Reverse! (A reblog and a welcome)

I believe it is no secret to those who read my blog or follow me on Twitter that I am a very big fan of Hana Tichá (or Hana Teacher, as she is known in my brain). I think I first became aware of her blog in late 2013. I mentioned her blog here in 2014 as one of the blogs I was looking forward to that year. My expectations were more than met as Hana was prolific, thoughtful, thought-provoking, interesting and entertaining. If I had to file any complaints they’d be that she wrote too much to keep up with all the great stuff she was writing and that she was writing on Blogger. Both “problems” were surely surmountable but it seems that only the former will (luckily!) remain as she has recently migrated from Blogger to WordPress. In keeping with the tradition of welcoming new bloggers to the WordPress cartel family I’d like to share a post from Hana here. The post I am sharing is one I missed when it first came out. I urge you to read all her posts. It’s a great blog.

And here is the post about much more than the order to follow when using coursebooks. Reverse!.
(I guess this wasn’t strictly a reblog but anyway please visit Hana’s blog in its new home)

Talking about talking about teaching (Volume II.)

As part of my (sporadic) ongoing series on “How we talk about teaching” I’d like to offer up my (made up but sadly influenced by reality) version of how I see lots of Facebook conversations develop on teaching related groups here in Korea. Here is a preview:

another flame war

If you’d like to see the rest of the conversation please click here. I believe you really *should click on the conversation because otherwise this post will not make much sense. Here is the link again. Go ahead and click it. I used the pretty fun and relatively user friendly along with my memory and imagination to create the conversation.

I wonder if any of characters, discussion styles, or topics here seem familiar to readers.
I also wonder if anything here seems specific to Korea and certain (non-#KELTchat) group in Korea. Does this happen on teaching related groups outside of Korea? I assume it does but something here seems very “foreign teachers in Korea” to me.
Finally, I wonder what I missed (aside from criticizing Korean teachers and mentioning Hitler). Comments and questions very welcome.

Talking about talking about teaching (Volume I.)

Blogger’s Notes:

  • Wow,  it has been a month since I posted last. I don’t know exactly where the time went but here we are.
  • I am somehow aiming to write 4 posts in the next week (at around 1,000 words or so each).
    This is not a 100% guarantee but it is a goal.
  • I had a bad (few month!) streak of not responding to comments but I finally managed to catch up recently. I hereby swear to respond to comments on this post in a timely manner (within 10-14 days). This is as close a guarantee as we should make on such matters.
  • There are discussion questions at the end of the post.
  • Some of the stuff below I have written or talked about before but I hope it will be slightly new and slightly interesting in any case.
  • Please expect even more meandering than usual and even less coherence (in the layperson and linguistic meanings of the word I suppose) in this series of posts. 
  • There are occasional footnotes where I added more detail or some witty commentary . These are marked by letters.
  • I said above I will try to blog 4 times in the next week. They will all be on a similar theme, talking about teaching. Hopefully this series of blog posts will help me organize my thoughts a bit for an upcoming presentation.
  • Now that these exciting notes are out of the way and suspense has been created here comes the post…

I first came to Korea in June of 2000. (a) (b)  I was armed with white skin, a BA in history, an at-times affable personality, curiosity, and a desire to do a good job (c).I suppose I can say that I have (had?) a good work ethic. I don’t really taking money without doing a good job and my first job was no exception. This first job was working in a cram school, or hogwon, where I taught students of all ages and levels. I didn’t really get much training aside from shadowing a colleague (the man I’d soon be replacing, in fact) for a day or two. This was actually quite helpful and more training that other people in similar situations receive so I cannot and will not complain. (d) 

I enjoyed this job from the start and I feel l learned a lot in those early days of teaching. There was so much to learn and so much to think about. So many critical incidents were crashing into my head at that time. I can remember learning a lot about teaching, the world and myself during those times.

In that first job I developed nice relationships with my co-workers, (e) some of whom taught Japanese and others who taught English or TOEIC. After the first little while (when the person I shadowed left) I was one of two “native speakers” at the school. I became very good friends with the other native teacher but it was much more of a social thing and was not really focused on our work or professional lives.

I don’t really remember too much about the teaching aspect from back then. Regarding discussions with my coworker I am not really sure because I don’t think we spent much time talking about teaching or beliefs or what was happening in our classes on anything less than a superficial level. We probably talked about funny utterances from students or management problems or just the themes of the day but I don’t think there was much time spent talking about teaching in what I’d now consider a productive manner. (f) We might have shared an activity from time to time or how we handled the occasional classroom management. We compared notes on students were challenging or hot.

The story I’d like to relay here actually has nothing to do with this coworker or my particular job at that time. (g)  In those early days in the small city of Jinju (h) there were not a lot of foreigners foreign teachers around, or at least I didn’t see them. If I ever happened to see such a person I’d always say hello and often strike up a conversation.

I remember one such conversation very well. I literally almost bumped into Tina on the street of the trendy side of town and we ran through the standard chat on like place of work and hometown and reason for being in this far-away place. She struck me as a sincere, kind and intelligent person. I’ll never forget what she said just before we said our goodbyes. By way of an invitation she said, “You should come to the Mediterranean Sea bar (i) on Friday nights around 10. We all get together and bitch about our work.”

This struck younger me as bizarre and terrible and maybe even sad. I had an immediate and strong reaction to this invitation. It sounded like a soul killing and time wasting endeavor. I couldn’t see any need to get together with people who happen to have the first language as me just to bitch about our teaching situation in a country that we chose to come to. Why would we choose to engage in such negativity? What would bitching actually solve? Why not just get on the soju and have a nice time laughing and hanging out and talking about fun stuff? I figured there was No need to ruin my chill by engaging with complaints about students, other teachers, admin, curricula, or whatever.  I decided I’d never allow myself to turn into a person who spent Friday nights bitching about my job.

I’d like to say that I never succumbed to the allure bitch fests in my time as a teacher, but that would be a lie. I will have to leave this for another post.

My questions:

  1. Have you found bitching about teaching to be helpful or at least cathartic? Under what circumstances? What made it so?
  2. Do you think this sort of bitching in any way particular to Korea? Is it all particular teaching? Are accountants and plumbers doing the same thing?
  3. What do you consider “talking productively about teaching?”
  4. Have you had opportunities for productive talks about teaching? When and where? What needed to happen for these opportunities to exist?


a) Yes, I am that old.
b) No, I have not been in Korea the whole time.
c) That line is not completely fair to myself. I had taken a grad school class in TESOL and written my honor’s thesis on topics in the field. I’d also studied Spanish to some sort of level. I don’t know if these things mattered to my employer but they are things that I think helped me in my journey.
d) Actually I don’t know much about the typical training procedures in such situations or how clear the rules and roles are made to new teachers. I suppose it could be quite different from place to place.
(e) Oh, speaking of co-workers, here is something I wrote over on the iTDi blog about this topic.
(f)  I suppose at some point I will have to define what I mean by this.
(g) It’s already been almost five years since I shared some “Reflections on Teaching, Learning and Lesson Planning” and this time period is mentioned a bit.
(h) Gyeongnam represent!
(i) That bar sucked! What a weird place. I am not sure I ever had a good time there. Well except that one time that lady propositioned me in front of here date. Actually that was more weird than fun. Anyway, it seems like I am digressing from my digression so I will stop here. 

Questioning ads only for “native speakers” shared by ELT organizations

This post is on something I have been thinking about for a while and was finally inspired to write about today by the #ELTchat earlier this morning. The chat’s title was, “Should ELT organisations support NNests and stop discrimination against them?” I will be sure to add a link to the chat summary when I see it, meanwhile here is a collection of all the tweets in the chat. 

On Twitter, I saw one friend suggest the title of the chat should be “How should ELT organizations support NNests and stop discrimination against them?” because it clearly it is not a reasonable yes or no question and organizations most definitely should be doing this. I am honestly not convinced ELT orgs are doing a whole heck of a lot so maybe we could think of the ELTchat title as something like “Why aren’t ELT orgs doing more and how can they get started?” I suppose this is not exactly my topic for today, though. I have just one specific case I’d like to consider.  I am not competely sure what I think about this so I’d very much welcome any thoughts or opinions.

A relatively recent addition to the KOTESOL website is a job board. While I might wonder if this is an example mission creep or a case of an organization getting away from core strengths, the most noticeable aspect of this board for me was how some of ads (around half at a quick look) are for native speakers only. I might also wonder if I am being ridiculous to write about a fledgling job board which hasn’t seen a new ad posted in nearly a month. I do think there are important things at play here and things worth thinking about and considering regardless of the size or age of the board.

TEFL Equity Advocates  has a nice page where anti-discriminatory statements  from various groups are shared, notably including a 2006 “Position Statement Against Discrimination of Nonnative Speakers of English in the Field of TESOL” from TESOL. Also found on the TEFL Equity Advocates blog is the fact TESOL Global and TESOL France have officially condemned and prohibited all job ads which discriminate against NNESTs.

Should KOTESOL do the same? Does not doing so or not having done so yet mean K0TESOL is behind the times and deserves our criticism on this issue?  I am not so sure.

One key here in Korea when considering such ads is how certain titles/jobs/roles will only allow applicants with certain passports (7 countries deemed native English speaking) to receive visas. This is an immigration issue and not based on the hiring bodies or the preferences of customers/students.

Previously I have taken exception to KOTESOL leaders seeming proud about having 30% Korean membership. This never sounded like a high number to me it’s the number I’ve heard. Is it reasonable or ethical or appropriate to share job ads automatically excluding 30% of membership? I don’t think so. Please note, the number of members excluded in these ads would actually be higher because there are members who are neither “native speakers” nor Korean.

Should KOTESOL take steps to be on the right side of history on this issue even if it means sometimes wasting the time of people who couldn’t get the visa anyway? Should KOTESOL take steps to follow the lead of organizations like TESOL even if it means cutting a few ads? Should KOTESOL be a model for change in this industry? Is eliminating discriminatory job ads a good start to supporting NNests and stopping discrimination against them?

An interview with Neil Millington of Dreamreader

One of the things I enjoy about attending conferences is meeting new people. At CAMTESOL this year I had the pleasure of meeting Neil Millington at the Presenters’ Reception. Although Neil and I presented at the same time on Saturday morning I was able to get a sense of his topic and session. We had an interesting chat and decided to extend it here to the blog. I thank him for taking the time and we both hope it will be interesting for readers. After the picture of the interviewer and interviewee comes the interview itself. Enjoy! 


We survived the 10:15 presentation slot!

Hello Neil. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. Can I get you a drink?
Hi Mike! Thanks, I’ll have a beer. Cheers!

Here you are. One Anchor coming right up. We met in Cambodia. Was this your first time there?
No, I’ve been to the CamTESOL conference several times. I like that conference because the participants are enthusiastic, and there is always a wide range of presentations to see. The timing is nice too. I don’t need to cancel any classes because it’s not in term time.

I like the conference for similar reasons, and where do you work?
I teach at a university in Japan. I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years now, and I’ve been in my current position for the last three years.

Right. I see. I noticed there were lots of teachers over from Japan. What were you talking about at the conference?
I was talking about a website a friend (Brad Smith) and I started about six months ago. It’s called and it is a free website where learners can practice and improve their English reading skill. At the moment there are over 250 free reading lessons on the site, and Brad and I are trying our best to make sure there is a new lesson released every day. We’d like to get about 500 lessons on the site by the end of the year! It’s hard work though because we both have busy full-time jobs and I’m working on my PhD thesis!

Wow, you are busy. I will not complain to you about being busy then. I didn’t realize the site has only been around for 6 months. Best of luck with everything! Back to your session at CAMTESOL for a moment. Is there any truth to the rumor you were giving a bunch of stuff away in your session?
There were a couple of rumours going around that I was giving away free iPads! Unfortunately, they weren’t true! However, I did give away free color workbooks. I prepared a reading workbook using the materials from

Nice! Can you say more about the site?
Yeah, when we started the site, we had just academic readings. Each of these lessons has quiz questions along with a free downloadable PDF of the lesson and free audio. Learners can use this to help them with independent study while teachers can use it to supplement classroom learning. It was quite popular, and we had a lot of cool feedback, but several people told us that they wanted more variety and easier lessons. Over the last few months we have added four more categories of lessons to the site, so now the site has five different sections with a lot more variety and a lot more content.

Cool. What are the sections?
The site now has five different kinds sections.

1. The “Easy English” section is aimed towards beginner learners and tests basic sentence-level reading comprehension. Basically, in these lessons, learners look at a photograph and answer questions about it. They actually work equally well as listening activities.

2. In the “Interesting English” section, learners who are interested in the “nuts and bolts” of English can find articles about English language, vocabulary and grammar. There are lessons on idioms and proverbs at the moment, but we’ll be adding lessons on synonyms and slang in the not too distant future!

3. The “Practical English” section gives learners a taste of English being used in authentic materials (such as reading road signs, coupons, or business memos).

4. The “Fun English” section is meant to offer learners a chance to read short articles on a mix of interesting topics such as video games and pop music.

5. Finally, the “Academic English” section is full of lessons and quiz questions in the style of a standardized English test. These work well as preparation materials for the reading section on the TOEFL or IELTS tests.

Have you used the site with your students?  What did they say?
Yeah, I’ve used it in speaking and writing classes. I also encourage students to use it to do some independent learning. The lessons in the Fun English section went down really well. They proved to be good jumping off points for discussions and journal writings.

What are you looking to do on the site in the future?
Of course, we’re still creating more materials for the site. We’d like to have around 500+ lessons on the site by the end of the year. I’m also making workbooks and textbooks to put up on the site. Hopefully, they’ll be ready by the summer.

That sounds great. Can you share your motivations for starting the site? I read the blog post on “The story behind the site.” I wonder if there is more to say on this?
The idea of making our own materials was really forced upon us. We were given the role of developing a reading and vocabulary course, and then we were assigned a textbook to use. The textbook was okay, but there wasn’t enough reading material in it! We started to look online, but couldn’t find enough suitable and free content, so we started making our own. Around this time I went to the CamTESOL conference, and talked to a lot of local teachers, and some of the students who were volunteering there. They all told me that getting hold of good and free materials was difficult. we therefore thought why don’t we put up the materials that we made online!

In the process of working on the site have you had any, “I wish I knew that when we started!” type moments? And related, do you have any advice for people trying to get their own sites off the ground?
Oh yeah! Many of them! My first piece of advice would be if you have an idea, just do it! We spent about two or three years writing academic materials for the site, and then started to put it up. Only after getting feedback did we realize that people wanted more variety! We should have started to put up materials earlier and listened to feedback. We could have saved a lot of time. My second nugget of advice is that if you’re thinking of starting a site, you need to be committed. A friend who has an established site told me that you’ll need to spend two hours a day for two years if you want it to be successful. I am now starting to realize that might even be a little conservative.

Thank you! I think that is very helpful and even inspiring. And now we move on to the random and rapid fire portion of the interview…
What is the funniest thing you have ever heard in class?
It didn’t happen in class, but I did have a student shout across the university cafeteria to me “Neil, why I fail?”

Haha. What is the weirdest Kit-cat flavor you have tried? How was it?
Green tea. It was erm, interesting!

Do you like soccer football? Which team do you support?

Bolton Wanderers.

I don’t have a snide comment to make so I will just move along. What kind of things do you read for pleasure?I’m writing my dissertation for my PhD so I have temporarily given up reading for pleasure!

Fair enough. What do you love about teaching?
Everything apart from the administrative work!

What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a teacher?
Probably a student!

Nice answer. Thanks so much for this, Neil. I really enjoyed it and I hope to see you around in the future. Again, best of luck with everything. 

A letter of advice to my #youngerteacherself

What follows is a letter to my younger (teacher) self, to be delivered on March 16th, 2000.  This is a part of the blog challenge from Joanna Malefaki (if you click on the link you can see her post and links many more great posts). 

March 16, 2015

Hey Mikey,

I hope this finds you well. I don’t know exactly what you are doing these days but I do know it is your last semester in university and you will be graduating in about 2 months. Congrats. One funny thing to share from the future is that you sometimes have nightmares about not graduating college. Something about not finishing the work on that special course in Irish History you are taking. My advice for now is to immerse yourself in those books and write a half decent paper. I know you have a lot going on at the moment but I think you can make time for the class. I also know you are trying to have as much fun as you can before graduating because you somehow think life after college will be a drag. Don’t worry there is plenty of fun to be had so you don’t need to worry about that. Be sure not to choke as you suck the marrow out of life. Also, your “NBA Live” skills won’t be so important in the future so maybe you could de-prioritize this a bit.

I think you have already decided to go to Korea for “just one year.” Good for you. I am sure that you will choose a good place to work. I am also sure you will trust your instincts and not go to the schools that sound too good to be true.  They almost certainly are. Go to the place where the contact person sounds honest and trustworthy and doesn’t sugarcoat everything. Things will work out just fine.

Oh, speaking of Korea. Don’t give out your phone number to recruiters. They will be calling nonstop. An untrained, naive and enthusiastic “native speaker” will attract the sharks. Just communicate by email and only give out your number when you are completely sure you need to talk to someone. Your current flatmates will be far less annoyed.

I told you to follow your instincts and I think that is pretty good advice. It will generally serve you well. I am not suggesting there won’t be missteps, mistakes, or mishaps but, in general, following your instincts will be good for you. There will be plenty of learning experiences (read: fuck-ups) but that is fine and sometimes even fun. Embrace the mistakes and learn from there. Sure, it might suck at the time but there is always something to learn.

I think it is cool you have decided to try to live in 5 countries in 5 years and to see the world in this way. I also find your belief you will be ready for the “real world” after this five years quite interesting. In any case I hope you will be sure you are getting into teaching for the right reasons and will do so with your eyes wide open and not because you think it is the only or the easiest way to see the world. Or because you think you will be rich! You might think you are putting off the “real world” (whatever that is exactly) but I think we all grow up sometime or somehow or at least in some ways. Also, regarding the 5 countries in 5 years thing, plans can change and that is fine too.

What else can I share? Sometimes people will be super helpful to you. Accept this help with grace and gratitude and try your best not to feel strange about it. If you help others when you can the original helpers will probably be pleased with their decision to help you. Of course, thank you notes are always good.

In your teaching life not everyone will be wonderful.  On occasion you will meet people who grate on your very last nerve. The important thing is to be respectful and understanding. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone. You just need to do your job and let them do theirs. Interestingly, some things that bother you at first will not bother you so much later on. Chill out a bit and don’t be so damned judgmental. It doesn’t get you anywhere. Along the same lines, if someone produces something really crappy there might be reasons behind this other than their intellect or diligence. Again, try to hold off on judgment.

Finally, saying yes to professional development or other or other opportunities tends to work out well. At times you will want or need to say no and this is also okay. You don’t need to cry over spilled milk or missed opportunities. You just need to make more opportunities. A bit of patience is always helpful when waiting for opportunities to roll around. Also, sometimes opportunities will present themselves at seemingly unlikely times and places. Be ready for them!

I realize I have been a bit cryptic here but hopefully i have been slightly helpful too. I wish you the best of luck.

Thanks for reading and best of luck,


PS- Here is some more random advice for you:

  • Have, carry, and share your business cards as much as possible.
  • Don’t ever buy an expensive computer. This letter was written on a $300 item that works just fine. Don’t consider buying an expensive computer on the daft idea it will somehow save you money in Japan.
  • Use sunblock.
  • It’s totally fine not to get absolutely shit faced every weekend in your 20s.
  • Don’t ever think or say you have enough friends.
  • If you are ever in a job interview and one of the interviewer is being a complete dick and you are convinced you won’t get the job feel free to get your shots in. 
  • Speaking of jobs, if someone begs you to take a job and claims he will be fired if you don’t take the job, please remember the most important person in this equation is you and you need to make the best decision for you. Also, do you want to work for a company that would fire someone for not hiring you?
  • If you want to make tech stuff you need tech skills or tech people. It might sound obvious but somehow it wasn’t always obvious for you in the version of events I experienced.
  • It is something of a cartel but you might consider spending the extra money on the most name brand certificate if that is the route you want to take.
  • ‘Tis fine to base professional decisions on silly things as “I think one of the profs in that program is really cool and smart.”
  • Try to get on Gmail as quickly as you can. Claim the name you rightly deserve.
  • Don’t be so sure you are “done” with a country or continent. And certainly don’t tell people such things!
  • Social media (which is probably not a term you know yet!) is great but don’t feel the need to rush into it.
  • If you ever get literally yelled at by a boss don’t yell back. Just tell this person the behavior is unacceptable and you will not stand for it again. If it happens again give your notice with a smile and an excuse. Don’t burn bridges.
  • The more time you spend studying languages the better. It is too easy to fall into the “I am leaving soon” trap. You might get much more out of your time in certain places if you study more. You can also think of it as fun or as an investment or as a learning experience but study languages as much as you can no matter the motivation.
  • And finally, the best general advice I can give is “Shit or get off the pot,” as your granddad might have said.

Thoughts on “Four activities I wish I knew when I started teaching” at CAMTESOL

Many A few people asked me, “What were the activities anyway?” in response to my post on “Activities I wish I knew when I stated teaching” and related workshop at CAMTESOL I will share the activities as well as some thoughts on the workshop itself in this post. But first, here are the PowerPoint slides for the session, which might not be super informative on their own:  Four activities I wish I knew when I first started teaching
(This PowerPoint presentation was described as “the most MG PPT ever” by a person lucky enough to get a sneak preview.)

I attended CAMTESOL in 2013 (here is a review I wrote back then) and really enjoyed and got a lot out of it. I noted there was a lot of interest in and enthusiasm for sessions focused on activities and especially sessions featuring activities which could potentially be used in class immediately. Sessions focused around adaptable activities low on prep and tech seemed to be most popular so I decided then if I came back to CAMTESOL I’d try and focus on the practical (whatever that means really) and share some activities.

Since the workshops at this conference are only 30 minutes I sort of had my work cut out for me by trying to introduce and actually do four activities in such a short period of time. I knew it was somewhat ambitious but I was committed to giving it a try. I felt the experience of doing the activities and seeing how they are set up might be more valuable for participants than simply hearing about activities from some dude who doesn’t even teach anywhere near the Mekong. Conducting four activities in the time frame seemed like a nice and interesting challenge to me.

Please sit down.I have a confession to make.  I have to admit I did not have four activities in mind when I wrote the abstract. I know, sorry. I am not completely sure I even knew the session would be 30 minutes when I wrote it either but I sold myself on the challenge.  Mathologists will know this is 7.5 minutes per activity but this would eliminate introductions, discussions, questions, wrapping up, and all that other good stuff. I figured if I could limit the activities to about 5 minutes each I might have a chance. I didn’t know till the week before the conference which activities I’d choose but I was sure I wanted to be flexible with things while making sure the activities could be done relatively easily and quickly.

Before I share the activities, here I am in the session doing my best Moses impression.
(Photo credit and credit for the previous line to Fiona Wiebusch)

mg moses

The first activity was pretty basic. I just had some true or false sentences about me and the session itself on a slide and participants were asked to determine,  wait for it… if the statements were true or false. The slides are above so you can check make your guesses on these answers in the comments or elsewhere if you wish. I attempted something of a think-pair-share on this but I ended up racing through the answers and not doing much of a whole class share.  I was pretty happy with this activity because it didn’t take up too  much time and because participants got talking to each other. I didn’t love how I raced through the answers. I did like the idea of conveying key information about the session and presenter in a way that asked participants to be active.

The second activity started with me saying, “I know this is a bit crazy with so many people in a small room, but let’s try it.” I placed signs for “Strong Yes” and “Strong No” on opposite sides of the room and then had a series of statements on the PowerPoint slides and participants were asked to move to the area of the room that was most true for them. The first sentence was, “I slept well last night” so those few people who slept very well the previous night went to the “Strong Yes” side and those who slept poorly went to the “Strong No” side while others found a place somewhere between. After placing themselves in the correct position participants were asked to share with those around them the circumstances behind and reasons for their answers. This generated a lot of conversation! In fact, it was very difficult to stop folks from chatting away with their partners. I read a series of statements and repeated this procedure. I was generally pleased with how this went and the energy and excitement in the room was nice to see and feel.

You might have heard of “Nation’s 4-3-2 activity?” It  seems widely known as this in certain circles but I am not convinced it is or was “Nation’s activity.” Here is a brief explanation. The basic idea is to have students talk about a familiar topic for 4 minutes and then 3 minutes and then 2 minutes and watch the fluency gains pour in. In my workshop session at CAMTESOL I had some guiding questions related to the general question “Why are you here at this conference?” and asked participants to talk for 30 seconds in the first round and 20 in the second. This was obviously bending the rules on the timing but I hope it gave people a brief taste of the activity and how it can be done. I called this 3-2-1 and told people to google Nation’s 3-2-1 for more info. It was completely new to almost everyone in the room according to my on-the-spot show-of-hands poll. I was happy about sharing this activity and people seemed quite interested and even eager to try it out.

I called the final activity “1-2-3″ and it was more of a feedback collection or “exit ticket” than a typical language learning activity.  I asked participants to tell me:
1 thing (anything at all) they wanted to share with me;
2 questions (on anything at all) they had for me and
3 things (anything) they learned in the session.
I often do variations of this in my classes and I love seeing the things learned (or stated as such). It is often facts about the world or classmates and this is more than fine with me. Sometimes it is about the way English is used or certain expressions or strong collocations. I think this is a nice way to take students’ pulse and see what they are taking away from class.  In the workshop it was a bit of quiet time before I shared some final thoughts and tried to answer a question or two and then send people on their way. I was impressed the amount of people who did it and the range of comments and questions shared. I really do wish I’d known about this sort of thing when I started teaching!

As the session finished I had a nice time standing around and collecting these tickets and chatting with people as they departed or hung around. I was glad to have met the mission of sharing four activities but I was not entirely thrilled with the session itself. I am, however, thrilled you took the time to read this far. Thanks so much for reading. Before I wrap up this post I have a few extra thoughts I’d like to share and they are below.

Some additional thoughts:

  • I mentioned a few times during the session that  the adaptation of these activities is very much up to the participants. Again with the time constraints and the choice to actually do the activities I think this was quite reasonable but I also think I could have helped people get a better window into how these activities could be used in their classes or at a minimum give some time to explore this with a partner or group. But again the participants have a much clearer idea of their own contexts and all these contexts entail. I will admit to feeling a bit uneasy about the whole thing of going to a mostly unknown context and sharing activities and leaving it completely up to the participants to think about how they might adapt said activities. I don’t think I’d do a similar session again even though it was well-attended and well-received.
  • As you might be able to ascertain, I am not so happy with this workshop. At the very least my thoughts on it are quite complicated. It was fun and the audience was generally great. I think part of the bad taste in my mouth is that I chose a topic/format based on it potentially being popular at this particular conference but it was not exactly aligned with my beliefs on what makes a good session or would want to do if left to my own devices. Oh well, lessons learned. I think finding a balance between doing something I’m interested in and something potentially popular is a consideration for me going forward.
  • One interesting question resulting from sharing the 3-2-1 activity  was something along the lines of “How do you grade this activity?” I think she might have meant assess more than grade (she didn’t mean it as in “grade one’s language” because I asked about this)  but I didn’t have a chance to dive into the beliefs underpinning this question. I tried to say that I can usually listen to a few conversations at once and that it is also about students seeing where they have trouble and also about seeing their own fluency increases. I didn’t mention how this is not so different in terms of assessment compared to any sustained pair-work activity and the same strategies and challenges would apply.  I did mention how some teachers have students count the words in various stages of this and how this is something I’d like to try this year.  (Update: I have not tried this yet this year.) This was an interesting exchange for me and I wish there had been more time for such explorations. One audience member pointed out that this 3-2-1 type activity could be used to prompt discovery of certain lexis, grammar or speaking strategies before “teaching” and I was extremely appreciative of this mention.
  • This was among the most challenging workshops I’ve ever given in terms of asking people to stop talking and moving on to the next thing. I even whined pleaded “Please stop there so we can move on to the next thing, tea time is coming right up and you can chat all you want then.” I used my “silent animal” system (check out the slides if you are curious) but it didn’t really work well and was mostly ineffective. I clapped. I talked quietly. I talked loudly. I did my best to avoid shouting. I have some ideas I would try in a similar situation next time but, wow, it was not my finest hour in managing such things.
  • On the exit ticket one person was quite complimentary but suggested next time I *should talk about the “‘Why’ these activities are my favorites.” I completely agreed with this suggestion but also realized it would have been impossible with the time constraints and other decisions I made. I don’t begrudge this person’s opinion as I largely agree but I still felt a bit frustrated by the comments because this is something I knew well but decided to go in a different direction on.
  • My usual version of the 4-3-2 activity is a bit different than most I suppose. I ask students to talk continually to a partner for the allotted time and then I give 3 to 5 minutes for further discussion and clarification (and feedback of an official or casual type). I then ask students to change partners each time so they are talking to a new person who will also offer questions and comments. Depending on the class and the position of Saturn in the night sky I might also add some thoughts and reminders of my own on English usage before subsequent stages. At least once I’ve had an extended language focused session between speaking turns for the students. Here is a great post on tweaking/extending/expanding the 4-3-2 activity by Olya Sergeeva.
  • One tip on the exit ticket idea is that students can often tend to get more into it and give better answers over time and as they see the teacher is reading them and responding to them. One thing I mentioned in the workshop is that I sometimes use them at the halfway point of my three hour classes and then go ahead and base a portion of the second half on the muddy points that came out of the question section.