Exploring new vocabulary with Google: update

I tried out this activity this afternoon as a way of introducing students to a vocabulary bank they will need to maintain. 

The students were divided into groups, with each group given a vocabulary item from the bank. They had to enter the item into Google News Search and note down at least 3 different collocations/uses. They then presented their findings to the class. 

It was good to see students highlighting that certain collocations are more common than others: something they could only really have picked up by looking at numerous authentic examples. 

TTT: The art of knowing when to shut up

shut up

Source: GIPHY

Something I’ve been encouraged by observers to work on in my lessons is cutting down on teacher talking time (TTT), particularly the tendency for TTT to increase as the lesson progresses. As Sam Shepherd points out in a great post on TTT, we should strive to minimise TTT not for its own sake but in order to create as many opportunities as possible for our students to speak. Teacher talk, then, is something we ought to use sparingly, skilfully and strategically–to support rather than stifle learning.

Shepherd identifies three main areas where teacher talk gets out of hand–giving explanations, giving instructions, and filling silences in speaking tasks; for each case he suggests why excessive teacher talk is occurring and how we can fix it. (Read his post for the details.) I would add that, were we to think deeply about what we’re doing as teachers throughout a normal lesson, we’d be able to identify many more opportunities where we could yield the floor to students. Here are just a few examples:

  • Error correction: rather than correcting on-the-spot during a speaking activity, collect errors (and samples of good usage) that you hear and whiteboard them, then have students work in pairs or groups to correct them.
  • Setting up a task: rather than giving step-by-step instructions, demonstrate what to do with the first exercise (and get the class to help you). This works especially well with controlled-practice activities, but you can try using it with just about any task.
  • Student-centered feedback on content. This is something I most commonly use with conversation-line or speaking-circle activities: in the last rotation I’ll have the students share with their new partner the information they learned about their previous two speaking partners. That way I only need to deal with errors.
  • Grammar presentations: have students in groups work out the positive, negative and question forms of a model sentence, and then present this to the class.
  • Wait time: after posing a question to the class or an individual student, give them time to process the question and compose an answer. Let them fill the awkward silences!

Where else would you suggest we can turn TTT into STT in our lessons?

Relative pronouns: one aspect that textbooks often don’t cover

(Not that I have noticed, anyway.)

Most coursebooks will contain, in some form, the following information about relative pronouns:


So far, so good . . . until a student brings up a case like the following:

The year 1840 was the final year of convict transportation to Sydney, which by this time had a population of 35,000. (formatting added)


Sydney is a “place”, so–the student will reason–the pronoun in the relative clause highlighted above should be where, right? Wrong . . . but before we examine why, let’s first have a look at a sentence which uses the relative pronoun where appropriately.

So the greatest sporting event on the planet did not take itself too seriously: that was never going to be the way in Sydney, where men dance with lawnmowers and a merry cynicism is bred in the bone. (formatting added)

Where Am I And Who’s Winning?

It all depends upon how we conceptualise “Sydney.” In the second example, we’re thinking of Sydney as the location of an action: an action takes place there (namely, men dancing with lawnmowers and a merry cynicism being bred in the bone–sounds like the place to be).

In the Wikipedia extract, however, Sydney is not a location but a “thing” that can be the subject or object of an action. In this case, “Sydney” is the subject, represented in the relative clause by which, and the “action” is “had a population of 35,000.” (Not the most accurate nomenclature, I know, but there’s no need to go into action verbs vs state verbs here.)

In short, if Sydney is the setting of the story, we use where; but if Sydney is a character in the story, we use that or which.

It’s not that difficult to explain to students–I recommend using several examples to highlight the contrast–but I’ve yet to come across a textbook that addresses this point. Perhaps textbook writers are worried about confusing learners; or perhaps I just haven’t encountered enough textbooks.







“Whenever our students get bored, their creativity levels go through the roof, and they come up with a million creative uses for their pens, pencils, books, classmates, the floor and the ceiling in the classroom.” Or they reach for their phones . . .



Recent research suggests that boredom might have many benefits, including increased creativity. A researcher from the University of Central Lancashire carried out the following experiment. She split students into two groups and had one group carry out a humdrum task of copying phone numbers from a phone book and then asked both groups to come up with as many creative uses for two plastic cups as possible…Do you have any doubts as to who got their creative juices flowing at the speed of light?

What the researcher calls an ‘experiment’ is everyday classroom experience for many teachers. Whenever our students get bored, their creativity levels go through the roof, and they come up with a million creative uses for their pens, pencils, books, classmates, the floor and the ceiling in the classroom. However, we’d never plan a boring task. Never. It’s the topic, which is boring.

Asserting that we have…

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My aims for this blog . . .

(In no particular order.)

  1. Provide a space for me to jot down my reflections on my teaching.
  2. Share my opinions and observations, however ill-informed, on ELT and e-learning.
  3. Hopefully reach out to others in e-learning/ELT roles.
  4. Whine piteously about mobile device management.
  5. Think of a snappy title.
  6. Others TBC as I think of them.

But in the main it’s an experiment: to see if I can actually sit down and keep this thing going, even if it’s only a post a week. Let’s see what happens.