Monthly Archives: April 2013

Catherine Walter on the #ELTJ Debate at #IATEFL Liverpool

Oxford University Press

Catherine WalterThe ELT Journal debate at IATEFL Liverpool was a lively and well-attended affair. Thanks to the British Council, you can see the whole event online on the IATEFL Liverpool website. Here, Catherine Walter, who opposed the motion, gives her round up of the debate.

Scott Thornbury claimed that Published course materials don’t reflect the lives or needs of learners. Surprisingly, he did not repeat what he’s been saying for years in his Dogme / Teaching Unplugged strand – that teachers should not bother with course materials. Instead, he started from the weaker premise that course materials need improvement. Scott began by showing images of early twentieth-century books – hardly germane to the discussion, as if the nutritional value of deep-fried Mars Bars gave a picture of the contemporary diet. He maintained that there is a prevalence of employed, white, heterosexual male middle class characters in current materials. This doesn’t…

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R is for Representation

An A-Z of ELT

In the debate sponsored by the ELT Journal at this week’s IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, I proposed the motion that published course materials do not reflect the lives nor the needs of the learners.

To challenge some of the assumptions inherent in much published teaching material, I used this mock-up of a coursebook page (see below). It wouldn’t have been ethical, or even legal, to have shown, and then criticized, pages from current coursebooks, but I think you’ll agree that the replica is a plausible one.  I used this to argue that the choices, both of images (more often than not taken from the same kinds of photo archives as the images used in advertising) and of the text accompanying the images, serve to ‘position’ the user to assume a certain kind of identity with respect to the language that they are learning.page1

The physically-attractive, ethnically-mixed, well-dressed and youthful characters…

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Exploring Visuals

For this session, we looked at some tools like Flickr, Bubblr and Bookr to create our own materials. I used Bookr to improve the worksheet I had prepared before. Bookr is a tool to share your own photobook by using Flickr images. Before looking at the material I created in Bookr, I want to give more information about Flickr. Flickr is a popular online photo-sharing service and is totally free. The best way to search for a photo is to insert a tag or a key word. You can easily create a group of photos for your class by placing them into different sets, tagging each one with the student who took the photo etc. and the best thing of Flickr is most of the images are in the public domain. The reason why I explained Flickr in detail is most coursebooks are lack of authentic, recent and relevant supplementary visuals to texts.  It is because ” they rely heavily on stock or archive photography banks known as visual content industry which is responsible for nearly 75 percent of the images we find in advertising, marketing and design. It is this that gives ELT materials that artificial, airbrushed feel” ( Ben Goldstein). So, why don’t you produce your own materials and make them visually appealing  by using Flickr or your  mobile phone, camera. The visuals you add will probably have more impact on learners than the ones in coursebooks as they are original, recent and relevant to texts.

Here is my Bookr and the worksheet my friend  and I created in Microsoft Word Worksheet – Yuksel & Sag

bookr     bookr2

bookr 3Bookr 4

The positive impact of visuals is  obvious when we compare them. Although the content in my Bookr and worksheet are same, they look completely different. The one in Bookr is like a unit in a coursebook, and looks professional.

As the graphic designer Alan Fletcher said:

Although words and pictures can signify the same thing, the effect they produce can be quite different. Writing ‘stars and stripes’ on a piece of cloth is not as effective as illustrating them. The words don’t provoke the same emotional charge.

All of my classmates and my tutor agreed that this improved version of the worksheet is better because there are visuals that will probably attract and engage learners. They also liked the number of visuals and how they are placed in my Bookr. While designing it, I tried to avoid using visuals in both pages which may be distractive. The only negative feedback I got was about the length of the text in each page. We all agreed that long texts may distract learners. Taking these comments into consideration, I edited  the worksheet and this is the latest version of my Bookr. However, there isn’t an activity section in the latest version. It is because I lost my work two times while trying to create my new Bookr and the last time I didn’t want to take any risks and published the material.  I think Bookr is good for adding visuals and writing 2 or 3 sentences about them not for  long texts as you don’t have any save option. For example; you can teach nationalities, countries, flags, jobs etc. through Bookr and Microsoft Office Publisher would be more appropriate while creating worksheets with long texts and visuals.

One of the principles for developing materials set by Tomlinson is engaging learners both affectively and cognitively in the language learning experience. Teachers can provide this affective engagement through Bookr as visuals are fun and appealing. Learners will probably enjoy visuals that get their attention and engage in the text more. Bookr may also provide the cognitive engagement as visuals aid comprehension. It  may also increase learners’ retention because image rich texts help students remember the story which might build their memory skills.

As most of the  today’s youth population is visually literate, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer than before. Therefore, try to use visuals as much as possible to develop visual literacy, engage learners, illustrate language,increase retention  of new language items and so on.

This post  is 711 words. Perhaps I should have drawn half a picture instead? 🙂


Goldstein, B. (2008) Working with Images: A Resource Book for the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Images in Language Teaching

Images – as visual aids- have long played an important role in language teaching. “It would be hard to imagine a language-teaching context without the presence of flashcards, wallcharts, coursebook images, downloaded photos, time lines, board drawings, learner-produced art-work, and so on” (Goldstein 2008:1). The reason why images have become an indispensable part of language teaching could be the benefits that they offer both learners and teachers. Some of them are as follows.

 Images can

  •  be used at all levels.
  •  introduce ‘outside world’ artefacts into class.
  • provide prompts for language production (e.g describe and draw).
  • make linguistic concepts easier to grasp.
  • act as speech cues in exams.
  • play a part in many classroom activities, e.g information gap tasks, etc.

ELT teachers should use images actively in class to

  • stimulate language use
  • illustrate language
  • engage students on an imaginative-level
  • reflect our world’s ever-increasing dependence on the visual image
  • develop visual literacy.

According to Goldstein, we can also look from the frame and

  • explore the cultural significance of images and related social issues.
  • consider images as communicating open-ended messages (rather than taking them at face value).
  • analyse the formal composition of images and their relationship to text (multimodality).
  • develop learner’s skills in interpreting images and creating their own.

The role of images in ELT  & some classroom activities

A image can be used as a decoration, visual aid,  complement to text, subject  for analysis, signs,symbols or icons and a form of subversion. We can use images with different activities like describing images, interpreting images etc… The images below (illustrations and signs) are  taken from the book “Working with Images” by Ben Goldstein.


Different activities can be done through images. I want to share some practical ideas that can be applied in a language classroom. With this image, Goldstein suggested an activity that aims to practise various lexical fields: materials,function etc. Adverbs: sometimes,often,usually, etc. and their position in the sentence. In this activity, students create a mental image of an object, describing it in the first person to others who have to guess what it is. The activity is called I am… and this personification of objects is something students enjoy because it allows them to conjure up a number of different and unexpected images. Teachers can prepare their own flashcards based on lexical sets they want to revise, e.g. furniture, animals, buildings, food, everyday objects etc. To make the activity more clear, the teacher may read the text below as an example and ask students listen and guess the object.

I’m sometimes made of plastic. I’m usually round. I have many different shapes. But I’m often quite small. I have numbers. I often sit next to bed. You usually use me during the week. You need me but you don’t like me.  Answer: Alarm clock


The picture above includes different signs which can be used as an ELT material, as well. Goldstein suggests another activity by using these different signs. The main focus of the activity is to teach  functional language in sign language and different registers (formal/informal). The activity is simple but seems engaging. First, distribute different signs to the students in pairs or small groups and make sure that they know the following different sign types: ‘warning’, ‘security’, ‘advertising’, ‘request’, ‘road safety’, and their concepts and present the class with the following questions:

– What kind of sign is each and where would you find it?

– How could you communicate the message of each in one simple sentence? e.g. Sign 1: Don’t even think of parking here –  It is illegal to park here.

As a second activity, students choose adjectives from the list (polite, threatening, humorous, insistent, friendly, official) and identify the style of each sign. Activities can be expanded. These questions can also be addressed to students.

In what ways are these signs unconventional or original?

What would a conventional equivalent look like, in each case?

Why could signs C and E be considered the odd ones out?

As it is clear from the examples, images can be used at all levels. The first exercise can be  done in elementary or pre-intermediate classes whereas in the second one the target level could be intermediate, upper-intermediate or advanced. I think the best thing about images is you don’t need any other materials, just an  appropriate image. If you still haven’t tried teaching only with  images , why don’t you leave all the materials aside for a day and listen to them in the class as the expression says  ‘Images Speak Louder than Words’.


Goldstein, B. (2008) Working with Images: A Resource Book for the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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For this session, we all created our own videos and considered ways in which they can be used as an ELT material. I think videos are an effective way to capture students’ attention. Based on my experiences, students are much more interested in videos than any other teaching material. As it is discussed in McGrath’s book, walking into the class and saying: ‘Good morning. Open your books at page 37’ is not the best way to capture the attention of a group of learners, and many experienced teachers use ‘ warm-up’ activities for this reason. Videos can be used as ‘warmers’ to capture the interests of students. Moreover, learning can be more fun through videos and they can also provide light relief when learners are tired (the ‘wet Friday afternoon effect’).

I shot four videos in Turkey. Prior to shooting them, I planned them and decided what to shoot, when to shoot (forecast the weather) and how to use it as an ELT material. I recorded each video with a hand-held camera and I didn’t use a tripod. After watching the videos, I realized that If I had used the tripod, they would have been more high in quality as I could have reduced the camera shake. I used stable shots and avoided zooms not to distract learners or people watching the video.  Finally, I edited the videos in Windows Movie Maker , added some music to make them more effective and uploaded them to YouTube.

Video 1

As I said in my previous posts, language learning materials could be anything. They could be coursebooks, newspapers, food packages and a YouTube video as well. The thing that needs to be considered is the goal of the material. With this video, I aim to teach   imperatives. As a warmer, I will ask students to watch the video which shows the steps of making a traditional Turkish food called ‘gozleme’. Then, I will explain its recipe and try to focus students on the imperative form of the verbs. Finally, I will ask students to write about their traditional or favourite food. At this production stage, student will not only learn about imperatives but also practice discourse markers like firstly,secondly,finally etc.

Video 2

I aim to use my second video in a skills lesson (speaking and writing).  As a pre-watching activity, I will show the painting below that is highly related to the video and ask the students to discuss what they see in the painting and address them questions like ‘what can be around?’ ,’what do people do around the clock tower?’ etc. With this pre-watching activity, they will probably be more interested in the video while watching as they may want to check their guesses whether they are correct or not.


Here is the video I recorded in Izmir, the 3rd biggest city in Turkey,.

I will  use this video as a warmer  for the more extended activities like speaking or writing.After watching the video, I will ask the students to talk about it with their partners and then tell their hometown to each other. I may also use it in a writing class where I can ask students to write their hometown or the city they want to live in.

videos 3 & 4


In almost every coursebook, there is a unit aiming to teach hobbies and some collocations like play + sports or musical instrument. After watching, I will ask students to talk about their hobbies and address questions like ‘Do they play any musical instrument?’ If yes, which one? or ‘which musical instrument do they like listening to most and why?’. Apart from hobbies, I may also use these videos while talking about feelings, especially the second one because it is more focused. I will ask questions like ‘How do they feel while  listening  to it’, ‘When do they listen to music? (happy,sad etc.)’.

As videos are meta-materials, ’empty’ pedagogical procedures, the teacher decides on the nature of the input and applies procedure to it (Tomlinson 2011:385). This can also be seen in the examples above. The teacher may use one video in a speaking class and  the same video in a writing class, as well. The important thing is setting the objective of a lesson and apply appropriate activities to it.


McGrath, I . (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

 Tomlinson, B.  (ed). (2011)  Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Designing for Print

It is important for teachers to be able to create their own materials because  teachers know their own students and will be able to ‘tune’ the material to suit their level, their aptitude, their interests, their needs, and personalize it so that it seems even more meaningful (p.84).  Moreover, teachers should  know how to design teaching materials to make the material they created more appealing and motivate students both affectively and cognitively.

For this session, my friend and I  designed a worksheet for pre-intermediate Turkish learners. Before designing it, we watched Jason Renshaw’s video in which we explored some interesting approaches to materials design. In his video, he demonstrates how to build professional teaching materials using Microsoft Word and create a foundation through headers and footers. We first changed the layout from portrait to landscape. However, the feedback we got in the class discussion was not to switch to landscape mode because learners may have difficulty in reading  the material and it may cause eyestrain and be distracting. Then, we added a header in which we created our template and inserted a square in the header space. We wrote the subject of the worksheet ‘Non-gradable adjectives’ into this square. Thus, students can file  and easily find it when they want to revise for it. We also put a blank space at the bottom , so students can write their names on it that personalizes the worksheet. To make it visually appealing, we chose vivid colours -red and orange-. We put some cartoons (spiders) and boxes to attract the learners, as well. Finally, we added a footer and wrote our names to claim the ownership of the material. If you want to learn more about designing worksheets  in Microsoft Word, watch the video below and  other related 11 videos of Jason Renshaw.

My friend and I are familiar with the Turkish context as both of us taught at a Turkish state university. While designing the worksheet, we took their level, needs and interests into consideration. As said earlier, we aim to teach pre-intermediate level. Although they are pre-intermediate students, they are not actually. For this reason, some exercises can be found below level but they are not in Turkish context. The English proficiency level in Turkey is considerably low when it is compared to with other countries. According to EF EPI 2011, Turkey shows very low proficiency in English and was ranked as 43rd in the index where 44 countries were represented. You can find more detailed information about Turkish state universities in our presentation below.

 Turkish context

 Here is the worksheet in which we created everything ourselves

page 1

We first aim to present the non-gradable  adjectives in  the text and ask them to guess from the context. Rather than explaining the adjectives explicitly, we adopted an inductive approach which may be time-consuming but more efficient as students learn the new vocabulary by discovering on their own.  The last line of the text is missing to attract learner’s attention  and make them involve in the lesson by discussing with their partners.

page 2

 In order to check whether their guesses are correct or not, they can do the matching exercise on the second page. Exercises are graded from easy to more difficult to motivate the weaker learners. If these students answer the questions correctly, they may feel a sense of achievment, thereby gain confidence.

page 3

On the last page, there is a gap-filling exercise which is more challenging than the matching one. Thus, proficient learners may also feel a sense of achievement. The end-up activity is writing in which they will write their own story using the adjectives they have learnt.

Our template for this worksheet is:

  • guessing meaning from context
  • prediction of target vocabulary
  • discussion with their partners
  • matching exercise to reinforce the vocabulary
  • gap-filling exercise (more challenging than the matching exercise)
  • end-up activity (writing)

Although it is time-consuming and demanding, teachers should create their own materials when published materials do not cater for the needs of their learners.


 McGrath, I . (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

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