IATEFL PronSIG Glasgow One Day Event

On Saturday I had the privilege of attending an IATEFL PronSIG conference in Glasgow. 

The name of the conference was “The Road to Pron-tegration” and its focus was on teaching and practicing pronunciation; which, to be honest is something that as a teacher I have always shied away from. I suppose the reason for that is two-fold. First, It was never something I learned in school; ever! When I learned Ancient Greek and Hebrew at University it was never mentioned. When I had learned Spanish, Ukrainian, Mandarin and Polish I never used it. So how was I supposed to teach with something I have never used myself and had always learned other languages without? The second reason I’ve been reluctant to use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) in my lessons is because as the product of both British and American culture and not being distinctly either one, I always feel like I’m not the best authority on modeling which sound is which. And while I am a native speaker, the sounds I use in my pronunciations are often a mix of British or American depending on what I’m talking about or how much thought I put into how I’m saying it. 

So my goal for this conference was to challenge myself to change that and to force myself to stop running away from something simply because it was something with which I was unfamiliar.

The sessions were really a mixed bag. Some were styled as presentations, some were workshops and some felt more like lectures. Each had their own merit and I was able to take something from each. However I felt the real learning took place outside the sessions in the discussions and interactions with some the other educators in attendance.

One of the presenters with whom I spoke the most was Marianne Jordan. She and I share a similarly “blurry” background when it comes to being able to answer the question: “Where are you from?”. The work she is doing with the IPA and the app she is developing was really inspiring and I couldn’t leave the conference without picking up a copy of her book “Phonetics for Learners of English Pronunciation“.

The Opening Plenary speaker in the morning, Robin Walker, gave an excellent presentation on the basics of teaching pronunciation and given his years of experience he was able to break down the key elements very well and gave us so many ideas and suggestions for ways of implementing pronunciation activities in the classroom.

The frustrating thing for me was the repeated feeling that there was so much that could have been said and discussed if only there was more time! I feel like this could have easily been a two-day conference and still not have delved as deep into all the facets of English language pronunciation and methods of implementing instruction in pronunciation techniques in the classroom.

While I can’t say that I know everything I need to know about pronunciation, (far from it!) I can say that I no longer have an excuse for not using it in the classroom. So watch this space as I experiment with ways of improving my instruction on pronunciation in my lessons.

Do you have any tips or methods you use in your EFL/ESL classroom? Do you find yourself in the same place I was before the conference? Leave a comment and let me know!

Mind Mapping My Way to Nanowrimo!

So over the past few months I have been experimenting with the use of mind mapping as a teaching tool.

I know many teachers who use it as a warm-up activity or even as a production task. But I’ve been curious wether it’s possible to create an entire lesson out of a mind map created by students. I’m developing a CPD training course that would help teachers to decrease their planning time and to increase student engagement and productivity by simply using mind mapping in the classroom.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, mind mapping involves taking a general topic or idea and then breaking it down into logical parts or sections that can be then broken down even further.

For example, here is a mind map I created with a class a few months ago on the topic of Social Issues.IMG_9029 2.JPGPlease ignore any spelling mistakes and reserve judgement on evaluating the validity of whether or not you believe these to be (or not be) social issues. My point is that this massive mind map was created by students, without any pre-teaching or scaffolding. After creating the mind map, I split students into groups and each group chose a topic they wanted to research and present. From there, for large portion of the lesson time, groups of students worked independently to research their topic and create short presentations. The final portion of the lesson was dedicated to each group giving a short presentation about their topic and fielding questions from the rest of the class. Now of course, one reason that it worked quite well in this instance was because they were already C1 level and higher and were able to talk quite fluently about this topic without much difficulty. For lower level students, more support would definitely be needed.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Last week, the unit topic for my B1 students was “Telling Stories” and considering that some of the other teachers and I are gearing up for Nanowrimo next month, it seemed like a good a time as any to get students thinking about the topic. So I decided to create a “Character Mind Map” that would build scaffolding that would allow my students to create their own character profiles.

Creating the mind map took almost 40 minutes but we finally ended up with this masterpiece:

IMG_3900.JPG It was a long process and I could tell the students were tiring of it towards the end. But what it allowed them to do was to have in front of them all the information they needed to create their own characters. By the end of the lesson these B1 students, who up till now had not been very thrilled with the idea of creating their own novel, were having a fantastic time telling me all about their characters. By structuring the lesson with this mind map, I was able to equip the students with everything they would need to succeed in producing character for their stories.

I have a lot more work and research to go as I work on developing my own training course for teachers to use mind mapping for their own topics and lessons. But I had to share this beautiful intersection of using mind mapping to present Nanowrimo to lower-intermediate students. For me at least, it felt like a break through.

If you have used mind mapping in your classroom or have any thoughts, I would love to hear from you in the comments!


Counting Stars

This week I was scheduled to conduct a Lecture for all the EFL students. I decided to give a lecture on LGBTQ+ History. It seemed like a great idea as I was planning it, but when the day came to give my first of 4 lectures I started to have doubts.

Would this be an appropriate lecture topic? Would the students have negative reactions or act out? Maybe students would complain or walk out? And honestly, was I even the best person to be giving the lecture? For over 2 weeks I had been planning and preparing this lecture; what if it all went wrong and I had made a big mistake?

When I started preparing the lecture weeks beforehand, I sat down and tried to think about how to present, in 80 minutes, an adequate history of LGBTQ+ history. I decided to break the presentation down to 6 main points. I started with Stonewall because while there have been people attracted to member of the same sex throughout history, it really wasn’t until stonewall that those people began to identify as one community and to stand up for their rights and push back against decades and even centuries of violence and persecution. From Stonewall I moved to the HIV/AIDS crisis that shook the gay community to its core and changed it forever. I felt it was important to highlight how damaging the AIDS virus was to the gay community not only mortally but also socially.  From there I moved to discuss straight allies and advocates who stepped up during the 80’s and 90’s to stand up for the gay community and to be a voice for those that most of the World didn’t want to listen to. From highlighting some of the many straight allies the gay community has had over the years I moved to a section I titled simply “legitimacy”. Here I highlighted the long journey that the World has taken to fully recognize the indelible human rights that all queer people should have. I covered as briefly as I could the steps of progress that mainly the UK and the US have taken over the last 40 years towards LGBTQ equality. It’s a road that is still being travelled and suffers from more steps backward than there should be, but we’re moving forward nonetheless. From there I discussed LGBTQ visibility and highlighted the many famous people and celebrities who have come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer over the past 30 years. Through the strength and courage of these people the World can see that we are all people; the gay community is not a “them” or “those people” but instead, “us”. And it’s because of the courage of those celebrities that many children and young people around the World won’t have to go to bed as I once did thinking that they are alone and there is something wrong with them. Finally, I brought it all down to what we all want: Equality; not to be treated different because of our race, color of our skin, gender, religion or sexual orientation. I explained that it’s a long road but it’s a goal that will only be achieved if each of them do what they can to ensure that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people in their lives feel safe, loved and accepted to be who they are.

A week before I was due to give the lecture I had found an amazing activity on the LGBT Resource Center page of the University of Southern California’s website called “Coming Out Stars”. As soon as I read the activity I knew that’s how I wanted to open my lecture. But when the time came, I started to think that for the straight students attending my lecture, they might think it’s stupid or pointless and for any LGBT students in my lecture, it might be triggering. Something told me it was the right thing to do and I just needed to take a leap of faith and trust that it would be alright.

It was amazing.

By the time I had finished my forth and final lecture I had presented LGBT+ History with around 400 students from all over the World. Throughout the week students came up to me in the halls and after my lessons to thank me for the lecture and they really enjoyed hearing about it. Instead of opening up the room for questions after my lecture I decided to give each student a notecard on which they could write down a question and hand it to me after the lecture. I received notes of questions and encouragement after each talk. Perhaps my favorite is one card that has no name, no information but only the words “Thank You”.

It was an amazing experience and I wanted to share it with all of you. If you would like an outline of my talk or would like to view my powerpoint presentation, you can contact me here: