I call it, the feedback is given by the teacher, but the student can decide what they receive feedback on, and in what form, so via email or audio recording or whatever.

I came up with LDF by combining some other feedback ideas I’d heard and read about, and did a study with my students to see how they liked it. I’m going to be giving a talk on more general ideas on feedback at the TEASIG event in Luton at the end of October, too! Feedback has been my ‘baby’, my topic, for a while, so I’ve got plenty to say about it!

Oh, and I’ll also be at the TESOL Spain convention next March, giving a talk that combines two of my other interests – the topic is “How can research inform our ELT materials writing?” It’ll be part of a strand that MaWSIG are running at that convention.

Oh, okay.  Wow. I was right. You are busy! Can you say more about MAWSIG? Like, what is it? What do you do there? How is it pronounced?

Ok, so firstly, we pronounce it like ‘more sig’. It stands for Materials Writing Special Interest Group, which is a bit of a mouthful! It’s one of IATEFL’s special interest groups, SIGs, and we aim to provide networking and professional development for anyone who is involved in creating materials for English language learners. It’s one of the younger SIGs, and also one of the more active ones, I think. I’m on the events team, and we organise meetups, conferences and things like that. Online and face-to-face conferences. Also, one of my biggest contributions so far has been getting a materials writing competition off the ground, aimed at teachers who write, or unpublished materials writers. You can check out the upcoming events and the competition, oh and also a pretty active blog, on our website: mawsig.iatefl.org

Thank you! Are there any books or blog posts or anything you’d recommend to those getting into materials development?

Well, the MaWSIG blog on our website is a great resource for this! Otherwise, I’d recommend people check out the books published by ELTTeacher2Writer, they’re all ‘how to’ type guides on writing different kinds of materials for ELT.

Oh, and recently, ETPedia have brought out a materials writing one, it’s by John Hughes and Lindsay Clandfield. That’s a really easy one to dip into for ideas, too, so a worthwhile investment!

Thank you for this. I’d sort of forgotten to keep checking back with some of these so it was a nice chance to catch up. Stepping away from ELT for a moment, what are some non-ELT books you’d like to recommend?

I like to read general teaching books, too. One that I really liked was ‘How to Teach so Students Remember’, it’s by Marilee Sprenger.

If you’re talking about fiction, I like crime mysteries, like by Elizabeth George or P.J. Tracy, and also novels that include social criticism, like by Ben Elton. My all-time favourite is George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

The last one is a favorite of mine so I will have to check out the others! Thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s been a pleasure and I hope and believe it’s been helpful for readers as well. Thank you! I won’t pressure you about a guest post just yet!

Thank you, Mike! Bye!

(Crowdsourced) Tips for Learning English

I was just now looking for an old file on my Google Drive and encountered the list below. I am not sure exactly when it was from but I thought there were some useful (and some interesting but perhaps not that useful) pieces of advice there.

The docucument I found had the following message:

I (@michaelegriffin)  thought it would be fun and interesting to crowdsource some tips related to learning English. My idea is to use the tips in an upcoming discussion class. I’d like to have my students evaluate them and create their own lists. So, the idea for this page is to share tips you have heard or given in the past. It doesn’t matter if you think the tips are good or useful because my students will be asked to evaluate the tips.
Just for reference, my students are graduate students who are roughly intermediate to upper-intermediate in terms of English skills.

Please go ahead and add any tips that come to to mind! Thank you!
I might post the collection of them on my blog.

My original idea for this list was to use it in class and have students evaluate the advice and consider what might be useful and not so useful. I also hoped students would consider possible downsides to certain pieces of advice. as well.

It is so nice I was able to get such a variety of responses and ideas. I remember my students truly appreciated the ideas and the chance to think about the ideas and add their own.

I should note that most of the silly ones were from me (but not the one specifically about one Mr. Michael Griffin).

I thought it might be interesting or useful to share the pieces of advice here. I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to those who contributed ideas to this document! It would be so fun for me to hear about anyone using this list in class so please feel free to do so! Enjoy the list and thank you again to those who shared ideas.

  • Talk to yourself as you walk down the street and ride public transportation.
  • Read as much as you can. Read for fun.
  • Use an app to memorize words.
  • Never memorize single words, you need to remember words as a part of a chunk.
  • Listen to podcasts as much as you can.
  • Talk only to native speakers because you don’t want to pick up the wrong accent.
  • Get surgery on your tongue if you have trouble with particular sounds.
  • ‘Read like a writer’- Read a text (anything really) and ask yourself why the writer chose to write that phrase, sentence, or paragraph they way they did. Ask yourself about word choices, collocations, grammar, and more. If you cannot answer your own questions or your answers lead to more questions, ask someone else those questions.
  • Read according to your interest. You will probably pick up vocabulary and phrases you can use sooner rather than later.
  • Find a teacher like Michael Griffin. Seriously. Lol.
  • Listen more. Listen a lot to sites like EnglishCentral. Randalls ESL Lab. ELLLO.org. Watch episodes of your favorite sitcom over and over in English. Not CSI Miami type complex stuff, Friends, Third Rock from the Sun or the Simpsons is better.
  • Don’t asked for help by natives speaker because they’re grammars are shockingly worst!
  • Use sites such as memrise or quizlet for vocabulary practice.
  • If you start listening or reading something, make sure you listen/read all the way to the end, even if you don’t find it interesting or if it’s too hard/easy.  You’ll always learn something from it.
  • Short and regular bursts of any activity to learn English are better than longer & less frequent ones.
  • Recording yourself speaking in English and listening to it afterwards can be a revealing experience.
  • Make an appointment with yourself in your weekly diary for when you’ll do your English activity.  If you don’t write it down it probably won’t happen!
  • Commit to doing some practice every single day, even if it’s only 10 minutes.
  • Go to the library and ask the librarians how to use the library e.g. online courses, events, using the catalogue; then join the library!
  • Switch the language preferences on your TV, phone, software, wikipedia, so that you can integrate little bits of English into your everyday life.
  • Don’t wait to be perfect before speaking the language: start by speaking out loud to yourself, record yourself, find a speaking safe space with a trusted friend, make a low stakes phone call in familiar context
  • Choose someone who has the same L1 as you and whose English skills you admire. Think about why you admire their English: Fluency? Pronunciation? Confidence? Use this person as a non-native model.
  • Keep a record of the time you spend learning English between classes – 10 minutes a day, every day for 6 months. Use smiley faces for work done, but don’t beat yourself up when you don’t have enough time. Just start again.
  • Make personalised sentences whenever you come across new chunks of vocabulary. Try new expressions out in real life (with friend or teacher) as soon as you can.
  • Choose a goal for using the language that will keep you motivated.
  • Try to remember what you learned last week, test yourself.
  • Record yourself with sound recorder or video camera on your mobile phone to practise pronunciation.
  • Language can be full of surprises, exceptions, and ambiguity, Don’t let this hold you back.
  • Use Google’s speech-to-text function to test your pronunciation.
  • Use freely available material interesting to you to practice listening, like dramas and documentaries on YouTube.
  • Get a part-time job where you’ll need to use some English.
  • Sing along to (English language) pop songs you like. Singing’s healthy, too.  
  • Start a conversation with a random person in the street – you could ask them the time, for example. This works if you’re in a country where the language you’re learning is spoken. Do this every day.
  • Find your own best way to practise: Try a couple of the tips and see how they work for you. Stick to the ones that seem to be working well for you, do them on a regular basis-because they work well, they won’t feel like burden. Then you can try a couple more and so on and so forth. You can find a million tips, the trick is to find the one(s) for you! Good Luck 🙂

It finally happened

No, I didn’t finally get someone to take that Canadian quarter of mine.

Something just as interesting and unlikely happened, though.

*dramatic pause*

A current student found, read, and mentioned my blog in class. I never thought it would happen in my current teaching world. I would have bet a few coins (Canadian or otherwise) against this. In fact, a few years back I had a very interesting discussion about this possibility with Florentina Taylor (who, sadly, is no longer on Twitter but is featured in an interview on this very blog here). She was surprised by a post of mine where I said the group I was teaching “was probably the nicest collection of students I have ever taught in my nearly 15 years teaching.” Dr. Taylor was concerned that former students would read it and feel bad at not being considered the nicest. My thought different.  I thought since I was talking about a whole range of classes in different departments none of my former (or future?) students would feel slighted at all. I am not sure if I was right about that, to be honest.

One thing I was surely wrong about was that my students (future, current or past) would read my blog. At least one student did.  Let’s call her Melissa.

If I remember correctly, it was after class or during a break. Melissa said something like “I have a question unrelated to our course… I read your blog post about using untrue stories in class and I wondered about something we did last year. In class you had us plan a travel itinerary for your friend who was coming to Korea. So, my question is… was that real?” I gave a somewhat convoluted answer saying was real in spirit and that I’ve had a few friends from high school visit the fair city of Seoul. Aspects of that lesson were untrue in that Jeff was not really coming to Korea soon (and in fact had already been). I think this is the kind of white lie that is worthwhile and reasonable. Perhaps in the interest of full-disclosure I could have said it was not strictly 100% true but when David visited this year the information we gathered was helpful. Regardless of the thruthiness issue, it was interesting to talk about something on my blog with a real-life student.

nobody reads your blog

Again, this was something I didn’t expect to happen. I figured my students would not be interested in anything I’d have to say about teaching  and I also thought they’d be too busy with their own studies to worry about my little corner of the blogosphere. I also thought they’d be unlikely to take the initiate to find my blog without me telling them the exact URL. I maybe had some thought most of them would be using Naver more than Google and wouldn’t be searching for any Michael Griffin related things. I recall in some classes the fact I have a blog came up and some students showed interest and asked me the address. I said something coy like, “I think you can find it if you really want to.” I just didn’t feel like sharing it, especially since I am not in it for the hits.

In not directly sharing my blog with previous students I suppose I was also worried just a little about certain things like being too honest, cursing just a bit too much, not putting my best foot forward , or not quite capturing my own views as clearly as I’d like. I worried I could paint myself in a bad way which could alter students’ perceptions of me. At the same time, I was fully aware that the internet is forever and how anything I write could conceivably be read by anyone.

Now, Melissa is a smart, cool, inquisitive, and understanding person. Hi, Melissa! I was not worried about students like her. I can’t expect all students to be like her. I was (am?) perhaps worried about students who already had an axe to grind using some nonsense I wrote to show I’m a bad person or something like that. As an example, I wrote, “Couldn’t teach today because of Confucianism” a while back and teachers presumably without any reason to think the worst of the author (and presumably with very strong reading skills) read it without the irony intended. I can sort of imagine a student talking about the author’s lack or respect for Korean culture and using this post to show how lazy and out of touch the teacher is.

I suppose this blog post is not really about anything. The title could be, “I finally have proof that the thing which was a distinct possibility all along happened and nothing really changes at all.” That is, of course, not a snappy title.  Ultimately, the realization that Dr. Taylor was right about students reading the blog doesn’t change much. Maybe we’ll see a 12% reduction in F-bombs. I can’t really see any major changes here at ELT RRR.

I should say clearly and emphatically that concerns about students reading this blog were not among the reasons for my slight hibernation ( which are detailed here). It was truly just a coincidence.

In classic “Blog Like a Boss” fashion I’ll go ahead and finish with some questions for the community.

  • Do you think about students potentially reading what you write?
  • Would your writing be different if you were sure students would never read it?
  • Have your students ever talked about your blog with you?
  • Have you ever heard of a teacher getting in hot water with a student based on what they wrote on a blog?
  • Do you have guidelines for yourself or from your institutions about what you can and should write about on blogs or elsewhere?