Category Archives: Skills

Using phonics in the adult learning context (#AusELT Twitter chat summary)

The last #AusELT Twitter chat of 2015 was on the topic of using phonics in the adult learning context.

With apologies for the long delay, you can now read the summary of what we discussed and pick up some great resources. Enjoy!

This post by @sophiakhan4

Beyond ‘testing’ receptive skills: #AusELT Twitter chat

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.23.25 AM

The pedagogical framework for teaching receptive skills that is taught on pre-service teacher training courses such as CELTA and reflected in the majority of popular EFL coursebooks is often something like this:

  • talk about context – check vocab – predict content (activate schemata)
  • read/listen to check predictions or some other gist task (global comprehension)
  • read/listen to perform a more detailed or specific task (more detailed or specific comprehension)
  • some sort of follow-on task (‘using’ or responding to the text in a new or personalised way)

So in essence, typical receptive skills lessons give students the chance to test/practise their comprehension but not to actually understand, build upon and develop the whole range of sub-skills that will make them truly effective readers/listeners.

We’re going to be discussing this issue on Sunday 7th Feb at 8.30 pm Sydney-time (this chat has now taken place – scroll down for the summary).

Some things to think about before the chat:

  • Is it ‘wrong’ to use the skills framework described above? why?
  • What ARE the other sub-skills we should/could be focusing on?
  • CAN we teach receptive sub-skills – or simply practise?
  • What activities/lessons have you used that can help develop these other sub-skills?
  • What can we do to adapt/vary our strategies while still using the same coursebook material?

A few bite-size posts for background reading:

To view the summary of what was discussed in this chat, click here.

This post by @sophiakhan4

Introducing the #AusELT Article Discussion Group

MP900387490We have a new, regular activity for AusELTers – an article discussion group. The idea is for us all to vote for our preferred article from the latest English Australia Journal, read it, and then join in a moderated discussion of the article. Authors will either join in on the discussion, or respond offline to points raised and questions asked, facilitated by the moderator. For the time being, the discussion will take place on the #AusELT Facebook page (although this may change in future) and the first discussion is slated for 13th-19th October. The articles are all relevant to many of the contexts in which AusELT folk practice. They are primary research articles, that is, the authors have devised and conducted their own research study and reported their findings. In addition, each article has been peer-reviewed, meaning that the editor has invited leading TESOL scholars to review and offer suggestions for improving earlier drafts. We have some excellent reviewers who, together with the authors, have ensured you receive the best quality research reports upon which you can make some decisions about your own teaching.

In order to assist those who are new to reading research articles, the moderator will orient you by providing a summary of the research design and the overall purpose of the research. The discussion will not only focus on how the article can inform your own teaching, but also on opportunities for further research in any form. It will hopefully spark ideas for improving the quality of life in many classrooms! Each article has an abstract for you to read; after all, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a research article by its title.

The complete articles are all open access, freely available online here. The chosen article will be made available as a pdf and available for download on this page.

Teaching Pragmatics: An action research journey

Heather Denny, Graeme Couper, Jenny Healy, Flora MacDonald, Annette Sachtleben & Annette Watkins (Auckland University of Technology)

Teachers are often seeking ways to more objectively evaluate new approaches in teaching methodology. One way of doing this is to carry out classroom-based action research which involves teachers researching their own classroom practice, ideally with collaborative support from more experienced researchers. This summary article will trace a collaborative action research journey involving a series of such projects undertaken to test the efficacy of using elicited recordings of native-speaker roleplay to teach the discourse and pragmatic norms of interaction in communities of practice relevant to learners. It will outline the action research processes of planning and re-planning involved at each stage of the journey undertaken from 2009 to 2012 with learners at a variety of proficiency levels. It will draw out common findings which can be of use to practising teachers, and briefly examine the professional development outcomes for the teachers involved and their colleagues, and the benefits for learners.

Reading strategies in IELTS tests: Prevalence and impact on outcomes

James Chalmers & Ian Walkinshaw (Griffith University)

This pilot study explores whether and to what extent IELTS Academic Reading test-takers utilise expeditious reading strategies, and, where employed, their impact on test outcomes. In a partial replication of Weir, Hawkey, Green, and Devi’s (2009) exploration of the reading processes learners engage in when tackling IELTS Reading tasks, participants in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses underwent a mock IELTS Academic Reading test. They then completed a written retrospective protocol and a focus group discussion to probe their reading strategy use and tease out any underlying rationale. The analysis revealed that participants responded to time pressure, unfamiliar vocabulary and demands on working memory by employing a range of expeditious reading strategies which focused less on textual comprehension than on quickly locating correct answers. Their comprehension of texts often remained at the ‘local-literal’ level rather than the ‘global-interpretive’ level (Moore et al., 2012). Their test scores did not necessarily increase as a result. The findings, though preliminary, support further enquiry into test-taking strategies to understand the extent and the direction of impact on test scores.

Preparing learners for extensive reading through ‘reciprocal teaching strategies’

Karen Benson (Transfield Services – Welfare)

Studies on extensive reading report positive learner outcomes in reading, listening, speaking and writing, gains in motivation and expanded lexico-grammatical range (Day et al., 2011). With this in mind, two teachers at an English language college for adults in Sydney, Australia started to use graded readers in their classes. From the difficulties their students encountered they identified a significant gap in reading instruction in the General English (GE) syllabus at the college. A review of the syllabus highlighted that ‘reading’ was commonly taken from the coursebook and employed an intensive reading methodology. This was not preparing the students for successful extensive reading. To address this gap, a collaborative action research project was conducted to explore if and how the instructional technique ‘reciprocal teaching’ (Palincsar & Brown, 1984) designed to promote comprehension abilities in young L1 learners could be adapted and integrated in to the GE syllabus at the college.

So, without any more fanfare, please cast your vote! (NB: the poll options may appear in a jumbled order). Voting extended. Closes Monday October 6 at 5 pm DST

Your first moderator, Phil Chappell (@TESOLatMQ, Executive Editor of the English Australia Journal)

Poll results and Article for Download

The most favoured article is Teaching Pragmatics: An action research journey, written by a group of colleagues from Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Download the article at the link above, ore read it directly from the Journal website.

Discussion questions will be posted soon. Screenshot 2014-10-06 at 6.13.31 pm

#AusELT ‘slowburn’ chat summary on extensive reading (3rd April 2014)




Many thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas) for this summary of our very first ‘slowburn’ on the topic of Extensive Reading. Read on for great tips, links and things to think about.




Inaugural #AusELT slowburn


Inspired, as ever, by our #KELTchat colleagues, we’ve decided to shamelessly steal try out their “slowburn” idea for our next Twitter chat.

This means instead of the usual 1-hour format, we are spreading out over a whole 12 hours, starting at 10am and ‘officially’ closing at 10pm Sydney time.

The idea is that more of us will be able to access the chat instead of always missing it due to class/train/timezone clashes. It will also be less chaotic more relaxed than a 1-hour chat where the tweets are flying and nobody really knows what’s going on till the summary comes out (much as we love that type of chat too!) People can dip in and dip out, comment, ask and respond, whenever suits them over the 12-hour period, and hopefully we’ll still get the same great range of ideas, resources and food for thought.

So, our first slow burn will take place on Thursday 3rd April 2014, 10am-10pm, on the topic of EXTENSIVE READING.?????????????

The chat won’t be moderated as such, so participants can feel free to start whatever conversation they would like on this topic, and follow the threads that are most of interest to them. Some ideas may be:

  • What is the value of extensive reading?
  • Is extensive reading something the teacher can/should address IN class? If so, how?
  • What obstacles are there to teachers setting up an ER program & how can they be overcome?
  • Are ‘graded readers’ effective? What material has been particularly successful in helping learners ‘catch’ reading in English?
  • What’s different about reading in the digital century? Is this considered by ER programs?

Do feel free to ask your own questions and share your own experiences on this topic. See you on Thursday!

Useful pre-reading/links – full of great resources/articles

Top 10 principles for teaching extensive reading by Richard Day & Julian Bamford

Extensive reading: Why it is good for our students…and for us by Alan Maley…-us

PS:  Don’t worry, we will continue to mix it up and have 1-hour chats and guest chats as well as slowburns. Some other ideas for organisation of chats have also been floated including:

–       #AusELT members choosing a topic that they are especially interested in, and taking over the set up and management of that particular chat

–       voting and scheduling all chats, of all types, at the start of the year

–       all of the above 🙂

Do you have some ideas for how chats could be run/organised? Let us know in the comments.

This post by @sophiakhan4


#AusELT chat summary: Managing mixed-ability classes (July 4, 2013)


The topic of ‘managing mixed ability classes’ was suggested by Jenny Kessel (@jenglishes) and proved very popular. You can see the original chat transcript here.

Karen Benson (@eslkazzyb) was an awesome moderator and somehow made sure the chat addressed 6 key areas in its fast-paced hour:

  • What do we mean by ‘mixed ability’?
  • Main challenges
  • Top tips
  • Useful tasks
  • Favourite extension tasks
  • Useful links/resources

What do we mean by ‘mixed ability’?

This question is knottier than at first it seems. Classes can be differentiated by level and by skill. But as @kathywa29798411 put it, it’s only a problem if ‘the differences make a difference.’

If we are talking about level differentiation, that is, overall ability, how do we judge that? @eslkazzyb pointed out: ‘Often stronger value attached to speaking. It is more noticeable. Is it more valued?’

If we are talking about skill differentiation, that is, for example, good writing but poor speaking and vice versa, the question arises of what skills are most prioritised on a given course. @andrea_rivett rightly pointed out that it depends on focus of the entry level test (or course). @MeredithMacAul1 was able to support this, tweeting ‘In my context, EAP, students are accepted based on IELTS score with an overall score and a minimum writing score.’ Nonetheless, there seemed to be general agreement that speaking is often what carries the day when deciding on a student’s class or ‘level’.

@sophiakhan4 thought that the hardest situation was when abroad and classes were grouped by things that had nothing to do with level OR ability (e.g., age). @eslkazzyb reminded us that study tours here are often like that also, but wondered if it was easier to satisfy kids than paying adults. @sophiakhan4 suggested kids might be happier with a ‘total’ learning experience rather than fulfilling ‘needs’, and @eslkazzyb agreed there were different expectations at work in this type of context.

Accepting that any class with an overall level still consists of students with different strengths and weaknesses, @eslkazzyb proposed that ‘in our ELICOS ‘streaming’ system, all classes are inherently mixed ability.’ @cioccas pointed out that it’s not necessarily an ELICOS phenomenon: ‘Happens everywhere I think. Except perhaps where you have huge numbers? In our evening classes, we only have one class at each level, so they are very mixed in ability – within students and across the class!’

@eslkazzyb agreed: ‘I should add our IELTS classes are mixed level too – Intermediate++.That is a challenge for the teacher!’ This sentiment was echoed by other chatters, and seems to be a familiar situation for IELTS teachers across the #AusELT community.

Main challenges in managing mixed-ability classes

  • Maintaining motivation: how to keep all students in the class motivated, interested and feeling like they are continuing to achieve.
  • Pitch: where to ‘aim’ your lesson so that lower level students don’t fall behind, and higher level students remain challenged.
  • Pace: managing the speed and pace of the lesson in such a way that higher level students don’t get bored and lower level students don’t feel rushed  (relates to the two points above)
  • Managing dominant students: students with strong speaking skills can easily dominate or disrupt a class – this may also be exacerbated if they also have low reading and writing skills, and don’t want to lose face.
  • Differentiated instruction: tailoring teaching to suit students with different educational backgrounds – for instance, general literacy and numeracy, academic literacy, grammatical background knowledge, etc.
  • Differentiated feedback: tailoring and focusing feedback to suit the individual’s level/ability, knowing when to praise and when/how far to push.

Despite these issues, it’s important to see the silver lining – as @cioccas wrote: ‘Lots of challenges, but also opportunities for getting students to help and support each other too.’

Top tips for managing mixed ability classes

Managing a mixed-ability class is not easy, and it requires a skilled teacher. As @cioccas says, ‘Sometimes you just have to teach them independently working on different skills, tasks, activities with different students, in groups if you’re lucky.’ Extra preparation and classroom-management strategies are essential for a teacher preparing to teach such a class. It may mean lots of extra planning, but also skill in thinking on your feet: ‘being nimble-footed in the classroom – ready to change direction at any time’ (@cioccas). However, you could argue that  this is true of any classroom: ‘difference not such an issue, just teacher challenging students’ (@eslkazzyb). Ultimately, as @Penultimate_K pointed out, ‘It hinges on knowing your students really well and directing the tasks accordingly.’ Below you will find a list of some of the strategies we came up with, as well some things to be careful of.

  • Strong + weak student pairing. Be careful to: ensure no one is losing face; ensure stronger students feel they are learning enough and not just supporting ‘weaker’ students; mix this up with other ways of pairing/grouping (see below).
  • Vary the grouping. i.e., high/high, low/low, high/low, depending on the task. Be careful to: give strong students the opportunity to work together sometimes.
  • Use students with higher ability in a skill as models, assistants, or even teachers (e.g., they can teach some of the target vocab). Be careful to:  make sure everyone gets a chance to shine (see below).
  • Make sure everyone gets a chance to shine. Even weak students, if they have been monitored and supported during the task, can ‘shine’ in feedback by sharing the correct answer with the class. ‘Everyone can be the “expert” depending on the focus/skill,’ says @andrea_rivett.
  • Use a range of graded or extension tasks. For example, jigsaws readings/listenings with more challenging or detailed tasks for stronger students, or with extra extension tasks for those who finish early. Be careful to: think about how feedback would work with different tasks (it may be easier to conduct feedback in groups rather than with the whole class).
  • Encourage students to value each other’s strengths. For example, X speaks well but Y has great grammar, etc.
  • Encourage weaker students to prepare the next lesson topic in advance. ‘Like a “half-flipped” class (@andrea_rivett).

These are all excellent ideas for trying to keep everyone happy, but @MeredithMacAul1 also made the important point that sometimes we have to focus on the overall aims and expected level of the course, despite having weaker students: ‘In my context, though, must continue forward and weaker or less motivated students must be strongly encouraged to do work outside of class, too.’

Useful tasks with mixed-ability classes

  • ‘Any ability’ or open-ended tasks: for example, ‘listen and note what you hear’ (with careful feedback). Click here to see a handy little list of open-ended tasks from p.13 of Teaching large multilevel classes by Natalie Hess (Cambridge University Press), forwarded by @eslkazzyb.
  • Graded tasks: same reading/listening text, but questions available in three levels of difficulty (easy, medium, hard); different levels of scaffolding/modelling available for speaking tasks (e.g., weaker students can use notes, higher level students can’t); etc.
  • Reduced tasks:  halve the number of questions for weaker students. This means less pressure on them, while stronger students still feel challenged.
  • Extension tasks: for students who finish early. For example, everyone does the same reading/listening text with the ‘easy’ questions, and the harder level questions are extension tasks; students who finish early can make a vocab quiz for the next day’s review; etc. (more ideas in next section!)
  • Jigsaw: students explore different reading/listening texts in groups, then report back to others (texts could be graded)
  • Work stations: setting up different tasks around the room, so students can pick what they want/need to work on (great for independent learning and teacher can monitor and help as necessary). @cioccas said ‘My ideal classroom would allow easy rearrangement of furniture and have a mix of desks & PCs/tablets so can have several diff activities simultaneously.’
  • Task-based learning (TBL) and project-based learning (PBL): this is great for mixed levels as the sense of task achievement is still there for everyone.

Favourite extension tasks

  • Extra tasks posted online or on a noticeboard (self-paced, self-checked)
  • Summaries
  • Highlighting new vocab
  • Highlighting strong and weak forms and practising this
  • Reflections
  • Using new vocab from the lesson in a paragraph
  • Writing answers on the board
  • Making vocab gapfill or comprehension questions for a review or quiz
  • Making vocab cards for the class to use the next day/end of week
  • Making a board game, quiz questions or challenges for review purposes
  • Using the ‘class vocab notebook’ or ‘vocab box’ – adding things, testing each other, review games . . .
  • Prepare for tomorrow: stronger students have to do more, e.g., bring collocations/sentence to ‘teach’.
  • ‘Word/phrase of the day’ – different students teach one each day – this can be from a list given at the start of the week, or they can simply find their own.

Useful links/resources for mixed-ability classes


  • Teaching large multilevel classes by Natalie Hess (Cambridge University Press). Recommended by @eslkazzyb.
  • Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener (Cambridge University Press) has a chapter on mixed levels. Recommended by @thesmylers.


Let us know if you would recommend any other links/resources – and thanks to all participants for another brilliant chat  🙂

This post by @sophiakhan4

@cioccas’s glorious summary of last month’s #AusELT chat: Motivating General English students to write

Photo credit: Paolo Camera on flickr

A huge thanks on behalf of the whole #AusELT community for Lesley Cioccarelli’s monumental efforts in providing the summary for our vibrant chat in June on General English students and writing.

You can read Lesley’s summary here.