The Benefits of Keeping a Teaching Journal

I have been keeping a journal off and on since I was kid because, as everyone knows, sometimes you just need to talk to someone who isn't going to talk back. You can find famous examples and samples here and here.

Classroom Management, Google Drive, Monitoring, PLN, Writing, Evernote, Teaching Journal, Teaching Diary
I wish my handwriting were that nice.

Nowadays, I keep a very specific type of journal. In it, I write about how what happens inside and outside the classroom affects my students and how I and my students interact with the activities, materials, and technology I/we select. The effects of keeping this journal have been profound which is in line with research:

Learning to Write Like a Reader: Teaching Students How to Edit and Do Peer-Review

Peer review is an important an beneficial step in the writing process if done effectively. The question then becomes how can you do it effectively? Today I'll provide three examples: Checklists, Write Like a Reader and Paramedic Editing.


Why should you provide students with a checklist? First, checklists identify the key ideas/components/aspects that should be in a students writing. Second, providing students with explicit instruction increases the likelihood of them remaining on task. Basically, if you want students to be on task, make sure they know what the task is and how to do it. 1

Putting it in Order: IELTS Writing Task 1 (Describing a Process)

Teaching IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 can be challenging. At least with Task 2 candidates can give their opinion but when it comes to Task 1 it's "Just the facts, ma'am." Luckily for both students and teachers, lessons don't have to be dry just because the material is.

I have used the lesson plan below several times to teach process writing but with a few tweaks it can be used to teach any genre of writing because, as
Miyamoto Musashi said,"if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything."


Before Class:

1. Make enough copies of the picture cards1

EAP, IELTS, Writing, Academic Writing
Image via IELTS Buddy

and sentence strips 

EAP, IELTS, Writing, Academic Writing

so that each pair/small group of students can have their own set.

2. Cut up the picture cards and cut the sample essay into strips.

In Class: 

The World is Your Staffroom: Using the Internet for Professional Development Part 1 - Seminars and Webinars

If you work at a large institution, you have access to experienced teachers, in-house workshops, seminars and (possibly) travel assistance for presenting at, or possibly, attending conferences. Additionally, your line manager has probably assigned you a mentor who can answer the day-to-day questions like "What happens if I need a new CD?" as well as fill you in on the "culture of the school" or the "unwritten rules."

Yep, if you work at a school with a growth mindset, you will always be reminded that a teacher is a learner first and foremost and, therefore, will always be challenged to improve not only their content knowledge but also their pedagogy. In this type of school, in-house professional development workshops will be mandatory and there will be competition to see who can generate the highest turn-out for workshops.

Edtech, Writing, Youtube, TOEFL iBT, IELTS, Classroom Management, PLN, CPD, PD, Professional Development, CELTA, DELTA, TESOL, EFL
Do you do things because that is how they have always been done?
But what if you don't work in "that" school? What if you work in a school that has a fixed mindset, one that believes that if you have a BA/BS in anything and a CELTA or TESOL Cert then you know "enough?" What if you are THE English teacher at your school? Well, in that case, you can either:
  1. choose to be the valedictorian of summer school (aka "the biggest fish in a small pond") or  
  2. embrace the web and create your own personal learning network (PLN). 
Since you're reading this post, you're in group 2. The problem with the web isn't the lack of information, it is actually the opposite: known as The Paradox of Choice, the number of options is so overwhelming that instead of doing something, people feel overwhelmed, don't know where to begin and ultimately do nothing. The goal of these posts is, if you're a new teacher, to point you in the direction of some resources that could REALLY help your teaching. If you're a more experienced teacher, maybe you'll come across some sites that will help you fill in some of the holes in your game or get you to rethink something you've been doing. Additionally, please feel free to post your favorite sites in the comments section below but beware, I have final say on what gets posted. Translation: if it's off topic, or off color, it gets deleted. Without further ado, lets begin.

Using Reading Races in EAP/Test Prep Classes

What's the first image that comes to mind when you hear "Academic Reading?" Personally, I have flashbacks from my undergrad days lugging around the 1,000 page plus Norton Anthology of English Literature.

When I ask my students, they typically use words like "boring, business" and/or "scientific" to describe what they have to read in their IEP/Test-Prep classes.

That the material they have to read is uninteresting or even boring doesn't really surprise me: honestly, who really wants to read academic texts?

Does it really have to be like this?

However, just because the material is boring, it doesn't mean the class has to be. Instead of just telling students to read and answer a list of questions, how about we make it a little more interactive, social, competitive and (gasp) fun?

Teaching Speaking for the TOEFL iBT with Technology

How do you prepare people to speak to a computer? Sure, our students are used to talking through a machine

CALL, EAP, Edtech, M-Learning, Monitoring, Speaking Skills, TOEFL iBT, Vocaroo, Google Drive,
Seriously, do any of your students not have a cell phone? 
but how many of them are used to talking to a machine?

CALL, EAP, Edtech, M-Learning, Monitoring, Speaking Skills, TOEFL iBT, Vocaroo, Google Drive,
Hello? Is anyone listening?
Well, needless to say, the only way to get students used to speaking to a machine is to have them speak to a machine. But how?

Setting the Table for Success: The Relationship Between Classroom Arrangement and Classroom Management

During my CELTA, I did two writing skills lessons. The first was a disaster: every time I walked in front of a student they would cover what they were writing. Why didn't I just walk behind them? Well, the room was arranged like this:

Horseshoe Arrangement

traditional arrangement, Writing, Warm-up Writing, u shaped desk arrangement, horseshoe desk arrangement, classroom management, feedback, monitoring, cluster arrangement, ELT, EFL, ESL, TEFL, ELL
Horseshoe Arrangement
so that option was off the table. Needless to say, if you conduct a writing class and can't give any feedback the lesson is a failure. However, as Henry Ford said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing."

"Red Light! Green Light!" Teaching Students How to Give Peer-Feedback During Speaking Activities

Teaching speaking sounds easy until you actually try it. Some of the myriad issues that inevitably pop up are:


Which dialect should the instructor teach? Most people will instinctively say "their own" but what if an American teacher is teaching a room full of students preparing to study in the UK? Should the American instructor really teach "sidewalk" instead of "footpath?" How about "crosswalk" instead of "zebra crossing?"


Of course you want your students to use "real English," but how do you teach slang? Similar to dialect, whose slang do you teach? What about cursing?

EAP, IELTS, Listening, Speaking Skills, TOEFL iBT, Monitoring
Should I send myself to the principal's office?

Reading with a Purpose: Teaching Skimming and Scanning

The first time I can remember telling a class skimming and scanning were important was about seven years ago. I was teaching TOEFL iBT prep in Hanoi, Vietnam and was trying to explain just how important it was for the students to be able to get the "gist" of what they reading (skimming) or find key words/details (scanning) in a passage. If I remember right, I even held up the sheet below in an attempt to "prove" I was right.

TOEFL iBT, Reading Skills, Speaking Skills, Writing Skills, EAP, IELTS, TOEIC
Click here to download.

Fast forward to last semester. I was teaching English 101 at University of Arizona and, as I had so many times before, was telling the students to "not read every word - scan for the main idea." And then one of my students did something that had never happened before: she asked "How?"

Using Picasa to Create Class Photo Sheets

If you've checked out my CV, you'll have noticed that I have taught in a lot of different settings. For example, I taught at a language school a few years back that had young learner classes on the weekends. The classes were 90 minutes long, met on either Saturday or Sunday, and had between 15-18 students in a class. Most of the teachers taught four classes a day so they'd end up having six contact hours and seeing between 60-72 kids. Not that big a deal, right?

Well the problem came in the middle of the semester when you had to do parent-teacher conferences. Now since the parents didn't (usually) speak English and the teachers didn't (usually) speak Vietnamese, there was always a local staff-member there to translate. Again, no big deal, right?

But what if you don't know who the parent's child is? That's right, you've been teaching the same class for the past three months and you don't have any clue who this parent, who is paying some exorbitant  amount of tuition, is referring to. How is that possible? Like I said before, you have 70 kids you see once a week on top of all the students you teach during the week. Needless to say, it's easy to get confused. 

classroom management, edtech, picasa
"Your child is ... Ummmm. Who's your child again?"

So, rather than recite banal platitudes to parents about their mystery child, what can you do? Well, make collages! 

Picasa, edtech, classroom management
Picasa is freeware that allows you to edit photos on your computer. It is available for Windows, Mac and (if you're willing to tinker around a little bit) Linux.

After you download and install Picasa, the real fun starts. and Youtube: Watching videos with a purpose

I love using videos in the classroom: they are engaging, multi-sensory and provide quasi-authentic language. The question of course is what do you have students do while they're watching the videos? Well, one tool I've come across recently is is a web app that allows users to take notes of online videos (YoutubeKhan AcademyCourseraUdacity) and then store and share their notes using either Evernote or  Google Drive. Why would you want to use this site?

  • Ease of collection - Instead of carrying paper copies, you just have students "share" their work with you (more on that later).
  • Tracking the process - If you are having students write essays on videos, it is a lot harder for them to plagiarize if you are tracking their work from the very beginning. 
  • Collaboration - Students can share their notes and ideas with each other nearly instantly.
  • Safe Keeping - Students "misplace" their paper notes all the time. Unless a student consciously deletes the file from their Google Drive account, their video notes aren't going anywhere.

So how do you use

1) Go to their website and press "Connect with Google Drive", video notes, CALL, edtech,

Google Drive and A match made in the clouds

It seems that no matter how hard you try students just don't ever seem to put in as much work outside of class as you would like them to; or, and this can be even more frustrating, students practice their language skills in highly ineffective ways (more on that in a future post). This fact leads to the following conundrum, how can you, as a language teacher, get students to work outside of class?

The answer is you can't - people are going to do what they are going to do. However, what teachers can do is try to make the work they assign as relevant and (gasp!) fun as possible.

It is in this spirit that I suggest the following activity given to me by Anthony Teacher. I haven't tried it yet but I have a good feeling about it.

The Start of Something

When should you start a new endeavor?

A) When the time is right?
B) When you know you are ready?
C) Sometime in the past when life was better?
D) Sometime in the future?

Needless to say, all four of the above answers are incorrect.

A) How would you ever truly know when the time time is right?
B) Similar to "A" but even harder to qualify; how do you know you can do something until you actually do it?
C) If the right time to do something was always in the past, we would never start anything new.
D) How many times has someone thought the right time would be later and yet, when it is later, the time still is right?

No, the best answer is almost always today. Today is the day we are in, the day we have some control over and the day the idea/feeling to create/begin is usually strongest. Besides, putting off what we hope or want to achieve today until later usually leads to regrets; i.e. missed chances and forgotten ideas.

It is in this spirit of carpe diem that I do now what I have told my students to do for the past decade: just start writing; make it better later.