Student Video Projects – Spring 2014

The final project for this semester’s High-Intermediate English Conversaton classes was to make a video based on the themes of work, time travel, or movies. Students had to use a number of grammar, vocabulary, and other language points they learned throughout the semester and combine them in a creative and interesting short film. The results were very good! Please enjoy! Feel free to comment.

The Professor’s Office
A “The Office” parody which follows a strange professor and his assistants.

Watching Modern Family
Students reenact a scene from Modern Family and then talk about the episode. Very funny!

Movie Talk
Students talk about “Dead Poet’s Society” and parody a scene. Great parody!

Back to the Future
Students parody “Back to the Future” and film a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Weird People at Baskin Robbins
Strange customers and a harsh interview – the world of Baskin Robbins is interesting.

Time Travel
A student gets zapped to the future and sees what its like.

Job Interview
Students go in for a job interview and are not happy with the results.


Research Bites: Skill Acquisition Theory and Language Learning


DeKeyser, R. M. (1998). Beyond focus on form: Cognitive perspectives on learning and practicing second language grammar. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Twitter Summary

DeKeyser suggests a cognitive sequence for explicitly learning and implicitly acquiring certain language skills. #researchbites

Note 1: This article presents a number of concepts, which I will try to distill below in bullet point format. Although this is a “research bite,” the article was quite in depth, so the write up will be longer than usual.

Note 2: Focus on form does not mean a focus on structures to the exclusion of meaning. In fact, focus on form is brought to attention after meaning is established. All work with forms keeps meaning central. Continue reading

Am I Really Helping Students Become More Autonomous?

Note: this post was written as an entry for the 41st ELT Blog Carnival on “Helping Learners Become More Autonomous”.

I talk about flashcards and corpus tools a lot to my students, but are they really listening? I show students the benefits of vocabulary journals, but do they really do it? I suggest sitcoms and movies for exposure to both language and culture, but do they take the time to watch it? These are some examples of how I show students the ways in which they can be autonomous language learners. However, promoting autonomy is not the same as influencing autonomy. For this blog post, and as my first entry into an ELT blog carnival, I’m exploring this question by looking at how students responded to a survey I gave them about my efforts to promote autonomy. But before that, I want to briefly discuss my conception of autonomy and give more details on what I do to promote it in the classroom.

What is autonomy?

Most people claim that you can’t learn a language in the classroom. If this were true, it would mean thousands of students, teachers, and researchers are wasting their time, falsifying their results and experiences in the name of some global educational-industrial complex conspiracy. I don’t think this is the case.

No, you definitely can learn a language in the classroom. But the thing is, you can’t learn it only in the classroom. This “only” presents a major difference between the former claim and the latter statement. The classroom can provide a conducive environment for explicit and intensive language study and even meaningful effective language practice. In fact, the classroom might provide the only opportunity for language usage in some contexts. All this being said, you do have to put in some effort outside of the classroom. This forms the basis of student autonomy – the idea that students interact with the language on their own intrinsically motivated accord. Autonomy, at least to me, is a rather broad concept that includes a spectrum of activities from grammar and vocabulary study to seeking out authentic interactional situations with native or target language speakers.

How I Promote Autonomy

The classroom and autonomy are not mutually exclusive spheres of language learning. In fact, as teachers, one of our responsibilities is to promote and influence student autonomy. Therefore, classroom experiences can feed directly into students autonomous language learning experiences. I don’t know how much I actually promote autonomy, and I don’t know if I do it as well as some, but I do promote it, mostly by recommending tools that students can use to study they language better. Upon thinking about it, I have two strategies for promoting autonomy.

First, I there are certain tools that I frequently use and demonstrate in the classroom, showing how students can use these tools on their own to study English. Lately, these have included StringNet, Word and Phrase, Learner’s Dictionary,, Lyrics Training, and Quizlet. Regarding the first two tools (which are corpus or data-driven learning tools), I bring these up a lot and students can see I am passionate about them. I also convert all our vocabulary into Quizlet sets in the hopes that students use them. I also demonstrated the purpose and methods of keeping a lexical / vocabulary journal.

The second strategy is to require usage of certain tools in order to get students “hooked” on using them themselves. For instance, I often require students to do homework using corpus tools at least a few times during the semester. And this semester, I regret not requiring lexical journals as a major project for assessment. I demonstrated lexical journals, but did not require it and therefore not everyone created one. I also didn’t do as many quizzes as planned from the Quizlet sets, which means students may not have been studying them as much as they could have. Despite all this, I do think requiring students to use certain tools is a good first step to autonomy. Students reluctance to use certain things is often based on their unfamiliarity with them. Requiring their usage is akin to a training period. If they found the tools useful and successful after being required to use them, they they would adopt their autonomous usage.

I also tend to suggest English media, and I find this to be another form of promoting autonomy. By taking the effort to watch, listen, and read authentic English media, students are exposing themselves to language, content, and culture. To understand what they are exposing themselves to requires students to practice and apply both linguistic skills (listening, reading, comprehension) and analytic skills (relating what they are seeing to prior knowledge about the culture, comparing to their own lives and cultures, etc). Because of this, I see exploration of English media as another form of autonomy.

The Survey

I didn’t want to find out how autonomous students were. Instead, I wanted to find out if they had been doing anything I had suggested. In other words, I wanted to know if I had any effect on their autonomy as language learners. I created a simple survey (through Google Forms) and sent the link to all my current students (56). I asked these 4 questions:

  1. Do you often use any websites or tools that I introduced to you?
  2. Have you watched any TV shows or movies, listened to any music, or read anything I have recommended?
  3. Have I motivated you to use English outside the classroom at all?
  4. Finally, in what ways (if any) have I helped you become a more autonomous English learner?

Only 14 students replied. It was an optional survey, and it is close to finals, but that’s still a disappointing number. Nevertheless, I think it gave me enough insight to say that I have been successful at influencing some students’ autonomy. If all students had responded, I may have had a clearer picture, but I will work with what I got:

  • 6 students responded that they use StringNet often, especially to find collocations.
  • 2 students mentioned using Quizlet
  • 9 students have watched or have been watching things I have introduced in class, including TEDTalks, Modern Family, Community, and Shaun of the Dead.
  • 9 students felt I had motivated them to use English outside the classroom, finding the expressions I have been teaching them quite useful.

So, there you have it. It’s not much, but it does show me that I do have an effect on students. My constant yammering about StringNet seems to have influenced them, but for some reason not Word and Phrase. I have to admit that I did not demonstrate Quizlet enough in class, so maybe that can account for the low usage. I’d say student’s beginning to explore English media is a win in terms of autonomy and extensive listening. And finally, I was happy to see that my students have found my teaching useful outside the classroom. They left some pretty touching remarks for the final question. (I have included a screenshot of all their responses at the bottom of this post.)

Helping Learners Become More Autonomous

What does this tell me about how to help learners become more autonomous? If students see that their teacher is passionate about some tool, book, or show, then they are more likely to try it themselves. This actually makes a lot of sense because, as teachers, we serve as a of model (whether we like it or not) of language learning and language usage. Students strive to emulate us or our abilities and therefore may adopt what we consider useful. Another reason why this makes sense is that being passionate about something in the classroom is directly related to having high teacher plausibility - active and enaging teaching based on the “personal conceptualisation of how their teaching leads to desired learning”. Teachers with high levels of plausibility are very effective teachers because what they do in the classroom is not mechanical or routinized but dynamic and real. By extending this plausibility beyond classroom teaching to promoting student autonomy, it can be argued that this also influences how the effect on students. Or, put simply, one’s passion for language learning is infectious!


Click to enlarge.


Research Bites: Making Language Noticeable


Seong, M. (2009). Strategies making language features noticeable in English language teaching. Journal of Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics, 13(1), 113-126. [link]

Thanks to Dayle Major for suggesting the article.

Twitter Summary

Seong (’09) shows that repetition and restatement (among others) may be best strats to promote noticing in classroom.


  • Most researchers in second language acquisition and applied linguistics believe that noticing is a prerequisite to language acquisition, though the exact mechanism that leads from noticing something to acquiring or internalizing something is not exactly known.
  • According to a number of researchers, noticing occurs when learners pay attention to certain aspects of input. Noticing also occurs when students compare their interlanguage to that of the expected target language. Therefore both noticing through input and output promote acquisition.
  • Classrooms that are entirely meaning based may be missing out on this important aspect. However, a focus on meaning is fine so long as learners attention is drawn to certain linguistic features and errors.

Study and Results

Seong conducted survey research on 113 Korean university students to ascertain which teaching strategies students believed promoted noticing the best. She also looked at if these preferences differed by level. On the survey, she asked students to rate each strategy as very important, important, mediocre, hardly important, not important at all. Below is a table I made of the results.

noticing strategies

Note, H = high level, I = intermediate level, and L = low level.



Although this research gives us some insight into what some students think are effective noticing strategies, I see two major issues with this study. First, most of these strategies are poorly defined, if defined at all. For example, what does “previewing,” “imitation,” or “expansion” really mean? There is no indication in this article and it is not exactly obvious from the terminology. Second, this research only looks at students perceptions, not what was actually effective for making them notice linguistic features. Perceptions are important, of course, but without a more rigorous empirical investigation of noticing strategies, we can’t say for sure which truly are useful and why.


The results of this article are useful for starting a discussion about effective noticing strategies, what strategies are useful for what levels, and timing (i.e. at what point or in what activities should we draw students attention to language features).

Related Readings



KWIC Vocabulary Review Activity

I am a big fan of data-driven learning (DDL) and using linguistic tools (such as COCA, StringNet, and Word and Phrase) in the classroom in order to give students a different perspective on language study. I had been looking through a wonderful little book called “Classroom Games from Corpora” by Ken Lackman and modified one of his activities for one of my classes, with good results. This book presents a number of useful activities that can be used in the classroom after a little preparation from your favorite corpus.

So, I would like to present a fun and useful activity modified from Lackman’s “Guess the Missing Word” activity (p. 14) that can be adapted and expanded in a myriad of different ways. It is based on showing a list of KWIC (keyword in context) concordances with the keyword missing. Students will have to guess the missing word during a line race activity. This is a simple review activitya that works well at the beginning of class, as it gets students up out of their seats and moving around a bit.

Basically, students will be split into two teams and make a line on either side of the screen or board. The instructor will show a slide with a number of concordances all missing the same keyword. The first to guess the keyword wins a point for their team. They go to the back of the line and the next two students continue the game. Afterwards, students can be given the complete concordances and asked to search for common patterns (collocations, colligations), which can then be discussed together as a class.


This activity assumes you have PPT or some way to project something on a screen. If you don’t, it can still be done with the modified KWIC concordances printedb.


(Note: there is a video of this method below.)

  1. Using Word and Phrasec (or COCA), do a search with your missing word. You may have to select the correct word form if your word can also be used as a verb, noun, adjective, etc.
  2. Copy the all the KWIC concordances at the bottom. The quickest way to do this is to click on the concordance frame and do CTRL+A (select all) and CTRL+C (copy). Then paste them into excel and remove the first 8 rows (which will leave you with only the concordances) and the first 2 columns. Resize columns to your liking.
  3. Now, for this activity, a maximum of 20 concordances is suggested. You probably have over 100, so select some rows to delete and whittle down until you have 20. I wouldn’t recommend randomly removing rows. Instead, consider what common words, parts of speech, or patterns you think students already know, or you will want them to study as part of the expansion.
    1. For example, for the verb “commit”, most common words on the right would be a crime noun, “by” for the passive form, and maybe “in” for places.
  4. Do steps 1-3 for each vocabulary word. It only takes a few minutes once you’ve done it a few times. Add each word to a separate tab/sheet in Excel.
  5. When you have all your words, in Excel, choose a sheet, select all the words in the three columns and paste it into PowerPoint. Resize and format as necessary.
  6. Delete the keywords in the middle.
  7. Repeat this, with each set of concordances on a different slide.
  8. Add whatever bells and whistles you want.


  1. Students are split into two teams (evenly or randomly; more than two teams is also possible).
  2. Each team forms a line facing the board.
  3. The teacher explains/demonstrates/models the activity:
    1. The students at the front will see a list of sentences missing a common vocabulary word.
    2. Whoever guesses the word first wins a point for their team.
    3. Both students will go to the back of the line and the next students will continue the game.
    4. The team with the most points is the winner.

Here is an example PPT of concordances I made. It’s really nothing special. For this PPT, I made the concordances in Word, put them into a PDF (for an unrelated reason), and then took a snapshot of the concordances in the PDF and pasted them into PPT. Sounds complicated but it probably took me 2 minutes.


There are a number of ways to expand this activity. Here is one idea I had:

  1. After playing the review game, students are given the one set of complete concordances so that each group has a different set.
  2. Students look at the examples and try to find any language patterns apparent.
  3. Meanwhile, the teacher writes the vocabulary words on the board.
  4. After a set amount of time, the students come to the board and write the language patterns they found under the respective keyword.
  5. A short class discussion is held.

Some other ideas would be to have students fill in the keyword using the correct verb form (if you are looking at verbs) or to randomly mix concordances so that one set has a range of different vocabulary words. Then students must guess what words are possible there. I did this last idea in class with adjectives where multiple adjectives are possible. It was a good activity, though it seemed difficult for students.

So, what do you think of this activity? Have you tried something similar? Do you have any comments or suggestions?


  1. You could also get students to investigate these words on their own for homework. This may make them better prepared for this activity.
  2. If you don’t have the technology needed for this activity, you can simply print each concordance set on a piece of paper. Instead of showing the set on screen, hand one set to each student at the front of the line. Do this at the same time and it is just like looking at one projected screen. They can then keep the set to use during the expansion stage.
  3. With Word and Phrase, you can only search for one word terms. However, you can click almost any word in the concordances to show it with the keyword. This might help you find more specific instances of the term you are looking for. You can also click on the words in the “Collocates” box and choose different examples of different collocates. Copy and paste them as you would above. You’ll just have to remove more rows in Excel.

Research Bites: Grammar Beyond the Sentence


Granger, S. (1999). Uses of tenses by advanced EFL learners: evidence from an error-tagged computer corpus. Language and Computers, 26, 191-202. [link]

Twitter Summary

Granger (’99) says that too much focus on sentence-level grammar may neg. affect grammar skills. #researchbites


Many learner tense errors may be the result of focusing too much on clauses and sentences rather than at the discourse level. This is likely due to teacher’s focusing on grammar at the sentence level.


In this study, Granger looked at two 75,000 word corpora made up of French university EFL students’ writings. The corpora had already been error tagged previously using the manual Computer-aided Error Analysis system. She analyzed the corpora for verb tense errors, looking for patterns of misuse or nonuse.


Granger found that these learners had most problems with certain pairs of tenses, often confusing the first with the second:

  • the present simple for the simple past <– this was the most prevalent kind of error
  • the present continuous for the present simple
  • the simple past for the present perfect
  • the simple present for the present perfect
  • the past perfect for the simple past

Granger claims that both sentence-level focus and L1-L2 interference are to blame for this. I will focus on the first claim: she noted that incorrect verb tenses were often correct when the sentence was taken out of context, but in context the tense was incorrect. In addition, over-reliance on time markers (e.g. for, since, ago) which automatically trigger a certain tense caused incorrect choices in the sentence’s context.

She claims this is likely “teaching-induced” and points to grammar guides stating rules without attending to important principles such as “tense continuity” (i.e. cohesion; pp. 5-6).

Practical Applications

Two practical applications stand-out: 1) don’t teach grammar at the sentence level and 2) don’t teach trigger words (e.g. for, yet, since, never) as hard and fast rules. She also states that, at the advanced level, tenses need to be taught contrastively.

Personal Reaction

Granger is a well known researcher in corpus linguistics and data-driven learning. What’s interesting here is she is suggesting that data-driven learning (in the form of KWIC concordances) may not be suitable for learning tenses because only a truncated context is shown. So, perhaps DDL is more useful for less cohesive or discourse-related linguistic items. Indeed, in my own research on adverbial connectors, DDL did not necessarily cause an increase in effective use of them.

Questions for Discussion

Regarding discourse-level grammar teaching, I have to admit I am guilty of focusing mostly on the sentence, and teaching trigger words too. So, what are some useful techniques, ideas, and activities for teaching grammar beyond the sentence level?


Research Bites: Learning Connotation through Data-Driven Learning (DDL)


Mansoory, N., & Jafarpour, M. (2014). Teaching semantic prosody of English verbs through the DDL approach and its effect on learners’ vocabulary choice appropriateness in a Persian EFL context. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 5(2), 149-161. [link]

Twitter Summary

Mansoory et al found that corpus tools and DDL can lead to better understanding of connotation/semantic prosody for ELLs.


Semantic prosody is the connotation of words derived from their common collocations. For example, the verb cause has a negative semantic prosody because cause often collocates with negative words (e.g. problems, offence, distress). Vocabulary glosses and monolingual and bilingual dictionaries often only contain denotational information and are therefore not useful for learning connotation or semantic prosody. Through corpora, on the other hand, discovering semantic prosody is possible. Students can benefit from this in a classroom that utilizes data-driven learning (DDL).


41 Persian high school EFL students took part in this study. There was a control group (discovering semantic prosody through dictionaries) and a DDL experimental group (discovering semantic prosody through concordances). For the DDL group, the teacher/researcher took a scaffolded approach:

  • First, students were trained in the use of concordances.
  • Then they examined verbs found in their coursework, along with near-synonyms given by the teacher, initially using only a few examples.
    • During this stage, the teacher checked students’ analyses, had them compare answers, and finally provided them with the correct analysis – giving feedback along the way.
  • Eventually, they were required to find not only the semantic prosody of verbs given, but also their near synonyms.
    • The constant practice and use of concordances over time was though to lead to more autonomous corpus investigation.

Before and after 34 sessions (each sessions devoting 30 minutes to semantic prosody work), a gap-fill test was completed which asked students to select the most appropriate word from a synonym set. The sentence was taken from the corpus and the correct answer was considered the original term.

Example Test Item
Sentence: The constantly threatening nuclear war will ———.
Near-synonym set: start, develop, break out
Original term: break out


The researchers found that the DDL group’s posttest score improved significantly while there was little improvement in the control group. Therefore, a DDL approach to semantic prosody may be valid, in particular for verbs and their collocations.


This article serves as a reminder that connotation and semantic prosody are important things to teach and that any exploration of vocabulary may be incomplete without it. In addition, a structured/scaffolded approach to semantic prosody investigation through DDL may be a useful technique in the classroom. In this article, the researchers spent 30 minutes per class on semantic prosody. This type of time commitment is not convenient for most teachers. However, this type of activity can easily be done more quickly and less often. In other words, whether you take 2 minutes or 10 minutes and do it only a few times, showing students that it is possible to find the semantic prosody of words through corpora is a worthwhile endeavor.

That being said, it may not be possible to determine all cases of semantic prosody for every word. The data may not be there, or it may be lost in the ‘noise’ of concordances (the truncated sentences, disconnected language, stray XML formatting), especially if they are lower-level learners. Still, with a little proactive planning, this could be a useful technique.

Most students don’t know about corpora tools, so using the tools will likely spark interest and be a first step towards autonomous language investigations. Here are some suggestions I thought of:

  • Before class, find an interesting word, whether in a coursebook or one you can predict appearing in your class during conversation, and do a few KWIC searches on COCA or WordAndPhrase. Look for some good examples and put them in a slide/worksheet/notebook for use in class.
  • When these words come up, ask students about the connotation. Then, tell them you know a really cool tool to find out more.
  • Show students how and why you are using the corpus.
  • Prepare more examples or get students to elicit more examples that you can investigate together. You can also do this in the next lesson as a kind of reminder of why a corpus is useful. Think of this as slowly indoctrinating students into the wonderful world of DDL.
  • Set a corpus-based homework assignment
  • Use these techniques throughout your course. Plan or react to interesting vocabulary by using corpora often.
  • Remind students to look up interesting vocabulary and add this information to their lexical notebooks, vocabulary journals, or flashcards.

Research Bites: There is No Best Method – Why?


Prabhu, N. S. (1990). There is no best method—why?. Tesol Quarterly, 24(2), 161-176. [link]

Twitter Summary

Prabhu: there is no best method. Besides, understanding learning and teaching, engagement, PD more important.


Prabhu examines the thought terminating cliche that “there is no best method.” You can hear this phrase often when people who follow one or more different methods discuss teaching approaches. The phrase is often used as a dismissive or defensive statement which typically hampers more thoughtful pedagogic discussion – instead of discussing the exact reasons why there is no best method, this statement basically ends the conversation with a lot of sheepish head-nodding. The fact that most teachers would agree with this statement without ever having analyzed it may be a problem. Therefore, Prabhu examines the reasons why this trusim is said, and then offers a concept outside of the realm of methods that may be of more use to teachers. His ideas are quite dense, so I thought it would be best to summarize them as an imagined conversation between teachers. Continue reading


The Teacher Wears Prada

(Sorry about the lame title!)

Have you ever worn a Halloween mask? A mask somehow changes your personality. It allows you an extra layer of reality to hide behind and therefore gives you the ability to change the typical actions that define you. In a way, it frees you from your inhibitions and can allow your true desires to arise. But, if you wear a mask for too long, do you become the mask – or does the mask become you? Continue reading

ELT Job Interview Database

To help any prospective job seekers prepare for interviews, I have created a user-submitted database of possible interview questions. These are questions that have actually come up during job interviews. Preparing notes or short answers for these questions may be quite valuable if you have a pending interview. This list may also come in handy if you are an interviewer.

Please click here to access the database or submit a question.