How to ‘cut-up’ & creatively use the IATEFL 2017 conference programme

When we attend conferences, it’s quite normal to receive a lot of paraphernalia. Typically, the conference programme or schedule is part of that.

The chances are, that you’ll feverishly look through the list of presentations to see what might be of interest and worth watching. In fact you may not even look at it again. This does happen. However, there’s a lot of useful information in these publications that have taken hours to put together.

As a blogger who is in fact ‘attending’ the conference remotely, I’ve been thinking about how I can use the pdf version I’ve downloaded perhaps in a different way.

Just to let you know, that I do have nerdish tendencies, but by no means am I going to be reading all 250 pages of the programme! My reading strategy is going to be strictly ‘skimming and scanning’!

So here are a few tips on how to use the conference programme:

1) Networking: 

There are a lot of people in the EFL/ESL field who have a vast array of interests. Many of us may have similar and common interests, and there’s a lot we can learn from others. So what I do, is note down names of people who might be presenting something that I have a passion for and try to connect with them later. It’s a great way to exchange ideas and motivate ourselves by connecting with others.

2) Presentation ideas: 

There are literally tons of presentations during IATEFL 2017. What I tend to do is quickly scan through the topics being presented (hopefully the title will tell me what the presentation is about), and then collect ideas from these to help me perhaps present something in my own context, or at least have a list of ideas for potential future presentations. There is by no means anything wrong with this. I use these to give me ideas. These act as ‘take-off’ points for me to develop something later. You could discover an idea that could be presented next year at IATEFL 2018.

3) Research ideas: 

I often have people coming to me asking me about research ideas for their project proposals. I usually shrug my shoulders. I fervently believe that people need to decide for themselves what they want to research, after all, at least in my experience, passion is a necessary ingredient before plunging into the ‘research pool’. Just by scanning through the list of presentations, plenaries, or even  topics presented by various SIGs (Special Interest Groups), or organisations, there’s plenty to help you on your way to starting your research project. By the way, a research project can be something that will end up with something to discuss with your colleagues at work, a presentation in your own context, perhaps an article for an ELT magazine, or if you’re more ambitious, and academically minded, perhaps something relating to a course you are doing, for example an MA or a PhD, or even something for a journal article.

4) New knowledge:

There is a high probability that you are an experienced individual who has a lot to offer, In fact, it’s possible that you feel you should be presenting something, yet you aren’t. May be it’s worth thinking about IATEFL 2018.

However, I’m one of those people who’s hungry to learn more. There is too much happening to just bury my head in the sand and rest on my laurels. I find that quite often, reading through the presentation abstracts (this is after I’ve scanned, skimmed and located what really takes my fancy!) I come across new ideas or areas that I had never thought of. Perhaps I’m comfortable with the knowledge I have, but it’s still worth taking a step out of my comfort zone. Be adventurous, and consider visiting a presentation about something you’ve never looked at closely. Perhaps this could ignite a new interest, or lead to something even better. Even if you’re at a distance, it’s worth googling the net and finding out more about newer topics. Who knows, you could become the next guru of an area just by taking that brave step into the unknown.

5) Cutting up the IATEFL 2017 programme

This may seem rather odd, but I mean it. Depending on how advanced your class is, there is the possibility of using the programme as a basis for some classroom material (of course after the conference is over!).

My judgement is that we’re looking at mid level to advanced student who could benefit from the materials in some way. How could we use the content to make learning more interesting in the classroom?

I’m sure that people are thinking that we can create materials for lower level learners too. Yes, you could probably use the pictures and illustrations for a variety of activities, but then you’re the expert. You probably have zillions of ideas that are worth doing and even sharing. I’m just trying to facilitate a brain storming exercise here.

Other stuff?

Knowing that this blog has become somewhat lengthy, I’ll stop here.

That’s my brief list of ideas. Perhaps you can think of other creative ways to use the IATEFL 2017 programme in addition to just using it during the conference. May be you could suggest them below?

To download the programme you can go to the following link:

All the best!





Blackberry Passport Silver Edition – Saudi Arabia

With virtually everyone in the world carrying around Samsung’s and iPhone’s, and getting caught up in the world of games, social networking and attractive new apps, I’ve always felt that these devices represent a kind of fashion that many get caught up in.

Blackberry Passport Silver Edition

Blackberry Passport Silver Edition

IMG-20151011-WA007 IMG-20151011-WA008 IMG-20151011-WA009 IMG-20151011-WA010 IMG-20151011-WA011 IMG-20151011-WA012

I don’t mind playing games and experimenting with the odd app, but at times it feels like the world is busy playing games, and that acquiring these gadgets is a form of conforming to the new norm.

I could also be accused of the same. Am I also a victim of these great mobile phone empires that want to suck all of our blood (aka money!!) every couple of years? May be I am.

I recently bought the Blackberry Passport Silver from STC, the local major telecoms company. When I went to get mine, even the customer services rep didn’t know which phone I was talking about even though it was in the latest promotional brochure. He had to ask one of his colleagues. It seems that I was the only one interested in this device. Everyone else was busy with buying the other makes (see first line).

I’m not going to say too much about the phone, except to say that I have had surprisingly good reactions from colleagues. Initially it was a case of “What’s that?”. Interestingly, my Samsung and iPhone owning colleagues have been very complementary.

The phone has a rock solid silvery quality look and beautiful finish. It exudes quality, and does not suffer from the plastic look that so many phones seem to have about them. The square screen is great for watching videos, it has a great calendar, and what is probably the most interesting aspect for me, is the keyboard. You can move up and down applications by swiping the keyboard. No need to touch the screen all the time.

I’m not going to pretend I’m a professional reviewer. I’m pretty much a lay person when it comes to these things. As mass consumers of these products, they reflect who we are and what we feel. For a moment, some of us Blackberry users can feel that we’re not following the crowd, that we have more important things to do than get caught up in the constant stream of messages via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and that we’re different or more independent in the way we think.

Hope you like the photos. As a typical amateur, I’ve kept the original screen cover on the Blackberry until I buy a new one, and the order of the photos is questionable. Peace.

To teachers: You can use mobile phones as a great way to produce English. Nothing better than learning language through an interesting subject.

The problem with teaching language through integrated skills

Many of the books that we use to teach English nowadays, combine the skills. Although this seems to be in vogue, as someone on the ground, I wish there was more time to focus more on one particular skill.

Although integrated skills are meant to reflect the reality of language use, they fail to take into account a learners trajectory. When learning a new language, it takes time to master a particular skill.

Many teachers are not in control of their teaching schedules, and are likely following one that is centrally produced. My experience has been, that lower level learners are left struggling, and those above do not get enough time to practice. This becomes even more apparent when teachers have a finite amount of time to cover a course, and they are under pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially if they work in a large organisation.

Basically, as a practitioner, I believe that the introduction of integrated skills should happen at a later stage when learners have a stronger foundation in the new language.

This is no sentimental hark back to the past, it’s a genuine concern of someone who is teaching day-in-day-out.

Is anyone listening out there? What do you think?

Speaking to yourself is not a sign of madness – it’s a way to learn languages

Hello all.

Talking to yourself

I’ve been assessing my students speaking this week. It’s been pretty time consuming, but worth it (I hope).

One of the questions I’ve been using to elicit more speech is about how students learn English outside of university. There have been a variety of very interesting answers. One of the most interesting methods, is to talk to themselves. Students cannot find anyone to talk to, so it seems like the only solution.

Talking to yourself

One of my students who drives back to his village from the main city at weekends, told me that on his two hour journey back, he speaks to himself. He kind of imagines that he’s speaking to another person. A made-up, contrived situation. Wow. Fantastic idea.

What are the possible pedagogical implications? Well, I wonder whether we should introduce speak-to-yourself sessions in our conversation lessons?

I’m seriously now planning to learn Chinese – “I just can’t wait to speak to myself!”

Conversation questions

How many of you out there teach speaking?  In this day and age, skills tend to be combined as a result of the so-called ‘integrated skills’ movement. Although supporters of this methodology believe that it reflects real life, I find that courses do not provide enough practice for students in the relevant skills. What I’m saying, is that students need focused practice for a substantial amount of time in the four skills. In my context, students do not get sufficient opportunities to speak, so I try hard to ensure that students speaking per lesson ratio is as high as possible.

I often summarise whole chapters into one A4 worksheet. which then acts as the main point from which I then teach. I typically also prepare my own conversation questions so that students can use these to talk about the content of the chapter. I usually have about 30 questions per chapter.

We now have plenty of pair work going on in the classroom which is a relief. Students have given me positive feedback and are being cajoled into practicing their speaking more.

What do you think? Are we all prone to go with the flow? Have we lost our creativity?

By the way, I’d like to share something I recently found on the net. It’s a speaking question bank. Here’s the link:



Assessment without numbers

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better that someone who got 80? Really? How?

What about in the classroom? You give students a score out of 10, 15, 20 etc, but what does the score really mean? What does good, very good or excellent mean? Do we really know what we mean? Do the students understand what the scores mean, or even these expressions?

What if scores were totally replaced by descriptions or descriptors? What if we gave a student a description of what they had achieved?

Are we giving students marks, because that’s the way it’s always been? Or may be this is also a reflection of our educational backgrounds as well as the undergraduate and graduate courses we’ve taken. After all, we probably also got scores or grades.

And what about the usefulness of assessment. What can we do to make students more aware and at the same time get them to do something about their learning?

It might require us as teachers to also take a closer look at what we mean, and/or what our students are really doing. But may be we just don’t have the time?

So there are a lot of questions here, a lot of elements, what now?

Well, what do you think? What do you do? How can we reinvent testing and assessment?

I’m hoping to add future posts to the questions above.

Teaching very very weak students how to write

picture source:

How many times have you ended up with a class of students who seem to be well below the level required for a particular class?

They cannot seem to comprehend what you say (listening and vocabulary knowledge?), and are unable to respond when you speak to them. They seem to lack basic words, and yet you have to teach them how to write a 5 paragraph essay!

You have a course schedule with a number of units to cover within a finite period of time. You cannot at this point resort to teaching them grammar and improving their lexis.  Admittedly the latter is easier to do than the former.

They also seem to have a problem when it comes to brainstorming, and seem to lack ideas. May be the ideas are there for a restricted list of topics, as they have probably not had to talk about societal issues. I’m assuming that if ideas exist, they are unable to convey these as those ideas can only be conveyed in their L1.

Strategy so far

I’ve been focussing on ensuring that the students internalise the framework of an essay. What I mean is, the idea of having introductions, body paragraphs and a conclusion, and the sub-levels for these important pillars of an essay, e.g. a hook, thesis statement and supporting ideas.

In every class, we have a new topic or topics, and a brainstorming session. This is followed by trying to fit the ideas into the framework. Which of course is then followed by adding meat to this skeleton. This is a good way to introduce new vocabulary. Throughout this period, I’ve been acting ‘all enthusiastic’ as if I’m some kind of football team manager/ motivator.

In addition to the above, I’ve come to the conclusion, that in order to get the attention of the students, we need to brainstorm topics that they can relate to, or are close to their hearts.

I’ve covered topics like ‘finding a marriage partner’, ‘why a certain famous person is famous’ and even how to make ‘rice and meat’ also known as kabsa! I’ve been amazed at the attention the students give, and how familiar, interesting topics engage them. You can see their eyes light-up and of course the smirks when I try to introduce some ‘silly’ topic.

How are we progressing? Well, the prognosis is, that irrespective of how well the student understands the framework, or likes the topic under discussion, if the message cannot be conveyed, which requires a reasonable level of language, then the chances of success are low. Ultimately, the reader needs to understand the message being conveyed. Being able to piece together accurate sentences with appropriate vocabulary is a necessity. Even part accurate will do. But we are even below that. You know how serious word order problems, along with inappropriate vocabulary can just totally confuse the reader.

I’m sure there are ways that others deal with such difficulties, but when you are teaching a 2-3 credit hour course over a semester, it can be difficult to do anything extra. I have asked them to revise certain tenses they may have studied as part of a grammar course in the past. But should I be following this up? There’s little time.

All of the above obviously brings up issues relating to teaching, learning and assessment issues. Issues that I’ll try to discuss in the future. My final thoughts link in to these issues.

Final thoughts: Who let these students pass the previous courses? They could not possibly have passed looking at their current performance. What were they being taught before and how? What kind of assessment was going on, and using what standard? Is the context a major problem, and do we need to take a closer look at this?

All the best.