Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Monday, 26 May 2014


My long time EFL teaching colleague (different school) and Scots freen (different region), Gordon Dobie (A West Coaster, but he canny help thon), shared with me an activity for the practice and production of REPORTED SPEECH with my students. He uses it himself, and his students claim it is the best thing they do all year.  I immediately wanted some of the action and he explained how it worked. So, I informed Brentson, my colleague, and we made a BLENDSPACE tutorial for the students and also we wanted to share with you all.  Of course, the tutorial is self explanatory, but I would like to break it down a bit more on this platform so that you can see it at a glance without moving away from here.


Get your students to think of their favorite song or album of all time (with young teens this can be in an instant for forever depending how fickle they are being.  So, give them a time limit of 5 minutes only.


Tell them to open their computers and go to www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk  to find their song or album they wish to read the reviews about.  There they will see on the left (as above pic shows) 1 - 5 star ratings from which the students can choose.  They should read the 5-Star review first so that they feel good about their own favorite matching someone else's opinion.


The considerations of EFL are part and parcel of our extensive planning, so vocabulary is tantemount to success and growth for the students. Monsieur Dobie is a huge (I don't mean his belly) proponent of extensive vocabulary instruction, and I strongly support him in this.  So, you will ask them to identify as many song/artist/album new examples of language about music itself.  It is surprising how many terms we take as granted being native speakers of the language.  Those items are highlighted in yellow above.
BTW, this is where ICT really comes in handy.  The students take a snip of the review from the website then convert the snip to a pdf or ebook page or insert it into a word document so they can highlight the text.
After they find the new vocabulary and record it for use later, they then find the opinions and lexical cues for use in the reported speech activity itself.  These are highlighted in torquoise or light blue above.


The students then read the one star review, which will undoubtedly keep them engaged, since the reviewer is nothing but negative of the students' favourite song or album.  You can see from the image that the process for vocabulary and opinions is exactly the same.


Now the students start to prepare for the final stage of the activity.  This involves GOOGLE DRIVE (of course), as we always like to get our students up to the board to report their own findings.  But before that, you give them reporting verbs suitable for written work.  Since we have instilled in them the use of SAY & TELL as the primary verbs in speech, it is important to also share with the students some more appropriate verbs for reporting comments in writing.  So, the list above, although not exhaustive, is a good enough size to get started.
The student reports to his/her friend who then checks for authenticity in the original review. They practice these before transferring them to their Google Drive ppp.


After the students have practised the single reported statements, and shared new-found "music" vocabulary with their friends, you will now have them write in paragraph form what they thought of their 1  & 5 star reviews/ers (like above).  I believe this is better than single response reported statements at this time, as they have done plenty during the rules and drilling stages. So, it makes it much more authentic to use the reported speech in a wee report/opinion piece for presenting to the class.  Point of note: there is absolutely no question that when you get students to write in paragraph length chunks there are far less grammar and syntax issues, compared to single statemenst out of context (but you knew that of course:-)

Here is a video of one student, Sinan, who allowed us to video tape his presentation. He is a student who embraces learning and loves to engage in everything we throw at him.  Below his video there are three snapshots of another student, Gözde, who probably has the strongest English in our 2013/14 group, overall.  She actually approaches her lessons with classic Turkish pragmatism, but the difference is she likes to complete everything by herself without cutting any corners; which is unusual for a 14-15 year old girl :-)

I would like to finish this lengthy post by saying thanks to Gordon Dobie for his heads up on the quality activity.  The fundementals are pretty much the same as Gordon's original, but by changing it to allow more ICT and grammar into the activity we have broadened it past Gordon's vocabulary and reading outcomes.  However, that is the way we do things in our program, and the kids have become used to it.  That does not mean it is better, but it is always good to do things that the students are used to; afterall, if you try to do too much in a different way, they simply rebel.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


"To the amazement of many an ageing foreign language teacher, the development of language is often very much misguided through careless and uninspiring teachers, syllabuses and methodologies." (Mearns. D., 2014 www.davidmearns.blogspot.com)

This sentence is an example of how easy it is for us as English speakers, writers and teachers to make the necessary changes to word roots when we are putting together sentences, paragraphs and essays.  In those seven examples highlighted we can see the roots as:

amaze   age    develop   guide   care   inspire    method

However, it is quite normal for us, as teachers, to forget this essential part of vocabulary building and language development.  We not only want to have the students practise using roots and their suffixes (also some prefixes), but even more importantly, we want them to identify that these components exist.  Here is an example from our student today commenting on a News Video Monday she presented this morning, and she clearly was not aware that changes have to be made when using different word forms:

So our student, Selin, inadvertently wrote down the noun forms of the root words instead of the necessary adjectives: SAD, SECURE & SAFE.  This is after months of reminding her of the verb "to be " + adjective rule and the "More + comparative" rule of adjectives. However, there is no guarantee of when any individual will respond to rules naturally, right?  So, no worries, we then reminded her of the fact and did this activity...


The students are given a vocabulary booklet (5 PAGES OF 10 WORDS, ON EACH) that has pages for them to identify and practise writing out the root words.


As the instructions convey the students have to CIRCLE the root and UNDERLINE the suffix.  Then they write out the root word on the line provided.


The students are then given one of the word roots and asked to make a sentence with two of the forms such as either: the adjective/noun or verb.  


In groups the students will be distributed cards.  These cards are laminated for longevity, and then cut for use in class.  They are given a mixture of ROOTS, SUFFIXES AND END-WORDS.  The students will distribute the cards evenly between the group members and then they will negotiate for the correct root + suffix + end-word.  Once they have tried their own piles, they then go to other groups for more negotiation.

The final part of the activity includes the students working with the cards and trying to place them onto their worksheets.  They will find them and then write them out as a group.  This will consolidate the activity and leave students with identification of the importance using ROOTS, SUFFIXES and NEW-WORD FORMS.

We tried this activity out and it was a success.  In particular the students walked away knowing that it is not just a case of translating any word they come across as a verb (a very bad habit in Turkish). 

The students worked in their groups to guess/recall work out the suffixes for the 12 root words they received beforehand.  They then had to write them onto the papers with the empty boxes.  This was finally followed with them choosing the FIVE sentences they felt most confident with and then they wrote them on the classboard. The images from this activity are below.  A great productive 40 minute lesson.

So, this will now be part of our syllabus, and in fact, we will introduce it much earlier in the year for the Hazırlık students 2014-2015.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Report that Scene: An ICT-Supported Activity for Reported Speech

As all of us are aware, being English language teachers, reported speech is one of the, if not the most, difficult skills for students to understand and master.  From changing the verb tense using the 'one-back' rule, the subject, as well as the expressions of time all in one sentence, it is a language structure that takes L2 learners years to use properly.  In fact, it typically requires learners to live in a native English speaking country to truly master reported speech.

For these reasons, my colleague and I try to teach reported speech to our 14 and 15 year old students in the most engaging way possible.  Instead of going through pages and pages of gap-fill worksheets in class (something which can be used as homework), we do lots of activities that either require students working together, or listening to short videos and reporting what has been said.  Recently, we used Blendspace and Google Drive, two of my favorite ICT-tools, to make a personalized listening activity that our students really got a kick out of.  

The basic idea of the activity was to find short clips on Youtube, one for each student, and have them listen and report the most important quotes in the clip.  The difference, though, is that we tried to make it more personal for the students by selecting clips based on what they like, be it films, television programs, or celebrity interviews.  Here is how we did it...

Step One: Create a new Blendspace tutorial, and in the first box provide the instructions for the activity.  Next, we provided an example, and did this together with the students. We chose a scene from Fawlty Towers: Communication Problems because we had recently completed several lessons on it (which you are always welcome to use by clicking here), so the students were quite familiar with scene with Basil being incredibly sarcastic with the ever-complaining guest, Mrs. Richards.  While watching the scene, we had the students write down a few of the spoken lines in their notebooks, and then report them back to us, as pictured below...

Step Two: Make a Google Doc with the students' names, and assign each of them a box number in the Blendspace tutorial.  This is where you will add the short Youtube clips based on their interests.  Then, link your Google Doc into the Blendspace tutorial.

Step Three: Find a short Youtube video for each of your students, and add them to your tutorial.  This is easy to do in Blendspace.  Simply click on the Youtube button on the right side of the page, search for a video, then drag it over.  If you have a small number of students, then this process shouldn't take very long.  However, if you have a number of classes, I would suggest finding clips that you think most of your students would enjoy, as opposed to finding a video for each student.

Step Four: Create a Google presentation, and share it with your students.  This is where your students will record lines from their video clips into reported speech.  We included a title slide, a slide with the instructions again, and then one slide for each student to record their sentences.

Step Five: Now, your preparation is all ready to go.  When you're ready to begin the activity in class, set a time limit for the students to complete it, say 15 minutes.  Those who finish faster than their peers can watch and record more clips in the Blendspace for more practice.

Step Six: Finally, after the students have finished, open the Google presentation on the smartboard or projector, and have the students come to the front of the class and present their sentences.  Have the other students give feedback on any mistakes they may have.  The example below is based on a clip from 'How I Met Your Mother', which is a series that the majority of our students love to watch...

All in all, the activity was just as successful as it was fun.  The students enjoyed working autonomously with their computers and headphones, while watching video clips that they were interested in.  For us, these types of interactive activities are much more engaging the students, than working through a grammar or course book. Of course, classic grammar practice is certainly useful and necessary, but it is something that the students can do as a review for homework.  If you do adopt a more visual environment none of your students will complain that the lesson is boting. Try that with A4 drills, gap fills or prescribed corporate ELT materials set in publishers stone as the way to teach...bah bah blacksheep have you any wool...?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

How a Flipped Classroom can connect Teachers as well as Students...

Coming down with a common cold, then immediately being followed with the flu that then turns into a chronic viral chest infection would make any teacher feel rather low, right? Well it has just happened to me, and I have been out of class for almost two weeks. Thankfully, now on the mend, I return tomorrow. The reason for this post, however, is not to garner sympathy, but to tell you about how a flipped classroom can not only help stay-at-home students, but absentee-teachers too.

My colleague Brentson gave grammar instruction this morning on Reported Speech questions.  He then called me and asked if I'd like to do a Skype call where I would ask questions to the students, they would record the questions, and then convert them into reported ones.  I gladly agreed since I have been really missing the students.  

Once we got over the usual familiarities of we missed each other etc, the students got ready for some questions.  I went via skype round the class and asked each student something class-personal to make a stronger connect.  It was a great laugh, and everyone managed to do the task well (almost). Of course, the 'one-tense-back response' rule and removal of 'did' for past tense was an issue for three students. But the rest managed well.  

I have to say the inception of Skype to the classroom really works well. The idea the teacher can become part of the class when s/he is stuck at home adds another quality dimension to the service.  Not only did I have fun interacting with the students, but it also meant I felt part of the students' learning process, even though I was recovering at home. Is it an authentic activity? Well, not for everyday stuff I suppose, but it felt very authentic to me. I really recommend trying this use of ICT out with your own students.

From the other teacher's perspective (Brentson):

On top of what David has written above, I would also like add a few of my own thoughts on this impromptu ICT lesson from the perspective of the teacher, who was physically in the classroom observing this all unfold.  That morning, I had been teaching the students the grammar rules for reporting questions, and had gone through some of my own activities to practice it.  Then, when David called me in my break lesson to see how the morning was going, I came up with the idea to get him involved via Skype because: one, the students, to be honest, were getting tired of me, and listening to my voice, so a little change-up would be certainly welcomed; and second, I wanted to give the students' a chance to show if they truly understood the grammar point by having David ask them questions in real time.

Once class time began, and I got the students settled down from the excitement of seeing David live on the smartboard, I couldn't believe how the following 20 minutes just flew by.  All of the students were totally engaged in the activity, and it was amazing to stand back and watch it all happen, apart from when Skype went out and someone couldn't hear what David had said.  It was like having a another teacher, literally, in the classroom.  To top it all off, the majority of the students responded to his questions well, showing that they had understood the basics of the grammar point that morning, which made me feel great, of course. Again, as David mentioned above, this is not something that could be done very often, but it is certainly worth a try.  It is something that your students will never see again.

Thursday, 8 May 2014


The verb on the left is one that teenagers dread all throughout their adolescence. It is defined as '(of a parent) the refusal to allow (a child) to go out socially as a punishment.'

Since my teaching responsibilities include giving a wide array of LIFE SKILLS to young teenagers throughout the year, I believe this verb constitutes quite a bit of self-reflective mileage for my students at any time of the year; however, I have chosen to use it towards the end of my time with the class, so they can carry on into high school with this timely reminder cemented firmly in their psyche.

I was surfing on my ipad last week when I came across a wonderful tweet from an
American website, www.tickld.com. The site reported how a couple of parents had implemented a list of chores to their offspring should they wish to reduce their time being grounded for a misdemeanor.  I was so taken (tickld) by the list that I decided to make a lesson this morning on Blendspace: 

For a quirky insight to the idea behind it, here is a jpeg of the list of chores your child or your students' parents need to learn from you (and this tutorial) about a great way to make those troubled and lets say, outlandish/boorish kids make a difference.

The list covers quite a few chores that the original tweet had, and I added a few of my own.  However, I am sure you as a parent and/or experienced teacher of angsty teenagers can find a few more.  Certainly, what surprised me, when I started asking questions of parental structured disciplining and the likes to my group of 15 year olds, was that every single child said they wanted it more than anything.  The group-affirmative was given almost in chorus.  In fact, they admitted thta only two of them had ever been grounded in their lives, but they all believed that it was an effective and worthwhile deterrent for their own inappropriate and outlandish behavior.


I am sure the students' responses have surprised you in this day and age?  I know a lot of comments from teens can be considered lip-service, but even when we factor that in, we can see some pretty strong views in the affirmative for discipline at home. This gives me hope for teaching young teens because at times they certainly don't follow their own advice.  This is great, and I urge you to try this tutorial with your teenage students.