Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Academic Writing:

The post about summarising
Last week, I wrote my first post about academic writing. My focus then was on addressing plagiarism and helping learners develop strategies that will enable them to paraphrase information in order to integrate sources into their own writing and then cite it (you can read that post here). Another writing skill your students need to develop is summarising. In fact, in academic writing summarising information found in a source is as important as paraphrasing or reformulating. A summary that is not paraphrased/ reformulated well may lead to plagiarism, a paraphrase that is too long may lead to word count problems etc.

Picture credits: Illustrator unknown. Accessed online here

One step at a time
Here are some tips on how to get your students to summarise information they found in a source in order to use it to either synthesise information or integrate sources into their own writing (teaching tip: get them to paraphrase/reformulate first and then summarise). Begin with explaining what a summary is. Show them examples of good summaries and bad ones. Elicit their understanding of why one summary is good and why another is bad. Keep in mind that you also need to stress to your students that their summaries need to be paraphrases/reformulations of the original sources because if they aren't, your students are still plagiarising.

Sentence frames:
So, now they understand what a summary is. You can move on to tasks that have sentence frames. Give your learners a text with its summary underneath it, but erase some of the sentences. At this initial stage your learners only have to fill in a few sentences that are missing.

Video viewing:
Who said you should only summarise texts? Why not start with something fun and something that is a bit easier than a dense academic tense? If you are teaching a general English class, you can choose whatever video you want. The sky is your limit. If you are teaching an EAP class, well, of course the sky is your limit as well. My suggestion is to start with something fun and easier to tackle and then show them a clip of a lecture. The goal is to get them to write a summary of something they have watched. this is challenging of course but fun.

Why use a video?:
  • Your learners can better comprehend because even if they have unknown words, they still have the visual to help them. 
  • It is fun : )
  • It caters different learning styles, engages different skills.
  • They do not have a text in front of them so it is supposedly harder to plagiarise.
Some disadvantages of using the video:
  • they may not know how to take notes and may end up just writing whatever they hear, making it difficult for them to write a coherent paragraph later on.

Jigsaw reading:
I guess you do jigsaw reading tasks with your students, so why not have a jigsaw reading task that will prompt a summary? So, how would you organise this? I suggest you do this as a pair work task. Give half a text to student A and the other half to student B. Each student reads their own text and makes notes of some key points. Once both students have read their texts and have made some notes, you take away the texts and just let them keep their notes. They then have to use their notes to tell each other what the text is about and write a short summary.

Summary challenge:
 You can start with summaries that are long paragraphs of say 150 words and move on to one sentence summaries! Add some drama, will you? Your learners need to actually be able to write one or two line summaries when they are integrating sources into their work, so start with something easier and move on to something harder.I would once again suggest writing a group summary, a pair summary and then each student works on their own summary. Give them a word challenge as well. Highlight numerous words they are not allowed to use in their paraphrased summaries.

Final thoughts
Teaching your learners how to paraphrase, reformulate and summarise are very important skills. Students require a lot of training before they can become successful writers. Approaching academic writing in a fun way,scaffolding your learners, mixing and matching tasks, doing group work and pair work aims to help them better their writing skills. Feel free to add any other summarising ideas in the comments section. I love getting feedback from you guys!!

Till next time........

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Online teaching -the niche

The niche

I attended a live class by Jack Askew yesterday as part of WizIQs Teachers Teaching Online MOOC (if you want to learn about online teaching, I strongly suggest you enroll NOW. It is excellent!). The title of his presentation was ' Being a Successful Online Teacher: Find your Niche, Build your Brand, and Constantly Grow' (you can watch the recording of his talk if you enrol!). It was a very informative session, he gave a lot of tips and it was an hour well spent. One thing he said, and something many people agree on, is that if you want to be a successful (freelance) online teacher, you need to be known for one thing you are really good at. You need to create a niche. A specialisation may I add. But do you or should you? Don't get me wrong, I totally agree that nowadays, you cannot do everything well, you need to specialise, but as a teacher, why can't my niche be teaching? Won't I be a successful online teacher if I do not specialise?And, if I specialise, I may be a successful online teacher, but will I be a happy one? These are just a few thoughts..........

All in favor of the 'niche' say, "I"
" I"  but "Why?"

  • Well, practise makes perfect, so the more you specialise in something, the better you will become (well, at least that is what common sense says). You become an expert!
  • You target a market. You find people people who are interested in your 'brand', your specialisation. You have loads of experience teaching Business English, you are into EAP, you like teaching with songs. Find your niche, make a brand and promote it.
  • You create good resources, your own material and you do not have to be constantly looking for and creating material. You do not have to teach an Ielts class, make the material for this class, and then prepare new stuff for your Business English class. You create your own , solid bank of material and enrich it.

BUT...... and yes, there is always a BUT

  • If I specialise in one field, won't I get bored after a while? If I am bored, won't my learners be bored? I like variety and new challenges.
  • Don't I close my door to ideas, teaching trends and mixing and matching? Taking a Business English idea on leadership and turning it into a session for my young learners about what makes a good leader, is what I do now. As an online teacher with a specialisation, will I be able to do that?
  • Can I not be good at two or three things?
I don't know about you guys but I like to stick my fingers in many pies! I enjoy teaching Business English (online, yes , who would have thought?), I like teaching EAP, and I like teaching young learners. I guess for me, finding my niche is gonna be so damn hard... unless I could have a niche for teaching, but then how would I survive the online teaching market? Hmmm then again, if you look at this ramble, two out of three of my likes are ESP so maybe that's my niche : ) Dunno about you guys, but I am on the fence about this one. I understand why I need a niche to be a successful online teacher, but I am not sure if I wanna have one. I am doomed : P

Final thoughts
Very confused......sitting on a fence. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I really want to hear from people who DO have a niche.

Till next time........
                             which will be very soon cause, well I have a lot of free time.

Picture taken from: http://images.search.yahoo.com/images

Monday, June 16, 2014

EAP: plagiarism

Academic Writing: Helping your students avoid plagiarism step one

The post about addressing plagiarism & paraphrasing
The big P word. Plagiarism. If you have taught English for academic purposes, you know this is a buzz term. As an EAP tutor, I am always going on about what plagiarism is, how to avoid it and I thought it was about time I wrote a short post about how I address plagiarism and how I help my students avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing sources. Now, this people is a tough cookie for both the teacher and the student!! This is my approach....

                                One step at a time

1. Address plagiarism
You need to be clear about what plagiarism is from the beginning and how it is important to cite other people's views and not just act as if they are your own. Show them videos about plagiarism from YouTube, give them definitions from your own sources, from dictionaries, the lots. It is important to inform them. Also, be clear about the tolerance of plagiarism because sometimes it may not be deliberate (if your students mistype a date for example, do they fail or do you give them another chance?). Another important thing you need to keep in mind is that different fields use different referencing systems, so steer your students towards the one they will be using in their discipline.
Fun ideas: get your learners to make little projects (videos/infographics/posters/animations) of what plagiarism is.
Not such a fun idea: Ask loads of Q&As as well as CCQs related to what plagiarism is.

2.The plagiarism police
"You will be caught!" : S. Yeap. Let them know that you will find the plagiarism. Ask your learners to bring photocopies of the texts they used and paraphrased. Tell them hey should highlight the paragraphs they paraphrased. Inform them of the different software you will be using to scan their papers and detect plagiarism. It is a good idea to suggest that they check their papers for plagiarism with the same software as well.
So, now your learners know what plagiarism is expect the following discussion (I know I have had it a zillion times!):

Student: "Ok! I don't want to paraphrase sources because it is hard and I will plagiarise."
Teacher: "Hmmmm or ..............."
Student:  "Yes, I will quote. I will use quotation marks for everything I put in my paper and I will copy their exact words and everything will be fine!"
Teacher: "It is not a good idea to have an essay full of quotes and no paraphrases. You also need to synthesise your information. So, you need to learn how to paraphrase and summarise information. Don't worry. You can do it! That's why I am here!"
Student: : ( .......turns to   : )

3. The anti-plagiarism toolkit
Time to bring the big guns in. Let's get down to business people!Your students need their anti-plagiarism toolkit. So, time to equip them with the strategies they need to avoid plagiarising their sources when using sources in their texts and not just quoting directly. Time to talk about paraphrasing.

This is the most important skill your students need to develop in order to avoid plagiarising sources. Of course, there are a million ideas out there and loads of activities you can use. I will just mention a few things I do. First, let me tell you though that my motto is start simple and then move on. Brick layering.
Start with some simple activities:

  • Key word transformations
Well, yes, why not use key word transformations to engage your learners in exercises that will force them to paraphrase? You can begin with something that builds their general English skills. Remeber....baby steps. The good thing about key word transformations is that since they are part of the Cambridge language exam (FCE,CAE,CPE) you find loads of books and websites with key word transformation activities. So, if, for example,your EAP students are B2 level learners, you can use any key word transformation activities that are for that level. They also give you the opportunity to gauge your learners grammar knowledge and you can focus on structures they are struggling with. Engaging in key word transformation activities does not mean that your learners are out of the woods, it is just a way for them to practice rephrasing short sentences.

  • The Academic Word List (word families-synonyms)
Your learners should download the Academic Word List and familiarise themselves with The Thesaurus (any thesaurus). Get your learners to write down word families and find synonyms. Enrich their academic vocabulary! The richer their vocabulary, the more lexical choices they have.

  • Nominalisation/Active voice vs Passive voice
Find tasks that practice nominalisation and the two voices. Paraphrasing is not just about using different words, it is also about grammar. In order to avoid plagiarism, you gotta get your learners to change structures, word order, forms. Noun phrases and the passive voice are found very frequently in academic writing, so practicing them will help your students feel more comfortable with these structures, thus they will probably use them whilst paraphrasing.

  • Noticing activities

Show your learners good examples of paraphrases. Use an overhead projector/smartboard and some sort of before and after examples and get them to notice the differences.I think it is better to do this as a group task and then follow up with some activities they have to do individually. Check to see if they have noticed all the changes and the differences in the structures, vocabulary etc. I get my learners to make tables of some common phrases and paraphrases/alternative phrases.

Illustration by Daniel Rhone accessed here
                The bigger picture
So, hopefully, with all this training, your learners can paraphrase at least at a sentence level, now it is time to paraphrase real texts. Time for some group work!
Divide your class into small groups. Give them a text and tell them to paraphrase it as a group. Then, tell the groups to swap their paraphrases. Once each group has another group's paraphrase, the new group needs to underline/highlight anything they think has been plagiarised and once they have done that, they give the text back to the original group. Each group now has their own paraphrased text with feedback from another group. They use this feedback to paraphrase more. The paraphrasing should go on until each group is happy with their final product.
I then suggest getting your learners to practise in pairs and finally individually.

Advice I give my learners: try to paraphrase into simple sentences and then aim for more complex structures.
Once they have paraphrased the sources they want to use, they cite them accordingly, and well, they will have a plagiarism free text.

Final thoughts
Good luck on your anti-plagiarism venture fellow teacher. Feel free to add any other paraphrasing tricks in the comments section. this post will be followed up by a post on summarising so talk soon : )

Till next time..........

I will be talking about plagiarism on the 9th of August at the Belta & Tesl Toronto Web Conference on Reading and Writing. Log on, will you? For more info go to the Belta Belgium or Tesl Toronto website

Conference logo courtesy of Belta Belgium and Tesl Toronto

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Let's play..... for five minutes or more
Games....teaching in disguise! So, whenever I have a few minutes to spare or I feel my learners are feeling a bit restless and they really just wanna get out of the door, I say, " Ok, let's play a game". Their little (or big) eyes light up and  I think, "Yes, we are back on track!" Today I will write about a couple of games that require almost no prep nor props whatsoever!!!You don't need any technology either. The only thing you may need is a white board and marker pens. Here are some (childhood) all time classics that will make the lesson more fun!
Warning: there may be a few twists to the games : )
Well, you all know this one, but may I suggest playing it in various ways like the teacher against the class, group A against group B or pair hangman ? Also, instead of hanging the man (?), you could also make it a bit more challenging for your learners by telling them they can only suggest wrong letters equivalent to the number of letters in the word you have chosen. So, for example, if you have chosen the word flower they can only suggest 6 wrong letters and then they get hung!
Skills: spelling, vocabulary

I Spy (with my little eye)
I used to play this as a child and now I play it with my students. If you have never heard of this game, this is how it is played. You look at something in the class but you do not tell your students what you are looking at. You then give them little hints about what this object looks like. So, you begin by saying, " I spy with my little eye something brown" they can make one guess and if they do not find it, you give them more information until they guess what you are describing.
Skills: vocabulary (especially adjectives)/speaking.

Word snake
Someone writes a word on the board and the next person needs to write a word that starts with the final letter of the previous word. So, for example, I write the word flower, the next person has to write a word that begins with an R e.g. Rug, then the next student has to write something that starts with a G and so on. If a student misspells something or takes to long to find a word, he/she is out of the game.
Skills: spelling, vocabulary.


Kill the text
I write a text on the board and then split the class into groups, then a person from each group chooses one word from the text and makes a sentence. By making a sentence with that word, the student kills the word. Once all words have been used to make sentences, the text is killed!
Skills: grammar/vocabulary/syntax

Grammar Noughts and Crosses
I bet you have played noughts and crosses at some point in your life. A good way to use this in class is by adding grammar points in the noughts and crosses grid. So in order for your learner to be able to write a nought or a cross, he/she has to use this grammar point correctly. I usually put tenses in the grid and the learners have to make sentences using the tense correctly.
Skills: any grammar point 

I went to the supermarket (chain game)
If you have a good memory, this is your game. If you don't, then... SKIP this one! So, I start by saying," I went to the supermarket and bought eggs." Then, the person next to me says," I went to the supermarket and bought eggs and milk." The student after that says, "I went to the supermarket and bought eggs, milk and carrots" and so on. You have to say the food in the right order and not forget any of them. I suggest you scaffold your learners by helping them with descriptions of the items if they are struggling to remember the words (never reveal the word though!).
Skills: this is a great way to revise vocabulary related to food.

Final thoughts
As we all know, there should be a bit of time for a game from time to time. Games are enjoyed by everyone, so play with ALL learners no matter why they are learning English. Oh, yes, mind my pics, will you? Do you know how hard it is to draw with a mouse?!?! : P

This post has been shortlisted for this month's (July) Teaching English-British Council blog award. If you like it, go to the Teaching English-British Council Facebook page and press 'like' where it says this post has been shortlisted. Thank you  for reading : D

Till next time.....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Taken from: Public-Domain-Photos.com
The #Sandwichreflection
It is the end of the academic year, students are getting a bit restless, some teachers are as well : ). Summer is around the corner. So, what time is it? Time to reflect, of course, but with a twist. I am sure you know of the sandwich feedback (good point- bad point- good point) so how about trying out a kind of sandwich.... reflection? Why not write about a professional or academic achievement, follow this by a weakness ( or weaknesses) and then another strength.? You may now ask, "why this way?" I don't know about you guys, but very often when I reflect, I am so nitpicky that I find it very difficult to see my strengths, and I often just focus on my weaknesses. I dwell over the should've, would've, could've. So, time to make a sandwich and as dessert..... an action plan : ). What kind of reflection post would this be without an action plan?

Note to the reader: I would like to make this into some sort of blog chain, so I have asked other teachers/bloggers to follow up with blog posts of their own reflections.

                                                The Sandwich

A good moment- an accomplishment
I completed and passed module two of the Cambridge Delta. I do not know about you, but for me, the Delta was a tough cookie. I was teaching many hours a day, trying to run a business and squeeze in time to study. My motto those days was, "Stress, worry and complain". But, I did it! I passed, and now the wonderful world of module 3 awaits.

  • Bad choice of course book for my C2 level students. They were bored, I was bored. The material was outdated. I had used this book in the past and it had worked, but this time it was a very bad choice. I ended up supplementing a lot and in the end we just stopped using it!
  • Too many projects going on at the same time, I was swamped! Whatever webinar I saw I would say , " Oh! That's great! I am gonna do this" and then I would forget. A MOOC? "Yes! I will try this as well" (I didn't finish that either). I find lots of things out there extremely interesting, I get overwhelmed and end up doing nada!
  • Teaching grammar points I just don't like teaching. This is an all time classic weakness. If I do not like the grammar point I am teaching, my delivery is, well, bad. For example, I find teaching modal verbs extremely hard. I never do this well! Teaching modal verbs this year was once again not my greatest moment!
Another good moment this year
I presented at two conferences (TESOL Greece and Belta day). I loved it. I met lovely people. Got to share my views and hear their thoughts. It was a such a rewarding experience and I look forward to the next conference, whenever that is!
My action plan
  1. Regarding course books, I need to get out of my comfort zone and be a bit more adventurous with books. So, I found a book that worked with my students a couple of years ago? That does  always mean it will work the next year! I actually have this year's flop to prove it! In Greece at language schools you are very often expected to use a course book, so I am not going to chuck em out. I am going to scan them better. I will ask my colleagues what they are using. Maybe even try a few pages out with my students before concluding to one or the other.
  2. I really need to manage my time more effectively, be more conscious about my needs as a learner and make notes of the dates of the webinars, MOOCs or whatever else is out there and has grabbed my attention. I also have to accept the fact that I cannot attend everything, I just need to screen them better and choose the ones that are actually connected to my needs as a learner.
  3. Regarding teaching my least favourite grammar points, well that's a hard one. I could ask a couple of colleagues to observe them whilst they are teaching and get some ideas. I could get suggestions from my learners about how they would like me o approach a particular grammar point (what tasks they like doing, how they like to learn). I could also search the net for more fun things to do or.... any other suggestions? (yes, I am talking to you the reader).
I really enjoyed this academic year, I had  some very good moments and some difficult ones. I look forward to the challenges and the happy moments ahead....

You have been tagged fellow teacher and feel free to tag someone else if you wish : D
Angeliki Asteri
Ola Bakri
Sally Fryer
Lia Kalianos
Vicky Loras
Gemma Mitchelson
Vicky Papageorgiou
Theodora Papapanagiotou- read her post here
Roseli Serra
Hana Ticha-read post here
Vedrana Vojkovic- read post here

Final thoughts
If you wish to take part in this blog chain, feel free to add your blog post in the comments section!!! I do suggest you try it though cause I think it is a great way to reflect especially if , as a teacher, you do tend to focus more on the negative aspects than the positive ones.I will be back with a the links to  the reflections of the lovely teachers I tagged and a couple of guest posts as well :) There is also a hastag #sandwichreflection (thnks Hana and Vedrana for the hashtag suggestion!) 

Thanks for reading......

Till next time......

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Exam prepapration for the teacher

The teacher tells all... the BIG B2 level exam
Tomorrow my students are taking their first big B2 language exam and I thought I'd write a post about how I prepare myself and them for the big day. My focus is not on exam prep per se, but on how I help them deal with emotions of stress and anxiety. Before moving on, it is important to mention that learners here (in Greece), take B2 level exams at a very young age (my students are 13-15) and this is their first official langauge test (ever!).

The day before
So, they know what they know, they are not going to learn something new the day before their test, so I never teach anything new on this day. I tell my students to come to my language school and we sit around a table and just talk about what we did and whatever else pops in their heads. It is more of a chit chat session! If the want to answer any test or langauge related questions, I answer them. We have some jouice or ice cream. They then almost always start to panic and I try to calm them down by saying, what every teacher would say, " Everything will be fine. Don't worry. You have done your best". They talk about their fears and we just try to relax, make jokes and feel a bit better. I also give them my checklist.

Checklist? Say what?
I make a big A4 handout with the things they need to bring and do on the day of the test. I tell them they need to tick everything and then come and meet me so we can go to the exam center together. I do not know about you guys, but over the years, I have had students losing papers, ID cards, not bringing pencils , the lots! So I now take my measures- the check list!
What's in the checklist?

  • Bring your ID card.
  • Bring your registration card.
  • Bring a 2HB pencil.
  • Bring a c ouple of  black or blue pens.
  • Have a bottle of water and some tissue paper on you. 
I also add some tips (or orders :P) like:
  • go to bed early
  • don't sit in front of your computer too long.
  • have a good breakfast before going to the exam center.

Exam day
I meet my students and we all go to the exam center. I try to make the conversation as least exam-oriented as possible, although there may be a few exam related questions which I do answer so that they feel at ease (I do discourage this though). I give them their final pep talk and then send them off. They spread their wings and I now I am free to stress and worry about them!
I worry about the weak student who has tried a lot, the good student who panics or is over confident and of course the relaxed one, the one who doesn't review what he/she has written. I have been their teacher for so long and now this is their moment. I know that even if they fail to pass the test, it is not the end of the world. They will still have learnt English! In an exam oriented culture, where knowledge is proven very often by showing a certificate, this B2 level exam is a big deal for my students and me, their teacher. I try  to make it  as stress free as possible for them... and for me :)

Good luck to all! Learners and teachers :)

Till next time.....