Category Archives: Teacher Development

How to ensure a successful move to online Learning

Many live online lessons fail, not because the teacher was unprepared or because the technology was inadequate, but they fail because the students were unprepared for the experience of studying in a live online classroom.

Many teachers like to think of their younger students as ‘Digital Natives’ and assume that they are confidently able to navigate the digital world with whatever apps or digital tools they encounter.

girl on phone

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that many younger students are very confident with the kinds of networking tools that they use day-to-day to navigate their virtual social lives through their phone, they may even have used Skype, Facebook or FaceTime for one-to-one calls on their phone, but when faced with an online virtual classroom on a  computer screen they are no more able to instantly navigate and understand what to do than anyone else. However, this is what is often expected of them when they experience their first live online lesson.

Especially in group classes, the result is often chaos, with a lot of people saying ‘Can you hear me?’ and a teacher that’s frantically trying to deal with tech support problems whilst getting their class started. The impression makes for both students and teachers is often that online classes are either ineffective, unprofessional or just a waste of time. So, if you really want to do live online learning with your students and make it successful it’s important that you get your ‘on-boarding’ and learner training right before students even log into their first lesson.

Here are some tips that may help get your students learning online

Preparing for the class

  • Make sure students know that they should wear headphones rather than using speakers. The speakers can cause echo and feedback for everyone else in the session, so getting this right will ensure that everyone who attends the lesson has a better experience. You might also think about telling students that anyone not wearing headphones will be shut out of the class as this will be in the interests of the rest of the students. Also, make sure that students have checked their headphones before starting the sessions and that they are properly connected. A good virtual classroom will do this every time the students access it.
  • Also ask students to access the lesson on a laptop or desktop computer. Remind them this is a formal lesson, not just a chat and that they will be expected to take notes and access other materials. At worst a tablet will be okay but advise against using phones to have their lesson. The size of the screen will make it difficult for them to participate effectively and it won’t be very comfortable for them, especially if they have to hold it in their hand for the whole lesson.
  • Set up a demo room or a trial class for new students that they can enter before the lesson. They use this to experience the interface and get used to using it and finding their way around. You could also set them some basic tasks to do in the demo room that help them get used to interacting with the interface. They should at least know how to mute and turn on their audio, adjust the sound balance, turn on and off the video and also use the chat function.
  • Online classes can be connectivity greedy, especially group classes. These classes involve data streams from each of the participant’s computers, so if students don’t have a good connection they aren’t going to have a great experience and it’s likely that they will cause lag (a short delay between the person speaking and being heard) which can make interaction and turn-taking very difficult for everyone. Tell students that they should try to have their computer close to the wifi router, or even connect by cable if possible. They will also have a better experience if there aren’t other people using their internet connection during their lesson.

Where to study

  • Many younger students are used to interacting with people on their phone whenever and where ever they happen to be at the time. This doesn’t make for a good learning experience. Make sure that students understand they need a quiet and private space for their lesson and that any background noise will be not only distracting for them but for everyone on the call. If they are going to be using video for the class it would also help them to have good lighting so that they can be seen properly too.
  • Remind students that working at a desk will be more comfortable for them and as with a normal class they are likely to need to take notes so having a notepad or exercise book at hand and space to write in it will also be helpful.

When to study

  • Punctuality may be a problem in physical classes but can be much more so in an online class. Having to give late students technical support while other students are all listening and waiting can waste a lot of time and be very distracting and tiresome for the other students, so stress to students that they need to get into the classroom on time.
  • Some platforms allow you to lock the classroom and stop late students from entering so it might be worth considering this.
  • Many platforms also enable automatic notifications that are sent to students by text or email to inform them of upcoming classes, so using a proper platform with a learning management system can be a real advantage for this.

Learner training

The most economical way to prepare students for learning online is to provide a range of learner training materials.

  • Short video clips can be really useful for introducing them to various aspects of the user-interface.
  • Try to make these as short and to the point as possible and walk them through the basics of what to click and where to find things.
  • Let the visuals do the work and keep the talk down to the minimum.
  • Don’t have too many of these, but cover the minimum basics to get them up and running.
  • The longer the videos are the less likely the students are to watch and retain information from them some keep them short.
  • Having written guides and instructions can be useful, but again make them as visual as possible and minimise the amount of text you use. The more you write, the less likely students are to read it all.
  • Add lots of screenshots that show what to do.
  • Infographics can be a nice memorable way to deliver training on some basic things and again try to keep the amount of text to the minimum and make them visible. Here’s a nice example one of how to look good on a webcam:


Here are some tools that can help you make your onboarding materials.

Creating infographics
Both of these companies have free and premium accounts available. I mainly use Genially and it’s great for adding interactivity and animation to infographics.

Creating video tutorials
All of these video screen capture tools have free versions.

If you want something more professional that allows you to edit and add logos and animation then I would recommend:

Creating screenshots
These are both free screen capture tool that I have used a lot. Mainly now I use Skitch for the Mac.

Creating an online school
If you want to create a great online school with multiple teachers and a great virtual classroom, then I recommend iTeachWorld. It has everything you need to get your online school up and running fast and to take payments online.

The 4 Ps of delivering a webinar presentation

header image

With much of learning and teacher development moving online, webinars are becoming a welcome alternative to the costs and risks of travelling to conferences. Delivering an online presentation though can be a very different skill from presenting at a conference with a physical audience present. Here are a few tips and suggestions that I’ve gathered over the last 10+ years of delivering online training.

1. Place

  • The Room – Think about where you are going to deliver your session. You need a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted and where there won’t be background noise that will distract your listeners or make you more difficult to hear. Never try to give a presentation in a busy noisy office. It can be torture for the listener. 
  • The Background – You need to make sure you have a suitable background that looks professional. A plain light background is best, so that you stand out and there are no distractions in the background. Make sure that you aren’t wearing the same colour as your background. You don’t want to appear as a floating head on the screen.
  • The Light – Make sure the light is good and that you can be seen clearly. Light from behind you will make you appear like a silhouette. If possible have a light behind your computer screen, but not directly on your face. If you can deflect it off a wall to one side it will soften the light and reduce the contrast. Putting some aluminium foil on the wall to one side and deflecting the light from that can work well.
  • The Comupter – If you are doing a joint presentation be sure to use separate computers and be in separate rooms so that you don’t pick up noise from each other. Never try to share the same computer and webcam with someone else. This comes over as very confusing and unprofessional to anyone viewing.

2. Platform

  • The Software – Think about which platform you are using to deliver the presentation. Different video conferencing and webinar platforms will have different features, strengths and weaknesses.
  • The Settings – Be sure to practice with the platform, explore all the various settings and find out what they do and if possible practise with a real person at the other end and get some feedback from them. You need to feel that you are confident and in control of the platform and that you can cope if anything goes wrong. 
  • The Presentation Slides – Make sure your presentation can be uploaded in a format that the platform uses and that the uploading process doesn’t alter the look and design of your slides, especially if you are using any kind of animations or transitions with your slides.

3. Preparation

woman in video conference
  • The Sound – Think about what you need to prepare before the session. If there is any audio interaction between you and your audience make sure that both you and they are using a headset. This will reduce echo, feedback and other types of sound interference.
  • The Microphone – Use a microphone that is attached to your headset rather than one that’s built into the laptop. This will help reduce noise from the computer and keep the level of your voice constant when you move your head.
  • The WebCam – Position your laptop so that the webcam is level with the level of your eyes, this will give your viewer a stronger impression of making eye contact during the presentation. Putting the laptop on a slope or riser so that the screen is pushed back will help with this. If the level of the webcam is too low the shape of your head and body will be distorted by the lens and the audience may have to look up your nose.
  • The Space – Practice moving back from your computer webcam. Most people sit far too close and lean into the screen. To the audience this makes you look like a giant head. Moving further back from the screen will make more of your body viewable to the audience and so will enable you to use body language and hand gestures more effectively to communicate. I recommend using a standup desk for doing presentations as this enables you to move around a little more and helps you get a bit more distance from the computer.
  • The Links – Make sure you know what tools there are that you can use during your presentation and how they work for both you and the user at the other end. Have any polls prepared and any links to websites or videos prepared in a separate document so that you can copy-paste them into the chat box when you are ready to use them.
  • The Water – Have some water in a glass at the ready and some lozenges as your voice may dry up. If you do need to drink, mute the microphone and pause the camera while you do it so that people don’t have to watch and listen.

4. Presentation

  • Eye Contact – Think about how you will deliver your presentation. When giving your presentation try to look at and talk to the webcam rather than the screen. This will give the audience a stronger sense of making eye contact. If you are staring at the screen, and particularly if you are reading from notes on a desk, it will seem like you are avoiding eye contact and either lack confidence or are dishonest.
  • Voice – The way you use your voice when giving a virtual conference is very different from presenting in a conference hall or meeting room. You don’t need to project, you can use your voice in a more intimate way. You need to think more about using expression rather than being heard clearly, so try to speak more naturally. To your audience sitting alone at home this is a one-to-one experience so try to think about delivering to a person rather than a conference hall. 
  • Notes – Reading notes or from a script can make you sound very monotone, so try to remember what you need to say or if you must read, use a cue-prompter and make sure it is at the level of your webcam so you still make eye contact through the camera.
  • Silence & Engagement – One of the strangest things about delivering an online webinar to a large group of people is that apart from your own voice and webcam, you hear and see nothing. This silence and lack of response can be quite unnerving, especially if you are used to seeing your audience and getting visual feedback on how engaged they are. The ‘chat’ function can really help with this. Plan a question you can ask every few minutes and get the audience to respond by typing into the chatbox This will help to make your talk more engaging for your audience and help you get a greater sense that people are there and listening. It’s also good to start by asking a few questions too, so you can find out a bit about your audience in advance.
  • Background Chat – The chat function can be problematic though. You may find there is a constant stream of chat while you are delivering your presentation. This may include questions, requests for technical support, comments on what you are saying, or even messages from people in the audience trying to promote themselves or what they do. It can be very easy to get distracted by this constant stream of ’noise’ so either ignore it or close the chat box until you are ready to use it.
  • Slide Lag – If you are going to screen-share your presentation be aware that there may be lag between you changing slides and the slides appearing on the screen of your audience, so allow a few seconds between slides and check with the audience that they are seeing the correct slide. You can ask them what the title of the slide is.
  • Links & Resources – If you are using videos or referring to websites during your presentation it may be better to share a link to the site or video through the chat window so that your audience can open the link on their own computer. If you do this, give them a task to do and ask them to feedback on the task through chat when they have finished. This will make your session more active and engaging for your audience and will take some pressure off you and give you some breathing space. By getting the audience to feedback through chat, you’ll know when they have completed the task, but do also set them a time limit and stick to it so that you know when to move on with your presentation.
  • Sharing the Presentation – Have a link prepared to an online copy of your presentation that you can share with your audience when you have finished. Someone will certainly ask for it.

Visualisation to Enhance Creativity in the ELT Classroom

This is a simple but powerful technique we can use to encourage students to see things in their ‘mind’s eye’. This involves persuading students to close their eyes, concentrate and visualize. Then guide them through some form of short imaginary experience. This can be in the form of a memory or can be something more creative, like a dream or story.

To make this technique effective you need to ensure that the classroom is quiet and the students are calm. When you first try this, you may find that a few students are reluctant to close their eyes. Don’t worry too much about this, we are able to visualize with our eyes open, though closing them can make the images more vivid and help avoid distraction. Some students may become disruptive during these kinds of activities as they tend to be quite unfamiliar and people often feel threatened by that which involves change, but if you take your time you will find that they should soon settle. It can take some time for students to get used to this technique, but the more often you try it the quicker they will settle and the more useful you will find the technique.

Tips for managing visualizations

When you do these visualization activities with your students try to:

  • Guide the students through the visualization. 
  • Set the scene for them and place them in the visualization, e.g. You are sitting at your desk. The sun is shining. OR You are in the cinema. The lights go out and the film begins.
  • Ask the students questions, but be sure they understand that you don’t expect answers to the questions and leave plenty of time for them to visualize the answer before you ask another question.
  • Make sure students stay silent. If they start to laugh just wait calmly for them to relax again.
  • Stay relaxed and calm yourself.
  • Make their visualizations multi-sensory by asking about tastes, smells and sounds. You can also ask about their physical or emotional feelings.
  • Keep your voice calm and don’t try to influence their visualization by adding drama or emotion to your words.
  • Once the students have finished and you ask them to open their eyes, give them a few moments to come back to the classroom.
  • Give the students the opportunity to talk in small groups or pairs and share and compare what they saw.

Visualization exercises for the classroom

Lesson review – Ask students to try to visualize what they did in the last lesson.
Example: You could ask the students what topics they studied.
– Who did they speak with?
– What did they see written on the board?
– What new words did they learn?

Example: You could try to guide them chronologically from when they entered the classroom.
– Who did you sit next to?
– What exercise did we do fist? Etc.

A meal – Ask students to visualize their dinner or another meal from the previous day.

Example: Ask the students to try to visualize
sitting down and eating it.
– Who was with them?
– What was the first dish?
– What did they eat first from their plate?
– What did they leave until last? Ask them to try to imagine the flavours in their mouth. 

A film – Ask students to visualize the last film they saw.

Example: Ask them to think about who they went with.
– Where did they sit? What did they eat?
– Ask them to try to remember the sound of the music in the cinema the moment the lights went out.
– Ask them to visualize the opening scene and try to hear the music.

A text – Read a short text and ask students to visualize what they see while you read it. This could be something as short and simple as a sentence or could be a longer text from your coursebook.

Example: Say “There are three people waiting for a bus.” Then ask the students to try to imagine:
– What are they wearing.?
– Are they carrying anything?
– What are they doing as they wait?
– What is the weather like?
– How do they feel?
– What can they hear?
– What can they smell?

A role-play – You can ask students to visualize a role-play before they do it.

Example: If you want students to role-play buying a bus ticket, ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves at the bus station.
– Ask them to try to imagine walking up to the counter.
– Ask them to imagine what the ticket seller looks like and what he or she says.
– Ask them to try to imagine their dialogue with the ticket seller. Then ask them to imagine walking away from the ticket office with their ticket.
– Ask them to imagine how they feel at having successfully bought their ticket using English.

A character from a text – You can review any listening or reading text you have done with students by asking them to imagine they are one of the people involved in the text.

Example: If your students have been reading Cinderella, you can ask them to imagine they are one of the ugly sisters.
– Ask them to visualize the ball.
– What are they wearing?
– What does the prince look like?
– How do they feel when they speak to the prince?
– What does the music sound like?
– What do they eat and drink?
– How do they feel when they see the prince?
– How do they feel when they see the beautiful mysterious princess arrive?
– How do they feel when they see the prince dance with her?

I hope these activities and this technique helps you to enhance your students’ creativity and the way they experience language learning. You can find many more techniques and activities like these in my ebook Hacking Creativity.

book cover - hacking Creativity
Hacking Creativity

Why we should stop doing debates in the classroom – And what we should do instead

I think it’s hard for anyone to deny that at present we live in polarized times with an increase in extreme views, extreme politics and extremism in religion.

So, how do we as teachers attempt to have a positive influence and help our students to navigate this situation?

One thing that we could do to help change the mindset of students without trying to influence their beliefs and to defuse tensions that may materialize within our classrooms is to stop having classroom debates and start helping students understand how to engage in dialogue.

So, what’s so bad about having debates?

  • Firstly, debate is confrontational. It usually revolves around setting up opposing opinions and then pitting the students that are defending the opinions associated with these opposing views against each other.
  • In debates, there are often winners and losers. This is seldom dictated by who is actually right, but rather by who is the best at debating.
  • The act of debating usually involves constructing sound arguments, but also in undermining the arguments of others. This doesn’t lead to a clearer mutual understanding.
  • Debates are often fast-paced and so favour people who are more aggressive competitive style. Again this doesn’t bring students any closer to understanding or to truth, but it may well help them win the debate.
  • The fast pace and aggressive nature of debates tend to make them more heated and emotional. This usually results in less clarity of thought and so increased polarization.
  • Through the nature of debate, lack of understanding of the views and opinions of others can be perpetuated.

So what can dialogue do to help this situation?

  • Dialogue is based around working at understanding each other’s views rather than undermining them.
  • Engaging in dialogue usually slows things down a lot and gives students time to think and consider. They aren’t under time pressure. There are no winners or losers, but only people who understand each other better at the end of the process.
  • Slowing down the interaction and encouraging students to listen to and understand each other helps to defuse the negative emotions.
  • Dialogue is a collaborative process of working together to build understanding and so brings students closer together rather than further apart.
  • Dialogue is based on active listening, asking questions, helping to make sure we have a clear understanding of what the other person believes and the foundation for their beliefs. Asking these questions doesn’t just help us to understand the other person’s views, but helps them understand and articulate their views in a way that others understand.
  • Dialogue encourages students to find common ground in their beliefs and opinions and helps them work together to resolve issues.
  • Although dialogue may not always resolve disagreement it does help students understand that we can share our ideas and be open to the ideas of others, whether we agree with them or not and still see that we can be friends at the end of the process.

The real key to building students abilities to engage in dialogue lies in helping them to develop their active listening skills and by this I mean their ability to engage with the listener and get them to explain themselves more clearly and clarify what has and hasn’t been understood.

This is a skill that many native speakers lack and it takes comprehension beyond teaching students what words and expressions mean but is developed from an understanding that communication is a complex and often inefficient and fragile process and that if we really want to understand what people feel and believe then we need to work with them collaboratively not competitively.

Here is some useful functional language that can help students develop dialogue.

Asking for clarification:

  • You mentioned … could you explain that a little more?
  • I don’t quite understand what you mean by … Could you clarify that?
  • Could you tell me a little more about…?

Encourage students to try to dig deeper and get more information from the person who is telling them about their opinions, beliefs or views.


  • So if I understand you correctly, you believe that ….
  • So to summarise, you feel that …
  • So, as I understand it, you believe that …
  • If I hear you correctly, you’re saying that…?
  • So you mean that…? Is that right?
  • Did I understand you when you said that…?

Encourage students to try to summaries the views of the person they are talking to, in order to check that they have understood correctly.

Agreeing to disagree:

  • I understand what you’re saying, but I just don’t feel the same way.
  • I respect your right to your views, but I don’t feel that I could ever share them.
  • I appreciate the sincerity of your beliefs, but I don’t really share them.

Encourage students to accept that the other person has the right to hold their views and that views and opinions are not facts. We can all be mistaken.


  • I feel that…
  • I believe that…
  • From my perspective…

Encourage students to explain and rationalize their views for others, but not present them as fact. Encourage them to take time and assume that the other person needs time to understand them.

The Five Whys – Encouraging Inquiry in the Classroom

One of the most useful questions in any language is ‘Why?’ It’s one of the fundamental metaphysical questions that we spend most of our lives wrestling with and one of the first question words we produce as our first language emerges as young children.

Question imageWhy? is also at the root of our ability to think critically, but all too often we settle for the first and most obvious answer, when instead, like young children we should continue to question and dig deeper into the underlying causes and motivations behind actions.

In a recent webinar on Emotional Intelligence and Coaching, I included a technique that I borrowed from product development and showed how this technique could be used in the teaching and teacher training classroom. The ‘5 whys’ technique originally came from Sakichi Toyoda the founder of the Toyota manufacturing company and was a method used to analyse production failures and find the root causes, but we can just as usefully implement it in our teaching and training to encourage our students and trainee teachers to think more carefully about what happens in the classroom and the world around them.

The technique is simple. Just like my small daughter, you ask ‘Why?’ and after each explanation you continue to ask ‘Why?’ and this takes you into deeper levels of causation.

An example from the training classroom may be that you observe a class in which some of the students fail to understand the instructions of a task and so they do the wrong task, or do it in the wrong way. So let’s ask 5 times why that happened.

Q: Why were the students doing the wrong activity?
A: Because they misunderstood the instructions.
Q: Why did they misunderstand the instructions?
A: Because they were too long and complex.
Q: Why were they too long and complex?
A: Because I used complex vocabulary and long sentences.
Q: Why did you use complex vocabulary and long sentences?
A: Because I hadn’t thought the instructions out before the class.
Q: Why hadn’t you thought out the instructions before the class?
A: Because ….

As you can see from this dialogue, by continuing to dig you can extract much more actionable information about real causes.

So how can you apply this with students?

You can encourage students to look more closely at the motivation of characters in stories or people in the news. For example we can ask questions about Goldilocks:

Q: Why were the three bears angry with Goldilocks?
A: Because she ate their porridge and broke their furniture?
Q: Why did she break their furniture?
A: Because she was too big?
Q: Why was she too big?
A: Because the furniture was made for a small bear.
Q: Why was the furniture made for a small bear?
A: Because it was in the bears’ house?
Q: Why was Goldilocks in the house?
A: Because …

You can encourage students to do this form of questioning in pairs. Either one student can ask the questions and the other answer, or they can take turns to answer then ask.

Another way of using this technique is to look for alternative answers and then build the possibilities out like a mind map with the initial question at the centre, then students or trainee teachers can decide which alternative is most likely.

This example is based around a teacher training scenario in which the teacher feels the students are bored. In the example you can see that I have put the main problem at the centre and the initial possible causes around it. I’ve started mapping out the possible reasons behind why this happened.

5 Whys image

You can use this technique to get trainee teachers or even students looking at classroom related problems.

We can use the technique to get students to think more critically about the news or why someone has published certain news items.

As you can see, the question ‘Why?’ is fundamental to understanding and encouraging curiosity, but all too often we are willing to accept the first answer we are offered without digging deeper to the root causes. Using and teaching this technique can really help us to build a more inquisitive learning experience and deeper view of the world for our students.

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Find lesson plans and activities to encourage critical thinking and digital literacies. Thinking Critically Through Digtal Media

Book cover
Thinking Critically Through Digital Media

Empathy Mapping in the Teaching and Training Classroom

decodative imageIn a recent webinar that I delivered for the British Council on Emotional Intelligence and Coaching, I introduced the concept of Empathy Mapping. This caused quite a stir and many people were quite excited by the prospect of having a tool that enabled the development of empathy, although for many the empathy mapping process was hard to grasp within the confines of a webinar. So in this post, I’d like to expand on some of the aspects of this tool and how to use it.
  • Firstly, why empathy? There are many reasons why we would all benefit from developing a little more empathy. Empathy is defined as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’ This is something that’s becoming increasingly necessary in a world that seems polarised by intolerance and a lack of cultural understanding and sympathy. Having a greater sense of empathy with an understanding of the people around us can also help us to develop more productive and positive relationships and help reduce personal conflicts.
  • Within our more closely defined context of the teaching and teacher training classroom, a greater sense of empathy can help us understand the challenges of our students and trainee teachers and help our students better understand and empathise with those around them.
  • The process of empathy mapping has an unlikely origin in product development and was originally designed to help companies understand the needs of their customers (See Gamstorming: ), but can very easily be adapted to the teaching and training classroom to help us better understand the people we are working with, their pains and their motivation.
So this is an empathy map and this is how it works.
empathy map
To use the map you should move around it from 1 to 7 trying to understand your subject and fill in the relevant information.
  1. Who?
    You should decide who it is you want to understand and empathise with. This doesn’t have to be a single person, though it can be very useful if you have particular student or trainee that you find challenging or who needs extra help, it can also be a group of people or a persona. So for example, if you are planning a training course you could use it to start understanding the needs of your trainees as a group, before getting to know them better as individuals.
  2. What do they need to do?
    At this point, you need to think about their goal in relations to your course, what they do, what they need to do and what they need from you.
  3. What do they see?
    At this point you need to think about what they see around them in relation to this goal, so, for example, an English student may see other people with better English getting better jobs. An experienced teacher may see more teachers and students using technology and be influenced by this. Try to think of as many things as you can that could be influencing them in relation to their goal.
  4. What do they say?
    At this point, you need to think about what they are saying in relation to the goal. What are they saying to you and what are they saying about their goal to others? What can you imagine them saying?
  5. What do they do?
    At this point, we need to think about what they do. What kinds of behaviour have we observed them doing? What do they do that they may want or need to change? What can we imagine them doing in their day to day context?
  6. What do they hear?
    At this point, you need to think about what they are hearing others say. What are their colleagues and friend saying? What do they hear ‘second-hand’?
  7. What do they think and feel?
    Finally, at point 7 you should be able to pull all this information together and it should inform you about the fears and frustrations (Pains) and their hopes, dreams and beliefs (Gains) for the future.

Tasks and Activities

We can use the empathy map in a number of ways.

  • You can use it to better understand either the individuals or groups you are teaching or you could use it with a particularly challenging student, to better understand the causes of their behaviour.
  • We can also use it as a learning tool for our students and get them to create empathy maps. They could create empathy maps about the characters in the stories or literature they are reading. In longer texts, they can gradually build the empathy maps for each of the characters in the story as they gather more information.
  • We can get students to create empathy maps about people in the news to help them better understand the world around them and the motivations people may have for the things they do.
Whether we like or agree with the things the people around us do, having empathy and greater understanding for why they do things will help us and our students better understand the world and so be better able to deal with it and so influence change in themselves and the people around them.
Empathy is a theme that I’m continuing to explore in a new series of image-based lesson plans.
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Connectivism for the ELT Classroom

Introduction imageThis text has been adapted from the chapter on conceptual models in my ebook – Digital Tools for Teachers – Trainers’ Edtition. It’s one of a number of models presented in the chapter that can be used to underpin a sound application of technology within education.

Connectivism is a theory of technology integration that has originated and is unique to the digital world. Connectivism originated as an attempt by Steven Downes and George Siemens to understand and define the ways in which learning naturally occurs in the digitally connected and socially networked world.


The theory has huge implications for the development of autonomous learning as well as online learning and has been used and misused to support the construction and implementation of a generation of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and MOOC platforms.

Connectivist learning is based on the following set of principles:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

When thinking about our use of technology in education we can use these principles as a guide to evaluate the effectiveness of our tasks and activities. We can look at the ways we are encouraging and guiding our students in the use of technology to ensure we are helping to reinforce the understanding and practice of these guiding principles.

reflection taskThe training presentation below has an introduction to connectivism, some suggestions for how we respond to each of the principles and some reflection questions for teachers.

Training Presentation
Use this link to view the training presentation: Connectivism

This video is also useful in enabling teachers to understand the changing role of the teacher as more students develop a connectivist approach to learning.

George Siemens – Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, Journal of Instructional Technology:

Digital Tools for Teachers – Teacher Trainers’ Edition

This text has been adapted from the chapter on conceptual models in my ebook – Digital Tools for Teachers – Trainers’ Edtition. It’s one of a number of models presented in the chapter that can be used to underpin a sound application of technology within education.

Applying the SAMR model in the ELT Classroom

This text has been adapted from the chapter on conceptual models in my ebook – Digital Tools for Teachers – Trainers’ Edtition. It’s one of a number of models presented in the chapter that can be used to underpin a sound application of technology within education.

SAMR (Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition) was introduced by Dr Ruben Puentedura in 2006. SAMR is a paradigm for understanding how we can integrate technology into education, though with the proviso that if we want to use technology in a way that is truly transformative we should be aiming to develop tasks and activities that are more towards what it describes as the ‘modification’ and ‘redefinition’ parts of the model.

Understanding the paradigm can help us to analyse the way we are using technology and to think about how we can evolve the way we use it, from the more superficial ‘substitution’ type tasks to ones that redefine the way students interact with content, each other and the teacher.

Here are the four ways it classifies the application of technology along with an example of how a task could be developed through the understanding and application of this process.

View as presentation

 – Technology acts as a direct substitute with no functional change. The task remains the same but a computer is used as part of that task.

E.g. Find a text online to use in place of one of the texts in your course book. Ask your students to read it and answer comprehension questions.

Augmentation – 
Technology acts as a direct tool substitute for an analogue activity, but with functional improvements.

E.g. Find a text online to use in place of one of the texts in your course book. Ask students to use some digital tools to mark up the text with notes, highlight specific areas to remember and use an online dictionary to check new vocabulary.

 – Technology allows for significant task redesign.

E.g. Find a text online to use in place of one of the texts in your course book. Ask students to use some digital tools to mark up the text with notes, highlight specific areas to remember and use an online dictionary to check new vocabulary. Then ask students to share their reflections about the text on a blog which is shared within a wider educational community. They then comment on each others’ posts. They later meet together in a virtual live forum to discuss and debate the content.

 – Technology allows for the creation of new tasks previously not possible.

E.g. Find a text online to use in place of one of the texts in your course book. Ask students to use some digital tools to mark up the text with notes, highlight specific areas to remember and use an online dictionary to check new vocabulary. Students then work collaboratively to research the background to the text online and create a digital survey about it. They share the survey through social media. They then collect and analyse the data from the survey and work together online to create an infographic or video report of their analysis of their survey responses.

Approaching technology with this kind of awareness can certainly have its benefits and SAMR has definitely attracted quite a following.

E-Safety for Teachers – Part 2

hacking-ImageIn the first part of this series on e-safety for teachers I looked at some of the general dangers out there for anyone online and a few of the things we can do to help students avoid them.

In this second part I’d like to look at what we can do to ensure we are not bringing the dangers into the classroom with us through the sites we use with students.

Checking Sites
Student imageWe should take responsibility for the sites that we recommend to our students. Of course we should check the appropriacy of the content and any advertising they may be carrying, but there are a range of other things that could also alert us to potential dangers. It’s important to stress the word ‘potential’ here though. The internet is a resource that was initially developed by enthusiasts, so many perfectly legitimate and valuable sites that were put together by people working in their own time might throw up one or more of these warning signs, conversely all of these could be present and correct, but that doesn’t 100% guarantee that the site is ‘safe’.

Here are some things you can check:

  • Encryption
    computer imageCheck the URL of the site and see if it begins with ‘http’ or ‘https’. The ’s’ on the end stands for secure and means the site has been registered with a security certificate to confirm that all information that travels between your browser and the site is encrypted . This is a good indication that the site is legitimately registered and less likely to pose a security threat. Never make financial transactions on a site that doesn’t have https.Google provides a useful tool for checking whether sites have been flagged up as potentially insecure. Just go to: paste in the URL and Google will share what it knows about the site.
  • Address
    Look for the physical address of the company creating the site. If it is a legitimate company and involved in any kind of business transactions the physical address should be visible, usually on the ‘about us’ page. Bear in mind though that many sites are put together by enthusiasts and they might not want this level of exposure, especially if they work from home.
  • Contact info
    As with the address, most companies will offer some form of contact information for their customers, whether this is a phone number, email address or contact form. It may be worth checking to see of this does actually work if you have any suspicions about the legitimacy of the site. Again you are likely to find this on the ‘about us’ or ‘contact us’ page. If the email address is a generic, like Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc. you might want to look more closely at the site, whereas a dedicated company email address is a more positive sign.
  • About us
    Check out the ‘’about us page to see if the site offers information about the people who produce it. See if this looks legitimate and authentic and whether the profiles look like genuine people.
  • Registration
    If a site requires registration, check to see the terms and conditions. Important things to check for are:

    • How do the site owners use and protect your personal information (email address, etc.)?
    • What information do they store and why?
    • What ownership, if any do they claim / retain over the information or content you or your students create?
    • If they require registration through a social media platform, what access does it give to them to the information about your profile and the profiles of your friends and connections?
  • Summary
    If reading through all of this information starts to make you nervous, then please keep in mind that the vast majority of websites and applications created are absolutely legitimate. I have been using the internet for educational purposes for more than 20 years now, without any great sense of caution, and have yet to encounter any situation that couldn’t be dealt with through either simple blocking of individuals or good antivirus software.

Digital Tools for Teachers – Teacher Trainers’ Edition

This text is the second of a two part series adapted from my ebook – Digital Tools for Teacher – Trainers’ Edtition.

You can find part one at: E-Safety for Teachers – Part 1

E-Safety for Teachers – Part 1

This text is the first of a two part series adapted from my ebook – Digital Tools for Teacher – Trainers’ Edtition.

In this first part I look at potential online dangers and how we can help students deal with them.

E-SafetyIncreasingly, as teachers use and guide students to use web-based and mobile applications we are faced with the responsibility of ensuring our students’ safety online. In this chapter I’d like to look briefly at some of the issues involved and attempt to put these into realistic perspective.

Please bear in mind though that these are my opinions based on my perspective and experience as someone who has spent two decades working in online education. These are not the views of a cyber security expert.

Online Privacy
To be honest I don’t really believe there is any such thing as 100% online privacy. Even the FBI has been hacked. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you use the internet with an awareness that anything you do, see, create or store online could potentially be seen by others.

You wouldn’t walk through a crowded market place in your underwear shouting out your secrets and sharing your address, bank details and pictures of the people you love, and expect it to remain a secret, so don’t expect to do it online.

If you want to keep something private, keep it in your head, never write it down, don’t tell anyone about it and make sure you don’t talk in your sleep.

If you and your students enter the online domain with an awareness of this and only post things that you are comfortable having in the public domain then you should really be fine.

Having said that, most web-based social media platforms and educational platforms do have some form of privacy control that limits who can see what, within and from outside the platform, and processes for reporting abuse, so do make sure you and your students are aware of how these work and put them to good use.

The Dangers
There are a number of dangers associated with being online. The main ones that we need to consider are:

Viruses and malware
writingThese are among the most common of online problems, especially in places such as schools, libraries and internet cafes, where access to a computer is shared and people are using things like USB drives to store information.

These problems are also reasonably easy to avoid, if you make sure that you have antivirus software installed and keep it regularly updated. Also, make sure that you have a firewall on your computer and it’s turned on.

Inappropriate materials
It’s undeniable that the potential for students to find inappropriate content, either deliberately or accidentally, is ever present. There are a number of ways of dealing with this including filtering and monitoring software of various kinds. None of these are 100% foolproof, so don’t rely too heavily on them especially if you are working with younger learners.

The best way to deal with this problem is to design purposeful tasks with clear instructions and then monitor carefully to make sure students stay on task. Having some form of device or network monitoring software can help with this, but if you do so, it’s wise to make students aware that you can see what they are doing, as it’s better to discourage a problem before it occurs rather than have to deal with it after it has happened.

Harassment and bullying
Make sure that your school has a policy regarding cyberbullying and a process for reporting and dealing with it. Also make sure that your students know what this policy is, both in terms of how to report it and what the consequences will be for the students who do it.
Make sure students know what does and does not constitute harassment. In many cases, students just aren’t aware of the harm they are causing and think that they are being witty or funny.
It’s actually much easier to track, prove and trace back online behaviour to the person responsible in the virtual world than it is in the physical world. It’s extremely difficult to carry out any online action without leaving some form of digital footprint. Make sure students know how easy it is to get caught if they are bullying or harassing someone. This is likely to reduce the chances that anyone will do anything irresponsible and greatly increase the chances that anyone being harassed will have the confidence to report it.

Make students aware that, as soon as they log in to the internet, they are creating a trail of behaviour for which they can be held responsible for the rest of their lives. Every word and image that they share online can potentially be stored and reproduced infinitely and indefinitely. They should be aware of the implications of this in terms of future jobs, college entrance and future relationships. They can use this to their advantage and create a creditable footprint that can help them to build a great reputation and enhance future career prospects, but one single act of poor judgement can also follow them around for the rest of their lives.

Taking Responsibility
In all of these instances it is better to educate students about the safe use of digital devices and resources than to ban them. Banning the use of these devices is a denial of our obligations as educators. We may be protecting our school and ourselves from any consequences in this way, but we aren’t helping to protect our students. They have access to all of these resources outside of the school and usually inside it, through their own device, so we must take responsibility for their safety and help to educate them and their parents in a well informed and logical way to the realistic dangers that exist and how to protect themselves and their friends from those dangers.

Make sure your students know how to use any reporting or red-flagging features of any site you suggest. Even the most genuine of sites can have comments from users that are inappropriate. Showing students how to flag up or block comments from people that are offensive is a valuable lesson, as well as a good way to help protect them.

This text is the first of a two part series adapted from my ebook – Digital Tools for Teacher – Trainers’ Edtition.

Digital Tools for Teachers – Teacher Trainers’ Edition

In part 2 of this series I’ll be looking at what you can do to ensure the links and apps you share with students aren’t putting them in danger.