Wednesday, December 22, 2010

5 books I'm looking forward to reading in 2011

Since last week I shared a few books I'm familiar with, this week I'd like to preview a few titles I want to read in 2011.

I've been reading up on the receptive skills recently (reading and listening), so I was glad to hear that the books from the Applied Linguistics in Action series covering these two skills were being revised. If you're not familiar with this series, these books give a thorough overview of research in applied linguistics in a number of different areas including the four skills, motivation, autonomous learning, and more.

Teaching and Researching Reading by William Grabe and Fredericka Stoller looks quite interesting. I spoke to Professor Grabe last month when he was presenting at the ETA-ROC conference in Taipei, Taiwan last month. He said that there have been some major changes from the earlier edition, and mentioned that there would be a new chapter which explains how the two authors think reading should be taught.

One more title in this series, Teaching and Researching Listening by Michael Rost, is another book I definitely want to read. Michael Rost is well-known for many books and articles on teaching listening, and this one should provide a comprehensive summary of the latest research.

Another book with a new edition coming out is Learning Teaching, a classic introduction to teaching English. This is one of my favorite ELT books, and I can't wait to see the changes in the third edition. According to the information on the publisher's website, this new edition will contain a DVD with a sample lesson and demonstrations of several teaching techniques.

Two more books I'd like to have on my shelf are The Company Words Keep and Digital Play, new titles in Delta Publishing's Delta Teacher Development Series. (Sorry, no book cover images for these two books as of today.)

The Company Words Keep by Paul Davis and Hania Kryszeweska is a book of activities for teaching lexical chunks. There's not much information on the publisher's page, but I'm sure this will be updated soon, as the book will come out in Spring 2011. Having read several books by both authors, I think this one should be brilliant.

Digital Play by Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley, provides teachers with lots of information about using computer games and other ICTs in the classroom. In light of the fact that Taiwan (where I live and teach) has one of the world's largest markets for computer games, I'm sure I will get a lot of use out of Digital Play.

Do you know of any new books coming out in 2011 that I didn't mention? Please post your reading list here. (Authors are most welcome to tell us about your new books.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

4 resource books that helped me improve as a teacher

In this post, I'd like to share with you some of my favorite teacher's resource books. Over the years I've worked with a large number of these books. They've been a source of inspiration and showed me new ways to help students learn English. I'd like to mention four of them and describe a sample activity from each title (along with a reflection on how it went over).


This title covers a topic that has created a lot of discussion in the blogosphere, that is Dogme or Teaching Unplugged. Karenne Sylvester has been running a Dogme challenge for several weeks now, Jason Renshaw has blogged numerous times about teaching unplugged and emergent language teaching, and Jeremy Harmer issued a strong critique that garnered over 200 comments.

I first learned about Dogme from an Thornbury article in It's Magazine about 10 years ago. I was highly interested in the ideas behind it, although I was unsure about how to put them into practice. This book explains the principles behind teaching unplugged, as well as providing a diverse selection of activities. I've used several activities from this book and have been very impressed with the results.

One activity I tried:

I was on the topic of films with my university students, and I wanted to get them to discuss the recent movie, Monga, a Taiwanese film that was very popular that year. Here's the movie poster I started off with:

(By the way, that's NOT the cover to a resource book.)

I used the activity "Good Things, Bad Things", which produces a debate first through writing, then speaking. It was quite a powerful lesson. I could really feel that the students were all eager to talk about this film and express their opinions. Some students felt it was a cool movie, others thought it was too violent. Overall there was a strong feeling of engagement with the subject.


Although certainly not the first book of drama exercises for a language teaching context, this Oxford University Press Resource Book for Teachers has a lot going for it. Fun, clever activities with clear explanations and loads of supportive comments and follow-ups. There is always a laugh riot when I use these in my classes. As Ken Wilson puts it, these activities "are for teachers who want to enliven their classes and refresh students who may be tired or subdued by they way they are asked to learn."

One activity I tried:

I used the "Foreign Expert" activity with my advanced speaking and listening class earlier this month. In this activity, students work in pairs, one as an expert on a subject of their own choice and one as an interpreter. The catch: they make up a language that they translate in and out of English. My students were already laughing when I was explaining the activity. The laughter increased exponentially, as it became clear that two students were quite good at uttering gibberish that sounded like a real language!


Mario Rinvolucri has written (and co-written) an amazing number of resource books for teachers. Humanising Your Coursebook is the one that I use the most. It's kind of a Rinvolucri's greatest hits, suggesting a number of ways to adapt and alter a coursebook to give students more opportunities to practice.

One activity I tried:

"Text All Over The Place" calls for parts of a dialogue to be printed on slips, cut up and placed over every surface of the classroom including desks, floors, walls, ceilings, even the teacher's back. As students arrive, they copy down the bits of language then do their best to put them back into order. A thought-provoking note from Mario at the end of the activity:

Is your class unruly? Don't you dare try this with them? If they are unruly, maybe it is because they hate sitting still. This exercise gets them moving.

I used this activity to add a spark to a conversation class I was teaching at a university in rural Taiwan. I remember it took over an hour to get all the little bits of paper around the classroom. It was worth it to see the look of surprise on the students' faces.


I've read several books by Hess and Pollard, and found them to be extremely helpful. As the title indicates, this book gives the reader a wide range of activities that require a minimum of preparation. Similar to Humanising Your Coursebook, this title covers all four skills, followed by sections for grammar (structure) and vocabulary. This book contains a lot of fresh, intriguing activities. It always reminds me that simple is best.

One activity I tried:

I used "Role-Plays" with a group of university students I taught in Hong Kong. This activity asks students to brainstorm some potentially useful utterances before breaking into a role play in front of the class. The energy level of the class picked up as students got into their roles.

I'd like to hear about what resource books you've been using. Any titles you would recommend?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas lessons

We're already in the second week of December, so it's time for many of us to put together a special Christmas lesson. I thought I would add a few links here to some teaching materials that you can use in the next couple of weeks.

Karenne Sylvester of Kalinago English has a brilliant lesson titled Conversations at Christmas.

Sean Banville has many many excellent activities in his Breaking News Christmas Lesson.

Alex Case has a collection of Christmas (and New Year) handouts and lesson plans.

Nicholas Whitley has a superb set of handouts for use with the Run D.M.C. song, Christmas in Hollis.

BBC's Teaching English website has a number of Christmas activities for young learners, as well as a few for the older ones, such as The Office Christmas Party, 25th December and Men and Christmas Shopping.

One Stop English has a Christmas webquest and a reading lesson plan on Santa.

If that's still not enough, Isabel Perez has a huge collection of links to Christmas lessons (readings, songs, worksheets, puzzles, etc.), and Larry Ferlazzo has a list of The Best Places To Learn About Christmas, Hanukkah, & Kwanzaa.

Finally, a lesson idea I like to use around this time of year - Gift Sentences from Dave's ESL Cafe.

Any other suggestions for Christmas/holiday lessons?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One year ago..

Last year, my second book, Provoking Thought, was self-published through Booksurge. It has generated a number of positive reviews, such as Michael Rost's review on the Amazon website:

I am very happy to have run across this book! After many years of teaching languages and researching language acquisition, I've finally found a single volume that integrates key principles of language development and practical classroom activities. Great work! I'm sure students of all ages and backgrounds will benefit from their teachers using Hall Houston's book.

More recently, Sandee Thompson had this to say in the October issue of Modern English Teacher:

This is a gem of a book. Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT is well laid out, easy to use and written without too much EFL jargon. This is a good little resource to have on your reference shelf.

And William Mooney wrote this in a book review from Hwa Kang English Journal:

A useful, teacher-friendly guide that is often fun to use for teachers and students alike. Teachers wishing to stimulate and enhance their students’ thinking skills will certainly find much to like in Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT.

I've been extremely pleased with the response to Provoking Thought, not to mention some of the invitations to write and speak on some of the topics in the book. I'm looking forward to writing more practical books for teachers in the future.

Thanks to everyone for your support and kindness!

Monday, October 25, 2010

a rude stupid and crazy lesson plan

Earlier this month, TESOL-Spain Newsletter published my lesson plan, Rude/Stupid/Crazy Questions, in their Teacher Corner section. You can see a copy of it here:

Rude/Stupid/Crazy Questions

I used this lesson plan with my sophomore Speaking and Listening class earlier this year, and it seemed to be the perfect cure for the end-of-semester blahs.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

An imaginary anthology

In the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of ELT related blogs. With more and more people blogging about English language teaching, it’s hard to keep up with all the excellent writing that comes up.

Over the past few weeks, I started imagining an anthology of my favorite blog posts. Not necessarily a print version, but maybe a webpage. My favorite reads all in one place, no need to do extensive searches to find them.

Just a few days ago, I read Jason Renshaw’s post about hidden gems, and decided this would be a good time to blog on this topic.

Here I’d like to suggest a few categories and a few examples of blogposts that might exist in each one.

The first category would be Practical Tips. The posts in this section would give some simple suggestions and advice for teachers, covering everything from time management to classroom management.

T is for Time (Scott Thornbury's An A-Z of ELT)

Ten ways to motivate the unmotivated (Ken Wilson's Blog)

5 problems and 5 solutions (Anita Kwiatkowska's l_miss bossy's ELT Playground)

The second category would be Humor. This section would contain posts that made me laugh, and reminded me not to take myself too seriously.

Oh, those halcyon days when... (Alex Case's TEFLtastic)

Six technological inventions teachers REALLY want to see (Lindsay Clandfield's Six Things)

Unraveling English Language Teaching acronyms (Jason Renshaw's English Raven)

The third section would be Reflections. This section would include all the blogposts that caused me to think about my teaching in a new way.

Being Critical about the Role of the Teacher: Allowing Students to Disagree (Sara Hannam's Critical Mass ELT)

Adrian Tennant’s Six Acts of Sheep in ELT(Guest post on Six Things blog)

Truthtelling and the global EFL teacher (Karenne Sylvester's Kalinago English)

This list is fairly brief, as I must admit I don’t spend nearly enough time reading all the magnificent blogs out there.

I’d like to hear from you.

Which blogposts do you think belong here? And, which categories do you think should be mandatory for such an anthology?

Monday, September 27, 2010

upcoming conferences in Taiwan

For any readers who are in Taiwan, you might be interested in hearing about two upcoming conferences.

The first is at National Cheng Chi University (Taipei), on October 16th, 2010. You can read more about the conference on the NCCU website:

4th Conference on College English - College English Programs: Design and implementation

Scott Sommers, a university instructor and blogger in Taiwan, had this to say about the conference:

I attended this conference last year. It was excellent - easily the best conference I have attended in Taiwan. If you are curious about the conference scene or interested in presenting, this is the number one ELT conference I recommend.

Another conference worth attending is the ETA - ROC 19th International Symposium on Language Teaching (Taipei) on November 12-14, 2010. This year, some familiar names (David Nunan, William Grabe, Stephen Krashen, Neil Anderson, Fredricka Stoller) will be presenting. You can see a complete program for the conference here:

ETA - ROC 19th International Symposium on Language Teaching

On the subject of conferences, Alex Case has some unbeatable advice for making it worthwhile:

Attending TESOL Conferences by Alex Case

Jeremy Harmer has some similar suggestions on his blog:

What Makes a Good Conference? by Jeremy Harmer

Finally, if you're giving a talk, Andrew Wright has some good ideas here:

Some notes on giving talks at conferences by Andrew Wright

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

new blog for one-to-one tutors

I came across this new blog over on the forum at TEFL.NET:

Toby's 121 EFL Pub

It's intended as a source of ideas for one-to-one tutors. It looks like he's off to a good start, as he's already posted some excellent teaching tips.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

teaching with a coursebook

One topic I've seen discussed a lot recently is the role of a coursebook in language learning. I have several colleagues who are extremely critical of coursebooks and proudly proclaim "I don't use books!" In my own teaching, I use coursebooks, but will alter the content from time to time and add other material when I think it's necessary.

Lindsay Clandfield created a summary of the pros and cons of using coursebooks over on Scott Thornbury's A to Z of ELT blog in May 2010.

For those who would like some practical teaching ideas for using a coursebook, Marisa Constantinides has a wonderful powerpoint titled Animating Your Coursebook. Also, Ken Wilson has more inventive ideas in his webinar, In The End, It's Only A Book.

Now I'd like to share with you a few ideas from my own classroom. I've used these four activities in my freshman and sophomore university classes in Taiwan. I hope you find them useful.


1. Dialogue Reading Competition

Before class, prepare a handout with 4 two-line excerpts from dialogues your students have studied before. Make enough copies for half the class. Move three chairs to one side of the front of your classroom.

In class, announce that you're going to have a competition. Choose 3 students to act as judges. They should sit in the three chairs. Tell the other students that they will be reading a short dialogue in pairs for the judges who will decide which pair did the best job. Before passing out the handouts, remind the whole class about areas in which they can improve their performance, such as pronunciation, intonation, speed, volume and body language. Put students into pairs and give each pair a handout. Give them about 10 minutes to practice the first excerpt. Ask for two volunteers to perform the two-line dialogue for the judges. Let the judges make a quick decision, and then tell the class, giving reasons for their decision. Repeat this process once with other pairs. After the second round, ask the judges to find 3 other students to take their places. Get everyone to change partners. Repeat the same process with the two other dialogues.

2. Quizzing Teams

Before class, take a long dialogue that students haven't practiced before and make a copy of the tapescript. Divide it into two sections, and put each section on a separate handout. Make a few copies of each section.

In class, tell students that they will be working in two teams. Their task is to quiz the other team about half of a dialogue that they will only hear twice.

Divide the class into two groups. Explain that each group will get a handout containing half of a dialogue. (The groups will each get a different section.) Each group will read over the dialogue and think of 6 questions about it for the other group to answer. Their questions should include one "dummy" question, a question whose answer is not contained in the dialogue. After 15 minutes, each group will put their questions on the board. Then you will play the dialogue twice. Each group must listen carefully for the answers to the other team's questions. Then the teams will have a few minutes to write answers to the other team's questions on the board. In addition, teams should mark the "dummy" questions with a big X. The final stage is to let the groups grade each other's answers. You can give a prize to the winning team.

3. Extending a Dialogue

Before class, select a dialogue from your coursebook that your class has covered in the past few days. Think of four situations involving one or two of the characters in the dialogue. This might include a dialogue that occurred in the past, in the future, or a dialogue between one of the characters and a family member/friend/stranger. (You can even include the name of someone in your school or class!) Put a clear explanation of the situation on top of a sheet of paper, assigning one role as A and the other as B. Write A and B four times vertically on the left side of the page, representing 8 lines of dialogue between A and B. Prepare a copy of each situation handout.

In class, put students into four groups. Remind them of the dialogue they covered before by briefly reading it out or playing the audio. Tell the groups that they will be writing a dialogue about the characters in the dialogue. Encourage them to make it funny or crazy if they wish. Give each group a handout and ask them to work together to create the first two lines of dialogue. Then ask each group to pass their handout to another group, who will complete the next two lines. Continue until the dialogues are complete. Finally, ask each group to practice the dialogue for a few minutes. Pick a pair from each group to perform their dialogue for the class.

4. Secret Life

Before class, copy the faces of four characters from previous units in your coursebook. Put each face on a separate sheet of paper and add a title such as "The Secret Life of Jim". Add four sentences starters to each page (some examples - One thing Jim's friends don't know about him is . . . or Jim will never forget the day he . . . or Jim hopes that some day he can...) Print these out on large sheets of paper. You should have one handout for each character.

In class, hold up your coursebook and say the names of the characters. Ask students what they remember about them. Tell the class that you're going to give them an opportunity to think more about these people. Put students into four groups, and give each group a handout. The groups will now work together to complete the sentences. Encourage them to be as creative as possible. When they're finished, ask the groups to put their handouts on the board for the entire class to read.

(For more practical teaching ideas, seek out a copy of my latest book, Provoking Thought.)

What about you? If you're working with a coursebook, what are some interesting games and activities you've developed to give students more practice? Post them here for everyone to read.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Fourth guest post - Shelly Terrell, author of The 30 Goals Challenge

This week's guest blog is from Shelly Terrell, currently one of the top bloggers in ELT. She is a technology teacher trainer, the VP of Educator Outreach for, and an English language teacher based in Germany. She is the co-organizer and co-creator of the award winning educational projects, Edchat and the Virtual Round Table ELT conference. The New York Times learning blog has included her on its list of the top 78 educators to follow. Her language education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp Blog, is ranked as one of the top 50 best blogs for education leaders and as one of the top 10 for English language teachers. I invited her to talk a little bit about her e-book, The 30 Goals Challenge, and her motivation for self-publishing.

The 30 Goals Challenge: Join the Movement

The 30 Goals Challenge did not begin as an e-book. The 30 Goals Challenge began as a blog series. In January 2010, I set-out to complete 30 short-term goals and invited my readers to complete these with me. We accomplished one goal a day. The idea was that at the end of the month we would feel like we accomplished so much and this feeling would help spur us to accomplish more throughout the year. Previously, I had set out to accomplish so many long-term goals and remembered that at the end of every January I was dejected when I had not made any progress.

A Community Movement

The experience was incredible. Each day, I was able to read blog posts from others who reported their experiences accomplishing the goals. I read comments and e-mails where perspectives were changed. I read how teachers stepped out of their comfort zones and how this improved their students' learning. These were 30 social media goals aimed at professional development for teachers new to social media. We accomplished them as a community and helped encouraged each other, because accomplishing a goal a day and blogging about it is not an easy task. We needed the support, therefore, I created a hashtag, #30goals, and we were able to communicate that way as well. We learned from each other and discovered how each of us tackled each goal. We learned from each other and supported each other.

Self-Publishing Challenges

February quickly came and the challenge was over and many others wanted to start the challenge. This is when I decided to offer The 30 Goals Challenge as a free e-book. A blog limits the way readers can interact with materials. Posts are not linear and the reader cannot shuffle back and forth like they can with an e-book. Also, I wanted whoever took the challenge to be able to print the e-book and make notes.

After deciding to create the e-book, I had to decided how to self-publish this e-book. I tried several free services and spent hours trying to accomplish this by February. The 30 Goals Challenge was unique. Each post had links to resources and I wanted to ensure the e-book was clickable. Additionally, I wanted to make sure that people could download the e-book in paper form for free. Also, I wanted to be able to design the e-book and have statistics of how many people viewed the book. After researching several websites, I picked Yudu as the website to publish the book. Yudu is a free service that allows you to easily embed your e-book, allows readers to view the book online, and allows for clickable links. For those just starting to publish an e-book this is an excellent service. You have the option of charging for the book and paying for your book to be read on mobile devices. The website is easy to use and offers a free registration.

PDF Woes

Before adding the book to Yudu, I had to create a PDF of the book with clickable links. I investigated several ways to accomplish this task. This took several hours of research, because each PDF service would not allow me to include clickable links. Finally, I discovered how to do this by using Open Office, the free alternative to Microsoft Word. I created the e-book with Open Office and included the clickable links and images. Then I saved the document as a PDF. This was the only free software I found that made adding clickable links possible. Creating the PDF was simple with Open Office and I would do this again.

How the 30 Goals Challenged Improved My Blogging

Creating this e-book not only helped me accomplish more than I ever accomplished in a month, but the experienced helped me grow and shine in so many ways. First, I learned about community building and support. The e-book increased my blog traffic and helped me build relationships with my readers. For this reason, I strongly believe that bloggers should try self-publishing, especially if they want to sell a book some day. A free e-book helps your readers discover your writing style and thoughts. If they like your e-book, then they are more likely to buy a book from you in the future.

In May I celebrated my blog's one year anniversary. This e-book has helped my blog achieve so much in one year and the blog has won numerous awards in such a short time. I believe this success has been because of the 30 Goals Challenge. In 4 months, The 30 Goals Challenge: Join the Movement has been viewed over 1500 times. Others have been inspired to create their own e-book series due to the 30 Goals Challenge. Some of the educators have shared this with their teachers and others with student teachers. As the summer begins, many have told me they will start the challenge.

You can download The 30 Goals Challenge for free here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Third guest post - Sean Banville, author of 1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers

The author of this week's guest blog post may already be familiar to some of you ELT blogoholics. Karenne Sylvester of Kalinago English referred to him as "an unsung hero of ELT", which I hope changes soon (the unsung part, not the hero of ELT part)...

He's the man behind the Breaking News English website, as well as 4 other sites full of free ESL/EFL teaching materials, ESL Discussions, ESL Holiday Lessons, Famous People, and Listen a Minute, not to mention his informative blog. Somehow with all this activity he still has the time to teach full time at a university in the United Arab Emirates. And he's got an e-book which is the subject of this post. Unlike the books mentioned in the two previous posts, Banville's book is an e-book published without the help of a self-publishing company. Here's Sean to tell you the story of his e-book, 1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers:

I started writing my one and only e-book in late 2004. I had just uploaded my very first website and I thought selling an e-book on it would get the millions rolling in. No need to read to the end to see if the book made me rich - it didn't. But, I'm glad I wrote it. I have got back in financial terms the time I invested in writing it. In fact, the literary adventure got me going on a second e-book, which suddenly became a website at the last minute - more on that later.

I have a huge collection of ESL ideas and resource books. I bought anything and everything that came out. One day, it struck me how little was in them - so few ideas for so much $35, $40, $49.99… One glossy book I bought, written by a well-known ESL author, had 23 ideas in it. "Hang on a minute," I thought. "I can do better than this," I thought… "I'll write a book with 1,000 ideas in it," I thought.

And so with all that thinking, that's what I did. I decided to write a book that would complement my breaking news website. I never doubted for a second that I would be able to come up with 1,000 ideas. I had a brainwave and came up with a sharp and snappy title: "1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers".

I had never written a book before. I didn't want to waste time reading about how to write books, or what's involved in creating a successful e-book. So I just spent a few hours each day writing down the ideas I came up with. Slowly, it began to look like they might fit into different categories, which would become the chapters. Once I had the chapters, it made it easier to come up with more ideas. Then came sections within the chapters and more ideas for those. The result was a mixture of 1,000 ideas and photocopiable resources.

I can't remember how long it took to write - not too long. I was very pleased with the result… until it came to proofreading the whole thing several times. That wasn't much fun.

With the proof-reading over, I made a cover page for it and uploaded it onto my site. I thought a price of $9.99 seemed fair. The research I did on similar books meant mine was at least half the price of "the competition" and up to $40 cheaper than the ones with the glossy cover and 23 ideas you can buy in bookstores.

I made the book available for sale on my 41st birthday - thought that would be a good omen. I eagerly waited next to my e-mail InBook for the flood of orders to come. I wasn't exactly deluged that first day. I got five orders, which made it my most successful day ever. That was nearly five years ago. I was really pleased with that first day. The fact that I've never matched those heady sales figures since has never really worried me. Each sale every other day or every other few days makes me really happy. So too do the e-mails I get from people who buy my book to tell me they really like it.

In those early days I was approached by several ESL websites with an online shop on their site. These sites wanted permission to sell my book on their site, giving me a share of the sales. One site wanted to sell it for $29.95. I said no to all these sites, thinking it could create some ill will if someone bought the book only to find it $20 cheaper on my site.

Soon after I put my book for sale, I started my second book. I liked the idea of 1,000 things on this and that, so I had a brainwave and came up with the sharp and snappy title: "1,000 Discussions for Language Teachers". Not sure how far through writing this I got when I decided to abandon the book idea and turn it into a website. It became ESL - an abridged collection of just 600 discussions. I thought I might make more money from Google ads if the materials were in the form of a website instead of a book. I'm not sure which would have been more successful financially, but I'm happy with it being a website.

My adventure with writing an e-book has been pretty much that. I never got too excited about the thought of possible riches, and have never been disappointed with the trickle of sales I eventually got and am currently getting. I think it's a pretty cool thing to have on my sites. That thought and the e-mails I receive from satisfied customers are reward enough. I would happily write another book and put it up for sale on my sites, if ever I had another idea.

I never really spent too much time on how to market my e-book or sell it. I've always been too busy making teaching materials for my seven websites and blog. All I have done to 'market' it is create a dedicated page ( advertising its wares, with a sample 6-page PDF download. I often wonder whether 6 pages of free samples might be too much - people could be happy with those and not buy the book. Who knows?

I guess were I to venture into marketing it more, the way to go would be to set up a separate website for the book - "1,000 Ideas for Language" or something just as snappy. A fellow webmaster did the same and he seems to think (in a tweet or two) that a separate, dedicated site is worthwhile.

My parting advice would be to write that e-book if you really want to write something. Once it's written, there are many ways to get it out there, although I'm not the expert on this. I'm just happy I wrote mine.

* Sean Banville
* Free ESL lessons based on current news stories.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Second guest post - Paul Rowe, author of Multifunctional Activities

This week, Paul Rowe, an ELT expert working in Vietnam explains why he self-published his e-books, The Little EFL Book and Multifunctional Activities. (There's even a third title on the way, Multifunctional Activities for Crowded Classrooms.) He gives some very persuasive reasons why self-publishing can be a highly rewarding option for ELT authors.

As promised, I will write something about being an author of EFL books. If you don’t mind I would like to look at ‘why’ we might write books.

Aren’t there enough EFL/ESL books already written? Book stores, the internet, libraries, English schools, TESOL conferences, all endlessly dispensing the latest books to cure non-English. Teaching English to non speakers of English is a billion dollar industry. The use of books makes this industry possible. The sale of books makes this industry obscenely wealthy. But does the industry need more books? The industry would say “of course”. Teachers might have another opinion.

Hall’s series is focused on self publishing. We usually write because we genuinely feel we have something of value to pass onto our fellow teachers. Or maybe we are not happy with the support, resources and books available at the moment. Either way, authors are usually trying to help teachers make teaching a more enjoyable experience.

This is exactly how I got into writing my EFL books. I definitely was not impressed by what was happening in EFL teaching. To me it seemed that across time the process of teaching ESL had become very confused and complicated. There were so many options that teachers were swamped with choices. This seemed to be at odds with nature’s way of teaching/learning languages.

I have always been a minimalist. I don’t like long words, complicated ever- changing theories and endless, inconclusive research. Busy teachers don’t have the time for this. More importantly, most EFL teachers only spend a year or two overseas teaching, and then they head back to their REAL job. So getting straight to the absolute basics of being a successful EFL teacher is critical. I found no books which could do this. Therefore I set out to write an EFL teaching for dummies. This turned out to be much harder than I initially thought. It was only a chance meeting with Professor Paul Nation, while accidentally crashing a speakers’ dinner, that moved this idea forward. Paul Nation mentioned three actions of a successful ESL teacher. To my knowledge he has never written anything on this. I was very excited about this and questioned him more about it. I instantly realized that if teaching was based on proven actions, then endless theories, both educational and linguistic, could be thrown out of the equation. I did this with great delight. The moment I drop-kicked the theories and started using the actions of successful esl teachers, everything felt right. I felt confident and knowledgeable. After my illegal dinner with Paul Nation I headed for home. By the time I finished my short subway ride home, the book, now known as The Little EFL Book, had been completely outlined.

It took a couple of years to finish off, and to get brave enough to release it. It took some friends to point out to me that I had in fact written a completely new way to teach another language. I was stunned by this. Overtime I realise that I had also written the world’s simplest approach to teaching another language. I consider this to be of great benefit to the typical here-today-gone-tomorrow EFL teacher who wants to do a great job teaching.

This has only ever been released as an e-book, through A huge advantage of an e-book, is that it can be easily updated by the author. The ability to do this is very comforting. If you change your mind on something, just change it. No one will know. I am so happy with the e-book format that I have never had to seriously think about hard copy sales. Of course, I can at any time get into this aspect of publishing, with just a couple of mouse clicks in my Lulu account.

Another exciting reason why we write books is because something we wrote about in a former book, triggers a line of thoughts and actions. In The Little EFL Book I started discovering a notion which I called ‘multifunctionalism’. It seemed essential to good quality EFL teaching and learning. No sooner was book one finished, than I started on Multifunctional Activities. It was also released as an e-book. Multifunctional Activities for Crowded Classrooms is on its way as we speak. Another e-book.

I have been very fortunate. Because the first book was so different to anything on the market, and so well received by teachers, it seems that any subsequent books will also be highly regarded.

So in ending, if you can help fellow teachers in their struggle to make the world a better place, go ahead and write. We need more of these kinds of books.

Good luck.

Paul Rowe

An EFL teacher living and working in Viet Nam.
Masters of TESOL, B. of Educ., B of Arts, Dip Teaching, IELT, PELT, ISLPR.

Monday, May 17, 2010

First guest post - Chuck Johnson, author of Phat English

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts by ELT authors who have chosen to self-publish their works. I'm hoping these writers can shed some light on why they chose to self-publish and share some expert information on the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.

This week I'm very honored to present a post by Chuck Johnson, author of Phat English. Chuck is not only an EFL teacher, but also a pronunciation coach, a blogger, an actor, and a martial arts expert. You can read more about this multitalented individual on his Phat English blog, and his blog on the GaijinPot website. In this post, Chuck tells us about Phat English and relays his views on self-publishing.


When I first conceived of Phat English, a teaching method that utilizes specially designed hip-hop music to teach subtle nuances of GAm (General American and Canadian English) pronunciation, I was shot down by pretty much every publisher I brought the concept to.

Perhaps it was because I was trying as a foreigner in Japan (which is arguably the most risk averse society on earth), perhaps it was because I was young, inexperienced in business and writing, (or even teaching for that matter) or perhaps it’s because most people were skeptical that it can actually work. Whatever the reason, in the beginning, self-publishing was one of seemingly only two options I had: that, or quit.

Thankfully, I decided to dig my heels in, and go with the former. That was 5 years ago and it has never been a decision that I have regretted. Going through, and figuring out InDesign and Photoshop on my own, I was able to produce the first draft of my book for only the cost of hiring a friend to do my illustrations. After creating the first draft, I was able to publish a single copy- and then try it out, instead of having to commit to making and selling at least 50, 100 or 200 like most publishers asked for.

This allowed me to keep the book in a constant beta form, with which I could continually fix mistakes, experiment, improve explanations and layouts, and continually hone the book to the point that I was not just confident enough to start presenting and selling it- but to actually offer a 150% Money Back Guarantee to any unsatisfied buyers while I was doing it - something that not many people in the industry can claim to do.

Beyond that, the other great thing about self-publishing is that it allowed me the freedom of doing things my way. As I had no stuffy or controversy-averse corporate bosses to answer to, I could use the kind of humor, characters, and illustrations that I thought would appeal to high school and college kids, and keep it that way. I could also stick with my ideal of making the main characters in the text American ethnic minorities (something that I was also discouraged from doing, and as an African American English teacher myself, had always really yearned to see).

This is not to say in any way, shape, or form that self publishing is simple or the best way to go for everyone. Although I do very much endorse Lulu’s author support structure, (once I sold enough on my own, they offered to represent me on Amazon, and most recently at the North American Book Expo), much like in producing a film, the great advantage of selling your idea or script to a major publishing house is that you can pretty much rest assured that the whole process- from design to marketing and sales- is going to be taken care of by industry professionals who know what they are doing. In my case, every element of “Phat” right down to its success and proliferation, has always rested on my shoulders, and even if I enjoy it, I grow from it, and I learn from it, it can at times be both exhausting and expensive.

In the end however, the best thing about self-publishing is that you are not ruling out the major publishers. In fact, if you get schools, universities, and businesses using it, (as I have with Phat), you are bound to start getting their attention. And if they come to you, (instead of vice versa), you will be standing as an accomplished writer and businessperson- and not just some nobody with an idea- and that means negotiation power. For the time being however, even if I don’t make my living exclusively from Phat, I can enjoy every individual book sale because I know that I earned it completely through my own efforts. When I see people use it, I know that they are learning and growing and evolving as people because of something that I created with my own hands, and that also isn’t something that a lot of people can claim. Perhaps if that seems like something that appeals to you (or if as in my case, you don’t really have a choice because everyone else thinks your idea is lunacy) then self-publishing is a good option for you.


See and hear Phat English for yourself at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's worth taking a look...

Just a couple of days ago, my blog was featured on the $trictly 4 My Teacherz blog as part of this new thing (VALE A PENA...) invading the blogosphere. It seems if someone is put on one of these lists, it is imperative one must make a list of their favorite blogs, avoiding naming blogs that have already been mentioned. Flattered to be mentioned and placed at the very top of the list. (Thank you, Nicholas.)

Since the other bloggers have probably exhausted all the notable ELT/EFL/ESL/TESOL/Applied Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition related blogs, I thought I would share a few blogs on a topic close to my heart, creativity.

These nine (not-quite-ten) blogs might interest you if you: (a) want to become a more creative teacher, (b) would like to help your students develop creatively, or (c) just find the topic of creativity in general worth reading about. Pay attention, and you just might notice one blog that actually has something to do with ELT...

First on the list, Roger von Oech's Creative Think blog contains some smart posts on creative thinking. Here's a good example, "What's Your Creativity Style?". I can also recommend von Oech's books, A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.

Tim Hurson's blog, Think Better, offers engaging posts with catchy titles, such as You Can't Mow the Lawn With a Chainsaw. I read Hurson's book, Think Better, last year, and I was very impressed with his fresh take on the Creative Problem Solving model. His blog has not been updated in a while, but it's definitely worth exploring.

James C. Kaufman, a creativity researcher, has a blog titled And All That Jazz, which can be found on the Psychology Today website. Some very witty posts that do a good job of relating the findings of creativity research to everyday life and pop culture. His book, Creativity 101, is an excellent introduction to the research on creativity. You can read an excerpt here.

Michael Michalko is one of my favorite writers on creativity. His books Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity are beautifully written and offer a wide range of creativity exercises. His blog on hasn't been updated recently, but it has some great posts. Also, check out his website for even more of his work.

Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin blog (a.k.a. Digital Roam) presents some of his ideas on solving problems through drawing, or visual thinking.

Chaz Pugliese published his first book a few weeks ago on creativity and ELT, titled Being Creative. I was fortunate enough to get a copy and I think it's a great addition to the Delta Teacher Development Series. Earlier this year, he blogged for a few weeks on the Delta website, which you can see here.

Mary Beth Maziarz has a blog to go along with her new book, Kick-Ass Creativity. Take a minute to read this post, Why Does Creativity Matter?

Celestine Chua covers a large number of topics (including creativity) on her blog titled The Personal Excellence Blog. I bookmarked this post on 25 Brainstorming Techniques which appeared on her blog last year.

Another blog that has some superb posts on creativity is Psyblog, Jeremy Dean's blog all about scientific psychology and everyday life. Three posts well worth your time here: Boost Creativity: 7 Unusual Psychological Techniques, Why Group Norms Kill Creativity, and Brainstorming Reloaded.

Well, there it list of recommended blogs on creativity.

In just a few days, as promised, the first guest blog post in my series on self-publishing in ELT. See you soon!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coming soon...a new series on self-publishing in ELT

Last year, I self-published my second book, Provoking Thought, through Booksurge (a company now known as Createspace), which has been an extremely positive experience.

Recently, I've been in touch with some ELT experts who have self-published their own works. In May and June, A Teacher in Taoyuan will feature several guest posts from these authors.

Although Alex Case and Lindsay Clandfield have written some brilliant pieces on getting published in ELT, I thought I would focus on self-publishing here.

What is self-publishing? Self-publishing is basically publishing a book on your own, without a publishing company. POD (print-on-demand) companies have made it very easy to put together a book. Companies such as Xlibris, Authorhouse, Lulu, iUniverse, and Createspace all offer a wide range of services and packages. You can decide which level of service you want. The most reasonable packages simply offer the book on their websites and add an ISBN number. If you are willing to pay more, you can get help with editing, proofreading, cover design, and marketing.

Briefly I'll list some of the pros and cons of self-publishing:

Some pros:

- you don't have to face constant rejection from publishing companies. Many publishers are unwilling to take on new projects from obscure authors, so sending out book proposals might seem like a waste of time.

- you have complete control over the content of your book. You don't have to compromise anything.

- you can get your book out quickly. While it can take long months, even years to get your book through the publishing process, your book can be self-published in a matter of weeks.

- you might find self-publishing perfect for your situation. For example, you might want to publish a number of books for a teacher training session or a seminar.

- you still have the rights to your book (although this may not be true with all POD companies). This can be ideal if a major publisher wants to re-publish your book.

- if you're lucky, you might profit off self-publishing (however, see cons #1 and #2 below)

Some cons:

- you have to pay for everything yourself. Not a problem if you're an expert at proofreading, formatting, cover design, sales, marketing... However, if you're paying others to do all these things, it can get expensive.

- you may never earn back your initial investment. Even if you've put together an ELTON-worthy classic, destined to revolutionize language teaching as we know it, there's no guarantee you will sell more than a few copies.

- there's less prestige for a self-published title. Therefore, it may be difficult to get your title reviewed or get your book on the shelves in libraries and bookstores.

If you'd like to learn more about self-publishing, these links should give you plenty to think about:

Wikipedia entry - Self-publishing

How Stuff Works - "How Self-Publishing Works"

CNET - Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know

In the next few weeks, I'll be handing the keyboard over to some ELT authors who will share their experiences with self-publishing. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

odd moments in ELT history

One of the more unusual efforts to promote the learning of EFL appeared in Tainan City, Taiwan about 8 years ago. The city's mayor had the idea that getting the garbage trucks to blare out phrases such as "HOW ARE YOU?" at top volume was a fantastic way to help the Taiwanese develop their English. You can read more about this revolutionary new teaching method here:

Monday, April 26, 2010

more free stuff

Hotch Potch English is giving away copies of Seeds of Confidence, a recent book of activities for language teaching published by Helbling Languages. All you need to do is enter a comment. Follow the link here:

Friday, April 16, 2010

no show at Harrogate

Yup, it's true, I couldn't make the legendary 2010 IATEFL conference in Harrogate, although I've caught a few glimpses of what I missed here and there on the web.

One presentation in particular interested me was about teaching creative skills in EFL. Marisa Constantinides put the abstract, summary, notes and power point for her presentation titled "Embedding Creating Thinking Skills Training into our EFL Practice" up on her blog. Some good background on creativity, as well as a lot of practical ideas for teaching.

What about you? If you attended, which presentations would have impressed me the most?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reviews, promotion for Provoking Thought

My second book, Provoking Thought, was published in late 2009. It's a collection of over 90 practical activities for language teaching. The chapters cover five topics: thinking, memory, creativity, critical thinking, and organizing ideas on paper.

If you'd like to learn a little bit more, here are a few related articles and reviews:

Humanising Language Teaching published a book preview in 2009, which introduces the book and contains 6 sample activities.

ELT Weekly chose Provoking Thought as its "Book of the Month" in February.

It's Magazine gave a number of its authors a chance to introduce their latest works in an article titled "Getting Published". This article features several new ELT titles including Provoking Thought. has "Sharing Thoughts in the Language Classroom", an article related to the main theme of Provoking Thought.

Finally, published this review a few days ago.

Okay, that's probably enough self-promotion for today. Watch this space for more reviews and articles.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Free stuff from publishers

I've been looking over several ELT publisher websites recently, and I've been impressed with the amount of things offered for free. I don't intend to create a comprehensive list here, but just list a few examples.

Many publishers provide book previews. For example, Cambridge University Press offers a few sample activities from their popular handbooks for teachers series, as well as some handouts and activities from their copy collection. Helbling, Delta and Oxford also offer some similar previews. For example, on this page you can try out four sample activities from Daniel Martin's book Activities for Interactive Whiteboards. And here, you can see an activity from David Heathfield's title Spontaneous Speaking. And this page takes you to several activities from Jamie Keddie's Images.

Another free resource is the unique page (or even site) given to a book. Cambridge offers pages for several of their books, including Working with Images by Ben Goldstein, as well as The Internet and the Language Classroom. Macmillan has set up a very impressive site for Lindsay Clandfield's new series, Global. This site features teaching tips, elessons (by It's Magazine editor Robert Campbell, teacher blogs, not to mention a sample chapter from Global Pre-Intermediate. Pearson Longman also has websites for over 70 of its titles. Moreover, they give out lesson plans and practical articles about teaching absolutely free.

Other offerings include blogs from famous names in ELT, author videos, conference handouts and sample chapters. Over at Delta Publishing, you can find a Delta Development Blog, featuring Scott Thornbury, Mario Rinvolucri, among others. The blog currently features Chaz Pugliese, author of the soon-to-be-released Being Creative. Michigan University Press has a series of videos associated with several of their titles. They also provide sample chapters, such as a web-only chapter, Drills, Dialogues and Role Plays, from Tools and Tips for Using ESL Materials by Ruth Epstein and Mary Ormiston. Alta Publishing has a great page of handouts from conferences with a lot of practical activities.

With this many free articles and activities, I look forward to the day when all ELT titles are available online (and at the same time, authors are offered multimillion dollar salaries). Well, maybe I'm dreaming...

I get the feeling I've only scratched the surface here. Anybody out there care to recommend any free resources by the publishers mentioned above that I neglected to mention? Or maybe an ELT publisher that I haven't heard of yet?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The latest Think Tank

Think Tank, a regular feature at ELT News, has a new panel discussion up. This time it's all about self-study.

Interesting stuff. I especially liked Curtis Kelly's notes on extensive listening.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

new article in ESL Magazine

A former colleague, and good friend, Andy Starck, was recently published in an issue of ESL Magazine. He wrote a colorful piece about his experiences teaching at a university in southern Taiwan, titled "Time for Change". Although the article is not available on the ESL Magazine website, I highly recommend it to anyone who has access to the latest issue.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

book trailers

Last week, I read this article on the website:

Never Coming to a Screen Near You - Laura Miller

While I agree with the author's point (many of these videos are poorly made), I have seen a few that I thought were very professionally executed. One such example is the clip for Lindsay Clandfield's new series of coursebooks, Global. Scroll down to the middle of this page to see it:

Global - About the Course

Two non-ELT videos I think are worth watching:

Drive by Daniel Pink

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

I think the best clips catch the viewer's attention with strong visuals, and impart the main idea behind the book in just a couple of minutes.

Thanks to Jamie Keddie's marvelous website, I've started using video clips in my lessons, and I've been thinking about how book trailers could be used in the classroom. While Laura Miller might disagree, a judiciously chosen book trailer could provide the perfect stimulus for some fluency practice.

Some suggestions:

- If you're teaching a reading course, play a trailer for a book that students will be reading. Ask students to write a few sentences predicting the content of the book.

- Play several book trailers and ask students to discuss which one they thought was the most appealing and why.

- Play a number of awful book trailers and get students to vote for the worst one. Ask students what qualities made the trailer so bad.

- Assign students to watch book trailers on the Bookscreening website, and leave comments on one they particularly liked/hated.

- Use a book trailer as a springboard for a discussion about different ways to promote books and the effectiveness of using videos.

- Play a memory game. Give students a quiz on what they remember from watching a book trailer. Alternatively, they could work in groups to create tough questions for another group to answer.

- Use the audio portion of the book trailer for a dictation or a dictogloss.

- If your school has the technology for making videos, do a project where students must create a video introducing a book they like (it could be a book in their native language, but the video must be in English). If you have no access to a camera, you could ask students to create a script or a storyboard for a book trailer instead.

- An unplugged activity involves doing the reverse. Instead of creating a video to sell a book, ask students to create a short book to sell a TV series or movie.

One last suggestion - ask students to imagine a book trailer for their own autobiography - what would be featured in this book trailer? Get students to share their ideas in groups.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sound sequences

One of my favorite ELT activities is the sound sequence. Here's how it works: Students hear a series of sound effects, then work in groups to produce a story based on the sound effects. A very simple, yet engaging way of getting students to produce an inventive story. I'm always amazed by the variety of stories conjured up by different groups.

Sound sequences first appeared in two books by Alan Maley and Alan Duff, with the brilliant titles Sounds Interesting and Sounds Intriguing. They came with a cassette of sound effects for the activities in the book. Unfortunately, these Cambridge University Press titles from the 70's are long out of print. Mario Rinvolucri wrote up an unplugged version of a sound sequence, published over a decade ago in Humanising Language Teaching, which you can see here. He also included a sound sequence titled "From Sounds to Mumblings to Stories" in the book Imagine That!, which he co-authored with Jane Arnold and Herbert Puchta. This book included an audio CD with the sound effects for the exercise.

What I want to know is, WHY hasn't anyone created a website with a collection of sound sequence podcasts? I think this would be a fantastic project for some hardworking podcaster out there.

For teachers who want to use sound sequences in their own classes, I can think of a few options. One is to follow the advice of Mario Rinvolucri in the article linked above, and create your own sound effects live. (Perhaps if you excel at this you might consider a second career as a foley artist.)

You can purchase CDs of sound effects such as this one, which contains hundreds of sound effects.

Another choice is to go online and find sound effects websites where you can download sounds for free. Here are a few examples:

A1 Free Sound Effects
Partners in Rhyme
PacDV Free Sound Effects

Now, a few random (very random) sound sequences I generated, using descriptions of the sound effects on the websites mentioned above.

striking a match...knocking...kisses...climbing wooden stairs...crowd cheering

horse breaking...snore...police arrive

elevator...fax...sneeze...machine gun...maniacal laughter

lion roar... pour drink with ice...wolf click...slap

Some questions:

Which of these four sequences do you think is the best? Can you think of a better arrangement of the sounds?

In terms of designing a sound sequence, should the sounds be put in an order that obviously tells a story (footsteps, knock on door, door opens, scream, gunshot) or should the order be made to challenge students (bird song, typewriter, laugh, toilet flush)? Should sound sequences include mostly sounds that are easily identifiable, or mostly sounds that are open to interpretation? And what is the optimum number of sounds in a sound sequence?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Calling on students randomly

While reading Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, I came across the following set of instructions in a fun activity called Best in 24:

Give everyone in the room, including yourself, a number. Roll the dice and ask the person corresponding to the number that comes up: What's the nicest thing you ate or drank in the last 24 hours?

I thought this over and realized there were two small flaws to this procedure.

First of all, this could be rather unwieldy in a large or extra large class. I have taught classes of 120 students before, and I can't imagine rolling 20 dice and counting up the numbers while students wait. However, I'm sure that Thornbury and Meddings intended this activity for more ideal class sizes.

Secondly, and more importantly, I wondered if rolling 2 or 3 dice and assigning numbers might make certain students more likely to be called on. I checked with a website called The Wizard of Odds, and realized that I was right. When rolling two dice, you are far more likely to roll a 6, 7 or 8, than a 2 or 12. And when rolling 3 dice, you will get a 9, 10, 11, or 12 more often than a 3 or an 18. In addition, when rolling two dice the number 1 never comes up, and with three dice, 1 and 2 never come up.

A solution? I have a few ideas for improving these instructions. One solution might be to use the odds for your own devious purposes. For example, give students who hardly ever speak out the numbers that you are more likely to roll, and give students who dominate the class the numbers you are less likely to roll.

If you want to get a real random number, you can use a random number generator. has a random number generator that is easy to use. Type in the range and click to get a random number instantly.

Another solution is to write everyone's name on index cards (or blank business cards) and shuffle them. This is probably the easiest solution, as you can make the cards once and use them many times.

One more (not so random) technique is to get a student to choose a second student to answer the question. This can be made more interesting by demanding that a student give a valid reason for passing the question on to a second student. If you think the reason is good enough, the second student must answer the question. If you think the reason is unacceptable, then the question goes to the first student. My students have come up with some pretty clever reasons!

Can you think of any other ways to call on students randomly that I haven't mentioned here?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

New discussion at Think Tank (ELT News)

This new article from ELT News Think Tank Panel got me smiling. I really enjoyed Marc Helgesen's idea about how to end a class properly.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Thinking Skills and CLIL

Over at the One Stop English website, Jean Brewster has contributed this article on thinking skills in CLIL:

It includes a clear introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy, as well as some examples of how thinking skills fit into CLIL lessons. Teachers interested in this topic might also want to look at my new book, Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT.