Webinar on Teaching Culture for the Russian teaching association Appreciating Diversity

I gave this presentation in December and I thought I ought to give it a little home.

Hats off to Pat Moran for making me think for a spell.


Links from Samara Plenary, March 25th, 2013

Thanks for listening today!  Here are the links that I mentioned in my talk:

Some of the books I have found important to my own development:

  • Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis
  • Uncovering Grammar by Scott Thornbury
  • A Framework for Task-Based Learning by Jane Willis
  • Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy by Scott Thornbury
  • Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice by Patrick Moran
  • Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards

Internet Resources

Blogs I like———————————————————————–>
(that means look at the links on the right…)
Twitter folks worth following:
Youtube links to demonstration classes:

Professional Development Courses:

From my workshop today, here is the missing handout:


What am I missing?

Response to Saransk Questions (December 10th, 2012)

DSC00503Saransk!  Thank you so much for your hospitality, participation and great questions.  I’ve tried to answer most of them below.  Please feel free to add your comments!

  • What kind of videos can be used for complete beginners?  Is it possible to use authentic sources or TV programs?

Yes, I think it is totally possible.  What kind depends on what listening skills or target language you’re trying to develop or study.  Lots of movies or shows will show characters meeting each other for the first time, or saying goodbye, or asking simple questions, or giving each other their telephone numbers.  For true beginners, I would lean towards keeping the video clip short.  I want my students to gain confidence and motivation from being able to glean information from an authentic text.  If I play a clip for too long, it may have the opposite effect.

As you start using video in your classes, you’ll notice you watch movies differently, always looking for a scene that might be appropriate with your students.

Commercials can be great too.

  •  What other techniques do you use for watching videos?

Take a look at these ideas: http://www.alienteachers.com/40-simple-ways-to-use-video-in-the-eflesl-classroom.html

Then take a look at his blog.  He’s got a wealth of information and some really nice things to read.

  • What other videos can we use for this kind of lesson?

There is going to be culture embedded in any sort of authentic video you can find.  What kind of videos would your students enjoy?  I often try to use a movie or TV show that I can use several clips from over the whole term or year.  The students like watching the story unfold slowly (they need to refrain from ruining the surprise by watching it on their own—they can do this after the term!).  I look for shows that have realistic/useful language, a clear story and one that is tied to the students’ interests.  In Taiwan, my students were medical students and all watched Dr. House or Scrubs.  They loved the relationship conversations.  Dramas and romantic comedies may be the most accessible in many ways.  Comedies, action movies, horror movies are harder for the students to enter into.

  • How often do you use such cultural things while teaching English?

This depends on the class and their needs.  But, because culture is an inherently interesting topic and many of my students have immediate goals of going overseas and entering new cultures, I would say that I use cultural topics quite often.  One of the students in our workshop mentioned that using the Cultural Knowings framework would be great homework—I wholeheartedly agree!  Look here (It’s Log) for an example of a listening log.  I have my students look for both vocabulary and cultural content from the shows they watch between classes.

  • How do you choose topics for teaching culture?

Again, this depends on what my students’ goals are.   2 years ago, I taught a class of Taiwanese medical students who were going to live in America for a month, working in hospitals.  So I chose shows that had hospital culture.  And I explained that Grey’s Anatomy is not realistic in the sense that all the doctors are dating each other.

Before that, I had Japanese students who were going to live and work in English-speaking developing countries.  I tried to find videos from those countries, so they could get used to the accent and look at the culture.  It was difficult for places like Micronesia or Tonga.  So I actually had former students now living in those countries make videos in which they interviewed locals on various cultural topics.  These worked wonderfully.

  • Which techniques do you use to make students more motivated?  See here.
  • Do you enjoy working with foreign students?

I get a chance to learn from them, about their realities.  My job is so much fun.DSC00557

  •  Have you ever been puzzled running your workshops?

Sure!  Like teaching an English class, I am constantly making decisions about the changing circumstances—the classroom setup, technology difficulties, different teacher/student personalities, my own mood or health, timing, assessing how well the message is getting across, if I am allowing teachers enough time to discuss and reflect.  Teaching is a constant changing puzzle, no?  I just hope the picture comes out pretty in the end…

  • Is it good to mix several activities in one task (I mean listening + reading + speaking, etc)?  Is that efficient?  This question is really important for me because I personally like such a mix but I’m not sure that I’m on the right way here.

Yes! There will probably be one skill (reading, writing, speaking, listening) that I am specifically trying to develop but the other skills are a natural part of this.  For example, if I were teaching how to write an essay, this would start with some pairwork (uncorrected speaking) to brainstorm ideas, preliminary writing, more speaking in pairs to peer edit, rewriting and then a chance for Ss to read and write responses to their classmates’ efforts.  The main skill is writing, but speaking and reading would be integral to developing that skill.  I definitely think you’re on the right path!

  • What advice can you give if a teacher should present some boring theoretical material for a student?

I employ some of the same techniques I would for teaching EFL.  Jigsaw readings, project work, pair and group discussions, gallery walks, mill drills.  Two years ago in Taiwan, I helped a science teacher change a class in which 75% of the students were not engaged (sleeping, reading other books, texting, chatting)—she broke up her lectures into smaller chunks and had the students discuss questions every 15-20 minutes.  They would use remote controls to punch in their answers.  They also had to walk around and survey other students.  This was in a class of 200!  After she made the changes she had nearly 100% engagement.

  • Do you enjoy your job?

Absolutely.  I get to travel the world, meet and talk to English teachers.  It’s a dream job!

  • What do you enjoy more, teaching or traveling around the world giving seminars like today’s?

I get the best of both worlds, really, because I get to have regular methodology classes in Kazan and I also get to travel all over Russia.  I do miss teaching English sometimes.  I’ve had some really great students in the past and I enjoy all the creativity that teaching allows me.  And I sometimes feel envious of teachers who have worked at the same school for many years and can really see their students grow up and move out into the world.  That must feel rewarding.

  • Do you like Russian people?  Is it difficult to work with Russian people?

I really enjoy the Russian sense of humor and directness.  I lived in Asia for so long and there it is often difficult to know what people really think of you.  I don’t think it is difficult to work with Russians.  Some people are very willing to listen to me while others think that I have nothing to offer.  Fair enough.

  • Have you gotten used to Russians (and those ‘stereotypical’ things)?

Yes, to a point.  I will not wait in lines if I don’t have to. Coat checks are the worst!  That part of the culture is very difficult for me to get used to.  I refuse to drive, so my life is fairly stress-free in that regard.  I have learned to walk around without a smile on my face.

  • What are the origins of prejudices?

Lack of education?

  • How can you be so optimistic and friendly? How can you behave so openly and emotionally during your lesson?

That’s very nice to hear.  I teach the way I want to be taught?  Maybe?

  • Did you like Saransk? What about its roads?

Funny.  My taxi driver in Kazan said the roads in Saransk are worse than they are in Volgograd.  But not from what I saw.  Saransk is a beautiful city.  I love how close things are downtown.  The colors and buildings are super attractive.

  • Are you interested in visiting other higher education institutions in Saransk?

Definitely.  Keep in touch, I may be coming back in spring.DSC00553

Response to Volzhsky Questions (10.30.2012)

  • How can I raise students’ motivation to study English?


Let me first say that there are experts out there, like Zoltan Dornyei, whose job is to sort through the vast array of elements that go into second language learner motivation.  This is not me!  But I’m happy to answer this question, at least the main points as they occur to me.  And perhaps in no logical order.

In learning a second or third language, is there anything more important than motivation?  Age?  Innate ability?  These are still nothing without motivation.  There are aspects of motivation that we are helpless to affect but there are others that we do have some power over.  It is important to remember that motivation is in a constant flux—over a lifetime, a school year, a school day and even through a one-hour class.  You have seen this.  So what can we do day to day and over a term that can help create a deeper sense of purpose and motivation to study a language?  Here are a few things that I try to keep in mind:

Match the material to the learners’ needs and interests.  This means I need to do some sort of needs analysis and goal setting to find out why students might be using or use English in the future and how they see English bettering their future lives.  To gather goals, I’ve been having my students work on a Dornyei-inspired Ideal L2 Self worksheet that they keep in their vocabulary notebooks or portfolios: somewhere where they can easily access and update it.  I make sure that the lifetime, term and weekly goals are aligned, that their weekly goals are directly building towards their longer term goals.  I look at their weekly goals each Friday and have them create new ones on post-it notes.  Students appreciate their teacher’s attention and concern, and it gives the students a written record of what they’ve accomplished week by week.  Here is a look at one learner’s Ideal L2 self for Japanese:


He has used the space on the left to create an image of what he can be if he learns Japanese as well as he wants to: he can now speak to his wife’s family, read novels in Japanese, and take part in meetings at his institution.  He will be empowered and his life will be richer if he can reach these goals.  It is important that students imagine what a second language can do for their lives and this is a task that teachers can really help with, by facilitating the brainstorming, giving students a wide array of options, asking questions to make the vision deeper, and providing models of successful L2 speakers, in our case, Russians who speak fluent English.

Once I know my students’ goals and interests, I can bring in listening and reading texts, speaking and writing tasks that match the group (as well as resources for students with more specific individual needs).

On a related note, I want to make the skills and language that the students learn as individualized as possible.  So I steer away from doing lots of grammar presentations on discrete points such as Past Perfect or giving vocabulary lists that don’t give students any choice (unless by some miracle, the vast majority of the class is struggling in the same area).  Instead, I’ll do noticing-the-gap type activities, such as dictoglosses; with these, the point is for students to notice language (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation) that is just above their current level.  In any given class, you’ll have different abilities and different levels of comfort with a variety of aspects of English.  Activities that allow students to learn what they feel is important can be a powerful motivator.  When I give students a text to scan for new vocabulary, I try to point out a few chunks that I think are necessary for their development but also give students the space to find the language they think is new or interesting.  Through doing this, I have found that students’ instincts about what vocabulary is important is often better than my own.

Individualized correction.  As much as possible, I avoid correcting students’ mistakes in front of their peers.  Making mistakes or errors is natural when developing a new skill.  There should be no emotional price to pay for developing.  Lexical, grammatical and pronunciation errors get dealt with after activities and at the end of class.  When I write student errors on the board, they are cleverly disguised to mask the speaker’s identity (although often students will claim the mistakes as their own).  Students then work in pairs to come up with a correction and the reason why.   At other times, I will try and take notes on a You said…/You meant… form.  I can hand these to students as they leave the class.  They appreciate that their teacher cares enough to be listening to their individual utterances.

You said… You meant to say…
I goed to the park yesterday I went to the park yesterday

Pairwork and group work.  I can increase the amount of speaking practice each student gets by merely having the students work together rather than just answering to me.  This helps to create a feeling of safety, confidence (by practicing expressing their opinion with a partner, their output will be more fluent and accurate when/if the teacher finally calls on them), and comradery.  Chances for pairwork include social chat at the beginning of class (“what did you do last night?”), discussing answers to listening/reading texts (“Who is the main character?  I think it’s …”) or creating class projects (“I agree that we should make…but…”).  The teacher will need to elicit/teach the expressions that students need to work with each other and then to monitor so that students stay in English and to write down any notable language use.

I think I’ll stop here, just because I sense your eyes are getting tired.  Look at the mind map the teachers in Volgograd created and think how those elements could be implemented into your classrooms.

  • How to correct students’ pronunciation?  Shall I do the same exercises (in reference to the drilling patterns, gestures + phonemics, minimal pairs)?  Shall we continue working on pronunciation with graduate students?

As safely as possible.  Some students really want to be corrected as soon as they make a mistake.  Others will find this de-motivating.  You can ask your students which they prefer.  I would guess that if your students have made it to the university-level in English studies, they don’t mind being corrected in front of the others.  You could also use the You said…/You meant… form from above.

If your graduate students are having trouble being understood, or they genuinely want to be corrected then go for it.  I find that some students that I correct don’t really care and will ignore any corrections.  A simple one-on-one conversation will reveal if they do care but need an extra push from you, or really don’t care about improving.  If the latter is the case, I wouldn’t waste my time with it!

  • What would be a dealbreaker to you when you deal with a  student?

I guess when students have bullied a classmate in front of me is the only time I’ve really lost my temper with students.  I’ll storm around and yell a bit.  But I’m willing to forgive, especially with students who are not adults yet.  I find most behavior problems in a class to be a challenge and I love a good challenge.  I used to torment my teachers in school, so I can often empathize with the rulebreakers.

  • How many students have got in one group?

I’ve taught everything from private students to classes of 100.  My ideal class would be around 8-12 students.

  • Will you come again?  Other topics will be discussed later?

I hope so!  I really enjoy coming to Volzhskiy.  Tatiana is one of my heroes.  What topics do you want to discuss??

  • Do you have an inner actor inside?

Kind of.  I consider myself an introvert so stepping in front of a class of any size used to make me really really anxious.  The teaching persona I turn on helps me get over that.

I totally linked to some blogs and sites I had no permission to.  Sorry about that.  If angered by this, please contact me.

Volgograd Workshop (11.01.2012)

I see some llamas!

Thanks everyone for your participation today! I was overwhelmed by the huge, enthusiastic turnout. Again, let me reiterate how impressed I am by the important jobs you are doing in the face of sometimes difficult conditions. Let me know how I can serve you in the future.

Here’s the mind map you created today. Print it out, discuss it with colleagues, try an idea that you haven’t before. Good luck!

And the links we talked about during our discussions on the Russian State Exam:

Lextutor, for analyzing the texts and language you bring to class

Top 2000 words

Academic Word List (570 headwords)

Pen Pals for your students

As for my PowerPoints, this link may do the trick. You’ll have to download Dropbox but then I think you’ll be able to see them.

It’s Log!

I’ve been meaning to post these for quite some time, but down below are a couple of examples of the listening logs I have used with my students.

These follow the introduction of formulaic sequences/lexical chunks through awareness-raising activities,chunk finding expeditions and are used alongside vocabulary notebooks.  I began using these in response to having a class of medical students in Taiwan who were going to go to America to work for a month in hospitals, shadowing doctors and doing some light-duty medical work.  We only had class for an hour a week and we felt this wouldn’t allow enough time to increase their listening ability.  So the students were assigned  to fill out one log per week by watching one American medical show episode (they turned to House MD and Scrubs).  As you can see below, they found 10-15 new vocabulary items per week and put them to some sort of productive work.  They also had to put the chunks into their vocabulary notebooks as we regularly started class working out of them.  As culture was introduced into the class they also needed to analyze some sort of cultural element from each episode.

The response to the logs as homework was overwhelmingly positive.  Students could see that the task was aligned to their goals and it was forcing them to listen attentively and consistently.  These can be adapted into Reading Logs, which I believe to be the original idea I stole from.

Students put these logs into their portfolios each week, which I would check every now and again.  They also gave themselves a weekly self-assessment grade and a statement justifying their own marks.  Altogether, one of my favorite homework/learner training tools I have used.