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Words about Words

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“Euphemism” is a pretty big word, but it’s so useful that it’s part of a set of words I generally wind up teaching to my students if they’re at least intermediate level. These “words about words” belong to a vocabulary set that’s above or outside of the level of the other words they know. However, I think these words make it easier to talk about English and in English with them. (For that matter, they can explain terms from their own languages better in English once they learn these words.) These words save time once the students know them. I think my students find these words useful, because they use them back to me and go right to “Ah, okay!” when I use them for explanations.

Of course, I mostly work with adults in a one-on-one setting where I can judge their readiness and comprehension individually, so I’m not sure that these would be suitable for a group or younger students. If you’ve successfully used these kinds of words or similar words with a class or with K-12 students, I’d love to hear about it.

Here are some of the terms I use:

  • Euphemism: This is especially useful when students are reading news articles, which are full of phrases like “passed away” and “had an affair,” but generally it’s useful for a variety of words.
  • Jargon: Sometimes I need to explain that a word has limited use outside of certain occupations, and “jargon” does the trick. It’s especially useful with Japanese students, because several English loan words that are used as ordinary words in Japanese are considered jargon in English (such as “LOHAS,” marketing jargon). Students generally love this word, and I think it’s their favorite and most-retained of this set, although I think “connotation” is the most important.
  • Connotation: Eventually you have to explain to a student why a word (like “foreigner” or “fat” or “childish”) isn’t appropriate even though it means exactly what they think it means, or why their electronic dictionary is not their best friend. The concept of connotations versus basic meanings is really useful (I usually use “childish” vs. “childlike” as an example), and I show them how a good learner’s dictionary includes connotations and can save them from embarrassment. And no, I don’t teach “denotation”; it’s not very useful by itself.
  • Root, prefix, and suffix: Powerful vocabulary-building terms that are a real revelation to students who haven’t learned them. These are very interesting to Chinese- and Japanese-background students, who can draw parallels between roots and radicals (basic components) of Chinese characters (hanzi/kanji), and Japanese students can connect suffixes with okurigana. Since many European languages share roots with English, students from those language backgrounds may already be familiar with these terms.
  • Abbreviation, short for, and acronym: These all come in handy not just when explaining slang and abbreviated speech, but also when explaining why lexemes that Korean and Japanese students perceive as English loanwords (like “aircon” and “OL”) are not comprehensible or acceptable in English. And no, I do not get into the difference between an initialism and an acronym–99% of native English speakers neither know nor care about the difference.
  • Genre: Not in the linguistics sense, but mostly in the fiction sense–I wind up teaching this word because it’s useful for getting students started with extensive reading and listening. An important note here is that genres are differently divided, different genres do and don’t exist, and individual works are categorized differently within different cultures. This goes for everything from comic books to music, so it helps to familiarize your students with descriptions of genres in whatever medium, plus give well-known examples of that genre.
  • Intensifier: I hesitated over teaching this one because it’s linguistics jargon itself, but it’s better than saying “it doesn’t really mean anything” over and over again for the prepositions in some phrases, the funny use of words like “insanely” and “ridiculously” to expand the already large class of words that mean “very,” and so on. Lots of languages already have a large class of intensifiers, so once you explain the idea of “words that reinforce the meaning,” this seems to be a good hook for students. But you must include the caveat that 99% of other English speakers will have no idea what an intensifier is.
  • Collocation: Another one that I warn students about, because ordinary English speakers don’t know it. Teaching them about the idea of collocations is more important for raising language awareness than for talking about grammar, but I think it’s a useful idea. Get students to be aware of “words that hang out with other words” so that they can build their vocabulary in chunks.

I’m probably forgetting some, but I think those are the ones I use most frequently.

I introduce each word by saying that it will make it easier for us to talk about language, although the word itself is an advanced word. This makes some students a little worried, but most students are intrigued or excited. Of course, this assumes that the students already know the parts of speech and that you’ve already negotiated a common ground on anything with multiple names like “present continuous”/”present progressive” (argh!). However, much to my surprise, there’s a sort of middle ground between the parts of speech and the above special language, a sort of forgotten realm that many students have never learned…

This neglected area is somewhere between grammar and culture, and contains really useful, fairly basic words that are apparently not frequently taught in many EFL curricula. I had been using the word “rude” in explanations with some early students and language partners for quite some time before one of them let me know that she had no idea what it meant. When I checked with the others, they didn’t know it either. Oops.

Here are some of these basic sociolinguistic terms that every student should know, but many haven’t had a chance to learn:

  • Polite: This is essential, right? You need to be able to explain polite language and behavior.
  • Rude: Some students knew polite, but virtually none knew “rude.” Some words are more than not polite; they’re rude. In order to understand the difference, students should know this word.
  • Formal and casual: As students start to learn enough English to handle different registers and connotations, they need to know the difference between formal and casual speech. However, there’s a tendency among many students to equate “casual” and “rude,” so it’s useful to make sure they also know the next two words…
  • Friendly and unfriendly: So that you can explain when “casual” would equal “friendly” and “formal” would be “unfriendly,” such as with classmates and so on.

These can involve value judgments, so I have to tread carefully here. But I think it’s important, and it also opens things up for students to tell you about their language, and ask how they can sound more friendly or more formal if they feel a need to.

What do you think? Too much peripheral vocabulary? Did I leave some important ones out? Is there a better way to go about this? Am I projecting too much about the way I learn onto my students? Some certainly take to it more than others, and those are the ones where I return to it more often. So I think there are students for whom this clicks.

(EDIT: Oooh, I forgot one–pun! It’s the only way to explain so many brand names, movie names, strange lines from TV shows, lyrics, and so on.)

Fly Around the World with Google Earth

I swear I’m not a cheerleader for Google, but they consistently bring out free products that are of interest to the international community, and they’re often or usually cross-platform. Google Earth is a program that I think everyone should try, especially if you’re curious about other parts of the world, you live overseas, or if you may be moving. (I think most English teachers fall into one or two of those categories!) One note though–a very old computer won’t run it, and I doubt netbooks will either, though I could be wrong.

maidis_world_globe from openclipart.org

“Isn’t Google Earth the same as Google Maps?” said a friend, wondering what the point was. No, it’s completely different. Google Earth lets you zip around the planet in a really natural way, the way you may have twirled and spun a globe as a kid. (Although you may feel a bit like Superwoman as you dive toward the roofs of Paris and then glide across Beijing–whee!) Similar to Google Maps, you can also zoom in and view satellite imagery, which I’ve heard has higher resolution in some areas than Google Maps will show, due to some countries’ privacy concerns about Google Maps. (For some reason, maybe due to the lack of directions or its lower popularity, Google Earth is perceived as less of a threat. I don’t know if that’s true.) More importantly, as you zip around, the map lights up with markers for photos, videos, descriptions, restaurant reviews, hotels, convenience stores, volcanoes, parks, World Heritage sites, and whatever other “layers” you’ve turned on. You can see photos of a train station from many angles, a panorama of a lake, and “step into” a spherical photo of a park or a shopping neighborhood that lets you tilt the camera in all directions. There are brief Wikipedia summaries and so on that can be viewed from inside Google Earth, while video links and other links may take you out of the program and into your web browser. It’s a very rich, multi-layered experience that can really help you get to know an area–and yes, there really is extensive coverage for places outside North America. You can get very familiar with neighborhoods in Taipei, Seoul, Hokkaido, Cuzco, and other places in which you may be considering teaching.

Naturally, popular tourist sites have the most info, but Google Earth is widespread enough that there’s information on a lot of places. The more you browse around, the more you see–and it gets updated periodically, so more things will pop up. In addition, there’s user-created info that you can download according to your specific interests, such as these Google Earth bookmarks for Korea from ZenKimchi. There’s a strong Google Earth community working to add interesting stuff all the time–here’s the Google Earth Gallery with just some of the things you can view once you’ve installed Google Earth. I haven’t played with these kinds of extras much though, because I can already spend a lot of time just looking at the photos and such that are included already.

Google Earth also winds up serving as a kind of geographical IMDB–when you’re driving down I-5 and you see some weird dirt formation off the highway, just note the next exit and look up that area on Google Earth when you get home. Chances are good that there’s a photo and a note explaining what you saw.

You can put together tours in Google Earth, which is a feature that has some potential in the classroom; students are sometimes interested in where you’re from, or there may be some other theme you want to present. You can even record audio if you want to get it done in advance. There are existing tours you can download, too.

Some caveats: sometimes Google Earth only has information on a location in the local language. This can still be of use even if you can’t read that language; if you click on a restaurant icon in downtown Kagoshima, you may not be able to read the reviews that pop up, but the URL that shows in the window often includes a romanized version of the name, and about half of the time there’s a photo of a characteristic dish that the restaurant serves. So that’s better than nothing. In addition, Google Earth often doesn’t handle Asian addresses well, I’ve noticed. Sometimes it can go directly to a specific street address in Taiwan, Korea, or Japan, but sometimes you have to try alternate spellings or go up a level or two (to the ward or even the town/city level).

Anyway, there are a lot more features (and there’s also a surprisingly nice free iPod Touch/iPhone app). They also have an Outreach area aimed at nonprofits, for example. Give it a try and see what else you can discover in your neighborhood, old neighborhood (I found where I used to live in Taiwan!), or potential new neighborhood!

Oh, and in case your teacher-brain is percolating, yes, teachers are teaching with Google Earth. Even math teachers are using it! If you’ve used it with English-language learners, please comment and tell me how–I’ve only used it casually, to show individual students where I used to live, in Arkansas, and how different it is from California.

EDIT: Here’s something else useful! Clicking on the little ruler icon lets you create and measure paths, so you can figure out how far it is “as the crow flies” from one point or another–which Google Maps will not let you do–and you can also figure out how far it is, say, on foot from the closest subway station to the school you’re considering working at. Google Maps will calculate walking routes for some cities, but not all, and certainly not worldwide. Although it’s a rough estimate since you can’t necessarily see sidewalks (or the lack thereof), etc., it’s still a potentially handy tool–especially when you can’t travel to check out a location yourself. Just click on the ruler, choose your unit of measure, and start clicking each point (corner/turn) of the route. The distance will be shown in the ruler box.

(By the way, if you’re on a Mac using 10.4, stick with Google Earth 5.0 and disable automatic updating. 5.1 doesn’t run on 10.4 :/)

Important Reading on “NNESTs”

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, so it occurred to me it might be timely to post on this topic, which has surprising intersections with issues of racism and classism. (Language-based discrimination often does.)

An issue that is close to my heart is the status of English teachers who learned English as a second or additional language themselves (often called NNESTs–non-native English-speaking teachers). Throughout the world, most ESL and EFL teachers are in this category. However, that’s not reflected in the textbook industry, the leadership of many ELT organizations, the popular image of English teachers, and so on. Sometimes, they experience subtle or direct discrimination and bias in hiring, promotion, salaries, and assignments, and they may be treated differently from their native English-speaking counterparts by their colleagues and students. This is despite the fact that many of these teachers are among the best suited to teach English. They have generally mastered English themselves, are often fully bi- or multilingual, may have a lot in common with their students, may have far more awareness of English grammar and any potential problems, may be better at explaining features of English explicitly, and so on. Many studies back up NNESTs’ skills in these areas, which often outstrip their native-speaker counterparts, and while students are sometimes initially skeptical, course-end evaluations usually indicate that students picked up on these strengths and appreciated them. Meanwhile, many of their native-speaking colleagues are teaching a second language or are doing teacher training–teaching second language acquisition–without having ever experienced the full acquisition of a second language. I don’t know, it’s like teaching mechanics without ever having repaired anything yourself, or something like that. (Obviously not all or any of these conditions are true all of the time, but this is frequently the situation. I’m one of the latter teachers myself; I am not yet fluent in a second language, and although I’m trying, I don’t know if I ever will be.)

EDIT: This is not even mentioning the common EFL condition in which “native speaker teachers” or “foreign teachers” have no genuine language-teaching training at all and are not professional teachers by career, in which case a well-educated, English-fluent professional local teacher would be far preferable. However, so many students have swallowed the myth of the native speaker’s perfection that few would make the right choice (and few are aware of the many studies backing up the usefulness of the well-educated NNEST even as opposed to an equally-qualified NEST). In an ideal world, I think real team teaching with a pair of true professionals from both the L1 and L2 backgrounds would be the perfect EFL learning condition, but many nations are short on both the former and the latter–native speakers are often hired willy-nilly with little regard for competency, and local teachers are not often given the chance to study international teaching methods, etc.

At any rate, I learned so much from the many international graduate students and bilingual-bicultural Americans in my certificate and MATESOL programs at CSU East Bay, and I also really enjoyed getting to know them. They’re great people, and it’s not right that the happenstance of my birthplace and schooling and accent mean that some schools will value me more than them. I think it is essential for all English-language teachers to pay attention to “NNEST issues,” whether you are a non-native speaker of English yourself or are a native speaker of English who may accidentally benefit from a system that is often unfair and ignorant of context.

Anyway, the WATESOL (a Washington, D. C. Area TESOL group) NNEST Caucus has published their Annual Review. It includes multiple papers that you can read online using Google Docs or download. Titles include “All Teachers are Equal, but Some Teachers are More Equal than Others: Trend Analysis of Job Advertisements in English Language Teaching” by Ali Fuad Selvi, “Students’ Appraisal of Their Native and Non-native English-speaking Teachers” by Caroline Lipovsky & Ahmar Mahboob, “Teaching as a Native (Chinese) Speaker and a Non-native (English) Speaker: Different Identities, Similar Needs” by Huijin Yan, “‘She Immediately Understood What I Was Trying to Say’: Student Perceptions of NNESTs as Writing Tutors” by Sunyoung Park & Sarah Shin, and more–there’s even a piece on accents by George Braine, one of the most famous writers on the topic of NNESTs.*

The papers are freely available, well written, and interesting. I recommend reading them whether you are a native speaker of English or another language (or English and another language or two). I think doing so can help us improve how we treat each other, how we respect the importance of each other’s languages, and and how we teach.



*I don’t really like the “NNEST” terminology, and I’m resisting putting in a NNEST tag, because it seems weird to me to create an “other” category–particularly when teachers who are not native speakers of English are the default and not the exception. Yet virtually no one seems to actually use the counterpart term “NEST.” If I revisit the topic, which I expect to, I’ll probably have to resolve this to make the posts easier to find. (Never mind that “native speaker” itself is actually rather hard to define and more than a bit problematic.)

New Twitter Account, Spiffing Up

I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post, but there’s a new Twitter account tied to this blog.



So please feel free to follow @talkclouds. I’m delighted to follow other English teachers back, and if you have some other people to recommend that I should follow, please let me know!

Also, I’ve cleaned up and reorganized my blogroll. I hope to add more to it, but check it out if you have time!

I’m also testing these retweet and Facebook buttons; I’ll tweak them a bit later to make them fit in better, but we’ll see. If folks are too busy to comment, I’m still looking for some other evidence of what posts are the most useful so I know what to write more of and what to write less of.

12 Days of Christmas: EFL Classroom 2.0

Well, I’ve made it to Twelfth Night without missing any days. I wasn’t sure that would happen. If you’ve been reading all along, thanks for sticking with me! I hope today’s resource will help everyone who’s trying to force their brains back into lesson-planning mode after the holidays. It’s not easy, searching for inspiration when your head’s still full of punch and eggnog (or fever and bronchitis, in my case)…

j4p4n_Thinking_Woman_-_1905 from openclipart.org

Today’s resource is one that I’ve just recently discovered, EFL Classroom 2.0. It has over 11,000 registered users, so maybe you already know about it. I thought it was worth a mention, though, because it’s the only English-teaching megasite that I’ve found to be worth signing up for so far. You probably know what I mean–when you look for ELT resources online, many sites look promising but require registration to really view anything. You hand over your personal information and jump through the hoops, only to find out that the site has been abandoned since 2001, has nothing of interest to you, has only materials that are free on other sites, has only materials that were stolen from other sites, or has only a few things that are really free and actually requires you to pay to see the good stuff. EFL Classroom 2.0 is different–they have good content in a wide variety of formats, and it’s aimed at various age levels. They don’t just have ideas, either; they have actual stuff that you can download and use. There’s also an active user community and forum, and I get the impression that it’s growing rather than stagnating–though since I’m new there, it’s hard to say for sure.

Here are some of the highlights of the site that I think make it worth your time spent registering (note: I can’t link to each page since you won’t be able to see them till you’ve registered):

  • “Lessons in a Can”: 100+ fairly fleshed-out ideas, including necessary materials such as videos, slideshows, or handouts.
  • Karaoke and lots of it–I’ve known several excellent teachers who used karaoke for pronunciation, energy, and and motivation.
  • Games for the classroom, from paper to Powerpoint–original ideas from site staff and users as well as a directory of online games
  • Community, including forums, an “Answers” section, “Classrooms” that serve as interest groups, a place for teachers to find classrooms for keypal and penpal exchanges, and even photos of other users’ classrooms (could result in new ideas for your classroom, and interesting if you haven’t started teaching yet!)
  • Categorized resources on everything from using comics in the classroom (yay!) to testing and evaluation (I can’t wait to look at their placement tests).
  • Videos, but unlike the videos mentioned in my TeacherTube and Vimeo post, many of these have discussion in the comments from other teachers, which is nice. Videos include both things you might want to show the students and teacher-training videos with ideas and methods for you. Quality (and legality, ala YouTube) varies.

There’s a lot more at the site. I have to admit, I find it a little confusing to navigate, but stick with it–patience will be rewarded. (This is one of those times when being a Delicious user will come in handy, since I think I’ll want to bookmark and tag a number specific sub-pages.) The “Rate Your Job” section has potential, but it seems that although the site isn’t easily searched (since you have to register to get in), people are still hesitant to discuss their experiences. I wish people would start using it!

There are lots of other things and new things popping up, including a just-started thread on games and lesson plans that will work well with Korean classrooms (the first idea is a “Korean Celebrity – Guess Who” game, and includes two files to get you started). The Korea-based teaching community seems to be particularly strong here, with at least three Korea-related interest groups, so if you’re teaching in Asia and you’ve been unhappy that so much of the free lesson material online is ESL-oriented, you’ll really want to check this out. However, there’s plenty that can be used in non-EFL contexts, despite the site’s name.

If you know of another great free site, please let me know about it!

And with that, the 12 Days of Christmas series concludes! Thanks very much for reading. I’d still love feedback–readership went up during this time, but I’m still looking (like any writer, second-language or first!) for a response from my audience. :) I’ll take a break for a couple of days and then start trying to post more regularly than in the past. Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter at talkclouds.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Delicious

It’s the next to last day of this twelve-part series. I hope you’ve been enjoying the variety so far! I was debating whether to post about this service, since my geekier friends have been using it for years, but I checked with a couple of English-teaching friends and they weren’t familiar with it. (I’m in that small, weird “TESOL geek” category, so sometimes my perceptions are a little off.) Delicious, formerly del.icio.us, is a site and service that radically changed my website bookmarking habits in a way that I didn’t even know they needed to be changed. It can also help you discover new sites when search engines aren’t doing the trick.

ee_Book_Flow from openclipart.org

Delicious stores your bookmarks online, so you can access them from any computer, and it backs them up and synchs them, so you can keep them stored the way you’re used to in the browsers of your home and/or work computer(s) if you like having them there. Most importantly for me, they’re organized and findable in a far more useful way than browser-based favorites. When I save a website, it’s not saved into a folder or subfolder the way browsers traditionally have stored bookmarks or favorites. Once I’ve built up a lot of bookmarks, it’s a struggle to remember if I saved a museum I want to go to in Japan someday under Museums or Travel or Japan or Culture; or if I put that video site under ESL or Videos or Time-wasters or … argh! And what if I forget that I already made a folder under Education called TESOL, and later make a folder called ESL? On Delicious, you save a URL with tags, so you can tag this site (for example) with blog tesol esl elt teaching education resources. Sometimes I even tag things with really specific tags like sparetime so I’ll click on it when I get around to it. I can also add a note of description if I want, like “I really want to visit this museum someday, because they have …”

So when you’re using a computer you control, you save and access your links through a browser add-on (ideally). When you’re using any other computer, you save and access them by visiting delicious.com.

There’s a nice Delicious addition to Firefox that I’ve shrunk down to two buttons and re-arranged so that they don’t take up any extra room in my browser (they’re right next to the home, reload, etc. buttons). One lets me click to tag a website and add it to my Delicious. The other brings up a side window pane that lets me find something in my Delicious account. It’s so great to be able to save things with abandon, knowing I’ll be able to dig them up later. The search also lets me look by adding tags together, such as travel+kyoto or recipes+pototoes+korean or esl+activities+verbs+children.

There are two more great features. Sometimes you can’t find something through the usual search engine venues because the terms are too common or there are just too many bad examples of whatever it is online. You can search other users’ Delicious tags, and sometimes come up with some really excellent, useful results that way. Usually, if more users have saved a URL, it’s more likely to be fruitful. (Don’t worry! If you want to save something to your Delicious that you don’t need the whole world to see, just mark it as private.)

The second very useful feature is sharing your bookmarks with other users directly. If you know your friends’ usernames, you can add them to your network and tag links “for” them. If you want to bring a link to my attention, you just tag it for:wintersweet, and the little Delicious icon in my Firefox status bar will let me know someone has marked something for me. (Feel free to connect!) It’s very convenient when all you want to do is share a link with someone, not necessarily start an IM conversation, etc.

Delicious has other good attributes, such as tag bundling and so on, but my advice is to just try it out. It’s the easiest “spring cleaning” you’ll ever do.

(EDIT 2/11/2010: Recently, it seems like a lot of educators have been using Diigo, a very similar service. I really don’t like Diigo. Fore one thing, if you click on a Diigo link, you are in a Diigo frame–and unlike other services that repost things, there’s no big [ X ] to click and escape it, so it took me a while to discover how to get out and simply view the site itself. Profoundly irritating. Delicious links are clean–they just take you to where you want to go. Diigo does have a “slideshow” feature that Delicious doesn’t have, but it doesn’t seem very useful to me. You can use your Yahoo! ID at Delicious if you want, since they were eventually bought by Yahoo!. Now, I guess one reason some educators have gone to Diigo is because of the Yahoo hookup–new Delicious accounts have to get Yahoo! IDs, and apparently many K-12 networks don’t allow Yahoo connections from school, or something, so if they want their students to use the bookmarking system too, they can’t. If you don’t have that limitation, I suggest looking into Delicious. Despite the Yahoo takeover, it’s remained clean and simple and pleasant to use.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Free E-Books

Only a couple more posts left after this one! Grab a mug or cup of cocoa, green tea, barley tea, or your other beverage of choice, particularly if it’s snowing where you are right now–not too close to the computer, mind you–and let’s settle in with a stack of entertaining and educational free reading material.

hairymnstr_Coffee_Mug

The International Children’s Digital Library lets you view children’s books online (legally). Many of these books are beautiful and interesting enough that a class may be willing to view them even if they’re older than the original target age group. (I’ve had success using children’s books with students who are forty-something, as long as the art and stories are sincere enough.) These can make a nice diversion around holidays or form the focus of other activities. I don’t think they can be downloaded, but the ICDL people have thoughtfully provided a teacher training manual with information and suggestions about how to use the site.

The British Council at the BBC presents Teaching English: Transform – Books. These twelve e-books range from Global Citizenship in the English Language Classroom to Intercultural Resources Pack for Latin America . They’re PDFs, so you can view them on your computer and many mobile devices including iPhones and Kindles, and you can always see about printing them (try two-sided printing or see if there’s any scrap with clean backs–I really don’t love reading e-books on my computer, but I hate wasting paper!).

Teacher’s guides for the Azar grammar books can be downloaded from the official Azar website. Yeah, I had no idea until I’d bought a couple, either. You can also download a grammar book called Fun with Grammar here.

Stephen Krashen has put two of his books online, although they’re very old, as well as several articles. If you’ve never read any Krashen but you keep hearing about him, you could start here. David Crystal doesn’t have any entire books online, but does have a great number of articles, dating back to the 60s. If you know of any other language luminaries who’ve kindly put their writings online in bulk like this, please leave a comment!

The Online Books Page from the University of Pennsylvania is a huge collection of links to online books. You can browse it or search it. When I looked in the official Library of Congress-style subject heading “English Language — Study and Teaching — Foreign speakers” (sigh), I got things ranging from potentially useful for the right person (Writing Program Administration, 2007) to useless but potentially hilarious (books from 1914 and 1916 that would only be useful to people writing histories of change in teaching). But it’s worth poking around; I actually found a novella written for Japanese students of English, Many Roads to Japan, and we all know that material for extensive reading can be hard to come by. I don’t know if it’s any good, but I definitely plan to explore UPenn’s site more. Hat-tip to my husband the math teacher, who has read a variety of books, from Algernon Blackwood to natural history, via this site. (Oh my, he’s just pointed out they have links to a number of free Harlequin romances–well, I’ve heard those can be very popular with students!) Because the site uses this awkward library-style subject categorization, this is definitely a time to put in various topics like “linguistics,” “communication,” and so on if you’re looking for work-related topics.

For relaxation and personal enrichment purposes (and possibly really advanced students), here’s some legitimate free fiction and nonfiction online:


For short fiction links and other free fiction, check out my free+fiction tags at Delicious (which I’ll talk about using one of these days–maybe tomorrow if I’m desperate!).

By the way, you can find PDFs on many topics by going to Google’s advanced search page and choosing File Type: pdf.

Twelve Days of Christmas: TeacherTube, Vimeo, and more

Everyone knows about Youtube and quite a few teachers use it, but there are a few more resources that are slightly less well-known and can liven up lesson points or bring more English input to an EFL teaching situation.


Many teachers already know about TeacherTube, but not everyone does. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it! Unfortunately, their search and tagging system is lacking and their categories are not very useful–there’s no ESL/EFL/etc. category, so it’s difficult to find good material here. I suspect it exists, but it’s difficult to find. If you have any hints on how to find it, let me know. Videos can be downloaded once you find something you like, which isn’t easy to do at YouTube. Apparently it plays ads before videos, but I haven’t seen any because the version of Adblock Pro that I’m running on Firefox keeps them from showing. A free membership will also allow you to skip the ads.

Vimeo.com is an original video-oriented site, and it was high-quality-oriented before Youtube allowed HD uploads. I think it allows longer videos, as well. Many Vimeo videos can be downloaded as Flash or .avi files without going to the special lengths required to download Youtube videos. There’s no particular orientation toward educational videos here, but there is TESOL content to be found, including the ESL Channel. In addition, among the serious videographers’ work you may find something inspiring for your class anyway, or something to watch to relax. (Check out this Japanese festival video, or this time-lapse video.) The above video of my part of the world (which I advise clicking through and watching in HD if you have the bandwidth) is beautiful and relaxing, but could also be a fun change-of-pace exercise, prompting students to write down as many adjectives as possible (fast! wet! furry! lonely!), etc. As a bonus, the comments at Vimeo are often less of a Wild West than the comments at Youtube. There are limitations on free uploads if you want to make videos and put them online, but I don’t know much about that, I’m afraid.

Veoh.com is another general Youtube-like site, but it’s even more of a free-for-all than Youtube, if that’s possible, and I only recommend it if you are looking for a clip that you absolutely must have. (For example, bilingual Begin Japanology clips can be found there–English in one audio channel, Japanese in the other audio channel.) I don’t think an original teaching video is likely to be found solely on Veoh and not on Youtube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo, but if that’s not the case, please correct me!

Manythings.org’s video section collects English-teaching videos from Youtube. These are mostly instructional videos on specific points, aimed at independent learners, but some are more useful for classrooms. These include singalongs, videos with transcripts and subtitles, and so on. ESLVideo.com may give you some ideas on how to use Youtube in your classroom–they have Youtube videos (music, interviews, etc.) posted with quizzes. The quizzes are mostly simplistic, good for either checking word-by-word listening comprehension or surface-level grammar features, but they could give you ideas about how to use non-TESOL-focused videos in an ELL classroom.

If you’re looking for lesson material on these sites, don’t forget to a) play the “alphabet game” and search for ESL, EFL, ELT, and TESOL, and also b) try some things that aren’t in the TESOL genre, like how-tos, very simple food or drink preparation videos, travel videos, music videos, film clips, etc. I created a pretty good lesson out of some footage aimed at pharmacy school students once, too, for a student who was going back to Japan to be a pharmacist. Don’t hesitate to search for very specific themes such as “pharmacy” or “fast food.”

As mentioned in this thread on using videos in the classroom, it’s best to turn off “related videos” and preview the videos before putting them up on a projector, just to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises!

Twelve Days of Christmas: Google Voice

On the eighth day, we’re taking a moment to focus on a service that’s mostly of use only to folks working in the US, although there are some ways in which it could be useful to people with a lot of American friends and family. If that isn’t you at all, well, happy new year and see you tomorrow–I’ll do better then!

At any rate, a lot of people have heard of Google Voice, but quite a few people are still asking “What is it good for?” Well, a lot of things…




Google will provide you with a phone number (I picked one with a local area code, which may not be possible for everyone, and messed around with the available numbers till I found a combination that was easy to remember). It’s a kind of virtual phone line that forwards instantly to whatever real phone numbers you specify, such as your home, work, and cell numbers. You can control the forwarding by who’s calling and when: individual calling number, groups of calling numbers, time of day, etc.

If you’re a “freeway flyer” whose students need to get in touch with you, but you don’t necessarily want to give out your home or personal cell phone, this is a fantastic service. Give the Google Voice number to your students, and you can control when and where they can contact you. For example, you could set it up so they can reach you at your XYZ College office during your office hours there, your ABC College office during your office hours there, and then have it on “mute” (voice mail) the rest of the time–except during a special project when you unmute it at home until 9 PM, when you have it automatically mute itself. If they can’t get through, they’ll leave a voice mail, which will arrive in your e-mail as a sound file. (Google will also attempt to transcribe it, which works OK some of the time, but isn’t very good with any kind of regional or international accent or cell-phone sound quality problems.)

You can also receive text messages and reply to them for free (SMS), either having them sent to your phone or sent to your e-mail address (or leaving them to not be shown unless you log into Google Voice). If you reply by e-mail from your computer, it’ll be sent as a text message at no charge to you. My husband has some students who don’t really have access to e-mail at home, and being able to communicate them by text messages without actually texting is really useful, since he wants to be able to help them out but he doesn’t want to have to try to type on his phone. (International SMS is not currently supported.)

There are a lot of other features like being able to customize the greeting by caller (this could be useful for other TESOL professionals who are working for themselves, or if you want to customize messages by class, etc.), being able to record calls by pressing a button, very cheap international calls, and so on. The ability to have phone calls follow you could also be useful if you’re looking for a full-time job, etc. It’s really just one of those services where the more you use it, the more useful it becomes. Lifehacker did a pretty good job with their article “Google Voice is Cool, But Do You Need It?” I think it’s a good roundup of the pros and cons, although I haven’t noticed any delay to speak of and I benefit from it despite rarely using it with my cell phone.

However, there are a couple of big catches:

1) It’s US-only. US phone numbers only, US texting only, and access to a US phone number is required for setup. After you get the invitation (see below), there needs to be someone who can answer an automated phone call at a US number you enter during the setup process and enter a two-digit code from the e-mail. In theory, if you wanted to use the voice mail and texting services to get messages from US-based friends and family while you were outside of the US, you could, but you’d need to coordinate that initial setup. It could be handy to set up if you’re returning from working overseas and don’t have a living or working situation pinned down yet, though!

2) Invitations are still even harder to get for Google Voice than for Google Wave. You can sign up to go on the waiting list here, but it may be a long time before you get the invitation. However, my husband has kindly agreed to donate two Google Voice invitations! It’s the same system as the Google Wave invitations–if you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Voice invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.

I do apologize for the US-centric nature of this post, and I’ll try not to do it too often! That said, it’s been very useful for my business and for my husband’s teaching.