This blog is retired

This is just a brief one to say that I will no longer be posting on this blog. Thank you very much for reading.

If you would like to follow what I’m up to, please come and find me at There you can find my latest posts, and sign up to subscribe so you don’t miss a post. If you like to do things through an RSS reader, please update this to

You can also find me on

Hope to see you soon.


~ Mike

App review – Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Following a post I recently wrote on the usefulness of learner dictionaries in the language classroom, I received an interesting email from Mary Franklin at OUP. Would I be interested in reviewing the new OALD app for the iPhone/iPad? So here it is…

First impressions

From opening the app, it’s clear that some time has been spent on its presentation. It just looks very nice. The interface is clean, with a list of all the words in the dictionary on the left. You can simply scroll through these (if you have time on your hands!), tap on one of the letters to skip to that part of the dictionary, or look for something specifically in the search box. There is a spacious section to the right where the definitions and examples of usage appear, which can be easily resized.

What’s on the menu?

In the top menu, from left to right, there are a number of useful functions:

  • A history of all the words you have looked at, enabling you to flick between words with a couple of taps
  • The search box
  • A magnifying glass and list icon, which lets you find headwords and phrases containing your search term
  • A ‘moon’ icon which lets you show a full entry or an entry with certain parts hidden from view
  • Add to favourites, which lets you store selected words in the favourites menu
  • A couple of navigation arrows to skip back and forth between words and entries you’ve recently looked up

And at the bottom:

  • OALD – this is the dictionary part of the app. Search, favourite and read entries here
  • Favourites – all the words you’ve stored as favourites using the icon at the top
  • Settings – change the text size of entries, decide if you want to download extra spoken example words and sentences (obviously this means the app will take up a little bit more space on your iPad)
  • Information – and help

A dictionary at your fingertips

For me, this is the brilliance of the app. Searching for words is so simple, navigating between entries seamless, and the opportunity to hear a spoken example of a word is very useful (as mentioned above, you can download example sentences with the words in them). The sheer practicality of this app, even before you consider how much less it weighs than the paper dictionary, is what makes it for me.

Practical activities

So how could you use this app with learners? The search box will obviously be a useful space where learners can check their spellings. If they spell a word incorrectly, its entry won’t show up. But they will be able to see suggested words, including (hopefully) the correct spelling of the word they are looking for. Learners could play example words and sentences to each other and challenge them to write them down, or find them in the dictionary. Use the Favourites function to store a number of words, possibly on a particular theme but they could also be unrelated to each other. Challenge learners to write a short text linking the words together.

Click on the loud speaker icons to play the word

Minor niggle

Just one small thing I’ve noticed about the app – in the pop up window explaining the abbreviations, the text doesn’t seem to wrap around properly, meaning that sentences have an annoying habit of finishing and running off-screen.

Very well, but what do the learners think?

Coming soon – I will be testing out the app with two intermediate to advanced learners I currently support with their language needs. I’m going to let them play around with the dictionary and ask them what they think of it.


Technical stuff

Networks and self-organisation

For the second session to attend at ISTEK, I went to Willy Cardoso’s workshop, Networks and Self-Organization: A Systems Thinking for Effective Practice.

I first met Willy in London after a day spent working at the British Council with Callie Wilkinson, Amanda Wilson and Phil Bird. We just went for drinks that time, but since then Willy and I have crossed paths a few times at various BC seminars and a couple of conferences.

Willy was talking at ISTEK about networks and how groups organise themselves, asking the participants (which counted Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury among their number) why this didn’t seem to be something we consider too much in English Language Teaching. Have you ever thought where/who your students go to for help when you, the teacher, are not there? Well, I haven’t to any great extent, at least. We were shown networks made between students and teacher, and also between teachers in the same workplace based upon questionnaires. The difference made to the links between the nodes (students, teachers, managers, or administrative staff) when a member of the group was removed were quite amazing. Remove one student from the group and the dynamic of relationships in the class was totally different.

We were also invited to consider how certain groups, like schools of fish and flocks of birds like starlings, organise themselves. Willy wanted to show us this video in the workshop, but the wifi was against him, so we were unable to see it. Luckily, on asking Willy for a reference and checking out if he was ok with a review post like this, he tweeted me a link to the video, which is below:

Pretty amazing, but as Willy explained, this group organisation is built on three simple rules, which I’ll paraphrase (Willy, if you’re out there and would like to correct anything wrong, please do so!):

  1. Move in the same direction as your neighbour
  2. Remain close to your neighbours
  3. Avoid collisions with your neighbours

Taken from Wikipedia

Can humans do this? Emphatically not, as Willy demonstrated with a group of 4 workshop participants and a pencil game. The participants were given a pole (made of pencils taped together), asked to balance it on their index fingers, and given a simple rule (don’t let the pole come out of contact with their fingers) and a task – to lower the pole to the floor. They were not successful!

pencil game

Willy: 'All you have to do is...'

What does this mean related to our practice? I guess that we should consider that not everyone moves in the same direction all the time, that the teacher is often not the most important link in a class, and managers not so in organisations, that humans find simple things difficult!

Much food for thought. Thanks, Willy!

20 steps and the Art of Unplugged

Just about a week ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Luke Meddings give a talk twice in four days, first at ISTEK and then at the British Council.

This time last year, or maybe about 18 months ago, if you had said the name Luke Meddings to me the response would have probably been ‘Luke who?’.

Aside – I should probably give you a bit of background colour to explain that. 18 months ago I didn’t know so much about English Language Teaching. Then November, the Language Show, Twitter, blogs all started. I had Jeremy Harmer’s book, but didn’t really get it. I read about Scott Thornbury learning Catalan, and an article about a teacher in Spain teaching kids English with nothing but toy dinos. I’d taught a year in Spain, and was mid way through my 2nd year of ESOL in the UK. I thought dogme was a film starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Anyway, back to the event. Luke gave a talk at ISTEK (a concurrent plenary in fact, up against Russell Stannard, Maureen McGarvey and Dede Wilson for our time, among others) titled Six Sketches for ISTEK. We were taken (and the room was pretty full) on a journey through 6 works of art, including one by Luke’s own dad, and invited to reflect on how different factors relating to the pieces could also help us reflect on our practice as teachers.

I’ve become quite a fan of taking a dogme approach in my classes; I just think it fits so well with ESOL students to not be constrained by a coursebook, and the fact is that the people in my class have so much more to offer (mostly!), they come to me with and for their English, and the basic need is often the drive to learn. So it was really great that so much of what Luke mentioned in his talk, about noticing, leaving space, and considering our approach to teaching chimed with me.

Brueghel's painting as a reminder to 'notice' what goes on in the classroom

Brueghel's painting as a reminder to 'notice' what goes on in the classroom

It was also great to see Luke in action, having gotten to know him a little bit via blogs and Twitter, as well as meeting at a Jamie Keddie seminar at the British Council. I really like Luke’s style of talk, very friendly and accessible.

It was at Spring Gardens, the British Council HQ in London where I saw Luke talk last Tuesday, where he presented 20 steps to teaching unplugged. Now, having bought his and Scott Thornbury’s book Teaching Unplugged last year, a few of the activities and the ideas that Luke spoke about that evening were not totally new, but it was great to see his spin on them, even including an in reference from the weekend in Istanbul in one of his slides. And there was a twist – a randomiser! To guide him through the 20 slides he had to show us ideas for teaching, Luke made his way following the numbers generated by a website random number machine (and later on, those numbers shouted out by the audience).

There were a number of ideas for activities that could be used in class, and Luke’s explanation of them was clear enough to suggest that they could be adapted to almost any level – a tenant, I think, of a dogme approach, in that the learners are largely responsible for what they put in/get out of a learning moment (it’s then the teacher’s job to MAXIMISE this). One that struck me was simply asking your students what they had for breakfast. How simple. And something that anyone, even those with limited language, would be able to do.

Probably not what Luke has for breakfast everyday

Probably not what Luke has for breakfast everyday

I won’t say too much more, because I think you should see him talk whenever you can (that is said in all honesty) and buy Teaching Unplugged!

Thanks, Luke, for a couple of great talks!

Making Dreams Touchable

On 15 February I was at the British Council, Spring Gardens for a seminar given by Jeremy Harmer on using poetry and music for language teaching. This comes off the back of a show he has done with Steve Bingham, a supreme violinist, and the CD they made of poetry and some virtuoso violin playing, Touchable Dreams (iTunes link, Touchable Dreams blog).

Jeremy’s reading of the poetry was flawless, while hearing Steve’s playing made the evening for me, but the idea for this seminar was really to remind us of using poetry (and music) for language teaching. We were presented with a number of practical ideas for using poetry in the class which, although they may not be new for you or revolutionary in teaching English, to me all seemed could work with our classes.

The first of these was reordering. I had done this before with a poem cut up and handed to a group of students so they could rearrange the lines on the table in front of them. Jeremy’s twist was to take the cut up lines of poetry (he said poems of 6-8 lines worked best) and hand a line to each student (with the students in groups of the same number, 6-8). The teacher then asks the students to walk around the room and say their line to each other, but they are not allowed to show it to each other. The aim is for the students to put themselves into the correct order of the poem.

Another activity was poetry blanks, a gap fill of a different sort. Project a poem with some words removed and replaced with blanks. Read out the poem, going ‘mmm’ for each blank, as the students try to work out what the missing words are. Quite tricky. So you do it again, but the second time you read, you reveal the first letter of each missing word. A third reading, and you then reveal the first two letters of each blank. As you read, what happens is your students are (hopefully) searching their mental dictionaries for words that could fit in the gaps. One you can also do collaboratively.

Those were just two of the activities presented by Jeremy. There will be a video uploaded in the future at the British Council seminars page on the TeachingEnglish site, where you can also see recordings of previous sessions they have held, including Using Video in ELT, Teaching Grammar, and Using Literature.

Jeremy Harmer poetry

For now though you can see Jeremy give another version of the Making dreams touchable talk at the IH DOS conference site here: (video, 54 minutes duration)

TESOL France 2010 – Day 1 Saturday 27th November

Well, actually, I say day 1, but I really mean that it was day 1 for me. The conference kicked off with poster presentations and an opening plenary on Extensive Reading (it’s good, y’know…) on Friday 26th. I, however, was still on the Eurostar at that point and arrived in Paris at 11pm. So, here’s my round up of the TESOL France Saturday:

TESOL France1I arrived at the venue about 9am, registered and paid, before looking at the programme and deciding where to go and who to see. Then across the table I heard a voice ‘Mike??’, looking up to see Vicky Loras (this would be the first of a good few meetings with people I know from Twitter). I was amazed how normal it felt to meet fellow tweeters face to face. Pretty soon, Anita Kwiatkowska, Vladka Michalkova and Eva Buyuksimkesyan had also turned up (I had been hoping to see them on the Friday night, but I guess not all people are night owls all the time!). It was great to be able to finally put voices to all those tweets. Then we (me, Vladka, Eva and Vicky) went off to our first workshop of the day:

Dede Wilson – Motivation, Fun and Building Confidence with Pronunciation

-Jo reggelt.

-Jo reggelt.

-Mike vagyok, es te?

-Vicky vagyok.

That was a brief, basic conversation in Hungarian that Dede had us all pronouncing pretty well by the end of the first few activities during her session on pronunciation. There were examples of using choral and individual drilling (together with some nice body language and gesture) to teach basic expressions. Dede told us to make ‘rubber faces’ and really make the sounds of English visible (echoing for me a lot of what Adrian Underhill talked about at BELTE), highlighting the need to teach the sounds, since if it doesn’t exist in the learner’s language, they won’t be able to hear it. We did various miming ping pong activities, introduced phonetic symbols by going through the alphabet (also very useful for spelling), matching activities (Roman alphabet with phonetic symbols), and talked about problem areas like minimal pairs. All in all, a very useful workshop for me, and some good ideas for taking further work I’ve been doing with Adrian’s pron chart. Many thanks, Dede!!

Dede gets us all matching

Dede gets us all matching

Anna Musielak – Drama: It is never too much of a good thing

Ken Wilson has said it: ‘The amazing Ania Musielak – she did the best drama workshop I’ve seen for a LONG time…’, and I definitely find myself in agreement with him as to how good Anna’s session was. Anna suggested a number of activities to do using drama and acting techniques in our classrooms, from simple warmers and fillers to more involved sequences. She had us greeting each other as toddlers coming back to school after the holiday, rival fashion models and cool dudes; introducing ourselves to each other without using words; and doing a great ‘Find someone who…’ activity trying to find someone with the same answers to three things: liking the same wine, having spent the night at the airport and having the same birthday. Another really neat activity was acting out short phrases or expressions (Anna suggested using proverbs or phrasal verbs among other things), having matched two halves of said phrases. Participants had to act out the phrase by mime or sketch (crucially, without saying any words from the phrase itself). A great activity and one that could certainly bring out the creativity and imagination in your students! One of the last things we did was rummage around in a bag of everyday objects and assign a different use to them: we ended up with chopsticks used as hair accessories or for picking your nose (!) and a tie being used for cleaning the window =) Thank you very much, Anna!


Acting out 'the early bird catches the worm' (I think...)

Acting out 'the early bird catches the worm' (I think...)

Then is was time for lunch and, as Eva Buyuksimkesyan said on her blog, it was a great chance to spend time socialising and chatting with like-minded teachers we had met on Twitter.

Russell Stannard – Gems on the web

I was looking forward to this one, if only for the chance to see Russell in the flesh. I’m quite new to ELT, but I knew of Russell’s Webwatcher articles through a colleague at my college. Being someone quite interested in how technology can be used to augment the language classroom, I was eager to see the man in action. I have to say he did not disappoint. Russell told of how he never ‘finds’ anything these days – he gets recommendations from his Twitter network – but what he does do is explore and experiment with the web 2.0 tools that he comes into contact with. There’s a certain energy about him when he talks, and I think this feeds into his research for his Teacher Training Videos, always looking to see what can be got out of technology. Russell showed us some ‘easy peasy, lemon squeezy’ tech tools that could be used for teaching: Vocaroo, a voice-recording tool; Mailvu, a similar tool to Vocaroo, but with the addition of video recording; Wordsift and Wordle; Dvolver, for making short animated movies; and two really smart sites (well, for me): Writing Fun and Storybird. Russell finished off by showing us two of his current faves: Lyrics Training and Jing. All super simple and explained with a common touch – there was not one tool, I think, that could not be used by us in the audience in the near future (depending on country internet filters). You can see Russell’s list here: and of course tutorial videos on his site.

OK, I haven’t given up, David Crystal will have to wait (sorry, Dave). I’m just going to get on and document the rest of Saturday, before it’s 2011.

Anita Kwiatkowska – Documentaries: How to challenge your students with global issues

I had a minor problem before going to see Anita doing her documentary thang – scheduling problems by TESOL France (come on, did you have to put so many fab presenters on at the same time as each other?). Still, not having the cachet to influence the organisation of the conference (I am joking here, by the way – I don’t expect personalised conferences!) I made a decision. And, well, I am really glad I made that decision. Even though, as Anita said on her blog, there was a minor hiccup with the technology (and the French boys weren’t too helpful, to be honest. Thankfully, Elizabeth Anne was there to sort out the laptop), the talk was really good.

Anita showed us a couple of interesting ways in which she had introduced documentaries to her students, through photography (including one of Anita’s own snaps) and something called the line game. Basically, make a line in the middle of the room (use tape, chalk or charcoal) and ask questions. Students stand on the line if the question applies to them. Here’s a video clip from the film Freedom Writers, showing how you play the line game:

 Anita gave us the link to a number of free, online documentary websites (you can read more at a post on her blog, L_MissBossy’s ELT Playground, here: Freedocumentaries: watch, learn and understand). We discussed using documentaries in class with our students, how we might introduce them, how we would follow up after watching them. I’m not sure I would use all the documentaries Anita showed us in the session, or on her handout, but certainly they’re potentially very useful resource for teachers. Thanks for a great session, Anita!

Next up: David Crystal?? Maybe, or I might get the rest of Saturday and Sunday written up… =)

Make Pronunciation Physical! – Adrian Underhill at BELTE 2010

I was at the Brighton English Language Training event (BELTE) on Saturday 23 October with the British Council (together with Phil Bird, Callie Wilkinson, Amanda Wilson and Melissa Cudmore) presenting the resources the Council has on its LearnEnglish and Teaching English websites.

A session I found really useful to have been at was Adrian Underhill talking about using his phonemic chart to help teach pronunciation. I’ll be honest, I had no idea exactly what was so special about his chart – but this misconception was put to bed within about 10 minutes of listening to Adrian.

Let’s look at the chart:

phonemic chart

phonemic vowel sounds annotatedIn particular looking at the top-left quadrant: the vowel sounds. I had not realised the cleverness behind this: the vowels to the left of the quadrant (A)  are articulated with the tip of the tongue near or touching the teeth [sounds i: e æ]; while the sounds to the right (B) are made with the tongue further back in the mouth [sounds /u: ɔ: ɒ/]. From the top to the bottom of the area of the chart, the position of the cound in the chart corresponds to the position of the jaw; i.e. the sounds at the top (1) are made with the bottom-jaw close to the top [/i:/], but the bottom-jaw moves down when you make the sounds moving down the chart (2) [/e/ and  /æ/]. I know, I’m an ignoramus, but how cool.

I won’t go into any more detail, since you can watch the pron master himself on YouTube thanks to MacmillanELT, or even read his thoughts over at Adrian’s Pron Chart Blog, or his guest blog series on the British Council Teaching English site: The man has been busy!

What I will say is that I managed to incorporate the chart and related activities (mainly for the sounds /i: ɪ ʊ u:/) with all my classes so far, and I teach from beginner/very elementary right to upper-intermediate learners. So, Adrian, my thanks to you for such a useful resource.

Useful links:

The Language Show 2010

Today I was at the Language Show, which was this year held at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre (the West Bromption section of the building – Earl’s Court is massive!). I’d like to give some general impressions I’ve had of the event, as well as some things I took away from Jeremy Harmer’s informative (if brief!) talk about using music and poetry in language teaching.

Language Show 2010I suppose I have quite a rosy view of the Language Show, as it was as a result of the 2009 event that my journey on Twitter and blogs following and interacting with ELT people started – if you read or have read my very first post, you’ll know this. And regular readers here and at will know that I share the opinion that both Twitter and blogs are enormously helpful to me in my practice as an English language teacher.

However there are a couple of things that bug me about the Language Show, despite the positives that can be taken away from this event. I’ll go over these first and end with the good stuff =)

First, there always seems to be something very strange about the juxtaposition of different conference/exhibition events at places like Earl’s Court (and this is the case with the Language Show venue for 2009 – Kensington Olympia, just a stop on the London Underground from Earl’s Court itself). Last year, there was some sort of dance/yoga event going on at Olympia 2 next door to where the Language Show was happening. Ok maybe there is a link there – teaching is stressful (sometimes); yoga and dance can help lower stress levels (for some people). But this year, in the main part of the Earl’s Court exhibition centre was UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship! I can’t quite see a concrete link between the two events there. I put it down to the organising staff/schedulers having a laugh!

Secondly, I found there to be a fundamental flaw in the way the show is organised physically, and can now understand a bit better why Ken Wilson thought this about the show:

Ken Wilson Language Show

There really is little respect, I think, for those who speak at the Language Show – the whole place is really focused on what it calls the TEFL Fair, where you’ll find English and other language course being promoted, book stands, teacher qualification courses touted, jobs advertised. It’s quite noisy with everyone going around and getting stuck into all of that. Then, all the different sections are divided off using pretty thin moveable partitions (the kind you might find in an open plan office to split up the desks and areas), and this includes the ‘rooms’ where the language seminars take place. Now the idea of these is great, as there are usually interesting topics covered and the seminars would be of value as professional development for most teachers. The problem is you can’t hear what’s going on very well over the noise of the show going on outside.

However, those are just two gripes that I have, as on the whole it was an enjoyable day for me, despite the fact that I lost my grandmother in the morning due to London Transport, having to head back home to close a window that had been left open and my grandmother not having her mobile phone! Some good things about the day:

  • Seeing Phil Bird (@pysproblem81), Callie Wilkinson (@CallieWallie1), Amanda Wilson (@Amandalanguage), Melissa Cudmore (@bcseminars – sometimes that Twitter ID’s also used by Michael Carrier) and Philida Schellekens to talk about things we are going to do for the British Council at various upcoming ELT events (more on this in future posts)
  • Jeremy Harmer’s very interesting talk about using poetry and music in the ELT classroom with some practical tips for doing so (I’ll give my summary of the talk in the next post here)
  • Meeting Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses) and Sharon (@britsmiles) – apologies for not chatting properly with you, ladies, I was worrying a little about my errant grandmother!

The Blog is dead. Long live the Blog.

No, not a post claiming that blogging is passé. Far from it my friends.Blog alive or dead

Nope. Just got a fairly cool idea of what to do with my Edublogs space now I have my own site at

Pretty soon – next week or the one after – Mike Harrison’s Blog will become Mike Harrison’s Reviews (or perhaps a snappier title). In order to stop myself from simply copying content from my other site on this blog, and vice versa (and Google potentially getting cross with me), I’m going to fashion this Edublog into a magazine style platform where I can write up reviews of any of these: conferences and workshops I attend; lesson plans that I have used (not my own – I’m thinking of possibly looking at stuff from TEFL clips, Breaking News, onestopenglish, and the like); books I’m reading (ELT and non-ELT) …

So expect some changes around here in the near future! =)

Image credit: Blogs: Dead or Alive by Rachel Smith on Flickr

Anatomy of a Facebook Page

Cross-post from

In preparation for my presentation on a week next Saturday (9 October to be precise) for the 3rd Virtual Round Table conference, I’ve decided to post a quick guide to the layout of my Facebook Page.

This is currently what it looks like over at the Mike Harrison’s Blog Page:

Anatomy of a Facebook Page

You will have noticed some handy lettered annotations on that image. Here’s a brief description of what a Facebook Page has on it:

A – This is the Tab menu at the top, which appears in some form or other on all Facebook Pages. You might notice that it is very similar to the Tab menu you find on your own Facebook Profile. This is where you can quickly get to the different content on the Page: Info, Notes, the Blog posts (via Networked Blogs – more on this later), Photos, etc. There may also be other tabs which are hidden – access these by clicking on the ‘>>’ tab.

B – The Wall: where you will find things like: status updates – which can include links, photos, video, etc. – and any other application that has permission to publish to the Wall (like when Farmville or what have you publishes info to your personal Facebook Profile Wall)

C – This is the content as it appears on the Wall. Here you can see links to a couple of YouTube videos that I have shared with my Page’s Fans. Note – anyone who ‘likes’ the Page can post on the Wall on my Page. On other Pages this may be disabled (i.e. only the Page owner can post)

D – Over on the left, there is a Box, where you can add any text you like. I’ve chosen to make a quick intro to the Page here and what I’m doing here. Below this you can see an Information Box – this is the same as can be found under the Info Tab in the menu at the top of the Page

E – Page owners have access to Facebook Insights – how many new Likes, activity on your Page, and so on – not to my eye wonderfully informative or intuitive, but they are there all the same. As a Page fan, you are spared the wonder of looking at this particular area of the Page ;o)

F – Who likes your Page??!! Here you can see exactly who they are, as well as seeing who of your friends likes the Page =)

G – Here is an example of a blog post from that has been auto-published to the Page via Networked Blogs (I’ll be talking about how to do this in my presentation). You can also see how it’s possible to Like and Comment on the Wall posts just as you would on your own Facebook Profile or your friends’

H – A Page on Facebook can have Favourite Pages – here I have just linked to other Pages related to teaching English

I – Photos. Where the Page owner can post photos. This can be found under the Photos Tab at the top as well. You will also see a couple ‘Photos by others’ – this is where fans of the Page can add photos!

J – Links box. All the links posted on the Wall are collected here. Can also be found under the Links Tab at the top.