Working with words

I found this vocabulary activity in the article written by Keith S. Folse for English Teaching Forum magazine Number 3, 2008. The article mainly focuses on developing and reinforcing vocabulary in an EFL or ESOL classroom. The author describes the five types of words and vocabulary learning: a single word, a set phrase, a variable phrase, a phrasal verb, and an idiom. Further, he elaborates on additional aspects of vocabulary knowledge that ELLs must master to expand their lexis. He also shares ideas on the factors that enable English language teachers to select vocabulary for teaching and provides six vocabulary activities that teachers might find useful. The activity that I specifically like is labeled as Vocabulary Ladder Puzzle. In this task, the teacher creates a list of five words that all consist of the same number of letters. The second requirement is that each word is only one letter different from the word immediately above or below. For instance,

Then the teacher creates 5 sentences that serve as clues. The words should be replaced by dashes the number of which depends on the word length. If the words have 3 letters, then there are three dashes. The final version looks like the example below.

1. __ __ __ I need a ________ to write a note to my supervisor.

2. __ __ __ She put cookies on a _______ and baked them till they

were cooked.

3. __ __ __ I was thirsty, so I bought a _______ of Coke.

4. __ __ __ It’s hot and sunny outside, so if you don’t want to get a

sunstroke, wear a ______________.

5. __ __ __ I like to start my morning with a _______ of coffee.

In class, students work in pairs trying to figure out the words in the puzzle. If they cannot guess a word, they can move on to the next ones. Once they have some answers, they can rearrange the letters to identify the missing word. Since I mainly teach one-on-one classes, I use this activity as a warm-up or a five-minute filler at the end of the lesson. I consider this activity useful because vocabulary is introduced in the context and students are encouraged to talk about the words many times, which produces multiple encounters with the words.


♦️This activity is great for enabling your learners to enhance their listening skills and activate the existing vocabulary in the context. It can be adapted to any level.

Choose a funny story or if you have some funny stories from your own experience to share, that will work as well. Tell your students that you are going to read the story out loud, but you have a sore throat, so sometimes instead of saying the word, you will cough. Their task is to guess the word using the context. They can make a list of various words that in their opinion might fit.

I found this joke in Reader’s Digest of October 2018 (page 55). Read the text according to the instructions in the paragraph above. Try to complete the text with your versions.

If you teach a group of students, allow them to compare their answers before distributing the text with the gaps. Now students read the text and make their final choices. Go over their answers before giving the correct answers.

➡️This activity enables you as a teacher to direct your students’ attention to collocations and set expressions. In this particular case, they are “no longer”, “in mind”, “offer assistance”, “browse in the store”. As a follow-up you can use this text to introduce some grammar points: past continuous, present perfect, past participle clauses, how to use punctuation in direct speech. It’s a good alternative to a dictogloss activity the description of which you can find on my page.

Writing from Memory as an Activity to Develop Writing Fluency

Writing from Memory is another great activity that I have successfully used to enable my students to develop their writing skills. Yury Vedrashko, my former coworker, was the one who introduced it to me. To begin with, you need to select a text of 10 to 15 sentences appropriate for your students’ level. Then write each sentence on a separate slide using either a Power Point Presentation or ActiveInspire. Make sure that there is always a blank slide after the one with a sentence. Pre-teach anticipated unfamiliar vocabulary. I would even recommend leaving the words on the board throughout the duration of the activity for language support purposes.

Explain to the students that they will write down a text, but you are going to show them only one sentence at a time. They have 30 seconds to read and try to remember the sentence. They are not allowed to hold any writing utensils during this stage. After 30 seconds run out, click to a blank slide, and allow them to write down what they remember. If they remember only 2-3 words, that’s ok. Do a practice sentence once before the real exercise to make sure that they understand the rules:

  1. No writing utensils in hands during reading.
  2. 30 seconds to try to commit as much as they can to the memory.
  3. They can start writing once you click to a blank slide.
  4. Once they are done, they signal to you by putting their writing utensil.

Do not show the next sentence until everyone puts their pencils down. Upon completion, put your students in pairs or small groups and have them compare their answers. Set the time limit of 10-15 minutes. They must come up with one unified text that each participant agrees on. Then distribute the original text and have them compare their versions with it.

As a follow up, you can provide them with comprehension questions with the following discussion. You can also use this activity as a text-based grammar presentation to provide them with an opportunity to​ notice​ certain grammatical structures or as a starting point in the product approach to teaching writing skills.

Another way to recycle this text is to create a cloze passage using the same text, i.e. omit the words you want your students to practice and have them complete the text first working individually and then in groups comparing their answers.

Another way to use this activity is to present the sentences from the text in mixed order and then after they are done, ask your students to put them on a continuum. Or prepare sentence strips and have them reconstruct the text. This encourages the use of high-order thinking (HOT) skills since they need to figure out the relationship between the sentences to keep the text cohesive. The latter is also great for kinesthetic learners because they manipulate the strips manually.

I believe that this activity is a genuinely communicative one since it encourages language learners to focus on the meaning, i.e. what is said and provides them an opportunity to pick up the language incidentally just by doing the task.

My Delta Journey

When I decided to become a Delta certified teacher, I was living and teaching in Fujairah, one of the emirates in the UAE. By then I had been teaching EFL for about 14 years in Kazakhstan, the USA, and the UAE, and had an experience of working as an English program coordinator at a private college. I also held a BA in TEFL from a Soviet tertiary institution which was evaluated as an MA in TEFL in the USA. At that moment, I was employed as an EFL instructor by Higher Colleges of Technology in Fujairah. There were a few more colleagues who shared the same aspiration as mine and without further ado, we entered the program offered by HCT. My plan was completing Module 2 first since I reckoned that it required other people to be involved unlike Module 1 and Module 3. I did Module 1 and 2 together; however, I passed Module 2 with merit and failed Module 1. To do Module 2, a teacher must have access to groups of students, preferably of various levels, and a qualified experienced teacher trainer who will observe your lessons, grade your background essays, commentaries, and lesson plans. This face-to-face tutor must also provide constructive feedback enabling the trainee to increase their level of expertise in ELT. The final stage of Module 2 includes being observed and assessed by an external assessor from Cambridge University. To be honest, I believe that Module 2 was the easiest of all. The challenge was mainly in writing background essays whereas lesson planning and teaching per se were enjoyable activities since this is what a teacher does regularly. When we finished Module 2, we discovered that we had written about 40,000 words during this module. All my groupmates but one passed Module 2, but we all failed Module 1.
I attempted to sit Module 1 exam 6 months later and failed again although I had taken an online course with IH. I still could not understand how to channel my ELT knowledge the Cambridge University way. At this point, I decided to focus on Module 3, and then work on Module 1. The main focus of my Module 3 assignment was teaching academic writing to pre-intermediate level students. I created a 21-hour long course on teaching narratives based on the needs analysis and the results of the diagnostic test conducted in one of my groups. I am tremendously grateful to my tutor Jon Turner who did a fantastic job guiding me through this module. He made me cry a few times. He made me mad. He made me work hard. When I sent him my final draft for the review with the comment: Honestly, I don’t think I can do anything else to improve my paper, even at gunpoint. He replied with, “what about at knifepoint?”
On having successfully passed this module, I started working towards Module 1. Having downloaded the reports on the previous Module 1 exams, I went over them with a fine-tooth comb. I made hundreds of flashcards with the ELT terminology and created study sets on which allowed me to review the main concepts and terms with the help of learning tools and games. I analyzed the tasks and identified the vernacular used to complete each one of them. I also looked at each separate task and made short descriptions of what exactly you are expected to do to complete it successfully. This all finally worked out, and I passed Module 1.
The following is a list of books that I found useful for doing Delta:
• Carter and Nunan (eds) (2001) The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CUP)
• Larsen Freeman (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching 2nd edition (OUP)
• Parrott, M. Grammar for English Language Teachers
• Kelly, G. How to Teach Pronunciation
• Hedge, T. Writing
• Graves, K. Designing Language Courses
• Thornbury S. An A–Z of ELT. A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts used in English Language Teaching
• Scrivener J. Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching [With DVD]
• Swan M. Practical English Usage, 4th edition

Using Whatsapp for Speaking and Listening Practice

Yuliya Speroff

This post expands on a presentation titled Extending the Classroom: Using Whatsapp for Listening and Speaking Practice which I made at the TESOL Greece 37th Annual Convention 2016 in Athens, Greece.

As I wrote in my conference presentation abstract, one of the biggest challenges EFL teachers face is providing students with opportunities and reasons to engage in meaningful interactions. Constraints imposed by curricula (e.g. not enough class hours for speaking) or classroom sizes often mean that the ways students interact in the classroom are limited and insufficient for achieving desired language proficiency. Introduction of mobile technologies into the classroom provides an additional platform for interaction and communication, as, according to Kukulska-Hulme et al (2015), “Mobile technologies expand and extend the territory where language may be rehearsed and practised.”

Mobile phones are everywhere, including the classroom, and they are here to stay.The multitude of articles and blog posts providing ideas on…

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My first job

It was the summer of 1985 when I opted to work as a kindergarten teacher assistant. At that time, it was still the USSR. The Soviet kindergartens were very well equipped to keep children aged from 12 months to 7 years old in a very comfortable and nurturing environment. They would be admitted at 8 o’clock in the morning and stay till 6 or 7 pm. Children were grouped according to their age; each group would spend the day in the area that consisted of a locker room where they could leave their personal belongings such as a change of clothing, toys, or snacks, a large playroom area, a bathroom, and a bedroom. Each child had their own bed, and they were expected to take a two-hour nap in the afternoon. My job responsibilities included keeping the area clean, serving meals, doing the dishes, and assisting the teachers whenever they needed help. My working day stared at 7:30 am and finished at 7 pm. The perks of the job were free meals and I could take a break when children were napping. There were usually two teachers working with the kids: one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
The reason I had to work that summer was pretty trivial. I wanted to purchase a winter coat which cost my mother’s monthly salary, and my parents refused to pay for it since it was too expensive. In the heat of the argument with my mom, I said that I could earn the money myself, and she responded with “well, if you want this coat so badly, you can go ahead and find a job.” Being a very stubborn adolescent, I followed her advice. That was my last school vacation because I just finished Grade 9 of secondary school. In the USSR children studied for 10 years at school; henceforth, they could either start working or continue their education at tertiary institutions.
It was a valuable experience in the end. I learned how to take care of 5 year old children along with other skills such as strong work ethics, working on a team, and great communication skills. Moreover I realized that should I choose not to pursue a higher degree I would probably have to do this physically strenuous job for the rest of my life. So to my mom’s enormous happiness I became a student at the Foreign Languages Department of Pavlodar Teachers’ Training Institute right after I graduated from high school. I obtained a BA in TEFL in 1992 to be the first person in my mother’s family who had a degree. My mom held an AA in accounting whereas my dad actually never finished high school but became a highly qualified professional welder.
So, what about the coat that I wanted so badly. I did purchase it but a few months later one of my besties and I swapped our coats. I guess sometimes when you get what you want so much it may turn out not to be that important after all.

Developing writing fluency


When the performance of specific tasks (e.g. spelling, punctuating a sentence, or ensuring subject-verb agreement) becomes automatic, EFL students can focus their attention on higher-order activities such as an idea, organization, paragraph cohesion, and better word choices. Automaticity is a teaching principle often addressed in the development of speaking and listening skills but might be overlooked in terms of writing.

One of the ways to develop writing fluency and remove the anxiety connected with writing is to have the students practice non-stop writing. I saw an article in English Teaching Forum magazine ( (Mathair, 2005)  which was talking about this technique. It is an ungraded classroom activity. The procedure is as follows. Once the topic is announced and put on the board, they have a minute to think about it. Then they begin writing for five minutes non-stop. Every time they do not know what to write, they can write I don’t know what to write until they get an idea. When the time is over, they are given another minute to self-edit their writing. In the end, if a student volunteers to share their writings with the class, they read their pieces of work to the whole class. Then the teacher may collect their compositions and make some short and encouraging comments on them. That is needed to ensure the students that their compositions have been read. The idea is to run this activity (at least) once a week. Each activity takes about 10 minutes, though the first time it is introduced to the class may require more time to explain the tasks, rationale, and outcomes.

I have used it in my writing classes a few times as a warm-up activity and my students responded to it positively. Moreover, they later used their notes for writing essays on similar topics. In addition to enabling them to gain writing-for-writing experience, this technique also gives them a chance to learn to write “against the clock” which is a very valuable skill in developing a sense of time since most tests they have to take upon completing the course require them to write timed essays.


I think I would love to work at this school

“If a school is too permissive, allowing too many exceptions, it risks creating helplessness, selfishness or dependence in its pupils rather than responsibility, consideration and agency. If a school reduces its standards for poorer pupils because of their poverty or difficult home life, it does them a disservice; frankly, it doesn’t believe in them enough. “

Reflections on my recent fiasco

Since I do not like to lose, I spent the last two weeks reflecting on why I failed to become a teacher at a middle school. When I learned that I was hired, I sent a few messages to the school principal asking him to provide me with the syllabi for the classes I was expected to teach and the head teacher’s phone number so that I could set up a meeting with them to discuss my responsibilities. In return, I got just promises. I had informed both the APS and the school principal that I was a new immigrant to the USA and had no idea how North American schools function. Three days before the first day of work, I came to school to at least get the lists of my students. I also hoped to get some kind of orientation where I would be shown the school premises and informed of the school policies. Nope, none of that. All I got was my schedule and teacher’s handbook.

In my previous places of employment, the administration conducted the induction where they introduced the school curriculum, textbooks, paperwork, expected job duties, and helped to set up job accounts. When I was Director of Studies at InterPress IH Karaganda, I trained new teachers who joined our team. The induction took three days where I showed them the paperwork that they were expected to work with, talked about the programs along with the required textbooks offered at our schools, answered a bazillion questions, at times the same ones over and over again. Moreover, I sent detailed instructions on all the procedures that took place at our school so that they would have a written record at their disposal. During the induction, the newcomers also observed classes given by experienced teachers.

There must be a mandatory orientation program conducted either by a public school district or a school administration even if a new teacher starts their duties not at the beginning of an academic year. This procedure should cover the school policies, its facilities, course program requirements, actions taken if students misbehave, and so on. My spouse, who is an American in the third generation, also mentioned how lost and frustrated he was when he started his career as a SPED teacher at a middle school. Had I gotten all the training needed for the successful entrance, I believe, I would have been better equipped for working at school.