Monthly Archives: July 2014

Problem Page

If you’ve got a problem you’d like our advice about, drop us a line at:


Q:  I’ve just gone from teaching an exam class back to general English and I’m finding it difficult to motivate my students.  The course seems to lack focus and it’s pretty book-based.  What do you suggest?

A:  I guess one of the problems with general English classes is that the students all have different needs, so with rolling registration you’ll need to do needs analysis so that you  can create a path for them and everyone is on board.  You’ll need to vary the way you do this but it’s important that they feel they are contributing to their learning.  You will also need to tell them what you think they need based on their performance in class, that way you’ll be negotiating the syllabus.

Another thing is making sure you state your lesson and task aims clearly to the students so they know why they are doing something.  If they know what they will get out of it they are more willing to participate.

As you’ve said many courses or schools are heavily book-based and often just gong through the book means that the students are not particularly focussed as the lessons become predictable.  So speak to your Director of Studies and see how much you can deviate from the book or supplement.

Q:  I’ve got a mix of Arabic speakers and Asian students and they don’t particularly mix well.  I’ve tried varying interaction patterns but the Arabic students keep interrupting and the Asian students can’t seem to get a word in edge ways.  Of course I nominate students to make sure everyone participates but for more natural discussion this is a real problem.

A:  As these two groups have such different approaches to interaction it would be good to start with a lesson on conversation strategies including things like politely interrupting and turn taking.  It may also help if you make your students explicitly aware of the difference in the concept of silence and interruption in different cultures.   For example, in many European cultures silence may be seen as awkward and interruptions are rude, whereas in Japan and many Asia Pacific cultures silence is positive and a sign of contemplation and in Arabic and Mediterranean  cultures it is possible for several people to speak simultaneously.  Once they are more aware they can then practise conversation strategies so make sure that all students can participate.


Q:  I’ve recently inherited an Upper-Intermediate class and I’m finding that they are not particularly motivated.  Also I feel they are testing me and ask grammar questions that are often distracting or confusing for other students.  In order to keep the class on track and so that I can look into it,  I tell them that we’ll deal with it in the next lesson, but they don’t respond well to that.  I used to teach lower levels and I wanted to try higher levels to get more experience but they seem quite a tough crowd.  What do you suggest?

A: Regarding the grammar question they have you could keep a section of the board for those kinds of points they raise and build it up over a few days.  Then you could split the class into groups and assign different questions or points and they have to do the research and then report back to the class in a later lesson.  Of course you’ll still have time to look into those points yourself but as you’d be facilitating guided discovery, it’ll be more memorable and it will foster greater autonomy.  Alternatively you could bring a range of reference material to class and the students could do the research during the lesson, like a kind of grammar workshop.  You could even turn it into a monthly routine.

A quick introduction to…Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)

By Emma Claydon

In this post we’ll be looking at how you can encourage your class to become more responsible for their learning and work productively online.  It will cover:

  • What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)?
  • What VLEs do?
  • Why do you use one?
  • How do you use it with rolling registration?


What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)?  A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or a learning platform gives you virtual access to classes, class content, tests, homework and assessments.  It’s also a social space where students and teachers can interact without having to exchange contact information, which of course is important from a safeguarding point of view.

VLEs are one of the basic components of distance learning but can also be used for blended learning, which is a combination of face to face and distance learning, and that’s how I’ve been using it for the last two years. Basically, a learning platform is a safe and secure environment that is reliable, available online and easily accessible to many users.

What do VLEs do?

VLEs are mainly used for four purposes:

  1. Content management:  This is the creation, storage, access to and use of learning resources
  2. Curriculum mapping and planning:  This may involve lesson planning, assessment and personalisation of the learning experience
  3. Learner engagement and administration:  This allows managed access to learner information and resources and tracking of progress and achievement
  4. Communication and collaboration:  This can be done through emails, notices, chat, wikis and blogs.

There are plenty of functions and you can decide what you need it for and how it best meets your needs and those of your students’.


Why do you use one?

When I was doing my Grad Dip TESOL at Brighton university back in 2012, we used the VLE ‘Blackboard’ to access documents like timetables and reading lists and of course to submit our assignments.  I remember thinking how easy it had made my life as I could access everything in one place.  Of course this kind of access is normal these days but it was a totally different experience to when I did my undergraduate degree.

Whilst doing the Materials Design module of the Grad Dip TESOL I worked at a school that didn’t have any IWBs and I started thinking about how I could help my students to become more autonomous and do more outside of class.  With such a range of IELTS resources online of varying quality, I was keen to make recommendations.  I’d keep giving out web addresses and suggesting materials but with rolling registration it was hard to be consistent.  So I was on the lookout for something.

At around the same time I was unable to go to IATEFL in Glasgow,  so I was keenly following it on Twitter and it was Sandy Millin’s presentation ‘Go Online:  Getting your students to use Internet Resources’ that first introduced me to Edmodo.  You can access Sandy’s original presentation here.

edmodo logo words

As my entire class had smart phones in class or tablets / laptops at home, it didn’t matter that I had no IWB access at school, so I started using Edmodo straight away as a place to keep all of my favourite IELTS resources.

To begin with, I created an account at and then made a library of resources by adding links to folders.  Then I created a group called IELTS and gave out the group code to my students.   I had created my first online class and used it solely for content management purposes.  

Since then I have created a number of groups including CAE, Business, General IELTS and Teachers.  I’ve also worked in school that have IWBs and it’s great being able to refer to posts or resources during class as well.  For more details you can watch the introductory webinar here.

Teacher’s may often reject the idea of setting up their own VLE if their institution doesn’t have one as they see it as extra work and more hassle.  So yes, initially there is a small investment of time to create folders and add resources but once that’s done, maintaining it with new or interesting content is minimal.

How do you use it?

edmodo library screenAs I’ve said I use it for content management  and communication purposes so I’ve organised my library into folders such as ‘Speaking’, ‘Listening’, ‘Reading’, ‘IELTS Topics’, ‘Dictionaries’ and ‘Videos’ and then added links to my favourite resources like TedTalks, Radiolab and BBC podcasts.  Each time a new student joins the class I give them the access code.  Once they have signed up and joined the group they can then download the free app for their phone or tablet.

So, I mainly use Edmodo for:

  • Sharing resources used in class  (e.g. a  hand-out or sample of an essay)
  • Setting homework (e.g.  posting a link to a Ted Talk I want them to listen to and summarise)
  • Reinforcing grammar / language  / topic from the lesson (e.g. sending them a relevant news article / video)
  • Promoting resources requested by students (e.g. particular language or exam strategies they wanted)
  • Sending sound files from monthly speaking mock tests
  • Sending reminders, notices or updates (e.g. room changes)

edmodo cae screen

Students can also use it to ask the teacher or the group a question, they can also share resources they find and to have a discussion online.You can also get students to submit work online and you can track their progress.  However you use it, you need to be clear on what you want it for and how it can enhance the overall learning experience.  Students are able to choose their level of engagement so by controlling the content and promoting certain resources, you are guiding your students towards useful resources.  Of course not all students use Edmodo and some can be reluctant at first, but when they see what others are doing they usually realise they are missing out and soon get involved.