Month: June 2014

Use of tenses

Quiz Time!

Please leave your answers in the comments box below. Each respondent should just make one point, so that lots of people can contribute!
Sadly, I’m not able to give a prize for correct answers to the quiz questions, but joining the fun will surely give you a certain amount of kudos! 🙂

2) What verb forms using the verb ‘do’ could fill the blank in this sentence, and what different meanings would they express/imply?

What ________ about next week’s meeting?

Improving the blog

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for reading my blog! You may have noticed that I lost my blogging mojo for a while. Now I’m back “on it” 🙂 But I would like to keep my readers happy… so please vote in the poll below and let me know what you’d like to see more of!

PS. Feel free to add a comment below if you have a specific request for a post topic! 🙂



English Language Teaching: Organisations you should know about

Teaching can sometimes be a rather lonely pursuit, especially for ELT teachers away from home  in foreign countries. It can also be a rather homogenising experience, if you’re teaching in a specific context and only really have contact with teachers in the same situation as you. In both situations, I think many ELT teachers miss out on the chance to hear about the current debates, research, trends, methods/approaches, etc that are being shared around the world. I believe that some sort of networking and sharing of ideas beyond a teacher’s immediate context is a key aspect of professional development.

The purpose of this post, then, is to provide a few links and tips that will help ELT teachers find this big world of ELT beyond their teaching situation and get them ‘networked’ with other teachers, to facilitate inspiration and development as a teacher. The list does not pretend to be complete; please feel free to add further links in the comments below. Also, I’m focusing somewhat on the German-speaking world since that’s where I am based and know most about what’s going on. Still, the first three links are of global appeal, and I hope that the list will be helpful for teachers in a wide range of contexts and locations!


IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)

If I could only recommend one organisation, this would be it. I’ve been a member for a number of years and the conferences and publications have been a constant source of inspiration and professional development opportunities. Double thumbs up from me!

Based in the UK. They say about themselves: “With over 4,000 members IATEFL is one of the most thriving communities of ELT teachers in the world. Our mission [is] to “Link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals” worldwide”.

As a member, you get a bimonthly copy of the ‘Voices’ mini-journal/newsletter with information about research and events going on in ELT around the world, a free copy of ‘Conference Selections’ with summaries of presentations given at the latest annual conference, free membership in a Special Interest Group with newsletters and events, a cheaper registration rate for the annual conference, and cheaper subscriptions to some of the leading journals in the field (e.g. ELT Journal).

Their next big annual conference is going to be in Manchester in April 2015, find out more here:

Each month, they provide provide a free webinar held by a famous name in the field. For details of the upcoming webinars (on topics such as coursebook evaluation, intercultural training, teaching with technology) see here:


TESOL International Association

They see themselves as a “global and collaborative community committed to creating a world of opportunity through teaching English to speakers of other languages.”  And say about themselves: “For nearly 50 years, TESOL International Association has been bringing together educators, researchers, administrators, and students to advance the profession of teaching English to speakers of other languages. With more than 12,000 members representing 156 countries, and more than 100 worldwide affiliates, TESOL offers everyone involved in English language teaching and learning an opportunity to be part of a dynamic community, where professionals like you connect with and inspire each other to achieve the highest standards of excellence.” See here for a brief introduction:

The host a large annual conference of which I have only heard good reviews (see: ), and provide publications and an online resource-bank, and guidelines for best practice in ELT. They also create a newsletter and have lively online discussion groups on specific interests within ELT. Webinars and online courses complement their busy programme of symposiums and conferences (though the time-difference makes webinars slightly problematic for those living in Europe!).  See here for the full programme:  and )

If you visit their website you will see that the homepage is very ‘busy’ and not always easy to navigate, but I think this simply reflects the variety of services and activities TESOL International Association offer and are involved in. If you have the time to click through, you will definitely find something that is relevant for you – whether you are a student, teacher, teacher-trainer, materials writer, etc. Definitely a thumbs up from me!


Teaching English – British Council

This is slightly different from the other associations listed here as it is mainly an online community. That makes it especially interesting to those who cannot travel to conferences, etc, and/or don’t have much spare cash to spend on memberships and travel costs. Why register with TE? They say: “Registration on this site is totally free and allows you to interact with other users as well as add comments and download certain material. You can:

  • build your own profile in an international online community;
  • access our tools for teachers;
  • join monthly online workshops;
  • watch our teaching tips videos;
  • sign up for a variety of teacher training courses;
  • join in discussions with teachers around the world.”

The online discussion forums are really lively and cover an enormous range of topics. They also offer free webinars and instructional videos and articles, as well as training courses and workshops, both as self-study and with a trainer (see: ). There is also free access to a number of journals and research publications via the site (see: ). Again, double thumbs-up!


TEA (Teachers of English in Austria)

They say about themselves: “As the only national association appealing to the needs of teachers and future teachers of English at all levels, TEA is concerned with helping to better the overall competencies of teachers of English in Austria by a commitment to excellence through international cultural exchange. Of equal importance, TEA is also a platform for the exchange of ideas that leads to overall improvement in the effective teaching of the English language.”

Members have access to a free online-journal and receive discounts at various cultural establishments around Austria (mainly Vienna). They also host an annual conference and a number of workshops and summer schools, see here:

For me, what’s interesting about TEA is that their learners are German speakers, which means that a lot of what they do is directly relevant to my own teaching situation. But they do cover a wide range of contexts: young learners, adults, university, secondary school, business English, etc. So there will probably be something of interest to lots of you! Their conferences are naturally smaller than those of the international associations mentioned above, but that also means that the costs are lower, and the events are less overwhelming for new teachers / students.


German Association for Teachers of English (GATE)

Since this association is part of a larger umbrella organisation in Germany for teachers of all foreign languages, not everything is available in English (some parts of the website are still only in German). Not everything here will be relevant for everyone, particularly those teaching outside of Germany, and there is a real focus on secondary education. Nonetheless, they say about themselves: “The German Association for Teachers of English, English and more (E&M e. V.), represents the interests of teachers of English as a foreign language, irrespective of types of school and age of students. It also addresses academic staff in the fields of adult education and in-company language trainers.”

As a member, you get two magazines aimed at school teachers of EFL, a newsletter about teaching English in Germany, and can participate in their local and national conferences. Their website provides tips on lesson planning, articles on quality development, and information aimed different school-types in different Federal States. I think this organisation is of most relevance to those teaching English in German secondary schools; but if that is you, then it has quite a lot of very specific information.


MELTA (Munich English Language Teachers Association)

This is a more local organisation, aimed really at teachers based in and around the Munich area. Anyone is free to join, though, and to go along to conferences, talks, workshops, etc that they regularly organise. They often have famous speakers and themed one-day “conferences” on specific areas of ELT. Their welcome is warm, and the newsletter (free for members) is very informative, if sometimes very Munich-oriented. I think the best aspect of such local organisations (more are listed below) is the networking opportunity that joining provides. For such a small organisation, MELTA is very active and offers a wide range of events and professional development opportunities – (local) thumbs up!


Other regional organisations in Germany:

These are the clickable links to other ELT organisations in Germany which are similar to MELTA:

ELTAF (The English Language Teachers’ Association Frankfurt / Rhine-Main-Neckar)

English Language Teachers’ Association Berlin-Brandenburg

English Language Teachers Association Ostwestfalen-Lippe (ELTAOWL)

English Language Teacher’s Association Stuttgart

The English Language Teachers’ Association Ulm/Neu-Ulm 

Hamburg English Language Teaching Association


Other useful links:

A list of more ELT organisations (all of which are affiliated with IATEFL) in your country, here:

Links für Englischlehrer in Deutschland:



Ways to find ideas (for lessons, presentations, essays…)

As a teacher who assigns plenty of presentation and essay tasks to my student, I have long been convinced that freedom of choice is important. Very often, I let the students choose their own topic to write or present about; the theory being that if they are working on a topic that interests them, the results will be better and more interesting for me to read/listen to, and more inspiring for others, e.g. student audience for a presentation, etc.

But I often come up against ‘I don’t know what to write about’ or ‘I don’t have any ideas that are relevant’. This is rather frustrating for me as a teacher, but then also filters into my own lesson planning. And I’m sure other teachers have the same issue – what topic can I choose for a lesson? I want to be interested in it so that I am enthusiastic, but I also want to find something that will ‘grab’ the learners so that they are motivated, too.

This post is a quick list of ways anyone can find an idea … students for their essays, .. teachers for their lessons, … etc! I’m coming at this from an EGAP background, but the basic premise is that things that are around us every day would make good topics for our work, if only we weren’t too busy to notice them or to spend a minute thinking about how they would fit to the task ahead of us.

So here they are … my suggestions of ways to find ideas of topics to write/present/talk/teach about!

1) Read the TV guide. 

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you should procrastinate and watch TV until an idea magically occurs to you! But trust me… look at a TV guide (magazine, online, on the TV itself), particularly looking at channels that often show documentaries, and just scan the titles of the programmes. If you find something that interests you, of course you can watch it, but even that might not be necessary. Often channels show documentaries that are related to something that is currently going on, something up-to-date. Just count the number of shows focusing on Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup!  These are often topics that lend themselves nicely to presentations, essays, lessons, etc, especially when they look at an ‘old’ topic from a new, specific perspective. I once read the programme list of N24 (A German news/documentary channel) from just one weekend, and looked for topics related to an English-speaking country (the one rule I do set my students). I found 22 different topics! They ranged from how the Titanic could have avoided sinking, to youth gangs in the USA, to how to land a jet-fighter on an aircraft-carrier, to the first prisons in Australia. With the wide variety of topics, there’s likely to be something that inspires you, gives you an idea to work on.

2) Google (Scholar) your interests

Many students seem to think that to be ‘academic’ a topic has to be somehow serious (read: boring!). But you’d often be surprised how much academic discussion is going on about topics most people would consider ‘unacademic’. For me, a topic can be academic if you approach it in an academic way – critically evaluating the evidence/support for various viewpoints, or assessing the significance of various factors, etc. I have a colleague who is just slightly obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But guess what, studying literature and media proved to her that Buffy is in fact the subject of a lot of academic discussion and research. Simply stick ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, or whatever your interest is, into Google Scholar ( )or a similar (academic!) search engine, and you will often be rewarded with links to articles investigating aspects of your interest from various perspectives, using different approaches, etc – et voila, an interesting idea!

3) Question Jokes

I don’t actually know whether it’s true, but we often hear that journalists approach their news items asking the ‘w-questions’: where?, when?, what?, who?, whom?, why?, (how?). If you apply these questions to jokes or other funny anecdotes, you might be able to discover an interesting topic for your lesson, essay, etc. Through my linguists’ eyes, there is an awful lot of material about! Take the books or websites that make fun of incorrect and amusing translations of signs in foreign countries – for me, the questions always arise as to who translated this and why, what led to the mistakes, what was the influence of the native language, what would they need to know about English to get it right, etc. Even jokes based on stereotypes can lead to interesting social/cultural studies investigations: why is this amusing? Where did the stereotype come from? Is the stereotype only found in some contexts (in comparison to their own context)? Is there any truth to the stereotype? And so on. One of my previous blog posts arose from a funny situation: a colleague made some odd, incorrect but very funny lexical mistakes… and this lead me to look at the organisation and workings of the mental lexicon. (See )

4) Argue with news headlines

Open a newspaper or news website and just skim the headlines. Now pick one that stands out to you, read the article if you like, and try (just for fun) to disagree and argue with everything you read. You might end up thinking: Why did they do that? That was a silly thing to do! That’s not the right solution! Who would support that? etc. This will prompt you to highlight controversies or debatable points made, and perhaps provide an idea that you can write/present/teach about. Just looking through the BBC News Magazine site this morning (see:, I find “France’s Flaws: Why the country isn’t the democratic créme de la créme”, or “Spaniard takes time off work to watch World Cup” – I think there are plenty of points you could come up with that take a negative or critical stance here, and then you’d have the foundation for a discussion which could be used in whatever task you’re currently trying to get inspired for. Try also to find support for your arguments and criticisms – read up on some background or find other sources of information relevant to the topic, and there you have it… the good idea for your work!

5) Browse Social Networks

Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social networking platforms you use, can also be a source of inspiration. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a couple of people on your friends list who basically to your ‘finding an idea’ ground work for you! They post videos, news excerpts, podcasts, and the like, which are interesting because they are new, funny, controversial, etc – pick any one of these and delve a bit deeper into the content, question it, critically assess it, and let it lead you to a specific idea for your work. Just recently, an ex-colleague posted in our Facebook students group and sparked a lively discussion where different students and teachers posted their views, their evidence, anecdotes, etc. Or this one, posted by a student in World-Cup-mood:  Many people criticise social networks as distractions and hide-outs for procrastinators; but if you use them well, they can actually inspire you for the task ahead!


So … those were a few of my ideas on how to find new ideas! I’ll stop here so that you don’t procrastinate any further by spending more time reading my blog … go forth and delve into the rich world of ideas that are all around you! Who knows… maybe my next post will have to be about ‘I have too many ideas and don’t know which one to work on’ 🙂


George Orwell’s “1984″: Discussion Topics ANSWERS

It’s taken a while … but for those who’ve been hoping for suggestions of possible points to be covered in the various discussion tasks, here they are!

I’m not calling them ‘answers’, since I think any teacher teaching the book should have read it and know the ‘answers’ that they are aiming for their class to reach, but here are some ideas anyway!


George Orwell’s 1984

Task 1


  • The novel uses technology-based surveillance in both public and private spaces, they also have a greater impact on the individual.
  • The person-based measures of surveillance make the existence of private space impossible (family/neighbors have an impact on the behaviour of the individual), while in our world family and neighbours don’t play such an important role
  • The novel doesn’t use technology such as means of personal communication, it also does not include the media as a public mean to watch and control people



Task 2

  • Orwell’s concept of surveillance is all encompassing and supports a specific ideology
  • Technical surveillance is accompanied by personal surveillance through individuals.
  • Surveillance is omnipresent and sometimes invisible
  • Lack of laws, mistrust of people and threat of becoming an unperson increase insecurity
  • Allusion to the possibility of reading people’s minds (O’Brien) è telescreens etc. not just used to control behavior but more importantly to control thoughts
  • But: Relative freedom from surveillance for proles
  • Orwell’s predictions are not entirely applicable to today’s situation
  • Surveillance technology exists (CCTV etc.) but no threat to people’s lives should something deviating be thought or said
  • No connection to the stabilization of a Party/Government ideology, rather prevention of terrorism etc.
  • Yet, it some instances surveillance has led to people being publically denounced as in the case of the American diplomat Victoria Nuland
  • In the next 20-30 years the technological possibilities of surveillance will increase but radical government shifts, increase of terrorism or shifts in public opinion of issues like privacy must accompany mass surveillance


Task 3

In both cases the checks and balances must be considered.

Government Corporation
o   In democratic systems it must be enabled by the public and have a basic order based on freedom and democracy (Totalitarian systems may employ surveillance in an Orwellian fashion)

o   Monitoring by transnational organizations (EU, NATO, UN)

o   Need to be able to account for what the material is used

o   May be able to enforce access to private homes

o   Control of public spaces

o   Not subject of public scrutiny

o   Question of what the material us used for (e.g. is it sold to governments, other people, corporations etc.)

o   In transnational environment, it is hard to appeal to a court

o   Economy orientation makes complete deviation from public demands difficult

o   No legal possibility to access homes or public spaces without permit


Task 4

The media is always a positive as well as a negative medium.

Positive Negative
o   Maintaining order through public scrutiny

o   Draws attention to problem areas and can rectify problems

o   False accusations and subsequent repercussions for individuals

o   Can be (mis)used to promote a certain political/social ideology


o   Depending on the readership, the media can influence public opinion.

o   Turn to a greater defense of privacy issues possible if false reports are known

o   Relieve and feeling of security when information about fellow workers, citizens etc. are broadcasted


Task 5

Fighting for Peace (War is Peace):

o   Contradiction in terms: How can war, a state of strive, violence and pain, simultaneously be peace, a state characterized by the absence of the former?

o   War means a stability of social/economic order and thus creates peace within society

o   In the novel, this is the background for the events and a defining principle of society

o   In real life, war is often followed by a period of uncertainty (post-WWII) in which war with its clear cut lines is still remembered è background for Orwell’s writing


o   People does usually not go with the prefix “un”: How can a person not be a person?

o   People who committed thoughtcrime are vaporized and effectively erased from memory, yet, they the fact that they are named unpeople hints at the fact that exactly this does not happen

o   In the novel, Winston becomes an unperson but still exists; Goldstein is an unperson that functions as the greatest symbol for hate

o   In real life, the Soviet Union used the term to describe people who were erased from history, yet, most of them are still known

Thought Crime:

o   How can something happening in somebody’s head be a crime?

o   It is not the actual act that makes a person a criminal but actually thinking deviating thoughts that warrant vaporization

o   In the novel, thoughtcrime is committed by mostly everyone but some people like O’Brien still go free; actual crimes such as murder go unpunished


Task 6

o   Mass data transfer from cellphones to servers in the US using Whatsapp and Facebook services. è contact lists and pictures are saved somewhere and can potentially be used against individuals.

o   CCTV as for example in Britain è makes it virtually impossible to go anywhere without being on camera (“Smile, you’re on CCTV)

o   Possibility of not using services such as FB/Whatsapp

o   Hard to escape surveillance in public spaces



For original post with task questions etc, please see here: