Comment on @CeciELT’s blog post: ‘My (Initial) Two Cents Worth on Assessing Students…’

31 07 2011

mcneilmahon July 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Hi Cecilia,

Sorry couldn’t make either of your contributions to #RSCON3 but thanks for the post to give us a taste of your thoughts.

Reading the early paragraphs makes me wonder whether assessment didn’t get a bad name because of the forwardwash caused by education systems and curriculum based on fact retention. I have always been struck by not just the amount of learning demanded of my Czech and now Argentine students in their schools but also the lack of thinking it inspires.

I remember hating having to put myself in the shoes of a loom operator soon after the industrial revolution hit Britain and write a diary entry detailing impressions of a day in my life (and I scored much worse at this kind of task than the fact recall types) but I now appreciate how valuable those attempts at developing my critical thinking skills were.

Before we change the assessment, perhaps we need to change the curriculum and the forwardwash effect it has?


Songs To Success…and Beyond!

31 07 2011

Songs To Success – Click here for handout

and beyond! – Click here for handout

Songs to Success was the very first workshop I ever presented, all those years ago in the Czech Republic – IATEFL 1998 in Plzen if my memory serves me right.  Obviously music and song in the EFL classroom have come a long way since those first nervous ideas were shared with a gym full of voracious Czech secondary school teachers.

I then repeated and extended the session at a Teachers’ Centre workshop at IH Prague in 2001 – check out the handout ‘and Beyond!’ above for the extra ideas in this handout.  Both sessions are over ten years old now, but still some of the ideas you’ll find on the handouts above are my fave activities when using songs in the classroom – they definitely work a treat.

What are your faves?  Please do share an activity you use with songs in return for sharing mine.  Looking forward to hearing your comments and as always if you’d like further explanation of any of the ideas on the handout just let me know in a comment.

Happy singing!

The Drill Bit

31 07 2011

The Drill Bit was a workshop I presented first off at the ABS International Conference for the Professional Development of Teachers in February 2009.  I repeated it as an International House Teachers Workshop at IH Belgrano during induction week that March.

Some of us love drilling and some of us hate it, but every student I’ve ever taught (and they must be reaching four figures by now) has appreciated a bit of judicious drilling at some point in their learning careers.

I’m a big fan, are you?

Enjoy the activities, do the poll and drop me a line with your ideas about drilling.  Take care.

The Drill Bit – Click here for handout

Metaphor Magic

27 07 2011

Metaphor Magic Powerpoint Slides

This was a workshop I did at the ABS International Challenge Your English Conference in 2006.  The theme of the conference is to help Englaish Language teachers in South America improve their own English in order to help their students improve theirs.

In this workshop we focused on the power of metaphor and through a variety of activties the participants improved their colloquial and idomatic use of English and also their ability to use and create their own metaphoric language.

Enjoy the slides and handout available above and I’ll be back soon with some reworkings of this workshop in the form of new ideas and teaching suggestions about metaphor.  And of course if you have any ideas, questions and suggestions to share, please just leave a comment.

Metaphor Magic Click here for handout

Comment on Willy Cardoso’s post on Silence and control (Part II)

25 07 2011
mcneilmahon says:

July 25, 2011 at 2:44 am

Fascinating reading Willy, many thanks for sharing. With regards the films non-conversation, I think perhaps your expectations are possibly unrealistic, since as Scott points out, this often happens in conversations in L1 as well. In fact, I’d say it happens in A LOT of conversations in L1, and this is probably much more likely to be the reason for the students wanting to tell you rather than interact with their peers rather than any flaw in your activity.

‘What’s the point? I thought to myself. They chose the topic, but all they wanted was to tell ME about it and know if they made any mistakes?’

Point is, not only did the students choose what to talk about, but they chose how to talk about it – in a way that reflects their behaviour in L1 conversations. One way to respond to this is to impose a more interactive task, or you could just accept it as their way of conversing and move on – it’s still a worthwhile task if you’ve listened and given them language feedback as they wish.

Or perhaps you could involve the students in designing a listening task which develops their listening skills and gives them an intrinsic reason to listen (something to do with thinking about which films they may want to watch seems the obvious way to go here). Perhaps this could be done next lesson, using your initial intriguing format – ‘In one minute write down what you remember of your classmates films…’ as a way of leading in to listening more to each other and conversing rather than presenting.

Looking forward to hearing more about your classes.

Thanks, Neil!
You’re right, in fact, I should be happy they chose the topic and chose how to talk about it, and they did talk a lot, even if without too much interaction. I think that part of my frustration comes from the fact that I don’t enjoy seeing students just waiting for their turn and not listening to others, in this type of activity one can easily be quiet for 25 minutes until their turn.

Today, I included some more interactive elements like having students stand in the front for speedy presentations and it worked well, the level of attention was generally very high, I’ll even write about the whole activity in a later blogpost because it did work really well.

Monumental miles

25 07 2011

Long by mcneilmahon at Garmin Connect – Details.

After yesterday’s short sharp burst, today was a case of plodding out the long miles in order to keep up the week’s distance totals (aiming for a modest 20km a week minimum at the moment as my body adjusts to fulltime running again) but for the most part I felt quite sprightly and certainly wasn’t plodding.  It was just the last couple of km I started to feel the left knee, which hasn’t happened in a long time,  but unlike last week’s calf twinge I felt I could run through this ache and did so successfully.  

It was fun to be accompanied for quite a bit of the run by the fans leaving the Monumental after the Copa final.  Strange to feel I’d just been watching these guys on TV enjoying one of the world’s biggest footballing occasions and then there they are watching me ‘fly’ past them in my lycra.

 Seems I’ve already got the thoughts flowing.  Here’s some more:

Showcasing the sexworkers of Palermo park to the departing Uruguayan and Paraguayan fans post-Copa America final is not the best way to sell our beautiful city to visitors. 

Gobbing on your chin just before entering the most populated leg of your run and making a mess of wiping it off is not the best way of selling your own athletic prowess to passing rollerbladers (lucky I’m married then, innit). 

I’ve got a lot done today work-wise while enjoying a lot of sport – great finish to the tour de France (what amazing athletes they are and what an underrated sportsman Mark Cavendish is in his homeland), great day’s test cricket (not only do England have a world class cyclist, they also have the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world, an unheard of combination) and a pretty decent final to the Copa America (better than the vast majority of the tournament at least, which was a huge letdown) – which is a satisfying way to kick off what’s going to be a busy couple of weeks leading up to Delta One starting in Montevideo.  

Gotta be organised and focused and keep the momentum up throughout these weeks to come.  Holiday’s not far away :).  Still more work to do when get back home, and then would be good to read that Vygotsky article etc. instead of getting too much into a film.  

What would’ve happened if Spurs had bought Suarez or Forlan when we allegedly had the chance in January?  Would we have got fourth place.  I doubt Forlan would have made much of a difference, since VDV was already confusing the rest of our strikers in a similar role, but Suarez just might have created and scored quite a few goals that just didn’t happen.  Please Daniel Levy find and buy the right striker(s) for Spurs this window. 

Put the fridge on mercadolibre when I get home or Mer won’t be happy. 

Going round in circles

24 07 2011

A complete mess or a rich source of synonym?  No idea myself, but I enjoy the parallelisms and the overall circular structure.  Enjoy.

I laugh at your words

So you smile at my laugh

An ironic smile that makes me curse.

You’re offended by my curse

And I’m angered at the offence

And you’re incredulous I’m angry

And I’m confounded by your disbelief

And you sneer at my confusion

And I sigh at your complacency

And you shout at my exasperation

And I ignore your noise

And wind you up with my poise

And I’m victorious at your losing it

And you’re livid at my winning grin

And I’m sarcastic at your temper tantrum

And you’re amused by my irony

And I chuckle at your smile

A smug chuckle that makes you swear

And I take umbrage at your language

And you’re irate at my huff

And I can’t believe your ire

And you’re confused by my incredulity

And I’m complacent that you’re confounded

And you’re exasperated at my sneer

But I keep still at your sighing

And you yell at my ignoring you

And I lose it with your shouting

And you grin winningly at winding me up

I lose my temper at your victory parade

And you’re ironic at my lividness

And I’m amused at your sarcasm

And you laugh at my words

So I smile at your laugh

An ironic smile that makes you curse.

#eltchat summary – Wed 20th July 2011 – Promoting Extensive Reading among ELT students

24 07 2011

I’ve recently got back into EFLChat as my timetable makes it easier for me to attend these days and I’m also more online doing other things.  It’s a great way to pick up a few ideas for teaching certain areas in class and also finding an audience to challenge your opinions.

Last Wednesday 20th July to start with it seemed there were just a few takers for the topic which had won the week’s vote – Extensive Reading and how you promote it among your students.

Soon enough though the typical rapid fire and sometimes confusedly manic tweeting that typifies ELT Chat was underway.  And in the end our marvellous moderator Marisa_C counted out 650 tweets in the hour we lasted – which means this summary is going to be a bit bitty as I try and include as much as possible as succinctly as possible.

The main topics to arise were:

What counts as extensive reading?

Reading for pleasure, reading longer texts, reading outside class were all suggested as definitions.  There was a debate about whether the student had to choose the text themselves rather than set texts being used for it to be extensive reading, but this isn’t the case.  And some (@theteacherjames: @sueleather) mentioned positive experiences they’ve had with set texts.

There was also the question of the level of the text – some (such as @DanielaArghir: @rliberni: @hartle) were getting all @sdkrashen and expecting materials a little above the level of the students to provide challenge, whereas @theteacherjames corrected them saying the level should be a little below their level so they are fully motivated and can read without the need to stop and think.  My understanding of the literature tallies with this – that students consolidate lots of already met language through encountering it in their reading – the aim is not to acquire new language but to consolidate their interlanguage and turn receptive knowledge into productive knowledge.  The wrong choice of level could also be a factor in students getting demotivated easily – the level is simply too difficult for them, even though there’s only 5% new language – so keep it simple students!

How to inspire busy people to read extensively in a foreign language in their own precious time?

@Fuertesun suggested the internet made this easier to which @mcneilmahon replied it made ER more achievable as well (since it’s much easier for students to find things they are interested in to read about in English and also find different ways of reacting to the texts and interacting with other readers around them.

The consensus was that enthusiastic teachers who enjoyed reading themselves and could suggest suitable titles to individual students were the most likely to succeed.

Students choosing the material themselves was also a popular motivator, but we still need to get them to want to choose in the first place.

@mcneilmahon suggested taking away any pressure involved and making it completely voluntary, look on it as a bonus some students do, rather than a necessity for all.  Of course this does lead to virtuous circles among ‘good students’ and vicious circles among ‘bad’ ones, but I didn’t point that out to him at the time.

@Notyetlanguage reckons it helps if we explain to our students that their progress is much faster if they read extensively – perhaps someone would like to put together an intensive reading lesson where students read about the benefits of extensive reading in class and then ‘just do it’.

Can we change culturally or parentally or generationally ingrained (lack of) reading habits?

@ICTmagic suggested looking for pleasure in reading, which resonates with the above discussion.

@profesortbaker pointed out parent readers help a lot to inspire kids and we agreed teachers can do the same, he went on to quote the example of Nobel prize winner Gabriela Mistral in Chile, who used to write stories and poems for her students, promoting reading throughout her classes.

@lu_bodeman feels she’s up against students who simply don’t have the time or energy to read in English – too many other things they are asked to do for school (I know how she feels).

@luc_germain suggests the taste for reading must be initiated very young (3 – 4 years old) and from thereonin continued which means that teachers must love reading – it also puts a huge responsibility on our VYL teacher colleagues.

@mkofab thinks  there are readers and non-readers, also among adults.  Books at home and stimuli in class do not always help.  Brick wall comes to mind.

A few suggested using film versions of books as a reward once the students have read the book.  While it can lead to useful debates about the comparative forms of art and which portrays a story better, surely it’s portraying books in a bad light if the film is the reward?

@mcneilmahon suggested giving extra attention to the reading learners in the class and showing your enthusiasm for their reading achievements – other students may pick up on this special attention and see extensive reading as a way of getting some for themselves.

Specific, practical ideas?

Some great ideas came out of the ELTChat, but others were leading us back into the dark, classroom defined depths of intensive reading, so I’ve left them out of this summary.  All of the below are great ideas for inspiring the students to read extensively or introducing it in the first place or following up on what they’ve done:

@PrettyButWise In class quiet reading time (teacher reads too)with post-read discussion / sharing / divide the class into groups depending on their interests  /

@luc_germain Organised and attractive libraries / Students create their own book covers

@Marisa_C A book box from which students choose what to read / Students write a class serial and read each others’ work / Skype authors / Students read fave part of book to rest of class

@hartle Use Google Reader & choose three texts or blogs to follow and then present ideas to class / Teacher recommendations / exploit book covers /

@mcneilmahon Use Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and forums about books to make it easier to make ER more interactive for the students / Use critical thinking questions to encourage students to respond to books and share them meaningfully (but keep them general and so extensive J ) / Have a class contract – students agree to read X number of books during term

@rliberni Graphic novels such as Frankenstein / Short stories / Book lists / Using short excerpts as TEASERS / 100 nights of reading

@vickyloras: set a (an even tiny) goal so SS feel they’ve achieved something / Word clouds and paragraph clouds are great teasers

@CeciELT  make films out of books & then have a competition with an Oscar night

@DanielaArghir Students create a book trailer video

@sueleather Students present a Pecha Kucha on a book they’ve read / read first chapter then guess the rest before choosing which to read

@theteacherjames Students predict content from covers before reading

@Marian Steiner Write a diary entry from POV of a character

@esra_simsek Press conference with the characters other students are journalists / Hold court over characters’ behaviour

Suggested links:

article by Alan Maley on why ER is good for our students- and for us.

@Oksan_ocakturk: The Characteristics of an Extensive Reading Approach

@cybraryman1 gave a link to his classroom library site suggestions #eltchat

@Marisa_C Basic issues from the BBC

@IreneAlcamo: Resources 4 ER #ESL Reading: #eltchat

@hartle OUP video on explaining benefits of ER to SS

@vickyloras Ext reading ideas for low income families: via@readingrockets  




@sueleather inspiring ways to get students reading


And @hartle let us know that Dr Richard Day is the man to check out for further extensive reading on, well…extensive reading.

But to finish this rather long-winded and wieldy #eltchat ‘summary’ I leave you with a lovely tweet from @theteacherjames which just goes to show that all the effort and enthusiasm we need to invest in getting our students to read extensively is most definitely worth it:

Best moment in teaching thanks to ER: student says “Thanks James, I’ve never finished a book in English before”, his face beaming.

Happy Hills

23 07 2011

Hills by mcneilmahon at Garmin Connect – Details.

Wasn’t expecting to run at all today but after missing out yesterday with a sore foot was more than happy to go for a cheeky one with Mer this afternoon.  We cycled out to the orange juice man at the big lake in Palermo (Mer’s put a photo of me enjoying my juice and the sun on facebook) and then ran up to the new bridge near the River stadium.  The football team may now be B quality, but the bridge is A grade when it comes to some hill training, at least as such a flat city as Buenos Aires is concerned.

It was my first hill training since I started my comeback and it went well.  Five times up, skipping back down the stairs and walking back to the bottom of the hill before heading up again.  When we’d done the five circuits we ran back easily to the top of the lake and cycled home.

Not much time for thinking with all that stopping and starting but was lovely to get out in the sun and a few things occured to me:

I need to plan Wednesday morning well since I forgot I’m observing half an hour after #eltchat finishes, forgetful plonker that I am.

Tomorrow I need to start with coordinating and get a lot of it done, talking to all the possible workshop givers to get them all online so it’s as ready as can be as early as can be.

And tweet all day long, without getting distracted from my work.

And look into hangouts a bit more.

Maybe I should be approaching publishers directly about a course book – sending them a proposal like you would for a novel – I should at least be looking into it.

Someday soon

21 07 2011

This one might have even be written as an adult if I remember rightly.  A punky little ditty that could be used in a lesson on some or going to if you’ve got the courage to churn it out acapela, or use it as a poem and encourage students to write their own versions or just a second verse which perhaps this lacks (just as long as you credit me with the writing and leave us a comment to let us know how you used it and how you got on).

Someday soon it’s gonna be my day

Someday soon I’m gonna get my way

Someday soon I’m gonna make you see

Someday soon we’re gonna be happy



My day


My time


I say

They’ll play

My way