Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ruya's Blog: Non-native English Speaking Language Teachers' Challenges and Strengths

For those of you who followed our webside reflection series on the use of L1 in the classroom, you may find Ruya's Blog: Non-native English Speaking Language Teachers' Challenges and Strengths worth a read.  Readers who commented tend to focus on the issue of accent as a challenge for Non-native English Speaking Language Teachers (NNESTs).  One reader suggested that all NNESTs  should speak with either an American or British accent (why no Australian or Canadian accent, I wonder???)

Do you think that using an 'appropriate' accent is an issue in the language classroom?  What about the role of text-to-speech programs for NNESTs to exploit, which usually offer the output in a variety of accents?  For example, you can use the demo version here to replicate the voice of Queen Elizabeth:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Using FREERICE in the language classroom

During a workshop on teaching vocabulary on 18 December, the technique of having a 'vocabulary box' in the classroom was mentioned as one way to help students recycle and build vocabulary knowledge.  

This prompted me to ponder if there was a way to combine this idea with using the English vocabulary game at in the classroom -- here is one idea (which I haven't yet tried!):
  1. Before the lesson, log in to FREERICE and PLAY for the METU NCC 2012 NORTH CYPRUS UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE.  
    • Keep the browser window open, but minimized.
  2. When there is a suitable time in the lesson for a five minute break, have students work in teams.
  3. Start playing the English vocabulary game
  4. One student from a team can come to the computer and try to guess the word associated with the key word shown.
    • Their team can help them, but they have only 5 or 10 seconds to guess a word.
    • If the student guesses correctly, their team gets a point and the student can continue to the next word.
    • If they guess incorrectly, the student loses their turn and is responsible to create a 'vocabulary card' for the 'vocabulary box' of the target word and the associated word.
  5. A student from the next time then takes the next turn, and so on.
    • You can keep a running total of team points until 31 December to see which team contributes the most rice.
In this way the vocabulary box will grow over time, and you can then exploit these 'paper-based' resources in other ways.  Or, if your students are so inclined, they can use one of the flashcard sites we looked at in the workshop to create an 'electronic vocabulary box' of flashcard stacks.  See  You could even generate a ready-to-wear quiz of the FREERICE words as motivation for the students at the end of the year.

One issue mentioned in the workshop was the difficulty of the words presented by FREERICE as the levels increase.  The FREERICE English vocabulary game has 60 levels.  Personally, I have never got past level 47.  It is likely that your students will be able to cope up to level 13 or so.  If the students guess incorrectly, the correct word is shown so they can remember it for next time.  Each time they make a mistake, the level of difficulty is reduced, so in theory the level of difficulty will be matched to their proficiency.  However, you can reset the level back to level 1 at any time -- say each time a team starts their turn to encourage the recycling of known words in the lower levels.

Here is an illustration of the power of 'crowd sourcing':  if every Prep School group were to spend five minutes a day on FreeRice, each group would earn between 700 and 1,000 grains of rice.  For the entire SFL, that would be about 50,000 grains of rice in one day.  There are eight working days left, so that would be a sum total of 400,000 grains of rice towards the METU NCC NORTH CYPRUS FREERICE 2012 CHALLENGE.  That would more than double the amount of rice donated so far, and put METU NCC in a commanding lead over EMU. :) And, the students would be exposed to some new vocabulary and the group would build up their vocabulary boxes for recycling vocabulary.  A win-win scenario. 

If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to share them here or on our teacher development blog. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why students fail to guess meanings of words from context

Do you ever feel like you are banging your head against the wall after hammering away at your students to get them to guess meaning from context, often to little avail.  The real crux of the matter of guessing words from context is being able to understand all the words that form the context. The fact of the matter is that the majority of our students seem to fall well below the threshold of vocabulary knowledge that is generally accepted to give them the wherewithal to understand contexts well enough to guess unknown words.

Over the last two years, as a matter of course in trying to get a feel for the profile of my students, I have been conducting a sort of 'needs analysis' of METU students vocabulary, using Tom Cobb's test of the 14,000 most commonly used words in English (see I ask my students to go as far as 10,000 words only. This tests their receptive knowledge of words, which is a key factor in reading. This is all voluntary, so I don't have a lot of data, but I do have data from 40 students (most freshmen, but about one-third are ELT students). I suspect that the trend would still be the same if I had surveyed 4,000 students. :)

The results displayed below in the bar chart are quite an eye-opener...the AVERAGE word knowledge among the students who volunteered to take the test is 4,755 words out of the most common 10,000 words. Consider that the 'barest of bare' minimums that researchers like Paul Nation suggest is 7,000 -- but the caveat here is that this should include a productive knowledge of ALL of the first 3,000 most commonly used words (as these make up around 90% of any text). More recent research suggests that students receptive knowledge of vocabulary should extend upwards of 9,000 if a student is to really function 'at ease' in English as a medium of instruction.

You can see the 'gap' in the graph below, which explains why a lot of METU students really grapple with English in the departments. It also suggests that the chances of them guessing the meaning from context as a regular reading strategy will be of limited use.  So, don't beat yourself up if your students don't seem to be able to develop the ability to do this.  In reality, the educational system has failed to provide them with a systematic approach at learning vocabulary based on the proven research by applied linguists--some of which dates back almost 100 years to pioneers like Thorndike, Palmer and Hornby, not to mention the work of Michael West on the General Service List, which was published 60 years ago--see A primer on the General Service List  for an excellent historical perspective.  To put this into more recent context, see The bare necessities in Lexis: a new perspective on vocabulary profiling and The graded reader is dead.  Long live the e-Reader for some current research in this area.

Friday, November 23, 2012


The NORTH CYPRUS UNIVERSITY FREERICE challenge is on again for 2012.  Last year, Middle East Technical University and Eastern Mediterranean University battled it out, with EMU coming out on top.  You can follow the progress of the challenge in the chart below.

In case you are new to FREERICE, here is a video that explains how playing this online game can help fight the war on hunger.

It's a new year, so METU.NCC has a chance to redeem itself and win the FREERICE challenge for 2012.  Bookmark this post, which will include an interactive chart of the competition which we'll update daily.

How to start?

Just go to and create an account if you don't have one.
You need to JOIN the  The group page should look like this:

  1. After you login for the first time, go to GROUPS and search for METU. Join the METU NCC FREERICE CHALLENGE 2012
  2. When viewing the GROUP DASHBOARD click PLAY (button is on the right) to send any rice that you start earning to that group. 
  3. MAKE SURE you PLAY for our METU group each time you log in, so that the grains of rice are allocated to our group.
  4. Please encourage your peers to play.  If only 200 METU students and staff spend 15 minutes playing FREERICE before the 31st, they will each earn 5,000 grains of rice, or 1,000,000 grains in total.  That would put enough to put the pressure on EMU to keep up.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How to use free text-to-speech software for dialogue completion tasks


Do you use text-to-speech software with your students? 

  • There are some really good software packages these days, such as Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking--however, the services with high quality voices usually have a price tag.  
  • one free site that I use that has reasonable quality voices.  It also has options for other European languages, like Spanish, German and French.

This free text-to-speech engine runs in the browser.  
  • You can also download an MP3 created from the text you type.  
  • In English, you can use UK or US accents, and select female or male voices.  You can also have the speech created at normal or slow pace.  
  • There are some simple 'voice tags' you can use within the transcript to change voices (if you want to create a dialogue), add pauses, or adjust the speed.
Why use TTS?

As part of the curriculum, students here at METU NCC are expected to complete gaps in a dialogue.  Students can get a bit bored of doing this on paper, so I thought that YAKiToMe would offer a nice alternative.

How to use TTS in class?

One idea I had would be for the students to work in groups and create 'one side' of a dialogue as text.  
  1. Then, they use YAKiToMe to create the 'one sided' dialogue as an MP3 audio file.
  2. Groups then exchange the MP3 dialogues with another group. 
  3. In a computer lab, the group then uses AUDACITY to edit the 'one sided' dialogue, and insert their responses for the 'other side' of the dialogue.  
Alternatively, if you only have one computer in the class, once a group has created a 'one sided' dialogue, you just play the MP3 in class and stop it after every line.  
  1. Students then transcribe the audio individually and then compare their transcription with a partner.  
  2. Together, the write the complete dialogue.  
  3. Afterwards, they can do a role play and you can discuss the variety of responses given.


I think that this would be an interesting way to practice writing dialogues.  But, what is more, once your students are aware of how to create audio from text, you could cajole them into creating their own 'talking books' class library, and the students could then use the site on their own to create and share 'talking books' for listening practice.

Just as an example, here is the dialogue I wrote:
You will hear 'one side' of a conversation with Lauren. Edit the MP3 file and use AUDACITY to complete the conversation with you as the person Lauren is speaking with. Afterwards, delete these instructions and set the scene for the conversation for the listener - who are the characters, where is it taking place, etc.
My name is Lauren. What is your name?
I'm fine.
My favourite colour is black. I am a bit of a sadist. What about you?
That's interesting. Why?
I'd love to, but I have to run.
Yes, that's a good idea. Give me a ring.
I then converted this text to audio using YAKiToMe.  I published this as a podcast below.

If you want to try out the procedure, download the MP3 and edit it on AUDACITY.  To do this, go to the EPISODE in PODMATIC by clicking on theYAKiToME podcast title.  At the bottom of the episode podcast you will see a DOWNLOAD EPISODE option. Once downloaded, you can open it in AUDACITY for editing.
 Upload your final version as a podcast and share it here or on TWITTER.

The use of computer-generated language tools is a relatively new development.  No doubt there will be more developments on the horizon.  Consider the text-to-speech (TTS) application and reflect on the issues and challenges this may present to teachers and students.  Here are a few issues that come to my mind:

  1. Would I recommend this to students for listening or speaking practice?  Why/Why not?
  2. What objections might teachers and students have about TTS?  How would I respond to such objections?
  3. Will the evolution of computer generated language change the why and wherefore of teaching English as a foreign language? 
If you are keeping a blog for reflective practice, create a blog post with your musings.  Share it with your PLN.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A teacher who can be replaced by a computer, should be.

I recently read a precis of a talk given by Sugata MitraProfessor of Educational Technology, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, at Newcastle University in the UK, and I wanted to share a few highlights here.

Mitra is perhaps most well known for his 'Hole in the Wall' programme in India, where he installed computers in 'holes in the wall' in local, mostly illiterate, communities.  The people were not given any training at all.  They would just walk up to the computer and 'play around' with it.  He went away and then returned nine months later and asked the children in the village to take a computer literacy test.  He was astonished to find that these children had taught themselves to use the computer to a similar ability as the average secretary: using email, word processing, spreadsheets, and communicating on social networks. Without any formal 'education', these children had managed to teach themselves how to use computers.  If you have time, here is Mitra talking about this project in a TED talk.

In a conversation with Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science fiction writer most well-known for the film 2001: A Space Oddysey, the two discussed the obsession people have with understanding objects, rather than using objects to understand meaning. Mitra came away with two tenets related to education:
  • A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.
  • When learners have interest, education happens.
Mitra now proposes a radically different mode of education, which he calls "Emergent Learning".  His model is simple...REDUCE the number of computers to force people to work together (in a class of twenty children, provide only four computers so children must work in groups of 4-5), have the class elect a 'police officer' to keep 'law and order', and encourage discussion, movement and play. The 'curriculum' then becomes a series of 'big questions', i..e., topics where adults may not know the answers, such as 'Can trees think?'  Groups are given a tight time limit of 45 minutes to try to find an answer.  In order to maintain momentum, Mitra advocates the availability of a 'Granny cloud' - a network of people who provide remote encouragement and support. If the children get stuck, a remote granny is projected onto the wall via a projector. However, the function of the 'cloud grannies' is not to teach, rather they just ask questions and admire the learners.  Note...there is no teacher in this scenario.
At the end of his presentation, Mitra shared a list of provocative ideas about the future of education...the 'big questions' we should think about:
  • How do we 'test' a connected student?
  • Is it necessary to learn new languages at all? Maybe machines will translate.
  • Is arithmetic obsolete? Very few store clerks need this anymore, and we now have computing devices. Indians used to consider astrology a life skill, but it's now obsolete. Self defense with a sword and horse riding used to be basic life skills, but they're now obsolete.
  • Is vocational training meaningless? Why go to culinary school when you can watch a cooking video on YouTube?
  • Is the absence of a teacher a pedagogic tool?
  • Can cheating improve learning? If you allow some people to use the Internet in exams, might the cheaters learn over time?
Mitra suggests that the connections we get from the cloud are making our current concept of education as obsolete today as riding a horse and fighting with a sword.  Perhaps even within our generation, our grandchildren might come to us and ask us incredulously if it was really true that "there was a time that people used to believe that education was very important."

Is our current system of education obsolete? Do you have any experiences as a student that would support Mitra that 'the absence of a teacher is a pedagogic tool'? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Seven tips to overcome techno-stress

Feeling a bit stressed?  Computer not cooperating today.  Lost an hour of work when there was a power cut?

You can pull out a gun (or use your chair) and vent your rage on the computer. Or you can take a few minutes to unwind, and put together this jigsaw puzzle.

Have you ever felt like the man in the jigsaw puzzle or the lady with the gun? Apparently it is quite natural to experience various levels of techno-stress and frustration with technology.

In this article, there are seven tips to overcome techno-stress.  Which tips do you already use successfully?  Is there one particularly good tip that you would recommend to a friend?  Is there a tip that you think you would like to add to your arsenal of techniques to manage techno-stress?

Leave a comment, and if you have any other tips, please share the wealth of your experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I love robots: my latest auto-summarizing bot slave

You may have seen the recent film "I Robot" with Will Smith.  Great special effects, but I highly recommend reading the original science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov -- one of the classics in the genre.

In fact, I don't really know what I would do without robots.  They are at my constant bidding, never complain or ask silly questions, and unfailingly do a better job at the most mundane tasks than I could ever do.

  • My favourite robots at home are the dishwasher, washing machine, espresso machine, food processor and microwave.  
  • My favourite 'academic' robots are my word processor (which checks all my spelling for me), my iPhone (which reminds me about all my meetings, classes, exam dates, etc.), my GOOGLE reader (which aggregates all the blogs I follow) and TWEETDECK (which helps me manage, to some extent, the flow of TWEETS I follow), Mark Davies' corpus interface to COCA and REFWORKS (which takes care of all the APA citation conventions and even builds my in-text references and reference list for me).

I encourage my students to use robots like I do -- to remind me when I make mistakes, to eliminate redundant or boring tasks, to help me organize my thoughts, to help me manage my time, and to free my mind to concentrate on more creative productive tasks.  Some teachers think that this is somehow cheating, and students should use pen and paper to write, use index cards to do research, use a printed dictionary and make mind maps on a piece of paper.  However, asking students to use such methods is a bit like asking my colleagues to wash their clothes by can be done, but why if a machine can do it instead? And often do it better, quicker, and more efficiently?

One of the things I need to do is quickly read and summarize texts, since I don't have too much time to keep up with the ever increasing volume of reading I need to do.  I discovered a robot that will help me identify the key passages in a text, which is a great help. It lives at My robot doesn't always identify all the key ideas, but I can train it to help me reflect on what I think is a good summary.  I can't help but think that this robot would be useful for my students, as they can practice their summarizing skills and then compare their efforts to their auto-summary bot slave, and reflect on the differences and similarities.  I produced a short video to explain the process.  Let me know what you think about my bot -- and if you have found any other similar 'robots' that help with summarizing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Innovative Educator: 14 interesting facts about text messaging

Further to the post and discussion about sexting,this post in The Innovative Educator: 14 interesting facts about text messaging: includes a great infographic that illustrates how mobile devices are changing the way we interact and communicate.

In particular, the statistics about when people feel that sending an SMS is acceptable are quite thought-provoking.  Who sends SMS messages in the bathroom??  Or in bed?? ;)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Shadowing day program for Pre-service ELT trainees

Thanks to Besime Erkmen for sharing her research into the idea of a shadowing project at METU NCC in the METU Workshop Festival.
Besime joined the METU NCC TEFL Program in 2010. She has wide-ranging experience of teaching English as a foreign language, and of teacher training. Her research is in the area of teacher training and education. Besime's research is about the experiences of TEFL student-teachers on a one-day teacher-shadowing programme at the School of Foreign Languages, METU NCC. Data from student-teachers reflective writing and survey responses reveals that this experience raises students’ awareness not only about what teaching entails, but also how teachers spend a whole day at the workplace.  Here is a copy of the presentation Besime shared with us at the Workshop Festival on 18 September, 2012.


If you want more background to Besime's research, the findings of which will appear as a chapter in a book about innovations in pre-service teacher education, edited by Steve Mann and Julian Edge, please read on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The ABCs of PLNs and SM for PPD

For those of you who weren't able to attend the METU NCC SFL Workshop Festival, here is the PREZI on personal learning networks  that Nevin Adalar and Steve Neufeld used in their workshop.  Remember that the Workshop Festival has a Facebook page at and the hashtag for TWEETs is #METUFEST.  In fact, there is no reason why the festival of sharing ideas and experiences need be restricted to one day a year...feel free to use the Facebook group and the hashtag to share ideas and experiences throughout the year. 

Thanks to those who participated in the workshop and shared three adjectives which they felt applied to the use of social media in developing personal learning networks.  The word cloud below shows the list of adjectives, with the more common adjectives appearing larger than the others.  A diverse collection of adjectives that clearly shows that personal learning networks evoke a wide range of responses.  

Panoramas on smart phones - a novel twist on a classic writing prompt?

I am fairly new to smartphones and 'APPs', but it seems that there is an APP out there for almost anything you can imagine.  I just got moved to a different office, so I wanted to take a picture of my new surroundings.  A standard picture just didn't seem to do the office justice, so I thought it would be nice to create a panorama using my iPhone camera.  I went to the APP store and search for "panorama" and found a free one that was published by MicroSoft, so I thought I would give it a try.

Here is the result of my first attempt...the software will attempt to 'stitch' the photos together as best it can--it might take a bit of practice to get the best 'seamless' panorama, but this gives an idea of the result.  You can save this as an image, or publish to the 'cloud' where it can be viewed interactively.  Of course, you can embed it as well, as I've done below:

So, welcome to my office!

Two ideas came to is that this tool might be something that we could use with students as a prompt for writing or speaking.  They could be asked to produce a panorama of 'my room' or 'my favourite place', etc., then embed it in their blog and write a descriptive essay.  If they were to bring their panorama to class on their smartphones, then they could work with a peer and give a 'guided tour'.

The second idea is to make a panorama of our classrooms.  It is quite difficult to find pictures of 'real' classrooms, and I am curious to see what classroom environments different colleagues in different parts of the world end up teaching in.  If anyone is interested in sharing a view on their classroom environment, join the FaceBook group at to share pictures or panoramas.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Attitudes to use of L1 and translation in second language teaching and learning

Can translation play a useful role in learning and teaching a second language? This was a topic of one of our METU SFL TDU webside reflections last year.  We had a fruitful discussion, so it is particularly relevant to come across some very recent research by Dr Michael Druce,  an MA TESOL student at the University of Westminster, who reports on the findings of his recent research in the 16 July 2012 (issue 7) of Liason at  The PDF below includes Druce's article only, separate from the entire issue.

In case you have trouble viewing the PDF above, read on for a copy of the text from Druce's article.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Personal Learning Networks - reflections of a teacher in training

In today's world, we often use technological devices. Especially, computers take part in our lives on a large scale. We use computers for information and communication. One of the huge conversation tools is TWITTER.

I want to talk about TWITTER, how it is used and its advantages for our learning. TWITTER is a microblog; its post size is short like an SMS message Moreover, it is accessible on the web and on the mobile phone, so it is very useful. We can get lots of information about everything and we can share our information, ideas or thoughts through TWITTER. We can follow people, so we can see their ideas and their conversations to other people. Also we can share our thoughts and we can join conversations.

Moreover, we can use all these things for language learning. First, students can read public TWITTER conversations by following media organizations or individual authors. They can read different authors’ ideas, conversations via the TWITTER and they can follow news. So, they improve their information and ideas about anything. They can follow some people who have good experience and knowledge in their subject. I think this is very useful for them, so they can expand their world view.

Second, students can improve their analyzing and summarizing skills. They can write tweets about their subjects. They can give rapid responses. They focus on main events or themes about subject, so their summarizing and analyzing ability can improve. This also improves their writing skills. They can learn to summarize, to write their ideas, so they are encouraged to write more.

Last, I want to talk about connecting with students beyond the class. It is a very important and useful issue about TWITTER for learning language, because learning does not just mean to learn in class. Especially, learning language is very hard and depends on more practise. So, students should practise out of the class. TWITTER can provide this practise. Students can share their class conversations or activities; they can talk to their classmates or their teachers through TWITTER. They can share their information and ideas. It is very useful and very enjoyable for them. Thus, they also learn out of the class.

Damla Terzi - METU NCC TEFL Programme graduate 
Because of these reasons, I want to use TWITTER in my training in the future. At the beginning, I made a prejudgment about TWITTER. I thought it was hard to use, but then I began to use TWITTER and I saw it was very practical and useful. Now, I use TWITTER as a student for sharing information and getting information. I follow my teacher and my classmates. If I didn't use TWITTER I would fall behind in everything. Thus, in the future, I will use TWITTER as a teacher and I will suggest to my students to use TWITTER.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are we in the post-communicative teaching era?

Here are two very short responses to the question of whether we are in the post-communicative teaching era.

Rod Bolitho's response:

Scott Thornbury's response:
When you reflect on your day-to-day teaching, do you feel that you are in the 'post-methods' era of teaching that Bolitho refers to?  Do you think that our syllabus really allows us to be 'communicative' in teaching?  At the end of the day, do you empathize with Thornbury and feel that our syllabus and focus on testing affects our ability to realize the true meaning of communicative practice?

As always, comments can be left without needing to log in, and can be left anonymously.  You will have to prove you are a human being by passing the CAPTCHA test. :)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The lighter side of teaching....

We sometimes get too serious or academic about teacher development and forget about the 'fun' we have in teaching.  Let's listen to Rod Bolitho's response to one of the most amusing teaching experiences he's had.

What about you?  What amusing experiences have you had in teaching? Share the lighter side of teaching by adding a comment below.  No registration is needed and you can be anonymous if you want.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Abuse, misuse and no use...where are we heading with mobile technology?

The world is moving so quickly with regard to the abuse and misuse of technology, it makes my head spin.

My wife is in Canada visiting family, so I have taken a deep breath, scraped together some shekels and made the leap into the unknown and asked her to bring back an iPhone 4s--relatively state of the art technology to replace my 'ancient' and 'creaking' five-year-old Nokia 6300. (Where do old phones go to die, I wonder. If you know what I should do with my obsolete cell phone, please advise.)

One of the main reasons for taking this step is that I have noticed so many of my students clutching, stroking and fondling their beloved smart phones, that I thought I had better become at least partially au fait with the technology to keep in touch with the world that they are growing up in. I say this as a total digital immigrant when it comes to mobile technology. How sophisticated my students are in the use of the technology, other than playing games, taking pictures and sending minute-by-minute FACEBOOK updates, I'm not really sure.

They seem 'tech-savvy', but how aware are they of the risks, the pitfalls and the safety issues? At least my students are adults studying at university and can, I hope, make informed decisions about the use, misuse and abuse of their mobile devices. So, I can struggle to keep pace and try to learn to be 'tech-comfy' with this brave new world of mobile devices, assuming that my students know how to look after themselves.

However, my colleagues who teach young learners face a much more serious challenge. Many are still struggling with 'e-safety' on computers, but most are managing as best they can. However, no sooner than we breathe a sigh of relief at having installed NetNannies and sophisticated web site blockers and filters on all the computers at school, then in waltzes an eight-year-old with a 3G smart phone, provided by mom and pop to 'keep in touch'.

The amazing technology aside, the actual use of mobile devices in the immature and unwitting hands of an adolescent brings on a whole new range of issues hitherto unknown. I've been aware of the term 'sexting' for some time, but I thought it would be a passing fad. Seems I was wrong. See for a fairly chilling account of what adolescents do with their smart phones in the UK.

 An 2009 article in the BBC cited that "the charity Beatbullying found that 38% of 11-18 year-olds had received a sexually explicit or upsetting text or email."  What is even more sobering, is listening to these 'digital-savvy' offspring of the 'digital native' generation reveal their near total ignorance of responsible use of these devices, and the rather obvious ramifications of their actions of misuse or abuse.  You may need to pause and replay if you are not familiar with the way English is (mis)spoken in England, innit?

If you are under the age of 25, I would love to hear your advice to  teachers about what they should be doing to help the young learners become responsible and secure in their use of emerging mobile technologies.

  • Was 'sexting' an issue in your high school years?
  • Do young people today really feel that cyberbullying is an important issue?
  • Can smart phones move beyond just being a toy or a 'plaything' and become a serious piece of technology for learning?
  • If teachers can't keep pace, is there a role for a mentor, an older student, who can help guide younger counterparts in how to use and not abuse the technology of the day?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bye Bye AWL, Hello COCA academic lexis...

Just got an update from Mark Davies on new developments at COCA via the user list server.  Some profound changes in the way we view academic English are in the air.

In fact, the approach Davies & Co. have taken in defining 'academic lexis' makes a good deal more sense than the decades old approach embodied by Coxhead's research into the AWL, which Tom Cobb pointed out recently is basically an artifact of the GSL.  Billuroğlu and yours truly, in fact, picked up on this back in 2001 when we embarked on the 'Bare Naked Lexis' project.  However, Davies' new approach is much more dynamic that what has gone on before, and not at all linked to any preconceived notions of what academic vocabulary is, or the arbitrary categorization of words into families, as in Nation's work on 'familizing' the first 20,000 word families in the British National Corpus.

The new  interface at for academic English looks great, as it will let you input entire articles (no 1,000 word limit) and it will produce customized word lists based on the analysis.  Pretty amazing long will this remain free is my question...I hope forever!

Here is a copy of the message I just got FYI.


If you are interested in academic English – for teaching or learning – there are two new, free corpus-based resources that might be of interest to you. These are based on the 110 million words of academic texts in the Corpus of Contemporary American English [COCA] (85 million words in academic journals and 25 million words in more academically-oriented magazine articles).

1. The new site contains free COCA-based academic wordlists. There are important differences between these lists and the Academic Word List created by Coxhead (2000), and we believe that the lists that these new lists provide better coverage of academic English and that they have a format that better enhances learning and teaching. The three sets of word lists, which have been created in conjunction with Prof. Dee Gardner of BYU, are:

-- Word families (SAMPLE): The top 1000 word families of academic English (with nearly 3000 words total). Unlike the traditional Academic Word List, ours contain separate entries for different parts of speech, so you know, for example, whether abstract is used more as a noun, verb, or adjective. The words are also color-coded to let you know whether the word is a "general" academic word, or whether it is a more "technical" one that occurs in just a few sub-genres. And most importantly, the entries are listed in order of frequency, to help you focus more on words that you will actually see in the real world -- rather than just having a mass of unorganized words in each word family.

-- General “core” academic English (SAMPLE): The top 3500 words (lemmas) in COCA Academic (listed individually, rather than by word family)

-- Technical / sub-genre lists (SAMPLE): The top 1000 words in each of the nine academic sub-genres (Business, Law, Medicine, Science, Humanities, etc)

2. We have created a new interface at for just academic English. It has the same features as the general WordAndPhrase site, but all of the data is based strictly on the 110 million words of academic English in COCA.

-- Frequency listing: Browse through these lists (including word families) to see detailed information (all on one screen, with extensive links between resources): definition, frequency by academic sub-genre (e.g. Medicine, Business, Humanities), synonyms, and collocates and concordance lines (based just on academic English).

-- Input texts: As with the general interface, you can input an entire text (such as a journal article, or an academic paper that you have written) and it will give you detailed information about the words and phrases in the text. You can download word lists based on your text, and you can click on phrases in your text to see related phrases from COCA.

(By the way, if you previously had trouble accessing WordAndPhrase with your account, please try again; we’ve fixed a few bugs.)

I hope that these two new corpus-based resources on academic English will be of interest and value to you for teaching, learning, and research.


Mark Davies
Brigham Young University

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I've looked at [word] clouds from both sides now..

In homage to Joni Mitchell, I have been looking at [word] clouds from a lot of different perspectives.  And somehow I think that they can provide variety in presenting aspects of a text, especially for pre-reading (guess what the text is about) and post-reading activities (write a summary of the text using these words as prompts).  My default word cloud generator is WORDLE at  There are a few others tools, like and that have neat interactive features and filters, but right now I'm thinking about the graphic value only.

A few years ago, I came across another site that produced word clouds in shapes.  However, it wasn't very sophisticated at the time, and you could only use a few pre-defined shapes.  A colleague, Nukte Durhan, discovered WORDLE and was asking me some questions about it, which prompted me to revisit

Below is an example of a TAGXEDO word cloud I created from a reading in ENGL102 about Leadership and Atatürk.

  • I found a silhouette of Atatürk and uploaded it to the site.  
  • I then put in the text, submitted it and played around with the settings (black on white for printing, and maximum 100 words).  
  • Notice that it is interactive...if you put your mouse on the words they are highlighted.
  • I saved the image in the public gallery:  see -- you can embed it or print it as well.  

Aside from teaching, a neat way to create artwork for T-shirts or posters. :)

A bit of 'fluff' perhaps, but this would be a good way to get students to pick out keywords from a text.  The interaction is nice, as you can get students to come to the computer and highlight the words they want.  It only takes a few minutes to create, so it would be worth the effort to get students interested in a reading from the very beginning.

Here is the 'interactive' TAGXEDO' - you may need to install Microsoft 'Silverlight' to view this in your browser.

Just in case you don't have Sliverlight installed, here is a JPEG to give you a non-interactive idea:

The original silhouette:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Activity

Here's a nice website where you and your students can create Valentine's Day e-cards. This can be a nice end-of-lesson activity

Monday, February 13, 2012

One click corpora heaven....

Below is a copy of a message circulated to users of Mark Davies' CORPORA sites.  This was a feature that I mentioned last month, when describing the new site.  True to his word, the 'upcoming' feature is now live.

Here is a really quick SCREENRcast to introduce the nuts and bolts of the feature.  At the time of writing, the feature still has some bugs.  Please have some patience as the bugs are ironed out.  It will be well worth it!

God bless you Mr Davies!


We've added a new feature at -- the alternative interface for COCA. You can now input an entire text -- maybe a newspaper article that you've copied from a website, or something you've written -- and it will then give you detailed information about the words and phrases in the text. There's now no need to copy and paste individual words and phrases into the regular COCA interface -- just work seamlessly from your original text.

First, it will highlight all of the medium and lower-frequency words in your text (based on frequency data from COCA), and create lists of these words that you can use offline. This frequency data can help language learners focus on new words, and it can allow you to see "what the text is about" (i.e. text-specific words). You can also have it show you the "academic" words in your text (again, based on COCA data).

Second, you can click on any word in your text to get detailed information about the word (all on one screen) -- its overall frequency in COCA, its frequency in each genre (spoken, fiction, magazine, newspaper, and academic), the 20-30 most frequent collocates (nearby words), up to 200 sample concordance lines, synonyms, and related words from WordNet. There's no need to go consult other dictionaries or thesauruses or online-resources -- it's all right there, with just one click for each and every word in your text.

Finally, you can also see detailed information about phrases in your text. Just click on a phrase in the text, and it will show you related phrases from COCA. For example, if you're writing a paper and have used the phrase potent argument, you could click on that phrase and then have it suggest related phrases based on COCA data -- in this case, where there is a synonym of potent followed by argument. For example, it would list strong / persuasive / convincing argument (all of which are more common in COCA). It will show you the frequency of each phrase in COCA and you can click on any of these to see them in context in the corpus. In this way, it serves as a sort of "grammatical thesaurus" to find just the right phrase in English.

All of this is now available at, along with the features that were there before, including the ability to browse through and search a huge frequency dictionary of English and see detailed information about any word. If you are interested in English words and phrases, their meaning, their frequency, and their distribution in different genres, we believe that this will be an exciting new resource. And as with all of our corpora, it is available for free.


Mark Davies
Brigham Young University

Instructors’ Attitudes towards Pronunciation Teaching

by Meral Çınar

As part of my EFL311 course work for Asst. Prof. Dr. A.Cendel Karaman in the METU.NCC Teaching English as a Foreign Language programme, I explored the attitudes of  language instructors  towards  teaching pronunciation  as well as the pronunciation teaching  techniques  they prefer to use  in their instruction  in an English preparatory school in North Cyprus.

The study

In my study the following questions were investigated with regard to university preparatory school English language instructors:

  1. What are their attitudes of towards teaching pronunciation? 
  2. What are the techniques they use in their instruction? 

To achieve the purpose of the study, a questionnaire, which contained six multiple
choice-types of questions  and some open ended questions, was prepared to elicit the attitudes and preferences of the instructors. (If you would like a copy of the questions, please leave a comment below.)

  1. Twenty instructors were selected by using convenience sampling. 
  2. All the respondents who participated in the survey were experienced instructors and non-native speakers of English. 

The major outcomes of this study are:

  • Four out of five instructors do not work on pronunciation as a separate and distinct language skill, but instead highlight pronunciation issues that pop up during the flow of the lesson. 
    • The lack of time was declared as a problem in  teaching pronunciation  by 44% of the participants. 
    • Three out of five instructors detect students' wrong pronunciation in class and correct them immediately. 
  • As for the material used in teaching pronunciation, it was found that that  three out of five instructors used a particular textbook  as a material in  teaching pronunciation (most probably the course textbook itself). 
    • Only  39% of them used other resources, mainly audio-video materials. 
    • About 72% of the participants use imitation of sounds and repetition of drills  as  an activity in  teaching pronunciation. 
  • Finally, for the last question  four out of five instructors stated that they thought the time they allocated to work on pronunciation was insufficient.

From the above results, it can be seen that four of out five of the teachers do not work on
pronunciation as a separate and distinct language skill.
  • This shows that pronunciation teaching is not one of the focus areas in the preparatory school surveyed. 
  • If we recall that the main purpose of the preparatory school is to bring the students to the level where they can follow the courses in their departments within a single year, then the lack of focus on pronunciation can be understood.
It is very interesting to see that the same ratio of four teachers out of five stated that they were not satisfied with the time they  allocated to teaching  pronunciation.

  • This suggests that the instructors think that pronunciation teaching needs more emphasis.

Techniques used in teaching pronunciation

Obviously, the finding that the vast majority of the instructors do not workon pronunciation as a separate and distinct language skill seems to make most of the questions related to the techniques used in teaching pronunciation  irrelevant.  But still, some information about a couple of issues can still be illuminating. For example, we  see that when instructors work on pronunciation, they tend to follow traditional tendencies in terms of activity type and material. For instance:
  • 72% of teachers use imitation of sounds
  • 61% of them use text books. 

Moreover, it can be understood that when the instructors work on pronunciation, three out of five apply  immediate error correction techniques. Nevertheless, a tendency to use video and audio materials is also seen in one out of five instructors.


In my opinion and experience as a language learner, pronunciation teaching should indeed receive more focus because poor pronunciation is a problem that seriously limits the communication abilities of the students.
  • This also negatively affects their academic and professional success. 
  • A reasonably good pronunciation will really make the user of the  language more confident and encourage him/her to communicate more.

The fact that all of the participants stated that they did work on pronunciation in one way or another, albeit not as a separate and distinct skill focus, suggests that if necessary material and time is provided to the participants, much better results can be obtained with a relatively small effort. However, this is an issue that needs further investigation.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Descriptive Video: Practiced by Beginner Level Prep Students at METU NCC

Hi all,

I would like to talk about a video project I've recently assigned my students. Steve has already mentioned it before and I made a brief comment on it, but I thought I should give it more space with this post.
  • I first gave them a video on how to create fun videos narrating an event. Here it is:
  • I also gave them a link to a sample video made by Steve's students earlier to give them an idea of the output.
  • I kept it voluntary, but with a promise of extra PG. I also assigned the topics and key language points to give them a frame of reference to move on. Below are the results.
Video 1
  • They created a video on a dialogue taking place between a newcomer and a senior student on METU NCC, the latter introducing the campus to the other. 
  • They added recorded dialogue on the video as well as background music. 
  • They also used some visual effects to pronounce the characters (made of cardboard).

Video 2
  • They made a video showing a dialogue between a customer (Faruk, a student from the class) and a travel agent. 
  • The technique is very similar to that of the sample video mentioned above; quick changes of cards and cut up characters as the dialogue moves on. 
  • They were very well prepared and organized as the video runs very smoothly.

  • This one is on the uses of present perfect simple and present perfect continuous tenses. 
  • What they did was quite different from the other ones. Since the group has an amateur photographer and an amateur actress in it, they preferred to make a video consisting of mute slides with subtitles. They handed in the subtitles in a file with an .srt extension.

What I did with the videos:

I played them in class accompanied by tasks for the students as they watched them.

  • What I could have done is to give them to opportunity to prepare the tasks on their own, but I did not have enough time to do so.
  • The first two tasks (for the first two videos) consisted of comprehension questions.

However, the task for the last video had three steps:

  1. Watch the video (without subtitles, with background music) and decide on a possible conversation taking place between these people.
  2. (To Volunteers) Read your dialogues as the video runs. Try to improvise if the dialogue needs adaptation.
  3. Answer comprehension questions related to the video.

What I observed:

The videos had positive feedback from the students as well as my colleagues. I also heard Steve showed them at the ELT department and they made positive comments, especially for the last video on perfect tenses, finding it open to exploitation, exntension and adaptation and allowing for improvisation, role-play and dialogue building activities.

I just thought it is worth mentioning. Hope the videos could be of use to you as well.

Steve, again, thanks a lot for the suggestion.

PS: The language used in the videos has mistakes as I preferred not to intervene in the process. Editing the dialogue could be another idea as an extension activity.

Reinventing the teacher - what five years of technology has done to change the face of teaching

Ever feel like you are spinning your wheels and can never catch up on all the new technology?  Not suprising when you consider the list of skills that Nik Peachey has identified as being part of the 'tool kit' of a 21st EFL teacher.
  • As Peachey points out, most of these skills were actually not around five years ago, so any teacher who has been working for five years or more won't have had any exposure to them in their pre-service teacher training.  
  • At METU.NCC, we do cover many of the issues in the CTE319 course, but I haven't done a survey of the TEFL programme graduates who are currently working as teachers to see if they have been able to apply any of the skills in day-to-day practice.
  • However, if you are like me, then any skills you have developed have been as a result of individual initiative and curiousity. Those of us who have been teaching more than five years are fortunate in having  younger colleagues who are tolerant of us in the 'digital immigrant' generation, and help us become more tech-savvy.  In return, we can share our experience in traditional teaching, so that technology use and practical experience can be woven together for a richer educational experience.  
  • Likewise, the Teacher Development Unit at METU.NCC has been keen on promoting a community of practice through this blog, workshops and more.  However, like any 'never ending story', it seems that every five years we will have to reinvent ourselves as teachers, which on the positive side of things means that our jobs will certainly never be boring. 
Worth doing the survey below just to get a flavour of the technological influences on teaching that have evolved over the last five years, and what you think are skills that should be in the 21st Century teacher's bag of tricks.

Teachers' digital skills tick list

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

BLOGGER SCRIBE - next generation corpus-assisted language production

GOOGLE scribe started out in the famous GOOGLELABS site, where all things GOOGLE first appear and then either wither and die, or go on to make it big in the real world.  See Kuntal Loya's blog post for details about SCRIBE.

It was developed to encourage people to write more blog posts, and was developed for people who use English as their first language.  Here is a screenshot showing how GOOGLE SCRIBE works in as it tries to assist us as we write.

Why does GOOGLE want people to write more, you may ask.  Well, GOOGLE doesn't generate much of its own content.  YouTube is a classic example of this.  Instead, it relies on us to create the content which then enables GOOGLE to drive their advertising services and make billions of dollars.  User-generated content seems a nice idea, but they found that people tend to have 'writer's block' when it comes to creating regular blog posts, so SCRIBE was designed to overcome this.  It checks what you write against a corpus of billions of words of English, and based on the words you have already typed, it will suggest some likely words to follow.

As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I thought that this tool might be very handy indeed for my students.  So, I asked a few to try it out, and their feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  They all reported that it allowed them to write more fluently as they didn't have to constantly struggle to find the right words to express their ideas.  I found that their writing was much more coherent, and also much more accurate, especially with regard to collocations, appropriate chunks, etc.  Here is a very brief introduction to the tool:

If you use this with your students, I'd love to hear about your experiences, reservations and ideas for developing a corpus-assisted language production pedagogy based on tools like SCRIBE in, and

Notice that these tools are not foolproof.  In the video above, it allowed me to type "In England and popular meal.." instead of "In England a popular meal..."  So, it does require a reasonable knowledge of English to be used effectively.  As a tool to teach writing, it could be a powerful way to guide students in language production that up until now has been unprecedented. It's a bit like having an English teacher hovering over your shoulder and whispering suggestions as you type...but this English teacher can be turned off or on at will, and is available 24/7/365, GOOGLE willing. :)